No Battle Plan Ever Survives Contact with the Enemy- The Scheldt Campaign

The Scheldt Campaign
Game Designer: Brian Train
Art: Ilya Kudriashov & Tom Russell
Development Team: Tom & Mary Russell
Publisher: Hollandspiele
Company Website
Year Published: 2016

Scheldt Campaign
Initial setup

PREMISE:
“In late 1944, Allied advances are rapidly outstripping their ability to keep their fighting men in supply. The recently liberated port of Antwerp would alleviate this, but German coastal artillery and mines along the narrow eighty mile Scheldt River render it unusable. The First Canadian Army, which had been in continuous combat since D-Day, is tasked with clearing the Scheldt and opening Antwerp. They’re opposed by the 15th German Army, whose under-strength Divisions are composed mostly of new recruits or badly-battered veterans. Confusion, limited logistical depth, and poor communications put the Germans in a desperate situation. With their backs against the wall, the Germans were defeated but fought ferociously, dealing significant casualties, with the brunt of them taken by Canadian soldiers.” (Publisher blurb, https://hollandspiele.com)

Scheldt CampaignPRODUCTION QUALITY:
The overall production quality of the game components is nice, but not without a few very minor issues.
d10-1 The map is small but aptly sized for the game. The artwork has what feels like a blue or darkish tone. Almost as if it is perpetually dawn. I realize this is a personal gripe and purely an aesthetic quality as it doe not affect game game in any way. Otherwise, the map is clear and easy to read.
d10-2 The counters are really thick which eliminates the need to use tweezers to move counters around. They come with what I imagine is a sealant sprayed on them; this is a nice touch. The counter sheets in my copy of the game were a little off center. However, it did not affect play, but it is a cosmetic thing. The counters do have a strong odor. This appears to be a result of the lamination or sealant process. To be fair the odor does dissipate quickly.
d10-3 The player aid cards are clear and easy to read even if they were not cut straight.
d10-5 The rulebook is nicely laid out and easy to read. There is a nice example of play at the end of the book. As with their older games that may have already been printed and assembled, the rulebook is almost too large in terms of width and length for the game box. This is being addressed in newer games. Index, index, index! Did I mention it actually has an index? Nice touch guys!

MECHANICS:
At it’s the core, the game utilizes a “chit hand” that allows each player to select what options, as part of the command and control (C2), they would like to have available during the upcoming turn. The game centers on a C2 structure. The C2 features of the game include administration (G-1), Intelligence (G-2), Operations (G-3) and Logistics (G-4). Each “G” type of staff chit has a variety of in-game options available to the player. Far too many to explore here, but suffice it to say you will have lots of options to choose from.

Staff chits are chosen initially at the start of the game and again at the end of each player’s half of the turn from their available pool (multiples of each type). The chits will serve the player through their opponents half of the turn and during their next turn before they refill their hand. Lots of thought and care must be taken to ensure proper planning and execution of orders. The Allied player will always have 7 chits in their hand while the German player will only ever have 4. This is both an interesting and frustrating design element; player’s never seem to have enough resources to do everything they would like to. Such is the way of war!

Movement is very interesting. Brian Train programmed in two types of units and associated movement. First, units can be individual tactical units or they can be grouped together under a Task Force HQ (TF). Individual units and TFs are kept on the map, while TF component units are stacked on the OOB card just to the side of the map. When you play a G-3 Operations staff chit for movement, you can move a TF or an individual tactical unit. This can make for slow going so, TFs become crucial to rapid mobility. Playing G-4 Logistics staff chit allows you to execute strategic movement.

Combat is a bucket of dice pure and simple! The number of dice to roll is determined by the total number of combat factors of the attacking units plus any artillery (in range) and air support that was committed by play of one or two G-4 Logistics chits. Once the total is calculated, the indicated number of dice are rolled to determine the number of hits scored. Hits are scored on 5s and 6s only; rolling a 5 results in 1 hit and a 6 results in 2 hits. Terrain and defensive modifiers (which stack) can reduce the number of hits inflicted. After a defender takes at least 50% of the hits, the remaining hits, rounded up, can be converted into retreats.

The game is played out over 32 turns which seems like 10 many turns. It was about turn 12 out of the 19 turns we played when we realized what my German foces were going to do. My forces began to turtle on the island in front of my coastal artillery guns–elimination of the guns is a win condition. The attempted flooding of the guns was not sucessful and facilitated  my need to protect my guns. It’s possible the Allies would have broken through and detroyed the guns by turn 32 had we played beyond turn 19.

This is just a highlight of the major mechanics under the hood. I would encourage everyone to read the rules to learn more about the C2 system, special units, nationality specific options, and to see an example of play.

