Sunday, January 05, 2020

Atlantic Fleet

Over the summer I've been back playing Atlantic Fleet on iOS, a turn-based single player Battle of the Atlantic game. I've also tried it on Steam, but I've found the mobile format to be just as good while being a lot more convenient.

The game runs from the start of the war through until the invasion of France. You have a strategic map covering the theatre, split into 44 zones. Each turn lasts half a week, with ships able to move one zone per turn. If Allied and Axis ships occupy the same zone there's a chance of making contact, and you will play out the resulting engagement at a tactical level. Any Axis ships in zones not occupied by Allied warships have a chance of intercepting an unescorted convoy, which results in automatic merchantman losses. You can purchase new warships using a currency called "Renown", which you earn by sinking enemy warships, with a large number of ships to choose from.
In the tactical map, you have a turn-based game where you move and shoot each of your ships, before the AI plays the other side. The graphics are pretty good, with the 3D panning and nicely detailed ship models.
As the British, you need to keep merchant shipping losses to below 300,000 tons per month until Pearl Harbour, and 700,000 per month after that. The timing of the invasion depends on shipping losses: on my first play though it occurred in mid 1945.

I am now on my second play-through of the Royal Navy campaign. I did try playing the Kriegsmarine side, but the very first convoy I intercepted was escorted by HMS Echo, my grandfather's destroyer. This struck too close to home, and I immediately switched back to the Royal Navy game.

There are a few issues I have with the game:
  • Torpedoes are too accurate, making them the best anti-submarine weapon on the game. This is a combination of the targeting mechanism (either off the 2D map showing the location of the sonar echo, or using the ability to view from the perspective of the enemy ship in the 3D world), and how true they run.
  • The turn order goes Allied ships move and fire, Axis torpedoes run, Axis ships move and fire, Allied torpedoes run. Combined with the predictability of torpedo paths (running about 2000 yards per turn), this creates some opportunities to dodge torpedoes that wouldn't be possible in an RTS or with simultaneous turns.
  • Airpower is very powerful, with very little chance to defend against it. There are no land-based interceptors, making the UK home waters a very dangerous place for the Royal Navy. Even if you have a carrier in the encounter, you don't get any kind of early warning, the fighters start on the deck and it takes a couple of turns to get them airborne. The AI always uses any aircraft it has available as soon as possible, so you get bombed before you have the chance to get any fighters airborne.
  • The game gets repetitive towards the end. Early on, you run into a variety of German surface raiders, with the biggest challenges being Bismark and Tirpitz. Once they've been sunk, it becomes a game of destroyers and corvettes vs U-Boats.
Despite these, it's a game I've enjoyed picking up and playing again over the summer. It is an interesting subject, has nice mechanics, and beautiful graphics.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Retrospective

It's been a pretty poor effort blogging-wise this year, achieving only four posts.

As usual the year started with preparation for ValleyCon. The format was 85pt mid war. I completed my Italy-theatre British Rifle Company, and placed 4th.
My second goal for the year was to do something to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. We ran a multiplayer game of FOW at the Hutt Club on 8 June.
The remaining goals saw no progress. I didn't touch my 28mm FJ or Warmachine models. I did play a couple of games of Cruel Seas and bought the starter set, but it was quickly overtaken by Black Seas. I did actually buy some 28mm Landsknechts for Impetus (Artizan Designs, purchased through Kapiti Hobbies, the best hobby shop in New Zealand), but haven't started painting them.
For 2020, I'm going to steal an idea from Pooch of The Regiment blog, and keep to a schedule of monthly posts, tracking my goals through to completion. The theme for the year is going to be focused on uncompleted projects.

1. Paint my 28mm FJ. I've completed one squad, with two more to go, plus an HMG and a medium mortar. On a related note:

2. Find a set of WW2 rules that I enjoy playing in 28mm.

3. Paint the Landsknechts!

4. Complete a Black Seas fleet box. I'm working my way through the Master and Commander set at the moment, and will look to add to it once it's done.

5. Try out Battlegroup: NORTHAG, and write a review. These rules are meant to be out early in 2020, and appear to be compatible with TY basing.

6. Complete some of the random FOW platoons that I have lying around. There are quite a few of these, so I'll come up with a full list over summer.

7. Syrians for Team Yankee. It would be fair to say that Soviet T-72s are suboptimal in TY, so I started turning them into a Syrian T-72M company, intending to run them at ValleyCon in January. I ran out of time for that, but will continue with the project and finish the army.

