To be clear, I still believe V4 is a good game. The rules have on the whole been improved. It's just that there are a number of issues that have cropped up as we've delved deeper that have somewhat dampened my earlier excitement.
The main issue is a general lack of clarity about the rules. In the process of slimming down the rules from just short of 300 pages in the V3 rulebook to only 100 pages, there are important sentences that have been left out. McBeth has written a piece that does a good job of capturing some of the issues with the completeness of the rules. These things don't matter so much for social games, but as soon as we put it into a competitive environment, interpretations will differ and problems will arise. As an example, McBeth and I probably spent about 20 minutes during a recent game trying to work out whether aircraft counted as "on table" for the purposes of Strategic Withdrawal (final answer: yes). We spent another five minutes trying to decide whether an observer team was able to Shoot and Scoot after spotting for a bombardment (final answer: yes). A couple of other questions we had were resolved when we eventually read the next sentence in the paragraph, but they were a minority.
An additional concern is that while tank engagements tend to be over pretty quickly, the game length increases drastically as soon as infantry are involved. It's not that the game is slowed down by them, but rather games involving infantry seem to be taking more turns to bring to a conclusion than they used to, and this may impact our ability to complete tournament games within set time limits. I think there are a few reasons for this:
- Last Stand. The need to get infantry units down to two stands, and formations down to one CHQ, Combat, or Weapons unit, means it takes much longer to win by breaking the opponents army.
- Infantry Assaults. Changes to the line of sight rules mean it's easier to set up a strong defensive position and therefore a lot harder to pull off a successful assault. Instead of one turn of preparation to achieve a pin, and an assault that either blows the defender away or falls over in hail of bad dice, it seems like you now need to take several turns of chipping away with repeat bombardments, followed by possibly two or three moves of successive assaults, in order to fully clear a position. Not unreasonable, but it all takes time.
- Both sides losing in timed-out defensive battles. Without the ability to win by clock, the only way a defender can win in a defensive battle is by either being able to clear the enemy out of your half, or by hunting down weapons platoons in the attacker's backcourt to bring them closer to Formation Last Stand. In competitions, a lot will depend on the attacker's attitude: if they reach the point of no longer being able to win the game, will they concede and let the defender have the points, or do they take up positions that prevent the defender from winning, play the clock, and force the defender to risk a counterattack?
There are a few other things I've learned from recent games.
- Don't take half-tracks, wheeled vehicles or medium+ guns anywhere near any kind of difficult going. The Cross scores are harsh, and you can be sure that if you end up needing to move them, the unit will play no further part in the game.
- Anti-aircraft units are worthwhile, even though the maths suggests otherwise. In a game with Bede I took a platoon of three Bofors against a Sporadic Hs129, and while they did nothing during the first air raid, costing me a Churchill, they managed to down it the next time it came in. More importantly, even if the dice hadn't lined up the way they did, at least I felt like I was involved in the process and not just helplessly watching my tanks die. I'll be looking at AA options for all of my lists from now on, at least until we see whether the local meta ends up leaning towards aircraft or not.
- Keep tanks well away from Panzerfausts. This was always the case in V3, but even more so now, given that they hit with AT 12 against side armour on a simple skill check. No one is driving away from that in one piece.
- I'm undecided on Night Attack. McBeth used it on me in Rearguard, and while it gave him more of a concealed approach, it robbed him of his Support platoons until dawn broke on my Turn 4. Did it change the outcome of the game? I asked him about it after the game and he thought it was worth it, so probably not.
- I can't think of a solid justification for Observer teams having unlimited line of sight at night, but it avoids some of the weirdness that crops up in the same situation in Team Yankee. I still struggle with there being no benefit to being Gone To Ground when under a bombardment template.