Unpacking the “Case Yellow” Introductory Scenario

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you have probably noticed that I really enjoy playing the “Dark xxxx” series of games designed by Ted Raicer. Most of my gaming is done solo, and I find that the chit pull activation of units/formations makes for a really enjoyable solitaire experience.

“Case Yellow” is another one of Ted’s designs put out by GMT games. It’s not technically part of the “Dark” family, but there’s enough similarities that I consider it part of the series. Although I was tempted to go straight into the full game, I realized that I had a pretty full dance card already and decided to start with the games introductory scenario “Fortress Holland” back in September.

Not only does the intro game offer you a chance to learn the rules, but the small footprint and single turn made this a perfect choice for me to play. Even though I’ve been crazy busy as a teacher at a new school, this game really lends itself to playing in “chunks”. You can spend a few minutes playing before bed one night, and then come back in a few days to finish up without feeling like you forgot what was going on.

Initially I had wanted to do a very AAR style report for the introductory game. But a couple of things happened. First, I was more careless than usual, and made a lot of rules errors. Which is exactly what you are supposed to do with an intro scenario! That’s the whole point, it’s a low stakes way to learn the system. I blame it on teacher brain. But my sloppy play didn’t lend itself to a full AAR. I also was surprised at how fast this turn can fly by! You can easily play through this scenario in an hour your first time. I decided that maybe I would hold off on that style of post until I tried the full campaign game. So for now here’s 3 things I really enjoyed about the mini-game.

#1: The Air Phase and its Choices

In “Fortress Holland” , the German player needs to capture 5 cities (one VP each) for a victory. Alternatively, capturing 3 towns can also gain you a VP. You only have a few mechanized forces, so you have to make an interesting choices with how to use the airborne units. Depending on what is in the hex (terrain, enemy forces) they have a better or worse chance of surviving their drop. Do you send those paratroopers and gliders directly into the cities and risk losing those them before the game really starts ? Do you play it safe and drop them near river crossings?

I decided to take the middle road and dropped 3 of the 4 regiments into the smaller towns as a way to try and snag an early VP. In my game this worked out pretty well, and I only lost one regiment. Oddly enough it was the one I dropped in the safest place!

The air asset system is pretty straight forward. You can allocate your planes to either support ground combat or disrupt/interdict enemy ground units. In this scenario I found the air units most useful in the combat support role. The Dutch forces in this game have their movement restricted with some special rules (more on that in just a bit) and disrupting the ground units (disrupted units have lower movement point allowance) was kind of a waste. Also the airborne regiments have an attack strength of 1/2, so if you’re going to use them in a ground attack, you’re going to need a little help from above.

#2 The Refugee and Bridgehead Mechanics

The terrain in this game is really interesting. In the real world scenario, a huge part of the French defense system was the natural defense provided by the rivers and forests. I’ll be honest, before I played this game I didn’t even really know what exactly a bridgehead was. In short, it’s a small contingent of friendly troops that gets on the “enemy side” of a river in an attempt to gain control and help get the majority of the force across. Several types of German units can create a sort of “bridgehead bonus” to their attacks if they make a successful roll against the chart.

One last quick note about the man-made defenses scattered all over the map: the German player will also have a tough decision to make here. Those Allied defenses cost extra MP to move through, but you can destroy them by spending 1 MP as you go though them. You have to decide if it it’s worth it to spend the extra MP and potentially speed up the forces that are following behind you.

I also found the refugee counters that can be placed very interesting. I think I’ve only ever seen that type of counter in a game once before. Basically, once the markers are placed it forces the the defenders to pay extra movement points to move into the affected cities. This played a somewhat limited role during my game, but I could see it becoming a major headache for the Allied player during the full game.

#3: The Historic Feel

I always enjoy pairing the game I’m playing with a book (or two) about the actual historic event. For this game I mostly listened to the audiobook version of William Shirer’s “The Collapse of the Third Republic” and a library copy of “To Lose A Battle” by Alistair Horne. I also pawed through my trusty Time-Life collection books. I’m by no means a professional historian or expert, but all of these books seem to place the blame for French/Allied defeat on factors like poor communication, infighting/suspicion between the Allied Forces and outdated WWI tactics. But perhaps the biggest failure was the refusal to move with any real sense of urgency during the German invasion, and several game mechanics really capture that hesitant feeling.

The first way this is modeled is the different types of action chits that can be pulled for each force. The Germans have the option to move OR attack with each of their action chits. The Dutch player pulls either dedicated “Move” and “Attack” chits. During my game (see the above picture of the action round track) I pulled the combat chit immediately after the German move chit…and there was literally no eligible attack to be made. What a waste!

My second chit was the Dutch “Move” chit, and so you would think that I expertly maneuvered those orange cardboard pieces into a strategic defense of their home county…and you would be wrong! Let me explain. Do you notice in the picture below how a lot of the Dutch units have a little black star near the upper right? Units with that mark don’t get to move on the first “Move” chit! This is done to model the extremely slow mobilization during the initial days of the attack.

Now even with all those advantages, this is a really challenging setup for the German side. You have to really think ahead about how you are going to use the few “speedy” Panzer/mechanized units you have on the board. My game ended as a German marginal victory because I had to resort to terror bombing to earn the necessary VP. I found this little scenario to be a lot of fun to play. Obviously there were some aspects of the game that will only really come into play with the full campaign. But if you find yourself with a limited amount of gaming time, I highly recommended giving this one a try. The game is out of print, but you can get a copy for between $100-$150 bucks the last time I checked. I feel like that price is worth it though, because of the replay value. Not only does the chit pull mechanic guarantee very different experiences every time you play, there are also two “Alternate History” campaigns that allow you to examine how the battle might have changed if the Allied forces had been positioned/prepared differently.

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