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, May 31, 2011

Micro Tactics in Games

If I maneuver my Corps around the map and am able to get into a good position, resulting in a tabletop board setup to my advantage, I call that 'strategy'. If I maneuver a force around your flank while another force blocks your counter, I call that 'grand tactics. If I maneuver two bodies of troops against your one and achieve concentration of fire, I call that 'tactics'. What I'm talking about here today is none of those things; I am talking about the physical placement of components in a unit and how it affects game play. I'm not really sure what to call it, but the term I use is 'micro tactics'.

Most games don't allow micro tactics. Some gamers don't like micro tactic games and typically game them a being too 'gamey' or 'fiddly'. I personally hate micro-measurement games - games where being 5mm off can mean the world of difference and where the measurements are typically small - but that is not what I am referring to (I hate those too ... well except for DBA).

The best way to describe it is through an example. The picture below shows a situation with a typical horse and musket rule set. Here five stands of red are firing upon four stands of blue, but with the allowed arc of fire, represented by the lines, only four of those stands can be brought to bear on the front face of the unit; thus only four stands can fire.


By shifting the unit to the left, the fifth stand can be brought to bear and thus gets to fire.


Is this shifting of the stands really representative of micro tactics? I suppose so, but it does show that the typical horse and musket rules, which have rules like in this example, doesn't provide a very rich set of nuances that make for micro tactics. (And to be honest, many rules are specifically designed so that they don't have many nuances at this level.) The best reason why this sort of micro tactic is less of an issue in these type of rules is shown in the example below.


Because so many horse and musket games have a wall of troops, any stand that cannot be brought to bear against the main target simply splits off an fires at the next unit over, where it can be brought to bear. Thus, with a line of such units, all off alignment but splitting their fire as necessary, stand placement really has little effect during most of the game. Thus it becomes less about micro tactics and more about tactics. (Again, I think many of the authors and players of those rules would say: "and that is the way I like it and intended it".)

So, what is a concrete example of micro tactics? Here is a situation that came up recently.


In these rules, a defending stand can be pulled into close combat if it is within 4" of the attacking stand, otherwise the defending stand cannot participate. Blue has attacked the end of the line and shifted slightly to the right, putting it outside of the 4" range, thus allowing it to get a 2:1 advantage locally, despite having 1:2 odds unit-to-unit. This occurred because blue exploited the isolation of the rightmost red stand (it is within legal command distance, which is 6" between stands, but not within 4", which is supporting range for close combat).

There are a variety of ways for red to counter that situation, but with the rules in question (Flames of War), bringing stands closer together has a side effect with another tactical element, the template weapon. Placing stands closer together means more stands fall under the template, making more eligible to be hit. So red has to trade off between vulnerability to template weapons versus vulnerability to assault. In this example, spreading out limits the damage from artillery while also limiting your response to assault. (One can also say that it limits the damage done to you by assault as you cannot have more than one stand drawn in, like it or not.)

An interesting micro tactic came up in a game yesterday, in this case a bad micro tactic, but it illustrates the point. Shawn did not intentionally mess up, but rather had so many stands in his Soviet infantry horde to manage that by the time we sorted things out for firing, the error revealed itself. But it shows the interesting sort of micro tactical situations that show up in Flames of War.


Blue was moving forward and firing. The SMG and Flamethrower teams accidentally ended up beside one another. Normally that might not be a problem, but because they both have a very short 4" range and were at the extreme end of that range, only one enemy team was within range of them and it was the same team for both. So instead of rolling 7 dice and it applying to several enemy teams, they could only allocate hits to that single team, resulting in some drastic overkill. If either of those teams had been in the position of the rightmost blue team, for example, it would have reduced the overkill considerably. That spreading out the of the fire concentration is counter-intuitive, but a good example of hat not to do at the micro tactical level.

As a side note: due to the extreme short range of these weapons, I think it is very important that players scrupulously apply to methods for rolling and allocating hits cited in the Flames of War rule book. Most people forget that 'roll one at a time' is the default method and that 'roll them as a batch' is a convenience allowed by the defender. When you have a situation like the above it makes sense to invoke the rule, even if your opponent calls you a cheesy rules lawyer (and no, Shawn did not call me that). Otherwise these short-ranged, high rate-of-fire weapons become overpowering and could wipe out whole squads in a single volley.

