Monday, March 27, 2017

Club Day - Team Yankee and V4-MW

On Saturday I was at the club for the first time this year, having arranged with Chris to give Team Yankee a go. Having agreed on 55pt lists, I turned up with 11 T-72s and two Hinds, while Chris had six M1A1s and two Cobras, very nicely painted for Desert Storm.

We rolled for a mission, coming up with Counterattack. When I deployed my first platoon as the defender, we laughed and immediately switched to Dust Up instead. The issue was the distance between the two deployment zones, placing us 8" apart at the start of turn one, and that kind of standup short range slugfest was not what we wanted from the game.

With each of us setting up with just a platoon on the table, Chris did everything right: taking up concealed positions and getting off the first shot. He was let down by some awful dice that left two tanks dead on each side - no big problem for the Soviets but catastrophic for the Americans. They passed their Formation Last Stand, and second platoon of Abrams came on from reserve. The same thing occurred: the Americans took up good positions and fired first, but couldn't survive poor dice.
We ignored a failed formation last stand for the Americans and played on in order to get the helicopters onto the table and give them a run. The Cobras tried a few times to shoot down the Hinds with their Miniguns, but fell short on 5+ Firepower tests. With the second T-72 company arriving from reserve, it was only a matter of time before the last two M1A1s succumbed to weight of firepower.
The game was over in less than an hour, so we reset for a No Retreat with the Soviets attacking. Chris swapped one M1A1 for a pair of F16s. With the Americans having just three M1A1s available until their reserves arrived, I pressed forward, set up a gunline with one company along the ridge in the middle, and swung the second company around to the right and towards the front objective.
Chris got his Cobras on as reserves, and once again they tangled with the Hinds to no effect. I lost two T-72s from the centre company, but the remaining three plus the Hinds killed one Abrams, putting the platoon into poor spirits. The survivor stuck around, but the Hinds switched target and Spiralled the company commander, leading to an auto-fail of American formation morale on the start of their turn three due to having no units in Good Spirits on the table.

Once again we played on, and the game turned quicker than I believed possible. The survivor from the first M1A1 platoon was able to move into a position to contest the objective, the second M1A1 platoon came on from reserve, and the F16s decided to arrive two turns in a row. By the end of that second turn of air support, all of my tanks had been destroyed.
Reflecting on the games, the Americans struggled with the fragility of their two-tank platoons and their vulnerability to a single bad dice roll. The gameplay was fast and brutal, and it looked good. Apart from our issues with the Counterattack mission, there weren't any moments where we thought "this doesn't feel right". However, we believe it would play better with more space for manoeuvre, and to this end, we have agreed that our next game will be 75pts on an 8x6. The arrival of the American jets was a game-changer, and my future Soviet builds will have to include a decent amount of AAA. My plan at the moment is to extend the T-72 companies from five to six tanks each, keep the Hinds and add pairs of Shilkas and Gophers, and a BMP-2 scout platoon. It could feel sparse in a table that big, but that's more a function of the lists we are using, given the number of T-55s or Leopard 1s that could fit into 75pts.

With two games finished before lunch, I grabbed my 8th Army and Afrika Korps armies, and we ran through a game of FOW V4. Sorting through the collection, we came to 77pts each with the British having a formation each of Crusaders and Grants, plus a platoon of Humbers totalling 24 vehicles, facing off against a 14 vehicle mix of Panzer IIs, IIIs, IVs, and SdKfz 222s. Under V3 these forces would have totalled 1515pts and 1365pts respectively. I took the Germans, and we set up for Encounter.

Chris ran the British force exceptionally well. Cribbing an extra 8" headstart for his first Crusader platoon using Spearhead (which I had previously dismissed as all but useless), he hit my five-strong Panzer III platoon with five Grants to the front, coordinated with what seemed like a never-ending stream of Crusaders using their pace to turn into my flank. My positioning was never quite right, and I lost too many shots trying to fix it with failed Blitz Move orders. The Panzer IVs finally came in from reserve on turn five but by then it was too late, and by the end of the next turn I was overrun.

