Friday 5 July 2013

How I play my Russian Tank in Flames of War

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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.

Example Game

 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.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

M42 - something really interesting is occuring

Sandwyrm and Eriochrome have 

been doing something really interesting.

For those of you who work somewhere near technology, open source should be familiar.  Crowd surfing is also a common thread.  This is the idea that rather than ferreting away creations behind closed doors and with limited playtesters, you create your product in full view.

When this first started, I was intrigued and even offered myself up to help (I couldn't help, but I tried).  The idea is to create a new set of rules which are based around original material, formented from the experience of Flames of War, 40k, Hordes, etc etc and trying to distil down a game that brings back the balance and dynamic to 40k.

The only thing you need is a series of 'proxy' models, luckily a company called games workshop sells those.

I'm AM SO IMPRESSED with what these guys have done.  These guys were always stat hounds in playing 40k, and the thought processes into the game mechanics are stupendous.  Even more impressive as they are right up there, in the open.

It's like watching the growing portfolio of the worlds greatest game designer.

IF it was just the mechanics it would be enough, but these guys have really grabbed the bull by the horns and got to grips with producing some very impressive narrative.  In this their sensitivity is spot on, as it is the fluff that sells the concepts and 'sells' this version.

The level of detail is impressive.

It's like 40k and Flames had a lovechild and adopted it to hordes and Infinity.  It's very very clever stuff indeed.

So head over to "The M42 Project" and bask in the glow of their collective creativity and awesomeness...

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Are Allies in 40k a good thing?

I haven't played a game in a while.  In fact I've only played a single 6th Edition game, something keeps putting me off... I've got the models, the dice, the latest codeci, I should be all over it, shouldn't I?

It's Allies.  I can't get my head around it, it just feels like cheating.  Now don't get me wrong, I'm a player who brought a superheavy tank full of Tau Broadsides to an APOC game and murdered everything... I'm happy to WAAC with the best of them.  But allies intimidates me.

It's so many options, so many flavours.  I can see the logic behind it.  After all, if everyone needs every codex and you can cherry pick cool units from other places.

Tau getting smacked - grab a Wolfpack of Terminators.

The problem is that (in line with my opinion on the meta of the 40k codex anyhow), complete freedom does not lead to a world of win... in fact it leads to predictable power play and only a handful of 'best builds'.

Necessity is the mother of invention, not complete freedom.

"Its like bringing a handgun to a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors."

I find myself totally unspired to even start to begin to learn the new 'allies-meta'.  I'm imagining a whole trope of 'auto-take' and must have unit combos that grace the least fluffy of WAAC armies.  Necron add in's combined with Wolfpack gribblies and the occassional Ork Looter air defence.  In short, I find the freedom depressing.

I've always played armies with mixed records.  I own over 5000pts of Imperial Guard and don't own a single hydra, manticore or Vendetta/Valkyrie.  I work hard to make Rough Riders and Mortar teams really work.  I own Tyranids ... but the least said about that the better.

It strikes me that handy everyone access to those 'autowin' units that every codex has opened a pandora's box where any tactical acumen is sacrificed to the 'cool stuff' of the inspired codex.

40k has always fielded deathstar units, Mephistons etc aren't unusual.  They are useful as the Doom, Mephiston or an Eldar deathball forces the tactics away from the table and into a new paradigm.  Its like bringing a handgun to a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.  Marneus is pulling down his trousers again, ready to shaft or shit on his own tactical codex.

So I'm uninspired.  Maybe I'm old and over the hill, but if I want to play 'titan-battles' I'd rather get into Hordes... 40k should have some tactics to it... shouldn't it?

Monday 1 July 2013

Three things in Flames of War that GW should learn from... but could never do.

 " watching Marneus Calgar dump a turd on the Codex Astartes."

 World War 2, that's not really interesting ... is it?  Well, yes it is.  Its a conflict where technology advanced of a level we only now see in silicon valley.  Put simply, the tactics, technologies and capabilities of war were refined, devised and created in this fulcrum of change.

So why the defence ... well compared to 15+ variant armies of space bugs, little blue men, alien elves, corrupted monstrosities and EPIC HEROES, world war two seems a little drab.

That is until you play a game like Flames of War.  The devil is always in the detail, but flames do some things very very very cleverly.

The One to Watch

Well yes it is, despite GW being inhabited by a soulless horde of nefarious profiteers, laughing manically while ensuring that we all switch from autowin unit A to autowin unit Z, there are a few gamers still in there.  GW had overwatch in second edition, during the hey day of Space Hulk and Advanced Space Crusade... but it took a little Kiwi firm to make them think how to use it properly.

The Snap Fire or Overwatch rules which now pepper the oncoming horde with 6's to hit is a core skill in Flames of War.  As is the ability (say Tau) to combine fire and fire on charging units that are attacking troops near you.  It makes charging Heavy Machine guns completely pointless.

Unlike 40k you fire your weapons at full rates of fire and normal to hit ratings ... which makes things very deadly.  Also you only need five hits to deter a charge and send them skulking back.

