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When you need to absolutely positively kill every last motherfucker in the foxhole, accept no substitute.
How the Russians play - quantity has its own quality.
Russian Infantry has a lot of advantages, and Russian infantry is very reminscent of the Guard blob in 40k. They can take loads of damage, lose loads of guys and still stay in there thanks to the Commissar. They are also able to attach heavy machine gun elements. This gives them some of the best anti-infantry firepower in the game. The downside is that they are general 'trained' at best making them weaker in combat and easier to shoot (remember to hit is dictated by the shootee's competence, not the shooters), they can't carry much in the way of anti-tank (flour bombs and close combat generally, never stopped them!)
So the basic infantry is good, but where's the real strengths?
Heavy Mortars: The russians have some of the best mortars in the game. They combine the ability of accuracy (reroll to hit on the first roll), with the firepower (3+) that other mortars lack (normally 5+ or even 6). This means that they are the 'go to' unit for clearing enemy infantry out of cover.
Infantry Antitank: It doesn't do the biggest amount of damage, but for a flexible infantry gun unit you cannot get much better than the 57mm antitank gun. Its got enough penetration to put holes in a Tiger (maybe), but it'll certainly see off all standard tanks below that. They are equally good at killing machine gun nests and the like. The bullet shield automatically gives them bullet proof cover against anything in front, so walking up to less than 16" ain't no thing. Thanks to 'roll up the guns and volley fire), they move up like a light guns team and then let rip with 3 shots each, with a reroll to hit at less than 16". Good bye.
Assault Gun: The difference between an Assault gun, a tank killer and an vehicle artillery is no different to a russians, they all got SU on their name. But the best value for money in my opinion is the SU-122. It's got next to no armour and the gun doesn't penetrate armour, but if you want to massacre infantry, clear bunkers/buildings and dominate, then these slow vehicles are awesome. The 122 offers a reroll to hit a less than 16", 2 shots with a breakthrough gun with 2+ to kill. This means the weapon denies the enemy a saving throw of 3+ (breakthrough) and then give a 2+ to kill if they are in bulletproof cover. Nice. When you need to absolutely positively kill every last motherfucker in the foxhole, accept no substitute.
Tank Killer: The SU-100 or SU-85M are a toss up in value, price and effectiveness. Both have the same frontal armour which is the same as a tiger tank. From there its a question of adversary. The SU-100 is a single shot high penetration weapon (anti-tank 16!), but suffers from a combination of hens and chicks and ROF 1 weapon meaning a +3 (+1 for H&C, +1 ROF1, +1 over 16" range) which means this tank is near useless on the move. Stationary, and with a 40" range, this is a great tank killer. The 2+ firepower help pop tanks nicely. The SU-85M brings the strength of the T-34 85mm gun with a tiger armour. This tank doesn't suffer as much on the move, but also can't handle the worst types of opponents.
"...sweeping advances and flanking maneuvers are an 'on the table' reality, instead of being a series of crow barred rules which result in unintended surprises or failure on the capricity of dice. "
Tanks: The best tank in my opinion is the humble T-34. The T-35-85mm is a fantastic tank, but in return for much better penetration you lose both the wide tracks AND the 'fast tank' ability of this vehicle. Wide tracks gives the tank the ability to re-roll bogging down tests for cover cross, and you will cross a lot of cover. Fast tank gives this tank the ability to move 32" at the double. They normally move and fire at 12" per turn. This gives the tank the ability to swarm parts of the board and opponents that otherwise would easily pick off this underpowered tank at range. Once they've surrounded the opponent, shots into the side and rear armour will quickly subdue them. You sacrifice one point in armour (6 to 7) for immense speed and the assurance that you will probably get there. Hands down a game changer.
In the following game I use all the elements above against a crack German tank unit comprising 4 panthers in two groups of two, 3 late Panzer 4's, a Jadg-panther and several infantry antitank option.
The two panthers on the right were charged by the SU-122's, they promptly get popped (but as they can't hurt anything this was my plan). The SU-85M's then drop in behind their carcasses and start exchanging fire with the panthers. Its attritional and not very effective, but they hold this unit in position. The 57mm antitank rolls up the middle and massacres the Panzer 4's facing them. The T-34's are my strike unit, as 11 tanks (2x5unit plus commander) rush 32" into the face of the two panther's on the left flank. The panthers get double shots each, but can only target one tank each as they are securely boxed in. The surviving T-34 fire into the rear and side (AV 5 instead of 10) easily massacring the outnumbered tanks. It's then rinse and repeat against the jadgpanther.
The beauty with these tactics of sacrifice and rush with overpowering numbers, is that this is exactly how the Russians approached the problem of technically superior German armour in WWII. The examples in Kursk of T-34s swarming and ramming Tiger tanks is testament enough.
Playing armour in this way just makes you realise how 'cramped' the 40k table is for armour. In 40k you can hide one tank behind a hill, in flames you can hide 11! This movement produced by the scale means that sweeping advances and flanking manuerves are an 'on the table' reality, instead of being a series of crow barred rules which result in unintended surprises or failure on the capricity of dice.
And I thinks that's the core of the difference, good tactics in Flames work. They can be undone by bad luck or poor dice, but you are not dependent on that 'must have' reserves roll for flanking (there are nearly always reserves in Flames, but it's clever, intelligent and mission relevant - another post methinks), or the chance they your opponent will simply overturn your tactical superiority with a 'HEROBOMB' or even imported herobomb.
So if you thought WW2 was boring (how could you), and that the lack of space monkeys with pew pew lasers meant it would be simple - think again, Flames is where tactics beats gimmicks.