Scheldt Campaign
The dark tone to the map is clearly seen here

MY OPPONENT’S THOUGHTS & COMMENTS:
Jeff and I have been gaming together off and on for nearly 10 years. He is very well seasoned players, specifically with WWII games and his opinions and thoughts are important to me.

Set-up: I thought set-up was pretty easy and that the chart on the player aid was well thought out. I did not like the wide variation in the number of step-losses (1d6) that could be assessed, seems it could really affect balance between two experienced players.

Rulebook: I think the rulebook was decently written (it had an index), had rules references where needed in the text, and generally supported the flow of the game.

Gameplay: Easy and fun to play, with cool paths to ending the game and victory. The design achieved the effect desired. The staff chits are a nice touch and made me think about variants using a similar approach in other operational games (OCS). It gave a good feel for the limitations of each combatant, lots of decision making required, and made planning a requirement that could be influenced (disrupted?) by enemy action (for example, when you moved the unit into Antwerp). I did not like the lack of or the game interpretation of isolated units or the buckets of dice. Seems to me they could have made a d10 CRT using the center of the bell curve based upon attack factors for an almost identical effect (this has been on my mind since Saturday, and I even made an experimental CRT for that purpose). It may be a design decision based upon a reduction of rules/complexity overhead? I was not able to determine balance and wouldn’t mind playing again to completion now that we have an idea of what we are doing.

Components: Map-Hex coordinates were difficult to see (minor quibble) and the VP value of locations should be noted on the map (also minor and IMO). Counters are awesome!

PROS:
d10-1 Well written rules with an index
d10-2 Mentally challenging in all the right ways
d10-3 Nice thick counters, no need for tweezers and easy to read
d10-4 Easy to set and well laid out setup card
d10-5 Mechanically it’s easy to learn; mastering, that’s another story

CONS:
d10-1 Dark tone to the map, hex numbers hard to see in some areas, no VP values on the map
d10-2 Combat system is buckets of dice (YMMV)
d10-3 Initial step losses during set up seemed excessive (to both of us)
d10-4 Would have been nice for the staff chit legend to be on the map or player aid card
d10-5 Playing 32 turns seems to be a little overkill on the overall length

Scheldt Campaign
PARTING SHOTS:

Jeff and both had fun with the game and we’re looking forward to when we can get together again and play. I am taking the Allies next time Jeff, you hear me! This is one of those games on a subject I knew very little about before playing and I really enjoyed it. Lots of planning and decision making and bluffing attempts to be had. I feel like I got a sense of some of the stress involved in real command and control environments in yesterday’s and today’s military. While this will not become my all time favorite game for the reason mentioned above, it is definitely one I will enjoy playing from time to time.

~ Modoc

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. brtrain says:

    Thanks very much for your thoughts on play, guys.
    I am glad you enjoyed the game.

    Some thoughts:
    Game length – 32 turns is about right to bring the game to a conclusion, that is about the length of time it took historically (each turn is about a day).

    Casualty variability – there are enough initial die rolls among the German units (3 badly hit divisions @ 2d6 initial Hits each, 4 less damaged divisions @ 1d6 each) that it ought to come out in the wash. Or you could simply take the expected average and distribute 7 Hits and 3 or 4 hits among each category of division. Lightning will not strike you.

    Components – yes, those counters look great but they do physically stink. Let them air out or put a Bounce sheet or something in the box. Hollandspiele is getting slightly larger boxes, or slightly smaller printed materials, whichever, but the items now fit better in the boxes (this was the first game Hollandspiele produced).

    Bucket of dice – yes, it was mostly for simplicity and saving having to look up anything on yet another chart, and the method scales well. I am curious about the math you used in making up the experimental d10 CRT.

    Ultimate balance: well, the Germans are certainly not going to sweep the Allies back to France but that’s the challenge with the overall strategic situation. Despite the 32 turns, the Allied player has a lot of time pressure on him, to keep up the advance without fatally burning out his units. The German must defend intelligently and pick what is worth fighting for; he cannot defend everything. Different challenges to both sides.

    Finally, if/when you play this game again, when you get used to the chit system try this variation:

    To pose an even greater challenge to the planning powers of players, make this simple change with respect to playing Staff Markers (rule 6.3):

    After a Staff Marker has been played during an Operations Phase, it is not put in the Available Pile but is set to one side by the player. In the Planning Phase, the player makes his selections of Staff Markers for the next turn (rule 12.0). After he has done this, any Staff Markers played are now replaced in the Available Pile.

    This will have an interesting effect on play: players will no longer be able to exhaust all of one type of Staff Marker, with no thought for the next turn.

    Thanks again,

    Brian

    Liked by 1 person

    1. modoc31 says:

      Brian,

      Thank you for the comments. I’ll be sure to mention to Jeff about trying out the variation you included in your comments.

      ~ Modoc

      Like

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