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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wheeled versus Jeep in Flames of War

Some interesting synchronicity has been occurring with me and Flames of War of late. I have been running across rules in the rule book, the More Again Lessons From the Front (MALFTF) guide, the What Would Patton Do (WWPD) podcast, and the Radio Free Battlefront (RFB) podcast and then finding they come up in the next game. A good example is the Shooting Too Successful rule. I first read about it in MALFTF, pointed it out before the start of the next game (as I had missed it in my initial reading of the rules and thought it unusual), had it actually come up in that same game, then listened to an old WWPD podcast later that night in which they reviewed that very rule. Very strange!

Last night's strange moment was listening to the RFB podcast, thought I heard something about half-tracks that I had never heard before so I looked it up in the rules, which caused me to notice that Wheeled movement is not what I thought it was (it is 8" cross-country, not 12"), which in turn caused me to question whether the vehicles I played in last weekend's game with Don were in fact Wheeled, not Jeep. It turns out that the US M20 Utility vehicle is Jeep, but the M8 Greyhound is Wheeled! Boy, would that have changed that last game!

This news also caused me to re-think the whole idea of reconnaissance units using Wheeled (as opposed to Jeep  rated) vehicles. In my mind this kills the British Armored Car Squadron with the Daimler armored car, the British Recce Squadron with the Humber, the US Cavalry Reconnaissance Platoon with the M8 Greyhound, and the Panzerspahkompanie with Sd Kfz 222, as I just don't see how you can survive with slow moving, lightly armored vehicles. Do other people have a lot more roads on their boards than I do?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Task Force A List in Flames of War

Don and I played a 1,000 point (well, 1,180 points for me) battle and I took a Task Force A list from the new book Turning Tide. If you are wondering why it was such an odd amount, it is because I was doing a 1,000 point list, then added Air Support after the fact as I wanted to try those rules. Against them I played the non-historical Grenadier company from the Dogs & Devils book.

Here is the American list:
  • Task Force HQ, of:
    • 2 M8 Armored Cars
  • 2 Task Force Cavalry Recon Platoons, each of:
    • 3 Cavalry Recon Patrols, each of:
      • 1 M8 Armored Cars
      • 1 Recon Jeeps
      • 1 Mortar Jeeps
  • Task Force Tank Destroyer Platoon, of:
    • Command Carbine Team
    • Jeep with .50 cal AA MG
    • 2 Tank Destroyer Sections, each of:
      • Carbine Team
      • M20 Utility
      • 2 M18 Hellcats
  • Armored Rifle Platoon (6th AD), of:
    • Command Rifle Team
    • Rifle Team
    • Bazooka Team
    • M3 half-track with .50 cal AA MG
    • Rifle Squad, of:
      • 2 Rifle Teams
      • Bazooka Team
      • M3 half-track with AA MG
    • Mortar Squad, of:
      • M2 60mm Mortar Team
      • Bazooka Team
      • M3 half-track with AA MG
    • LMG Squad, of:
      • 2 M1919 LMG Teams
      • Bazooka Team
      • M3 half-track with .50 cal AA MG
  • Priority Air Support with P-47 Thunderbolt
The Task Force A list is Confident Trained.

The Germans used the Grenadierkompanie, 362 Infanterie Division list with 1085 points. These troops are Confident Veteran, unless otherwise noted.
  • Grenadierkompanie HQ, of:
    • 2 Command SMG Teams with Panzerknackers
    • Panzerschreck Team
  • 2 Grenadier Platoons, each of:
    • Command SMG Team withe Panzerknacker
    • 3 Grenadier Sqauds, each of:
      • 2 Rifle/MG Teams
  • Panzergrenadier Platoon (Confident Trained), of:
    • Command SMG Team with Panzerknacker
    • Kfz 15 Field Car
    • 2 Panzergrenadier Squads, each of:
      • 2 MG Teams
      • Kfz 70 Truck
  • Grenadier Mortar Platoon, of:
    • Command SMG Team
    • Kfz 15 Field Car
    • 2 Mortar Sections, each of:
      • Observer Rifle Team
      • 2 8cm GW34 Mortar Teams
      • 3-ton Truck
  • Grenadier Anti-tank Gun Platoon
    • Command SMG Team
    • Kfz 15 Field Car
    • 2 3.7 cm PaK36 Anti-tank Gun Teams
    • 2 Kfz 70 Trucks
  • Grenadier Anti-aircraft Gun Platoon
    • Command SMG Team
    • Kfz 15 Field Car
    • 3 2cm FlaK38 with 3-ton Truck as Portees
  • Heavy Tank Platoon
    • 1 Tiger 1 E
If I had gotten the points correct, I would have added the following to the German list:
  • Grenadier Scout Platoon, of:
    • Command SMG Team with Panzerknacker
    • 1 Scout Squad of 2 Rifle Teams
This would add an eighth platoon to the force, making it harder to break the company.

