Achtung, baby!

Posted: March 4, 2013 by mearrin69 in Gaming
Tags: ,

sl_boxcoverLL and I dug deeply into my games library this Monday, laying hands on an old wargame gem we’ve both barely ever touched: Avalon Hill’s Squad Leader. I picked up this game and some of the accompanying expansions way back in, let’s see, 1988 or so. I played a couple of times with some mostly disinterested parties and a few times solo (which isn’t much fun). LL played a few times as well, when a few “grognards” found enough charity in their cold hearts to let a girl sit in on their game. Needless to say, neither of us remembered much about the rules.

They’re not that bad, actually. Though there’s a lot of material in just the basic game, the rules are broken into sections providing bite-sized gulps needed to play progressively more complicated scenarios. The first scenario, which focuses on the Russians trying to oust the Germans from a section of Stalingrad, comes with rules that introduce basic movement and combat, support weaponry, unit morale, and other essentials. The second scenario brings in demolitions charges, smoke and concealment, and some other things. Tonight we played the first scenario, called “The Guards Counterattack”.

You can see the setup in the picture below, stolen from because the one I took didn’t quite come out! The German counters are light blue and the Russian counters are brown. The Germans have a number of good leaders, several LMGs, an MMG, and a HMG. The Russians have a lot of troops, a couple of pretty good leaders, and an MMG. The scenario specifies in which buildings the units should be set up. The goal is for the Russian player to capture two more stone buildings initially held by the Germans than they lose of their initial holdings within five turns.


Those of you used to absolute balance in gaming might be turned off by “proper” wargames, which often present a pretty one-sided situation based on historical events with only a little attempt to provide “fairness” to both sides. This scenario isn’t that badly unbalanced but the Russians definitely face a tough task. They’re facing a bunch of crack German troops armed to the teeth with MGs and sheltered in good cover. To win, they’ve got to advance across open ground (thankfully fairly short stretches of it) and engage the Germans up close. A battle of attrition is likely to end badly for them…and isn’t possible anyway, given the five-turn limit.

Squad Leader is played in turns with one player going first, followed by the other. Each player turn includes several phases that, in this basic scenario, boil down to: 1) rallying demoralized units, 2) laying down preparatory fire, 3) moving units that didn’t prep fire, 4) fire by defending units, 5) firing by units that moved or stayed put but didn’t prep fire, 6) routing units demoralized by fire, 7) advancing (possibly into close combat), and 8) conducting close combat. In this scenario, the Germans set up their units first and the Russians take their first turn.

This was just an introductory game and I’m not going to give a play-by-play here, but I’ll cover the highlights and things we learned. LL chose to play the Russians and I the Germans. We set up and she took her first player turn. Right away we found out how important the Preparatory Fire phase can be. She got a couple of her units working together as a fire team and brought a lot of rounds down on a small group of Germans manning an LMG. The leader failed his morale check and the soldiers did likewise, becoming “Broken”. Broken troops can’t contribute to the fight and must run to cover in the Rout phase…though they can shelter in place if they’re already in cover and there aren’t any adjacent enemy units. Also, if they fail another morale check (which they might have to make if a stacked leader fails his or they come under fire again) they are eliminated completely!

The other important bit comes from the organization if the Combat Resolution Table (CRT). The Squad Leader CRT is arranged in columns by ascending points of Fire Power (FP). By combining the FP of stacked and adjacent units, you shift your die result further to the right on the CRT. With just 2 or 3 points of FP, you have to roll very low to have any effect; but at 24 or 30 points of FP you start to get into deadly territory. Your roll is modified by things like the influence of leaders and terrain effects: shooting at a target in a stone building adds three to the roll, for instance, making low-FP attacks on units in cover virtually useless.

So: if you want to take a position guarded by units in a building you’re going to have to use the Prep Fire phase to lay down some good cover fire to make them keep their heads down so that your advancing troops don’t get cut to pieces in the Movement/Defensive Fire phase. If you can kill or demoralize the defenders then your moving units can get out there, fire again, and then advance into close combat to finish off the survivors and send the Broken units running for more defensible cover.

Your moving units also have to be concerned about Line of Sight to other enemy units. During the Defensive Fire phase, defending units get to take shots at the attackers. If your unit are moving in the open and cross the LOS of a unit in range, those units get to fire at yours…with a big bonus to their roll on the CRT. This, as we found when a group of LL’s units crossed a street guarded by three German units with three LMG support weapons, can be quite deadly. Several of her units were gunned down on the move and completely eliminated.

There’s a lot more to the strategy and tactics of this game than I can possibly cover here…and we certainly haven’t learned everything there is to know, even about this first introductory scenario. Hopefully we’ll get to play Squad Leader some more over the next few months and I can share some more details. If you ever find a copy on eBay or on the used shelf at your FLGS I have to recommend you pick it up!

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