So, why this discussion? It dawned on me last night as I was jaw-boning about the game afterwards with Don that these little things - what I am calling micro tactics - are what I like in a rules set. That is why Flames of War gets more interesting as I learn more about the rules. I think that is why I like the Ganesha Games Song of ...engine too; choices about the number of dice to roll, the order figures are activated, ganging up in close combat, etc. all make for small choices that the player makes that can have a material impact on the game.

"No dude, it is not your dice. You placed that figure 1" too far to the right, creating a hole I could exploit and then ..."

Friday, May 27, 2011

More Flames of War Forgetfulness

It is not easy remembering all of the rules to Flames of War. There are a lot of rules there. One way I tried to get them memorized was to type them out by hand. As the rule book contains a lot of 'fluff' - commentary that describes why a rule exists - I decided to create a bare-bones 'condensed' rule book that contained only the actual rules (the portion written in italics). Doing this really helped me understand a number of rules regarding movement and shooting, but I have yet to finish it. Maybe it is time to start that project again. (Besides, it gives me a document that I can have on other computers, where I can look up a rule when I don't have the official rule book handy.)

So, I was listening to back episodes of the What Would Patton Do and Radio Free Battlefront podcasts - both of which I highly recommend to Flames of War gamers - and a quick comment was made by Steve, I believe, from WWPD, that "don't forget that Company Command teams are Warriors and thus get a save when Destroyed". I stopped the podcast and grabbed the rule book, found the section, and sure enough, there was the rule. So, that is yet one more thing Don (and I) forgot to do in the last game. I don't usually lose my Company Commander, so it does not come up much for me, but it is an important rule to remember.

Basically the rule says that if Destroyed, a Warrior rolls an additional die and if the result is 4+, the Team is removed from the table and that is it. But, if you roll a 1-3, the Warrior moves to another Team of the appropriate type and take its over. Sort of like Mission Tactics for Warriors. The key here is that the Warrior needs to be within Command Distance of the other team in order for the Warrior to hop from the Destroyed Team to the new one. (In the case of my game with Don, I am pretty sure that his Company Command Team was within Command Distance of the 2iC Command Team, so it would have had the effect of changing the 2iC to a CiC.)

The final verdict on the HQ Support Weapons platoon is that it does not count as a platoon for deployment purposes (it was the last line of rules in that section), but it also does not count as a destroyed platoon, nor towards the total count of platoons, for morale purposes. Now the question is: does it count for Victory Point purposes? If not, then I would not have had to pull the unit using the Head to the Rear rule, but would have had to continue to make Sole Survivor checks every turn.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Interesting FoW Game (Summary)

So, this game started with me believing that static, dug-in infantry with few infantry anti-tank weapons were easy prey to an armored attack, while Don's was that the armored company would crash into it and crumble. So, who was right?

Summary

First, Don's fears were largely tied to the number of anti-tank assets that cheap, static infantry can typically afford. A big part of that was due to recent games he played in which the infantry lists were able to buy two separate anti-tank platoons, which in the lists I use is atypical. I think Don would say that my use of howitzers and infantry guns in direct fire show that his fears are not limited to anti-tank guns. :^)

But, when you look at the cold hard facts, Don started learning how to assault infantry with tanks and he started to see the effects, which were infantry running from their foxholes. Two problems stopped Don from getting a better result earlier: he lost his smoke too early; and he spread his forces too widely.

Losing Smoke

Don did not much believe in smoke until I pointed out that a smoke bombardment could block line of sight. I used quite a bit of smoke in this game, frequently smoking his Sherman OP so his battery could not smoke me. Secondly, losing two guns from the battery on the first turn really hurt his ability to inflict pain, or lay heavy smoke on me in turn.

When Don's armor assaulted my infantry line his greatest threat can in my direct fire counter-attack from the second line guns. Had he smoked my guns he could have ground down the infantry without fear of counter-attack. It was because he did not mask off the threats to his armor that he lost, not because the infantry beat him. He unequivocally beat the dug-in infantry.

Spreading Force

This has come up with the What Would Patton Do guys in their podcast (which I recommend) several times. If you spread your force out your spread out your combat power, and thus decrease your ability to win at any given point in the enemy line. The two armor platoons were at the right spot, but when a hole was created, one platoon went left and one went right. The fact is, the Fusilier platoon on my right was a distraction. The only reason to destroy it was to attempt a company break. That platoon was too far to seriously contest the objective.

The British Guards Pioneers should have double-timed to their right flank at the beginning of the game when they realized they were on the wrong flank, for either attack or defense.

