AAR - Shanghai in Flames

ASL A110


We played two scenarios from the latest annual.

The first was "Cattern's Position". Not much to say about that one. IMO it is a solid creation, but personally I did not find it very exciting. The IJA is on the defense, cannot really do more than try to slow the australians, protect the best entering points to bring in the reinforcements and go for the inevitable. Many CCs, the IJA won this one because the australians weren't able to kill them in CC even when ambushing them.

Playing time 1 1/2 hours setup included. Maybe this scenario suffers a bit from the low counter density. Both sides have to be cautious, as losing one squad means more than 10% of the available manpower is lost. Seems to be balanced, but personally I rate it low in replay category.

Next we went for "Shanghai in Flames". This is from the same designer, so we were quite curios about that one.

In short, this is next to a masterpiece if one can say such a thing after one going (but look at the notes in the last paragraph!). Maybe in the future it can crystal out that it is easier for the defender, but on playing it first it thrilled us to the last DR (which was a HtH CC DR that left no-one surviving).

Attractions:

It is city fight IJA vs. chinese. (Great sentiments came up, as it raised feelings similar to playing "Tiger of Tungoo"). The initial conditions are in a very smart way to be variable. 4 Blazes are, starting from a certain point, put within a defined radius into building hexes before setup starts. That greatly affect setup conditions, as the chinese plans will have to calculate the effect of that blazes for the going of the game. There is a final shootout in a factory involved, while a third of the city on board 20 is burning.

This is an INFANTRY game. No special toys, not even SW-MTRs. Just officers and their men with some MGs and their will to shoot it out. The IJA has to take care for the time scale, both sides have to be active to keep the game going their way.

Board 1 is involved, but it is just a springoff for the attacker and holds some MG positions in upper levels as long as there is LOS into board 20 (which will vanish once the fire goes wild).

Advantages:

IJA: Infiltration (as always), the ability to overcome positions by daring attack over OG if there are enough MMC around to exploit weaknesses created by sacrifices of MMCs that went before.

Chinese: FLs (although B#11 is haunting), kindling (can create choke-points that will leave just OG for the IJA to traverse or the option to take insane circumvention routes), fanaticism in the factory, dare death squads, 3 fortified factory hexes (cannot be banzaied).

Disadvantages:

IJA: Have to traverse lots of OG, two nightmare streets (20K7-D3 and 20J8-C5), blazes and flames, time (does not allow to go for much than minimal safety).

Chinese: Good positions find themselves often cut-off from the planned fall-back, level 2 positions on board one cut board 20 in half (depends heavily on blazes), making shifts difficult, only 3 leader for a broad front that are needed for movement, fire, kindling, prevent cowering of important FL laying MGs.

The replay:

Things start good and bad with the blazes for the chinese, One blaze lands in 20K2. this is the ground level of the only building that gives 2nd level positions to harass moving IJA units crossing 1X1-DD4 street. While there would be only token forces there, they could make movement of IJA leaders difficult, but since you can setup only in locations you can enter during the game, and the blaze location is the stairwell, no unit can setup there. This is also bad as this unit would make most IJA units lose concealment (or prevent them from gaining it after setup.

Another is in 20H4. That one is nice, it sets an important building springoff for later ablaze. The next, 20F5 is very nice, it will play an important role for the chinese initial defense plans. The last, 20 J4 has no good potential to make additional blazes, but greatly hinders LOS between 20H3 and 20K2 buildings, making lateral movement for later much more easier.

The chinese plan is a bit extreme, but bases on the blazes. The 9-1, with squad and LMG goes to 20B4. The 8-1 with squad goes to 20D4. The 9-1 can put a FL along the 20C4-I1 street, and will go for a kindling attempt on first chinese PFPh, as will the squad with the 8-1. If B4 burns it will:

  1. Deny the IJA the marvelous location for the factory assault
  2. Create a chokepoint, as the IJA will have to go at least over two successive OG locations to even reach the factory. The 8-1 will also try to kindle. If both attempts succeed, the chinese player will cry in satisfaction. Given that 20F5 already burns, hex 20F5 is in immediate danger to get aflame soon. That would mean that the retreating chinese units will defend from the factory OG hexes that are engulfed in flames.

