Saturday, 25 November 2017

An Extraordinary Sequence of Events in Paths of Glory

Long-time gaming buddy Roger and I have recently turned our gaze to playing several games of the classic WWI CDG 'Paths of Glory'. I've played the game on and off over the years, while for Roger, this is his well overdue introduction to a game that perhaps more than most offers that beguiling blend of agony and ecstasy. In PoG, there is that frequent sense of 'so much I want to do' - now - but being only able to do one thing at a time.

In our first game, I took on the CP and it felt like a largely mediocre performance. The CP gained in the north on the eastern front, but the arrival of the Russian CAU Army set in train a steady demolition of the Turkish position. Then, by about early 1917, the Allies overwhelmed the Germans in the West and I folded after they were well into occupying Germany's west. Despite having played this game about 7-8 times, I've never reached the Total War phase, and this was no exception.

So, we changed sides for our next game, this time adopting the Tournament Rules. The removal of the entrenchment marker in Brussels helped the CP push westward and they were able to reach the Channel and dig in. A very effective strategy. Meanwhile, neither side had made any real gain in the east, with the Russians holding Warsaw with 3 armies. Gradually, however, the Germans and Austrians built up their forces in the east and, by the Fall of 1916,  they had the Russians on the back foot - as this screenshot shows:

As a result of the increasingly dire situation in the East, I decided to adopt a strategy of attempting to seize the initiative by setting the agenda on other fronts. Firstly, I did this in the NE, bringing the CAU Army into play and using any opportunity available to push deeper into Turkish territory (with a sense of deja vu as this is exactly what happened to me, in the previous game!)

Thanks to the Allies having the final card play of each turn, I was able to isolate a number of Turkish corps and seize control of a number of spaces through attrition.

Of course, my opponent's own strategy was similar to my own - in this case, preventing the Allies from having any real opportunity to push an aggressive agenda elsewhere on the map, by keeping the pressure on Russia.  Even if Turkey were to be knocked out, I wonder if their loss would be catastrophic to the CP cause. There are not a lot of VP spaces there.

Meanwhile, things were tough in the West. The Germans were well entrenched in their forts and in Liege.  The only way I could see making any headway at all was to simply try to launch a series of slugfest attacks to wear the Germans down and soak up replacements...and thereby keep the heat off the Russians. I also had a number of CC cards, allowing +1 drms to Allied attacks. Time to use them.

The first chance I got, I moved a French army and the BEF 5-3-3 into that notorious killing zone: Sedan.  I knew that this would provoke a CP attack from Liege, Koblenz and Metz (totalling something like 25 factors!), but I also knew that at worst, this would destroy the French army and allow the BEF to contribute to my key goal: an attack on Liege using 2, or even 3, +1 CC cards!

Sure enough, the CP hammered me in Sedan and after taking an extra French loss to remain in place, the BEF unit stood alone. In Liege, Roger also attempted to raise his entrench level to '2', but rolled too high and placed a '-1' marker.

There was nothing for it now, but to launch an attack on Liege at all costs. After some debate, I opted to use 2 '+1' CC cards, instead of 3 as doing so would have dangerously denuded my card hand.

Here is a screenshot as I was about to launch the attack on Liege:

I rolled on the 9-11 column, and got a 3, NOT good enough as I wanted to inflict 7 losses. Now I was wishing I had committed that additional combat card, doh! As we were playing this game via Vassal, I had invited the CP to play its own CC card during the log, but went ahead to do the CP roll. It was a 6. 7 losses. Goodbye most of the BEF, and I felt sure that the CP would absorb the 5 losses and stay put, given that 2 full strength armies were sitting in an entrenched position. End result - little achieved, apart from some CP attrition. I wrote: 'That's screwed it.'

But then, the unexpected took place. Roger played a 'Withdrawal' card, allowing him to restore his reduced Army, but then retreat to Aachen!  Woah. I promptly moved my surviving full strength stack from Brussels into Liege.

Pressure now on the CP to seize back the initiative and restore the situation in the West. Roger launched a 3-prong attack: Aachen + Koblenz (5+5+2 factors) vs Liege and Metz to obliterate the surviving remnant of the once proud BEF in Sedan.

First, Sedan was duly obliterated - but caused a German army to flip - nice. No advance.
Then, Liege. Roger decided to attempt a flank attack. The result?  A 4. Success.  Oh oh.
No CC cards.....and none from me either.
He rolled on the 12-14 column. Hmm...a 1. Lucky for me - 4 losses. But due to being a flank attack, the losses had to be taken before the Allies could roll. French army and French corps duly flipped.
Then my turn, now on the 7 col.

It's a 6!

5 losses. As a result, one Army has to be flipped AND there is only one way to take the remaining losses - to destroy the corps. Koblenz is left vacant!

Roger writes: 'Hm, now the CP is screwed.'

Indeed, it is. All I need to do is advance my stack in Liege in such a way as to isolate the entire German army in the west. PoG is merciless like that. Once your supply is cut off, you can't move or attack. Remain out of supply in the attrition phase and armies are eliminated. Permanently.

The CP called it quits....and once again, Total War had not been reached. Sigh.

This was an amazing sequence of events. I think the play of the Withdrawal card was instrumental in setting the scene for what followed. Then the die rolls completed what amounted to an entirely unexpected and rapid collapse of the CP.  Until then, I had thought a long and gradually crushing defeat of the Allies was on the cards.

PoG is overdue for a revision, but remains an awesome game!

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