Friday, 16 December 2011

The Flames Tardis: Armies in both time AND space

The Tardis for your fish tank ... gotta love google images.
In THIS article I had a bit of a rant about all the things I think are broken in 40k.  One of the thigs that 'makes me sad' about 40k is that despite all the fluff and stuff, most players ditch their 'fluffy' armylist as soon as they start hitting the gaming table in earnest.  The lovingly painted squads of "sub-par unit of choice" gets left on the shelf as the players is forced to "not waste points" on throwaway units and buy HiveGuard/Trygons/Manticores/Hydras/Paladins.

Fact is, half those "great" units in the fluff are actually overpriced and pointless in the tournaments and even in your 'friendly neighbourhood club'.  Let's reflect on that for a moment...

Flames of War approach

Rather than using a formula army list approach like other games, Flames of War forces the user to choose a 'type' of army and then select company options that are available to that force.  Many individual units appear in many different army structures, but the structures are built to be reflective of historical unit AND balanced. 

Example: A tank battalion forces you to take a command unit (in a tank, obviously) and then a minumum of 2 tank companies (5-10 tanks).  In fact, you can 'optimise' up to 31 'standard' tanks within the structure, plus Heavy tanks (IS-2s or ISU122/152s) plus tank killer companys, assault guns etc etc.  What you'll sacrifice is access to masses of infantry, heavy machine guns, recon vehicles etc etc.  A Reconnaissance Company in comparison can field 0-25 tanks (still perfectly healthy), sacrifices all 'heavy' options, but gets better and more recon units, better infantry units (with flamethrowers!) and other options unavailable to the prior.  The 'motor rifle company' comes with the most 'vanilla' force, allowing you access to all areas, but limiting the numbers of each particular type - ie, you can take 1-2 of everything.

Using this approach forces the player to consider their army carefully, and consider their preferred tactical approach with caution.  Do you want to swarm the enemy with T-34s, then a tank company is yours (46 tanks), do you want to blow them apart from range, Motorised will give you the most 'arty', allowing you 46 artillery (including mortars) and anti-tank guns. But you'll be limited in what else you can bring.

The advantage is two-fold, structure AND time.

The strength of this approach is that in a similar fashion to 40k, you can 'try out' and test bed your units and easily switch from one structure to another.  To make this even easier, many of the lists come with two price structures, one for better trained or motivated, one for less so.  One is cheaper.  This adds another careful layer of control though, as 'Guards' are better than Red Army troops, but you couldn't have Guards and Red army in the same battalion.

Exceptions do apply though and many units come with either both options, or are 'add on' reserves units, that equally apply to both.  User beware though, as switching price brackets may exclude your 'must have' units!

So you can field wildly different forces while settling into the game (infantry are fairly transferable), trying out different approaches.  To make this more fun, you can also field army list from different time periods, giving you strikingly different forces, which will fight different opponents.  Here's an example:

1500pt Soviet Army Tank Battalion (Mid War)

This is before and during Stalingrad and way before Kursk, the Russians are on the defensive and throwing everything they have out of the factory and into the way of the Germans.  As such, the majority of the troops are cheap, and are classed as 'Fearless Conscripts', they are highly motivated to save the motherland, but largely untrained and inept.

This means that the tanks and troops are hit more often as they are comparatively incompetent, but will rarely rout or desert their vehicle when hit. (Commissars are SOOOO motivating)
  • T34/76 - Company Commander (Fearless Trained)
  • 6 x T34/76 - Fearless Conscripts
  • 6 x T34/76 - Fearless Conscripts
  • Tank Rider Platoon, including 1 Maksim HMG and a commissar (reroll motivational checks but remove a stand of infantry as traitors, sound familiar?) - Fearless Conscripts
  • 5 x Katyushas with extra crew (double Rate of Fire) and spotter team - Fearless Trained (these guys are reserves from base and less disposible than their brethren).
1510pt Soviet Army Tank Battalion (Late War)

This is during the 'Bagration' counter attack for Minsk, after Stalingrad and racing towards Kursk.  All Russian troops are now trained, although their 'fearless' drops to 'confident' if their just Red Army and not Guards forces. The Russians are now facing man-power shortages after the desparate sacrifice of Moscow and Stalingrad ... but their training and confidence is better.
  • T-34/85 - Company Commander (Fearless Trained)
  • 6 x T-34/85 - Fearless Trained
  • 6 x T-34/85 - Fearless Trained
  • Tank Rider Platoon, including 1 Maksim HMG and a commissar (reroll motivational checks but remove a stand of infantry as traitors, sound familiar?) - Fearless Trained
  • 6 x Katyushas with extra crew (double Rate of Fire) and spotter team - Fearless Trained (these guys are reserves from base and less disposible than their brethren).