Now comes the tricky part. Since the possibility of kindling is very high if the chinese can delay the IJA further up the front, The chines puts the MMG into 20L9. This is quite off the factory, but they can control the street from distance and aren't easy to be attacked themselves. They can do entrenching attempts (if they want), or move (under the cover of burning building J4 towards the factory with the MG. The HMG is in 20J8 with the 7-0. These guys are safe from being attacked at long range but have more difficulties from changing position towards the factory. Eventually disassembling and leader bonus will help them later. This nest controls the 20D3-M8 corridor via FL. Both MMC have good rout capabilities.

Chinese units are set-up up front in 20C1, E1, a HS controls 20Z2 and is covered with a "?" to make the IJA unsure. A "Dare death" units is on the left, and one in building 20H3. 20H holds some units in the upper levels to control the area all around. These units will give the IJA much headache. The east side is defended with 347s in the buildings around 20M3. (One 447 with an LMG is in 20M4 to put a FL along 20H1, L3, to make deadly crossfire with the LMG in 20B4.

The IJA lines up heavily on the west part of the starting line and some units in the east to keep the chinese from shifting all his forces, and the game is afoot.

The IJA is somewhat aware that he has some initial initiative and runs forward boldly. Some HSs from the expendable 337s are trying to get forward and into CC immediately, or at least to make the chinese DFF to limit SFF range. The LMG in M;4 lays down a FL, but a sniper triggered by that shot breaks the squad there, immediately making the FL break down. Only KIAs are to be feared, as even broken units will limit chinese possibilities for SFF. The chinese deliberates fires at any one moving, knowing that the IJA will just stop moving forward daringly if enough units are in forward positions because the chinese holds fire for the juicy units. The result is quite bloody, the IJA loses 3 squads due to double breaking HSs, and outright KIA on a 447, and another HS. The chinese loses 2 squads, one breaks and is unable to rout, the other goes down in HtH CC.

The center does well. On the important side (west) things are bleak for the Chinese. Here the one squad had dies in CC, another 2 go down during next player turn. This is no normal PTO, so the IJA has quite potent FGs. What's more evil is that both kindling attempts fail and the IJA makes ridiculous progress in stomping forward. Those orange troopers eat big shots, are reduced, but drill their way forward in one brutal assault (spiced with a good banzai trough the westernmost building area - the buildings are ideal banzai terrain!). Highlight is when the IJA is able to take the two key positions 20D2 and 20B3 and breaks the units in 20B4 which are now unable to rout and surrender. (the IJA has taken some other guys prisoner in anticipation that more units will come out hands up later, and he is right). This leaves the chinese in a precarious shape, as the way to the factory seems to be wide open.

The positive thing is that the center holds better than the west, and fences off attack after attack. the fire in 20 H3 goes wild, spreading to 20G4, F8 and F3. Chinese units break in the upper positions, but there are always 1 1/2 intact there to protect the streets. 20K2 has spread to the woods 20J1, thus blinding the MG crews in upper levels, which now run for better positions. Would the kindling in 20B4 have been succeeded, or would the unit up front held a bit better to give a second kindling chance, the IJA would be in a precarious situation, as the fire barrier in F3, G4, H4, and the one in F6, E5 would have setup ideal defensive conditions for the chinese. Circumvention at that time is almost impossible due to time, so the IJA would have needed to cross OG in face of two FLs, and some defenders in 20 B6, C6, D6.