So, What did you do Wrong, Dale?

My errors were in thinking the AA trucks were weaker than they really were. They are brittle, but their guns are buff, especially against Stuarts, if you don't move! Going from 15 shots to 3 is really painful.

I was also deathly afraid of losing my Marders, so I was willing to forego shots in order not to get shot. In the end that may have been the right thing to do, but it allowed the enemy armor to run riot with little concern for being shot up. By squandering these resources, however, I possessed a valuable resource for the end game. So, I am still not sure whether this was played wrong.

Now for the Rules

As always, Don and I make mistakes with the rules. Every game is a learning experience and this one was no exception, despite us going slower and looking up a lot of rules as we were going along. (Anyone who says the Flames of War rules are simplistic doesn't know the game!)

Guards are Unflappable

Falling in the realm of "Know Your Army", Guards get to re-roll platoon morale checks. Don failed to use this rule for all three platoon checks when his armored platoons lost two of their three tanks; in the end he lost because he did not take these re-rolls.

Are HQ Support Weapons Platoons, Platoons at Deployment?

I posted the question on the Flames of War forum asking about this, but HQ Support Weapons teams, if not combat attached out, and not part of a kampfgruppe, are a leaderless platoon. However, at deployment, they are deployed as independent teams. This lead me to believe that they do not count as a platoon during deployment. Later, however, I began to doubt that was correct. If it always counts as a platoon, it is just that the step is deployed in changes, then I would have had nine platoons, not eight, and thus should have had three platoons on board, one in ambush, and five in reserve (not four).

UPDATE: still getting responses from the forum, but so far it looks like I did it right. Whew!

No HE

Don and I did not realize that the Challenger had the No HE attribute. So all of those ineffective attacks he made on my artillery with the main gun could never have produced any effect. He would have had to switch to machine guns.

No Gun

Don didn't realize that there was a Sherman OP line for his artillery observer in a Sherman tank and so he used the Sherman line, blasting one of my Marders with his 75mm cannon. Except that he did not have a 75mm cannon ...

I did not realize the British had fake cannons in the turrets!

Which Observer are You?

Observers belong to their specific artillery or mortar battery and cannot observe for just any battery, unless special rules or a Staff team are involved. Keep your observers sorted out so you know which battery can legally bombard from which observation. (I think I flubbed that once.)

So, What did I Learn?

The biggest surprise in game affect was the Head to the Rear rule, which allows you to pull units off of the board and have them not count as Destroyed. This allows you to pull a crippled unit back and save it, minimizing its impact on the whether you win or lose.

One particular situation where I could see using this more is where you have to march certain unit types on the board as part of reserves. For example, my mortar platoon had to march on the board late into the game. They should have moved a few stands close to the objective while keeping the remainder back on the board edge. If the forward elements gets killed, the rear elements can simply pull back off of the board, rather than sitting there to get massacred.

Another big surprise (for me) was the combination of infantry with guns directly behind, ready to direct fire any assaulting tanks. Sure, the infantry starts to peel at the seams, but the artillery can get some revenge licks in.

As I stated earlier, one way to mitigate the artillery is to smoke them, so the artillery cannot direct fire. This is where the third surprise came in for me: by smoking the Sexton's battery observer first, you cripple the battery's counter-bombardment to things only they can see. Essentially by blinding the observer I was able to keep Don from bombarding 1/2 of the board for most of the game.

I chose the Fusilierkompanie because it was Confident Veteran and did not have the Everyone Fires on the Beach special rule (limitation). The positive is that it has MG Teams, which is good for defending against infantry assaults, but it has very poor infantry anti-tank weapons; it only has a panzerknacker per platoon available to it. It does have very good artillery choices, but the armor is either three tank StuG platoons or paper thin tank hunters.

An alternative (Normandy) choice was Bodenstandig Grenadiers, but their armor choices are basically the same (only one platoon), plus the incredibly expensive Jadgpanthers. Otherwise you have Confident Trained infantry instead of Confident Veteran, the same plentiful artillery (only this time with Nebelwerfers!), and field fortifications.

