My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Tactical Exercises and Micro-Games

When I was a kid, and trying to learn how to be a better player with the wargaming rules Column, Line, and Square, a good friend taught me to run 'tactical exercises' as a way of learning. Basically a tactical exercise is a very small slice of a larger battle - such as taking a single unit and attacking a defended town, or taking two units and attacking a hill defended by one unit - and playing that out until you got it to work. My friend always used to say that a battle is just a number of these tactical exercises strung together and that if you could not make it work in an exercise, you were never going to make it work in a bigger battle with more points.

Interestingly, sometimes you would not succeed in the exercise, or find that it was so bloody that the unit was essentially expended in the combat, but that too was a lesson in and of itself. It teaches you when the odds are against you and you should avoid those particular match-ups. They basically help you understand what happens in a game and why so that when the situation comes up in a larger battle you know better what the outcome will be and what you might need to change in the equation in order to get the result you want.

I've carried that forward through today and still play these micro-games in order to understand how things work. My most recent example was defending against a Soviet Strelkovy company with mortar support in Flames of War. This scenario came up in a recent game, which I blogged here, and as it was the first time I faced such a tactical situation, I was a little put out about what to do, and worse, what to do the next time I faced the same situation. So, the easiest way to approach it was to micro-game it out, running a Strelkovy company in attack and give them (off-board) mortar support.

I started off by costing out the Strelkovy company and mortars. The company consisted of 24 stands (Confident Trained) plus had two PTRD teams and two Flamethrower teams attached. There were six 82mm mortars in support. All of that came out to about 625 points. As this was an attacker-defender scenario, I decided that I could only defend with about 1/2 the points (reflecting that 1/2 of my forces were in Reserve). The first force I ran was a standard German Grenadier platoon with (off-board) 81mm mortar support (from Fortress Europe) and the second a German Gepanzerte Panzergrenadier platoon, without any support.

The setup was simple: the Soviets get the first move, starting 24" away from the Germans, who start in Fortified Positions. The Germans are allowed to move away from their starting positions, but if the Soviets make it to the German start line and the Germans are not within 4" of it at the start of the Soviet turn, it is assumed that the Soviets have reach an objective and the game is over. Loss of the platoon, for either side, also indicates the end of the game.

The goal is not to think that this situation represents exactly a small slice of a larger battle - interactions with other units that may support with fire for a turn or two, or may take over an attack started by a faltering unit, can change the outcome in a larger battle dramatically - but rather that if you cannot handle this basic situation, you probably are not going to be able to handle a more complex one.

Exercise One

The first thing I had to think about was deploying the Germans in their foxholes. I knew I would get a template on me and I knew the end result would probably be an assault by the Soviets against the dug-in and stationary Grenadiers. This raised a question: do you want the Grenadiers to spread out, to limit the effects of the Soviet assault (i.e. teams are not within 4" of assault contact points, limiting who can participate), or do you want them to be closer together? For this exercise I decided that I wanted the German teams to be close enough so they could support one another in assault. I chose the following formation:

The idea is that the front edge of the teams in the second 'rank' are within 4" of the front edge of the teams in the front 'rank'. This would allow the second rank to strike in assault, but limit the casualties of the Soviet first strike to the front rank only. Once I started playing it, however, I also realized that I had to temper that with possible losses from the mortar. Although it is unlikely I would lose anyone from the mortar (needs to hit on a 4+ but can re-roll misses, then needs to fail 3+ save, and finally need to make a Firepower check of 6, so about a 4% chance), if enough teams are under the template then the chances are greater over the course of the exercise. So, my formation looks as follows:

All teams are within 4", front-edge-to-front-edge, but not so close that a straight-on template would hit two teams. (An angled template would hit two, and possibly three, however, but there is nothing you can do about that.)

So, with the German deployment done, it was time to think about the Soviets. If you are choosing the option to equip one platoon with SMGs the basic question is where to place them, in the front rank or the second? The same question needs to be answered with the Flamethrowers, PTRDs, and HMG teams. In this particular exercise I put a rank of SMG teams in front, leaving the Rifle/MG and Flamethrower teams in the second rank, with Command, Rifle/MG, PTRD, and HMG teams in the third rank. The overflow Rifle/MG teams ended up in a partial fourth rank. Each rank was either seven elements wide (nominally a platoon).

In the end I found out that with this force the formation above was not the best, as the SMGs could not fire, given their poor range, as they were approaching the defenders. Also, as the Soviets take casualties, they start to have to bunch towards the center in order to maintain Command Distance. These factors contribute to the second rank sometimes losing the ability to fire, unless the Soviet player is very careful in stand placement.

The plan for the German Grenadiers was to 'turtle' and stay Concealed, Gone to Ground, and Dug-In by neither moving nor shooting and holding fire until the Defensive Fire against the assaulting Soviets. The mortar would be used to pin, and possibly kill, the Soviets on approach. (Although the mortars almost automatically pin every turn, failing to do so only when they fail to range in or get a string of unlucky rolls to hit, the chance that the Soviets will unpin the following turn is 75%, so they frequently just shrug off the effects of the mortar. It does, however, sometimes work, and 50% of the time forces them to kill an additional team to unpin. It all adds up.)