The game played well. It went quickly and produced no weird results. 75pts on a 6x4 felt reasonable - it could maybe do to be slightly fewer points but I certainly wouldn't want to go any higher, given the number of tanks the British can field.

I was left thinking that for this particular match-up the German list needed a platoon of PaK38s, either in the Formation Support slot or as part of a small Afrika Rifle Company. Crusaders are going to struggle to take an objective held by three PaK38s, creating a problem for the British: the Crusaders need to get into the flanks of the Panzers in order to do any damage, but won't be able to without being drawn onto the PaK38s, which they are going to struggle to kill. It's clear that while the rules have been streamlined, and the first release of lists brutally pared back to their most basic core, the mid-war game still poses interesting challenges.

All in all, it was an excellent day of gaming. My next immediate project is finishing my LW British armour for a game with McZermof, hopefully in a month's time.

Monday, March 13, 2017

FOW V4-EW/LW - First Impressions

My copy of the Flames of War V4 EW/LW rules arrived on Friday, and while we haven't put it on the table yet, my general first impression is favourable. Here are a few observations from reading it through, many of which are good things.
  • You have greater freedom than ever to operate out of command, but it has the potential to go horribly wrong once you start getting shot at. If you split a platoon you are probably asking to lose it.
  • While the consequences of failure are less significant than they used to be, tanks are much less likely to be able to successfully move through difficult going. Assaulting into woods on a 3+ cross check is going to be a very different proposition to doing it under the old 2+ bogging check.
  • Weapons platoons are more important now than they have been since Support/Combat platoon ratios were removed in V2. Since Support platoons don't contribute towards Formation Last Stand, stacking a list with divisional support is going to make it fragile. It's going to take a bit of gametime to work out what impact this will have on Early War tank lists at the 1000pt level usually played here, as (with the exception of the Germans) they generally don't have any Weapons platoons available to them.
  • Another potential impact on small games: I usually run pairs of anti-tank guns, but this doesn't seem sensible under V4 as the platoon will be testing as soon as one is lost.
  • Mortars are going to become more popular due to their low price, increase in FP, and being Weapons Platoons. This is despite losing their reroll on the first attempt to range in. Nebelwerfers have lost their primary advantage of not suffering a To Hit penalty for failing to range in on their first attempt.
  • Significant changes to the rules for flamethrowers to bring them into line with normal shooting. They now have a normal roll to hit rather than skill checks to hit. The addition of Breakthrough Gun to their statline means that teams hit by flamethrowers now get rerolled successful saves instead of being automatically destroyed. Balancing this, they no longer appear to be single use weapons, and there is no longer a restriction on movement prior to shooting.
  • Curious that going to ground does not improve survivability against artillery. The only difference between being caught moving in the open, and being dug in, concealed and gone to ground, is the Firepower roll. Combined with rerolling made saves under repeat bombardments, it looks like a deliberate attempt to make infantry easier to dig out, and is a big change from the previous philosophy of artillery being largely ineffective against entrenched infantry. 
  • I note that Spearhead doesn't stack like it does in TY: the move cannot be made if the Spearhead unit is placed outside of its normal deployment area using the Spearhead rule. The rule as a whole is very restrictive, and in most missions it is either not able to be used due to the layout of deployment and objective areas, or is only useful for cribbing a few extra inches of deployment area. Reconnaissance doesn't seem to be as important in this game as it was in previous editions.
  • Struggling to get my head around the logic of the air support rules. Your flight has a number of planes that is determined by the level of air support you purchased, but the number of planes has no impact on the effectiveness of the air strike. The only benefit of a more expensive level of air support appears to be that it may last a bit longer in the face of anti-aircraft fire. 
  • Staying with the topic of air support, Typhoon rockets used to have AT 6 FP 3+, which has now been mapped to AT 3 FP 3+. This feels a bit light given their reputation, and is probably not at a level where I'd feel the need to bring Wirbelwinds to the table.
On the whole it feels like a good upgrade, and I'm looking forward to getting the chance to try it out.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Postscript to Thoughts on the Afrika Korps Spoiler

Less than 12 hours after my previous post about the upcoming Afrika Korps book, WWPD posted a spoiler of its companion, Desert Rats. This was one of the three missing pieces of context that I felt made judging AK difficult, with the other two being design notes, so that we could have insight into Battlefront's intended scope for the book, and an understanding of how the roadmap of future releases is likely to play out.