The Scenario

The scenario played was No Retreat, with the Americans as attacker (which is a Task Force A special rule). The biggest problem with this scenario is that at least 1/2 of the platoons must be in reserve for the defender, but they get one platoon in ambush.

The board is dominated by woods on the outer edges all of the way around,  a town of three building complexes in the center, and a very high hill in the southwest corner (which had no effect on the game). There were several patches of tall crops, but they played no part in the game past turn two.

The defenders get 1/2 of the board while the attackers start 16" on, with the game being played lengthwise (so the board is 6' long by 4' wide). As Task Force A is almost all reconnaissance, and has a special rule that allows their Weapons and Support platoons to also get a Reconnaissance Move at Deployment, everything on my side was 28" from the baseline, except for my Armored Rifles platoon.

The Deployment

Don made an interesting comment after the game that he probably selected the wrong mix of on-board platoons. As I had started playing the game (for one turn) before Don came by and we started over, and I had picked the same mix of units to deploy and put in ambush and reserve, I certainly cannot fault him.

Don had chosen the two Grenadier platoons to deploy on board, with the PaK36 teams in ambush. Don's comment was that the Grenadier Mortar platoon, stationed in the farthest building complex and guarding one of the two objectives, should have been deployed in lieu of a Grenadier platoon. This would have allowed the mortars to fire right from the start (rather than one to two turns after they marched on from Reserves), with the observer being in a forward building complex to call down fire on all of the softskin vehicles in a Task Force A list.

As it stood, Don had a full Grenadier platoon, with the Company Commander and the HQ Panzerschreck team dug in woods, surrounding one objective. The second objective was in the rearmost building complex with the second platoon dug in there and in the forward building complex, along with the Second in Command.

The Plan

My initial plan was to use three Cavalry Recon Patrols (a platoon) and the Second in Command to pin down the Grenadier platoon holding the objective in the woods. I just did not think I could crack that nut. As the other Grenadier platoon was divided between two building complexes, the number of teams holding the objective was less. As the flank of the town complex was relatively open, I also figured that I would be able to bring more weapons to bear. So, the other Cavalry Recon platoon and the Armored Rifle platoon swung around the right flank to take on my main objective. The tank destroyers moved up the middle, ready to swing in either direction, but mostly with an eye towards darting out to the right flank as the M18 Hellcats have a FP of 3+, which would really help in digging out the infantry from the buildings.

The Game

I am not going to give a blow-by-blow, mostly because I did not record it and probably cannot remember it to that detail, but I want to give the highlights mostly from a learning perspective, as this game was about learning how reconnaissance, US tank destroyer doctrine, and air support works in this game.

Phase I

The first phase was the only phase that followed my original plan. I used the reconnaissance rule Eyes and Ears to remove the Gone to Ground status of the grenadiers dug in around the woods and started firing with machine guns and mortars, keeping them pinned. Meanwhile the TD platoon moved up slowly through the unoccupied portion of the town and the reconnaissance on the right were ensuring the German anti-tank guns (ATG) did not appear on my right flank.

When the ATG did appear, on turn one, it was directly ahead of the force advancing on the right. This is where our first mistake occurred, in that I forgot to attempt to disengage, and later forgot to use the Forced to Disengage rule when one of the M18 Hellcats was destroyed. I looked at the two dug in PaK36 ATG and my 1 and 2 front armor and figured I was never going to get past that, so I decided taking the rear objective was no longer viable and switched to taking the forward objective in the woods.

Phase II

Switching objectives essentially meant moving my attack force from the open right flank to the congested left flank, save for two reconnaissance patrols to remain behind and keep the ATG busy. Given the speed of the force (the TD were Light Tanks, so they could move 16"), it really only took two turns to accomplish, with my Armored Rifles in their half-tracks moving at the double for both turns, and not receiving a single shot as they did it behind a screen of reconnaissance troops.

With the flank switched the ATG decided to move out of their dug in positions, making them vulnerable to my aircraft, which were amazingly coming in every turn. Eventually the P-47's machine-gunned the teams down, which failed platoon morale and ran away. With the ATG gone, the reconnaissance patrol sprang out and gunned down the AA trucks.