So what's the difference?

The prior force will be facing mostly Stug and Panzer 4 medium tanks, lots of German infantry and   the occassional Tiger (which they'll struggle with, as the Russians did).  They are easier to hit, but highly motivated and will be facing less dangerous anti-tank weapons.  The tanks are all faster and are capable of blistering speed.

The latter force will face german (and other) armies where both vehicle, fixed gun and infantry weapons can cause havok with the T-34's armour.  It's slightly better, and thanks to training the T-34's are also harder to hit (you hit on your TARGETS skill level, rather than your own).  The Rider Platoon will be a more serious challenge in close combat - as will the 85's, but their guns are vastly better, capable of damaging all the troops.


Both armies represent the same (ish) number of models, but will face vastly different opponents and have vastly different capabilities.  The two armies will work in a similar fashion, using speed and armour to exploit a weak point in the line and then push through hard into the enemy defensive line, flanking the enemy.  This bring me to my final discussion point of the day...

Scale and tactics

Something that has occured to me since starting in flames of war is that flanking doesn't really work in 40k.  This has something to do with scale, but also something to do with tanks.

Unlike 40k, an infantry man is about a centimetre high.  The best infantry weapons are effective at 24" and guns get ranges up to 32", artillery is longer still, but lacks the accuracy (as you'd expect). This is roughly equivilent to 40k, but there's actually a huge difference in scale. 

Smaller: Flames Tanks are generally smaller than a matchbox, allowing them to 'hide' behind hills and other terrain easier than 40k infantry.  This means that terrain has a greater impact in denying firing altogether.  Obviously the terrain is much smaller, but this doesn't lead to huge terrain pieces absorbing large chunks of the board in order to 'make' the game competitive.

Faster: A standard tank can 'double time' at 24" in a turn.  A tank can move 12" and fire (although at a reduced Rate of Fire), a 'fast tank' can move up to 32" in a turn!  This makes breakthroughs a real threat.  Additionally, the scale of the models means that an dug in infantry line is a line an 1" wide.  Meaning that 'artillery' can be a long way (comparatively) behind the front line, and open to assault by the breakthrough!

Scaled: Blocking tactics (like with rhinos) are near impossible at this scale.  Defences are 'deeper', as scale means that if you punch through my front line, my 57mm zis-2 are going to punch straight through your side armour! Attack, penetration and counter attack are more tactically dynamic as there is more 'room' to maneuver on the same board.

Example:  I set up a defensive line on troops.  They carry SMG's and HMG's, so the Germans won't want to assault with infantry or half tracks.  They punch through the 'weak' part of my line with a panther tank group in assault, and push through with several units of crack panzergrenadier units.  The panzers are their front armour left to face the T-34's they are going to flank next turn.  I then reveal my 4 zis-2 guns hidden in a wood on a hill.  They open up on the exposed Panthers and score 6 hits from my 12 shots.  The panthers cannot pass the side armour hits (armour 5, antitank 11, requiring 6's to avoid penetration!) and 5 penetrating shots later (one bail-out test) you have 3 destroyed tanks and 2 bailouts, crippling the German breakthrough.

40k tanks are a bit of a joke.  Normal tanks are barely faster than troops, and can only escape 'fleet' troops due to a bad dice roll for the chaser.  In Flames, the relationship is reversed, with tanks providing the maneurvability, whilst the infantry provide the fixed durability.

But 40k Infantry aren't durable and treat foxholes and cover as 'optional' ... hence the weird reversal of reality.  40k tanks as mobile pillboxes.

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