Overall, it was a really good game. I saw the effectiveness of smoke bombardment on dictating line of sight and forcing movement. Later I saw how it could have allowed Don to attack my infantry while disallowing my direct fire counter-attack. The game reinforced my belief that armor will eventually kill all infantry, no matter how well dug in, if they don't have any anti-tank assets available, whether in the form of guns or infantry-based weapons. Most of all, I learned that I still don't know all of the rules or have them memorized.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Interesting FoW Game (3)

Continuing on with the game between the British Guard Armoured Recce Company (Don) versus the German Fusilierkompanie (me) ...

Turn 5 saw the Germans bring on the last of their reinforcements - I really wanted them to come on after the British reinforcements - and the last of the British reinforcements. The turn opens with the German AA platoon (3.7cm anti-aircraft guns mounted on Opel trucks) coming on and reinforcing the left flank. Again, I don't want them to face off against the Stuarts, as I felt they would just get shredded. The Marders continued to press forward, moving two into the edge of the woods (risking a bog check) and setting the whole platoon up to fire upon the Sextons. The fire is still ineffective, however, and the two-gun battery of Sextons fires a bombardment back, bailing two of the Marders!

On the right flank the Stuarts and Cromwells continue to nibble at the Fusiliers, this time uprooting one of the dug-in infantry stands. The 15cm infantry guns continue to stare down the units on the flank, but the British Company 2iC takes a chance and charges the right-most howitzer, which blasts him into oblivion.


Turn 6 sees the Marders breaking from their pinning and, along with the remaining anti-tank gun, destroy the Cromwell platoon that just entered the board. Meanwhile the Stuarts and Cromwells start to close in on the Fusiliers on my right flank, with their assault breaking a significant portion of the platoon free from their foxholes. It looks pretty grim for the Fusiliers, except that now the Cromwells are in range of the howitzers direct fire...


So, at the start of the German turn 7, I have a bailed Marder, a bogged Marder, the Stuarts penetrating into the center, the Cromwells, assaulting my Fusiliers on the right and forcing them to abandon their foxholes and I have four 10.5cm howitzers lined up ready to direct fire into the Cromwells ...

I remount the Marder. I unbog the other Marder. My Marders move out to attack the Sextons and the single Sherman OP on my left flank. The AA trucks turn to try and stop the Stuarts from running rampant in my center. My Fusiliers get out of the way of my howitzers, who are lowering their barrels and aiming over irons sights when ... I roll all 1's for the howitzer fire! (Don and I burst out laughing after all that tension.) Holy crap! I completely miss!


The Stuarts run rampart, starting to chew up my mortars (they disappear and it is the first unit destroyed on my side - Don cheers) and my AA trucks while the Cromwells dig more of my Fusiliers out of their foxholes, racking up kills, despite my tremendous infantry saves for the teams being machine-gunned in the open.

The end comes quickly however, as the Marders continue to advance into range of contesting the British objective while the howitzers and infantry guns finally find their targets and crush the Cromwell platoon. The Stuarts continue to push their luck and drive into the rear of the second Fusilier platoon, trying to clear the objective. It was just too much and the AA trucks bail the Stuarts in defensive fire while the Fusiliers capture them in counter-assault. That ends the game in a hard-fought German victory, 5-2.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Interesting FoW Game (2)

Continuing on with the British Armoured Recce Company versus the German Fusilierkompanie...

On turn 2, shown in the figure below, the Germans continue to lay smoke in the center, blinding the Sherman Observer Tank there, while the PaK40 anti-tank guns continue to hammer the Sextons. Another is bailed, leaving the battery momentarily ineffective. Meanwhile the British get further reserves as a Stuart platoon enters the board. The Cromwells pound the top of the hill with machine gun fire, but it is ineffective.


On turn 3 the Germans get their first reserve and bring on their 15cm infantry guns. Although the range looks a little far in the image, the infantry guns open fire and destroy a Cromwell. It turns out that it was the Company Commander! The British receive no reserves, but their Cromwells continue to dance on the German right flank, looking for a way to take out a howitzer while staying out of range of the infantry guns.


In the center, however, Don gets aggressive with his Stuarts and a lucky MG shot takes out my dug-in Puppchen anti-tank weapon with a single burst! Don decides to go for the glory and assaults one of the mortars, easily destroying it in assault. He breaks through and attacks the corner of my Fusiliers on my right and kills one of the dug-in teams there. Don can taste blood and he is getting revenge for the lost Company Commander. Maybe tanks assaulting dug-in infantry is not so bad...

