Ryan Thomas enjoys playing "Wargame: Red Dragon" as his main strategy game, particularly as France and Czechoslovakia.
Better not bow out of the punches on Punchbowl. It's an intense and high action map which combines multiple parts of the map that are bitterly contested. It also has an initial crushing opening engagement. With diverse geography and many flanks, the battle is tactically complicated to play, both for the variety of potential zones to choose opening engagements and combat zones and the differing nature of fighting in a variety of different areas.
Punchbowl is a heterogenous map, a flipped version of Plunjing Valley, filled with a mixture of treelines, forests, plateaux, mountains, hills, and villages and a city. Generally, other than the very center of the map and to some extent in the area between this center of the map and the two zones of Echo and Foxtrot (shown here in the bottom right of the main combat areas), the terrain is somewhat closed. There are no large open areas where long and very long ranged engagements can be fought. Even in the open terrain in the two zones mentioned above, there are enough forests and bands of forest to make a classical armored open field fight unavailable, while the center of the map has a large city dominating it. The two plateaus in the east are heavily forested, although the southern one is more forested than the north. This isn’t to say that tanks aren’t useful; far from it. They are very powerful in the opener. They are very useful if they manage to catch enemy infantry in the open, and recon tanks in particular are very useful due to their stealth, which can make spotting them hard when they fire from tree lines. But much of it is clearly an infantryman’s battle, and a battle of close-ranged combat is where medium tanks dominate.
Echo and Foxtrot
The southern (from the perspective of the above photo) zone of the map is the most linear, with three roads traversing it and two command zones directly facing each other. There are some buildings for both sides, a ridge next to them to the west, and a dual forest cluster with interconnecting tree lines joining them. There is open terrain on top of the cliff and open terrain in the area between it and the central zone, Bravo, but this is itself flanked by large forests.
The presence of the urban areas and the forests helps make the zones reasonably easy to defend, since the infantry in buildings, particularly with ATGM teams, is hard to dig out. The tree areas provide ready cover and enable retreat, and are very useful for stealth reconnaissance tanks in particular. But these defensive advantages can be overcome by brute forces and it is difficult to know on this map where the focal point of the enemy attack will be. Often, enemy troops are not present in sufficient numbers to stop a determine attack. An armored thrust, preferably with motorized screening forces and infantry to fight in the city, can simply roll over the opposition, leaving the road open to the enemy base or for your own troops to dig in and gain the defensive advantage. Some infantry and recon in the forward forests, ATGMs in towns, a tank or two (particularly reconnaissance ones) and some sentinels above on the cliff zone make for a hard and very cost-effective nut to crack for either Alpha or Golf, although from the Golf perspective Foxtrot is easier to recapture since there is something of a contiguous forest connection between it and the forest area which normally Golf controls.
Outside of this initial rush, grinding combat in the zone typically favors mechanized decks due to the forest and urban combat, and generally closer distances. Artillery can be used to stun infantry and clustered forest units very effectively if one has M270s or Uragans. These can also be fired on approach roads during the battle opening if one wishes to delay the enemy. Although generally since one doesn’t know where the enemy forces are going at the beginning of the battle this is not cost effective.
Most of the time one can expect principal combat to take place in the center of the map. Taking the center has important advantages. It gives a strong position, very defensible, opens up additional avenunes of attack and of course, all other things being equal, gives an important conquest point advantage assuming parity in other zones. Often, both sides will collide in fighting here at the beginning as the overwhelming majority of their mobile units are devoted to this sector.
There are three normal engagement patterns: an armored thrust along the Southern road (the one closer to Foxtrot/Echo), infantry attack into the town ,and helicopter drops along the Northern/Eastern edge. Of course, all depend on what sort of deck is available. But it does dictate certain tactics and unit deployments. Running into an enemy armored spearhead will typically result in a close range engagement if you are both using the main road. This means that it may be better to use medium tanks rather than superheavy tanks at such a close range, since they are less valuable, more efficient at general fire support, and just as effective at such a close distance. This approach aims to catch enemy troops out in the open and for tanks to gain an advantageous position for fire support.
An alternative, and commonly used together with the previous strategy, is inserting infantry into the city in its middle section. On both sides there is a road leading in to this. Care must be exercised when fast moving troops at the beginning since sometimes they will take the wrong road. It is also generally a good idea to use smoke to screen them from the main road. A combination of fast motorized troops to establish beach heads in the city and more cost efficient follow up mechanized troops, as well as IFVs for fire support, would be a common approach, and an effective one most of the time.