8. Put together an event or campaign of some kind. I'm not yet sure what this could be.

Thanks for reading, and happy new year. I will definitely  be endeavouring to write more in 2020 than I did in the year just gone.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Comparison of BMP Killers

Until Charicon, no one locally had ever run into BMP-2 spam in Team Yankee. So it would be fair to say that everyone who faced it (which included me) was a) surprised by its effectiveness, and b) defeated. This is partly my fault: as the resident Soviet, I have never inflicted a BMP Battalion on anyone, leaving people unprepared. As penance, I have been putting a bit of thought into things that might make a difference in future games, with the caveat that I have not been on either side of a game where a BMP horde was defeated, so am coming at it from a theoretical perspective rather than practical experience of what has worked in the past.

Part of the problem at Charicon was the game size. We were playing 60 points, and that probably favours light armour more than say 80 points. As the game size increases, I believe that while you will get more BMPs in total, their damage output doesn't increase at the same rate as they're more likely to get in each other's way, while their opponent's ability to kill them is also increased by having more shots on the table. This is a real dilemma. 45 points on a 6x4 table is a blast to play, as you have space for manoeuvre, and NATO armies built around Chieftains and M60s seem to do okay. 80 points as is being played at Natcon should help armies with Leopard 2s and Abrams be competitive, without totally overloading the tables with spam armies. It could be that 60 points is an uncomfortable level for game balance.

The second part is finding units that are cost-effective tools for killing BMPs, and to resolve this we must turn to some Team Mathee.

My basis for comparing the effectiveness of units is as follows:
  • Ranking them by theoretical BMP kills per point of unit cost over one turn of shooting.
  • The target unit is assumed to be a unit of four BMPs at short range without concealment
  • Bailed out results are ignored. This makes the maths easier, but is also reasonable given their good Remount stat.
  • The comparison also includes template weapons, assuming six targets under an Artillery template, and 12 under a Salvo template, averaged over three turns of shooting with artillery, or one turn for aircraft.
And here are the unit rankings in terms of cost-effectiveness, showing the results with both halted and moving ROF, with the higher numbers being better:
To clarify what the chart means, if you spend four points on a platoon of Scorpions, and are able to get them into a position to get halted shots at a platoon of four BMPs, you are likely to kill all four of them (one kill per point times four points). If you do it with a 9pt platoon of Leopard 1s, you are likely to kill at least three (0.37 kills per point times nine points).

The standout performer is the Scorpion. The combination of ROF2, AT14, and FP2+ in a 1pt/vehicle package is an absolute winner, expected to wipe out a platoon of four BMPs in a single round of shooting. The downsides are a moving ROF of 1 and a 6" tactical move, so making the most of their abilities requires careful play. A 13pt Scorpion Squadron as a screen for a larger British force would probably cause a BMP battalion a few issues.

The next best in my opinion would be the LAV-25. Their AT is high enough that BMPs don’t get much of a save, they get full ROF when moving, and they can be bought in large enough numbers to outweigh their FP 5+.

Luchs are a bit of a red herring: relatively high numbers of kills per point, but as they only come in 1pt platoons, they are not exactly a game-changer. The Scimitar competes for the same unit slots as the Scorpion. Gepards, Shilkas, and VADS are all pretty effctive, but generally have more important things to do mid-game.

The artillery was a bit of a disappointment. I thought it would be pretty good given the assumptions about the number of targets under the template and the number of turns that the. There are a couple of issues affecting it. One is their AT rating of 4, giving the BMPs a decent save, only killing on average one per turn. The second issue is their price: 10 points for four British M109s, giving them a low cost-effectiveness.

The final part of the answer is tactics. Don’t be an idiot like me in my game, sitting there taking fire, relying on being at 5s and 6s to hit to keep you safe. Your tanks will die and you will lose. Badly. BMPs can’t fire their missiles on the move, so you need to try to keep them moving. Try to find defilade positions that allow you to take them on a platoon at a time. Smoke can be used to achieve the same thing. And make the most of your movement orders to maximise ROF while reducing the number of turns of return fire that you face.

So that is my take on three things that could help take the edge off BMP spam. Game size is definitely not something that should be manipulated to give one side or other an advantage in matched play, but the way in which game balance is affected by size is a useful thing to know when planning games or tournaments. The other two things (knowing which specific units in my list will be tasked with killing BMPs, and looking at positions and tactics that will get the most out of those units) are certainly things that I will be trying to pay closer attention to the next time end up playing against Soviets.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Team Yankee at Charicon

And just like that, it's been five weeks since I last posted.

Last week in Wellington there convention named Charicon, conceived and organised by one of our club members. Over 100 players attended, with the systems represented being 40K, AOS, FOW, TY, Warmachine, DBMM, Guildball, and Bolt Action. The convention ended up raising over NZ$6000 for the Cancer Society of NZ.