A miracle happens with the Germans, however. My leaderless Company HQ Support Weapons platoon survives its morale check and the subsequent Sole Survivor check and decides to invoke the rule Head to the Rear. This is the first time that rule has been played against Don (I just learned about it) and I think you could see the little light bulbs light up over both of our heads. For me, it is tying a concept of how to minimize your chances of losing in the game Memoir '44 to a similar concept in Flames of War. In Memoir 44 if often makes sense to pull the single block unit out of the line and tuck it away so you don't give up Victory Points. Early in playing Memoir 44 Don would continue fighting with those units as in those rules, the unit does not lose combat power with the loss of blocks. However, they are brittle and thus easier to yield VP, so I would always focus on pounding the weak units and would win more often than not. Don still does that in Flames of War. Although FoW does not retain full combat power when a unit is beaten down, Don did not see a way of easily protecting a unit from being destroyed, so he would force the unit to fight on until the bitter end. Again, I would focus on those units in order to win more often than not.

The above rule, and another similar rule, allows the player to pull units off of the line and remove them from the board, ensuring that they do not yield VP. Don't get me wrong: all is not rosy by doing this. Your company's morale is weakened; just not as bad as if you lost the unit.

The next turn, pictured below, shows the continued German reinforcements. I was able to get a unit of Marders on and, fearing the wrath of the Stuarts, decide to move them onto my left flank. My goal is two-fold:
  1. Knock out the Sextons, getting closer to a British Company morale check, which they would automatically fail given the loss of their Company Commander, or
  2. Make a run for the British objective.
Either of these might possibly draw the Stuarts off of my objective, however, therefore I needed to be ready in case Don swung his Stuarts around the backside of the woods.


I started by smoking the Stuarts, forcing them to leave (or be ineffective in their turn), then continued to pour fire into the Sextons. I was able to bail a single Sexton (momentarily), but in the end all fire had no real effect. I had hurt the battery initially and it had counter-punched, knocking out a single anti-tank gun, and after that they were like two tired fighters flailing at one another.

On my right flank the Cromwells moved out of my infantry gun range and continued to pick at my artillery's flank and the Fusiliers dug-in on top of the hill, but for now the British spearhead was blunted. Don did not want to jump into the fire of the 15cm infantry guns.

To be continued...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Interesting FoW Game (1)

Don and I played an interesting game of Flames of War, which took about six four hours to reach a conclusion. (We were playing slow and checking a lot of rules.) What makes it particularly interesting is that both Don and I had forces that we felt were disadvantaged for winning the scenario that we are gaming.

The scenario mission is Hasty Assault, which basically has the attacker trying to get one of two objectives on the defender side while still defending the one objective on his own side. Don is attacker with a British Guard Armoured Squadron (Cromwells and Challengers, from the Hell's Highway book) while I am defending with a German Fusilierkompanie (from the new Earth & Steel book). Don was convinced that an armored command will automatically lose when faced with defending dug-in infantry while I was convinced that static infantry, even when dug-in, will lose against an armor force, given unlimited time and few infantry anti-tank weapons. So, someone is going to learn a little something from this game.

My Rationale

Having been on the receiving end of a tank attack with static, dug-in infantry, I know that once that force loses its anti-tank assets, there is essentially not much it can do other than hunker-down and die. If you get up out of your foxholes to assault, you will get machine-gunned down in the defensive fire. If you simply sit there, you are doing nothing to reduce the combat power of the enemy. The armor, however, have a chance - however slim - to reduce your force, sitting there at 17+ inches away and hitting you with main guns. Sitting at 11 to 16" they can add in machine guns and there is still little you can do to them. The key is having anti-tank weapons.

Bazooka or Panzerschreck

These are great weapons, but their 8" range means that a tank that sits off at greater than 14" cannot be hit. They do, however, act as a great deterrent to a tank that wants to quicken the job by assaulting the infantry. A tank assaulting these weapons is just asking to get taken out by a lucky hit in defensive fire or counterattack.

Panzerfaust

This is even worse, from the infantry's point of view, as you cannot move and fire a panzerfaust. They are better in assault, however.

Panzerknacker, Gammon Bombs, or Pioneer Skill

This is the worst of all, as it only comes into play if the infantry actually survive the first round of assault by the tanks and the subsequent motivation check. With no range at all, you cannot use these anti-tank weapons unless the tanks come to you. Or you...

