Battling with Variable Victory Points - #410121_01v Compass Tobruk Full

We are just getting reports of the difficulty of winning the big Tobruk scenario (#410121_01v Compass Tobruk Full) in the Operation Compass battle set. This was also the case in play testing. Below is the text from a forum post showing how to win the scenario and the possible play choices. This is a long post, but it is descriptive enough that I think it will help anyone trying to understand how to play some of the scenarios where your score goes negative very quickly.

During play testing, two of our team, Berto and Dennis, separately tested this scenario against the AI. Both Berto and Dennis had no idea how this scenario could be won and were struggling to get any sort of victory. Both players sent me a save game file which I used for the initial images here. As a disclaimer, I was the only one who had played this scenario previously, running through it 3 times during development. All victory levels were based on those play throughs.

Here is the screen shot of Dennis' last turn (all shots can be clicked for full size);

As you can see Dennis has only at 81 points with the objective points at -59 and the kill points +140. This was way below the threshold of 300 points to even get a higher rating.

Berto sent through his file during his turn 22. The game runs for 23 turns. He had not ended turn 22 so there was actually two 'end of turns' to go. Please remember that the variable VP's are only calculated at the end of the second players turn.

Here is the victory display at the point Berto sent his file - this as mentioned is during turn 22. Berto at this point was very similar to Dennis. He had a score of 78 points, objective points were -157, meaning Berto's kill points were +235, about 100 points better than Dennis.

This obviously wasn't the end of the game and with the compounding effect of the variable VP's, I ran the game to the end. There were two locations (at El Gubi Airfield and the 5 point near Kings Cross) that I helped take in the last two turns, otherwise I ended the game.

Here is the final screen for Berto's game;

The effect of two extra turns of points are obvious. The end score was 252, with objective points at +11 and kill points at +241. The kill points would have probably been higher if I had actively played out the last two turns (using artillery etc)

After seeing both these results, I decided I needed to see if I had screwed up the scoring, so I played the game against the AI again. For background for you all, this scenario essentially punishes you for being tardy. One of the great things about the variable VP's is that the scenario designer can influence the speed and importance that locations needed to be captured.

This scenario will burn you for every turn you don't capture new objectives. Essentially the Italians collect 70 variable VP's for every turn nothing changes. This is essentially a -70 off the Allied players score. The good news is that for every emplacement captured the Australians get 2 points, which is actually 3 points of value as the Italians lose the 1 point for every emplacement lost. Take just one Italian emplacement and they will only collect 67 points next turn. Put another way, to neutralise the Italian variable VP's, the Allies have to capture twenty-four, 2-point locations to stop the reduction in points. After that it increases the number of points being accrued. Obviously the quicker you capture locations, the more turns you will accumulate points for them.

For further background, let me explain the historical reason the scenario is like this. The attack on Tobruk, happened after the successful siege of Bardia. Bardia taught the Australians the basics of the Italian defences and how to tackle them. One thing that was a challenge at Bardia was that there was not initially enough depth of penetration allowing the Italians to not only counterattack with tanks, but to particularly use their artillery effectively in both direct and indirect fire. The Italian artillery was praised for how tenacious it was at Bardia. The Australian plan at Bardia was sound. Essentially break into the fortress and have one battalion turn north at roll up the defences and two others turn south and clear the defences in that direction. The decision to push deeper into the fortress wasn't clearly determined and it was only after the casualties caused by the Italian artillery that selected forces turned towards the east.

At Tobruk, the plan was similar to Bardia, but with the key difference that from the initial Brigade (16th Australian), one battalion would drive straight towards the artillery line behind the fortress outer defences to try and destroy the guns. Essentially, one battalion turned east to clear the bunkers, one turned west to do the same thing and one went straight ahead to clear the guns that are 10 or so hexes back.

When the follow-on brigade (19th Australian) was released it was to go through the breach made by the two battalions from 16th Brigade and drive towards King Cross and ultimately the various airfields and Forts beyond the frontier defences. 17th Brigade which was scattered along the east side was to assist where possible, but to essentially help clear the eastern fortifications. Once 19th Brigade was committed and replaced the 16th Brigade battalion that had gone towards the gun line, all the 16th Brigade battalions were used to remove the outer defences.

So with that knowledge, I setup the scoring so the player has to worry about taking the emplacements quickly to reduce the Italian score and also advance into the fortress to the higher value VP locations. Taking the gun positions for example will give you 3 points, or a net impact of 4, so getting those quickly will assist. That said they are more spread out than the entrenchments so more time is needed to clear them, but they are usually trenches rather than hard bunkers, so there are trade-offs.

I finished the test game. Here are some of the key tactics I use and then we can discuss the actual results.

My tactics are always built around each battalion. I have the following rules;