Now the chinese runs as fast as possible to plug the gaps that open in the west. The central building is burning like hell, but the upper positions still hold. Two IJA squads end up are pinned in 20H3 (the only stairwell, when the flame there goes ablaze, making them convert to four routing HSs. The brave chinese defenders (2 1/2 squads) left, are now trapped in the building. They will stay there, making the life of IJA stragglers complicated, until they perish in the flames. The flame DR really went crazy and the building quickly burned from ground to top in some hexes.

The chinese is already short on defenders, but manages to hold the IJA still off the factories, as some banzai-units fail to enter the factory frontally due to not being able to enter fortified building locations.

All the chinese units finally collapse here, but a concealed leader is the last straw to keep the IJA from gaining building control. The chinese has to be very cautious, as it is unthinkable to wrest control out of IJA hands once the factory is in their control, as this would need to completely get the IJA units out of there. The IJA exploits the weakness of the chinese by running along the A-column and entering the factory at B7, and putting units into B8, when the chinese unit in 20B6 goes down due to a 24 FP shot. But the chinese hasn't lost yet! His shifting forces (4 squads, the HMG, the MMG and a unit with a IJA LMG enter the factory just in time to keep the fight going. The MMG/HMG killer team enters 20D9, some more units enter 20D8, E7, and a CX HS is in D7. The concealed leader ends up with that CX HS due to bizarre circumstances (FEAR!).

Straggling IJA units are hindered by chinese units stumbling themselves between the firewalls unable to make useful moves. Some positions here are clear micro-stalemates, one unit holds of the other to make the first step that is possible only to be made in OG. Breaking would mean disaster. The chinese end up losing when the IJA concentrates his crews and HSs, bit the attacker is delayed long enough for not to be able to play an important role in the final assault in the factory.

The final assault sees 3 1/2 chinese against 7 1/2 IJA troopers, and the IJA realizes that he will not win the shootout in time, so after some preparatory measures a very fine carried out banzai takes place. Most of the units run straight across the factory, but the IJA knows that those who will eat the 36 shot from 20D9 are in danger to be killed outright. An already reduced IJA squad and an undamaged one run together via 20C9 into D9. If they would be killed both outright in 20C9, the IJA would be in a not so enviable positions, but luckily only one is killed (the reduced one), the other one becomes reduced and enters D9. The MGs had no ROF, fire again and manage to reduce the unit to a HS. E7 chinese risk FPF break, but leave only a IJA HS for CC, D8 is OVR easily once D9 is entered as well. There are some more units with leader that run via C9 to D10. These units were thought to enter C9 in case the MGs would keep ROF and/or kill all the banzai units threatening them Since the CA of the MGs is fixed, there would have been no way to use them vs, the units here. Another HS ends up in 20C10.

The final CC is VERY bloody. E7 chinese unit kills the IJA, D7 IJA units kill all chinese there. D8 sees annihilation of all units in the location, 20 D9 is in melee due to ridiculous DRs! The chinese cannot move out his last unit that is not in melee, cannot skulk out as E6 and F6 is under IJA fire control, D6 holds an IJA HS, so he opts for firing and makes the IJA leader in D7 die due to a failed wound check, the reduced squad becomes yet another HS. Location D9 sees again complete annihilation HtH CC.

The last IJA turn is the last bid. Every sigle crap unit runs forward, and puts the last chinese units in a "flood" of otherwise ridiculous crap units. The final CC again proves to be deadly for both sides, and the game is an IJA win.

The chinese suffers a 100% loss in manpower, the IJA lost 85%, of the 15% left there is not a single undamaged unit except for 1 crew and a 9-0 leader.

Commentary: This was an excellent game. As all excellent replays you need the right amount of luck/bad luck to keep the game in delicate balance. Both players lost about 2 litres body water and were completely exhausted. It took 4 hours to play, the game has (for our tastes) the right amount of units, and despite the rather static VCs, this game isn't a sitting game.

