Tuesday, September 12, 2017

New Project - TY Terrain

It's been a quiet winter hobby-wise, with very little to write about. I have, however, recently embarked on making a table of terrain for 15mm Team Yankee.

The parameters for the project are:
  1. Covering an 8x6 table, because to me that looks and feels better for TY above about 50 points.
  2. To be made from scatter terrain that can be packed down for ease of storage and transportation.
  3. Provide sufficient visual clues to be readily identifiable as modern Europe.
  4. Provide a range of logical locations for objectives.
That last two points are key for me. This might sound strange to people who play for the game, but I enjoy games that tell a story. The table plays a key role in this: helping place the events in time and space, and answering the question "what is so important about this particular piece of dirt?" An objective in the middle of a wheat field doesn't make sense to me, but a town, a crossroads, a hill: it's easy to imagine someone having a reason to want to seize or defend them. My aim when setting up a table is to have key points in the objective zones no matter which scenario is being played. That's actually easier on an 8x6 than a 6x4, because I believe the best way to play a lengthwise FOW or TY mission on an 8x6 is as a double width 6x4 rather than adding 2ft of almost entirely wasted depth, so you don't have to plan to be able to play down its length.

Here is the progress so far:
I still haven't decided on what season to set the table in, as that will determine the direction I take with trees and agriculture. I had been hoping for more of an olive green basecloth, but the material is darker than it appeared under the shop lighting. Life, and the never-ending search for the perfect basecloth.

Nor have I settled yet on the built up area. The buildings in the photo are from Plastcraft Games' ColorED range, of which I have two kits still to build. These buildings look nice and are reasonably economical, but the range is limited. The church of Sainte Mère Église is an impressive model, but it looks a bit out of place without three times as many smaller buildings clustered around it, so it may not make the final cut. I'm slightly hampered by the general lack of Streetview in Germany, but there is enough photography on the internet to draw inspiration from, and the look of the Plastcraft buildings seems to be reasonable. I do need a few more, and some more modern pieces to go with them. I also need to decide what I'll build around the small railyard in the bottom left.

The autobahn is made from 3mm EVA foam - at $17/metre from a 1.2m roll from Para Rubber it's cheaper and easier to work with than MDF. I'm currently planning an interchange with the local roads (the white pieces of paper in the bottom right), with those roads to be cut from the same material, and I'm looking at options for modern touches like guard rails and lighting.
The railway line uses standard HO track, with the EVA as backing. With a gauge of 16.5mm, at 1/100 it is slightly overscale for the West German track gauge of 1435mm, however the commonly suggested alternative of TT scale at 12mm would be underscale by a similar amount. HO has the advantage of being cheap and readily available in NZ, whereas it looks like TT has to be bought in from Europe, so it was a simple decision that also opens up options for rolling stock and other accesories.
The plan from here is to finish off the rail sections, then move onto the interchange and the rest of the roading, and I'll post updates as progress is made.

Friday, May 26, 2017

FOW V4 - Nagging Concerns

My V4 experience to date has been quite a journey. From initial caution, through disappointment when the first MW lists were revealed, to wild enthusiasm after playing a couple of games with tank companies, I've now played a few games with a major infantry focus and my opinion has started swinging back again.

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:
  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
I did have grand plans to touch up and rebase various armies for V4, but honestly I can't be bothered at the moment. I received a box of more 15mm Soviets for Team Yankee this week, enough to get me to a 75 point list, so I'm going to be focusing on those for the next little while. I'm looking forward to the release of Red Thunder, my initial thinking being that I'd like to pick up some T-64s and then re-purpose my T-72s to start an East German army. But the other thing I've been thinking about for TY, which would take me in a completely different direction to a battalion of T-64s, is to standardise on 30pt games. It would have a very different feel compared to the bigger games. A couple of platoons of BMP-mounted infantry trying to secure a bridge defended by a British Airmobile Company? Getting T-55s on the table without feeling like you have to drop 60 of them? Scorpions and Scimitars having a meaningful role? It sounds to me like smaller games could be fun.

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.