Back on the objective, with a full reconnaissance platoon and one additional patrol, plus the TD platoon all firing MGs at the dug in grenadiers, they started to crack. The reconnaissance risked bogging and charged in, removing the Company Commander and digging out just enough grenadiers for them to break. With the objective within sight of my reconnaissance, Don had to quickly counter-attack or the game would be over.

Phase III

The final phase of the battle was the counter-attack by Don's Tiger, his dismounted Panzergrenadier platoon, and his dismounted 8cm Mortar platoon. The mortars did get one bombardment off, but it failed to range in, so it had no effect. The panzergrenadiers attacked through the woods and stuck a toe into the woods containing the objective, effectively contesting the objective. They were also able to lay some fire on a reconnaissance patrol, causing it to break.

The Tiger, however, sprang onto the board (albeit slowly) and chewed up a reconnaissance patrol. The TDs counter-attacked but missed all shots but one, which was able to bail the Tiger. Don was able to get the crew back in the Tiger and he blasted one of the TDs before it could disengage.

Meanwhile the dismounted Armored Rifles crept up and charged the Tiger, survived the MG fire, and assaulted it. The Tiger survived the assault (the Bazooka round bouncing off), but rather than retreating, it charged through the unit and behind it. Now, given the size of a Tiger model (about 3" long) and the fact that he had to move through a Rifle team (about 1 1/2" deep base), that meant that with his 8" move he only moved about 3 1/2" away from me, leaving him within charge range of my US Armored Rifles. They rolled Tank Terror and failed! But, I was able to trace command all the way back to my Company Commander, allowing a re-roll and they made it! The next assault succeeded, forcing a Company morale check, which with no Company Commander, did not allow the Germans to re-roll when they failed their roll.

Summary

After the game was over it looked pretty grim for the Germans. They had lost a Grenadier platoon, an Anti-tank Gun platoon, an Anti-aircraft platoon, and a Tiger tank (which was a platoon). The Mortar platoon had checked and held on, but another hit would cause it to check. The second Grenadier platoon was fine, being dug in at the village, but the Panzergrenadier platoon was down one stand out of five and exposed in the open to an MG heavy mobile force.

On the US side the losses were a single Rifle team, two Tank Destroyers, and two Reconnaissance Patrols. As Don and I did not know the Patrol rules all that well we thought it was a 6-1 victory for the US, but I later learned the price of breaking a Cavalry Recon platoon down into three Patrols: each Patrol counts as a platoon for victory purposes. So the game ended 4-3 in favor of the US.

Epilogue

So, what did I learn? The whole point of the scenario was to learn the reconnaissance rules, US Tank Destroyer rules, and the air support rules. Although we forgot a few things in the heat of the moment, and played the air support rules wrong for most of the game (although neither of us thought it had much of any effect), I accomplished that goal.

Reconnaissance Rules

The Disengage rules are simultaneously interesting and irritating. It is great being able to disengage from being blasted, but irritating having to reorganize! :^) Overall, I liked the effect and think it models how these types of troops should work.

A big choice you have to make is whether you break a Cavalry Reconnaissance Platoon down into Cavalry Reconnaissance Patrols. Note that this is a rule specific to a Task Force A list, and not a general reconnaissance rule. Breaking down into patrols makes those units more flexible, but brittle. As they are three vehicle patrols in Task Force A, and you are forced to purchase two platoons worth, it might make more sense to break one platoon down into patrols, and use that for sniffing out ambushes. This gives you the flexibility to hide a small unit behind small pieces of terrain and minimizes the impact of reorganization and Eyes and Ears (which requires that the entire unit be tied up in spotting, not just the team doing the spotting). The full platoon then acts as a tactical reserve that can move fairly quickly to any hot spot. This minimizes the number of small units that could give up VP in a game.

An interesting note is that the US Cavalry Reconnaissance list equips these platoons differently than in the Task Force A list. In the former the platoon is two M8 Greyhound armored cars, one reconnaissance jeep and one mortar jeep, while in the latter it is one less M8 Greyhound. This makes a big difference, I think, because it changes the number of casualties needed before a platoon check from three to two, and it decreases the average armor in the patrol. Another difference is that there are only two patrols in a platoon, instead of three, so the total platoon size is eight, not nine. Overall the US Cavalry Reconnaissance list has the more favorable composition for reconnaissance platoons; what it lacks is the ability to take two Tank Destroyer platoons or the French Resistance (FFI) company.

Don found the disengagement rules very frustrating from the viewpoint that he could not get a shot off. He seemed to indicate that the reorganization was not much of a penalty. In some ways I can agree, especially if you are dealing with static or slow-moving troops. They cannot move fast enough to take advantage of following up while the reconnaissance troops reorganize. The disengagement rules definitely make the game take longer, which is why Don made the point that this is probably not a force you can take in a tournament. You would run out of time.