Just Get Up and Assault

You could just get up and assault the tanks with your own infantry, right? With the right circumstances, yes. First, you would need to lay a Smoke Bombardment. This means that the defensive fire coming at you is limited to 6", not 16", and you would get +1 for concealment. But this also means that you are not getting the +1 for Gone to Ground, and when you are hit you don't get the Bulletproof Cover save. I won't go into the math of it, but this is a big difference! (The Bulletproof Cover save alone means it generally takes six times more hits to eliminate an infantry stand.)

The basic problem is, unless you have infantry anti-tank weapons (see above), the basic infantryman is not likely to blow up a tank in assault. My chosen forces basically had one infantry anti-tank team per platoon: the Command SMG Panzerknacker Team. Granted, a basic infantry has a 16% chance to bail a tank (if it hits), but unless you have masses of troops, you need the infantry anti-tank to do all of the heavy lifting in assaults against tanks.

Don's Rationale

I probably should not be trying to explain Don's rationale for why he thinks the tanks are in a no-win situation, but I think his viewpoint was very much based upon:
  1. He always lost in the past when he had tanks and the enemy have dug-in infantry. (I later found out that they also had lots of dug-in anti-tank guns too, which makes a big difference.)
  2. His tactic was always to machine-gun the dug-in troops.
The first point is a bit understandable. The Germans that he had fought were both lists that could (and did) bring more than one anti-tank gun platoon to the table. But in this case he was not really fighting infantry, per se, but infantry protecting anti-tank gun teams, which in turn were doing all the killing.

The second point, however, is where the problem lies, in my mind. Against dug-in troops the basic math is this: an MG allows you to roll 3 dice to hit, but when it comes time overcome the Bulletproof Cover save, it requires a '6' to confirm the casualty. A main gun, however, gets 1 shot moving or (typically) 2 standing still, but their chance to overcome Bulletproof Cover saves are a '3' or better. That shows you that the MG needs four times as many successful hits (and failed saves) as the main gun, yet it is only firing 50% more shots. If you are going to try to go for eliminating the infantry by shooting, go for the high Firepower hits.

The Game


The picture above shows the map. The bottom (South) is the German baseline and the top (North) is the British baseline. Orangish circles are standing crops, green circles are woods, big green blob is a very tall hill, and the gray line is a road.


The deployment allowed my Fusilierkompanie to dig-in and stretch a line from the woods on the left (with troops within four inches of the objective there) all the way to the left side of the hill on the right flank. Troops were also within four inches of the objective in the center.

Don deployed his Sextons guarding the objective on his side, but ironically he deployed his Guard Pioneers in the crops directly in front of the objective he ended up removing. (Don was a little sleepy or something when he started, I guess.)

Finally, I popped up my Anti-Tank Gun platoon (it was in Immediate Ambush) in front of his Sextons, ready to blast him on turn 1 (I had first turn).
Here is something I may have flubbed. The HQ Support Weapons teams were not Kampfgruppe'ed, but rather were a leaderless platoon. The rules state that they deploy on the board with the independent teams, but I had assumed that they did not count as a platoon during deployment; only later. In hindsight, that may have been incorrect. I need to go to the Flames of War forums and check.

The PaK40 ambush took out two Sextons fairly quickly, putting Don on his back foot, but he countered with artillery fire and took out one PaK40 in a bombardment. Meanwhile his CiC and 2iC raced towards my right flank while his Guard Armoured Recce Squadron came on and raced for the same flank.

To be continued...

Saturday, May 07, 2011

StuG G or StuH42?

There are a couple of StuG Battery army lists in Flames of War that allow you to choose between a StuG G or a StuH42 at no cost (usually only one per platoon). Looking over the two models you see that they have the same armor, same movement, same classification (fully-tracked, fully armored), same gun rate of fire, everything the same except three things. The G has an anti-tank rating of 11 with a firepower rating of 3+ while the H has a 10 and 2+, respectively, plus has smoke. So, which should you take?

Setting aside the smoke capability for the moment, as this blog entry is focusing on the math aspect of the choice. See, all of this came about listing to the Radio Free Battlefront podcast, episode #??, when one of the hosts mentioned that they like to use one particular over another because, even though it had a lower anti-tank rating than some other model, it had a 2+ firepower and when they hit it, they wanted to make sure it was dead. The implication was that the trade-off between anti-tank rating and firepower favored the firepower side. This reminded me of my wondering whether to buy the StuG or StuH for a new unit. (I bought the StuH so it would have some variety. I has since decided to buy and paint both, so I would always have a choice.)

