Monday, April 24, 2017

FOW V4-LW Game Review

Let me get this out of the way first: Flames of War Version 4 is an excellent game.

McZermof and I played two games at the club on Saturday. The set-up was 1750pt late war tank companies on an 8x6 table. We were a bit light on terrain, particularly roads, so that's something we'll have to work on for next time. 48 square feet is a lot of real estate to cover, but we managed to arrange it to avoid having large lines of sight.
For the first game, we tried the "Battle Plans" mission selector from the More Missions PDF. I chose a Prepared Attack posture, while McZermof went for Hasty Attack. The die roll to chose the specific mission had me defending in Breakthrough. This made sense: you could imagine that the British were in the process of preparing for a major operation when the Germans threw in a spoiling attack. I quite like the Battle Plans concept, but would need to think through how it would work in a tournament context.

Due to the size of the table, the game broke into three separate actions: a German left hook of three StuGs running into three Comets, which was a matchup the Germans were never likely to win; a right hook of seven StuGs and two Hornisse against five Comets, which were slightly better odds; and a flank march of Sturm Scouts that had to come onto the table in the face of four Stuart Jalopies and three Universal Carriers. The end result was a British victory for the lost of five of their eight Comets, most of the damage being done by an Hs129B3, with the Germans hitting Formation Last Stand at the start of their Turn 5. All up, the game lasted a bit over an hour.
The British Right Flank: Comets afloat in a sea of burning StuGs.
The Killer Blow: The StuG missed, the Typhoon hit, the Germans broke.
For the second game we decided to play Dust Up. This game went much better for the Germans. Their reserves turned up and were able to make a concentrated push for their objectives, while the British reserves were late and had to be committed piecemeal to try and stop them. The Luftwaffe turned up every turn except for the first, and their lone Hs129 single-handedly removed five Comets from the British left flank. It all came down to a single 4+ Unit Last Stand for the Stuart Jalopies, who through speed and determination had managed to get themselves past three StuGs and onto an objective before being reduced to a single tank. They failed, leading to Formation Last Stand for the British at the start of their Turn 7. This game was a bit longer, at about two hours, but still pretty good for a 1750pt game that involved a lot of chat and leafing through the rulebook.
The End of Game 2. Note Stuart Jalopy on the objective in the far distance, about to fail its Unit Last Stand
As mentioned in my previous post, there were three main things I had wanted to learn from the day.
  1. Pace and Space. Light Tank mobility is amazing, particularly on such a large board. Special mention goes to the Stuart Jalopies, whose combination of Light Tank and Spearhead opened up interesting possibilities for deployment in Dust Up. Half-tracked is not as good cross country, but given a decent road network it would come into its own.
  2. Transport. I didn't end up using the halftracks at all. The infantry in fact didn't move much at all, due to me being the defender in both games: they parked themselves on the objectives and sat there. The lack of roads on our table would have limited their advantage anyway.
  3. Air Support. The Hs129 was the MVP of game two, and my Typhoons did pretty well on the occasions that they turned up. While the reduction in AT to 3 for all bombs and rockets means that those weapons are not going to be a huge problem for tanks, cannon-armed aircraft are incredibly potent against medium armour. An immediate change I will be making to this particular list is dropping the Carriers for a pair of Bofors SPs so that I don't feel like such a sitting duck next time around.
To summarise my thoughts from the day, the ruleset is quick and clean, yet are still undeniably Flames of War. Many rules have been stripped back or removed entirely, but it's evident that an awful lot of thought has gone into what has remained. This would be the benefit of having had Team Yankee in the wild for a couple of years prior to V4 being released, in what was effectively a massive open beta of the revised mechanics. No matter how thorough the playtesting process, there is no possible way that V4 could have been as significantly a change from V3 while still being as slick as it is, were it not for the influence of TY.

There were only a few issues that we came across.

  1. Fighter Interception. Under V3, purchasing air support gave you access to both ground-attack aircraft and fighter interception. It appears that under V4 the only fighter interception available is the 25pt purchase in the Early War British and French lists. I have no idea why this would be the case.
  2. Hans-Ulrich Rudel. Not present in this game, but if your opponent happens to bring Rudel along, then all you can do is resign yourself to losing two tanks a turn for the entire game. First impressions, given what I've already noted above regarding cannon-armed aircraft, are that he's probably broken. I cannot understand the logic of making him immortal (Charmed Life, page 43 of Special Rules and Warriors), rather than being given a variation of the 3+ Warrior Save (page 3 of the same book).
  3. Semi-indirect Fire. It took us a few minutes to try and work out what exactly can be rerolled by Semi-indirect Fire when needing 7s or 8s to hit. I'm still not quite sure that I understand how it's meant to work.
And that was it. Two full 1750pt games with a new set of rules resulted in only three quibbles. To reiterate my opening statement, V4 is an excellent game, and I look forward to playing more of it.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Upcoming V4-LW Game Preview

