A Leader of Men

I recently picked up a copy of A Leader of Men from TFP Games in Australia after seeing an ad on The Miniatures Page. I checked out Gordon’s sample pages and game reports on the webpage and saw that the game uses a random card activation turn sequence but has a few interesting twists on that theme that raised my interest. I normally don’t particularly care for unit-by-unit activation since it tends to drag in a multiplayer setting and leave most of your players sitting about while one player does stuff, but ALoM offered some interesting ideas that I thought might alleviate some of those issues, so I decided to give it a try.

The rules are currently available in PDF format only, although I think there are plans for a print version. They run 116 pages with good illustrations and examples throughout. Included are a number of scenarios, extensive data tables, and some example unit organizations. There are some typos and unclear places in the early versions, but Gordon maintains a yahoogroup and is sorting these out and has mailed out replacement pages for any that he has corrected.

To try out the game, I decided that we would play the same basic scenario as the last PBI game – Shelter from the Storm – in which German and Soviet infantry are both fighting for control of a town so they’ll have a warm place to ride out the coming blizzard. Forces for each side were identical to the previous game (more or less). the German force contained a couple of platoons of panzergrenadiers, a section of machine guns, a section of mortars, a platoon of pioneers with satchel charges and flamethrowers, a patrol of two armored cars, and a platoon of three Panzer IVE. The Soviets had three platoons of infantry starting on the table and three platoons as reincforcements. Reinforcements also included two platoons of three M3 Lee tanks. FInally, they had an assortment of support assets, of which a machine gun platoon and AT rifle platoon started on table and the platoon of mortars were reinforcements. I once again played the Germans while ken and Bob split up the Russians.

The Germans had a couple of large areas of woods providing cover for their approach to the village so I put the infantry in these two areas with the panzer platoon between. All of the on-table Soviet units were initially represented as markers and as the first Germans approached, the Soviets opened up causing some minor casualties. The German units began returning fire on the Russians occupying the houses in the foward edge of town and soon the casualties began to mount for the Russians. The Germans were veterans throwing a d10 with a couple of modifiers while the Soviets were green throwing a d6 with a a lot of advantages due to heavy cover. However, the die size advantage of the Germans began to tell, especially in terms of return fire casualties, where the Germans had the same d10 in defense and once they had stopped advancing, became tougher targets. The front line of Soviet defenders began absorbing heavy casualties , especially once the Panzer platoon moved forward and began blasting away. In ALoM, units are activated when that side’s chit/card is drawn and usually the unit closest to the enemy (or under the greatest threat) must activate first. The first couple of game turns saw the end of turn chit come up fairly early, which kept the action focused at the point of contact. This aided the Germans since we were initially getting a favorable exchange of casualties. The two front line infantry platoons began taking big morale penalties and eventually was either panicked and ran or were killed to a man.

As Russian reinforcements began moving forward, the Germans in the woods on the right massed to jump into the town. The mortar spotter worked his way forward and was soon ranging in on the Soviet infantry coming up from the rear. Once ranged in I was able to use one of the German Army Initiative chits (these are cards/chits assigned to each force that allows the commander to activate any unit, regardless of proximity to enemy units, or to reactivate units with remaining command points) to activate the mortar section. The falling rounds plastered the advancing Russians, killing and pinning several of them. They were able to get out from under the barrage using a Soviet Army Initiative. The observer tried to shift fire to follow them but the ranging shots disappeared behind some houses. Having seen Soviet infantry moving in that direction, the observer ordered the mortar unit to fire blind fire into the area. The deviation was favorable to me and another advancing Soviet unit took heavy casualties.

During this time the two Soviet tank units had advanced to the back side of the town and engaged in a gun duel with the Panzer IVE’s. The German tanks are armed with the short barrel 75mm gun designed primarily for use against soft targets. The gun’s AT was too low to penetrate the Soviet tanks, but the explosive effect required the Soviet tankers to take morale tests even if the armor was not penetrated. The Soviet Lee’s should have been able to penetrate and kill the German tanks, but being green they seldom hit the veteran Germans and when they did I was able to roll high enough to avoid being destroyed each time. The tanks remained engaged in a protracted but ineffectual duel for the rest of the game. Since the enemy armor was the greatest threat to each platoon, they had to fire on the enemy tanks unless command points were used to select alternate targets.

Following the loss of the Soviet front line, German infantry moved into the town and occupied buildings further into town on the left. On the German right, as the infantry moved out, a platoon of Maxim machine guns was revealed on the right side of town and opened up on the infantry. the forward elements of this platoon was overrun, but the remainder continued to put a withering fire on the advancing Germans, eventually causing a number of morale failures that prevented further advance.

The Soviets caught a break with a special event card that allowed them to change a units orders on local initiative. Ken had a platoon of infantry in some woods on the far left who were defending there. A large open area separated them from their commander, so getting a runner across with new orders would have been nearly impossible. Using the local initiative special card, Ken gave these men orders to get up and assault the Germans holding the left side of town. This attack caught the Germans in the flanks and swept through the platoon. Most of the unit was killed or captured with only a couple of elements able to fall back toward the Panzers.

At this point we called the game as a Russian victory. The Germans were running low on infantry and the Russians had one full strength fresh platoon entering town plus Ken’s largely intact counterattack platoon. the tank duel was ineffective, but would probably eventually go to the Soviets. My main mistake was not using my pioneer platoon effectively. These ended up behind one of the panzergrenadier platoons with nowhere really to go, so were not committed to the battle until it was too late. I should also have used command points to blast the buildings holding the machine guns on the right of the village. Continuing to shoot at the front of the Soviet tanks when I had little chance to kill them was not effective.

In general I liked A Leader of Men, and certainly liked it better than most card activation games I’ve played. Activating the unit in the most trouble focuses the action at the point of contact, but the Army Initiative cards give the commander some really key decisions to make – use the cards to bring up units from the rear sooner or use them to reactivate those units at the tip of the spear. Likewise, the command points for each platoon commander offer interesting choices – use them to reactivate a unit or target a specific element or save them to give a die size bump for that next morale test. The use of the different size dice was actually pretty smooth since a unit generally used the same die size each time. The consistent mechanism for all sorts of tests (morale, communications, ranging in artillery, etc) is also nice. I was worried that the opposed die rolls for combat would slow things down too much, but the simple system of modifiers allowed those rolls to be done fairly quickly. We did feel that the morale rules have too many different states and are a bit needlessly complex. Your mileage may vary. In general the rules offer a nice change of pace and since the scale is the same as FOW (reinforced company battles) I can easily use the same minis for both games depending on what my mood is.

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