I helped run the Team Yankee event. This was originally planned to be Saturday only, as I wasn't going to be available on the second day, but Pelarel offered to run the Sunday. A number of locals were only able to play on one day or the other, so in order to have the flexibility needed to get them involved we decided to make the weekend a Firestorm: Red Thunder event, rather than a traditional competition.

The format we went with was 60 point lists on 6x4 tables, with a total of five two-hour rounds. We had eight players on day one and six on day two, with three people playing both days.

While the flexibility that the format allowed was great for getting more people playing, it was a challenge to juggle red vs blue numbers across the two days. One player with multiple armies offered to play on either side as needed, we had to ask a Saturday player to switch from Warsaw Pact to NATO, and one Sunday player with a Berlin Brigade list played for the Warsaw Pact. It was further complicated by a late NATO entry for Sunday, so rather than Chris playing for NATO on Saturday, I ran his British list and he joined the Soviets on Sunday in order to accomodate this.

We generally followed the Firestorm: Red Thunder document, but with a few changes:
  • We didn’t follow the three phases of the official campaign (Surprise Attack, Breakthrough, and Exploitation). For round one, all four Battle Arrows were placed by the Warsaw Pact team. For subsequent rounds, each team got as many arrows as their number of wins in the previous round, dicing off to see in which order teams placed arrows.
  • Once an arrow had been placed, the attacking team nominated one of their players for that game. The defending team offered up two players as potential opponents, with the attacking player choosing one of them to play. The defender chose to adopt a Counter Attack or Static Defence stance, then diced on the Mission Table to determine the mission. We repeated the process until all matchups for the round had been decided.
  • Hasty Attack was replaced in the Mission Table with Contact, which is similar but seems to be a much better mission.
We made two changes to the rules, taken straight from FOW V4: Reserves being 40% of points, and Unit Last Stand tests being taken in the starting step after remounting bailed out tanks. As far as I could tell, the players were accepting of the changes, and they didn't seem to have any negative impacts on gameplay.

The weekend ran really well, with all games being played with great spirit. As a player on the NATO side, it was particularly enjoyable being able to call a NATO Summit before each round to plan the matchups that we wanted. 60 points was good for the table size and time limits, giving space for manoeuvre and only one game (LAVs vs T-55s) timing out, but might have disadvantaged NATO compared to if we'd run slightly larger games. The main reason we went that small was for people who are still building armies, to provide a stepping stone towards the 85pts needed for Nationals in April.

I think the system of getting as many Battle Arrows as victories was good, giving a real sense of strategic momentum. In the event, NATO was always on the back foot, never securing enough wins at any stage to gain the initiative. It was interesting that they chose to expend most of their attacks in a drive on Berlin in order to get the Victory Points, rather than trying to cut off the Soviet advances. A potential future improvement might be altering the rules about where arrows can be placed, to try and encourage different behaviour. For example, this could mean needing to draw a supply line to your map edge (or to a North Sea port if you're NATO). Other tweaks could involve permitting airmobile lists that are the strategic attacker to take a defensive posture as a seize-and-hold type play, and letting Marines make attacks into coastal territories as amphibious landings.

This is where the campaign finished, with a solid Warsaw Pact operational victory:
Thanks to all those who came to play and support the cause, to Pelarel for running the second day, and to Bede for making the convention happen. We are looking forward to running a Firestorm: Stripes event later in the year.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

ValleyCon 2019 Review

ValleyCon this weekend was another excellent event, and a huge thanks goes to McBeth for organising it. I won three games and lost two, placing fourth overall. I won't go through a blow-by-blow account of the weekend, and I don't have any photos to share from it, but will just pick out a few key thoughts.

The weekend has established my faith in Mid War V4 as a good system. Up until now, MW has seemed incredibly bland, a way of biding time until the interesting lists come out with LW, but it surprised me how enjoyable it was. 85pts on a 6x4 was a bit denser than we’ve usually played, but it worked well. There was a wide range of armies represented, with the top three placings going to Armoured Rifles, Grants, and Honeys.

Using the Battle Plans mission selector was good. It added another layer of thinking about your opponent and what posture they would likely take, and what type of mission you wanted to face them in. It did limit the variety of missions played: I had two Bridgeheads, two No Retreats, and a Dust Up. One tweak might be having the TO specify which line to use. It should work well in a five-round tournament if you played lines 2-6 in a random order. 

The Rifle Company is a solid list. The fact that I won a few games, quite possibly my first FOW wins in over a year, speaks to how robust and forgiving it is.

