Farewell Fearless Leader John Hill

Art by Rodger MacGowan, Photo by Jackson Kwan

Mr. Patrick LeBeau sent a beautiful message to the “Squad Leader PreASL” YahooGroup to remember John Hill.  I asked and he kindly gave his permission to republish it here, for all of us whose memories Lt. Hill will forever be a part of.  

Farewell fearless leader

The original John Hill Squad Leader counter: Lt. Hill, a modest 9-1 leader.

When I purchased the famous purple edition of John Hill’s 1977 Avalon Hill game, Squad Leader, at the Origins held in Ann Arbor, Michigan that same year, I and many others were immediately hooked on the game system and ease-of-play. We attended all of John’s lectures and in a day or so mastered the game. By the end of the convention many of us were combining our game boards and units to play monster self-designed scenarios after having played all 12 scenarios in one long weekend.

Squad Leader would also win the title of Best Tactical/Operational Game of 1977

This was not my first encounter with John or his many excellent board and miniature games. Most notably in the mid 1970s was Johnny Reb, now known as Johnny Reb One. I still have the original mimeographed legal size cheat sheet printed on both sides, which was all you needed to play the first iteration of the Johnny Reb system. In that playtest addition, resolution used a single 12-sided die.

I mention these two games and I call them systems because they have an incredible longevity through continuous reprints, revisions and new editions, including new games derivative of earlier manifestations. Although the 1977 edition of Squad Leader is my all time favorite, the game would generate many supplements, which would lead to the development of Advanced Squad Leader. The whole Squad Leader family of games has sparked a gamer following that keeps the game alive (SL or ASL) to this day after almost all of the SL and ASL games are long out of print. ASL is directly responsible, I believe, to the development of the online VASSAL game engine for playing board/miniature games virtually.

Johnny Reb would lead to JRII and JRIII. From my perspective, I see Across the Deadly Field as John’s Opus Majus and final version of the Johnny Reb system. From my point of view, I believe ADF is his finest version and I hope it will emerge as his most popular American Civil War gaming system. I spent the entirety of 2014, from Fall In 2013 to Historicon 2014, and all those conventions in between, promoting ADF.

This brings me back to Lt. Hill, the U.S. 9-1 leader counter of the original Squad Leader. Many of us literally wore out our original counters due to continuous game play and finger handling. We of course replaced them by purchasing new games. This is not true with 99% of the board games I own. Further, in 1977, we understood the game as cardboard version of a miniatures game. Today I play the game using 15mm figures and terrain. My point is that as long as gamers continue to play John’s games he lives on.

In untold thousands of games, his old Lt. Hill counter has often suffered a KIA result or has broken under fire. At times it has conducted heroic acts, or has rallied squads at critical times. Whatever the outcome, Lt. Hill reemerges game after game to fight on and on to the enjoyment of the table top gamer whose only purpose is to have fun, learn history, study tactics, engage in competitive play and build friendships.

John was a good friend and his games build many life-long friendships.

I will miss him. We will miss him. However, as Lt. Hill, he will always be in our games, not only as a counter, a figure, a GM, a moderator, a game designer, a human, a man, and as one of the greatest game designers of all time.

Patrick LeBeau

January 13, 2015

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 32,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 12 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

ITR1 Debacle at Sung Kiang AAR – Not my brightest moment!

John Knowles and I recently purchased the few “Into the Rubble” packs (Bounding Fire Productions) that Sam Tyson found laying around.  So we decided to play the pack out one by one over the next year or however long it takes.  The first one in the pack is Scott Holst’s “Debacle at Sung Kiang“.  There are a few places called 松江, but since Scott mentioned “the city of Sung Kiang”, I take this as the area to the southwest of present day Shanghai.  This scenario takes from a battle on November 8th 1937 when the Chinese GMT still had their German trained & equipped elite troops.  As with all the scenarios in the “Into the Rubble” pack, it’s all about city fights.  What I didn’t realise until the first Prep Fire was how unversed I am with city fights – I have definitely been running around jungles too long!