This coming Saturday I have a game of FOW V4 lined up with McZermof. It's set up as a 1750pt late war game, being played on an 8x6 table. His post about it can be found here. I'll be taking my Comet Squadron for its first ever run, with my list being:
British Armoured Squaron - Nachtjäger
Company HQ, 290 pts
   2 x Comet
Armoured Platoon, 435 pts
   3 x Comet
Armoured Platoon, 435 pts
   3 x Comet
Recce Patrol, 185 pts
   4 x Stuart VI Jalopy
Motor Platoon, 140 pts
Scout Platoon, 95 pts
   3 x Universal Carrier + 1 x PIAT upgrade 
Limited Air Support, 170 pts
   2 x Typhoon
Total Cost: 1750 pts
I am borrowing M5 Stuarts and M3 halftracks from my American collection as I don't have models of their British equivalents, hence the difference in colours.  If the list is fun then I'll look to get the miniatures to do it properly.  I made up some removable commanders and .50cals to temporarily turn the Stuarts into turretless Jalopies.
Apart from getting a game in with a friend who is always great fun to play, there are a few other specific things I'm hoping to get from the game that have influenced my list build.
  1. Pace and Space. First impressions are that V4 looks like it promotes manoeuvre, so we want to put that to the test by putting quite small lists onto a table twice the size that they'd usually be found on. All of my vehicles have either Light Tank or Half-track mobility, so if the game has been built to favour movement then this is a list that should be able to exploit that.
  2. Transport. Under V3, motorised transport was only really of use on tables bigger than 6x4, and even then were usually more of a liability. Infantry have been given a significant speed boost in V4, but also now have a better save while mounted. It's going to be interesting to see how these two factors change the value of transport.
  3. Air Support. V4 is notable for the similarity of its rules to Team Yankee, and in that latter system failure to field air defence will cost you dearly. While nothing in V4 compares in any way to the firepower of the AGM-65 in TY, both of us are bringing cannon-armed ground attack aircraft to the table, and neither of us have any anti-aircraft units. Hopefully this will indicate whether fielding AA is going to be important in this system.
I'll post again after the game with some photos and thoughts.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Battlefront Mi-24 Hind

I had intended to do a build review of the Battlefront Hind, but there are lots of reviews and how tos out there so there's not really any point. To summarise my impressions of the kit, the model on the whole is pretty good. It goes together nicely, looks like a Hind, and is pretty impressive on the table. The join between the two fuselage halves follows the canopy framing rather than just running straight through the middle of the front windows, which shows someone put some thought into how it goes together. It hints at the characteristic twist in the Hind's fuselage without actually capturing it - undecided about this but it is probably a good decision for a game piece in this scale.
I was worried about the main rotors breaking, given their 170mm diameter, but there have been no problems so far. The blades come in three pieces, with a nicely detailed hub and three blades cast as one large piece, and two individual blades to attach and make up the five. Poly cement has done a good job of welding the blades together, but I used superglue for the mast as I didn't want to risk softening it. So far everything is holding together nicely.
As far as problems go, the tail rotor appears to have been cast backwards: on the original it rotates clockwise, but on the BF model it is set up for rotation in the opposite direction.
One of the red star decals delaminated slightly as I applied it - not a tear as the transfer was still intact, but part of the red printing seemed to come off. I was able to push it back into the right place with a brush and don't expect any further problems with them now the model is vanished.

The decals for the tail boom have misspelt  the warning "ONACHO" as "ONAOHO", and the decal for the starboard side has the lettering reversed. I have ended up painting them on by hand.
On the table, they are large beasts. It is difficult maintaining a 6" command distance without the visual distraction of having rotors overlapping. If I were to expand to a unit of four, I would vary the height of the flight stands for variety, with the added bonus being that they will be able to maintain command distance without looking ridiculous. In theory it would be possible to put a couple in line abreast and up to 16" apart, however while they would be In Command, there are a number of rules that have a 6" range, looking particularly at Good Spirits, Movement Orders and Replacing Leaders, so these won't apply even though you are In Command. I note that the equivalent rules in V4 refer to teams being In Command, rather than within 6", so would expect TY to be updated to match at some point. For the meantime, I'm happy with my two, and I'm looking forward to hunting more Abrams with them in the near future.

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.