The cards I took worked out well. Artillery Expert and Diversionary Tactics are gold. Bagpiper, Sticky Bombs, and transports for the 6pdrs all helped at different times.

As expected my Reserves decisions were challenging. In each game that I needed to, I put two Rifle Platoons in Reserve, leaving another 8pts to find. In the first couple of games that was the 6pdrs, relying on their transports to get them where they needed to be. In the second, I switched that to being the mortars and the carriers, as I really needed to have all of my guns on the table. My Ambush platoon was always the Bofors, which gave me flexibility for dealing with armoured cars.

I had one bad loss that should have been avoidable. Ending up attacking in Bridgehead, I remember thinking "I should Night Attack in this", but then immediately forgot to. I also forgot that I had two batteries with smoke, which would have also made life a whole lot easier.

It was disappointing that I didn't end up running into either Honeys or M14/41s, as that would have been an interesting test of the list.

One thing that would be interesting to see would be how to get Churchills into 85pts. At 33pts for three, it's a tough ask as it would require running a much smaller core formation. No one brought heavy tanks of any kind, and apart from the three players with M10s and Marders, no one was really geared up to deal with them.

I left my painting really late, with a couple of really late nights leading up to the event, but was pretty happy with how they turned out in the end. They are painted in the colours of 78th Division in the Italian campaign.
Next time: I have received a copy of Impetus 2nd Edition, so I'll have a look at the changes, and update any progress on painting my light cavalry. Since it took me a whole evening to paint my first horse, I'm not that optimistic...

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

ValleyCon 2019 Preview

ValleyCon this year is a much smaller affair than usual, being club-focused and limited in numbers and scope, so that people who would travel to play are more likely to attend Natcon in Kapiti at Easter instead. The FOW event is 85 points Mid War, restricted to Mediterranean theatre lists. 

One of my issues with mid war has been that very few of the lists are actually of any interest to me. Part of this I think is fatigue, I’ve been playing MW Flames since 2001, and it’s a very vanilla period without the variety that the other periods offer. There were only two lists that I felt I’d want to run this year: the “Death or Glory” Valentine/Crusader combination, or a stock British Rifle Company. Since I’ve had all the infantry figures  sitting in a container for ages, I felt it was time to get them painted rather than buying a bunch of new tanks.

The list I have settled on is this:
Rifle Company - Armoured Fist
Rifle Company HQ, 2pts
Rifle Platoon - Full Strength plus the 'Sticky Bombs' card, 13pts
Rifle Platoon - Full Strength plus the 'Sticky Bombs' card, 13pts
Rifle Platoon - Full Strength plus the 'Sticky Bombs' card, 13pts
3-inch Mortar Platoon, 6pts
   4 x 3-inch Mortar
6pdr Anti-tank Platoon, 13pts
   4 x 6pdr Anti-tank Gun plus the 'Softskin Transport' card
Universal Carrier Patrol, 3pts
   3 x Universal Carriers with Boys AT Rifles
25pdr Field Troop, 14pts
   4 x 25pdr Gun
Bofors Light AA Troop, 4pts
   3 x Bofors 40mm AA Gun
'Bagpiper' card
'Diversionary Tactics' card
'Artillery Expert' card
Total Cost: 85 pts
It's a big list, partly because there are no tanks to soak up the points, but also because 85pts is larger than we would usually play here. Under V3 it would have come out in the mid-1400pt range. Some of the thinking that has gone into creating it is:
  • I have gone tank-less due to the prevalence of Marders. They're popular due to being underpriced; with no high armour targets they become expensive machine-gun carriers.
  • Another popular type of list is the light armour horde, and it's one that I probably have the most concern about. Nearly everything I'm taking has some ability to kill tanks. The Bofors, for example, are there solely for their ROF3 AT7, not because I have much to fear from air attack.
  • The 'Softskin Transport' command card on the 6pdrs. I dithered a bit over this one. Would the points be better spent going towards another Carrier Patrol? Transport is highly vulnerable on a 6x4, but the penalty for having no tanks is that I have no mobile AT, so this at least gives me an option for repositioning them, or bringing them forward in support of an attack.
  • 'Bagpiper' command card. My infantry are going to have to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to taking objectives, so this card that provides a 3+ Rally within 6" of the Formation Commander is to try and keep them moving in the event that I have to attack.
Apart from a chronic lack of mobility, a major issue I will face will be reserves: there is no natural choice for the 34 points I'll have to leave off in some games, and difficult decisions will need to be made.