So, which is better? The What Would Patton Do boys would tell you to do the math and figure it out, so I thought I would do just that. (Please note that I am not a mathematician by any means, but I think these numbers are "close enough".) So, lets start with the basics.

Versus Armor

First off there is the chance to hit. Given that both assault guns have the same range and rate of fire, any modifiers that apply to one would apply to the other. So, for simplicity, we are simply going to throw this variable out of the equation as they are equal, and thus cancel each other out.

Once a hit is obtained, the target rolls a 1D6 and adds the value to their armor rating, then compares the sum to the anti-tank rating (AT) of the firer's gun.
  • If the sum exceeds the AT, the shot bounces and there is no further effect to consider. 
  • If the sum equals the AT, the firer rolls 1D6 looking to equal or exceed their weapon's firepower rating (FP). 
    • If the FP roll is made, the target is bailed out.
    • If the FP roll fails, the shot bounces and there is no further effect to consider.
  • If the sum is less than the AT, the firer rolls 1D6 looking to equal or exceed their weapon's FP.
    • If the FP roll is made, the target is destroyed.
    • If the FP roll fails, the target is bailed out.
So, to calculate the change to destroy a target, it is basically:
Chance to Exceed Target's Armor and Roll * Chance to Roll FP
The chance to bail out a target is calculated as:
(Chance to Exceed Target's Armor and Roll * Chance to Fail FP) + (Chance to Equal Target's Armor and Roll * Chance to Roll FP)
Using this information, the answer of which is better became clear: it depends.

Because the FP of the H is higher and represents the chance to "confirm" a penetration, the greater the chance of penetrating, the more likely the H would have a greater chance to destroy the target than the G. Put another way, if both the G and the H have a 100% chance of exceeding the target's armor and a 1D6 roll – say when firing at an M3 Stuart with its 3 armor* – then the H's 83% chance to roll the FP means it will out-perform the G with its 67% chance to roll the FP.

* Armor of 3 + the maximum roll of a 6 = 9. This is less than the AT of both the G and H, so both have 100% chance to penetrate.

As you work out the math against various armor ratings a pattern emerges. As the armor rating increases, the H's chance to destroy falls faster than G's does. In addition, the G always has a greater chance to bail out the enemy because of its greater chance to fail FP rolls. As the armor rating gets high enough, what kills the H is its failure to penetrate in the first place, negating the higher FP, which depends upon penetrating in the first place.

So, the conclusion? If you are fighting against armor rating 4 or less, the H is better. Against an armor rating of 5, 6, or 7 the G is marginally better. But against an armor rating of 8 or 9, the G is significantly better. (Against an armor rating of 10 the G has a small chance to bail the tank while the H cannot at all, but the chance is not significant.)

Versus Dug-In Infantry

Another tactical problem I often see where the main gun's performance is being considered is whether to use the main gun or the MG against dug-in infantry. Everyone says you always want good FP for digging out infantry, yet I frequently see people giving up the main gun for the MG when it comes to these situations. Why?
  • 1D6 at a higher chance of total success can only produce a maximum of one lost Team, while rolling more dice at a lower chance of total success can potentially produce more lost Teams. Do you feel lucky?
  • As with the armor example above, FP only comes into play if you hit first. So, the increase in FP has to sufficiently offset the increased chance to hit.
What makes this scenario harder to calculate is that you have to take in the chance to hit and the rate of fire (or movement) into account this time. What you can ignore is the chance for a failed save (3+ for infantry) as it is the same chance in all cases.

So, let's start by reviewing the process of hitting and killing dug-in infantry.
  • Use the target's skill to find the basic chance to hit.
  • Find the modifiers that apply.
  • Grab the number of dice equal to your rate of fire (ROF).
  • Roll the dice. Those that equal or are higher than the required number are hits.
  • Infantry Teams get a chance to save against those hits. The chance is 67% (3+ on 1D6).
  • As the infantry is dug-in, it counts as bulletproof cover, so the firer must confirm the unsaved hits with an FP roll.
    • If the roll is less than the FP rating, the Infantry Team is unaffected by the unsaved hit.
    • If the roll is equal to or greater than the FP rating, the Infantry Team is destroyed.
With the process defined, let's run some numbers. The biggest problem to solve is what the chance to hit is. The variable is not so much the target's skill or the modifiers, but the firing weapon's rate of fire, as the skill and modifiers are all equal for all weapon systems (with the exception of shooting at long range, but we will get to that). Thus the main variable to consider is the rate of fire of the weapon. Given that an MG's ROF is always 3, whether moving or stationary, but the main gun of a tank is not this will be a prime decider in whether to use MG or main gun. However, given that we are trying to determine whether the StuG or StuH is better overall, and the MG stats are exactly the same between the two, we need to remain focused on the main guns as much as possible.