So, starting at 24" means the Soviets receive fire for three turns (at 18", 12", and 6"), unless they get pinned and cannot recover. When the Soviets finally launch the assault they take anywhere from 4 to 15 dice in Defensive Fire, depending upon casualties and whether the German platoon is pinned. Given the Germans' chance to hit is 67%, the average result on the high end is that the Soviet assault will be pinned. The Germans should not expect that, however, unless the mortar has been particularly effective, the Soviet saves particularly bad, the Kommisar particularly ineffective, or the Soviets unable to pin the Germans before sending the assault in.

In my game it was a very close run thing, but the Germans did win, throwing back the first Soviet assault by pinning, and only losing two teams before the Soviet company broke. It is clear, however, that if the Soviets had been following up with another Strelkovy company, even a weak one, it would have rolled over the German line. But, in my mind this showed that given the right circumstances the Soviets could swap a company for a German Grenadier platoon. If that one platoon was all that stood between the Soviets and an objective, then that was not a good result. I would have to find another option for beating the Soviet infantry horde.

Exercise Two

This exercise assumed a few more things, primarily that Winter was not in effect, therefore not penalizing the use of vehicles. This was important because I used a German Gepanzerte Panzergrenadierkompanie, chock full of half-track mounted MGs and MG teams. What is different is that the Germans cannot afford to have a mortar platoon in support, so pinning will be even harder; the Strelkovy company will need 10 or more hits rather than just one hit from the mortar.

The basic German strategy was to stay in the half-tracks, keeping outside of assault distance until they are almost on the objective, then assault the Soviets at a weak point. With five half-tracks, each with a hull MG and a passenger-fired MG, the Germans would be throwing 20 dice a turn. With a 67% hit rate, an average of 13 hits should occur, so the Soviets will likely have to roll to unpin every turn. In addition, about four of those 13 hits should turn into casualties. The Soviets should need about four turns to close – the Germans can stay out of reach about one additional turn due to their mobility – so that should rack up about 16 hits, not counting losses from pinning re-rolls or additional turns due to failing to unpin. This is enough to break the company.

As an aside, one thing to consider is purchasing the Gepanzerte Heavy platoon so you can combat attach the 251/9 (7.5cm) half-track to your Gepanzerte combat platoon. This addition will require the Soviets to make a Motivation check to assault, as it now contains an Armored Tank team.

In the exercise I played, it turned out pretty much as indicated above. The Soviet mortar platoon was able to force a half-track to bail on two separate occasions, but only on one was it unable to immediately remount. Of course, that occurred on the turn the Soviets were within assault range of the bailed half-track, so I dismounted the MG teams and pulled them back, along with the rest of the half-tracks. The Soviets however were pinned by the German MG fire and failed to unpin. The following turn the German drivers, realizing the error of their ways, made the re-mount roll and the MG teams re-boarded. The end came when the half-tracks charged for a mounted assault, with MGs blazing. The Soviet company failed its second turn of rolling for Platoon Morale and despite the Kommisar's urging, missed its re-roll too. So, I did not get to try the German Mounted Assault rule.

So, the Gepanzerte Panzergrenadiers are definitely more adaptable. Being able to use a moving foxhole (of sorts) while still flinging large amounts of firepower helps a lot. The mortar fire still hurts (these are Transport teams, after all, not Tank teams), but as most movement is rearward (all except the first turn) you can almost ignore the pinning effects.

In this game I found out that you should put the Soviet Rifle/MG teams in the front, so they can shoot 1 die per team while advancing, and soak off hits into the SMG teams, the reverse of what you want for the German Grenadiers.


Again, tactical exercises are a way of trying different ideas without the complications of a full game. By focusing on such a small part of a battle, you don't get distracted by all the unrelated results occurring. You are essentially experimenting on a specific item and gauging the results. It is also a good way to focus on and remember special rules and their effects. For example, I initially forgot that half-tracks are not Tank teams, but Transport teams, and thus the idea of combat attaching the 251/9 suddenly made a lot more sense. (By the way, the mortar half-track fulfills the same role, as it is also a Tank team.)

The best thing of all: these take very little time to run. I ran both of these exercises in the course of a single afternoon. Very little setup is required, and clean-up is easy too. Give it a try.

I would like to hear from you what you think good match-ups would be – something that produces interesting and illuminating results – especially if it is against a Soviet Strelkovy company attacker.

1 comment:

  1. I am not an FoW player so please excuse me if I am ignorant of specific game mechanics.

    In exercise 1, I am curious about why you wouldn't use the mortars to smoke out the German trench line before pushing the SMGs and FTs up. This would reduce their exposure to return fire and allow defeat in detail of individual German bases.

    Another option would have been to pin the Germans using static fire from the rifles and HMGs, hammer the trench line with HE and flank with the SMGs using cover if possible or if not, detailing a couple of mortars to make concealment on one flank with smoke.

    For scenario two, I would again want to use a lot of smoke to isolate the APCs and allow the FTs to get up close and personal.

    Extended HE fire from the mortars is also an option but would depend on how FoW handles open topped APCs - in some rules they become coffins when hit with plunging fire.

    In any event - an interesting read and a good practice to adopt - regardless of rules set.


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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").