Like AK, Desert Rats is notable for what is missing: Shermans, Deacons, portees, 2pdr anti-tank guns, Priests, and variety in armoured car choices. It too has a dubious inclusion in the form of the 17/25pdr anti-tank gun. My guess is that the Tiger was included in AK because Tiger, and the 17/25pdr then had to be added to try and restore game balance. But once you subtract those anachronisms, in my opinion the two books are actually a very good representation of generic forces from British and German armoured divisions in July 1942.

Seeing what is in Desert Rats, the thinking behind AK, and mid-war in general, has started to become clear. It's now obvious that V4 is a total reboot of the system as Team Yankee WW2, targeted at those who have never played FOW, because with the completion of the V3 lists for the entire war there is now little money in existing customers. The mid-war models will all be sold as platoon boxed sets, and the scope of each list will be set by production capacity and release schedules for those boxes.

In a world where V1 to V3 didn't exist, V4 would be huge. A (presumably) tight set of fast-play rules that (hopefully) look and feel like a WW2 game, nice miniatures conveniently packaged, the promise of expansion into other nations and list types, an arms race between gamers as new units were purchased. But that those earlier versions have been and gone, that experience is exactly what playing FOW was like in its heyday, and the people most likely to be attracted by WW2 gaming in 15mm already have been there, done that, and many of them have drifted away. Since they have multiple armies across multiple eras sitting in boxes, they might try a game or two of V4 out of curiosity, but they won't stick with it because the lack of variety in the initial releases. It will be a couple of years before the system is mature enough to run a native V4 tournament, and by the time the game gets to that point those veteran players may not be able to be enticed back.

So where will the target audience, these new players that V4 is going to attract, come from? You can't accidentally find FOW in New Zealand any more. I believe there are only three brick-and-mortar retailers of FOW left in the country, and the nearest of those is a seven hour drive from my hometown, which just happens to be the capital and third-largest city. Without the product having a ground presence, people will only find out about the game by seeing it played, either at conventions or clubs, and that requires the aforementioned veterans to be playing it. There may be a small amount of growth from second generation players who have access to their dad's old miniatures, who will try it and may end up getting some of their friends interested, but that's it. But in all honesty, I can only see further decline for FOW in New Zealand.

The unknown in all of this is the EW/LW conversion, with the questions being how it plays, how the V3 lists balance out under the new rules, and how long it will be before those eras are remade in mid-war's image? And most importantly, will it be enough to at least keep people playing the game while MW sorts itself out?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

First Thoughts on WWPD's Afrika Korps Spoiler

WWPD has posted a preview of the contents of the new Afrika Korps book for FOW V4. To be honest, my feeling when reading the article was one of disappointment, and my initial reaction was a thought that I should cancel my pre-order of the new mid-war books. After further reflection, I'm still buying the books, but the disappointment remains.

I have played Flames of War since stumbling upon the public beta in 2001, and the Western Desert Campaign has always been my primary interest. I have seen the mid-war lists progress from the barebones versions in the 1st edition rulebook, through the Desert Rats/Desert Fox/Avanti Savoia supplements, to the Afrika compilation. I skipped over the release of North Africa until it was converted to V3 and re-released on FOW Digital last year. With each iteration the lists have increased in depth, flavour and historicity. In my opinion the lists in North Africa are very good: the splitting of the period into separate theatres guides themed list-building, and they give you a range of options for representing the unique units of the setting.