So here’s an account of my miserable loss (not an infrequent experience for me of course, but I don’t blog about my losses often enough) :

There are 16 multi hex buildings on the map.  The IJA’s task is to capture 11 or more of them with 16 first liners, 2 elites, 4 leaders and 3 armoured cars in 6.5 turns.   The Chinese fielded 9 elites, 7 first liners, 3 leaders, 2 76 guns and 2 of their funky Type 22 dual MG armoured trucks.

Chi Turn 1 01 End - Pulled 2 LMG & crew out-proc

Chinese Turn 1 : This is what it looked like at the end of the first Chinese turn.  The Chinese decided to use their “armoured” trucks a different way.  Instead of running the trucks around with “0” armour, they decided to rip the 2 LMGs and the crews off them.  That’s 4 new LMGs with 2 elite units that self rallies.  The Chinese now have 8 LMGs, fantastic news to the IJA I am sure.

IJA Turn 3 04 End of MPh w: FL-proc

IJA Turn 3: The action exploded.  First the IJA Banzai’d down the left edge of the board.  Several fire lanes sprang up but the IJA made it across the open ground at acceptable losses.  I then figured this was going to take too long : I should have an armoured car behind the Chinese lines to interdict routs and to limit Chinese movement.  Therefore I ran an armoured car down the streets (just follow the blue dotted arrow that emanated from the concealed counter on the top left quadrant of the map).  It survived one shot from the Chinese MMG that laid down a fire lane.  Then the AC sped due south and made a right turn, surviving another LMG shot at close quarters.  It then arrived at the center of the map.  Another AC decided to do the same but via another route.  This is the blue dotted arrow that encircled the top part of the map from right to left.  Unfortunately it discovered one of the Chinese 75’s the wrong way.  It was still hoping that its speed was going to save it.  Boom – no hit, it laughed.  The gun then went for Intensive Fire as the car came closer. Boom – Critical Hit!!  The AC bursted into flames as car parts careened down the middle of the street!!

Chi Turn 3 04 End-proc

Chinese Turn 3: The Chinese moved folks over from the left, one of which CC’d my AC.  The IJA uncovered a fortified position and strangely, a 75 gun popped up in the middle of the building complex on the right.  That, together with the interior wall in the stone factory (see the hex side on the hex in “direction 2″ of the gun) made it a little difficult to clear it out.  The Chinese sped a unit to the far right to close the flanks.

IJA Turn 4 01 End of MPh-proc

IJA Turn 4: Check out the middle of the board – here’s one of my extreme moments of stupidity: with a Chinese squad in the hex, I decided that it would be good idea to back the AC up to the Embankment Railroad.  So I stopped the car meaning to go in reverse.  The Chinese folks promptly declared CC Reaction Fire and disabled the car.  A subsequent LMG shot killed it.  *Brilliant*

All the action on the right were the IJA trying to pile more troops into the factory.  The Chinese started shooting a lot better than they did a turn before unfortunately.  The good bit was that the IJA finally broke the folks in the Fortified hex.  The IJA folks in the top part of the map were starting to appreciate how exposed their positions were.  Having said that, the Chinese MMG malfunctioned the turn before and so they were having a go at crossing the street.

The IJA then ran the last of their armoured cars down the middle of the street to help take the building complex on the right.

Meanwhile on the quiet left side, a couple of Chinese troopers pulled out a bag of marshmallow and strolled over to the bonfire ..

IJA Turn 4 02 End-proc

IJA Turn 4 : This is end of IJA Turn 4.  IJA managed to capture the big factory on the right.  In retrospect I should then have “spilled” more forces down the right edge to turn the Chinese flank.  That would perhaps take me to the buildings to the lower half of the board.  The folk in the center had to rout back.  The MMG that malfunctioned was fixed prompted in the next Rally Phase.  Meanwhile, the AC got into a threatening position but it had to get on an embankment to interdict any Chinese movements.