US Tank Destroyer Doctrine Rules

Basically, these rules give your US TD platoon some of the reconnaissance rules, like Cautious Movement, disengagement, plus a special ambush rule.

The ability to act like reconnaissance and to disengage is nice, but frustrating for the player sometime. Let's face it, you have a big gun and being forced to disengage means you don't get to shoot for a turn. But, if the shots at you are big and bad enough, it might just be worth it ("live to fight another day" and all that). Overall, I think I like it. The one big change the TDs have in disengaging is that they can disengage even if they fired the previous turn, unlike reconnaissance troops.

The special ambush rule did not come into play as I was the attacker and I wanted the TDs out from the start. Given that they are Light I figured why bother waiting to put them on the board? The answer is: because they draw fire otherwise. It is something to think about; delaying putting them on the board might save them from an ambush (as happened to me), but then again, so could applying the disengage rule.

The big problem with US TDs is that they are very expensive. I am not sure that the claim to fame for the Task Force A list - that they can have two TD platoons - is all that great of an advantage. Sort of like having two Tiger or one Elephant platoon available to you. Great if you are playing 2,000+ points.

The last problem with the TD platoon is that the platoon commander is a Carbine Team in the HQ (reconnaissance) section, not the TD section. There should be a special rule that the Carbine team in the HQ section acts as the platoon commander until the TD sections pop, then platoon command switches to one of TDs.

Air Support

First off, let me say that I was very lucky with my air support dice. From a game viewpoint that is very good, but from a learning viewpoint that can be bad as it gives you a bad impression about how things really work. We ended up playing six turns and I was able to bring on air support every turn. That is how lucky I was.

Mind you, that doesn't mean that the air actually did anything, just that it appeared. In fact, the first three turns the air did absolutely nothing. It wasn't until the last three turns that they started rocking the house. That said, the aircraft were affecting some of Don's decisions about moving out and about, but not too much. The AA came on the board as the first reinforcement to try and stave off the air power, but he had to spread them out in a skirmish line in order to maximize coverage. That allowed me to avoid the majority of his AA fire (although I did lose one plane on one turn).

I'll have to read the rules again to see if we did it wrong, because the light AA guns (2cm) seem pretty powerless in their AA role. What we know we did do wrong was to carry out the shooting in the Starting Step, rather than waiting until the Shooting Step. Once we figured that out the 16" rule made more sense! Also, listening to an older What Would Patton Do (WWPD) podcast I found out that the 16" friendly fire rule is from the aircraft, not the aiming point. Makes a big different.

So, with hot dice it is hard to know whether they are worth it. For the threat, they certainly seem to be. But, 190 points in a 1,000 point army is 19% of the cost dedicated to a threat. If they don't know you are going to buy it, they are not going to spend their own points to counter the air support, so you are relying upon the enemy 'freezing' because of the air, and I am not quite convinced that will happen. At least not with Don! :^)

So, in summary:
  • Reconnaissance: I like it. Looking at the Sangfroid rule for the British 2nd Household Cavalry Armored Car Squadron, it looks like I want to build a British Guards Armoured force! Probably not going to make it a reconnaissance company though. For the US I think I like the Cavalry Reconnaissance platoon better than the Task Force A Reconnaissance platoon. The latter are just too brittle.
  • US Tank Destroyers: I want to try a single TD section and see how it plays out. I think that might actually be better, given the smaller size (to hide and maneuver), although more brittle, but until you get up in points, it seems hard to fit in.
  • Air Support: Love it so far. Will definitely buy them again to see if the value remains.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Random Thoughts on Flames of War

Some of the local gamers are playing a Flames of War league and this has re-ignited interest in the rules (even though I am not involved in the league). As the league games are pretty flexible, the league gamers can play me and their games count towards the league. I'm not keen on game of 1,750 points (hell, I prefer 600-750 points, truth be told), but I will play them every so often.

Rant

Don and I played a game - his first for the league - and it was an interesting battle in which I learned a lot. However, it pointed out all of the major reasons why I do not like 1,750 point games. First, it took forever to set up. Mind you, setup includes all of those preliminary battle tasks, like setting up terrain, determining attacker, determining mission, determining sides, placing objectives, and then finally placing the troops. When you have that many troops you multiply the decisions, each of which lead to other decisions, so the number of decisions to make almost seem to go up exponentially. (Not really, of course, but it seems like it.) That is what makes the game tedious to me.