So, how can you compare the different situations? If you think about what the chance of hitting with all three dice when you need a six it is basically 1/6 * 1/6 * 1/6 or 0.4%. So we tend to think of things as a percentage chance to hit. But, in this case it is a percentage chance for three hits, so how do we represent that? The easiest way I know is to simply call them fractional hits so you would multiply 0.4 * 3 for 0.013 hits. Not the best way, of course, but something I can understand. Suffice it to say it is a number and the higher the value the better.

So, looking at the spreadsheet (it has values for hitting on 2, 3, etc.) and basically the MG will never out-perform the StuH42 main gun when it can fire twice. The extra shot from the MG just does not offset the FP rating of the 10.5cm assault gun! Interestingly, the MG does the out-perform the 7.5cm gun if it gets both shots two. Where the difference comes in is if the main gun only gets one shot. Only then does the MG out-perform the main guns, and it does so for both.

The point of this exercise was to determine if maybe the MG out-performed only for the lower to-hit numbers, which would give more favor to the StuH over the StuG, but as it out-performed a moving main gun and under-performed a stationary main gun, no real advantage is given in moving fire. That said, as the AT rating does not come into play when fighting infantry, the StuH clearly out-performs the StuG when stationary, firing at dug-in infantry.

Whew!

Bring on the Smoke

Smoke adds another dimension that is really hard to quantify. Basically you can trade a shot to try and penetrate for one that will obscure a target. Smoking a Big Bad Target, to force them to move next turn is always a good option, so an advantage should go to the StuH. After all, options are better than none.

Summary

All in all, I like the StuH, but of course it depends upon what you expect. I think the trade-off is minimal, except against heavily armored targets, but then those might be the one you might want to smoke anyway!

Now, if Battlefront would only make the model...

Hey, let me know if there are other trade-offs out there like this; preferably one that is a 'no cost' replacement, or minimal in points. I think it might be fun to think it through. Also, if you see something wrong with the math (which I don't show...), let me know. I won't be offended. I would love – short of going back to school – to really learn how to calculate the odds. If only someone had an easy-to-use program... :^)

Monday, May 02, 2011

Important Rules in Flames of War

Recent games of mine (and some others I game with) have pointed out some important rules in Flames of War that have some real impact, and that a people (including me) often don't know about.

Gun Tank

The Gun Tank rule, not to be confused with the various Mixed Platoon rules (which discuss hit allocation at a platoon that has different team types), deals with shooting at a platoon of Tank teams that consist of two different types of tanks. By types, I mean mark and model being different, such as a British Armoured Squadron consisting of Cromwells and a Sherman Firefly or a Tunisian Tiger Platoon consisting of Tigers and Panzer IIIs.

This rule allows you to force your opponent to allocate hits to those tanks they normally want to protect, so it is important to remember it so you can, for example, pick off that Firefly rather than having it be the last to die.

Smoke Bombardment

Smoke bombardments are not simply a lot of smoke rounds put together to cover an area; a smoke bombardment is almost like dropping a woods temporarily on the battlefield. The smoke produced by bombardments block line of sight beyond 6" and conceal within 6". This allows you to cut out a huge swath of the field from shooting at you. This is a great way, for example, of blinding long-range ant-tank fire.

For the Germans, the Company HQ with its two little GW43 mortars, can create a smoke bombardment; for the British, the new Armoured Squadrons have the Cromwell CS in the Company HQ for the job.

Shooting Was Too Successful

The first time I read about this rule was in the clarification of it in the More Again Lessons from the Front (MALFTF). That caused me to look the rule up to see what the heck they were talking about. This rule can easily give a unit 8" of extra movement in a turn (4" for the assault and 4" for the consolidating breakthrough), so it makes sense to learn it. I can also see this rule causing the most arguments, so before you roll for shooting, it might make sense to point out where your units are within 4" so that if this rule applies in the Assault phase, there are no questions about where an eliminated stand was and whether this rule can be invoked.

For those that say that Flames of War is a simplistic game I think they have not looked at how extensive the rules are or how nuanced it is.

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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").