I cannot say what happens if the chinese just puts all his unit into the factory (a thing I'd try if I were playtesting this one. Maybe this would make for a dry game, and given that there are some ideal routing positions in the factory this could eventually be the ideal defending position. The units here would be easily to conceal, they have a ML of 8, The IJA is hindered by not being able to build too big FGs in the rowhouse complex. But given that he would need only 2 turns to get into position if unhindered, he would have 5 full turns to get the factories.By probing/searching with HSs the chines could lose concealment (but cannot be hindered routing). If anyone tries this tactic, let me know, I am curious if this could be the only (but fatal?) flaw of this very fine scenario.


Reply:

Being the PTO heretic that I am, you may be surprised that I have actually played this scenario. Enjoyed it quite a bit, too, although that may be because I won as the Chinese. Not a typical IJA HIP-fest, fortunately, just a nice infantry city slugfest, with everything placed on the board. As long as the players grasp the special capabilities of the Japanese (no breaking, banzai, etc.) this is a very basic infantry scenario.

The thing I really enjoyed about this scenario was its chesslike sense of evenness. Where both white and black start with the same amount of men on the board, the attacker must attempt to exploit the defender*s weaknesses, while the defender must actively seek to decrease the attacker*s advantages. Both sides have strengths and weaknesses which can be probed and counterprobed.

[I can*t help but contrast this to a dissapointing scenario that I played recently: ToT28 *Black Friday*. In this scenario the onus is completely on the attacker. Basically, the German waits for the Brit to fumble his attack, at which point the Germans can cruise to victory. Only if the Brits do everything right is it an even fight. I prefer scenarios that are less forgiving for BOTH sides. The threat of disaster on every move for both players is what keeps things exciting - like in chess.]

>This is an INFANTRY game. No special toys, not even SW-MTRs. Just
>officers and their men with some MGs and their will to shoot it out.
>The IJA has to take care for the time scale, both sides have to be active
>to keep the game going their way.

Good description. *Both sides need to need to be active to keep the game going their way.* See my description above.

>Advantages:
>
>IJA: Infiltration (as always), the ability to overcome positions by daring
>attack over OG if there are enough MMC around to exploit weaknesses
>created by sacrifices of MMCs that went before.

I would also add firepower. The japs have a lot of squads, and can get some really sweet multi-location FGs in this scenario, even in the AFPh.

>Chinese: FLs (although B#11 is haunting), kindling (can create
>choke-points that will leave just OG for the IJA to traverse or the option
>to take insane circumvention routes), fanaticism in the factory, dare
>death squads, 3 fortified factory hexes (cannot be banzaied).

I agree, especially with the kindling, which I didn*t think of when I played. I would also add to the Chinese list of advantages good interior lines. The rowhouse gives a nice block for LOS to retreat across the C5-J8 street, while the walled-in factory complex is ideal for the shifting of forces to meet unanticipated threats from any direction.

>Disadvantages:
>
>IJA: Have to traverse lots of OG, two nightmare streets (20K7-D3 and
>20J8-C5), blazes and flames, time (does not allow to go for much
>than minimal safety).

At first I thought the Japs had plenty of time, but when we played, all of a sudden it was turn 6 of 7, and he wasn*t in the factory yet! The Jap has to really press hard in this one to stay on his time table, because he can assume that it will take him at least two turns to crack the factory, most likely three.

>Chinese: Good positions find themselves often cut-off from the planned
>fall-back, level 2 positions on board one cut board 20 in half (depends
>heavily on blazes), making shifts difficult, only 3 leader for a broad
>front that are needed for movement, fire, kindling, prevent cowering of
>important FL laying MGs.

I agree that the FL positions are vulnerable to being cut off. But the positions have to be manned. I placed the HMG (or MMG?) in 20L9 for the killer FL down the C5-J8 street. It didn*t do dick because he got cut off, but I*d do it again! I also had a HS with an LMG in M4 to cut off the H1-L3 road.