Although the city is in the center of a smallish map, a helicopter drop is more viable here than on many others, since the city extends a good distance laterally, and therefor helicopters can be landed along its eastern side, where often AA is not located. This can set up a very effective crossfire against units coming in via the central section when combined with units on the main road.
North/Plateaus/Charlie and Delta
The Northern side of the map is a highly defensive position, for both sides. The plateaus can be easily garrisoned by infantry, who are well positioned to engage troops climbing up onto them (particularly on the Charlie side), while the open terrain on the far side has buildings which enable defensive positions to be established. There is also an additional distance to be covered starting out from the home base, and it thus takes a longer time to reach it. Controlling the central city means that with the automatic pathfinding of Wargame, reinforcements will often try to cross it and be destroyed. This can be overcome, but requires additional micromanagement. So attacking the sector is a difficult dilemma which has drawbacks.
There are also however, some major advantages to taking the zones. Combined, there is a conquest point total of 4 points, more than all other contested zones put together. Furthermore, it offers a strong defensive position along most incoming routes once it is captured, particularly for the Charlie zone where the plateau has a cliff which as mentioned above is a very good spot for stationing infantry to massacre troops coming up. On the Delta side, there is less in the way of single, uniformly superb defensive lines, but there are plenty of large and deep forests which don’t have open terrain like Charlie. For factions with good infantry, forest fighting here is a great option.
Even if not all of the territory is taken, just holding the opponent’s village makes for a +2 point advantage. The villages when captured are defensible positions, and easy to reinforce provided some micromanagement is exercised over their pathfinding and they are sent through the village on one’s own side. For both sides, having troops along the back side to deal with infantry forces behind the lines and raids is a good idea.
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Generally, it is wise to position some defensive pickets along the access routes to the plateau, as well as in the village on the far side. Line infantry, cheap and useful for cutting down enemy vast motorized vehicles attempting to make their way up, are probably best, while ATGMs and recon infantry in the village are advisable. Care should be exercised when deploying these mechanized line infantry to the plateau picket positions, since sometimes they will try to take the lowland road and render themselves vulnerable to enemy armed motorized assets. Instead they should be deployed onto the plateau and then routed to their defensive positions. If possible, some anti-helicopter units are very good to have since a common tactic is a helicopter drop there. Although mechanized decks are best suited for the zone with its extensive forests, motorized and airborne decks are often best for actually seizing the terrain.
In addition, capturing the zone can enable infiltration into the enemy base more easily through the woods behind.
All of the zones on Punchbowl are defensible once captured. Buildings, cliffs, forests: attacking a captured zone is tremendously difficult. And yet it is common for zones to be captured at the beginning, given that three viable attack routes means that it is often the case that at least one will be taken. So if you do have to, what sort of doctrines can be used?
Retaking the plateau regions is extremely important due to their high point value. The Charlie zone has some of the most forbidding geography, with the cliffs that can be garrisoned. These can be bombarded, smoked via mortars, and attacked with infantry and then follow up tank forces to attempt to force a re-enter, but of course the enemy can themselves deploy their forces in depth to make such a tactic less decisive. At least however, one can enter it and begin standard forest fighting tactics, while the open roads means that armored units can be used in the north-western edge.
Flanking troops are useful, although not necessarily as much as on the Alpha side since there is some open terrain with a road which can enable them to be caught out in the open. But they can still outflank the enemy and if the village is insufficiently head, retake it, either killing the enemy CV or organizing vision on it.
The Delta area is less forbidding to enter initially than the Charlie side, although the tree line is again a problem to deal with. Outflanking infantry is very useful, particularly to find enemy infantry CVs quartered in the village. Once in the forest, it is a dream come true for normal mechanized decks.
The central city is a hard target to retake since it is broad, enabling ATGMs to be used from multiple angles, with good lines of communication for reinforcements, and large cleared zones in front of it. From the Golf side it is easier, since at least there are some bushes and scattered buildings which can be used for reconnaissance infantry to push up enough to hopefully spot firing ATGMs. After this, the standard usage is a mass infantry assault with follow up tanks and fire support vehicles, and rocket pod helicopters if there are no AA pieces of MANPADs present.