Chi Turn 4 02 End-proc

Chinese Turn 4 : Two Chinese squads went berserk and both targeted the striped IJA squad sitting in the Fortified hex on the right.  One of the berserkers was underneath the Pinned squad next to the green Fortified hex so you can it imagine it doing the zombie dance against the wall.  The other Chinese berserker rushed up (blue dotted arrow), spotted the IJA elite through the smoke to the right and switched directions.  The IJA elite squad threw their DC at the crazies but only managed to CR the berserkers while ELR’ing itself to a first liner.  The berserkers rushed in and got wasted by gunfire but it caused enough damage by taking the one squad the IJA had with a decent smoke component plus used up their DC!

The Chinese shifted their forces to the right as other sectors were not under threat (a street party was in progress around the bonfire by now).  Notice also the 2 LMG squads closing in on the lone AC sitting in the middle of the board.

IJA Turn 5 01 End-proc

IJA Turn 5 : With all 3 mortars out of smoke and the one elite squad ELR’d to a first liner, the IJAs were not able to put more troops into the factory on the right as the Chinese had an MMG under an 8-1 in the middle of the map.  Tried as they might, the IJA group in the middle couldn’t put much pressure on that MG, apart from discouraging it from putting up a fire lane.  This is the end of IJA’s Turn 5.  The troops inside the IJA’s hard won Fortified hex was steadily reduced.  The fact that it should have advanced into the HMG squad (with the 9-1) long time ago to take them out by CC only occurred to me now.  (Urgh..)  Meanwhile, the 10-1 came forward to rally the troops.  The 1st liners grabbed the flamethrower they recovered, vol broke and routed it back to the 10-1 in the hopes that the 10-1 would know how to use it.

I was definitely not at my best!

Chi Turn 5 02 Dare Death-proc

Chinese Turn 5 : It’s increasingly evident that the IJA were getting bogged down at the first factory.  The Chinese reoccupied the Fortified hex and a Dare Death squad successful took back another building.  While the retaking of the occupied hex didn’t mean immediate reversion of control, it did pretty much put the IJA at where they started with a lot less troops and only 2 Movement Phases to go.

This was where I conceded.

Review :

  • In retrospect I should probably have approached from the left side of the board where there were more cover.  The center group should be anywhere BUT center in that wide open space.
  • I didn’t fully appreciate the threat that the MMG with the 8-1 poised on my operations either.  We should have at least wrecked an AC in front of that building if nothing else.
  • Running the Armoured Cars around to the enemy’s back field was the right idea but they should not be left on their own for too long.
  • I should also have focused more efforts on sliding my troops down the right side to turn the Chinese flanks.  Had I done that earlier, the dynamics would have been different.  Instead, all the IJAs where bogged down in front of the big gun (of all places) and in the Fortified hex next to the highest ranking enemy officer and their HMG.  The first thing IJA should have done was to advanced out of the Fortified hex and CC that HMG stack like there’s no tomorrow.

These are some of the major points I should have done better.  In real life the IJA prevailed (and the ROAR was 15:11 Japanese:Chinese).  As with real life, this is how much damage a bad leader (yours truly) can do!

What else could I have done better?  What are your thoughts?  Please comment.

PBP02 The RHA at Bay AAR – a fighting withdrawal!!

This was May 27 1940.  German mechanised units chased Allied forces through Belgium and northern France.  A detachment of the 5th Royal Horse Artillery found themselves to the immediate south of Dunkirk with 80 men from a searchlight unit and Germans units threatening to overrun. PBP02 is part of a scenario pack created by the Paddington Bear ASL Club in Australia.  I had a look through them, there are good number of PTO scenarios that never fails to draw my interest but overall the Paddington Bears often portray interesting tactical situations. PB2 Start-proc This was the setup. The German wins if both British guns were eliminated and more than 10 CVPs of Good Order Germans exit off the east edge (right edge of the map). It’s a draw if both guns were eliminated without the requisite exits. There were two nice locations to where the guns could be emplaced : both were orchards with stone walls. I had the two ATRs positioned to not take immediate fire but to be where they would cause the most delay. Their threat was more powerful than their actual effectiveness against German tanks. So here we are: eight British second liners (they were search light operators) and two guns against ten German élite and first liners plus five tanks. Turn 2 Ger 02 - EoT Berserk Germans Brit Right Wing collapse-proc German Turn 2: The British reserves moved up to front line positions after seeing how the Germans commit. The British right flank got shot up pretty bad. All that was holding that side up was a British second liner. The Germans used smoke and cover well but a squad got tired of the searchlight operators shooting back and promptly went berserk. Turn 3 Ger 01 - ATR Left bounced Berserker died Folks keeping huns at bay while comrades rally-proc German Turn 3: The berserkers charged! You can see how they made their way straight into the first stone building only to be cut down when they got to the house. The single British second liner continued to hold up the right flank while their compatriots were busy rallying. The first German tank rounded the corner on the British left flank and the ATR team got to work, only to bounce a round off the tank. German tanker: “That wasn’t even scary.” Turn 3 Brit 01 - Units fall back left Greenies in front.-proc