Based on the preview, it appears that Afrika Korps dispenses with all of that development. It very much feels like the first Team Yankee lists: cut back to bare basics, with precious few opportunities for variation, for players to take different paths to achieve the same outcome, likely leading to all armies created from it being almost entirely in common with one another. Gone are the odd units that made the theatre distinctive: the Dianas, the Bisons, the ex-Soviet 7.62cm guns, the reuse of captured British equipment. There are no FJ, no Pioniere, no Aufklärungen. And to cap it all off the book includes Tigers, completely dashing my hopes that the new books would give 1942 its moment in the spotlight.

I presume the reasoning behind sending screenshots of an upcoming book to a blog is to generate discussion and "hype" for the new product. Unfortunately for the moment the spoiler is out without any design notes being posted by Battlefront, without any information about the opposing Desert Rats book to provide a point of reference, and without any understanding of the roadmap to how additional lists are going to be released in future. This prevents the book from being seen in any kind of context, and results in the book being judged against customers' expectations rather than the scope and purpose that Battlefront had established for it. Those expectations have been established by the late-war books, and Battlefront shouldn't be surprised that this lack of a broader context has resulted in customers becoming upset about the mid-war lists being stripped back.

If I were to guess at the path that mid-war will take from here, additional lists will be released to cover the options missing from Afrika Korps, very much in the pattern of the Afgantsy and Panzertruppen expansions for Team Yankee.  This staged release is a let-down from the comprehensive V3 books that the community has become used to, especially so given that the NZ$18 price tag for a single one those TY lists is half the price of a LW compilation of two dozen lists. Looking further into the future, once a number of books and digital briefings have been out in the wild for a year or two, the familiar pattern from earlier editions will repeat as the lists are once again revised and combined into a larger compilation. This is unfortunate given that many veteran players will have purchased the same MW lists five times over, with Afrika Korps/Desert Rats being iteration number six, all in the 14 years since FOW was first published.

So, what does it mean for me? I'm definitely going to give it a chance, but based on my first impressions of a spoiler of the first two books of an as-yet unreleased new edition, my dream that V4 would bring about a local FOW renaissance lies in tatters.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Mi-24 Hind for Team Yankee

I'll post some more detailed thoughts over the weekend, but for now this is just a couple of quick photos of my first Hind, as I'm relieved to have finally finished it. Suffice it to say that, having spent a week's worth of evenings painting a single helicopter, I don't see a VDV list in my future.
Of course I still need to do one more to complete a minimum-sized unit, but I have a few T-72s that I will be working on before I attempt another one of these.

Monday, January 30, 2017

ValleyCon 2017 Review

Another excellent ValleyCon is now over. A huge thanks to the Hutt Club committee for putting on the weekend, to Chris for umpiring the FOW comp, and to the guys that I played. My Greece-themed motor company won four games out of the seven, placing 7th out of 14, and was awarded the prize for Best Army. The games went as follows:
  1. Encounter - vs German Pioneers - 5-2 win by objective.
  2. Free For All - vs New Zealand infantry - 4-3 win by company break.
  3. Fighting Withdrawal - defending vs Matildas - 4-3 win by turn count
  4. Breakthrough - defending vs Finnish armour - 6-1 loss by objective.
  5. Dust Up - vs French armour - 6-1 loss by company break.
  6. Cauldron - attacking vs French armoured cars - 6-1 loss by clock.
  7. No Retreat - defending vs Soviet armour - 4-3 win by clock.
This year felt different to last year, with many more medium/heavy tanks than I recall seeing in 2016. Trained tank lists did well, taking four of the top five places, with the highest-placing infantry list being German pioneers in fourth. I ran into a Finnish T34/T28/T26 list, a Soviet KV/T26 list, a Matilda squadron, Valentines supporting NZ Rifles, and French H35s/Panhards in two of the games that I played.