From the Alpha side, there are fewer bushes and houses to help approach, although there are some tree lines to provide stealthy firing spots for reconnaissance vehicles. The best way to attack is to control the building complexes on the Southern side of the central road. Then smoke can be deployed to shield them from enemy tanks and they can push up into the village, using fire support assets to support them as they attack. Otherwise tactics are standard, focusing on building up infantry with a critical mass of fire support units behind the, pushing up and spotting enemy units as they fire and silencing them with your own fire support assets, rocket barrages to stun the enemy, and smoke to screen off and isolate them.
Although not a command zone in of itself, attacking from the Alpha sude to the Golf, it can be useful to attack to take the forest between Golf’s home base and the three other zones, since this provides additional defensive depth, spots enemies, and can even be used to threaten the enemy base. But this can also lead to over-extension, particularly if your deck is not well adapted to forest fighting and enemy airpower is dangerous so close to the base. It depends on how much you want to invest here: generally it is good for a limited fight or if it is more efficient for you than the enemy, but you shouldn’t become fixated here.
The two Southern zones of Echo and Foxtrot have their own peculiarities. Attacking the Foxtrot zone to retake it is easier when done from Golf than the comparative retaking of the Echo zone from the Alpha side. This is due to the presence of a contiguous forested terrain region in the corner of Foxtrot close to Golf's base, which enables your infantry to advance into the zone without trying to cover an open region. Also the Foxtrot village is smaller which enables it to be better suppressed by artillery and smoke. Controlling the heights with some bushes overlooking it also can give some vision on it. Once these are retaken, then you can advance into Echo.
From the Alpha, it is easier to take the cliffs, but the zones themselves are harder. There are large open areas, which make for attacking over them hard, a large village which is easily garrisoned, and forest areas on the receiving end. Generally you will want rocket artillery to suppress the forest and village or smoke to screen off the latter, reconnaissance assets on the cliffs to spot enemy troops, and plentiful infantry to grind through the city as well as strong armored assets to fight the enemy at range to enter the forest and then cost effective medium tanks once fighting shifts to close range.
For both sides, their home base has large urban centers which can either accommodate infantry CVs or hide jeep CVs. I would recommend against placing them in the forest along the edges since this can become an easy target for an enemy woods advance, who will encounter them as some of their first units engaged. Placing the FOB here may be useful however, as it will cause the FOB to be captured and serve to warn about infiltrators. The plateaus have large forests which enable any style of CV to be used, although picket infantry should be assigned to defend against enemy raiders. In the central city, provided it is captured in its entirety, there is ample capacity for infantry CVs and even jeep CVs to be used. If Alpha doesn’t own the entire city but it does have its small lines of buildings in its corner which can accommodate an infantry CV, this can help to ensure that the zone is neutral at least. It is vulnerable however, to bombers, artillery, and enemy attack. A tank CV will almost certainly be spotted and killed.
The Southern command zone is in a normal engagement split into two decent spots for both sides, Echo and Foxtrot. The forested area on the heights for Echo, and forested area in the opposite corner corner close to Alpha's base side, and the two forested areas near the edge of Foxtrot's zone closer to Golf are prime CV locations. One can also place CVs in the buildings, but the Foxtrot one in particular is commonly exposed to enemy artillery fire. Of course, if one has succeeded in taking both zones, much more free and random CV placement can be chosen. When the zone is contested, it is often better to have tank CVs in the woods due to the proliferation of artillery fire.
Due to the substantial forest space surrounding the map, it is a particularly propitious one for the usage of special forces. Both reinforcement roads can be engaged from woods next to them, and one can easily sneak around into the enemy base to spot FOBs, CVs, reinforcements - and potentially even kill CVs if they are badly placed. This can be done by flowing helicopters around the edge of the map, but on the Southern side one should pay attention to have them skirt at great distance, since there are often reconnaissance assets somewhere around here. The Southern area is also very propitious to usage of special forces to assassinate CVs, such as the Golf side being able to potentially kill a CV from Alpha in the forested area on the hills in Echo, or on the Foxtrot side to station in the bushes overlooking the village below, where they might be able to enter the forest below.
On the plateau region, the large forests make for very effective zones for the usage of special forces, who can move in and out quite easily and take advantage of the forests. If one is attacking the villages on your side (or the enemy side), they can be very useful at spotting enemy supporting units, reinforcements, and assassinating CVs around the edges.