  • Each battalion has a job. So, for example for 16th Brigade, the initially released battalion (2/3) has to breach the fortifications directly ahead and then either turn left or right. In my game they turned left.
  • Within the battalion each unit type has a job. The British/Commonwealth battalions are great as they have four infantry companies and a separate HQ company with various support platoons. This is better than the Italian (and German) battalions that normally only have three infantry companies. The infantry companies are used to take positions and kill units. The engineer units are to clear minefields or breach anti-tank trenches. The carrier (and possibly AA) platoon is used to either scout forward and where necessary cut retreats. Do not use the carrier and AA to attack/assault unless it is really necessary. The mortar unit is used for indirect fire and smoke where necessary. The indirect fire will rarely get a kill in a bunker but can-do damage to units in the open.
  • Engineers can move through minefields. when clearing defences laterally, move them up so they always clear a minefield at the end of your turn. I try and do this next to my next target bunker, so I can get additional units adjacent if necessary. Don't forget you need to breach the antitank trench for any motorised units. This includes HQ's, AA and carrier platoons. Plan to include a breach and clear the hex of mines etc.
  • Do not break down your infantry companies. Leave them as combined three platoon units. You will take additional fatigue when broken down and this will slow/stop you from clearing the defences.
  • Use Assaults. This is by far the best way to clear the Italian defences. The only units to use are the four infantry companies in a battalion, not any of the HQ platoons. The other units that should be used are the two, nine vehicle Matilda squadrons (companies) and once you have made the initial breach in the Italian defences with 2/3 Battalion, combine the three platoons of 2/1 Field Co. This gives you a 195-man high assault value company that I use to supplement the 2/3 Battalion (i.e. giving it five assault formations). All the Italian positions are 'only' held by squads of either 13 or 14 men. In Bardia it's much tougher as the positions are held by full 42-man platoons. I can normally clear out a position with three assaults (if I'm lucky two). Three will normally kill the unit inside or if I leave a retreat path (recommended if possible) can push the defender out in two assaults. In the game I'm going to show below, I managed to take on average, three positions per battalion every two turns. As mentioned, I normally have the 2/3 Battalion with 2/1 Field Co go left (it's shorter) and the next battalion released (2/1) to enter the breach and go right. I attach the Matilda's to this battalion. The Matilda's are tough enough to do a standalone assault like the infantry companies, hence giving the 2/1, six different companies that can assault every turn.
  • For infantry, you usually can move one hex and then assault. Keep this in mind! Always look for the unit furthest back to initiate an assault. If it's successful, then units that are adjacent to the target bunker can move onto the next target. Remember this is all about speed!
  • Get to the guns. You must clear the Italian gun line quickly. There are some big guns there that will take 4 to 8 men off an infantry company every time they fire. Do not use tanks for this job as the artillery will hurt it. You are better to get infantry forward as quickly as possible, isolate the gun position and assault it. One useful unit is the Northumberland Fusiliers (MG Battalion). Though they are on foot, they can get back into their trucks if they start a turn in the same hex as their HQ. This means they can move quicker up to the gun line if desired. Just be careful of using excessive travel mode as you will take casualties.
  • Keep an eye on your battalion and particularly brigade command ranges

So how did I go?

I was overwriting my save game for most of the time (as I never intended to write this up!), but I took my first screen shot at turn 14. This was the worst point in terms of score and was right at the time that my variable VP's were neutral and were about to add back to my score. You can see in the shot below that my score was at -376 with variable VP's at -422 and my kill VPs at +46. This is a massive 926 and 1126 points off the 550 and 750 needed for minor and major victories. To be honest at this point I started to think the scoring was screwed up with only 10 turns to score (turn 14 points were not in the score as the end of turn had not happened). This shot and all that follow show the extent that I had advanced by that time.

As mentioned, turn 14 was the worst. At turn 18, I decided to take screen shots for each turn (before I ended the turn) as I had actually achieved a positive score. Here is turn 18 where the score has improved by 436 points in four turns to +60 with variable VP's improving by ~300 to -124 and kill points at 184. Please note this is for the four intervening turns from 14 to 18

Turn 19 shows a similar trend. Total VP's are up by a net 143 with a score of +203 with variable VP's of -36 and kills of 239. I'm still a long way off the 550 for a minor victory though.

Here is turn 20. Total VP's are up (but slower) by a net 124 with a score of +327 with variable VP's of +71 (yay their positive!) and kills of 256. The kill rate has slowed for this turn.

Similar for turn 21. Total VP's are up exactly the same as turn 20 by a net 124 with a score of +451 with variable VP's of +181 (note the increase by 110 points per turn) and kills of 270. Importantly, I now have a draw as my score of 451 is over the 450 threshold.

Turn 22 is our second last turn. The total VP's are up slightly with a net 129 with a score of +580 with variable VP's of +297 and kills of +283. Our kill rate has slowed but our variable VP's due to further captured locations is compensating. At 580, we now have a minor victory (threshold 550), so this is a win. Just a matter of seeing if we can get to a major.

Turn 23 is the last turn. Please note the score here is before the turn is ended and the final variable VP's are added and any kills/changes within the Italian turn are calculated. At this point the VP's have increased by a further 130 to 710. Variable VP's are now +416 and kills are +294. I'm running out of Italians to destroy, or my men are getting tired. At 710 we're getting close to the magic 750 for a major and with variable VP's to be added we should be there.

And here is the last shot after all points have been added post the Italian turn. The total VP's have slowed with a net 124 with a score of +831 with variable VP's of +538 and kills of +293. Note my kills actually went down by 1 this turn. Why, I desperately tried to capture Fort Macucci and the 5-point hex up the road from Kings Cross and pad the price for rushing it with some ugly losses. That said, 831 points gets me to a Major Victory comfortably...

Of interest this play through mirrored my previous experience. Maybe I'm a better player, or more systematic, I don't know. But I did try and do what was done historically and used the various units the way that I believed would be most effective.

With my score, we left this scenario as is, but marked it for play against the AI. We created the HTH version with 150 points off each victory level as human players tend to be much more aggressive. That said, the trick here as the Allies is to be systematic, but fast...

I hope this was an informative post and will give you some ideas for your own play. Plan ahead and understand that in scenarios like this your score will be unclear until towards the end of the scenario.

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