Close Combat is VERY effective in FoW, but getting into combat is really risky.  Solution - suppression.  Putting 5 hits on an enemy unit means their RoF drops to (normally) 1 shot.  This turns suicide into easy peasy, and forces you to play suppression and combined arms ... its like tactics stupid.

Option One: I hit you!

The first thing that Flames does better than 40k is that the 'to hit' roll is based on the shootee's competence, not the shooters.  This is based on the assumption that despite an individuals ability, it is the ability to use cover, situational awareness and competence that dictates whether you are shot.  In flames shooting recruits or conscripts is easy, shooting veterans is an almighty pain in the arse. 

Despite there only being three variants - crap, average and stellar (actually conscript, trained and veteran) the ability feeds across all sections.  This means that a veteran unit is as hard to shoot out of cover (and even impossible to hit, unlike 40k a 6 doesn't ALWAYS HIT) with a conscript unit as a veteran unit.  This enduring durability gives you confidence in the unit, but also means you need a different set of tactics than the 'stone, scissors, paper' of 40k unit statistics.

Elite units are expensive and cannot afford losses, this actually limits their tactical freedom while increasing their capabilities, oooo balance - who'd have thought.

Option Two: No heroes.

Action Heroes are great, Action movies are awesome.  Action movies are also the biggest pile of shite going.  Rewatch 'Commando', 'Predator' or Rambo movies with a tactical head on and realise that the 'hero' is actually going to die within half a minute in the real world.  The sort of monsters and heroes available in 40k is like watching Marneus Calgar dump a turd on the Codex Astartes.  Super units, super tanks, super monsters, spaceships and wound sinks.  How often do real dependable tactics get bent over and rogered by the 'half painted Mephiston in a  hat' card.  Nob biker hordes, Eldar Deathstar units etc etc.  They all gather tricks and gizmo's into a single Avengers unit and then stomp all over the enemy.

Tactically its a bit shit.  It's a one trick pony of autowin.  It doesn't require any sopisticated tactics, it dictates the battlefield and the response of your opponent.  It automatically puts them on the back foot.  It's a really cruddy way to win and a shitty way to lose.  I have exploited it tenaciously in the past.  Most WAAC players would, and even those would admit its cheese.  But when the whole gaming world doesn't take 2/3 of all codex entries - lay on the gorgonzola!

Flames snuffs that out.  The closest thing to a super unit is the Tiger tank - and that's because it really really was.  Suddenly, real tactics play a much bigger part and they are far more sophisticated.  Try taking two GW matching armies - without OP units and then see the 40k tactics blossom.

If you are looking for a heroes game, get good at infinity or Warmachine/Hordes/Malifaux.  These games better reflect to 'individual skirmish' aspect of the original Rogue Trader (infinity), or pumped up superpowers on a WAAC clash of micromanagement (t'others). 

Option Three: Army lists with purpose.

Put simply, the codex is a broken format.  There will always be good and bad units in any codex.  WW2 has plenty of examples of broken units, and often you are looking at an outdated piece of technology.  However, what they do is force particular 'formats' of army list on you.  This means you can choose an armoured company, or a recon unit, or a infantry company, etc etc.  Choosing one sacrifices another option.  Some are over powered is some fashions (the russians can field a penal legion full of flamethrowers, it actually existed...), but the more specialised, the more vulnerable you are.

You rarely get first choice in any structure.  And importantly, you sometimes are forced to field sub-par units as the 'best' option isn't available.  You have to make sacrifices.

This means that unit spam, cloning and redundancy are all nice to haves but actually you have to make 'real' sacrifices (not just leave behind some commander toy that may have been useful, maybe).

The other advantage is that an infantry company automatically defends against a tank company (because the opposite is absurd)... which brings me to some final few thoughts.


There are some other incidental problems with 40k.  For example:
  1. Why are dug in troops so easy to kill?  In Flames, dug in troops are harder to kill than tanks - which is kinda the point?  You can charge them, or flamethrower them, use antitank weapons or assault them with tanks - but regardless of the infantry type - rifles and machineguns should be of marginal effectiveness (dirt equally fucks up laser, bolts, pulses or spines, its amazing, direct fire weaponry is completely shit at going around corners).
  2. Why are tanks often slower than troops?  This makes no sense at all.  Even the best vehicles are a 'little bit' faster than running troops, unless they are driving at 30mph (turbo boost) and then they can't do anything else ... hang on a minute?
  3. Why is there no downside to running?  Moving at the double has a serious downside in Flames.  If you are running about enemy units can roll DOUBLE their dice at you.  This neatly demonstrates how FUCKING STUPID it is to run into the line of sight of the enemy.  Moving at the double is something you only do in Flames if you REALLY need to be there, or can end the move behind something really solid.  Genestealers running at me with abandon, really hard to shoot - not.
So that's my round up, to each their own and there are lots of positives in 40k.  But some of the issues above continue to irritate me and positively disbalance the game, to the advantage of the share price and the WAAC player with deep pockets.