I’ve left the painting my army far too late this year. Usually I’ve been proactive and have finished by the end of the previous year, but now with less than two weeks to go I still have some major gaps: a whole platoon of infantry, additional teams for the other two platoons, the actual guns for the AA platoon, and the artillery battery.
Next up: I'll post photos once all of the painting is completed, and review how it all went once the tournament is over.

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Retrospective

I entered 2018 with five main goals, and this is my review of how I went.

My first goal was to finish my FOW army for ValleyCon 18. This was a mid war competition, coming after the release of the first four North African theatre books. I ran a Panzer III company from 21st Panzer Division themed on the Gazala Line battles of May/June 1942, placing a glorious last without a single win. I didn't write a post about how it went, so the details are a bit hazy, but there were a few lessons. I had made some deliberately sub-optimal list choices for the sake of theme, one being the use of 88s instead of Marders. I also should have taken a platoon of armoured cars for 2pts rather than the Forward Scouts card on the Panzer IIs. I still think Panzers should be effective if you take the time to develop experience with them, but the list is so small that the margin for error is tiny.
The second goal was to buy some Italian light cavalry and a Landsknecht square for Impetus. I'm happy to say that I now have the cavalry, although they have yet to see any paint. The Landsknechts will roll over once again.

The big effort for the year was Team Yankee. My actual goal for the year was a NATO list to play in both 30pt (noting that since then we have established 45pts as a local standard) and 100pt games. Instead of going down that path, my Warsaw Pact collection grew significantly, adding more Hinds, the various BRDM-based support weapons, and my first T-64s, plus a bit of terrain. It was a good year for TY in the club, with many more people starting armies and playing at Remember December, and 2019 promises to be even better as those armies expand, with people looking at playing TY at the Nationals at Easter, and Panzerschreck in July.
My next objective for the year was to look into Fate of a Nation. I purchased a copy when it was released, and like the look of it, but haven't played a game yet. I'm still keen to have a few games with proxies in before committing to purchase anything for it.

The last item on my list was to try a couple of other WW2 rulesets. We had a couple of playtest games of a ruleset written by a member of the club, which was fun and got me painting some 28mm FJ, but I haven't yet had either Chain of Command or Battlegroup on the table.
In other events during the year, I ran the club's V3 Impetus competition in August. That was a good day, and I'm looking forward to seeing the 2nd Edition of Impetus when it's released next year.
Triple T vs McZermof
McBeth vs Reg
Scott's Elephant
Having had a think about goals for 2019, I have the following list:
  1. As always, the first priority is preparation for FOW at Valleycon. I have some mid war British infantry, gun crews, and carriers still to paint up for that. 
  2. D-Day 75. 6 June marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and it seems like a multiplayer game of FOW would be in order. There's a bit of planning, painting, and terrain building required for that. It will become a focal point for the first few months of the year, and will clear out a fair amount of my unpainted FOW stash. The event will also serve as a last hurrah for the old Overlord/Atlantik Wall V3 books before late war lists start being rereleased under the V4 format.
  3. Extend the 28mm FJ, and use them in a few games. Ideally I'd get to the point of being able to having enough in case 1000pts is required for Bolt Action, but the primary interest would be in seeing how Chain of Command goes. Putting together some 28mm terrain wouldn't go amiss, either.
  4. Cruel Seas. I'm quite excited by this, as it is something completely different to my other games. I plan to build a Royal Navy fleet for it.
  5. Warmachine. After a couple of years away from this, I've decided that I will try and play a few games of it next year. I have a couple of models still to paint up, and might even buy a new warjack or two.
  6. Yes, the Landsknecht pike block. This first appeared on my To Do list in 2015, and I'm still no closer to completing it. It's part of a larger project to repaint and rebase my existing Impetus army, and 2nd Edition should provide the required nudge.
Looking back through the list, Team Yankee is notable by its absence. There are a couple of units that I would add, particularly DANA and BM-21s (to make the most of the new artillery rules that will be coming with 2nd Edition), Geckos (because they're ridiculous), and another infantry company (because the BF plastics are great, and so I can run a larger Afgantsy battalion), but those are all relatively minor things. I have toyed around with the idea of doing West German Leopard 1s, or the French to see if they're really as bad as they look on paper, but at the moment I'm thinking it would be better to spend my TY time getting more experience with the Soviets, to try and be more competitive with them.

Who knows what else will take my fancy during the year. Will I jump into FOAN? Will I do some Soviets for FOW? How about an Ancients army? Will I finally succumb to the allure of GW products? One thing's for sure, I've enjoyed getting back into blogging over the last few months, and and will endeavour to continue doing it regularly.

So, happy new year, thanks for reading my blog, and I wish you well for the year ahead.