>The chinese plan is a bit extreme, but bases on the blazes. The 9-1, with
>squad and LMG goes to 20B4. The 8-1 with squad goes to 20D4. The 9-1 can
>put a FL along the 20C4-I1 street, and will go for a kindling attempt on
>first chinese PFPh, as will the squad with the 8-1. If B4 burns it will:
>
>1) Deny the IJA the marvelous location for the factory assault
>
>2) Create a chokepoint, as the IJA will have to go at least over two
>successive OG locations to even reach the factory. The 8-1 will also try
>to kindle. If both attempts succeed, the chinese player will cry in
>satisfaction. Given that 20F5 already burns, hex 20F5 is in immediate
>danger to get aflame soon. That would mean that the retreating chinese
>units will defend from the factory OG hexes that are engulfed in flames.

I agree about building B4. Without it, the IJA is greatly hindered in his assault on the factory. I think, however, that your plan relied too much on laying all your eggs in one basket. Or at least too many eggs. My plan was to slow him down slightly with pickets up front, but to keep the bulk of my force back towards the rowhouse and the factory complex. This would allow me to shift and adjust to wherever the IJA thrust will be. I like flexible defenses, and although your kindling plan is creative, I don*t think it is flexible. JMHO.

>Now comes the tricky part. Since the possibility of kindling is very high
>if the chinese can delay the IJA further up the front, The chines puts the
>MMG into 20L9. This is quite off the factory, but they can control the
>street from distance and aren't easy to be attacked themselves. They can
>do entrenching attempts (if they want), or move (under the cover of burning
>building J4 towards the factory with the MG. The HMG is in 20J8 with the
>7-0. These guys are safe from being attacked at long range but have more
>difficulties from changing position towards the factory. Eventually
>disassembling and leader bonus will help them later. This nest
>controls the 20D3-M8 corridor via FL. Both MMC have good rout
>capabilities.

20L9 is good, although I kept forgetting to entrench! Probably would have helped me, too. HMG in J8? In the middle of the street? Typo, or am I reading my ps map incorrectly?

>Chinese units are set-up up front in 20C1, E1, a HS controls 20Z2 and is
>covered with a "?" to make the IJA unsure. A "Dare death" units is on the
>left, and one in building 20H3. 20H holds some units in the upper levels
>to control the area all around. These units will give the IJA much
>headache. The east side is defended with 347s in the buildings around
>20M3. (One 447 with an LMG is in 20M4 to put a FL along 20H1, L3, to make
>deadly crossfire with the LMG in 20B4.

Way forward, huh? I tend to think that these guys would be consumed in the first movement phase, but you say they gave the IJA headaches, so I believe you. I set up very little up front or in the east. IIRC, just the LMG and a dummy stack went east of hexrow K. I did have a squad in the J3 wall complex, but he was placed there to die, as there are almost no rout possibilities. An IJA attack furthur east than the K hexrow is like going from New York to Atlanta through Chicago (or from Paris to Berlin through Milan for you eurotravelers). Doesn*t seem to me like it would work, although it*s probably worth a try given multiple playings.

>The center does well. On the important side (west) things
>are bleak for the Chinese. Here the one squad had dies in CC, another 2 go
>down during next player turn. This is no normal PTO, so the IJA has quite
>potent FGs. What's more evil is that both kindling attempts fail and the
>IJA makes ridiculous progress in stomping forward. Those orange troopers
>eat big shots, are reduced, but drill their way forward in one brutal
>assault (spiced with a good banzai trough the westernmost building area -
>the buildings are ideal banzai terrain!). Highlight is when the IJA is
>able to take the two key positions 20D2 and 20B3 and breaks the units in
>20B4 which are now unable to rout and surrender. (the IJA has taken some
>other guys prisoner in anticipation that more units will come out hands up
>later, and he is right). This leaves the chinese in a precarious shape, as
>the way to the factory seems to be wide open.