On the whole I was pretty happy with my list. I attacked and won two fair fights against infantry companies in rounds one and two, and it felt handy enough in those situations, but I struggled against the masses of tanks that I spent the rest of the event facing. The loss of either the 2pdrs or the A10s usually signalled the beginning of the end, and even with them in play I struggled to kill enough tanks with Armour 3+ to break any platoons.
The competition also reminded me that the Mobile Reserves rule in Breakthrough makes life difficult for mechanised defenders, and that as an infantry-based list facing tanks in Dust Up, no matter how well you play, there doesn't seem to be anything you can do to prevent your opponent from setting up a gun line and destroying half of your platoons as they are forced to come on from reserve. To me, that's an indication of a bad scenario - in the others there always seems to be a way that you could play it better and get a different result, but not in this one. I'm hoping that the "Battle Plans" concept from Team Yankee will be carried over into Version 4, as that at least gives you the ability to try and avoid a particular matchup through your choice of stance. That, and ensuring that there is plenty of good cover within 6" of all of the corners when setting up terrain.

My son Jaime played in the competition, taking a DAK Panzerkompanie of three Panzer IVs, three Panzer IIs, armoured cars and infantry, placing last with one win. Fortunately, it doesn't seem to have dampened his attitude towards the game. Now, if I can only get him into painting...

The Mid-War American tank company that I took to the Bring and Buy didn't sell, so I'm thinking I'll end up listing them on Trade Me. I bought a box of German armour, containing Panthers, Panzer IVs, Sturmtigers, Pumas, Lynx, Brummbars, an Elefant and a whole lot more. I thought this would be a fantastic addition to our collection, as it instantly gives us the ability to play a much wider variety of games than we have in the past. Funnily enough, it also contained a pair of Nashorns that I painted about 15 years ago.
So, on to plotting for next year, although there's no word yet on format. Having played 1000pt EW British lists for the last two years, I feel it's time for me to have a change, but whether that's taking a different nation or playing a different system, I haven't yet decided.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Completed Army for ValleyCon 2017

I have finally completed my army for the  Flames of War competition at ValleyCon 2017, which I have themed on 1st Armoured Brigade in Greece, April 1941.
Photos of the Commonwealth equipment in the Greek campaign show a real mix of colour schemes: single overall colours, Caunter, the two-tone green European camouflage of the period, and seemingly random disruptive patterns that look to have been sprayed on in a hurry.

There are a number of photos of abandoned 3rd RTR A10s, and good drawings in the Mike Starmer book on Caunter. The general pattern that they carry, with some variation between tanks, is a modified version of the official Caunter scheme, with silver grey replaced with the basic colour, and a single disruptive colour applied where the official scheme specifies slate. I originally tried light stone and slate, but the contrast between those two colours was far greater than was apparent in the photos, so I went with the silver grey instead.
The 15cwt trucks for the infantry have been painted in overall light stone to match the only photo I've found that is definitely a 1st Armoured Brigade 15cwt, backed up by the Rangers war diary which suggests that only their carriers and scout cars were given a disruptive pattern on arrival in Greece.
The Battlefront one-piece resin carriers are convenient and well detailed, but there were a few quality issues with the track mouldings, which I didn't dare try to rectify due to the brittleness of the material. The hull sides are also very thin and likely to break with handling. I also overlooked the fact that each pack only contain a single anti-tank rifle, not the one per vehicle that I needed, but it's too late to do anything about that now.
I found one photo that is presumed to be a Rangers carrier, but I wasn't able to recreate the hastily-resprayed look without making the model look like a mess. In the end, I have gone for a scheme inspired by the tanks. I'm not 100% happy with it, so I can't guarantee that they'll still look like this come the tournament.
Without a reference for the portees and guns of the Northumberland Hussars, I had to guess at a possible colour scheme. On the assumption that as frontline vehicles and thus would have had a disruptive pattern of some kind, I chose full Caunter.
With just under two weeks to go, the plan now is to do a couple of objective markers and a few more sangar entrenchment markers, and touch up some mid-war Americans for the Bring and Buy table, before moving onto Team Yankee.