Playings; 3 serious raids, several washouts, 10 hours
Many solitaire games build up slowly with a few turns of little happening but continuing events reducing the player's strength and giving him more to think about. Consider the gradual damage to the Sherman in Patton's Best or the loss of men in Ambush or ships in Carrier. There is no quiet period in this game, you get plastered right from the 1st die roll. It is some consolation that should losses be very heavy in turns 1 and 2 that little time will be wasted in setting up and trying again.
General volume 24 number 4 is de rigeur not only for an explanation of what happened historically (the British did not do too well) but also for a playthrough of the game plus an explanation of exactly how the various rules work. This is a big help because TAHGC typically have cut the rule book to a minimum leaving crucial rules hidden away in the general bulk. The British have 1 destroyer, the Campbeltown, and 17 other small boats to land at St. Nazaire harbour, do as much damage as possible and get home. The story of the Campbeltown and incidentally the raid is covered by one of the numerous 1950's black and white British war movies. Commando squads are based on the Campbeltown (6 squads) plus 1 each on most of the other boats. Some boats also have torpedoes to launch, some have torpedoes and no troops and others neither. British success depends on ramming the dock with the Campbeltown and blowing up the ship. Unfortunately the explosives are timed and the result of this action will not be known until after the game has finished. With the destroyer being a floating bomb and carrying a large fraction of all British troops it will be close to impossible to win the game if Jerry sinks it before the crew manage to ram the dock. This is usually a time for seriously considering setting up again.
Raid on St. Nazaire involves a naval and land segment, before the commandos can land and do any damage they must first sail through ferocious German fire. The game begins with all boats in the approach zone instantly attacked by German fire. The Germans have 1 shot on the Campbeldown plus any ships that are on fire (thankfully none when the game begins) then attack with up to 12 attacks. Results are assigned randomly to the ships and continue through all12 twelve attacks or until they miss. A 6 on D6 is required for a miss but the boats begin in the same zone as a searchlight which will convert a miss to a hit and then is assigned to that boat for the rest of the turn causing a -1 to hit for that boat only. It can be seen that initial fire will continue until a second 6 is rolled unless that 2nd 6 is on the boat caught in the searchlight when firing will continue. Generally rolls will be pretty close to the maximum 12. It is best to have all shots land on a few boats and knock them out while leaving the rest unscathed but with random assignments anything can happen. .Having had a good pasting from the shore guns British boats get to fire back at any gun or searchlight requiring 7 or less on 2D6 to hit. A second searchlight is due to open up on the approach zone so this is the usual priority target. If successful the British continue to fire with a +1 to the die each shot which limits the total number of shots. In general the British miss first time. The German guns get to fire again after the miserable British reply, on turn 1 this results in up to 12 twelve rolls with a 6 missing as before.
Next the British finally get to move but many of the boats will have no speed left for the turn. A few Germans appear on land but this will not affect the events on sea. Turn 2 sees the first boats landing, if the Campbeltown is to arrive at all she will hit on turns 2 or 3. Again there is a phase of German fire followed by a British reply and another bout of defending fire before this movement. The second German fire phase is based on where the boats are and as they split up some may come under extremely heavy fire but divert guns and reduce the danger to the others. Teams start to land in turn 2 (hopefully) but these may already have been damaged by fire while on board, from this point there develops a land game to damage the docks and a naval game to salvage the boats. In theory it is possible to sail boats into the inner harbour where they will be safe during the 1st but not the 2nd German fire phase however this does require knocking out a number of guns and diverting commandos from scoring damage to important positions. In practice the boats scoot for home after they have dropped off any commandos, German fire continues and a good few will be lost on the way back. Those boats equipped with torpedoes can do a great deal of damage if they happen not to sink before firing off. If their torpedoes hit they can destroy certain victory sites much quicker than the commandos but due to German gun fire 1 or 2 successful attacks will be lucky.
The naval section is area based and pretty disheartening as so many troops and boats are lost with little chance to fight back. The number of land units that can get onto the board will greatly affect how the game progresses. The land areas are box and line and the lines are marked for needing 1, 2or 3 movement points. Commandos move 3 at full strength but 2 on 50% losses. Germans move up to 3 but the player does not know how fast they will move until after the British move. New Germans will also appear each turn with increasing numbers and strength. British units start at 6, Germans run from 2 to 8 initial strength with armoured cars which are hard to destroy.
Having landed the troops, which will take more than 1 turn, options are still limited. Commandos must land at assigned zones and demolition parties must blow up their primary targets before they can try to destroy any other boxes. Of the 3 landing zones, 1 is slap on top of a German gun which if not taken out by naval fire or a lucky grenade attack on the turn of landing can be a problem. Having landed, demolition commandos rush for their primary attack boxes, about half the British troops are not demolition squads but have improved firing abilities and the 2 tend to pair off as soon as possible. Desperate rushes by lone demolition groups tend to result in them being shot down. Only after primary targets have been taken out do options widen although certain care is needed when approaching targets to ensure that the boys are alive when they get there. Demolition squads have the ability to explode charges 3 times per game but it is possible for an attack to have no effect and all charges to be spent with no result. Assuming reasonable speedy success new targets can be moved to and attacked. Only a fraction of boxes are marked to give victory points and only 3 (the submarine pens) can be blown up more than once. Some targets are built over water and if destroyed that box is removed from play, the commandos are allowed one further move to get away but this will hinder German pursuit. If enough bridges are blown the map can be cut into a North and South portion with the Germans in half out of the game. Time is at a premium and if the harbour is cut in 2 it may be necessary to leave some commandos on the wrong side rather than wait and have the charges fail to go off.
Quite a bit of exploding is necessary to build up the points for a win but if the damage appears high enough some attempt can be made to escape. The boats have probably long gone so the only hope for British teams is to fight to the edges of St. Nazaire, in game turns this involves moving to 1 of 4 German off-map areas and exiting. The off-map areas require 3 movement points to enter and entering an area with an enemy unit requires an extra movement point. It follows that any area with a German unit in it must be cleared first, new Germans appear in random boxes so an area can be cleared only to have another unit appear in it before the commandos move off. A reduced strength commando will also lack enough points to escape, while the British try to fight their way out other German units will converge. 0.1 points are awarded for each commando escaping by land and 0.2 for each getting away by boat. With full strength units at 6, a demolition plus support unit will rate 1.2 points by land and 2.4 by sea, blowing up and area will bring in 4 to 6 points. It is easy to spot which is the best option, note that units with no charges available might as well try to break out or draw Germans away from those still exploding things. If things are not going too well all options regarding withdrawing and saving charges for good targets are superseded by the need to stay alive.
To conclude this is a fine solitaire game, the box and line map may look a little like Mosby's Raiders but fear not there is a good deal of excitement here. The old S&T game Pegasus Bridge was designed by the same people but this is again a superior offering. It is annoying that so few points are awarded for rescuing commandos who have achieved their objectives, there is little incentive to bring the boys home. The historical raid was less than ideally successful in this respect and more lives will be saved by getting the boats back as soon as possible than by waiting around for the ground troops. A case of good history infringing on modern morals.