British Turn 3: The British were in general retreat .. erm .. retrograde.  The idea here was to stay ahead of the Germans and get to the next building before the Germans get their guns on and to keep the inside lines open.  On the right, a rallied British green squad switched a second liner out as the rear guard.  These guys would see a few medals before the day is over.  

Turn 4 Ger 01 - tank bounce off ATR shot but got nailed by gun-proc

German Turn 4: The action heated up on German Turn 4. On the British left, a German tank tried to get to the back field. The British ATR team held their shot until the tank went to the other side of the building. However they bounced a second round off the German tanks even when they had a side shot. The 18 pounder (typo in the picture) on the British right “appeared” and wrecked the German tank in the Defensive Fire Phase.

Turn 4 Bri 03 - G folks killed Ger 1st line-proc

British Turn 4: The British green squad on the right dispatched the German first liners who held them in melee!! The rest of the British squads got to the last line of buildings. They cut it quite close, as the Germans shot some of them between the gaps. The British continued to get to positions that were a little out-of-the-way but cover grounds the Germans would move into.

Turn 5 Bri 01 Gun appears WP ne.  fire & fun, concript died earlier-proc

British Turn 5: The Germans started building a death star on the British left and the left British gun appeared!!  It promptly put a round of white phosphorous into the building. The British ATR teams repositioned towards buildings where they could prevent the German tanks from exiting. On the right, the malfunctioned British gun couldn’t be fixed and was eliminated from the game. The Germans sent another squad in on the right flank and killed the pesky British green squad that was holding up traffic but these heroes had already saved their brothers.

Turn 6 Ger EoT-proc

German Turn 6: The Germans were almost of top of the British now. A German tank got inside the British lines but one ATR team was broken and the other one couldn’t get close enough.  Good thing the white phosphorous forced the German death star to move.

Turn 7 Ger MPh-proc

Turn 7 Ger CC Got the gun!!-proc

German Turn 7: The Germans got up to the right ATR team and was wrecked at pointblank range! The Germans rushed up on the British left as well. They advanced up and captured the gun hex in the CC phase!!

Turn 7 Brit End .. KIA'd-proc

British Turn 7: The British couldn’t let the Germans have a fire phase to spike the left gun.  The British squad fired pointblank and KIA’d the squad!  This led to an interesting revelation after a few rounds of discussions on the forums.  There’s no way to kill the gun by small arms fire without a crew / possessing infantry (A9.74) present!  So the only chance of the Germans getting a tie is to kill it with the tank ordnance. 

We never got to that so here we go.  It’s a three hex range with an infantry target.  The base TH is 8.  The gun was emplaced, so there’s a +2 DRM. 

snakes

SNAKES!!  The Modified TH# is 8 .. rolled a 2+2 which is not less than half but it’s an original 1,1 nonetheless.. so we need a subsequent roll ..   subsequent That’s equal to half the Modified TH# of 8!!  CRITICAL HIT!!!

As AZslim pointed out to me on GameSquad, guns (and crew) are automatically destroyed on Critlcal Hits.  So both British guns were gone.  This game went all the way to the last roll – and it’s a DRAW!!

Gotta admit, this is some finish!!  Witness the narrative power of an ASL game – and that’s why we love it.