I was raised on the model that a big game (table size, points, or whatever) is nothing more than a series of smaller situations strung together, with consequences of the earlier situations affecting those that come later. From the viewpoint of a battle narrative, the bigger the better, because more elements of the story are linked together. But, from a game management perspective, or simply just fun, it sometimes gets tedious and a bit unrealistic.

Lessons Learned from the Battle

Learning some lessons about the rules and what works was probably the most important aspect of the game (besides having fun). The game was between Don's Late War British 7th Armoured Division armoured squadron (the "Desert Rats") and my Panzergrenadier Lehr company. Here are the highlights of the lessons:
  • Don't end up bailed within assault range of tough enemy infantry. Don lost about seven tanks to assault, six of which were bailed out when I launched the assault.
  • Reluctant Veterans may be veteran, but they still have a hard time rallying from pinning, recovering from bailing, and making motivation checks, even if they have special rules. When a unit is hit, if they do not recover (pinning, bailing, etc.) immediately it is not likely that they will recover any better in subsequent turns unless the action moves away from them.
  • Tank Hunter teams in towns are extremely dangerous. Haul ass and bypass by more than 10" because if they get a chance to shoot and assault you, you are probably going down. (Okay, granted the odds are not that good, it just seems like you are probably going down...)
Company HQ and Combat Attachment

After any game I always re-read the rules (or at least the pertinent parts) to check what I did wrong in the previous game. There is always something to learn after the fact because there are a lot of little rules to remember.

Other than resolving a question on the procedures of assault, which caused a heated exchange between Don and I, I found out that we have been playing practically every game wrong. (Well, maybe not the Germans in most games.) Most people buy the extra teams that are available with the Company HQ. These are termed the HQ Support Weapons teams and they have very specific rules in the back of the book. The long and short of it is that most people play those teams as Independent Teams, when in reality they should be played as a leaderless platoon. This is significant because a platoon, even a leaderless one, can take, hold, and contest objectives while independent teams cannot. As Don was running a Company HQ with a CiC, 2iC, 2 CS teams, and 2 AA teams, only the first two teams, the Command teams, are independent. All of the rest are HQ Support Weapons teams and must either be combat attached or act as a single leaderless platoon.

Tank Destroyers, Cautious Movement, and Gone to Ground

This thread can from a tangential thought loosely related to the game. In the game I had a single reconnaissance platoon and basically I ran it like a regular support platoon, ignoring all of the special rules, for good or ill. Afterwards, I decided to read up on the reconnaissance rules, especially as I was getting interested in the Task Force A list from Turning Tide.

The bottom line is that I saw the Cautious Movement rule, which talks about being able to still count as Gone to Ground despite the reconnaissance team having moved. (Normally, movement means you cannot also be Gone to Ground, but Cautious Movement overrides that restriction.) Reading the fluff, that makes sense. The infantry finds some fold in the ground and crawls forward.

Then I note that US Tank Destroyers get the Cautious Movement rule too and I think: why would vehicles need an infantry-oriented rule? I read the Gone to Ground rule carefully and, despite its name, it applies to Infantry, Gun, and Tank teams! So remember, ignore the names of the rules; that is just fluff. Read the rule! (Dug In sometimes appears as Foxholes, but the rule also applies to Tank teams, so that is another example.)

As a side note, I am playing a test (solo) game using US Recon forces (the Task Force A list, to be specific) and it is very interesting. Not quite sure it is "me" yet, but it is interesting to play. Besides, it lets me use all those M8 Greyhounds and tank destroyers I purchased.

Flames of War Podcasts

I have been listening to both the Battlefront and What Would Patton Do (WWPD) podcasts and I must say they are worth the download and the listening time. I tend to like the Battlefront podcasts better, despite it being hard to understand what they are saying sometimes, because they tend to go into more explanation of their thinking. The  WWPD podcasts are certainly funnier.

Flames of War Vietnam

I've been looking at the Flames of War Vietnam items - I went out and hunted one day to find the latest issue of Wargaming Illustrated as it has a free FoWV book with it - and am sorely tempted to buy into it. My concern is that:
  1. It will end up being another AWI for me, meaning that I will have to drag others into playing it and no one else will probably buy and paint troops for it, so I would be the only one.
  2. Other people will probably not want to play the Vietnamese much, and some not at all, leaving me with playing them the majority of the time. Generally speaking that might not be a problem, as I think the NVA are very playable, it is just that I am not a Hordes Army kind of guy. (I don't play Soviets in FoW now.)
Only time will tell whether I can resist the temptation.

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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").