The first thing I noticed when setting up for this scenario is that the area of buildings from F1-B1-B4 is a deathtrap for the Chinese. This is prime banzai and infiltration terrain for the Japs. Plus, there is no way any Chinese units are going to be able to rout out of this area. If they break they die. I would be hesitant to set up too much in this area. Enough to slow down the initial assault, and to preserve the FL at B4 for as long as possible, but that*s all. But it is an optimum approach to the factory for the IJA, so of critical importance to the Chinese is effective flanking fire from the G3 building and from the rowhouse. The random blaze generation at game start will cause the exact tactic to vary from game to game in this area, but some concealed fire groups will help to keep the IJA out of the OG, and moving more cautiously through the buildings.

As the Japanese, I would pounce on this area in a heartbeat if an unsuspecting Chinese defender setup heavily there. He would find his troops a broken mob in no time.

>The chinese is already short on defenders, but manages to hold the IJA
>still off the factories, as some banzai-units fail to enter the factory
>frontally due to not being able to enter fortified building locations.

These Fortified Locations are crucial for the Chinese defense. Question: do you place them in the front of the building (most likely B6,C6,D6) to keep him from entering the factory? Or do you put them in the interior (C9,D8,D9) to thwart last minute IJA movement/advance for victory? Either way will work, IMO, just plan your defence accordingly.

>The IJA exploits the weakness of the chinese by running along the A-column and entering the factory
>at B7, and putting units into B8.

Chuck Hammond did the same thing to me in this game! Sort of like sneaking in the back door.

Our endgame sounded very similar to yours. Chuck made a last bid with two turns remaining to run across the street and swarm the factory with numbers. Two factors played a part in keeping him from his objective. 1. He (IMO) wasted a crucial turn by firing into the factory from across the street, instead of moving out and banzaing across the street. I believe he had even broken one of the Fortified positions at this point, so he had the avenue to infilitrate the factory a turn earlier. I was relieved to gain another turn of skulking into the interior of the factory, and shifting concealed units to the front line. 2. I created a hero on the next to last turn, that I managed to move to a position that blocked his best route towards getting a high odds CC on my last squad. That brave Chinese hero practically won the game for me! As it was, the last 2 CCs were extremely bloody, but not bloody enough for the IJA, as he didn't kill everybody, thus letting me maintain control of the factory.

I think Chuck was disappointed to lose this one, as I made a number of flubs during the course of the game. Don*t remember all of them - things like moving in open ground when there was a path out of LOS, etc. Still, Chuck had quite a few squads left at the end of the game, which was a total waste. The IJA can and should win this thing with a mere HS on board at game end!

>I cannot say what happens if the chinese just puts all his unit into the
>factory (a thing I'd try if I were playtesting this one. Maybe this would
>make for a dry game, and given that there are some ideal routing positions
>in the factory this could eventually be the ideal defending position. The
>units here would be easily to conceal, they have a ML of 8, The IJA is
>hindered by not being able to build too big FGs in the rowhouse complex.
>But given that he would need only 2 turns to get into position if
>unhindered, he would have 5 full turns to get the factories.By
>probing/searching with HSs the chines could lose concealment (but cannot
>be hindered routing). If anyone tries this tactic, let me know, I am
>curious if this could be the only (but fatal?) flaw of this very fine
>scenario.

I don*t know about putting everything in the factory, but I would hinge my entire defense on the factory and the walled complex adjacent to it. Everything outside of that is only there to slow the IJA down in his approach to the factory. As long as the IJA does not have a MG in B4, then the rowhouse allows for a perfect fallback defense across the street and into the walled complex. The endgame should be a swirling melee in the factory as the remaining IJA HSs look for HtH combat to eliminate the last stalwart defenders. I think if you put everything in the factory, it will end up as a similar swirling melee, but the Chinese will not have the ability to be flexible in the early and midgame. He will not have the luxory of slowing the Jap down or inflicting casualties early on. It's worth a try, but I don't think the chance of success is very high.

Cool scenario, and I recommend it highly, even though it is PTO. :-)

Matt Romey