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Monday, August 18, 2014

Allied Artillery is Too Valuable

I don't like the terms 'broken' or 'over powered'.  I have probably used these terms at some point, but I really do not like them and I should not be using them.  I think they are unnecessarily inflammatory and generally are not terms that encourage discussion.  I prefer to think in terms of relative value when judging lists.

As tournament players, we are always looking for value.  What does that mean?  To me, it means purchasing something that has a high relative worth as opposed to the cost - especially as this relates to other possible purchases.  This consideration is what makes a .50cal upgrade very, very good.  It costs about as much as adding some trucks to a unit, but in most game situations provides a more often used set of capabilities.  Looking for lists and units that offer the highest value is a big part of tournament play.  You cannot win a tournament in list construction, but you can certainly lose it - or at least make your task much, much more difficult.

This idea of value is what brings many current Allied tournament players to artillery - and lots of it.  Later, I will look at why I think that artillery has very, very good value.  But right now, I want to look at how Allied Artillery is making this game boring.  There, I said it.  Trudging toward an Arty Park is just terrible and no fun.  Want to sit on D?  Go ahead, because you'll be bombed or bored to death either way.  Artillery is so good these days that - even when on the defense or in a fair fight - you have to go after it.  To me, this game is most fun with some moves and counter-moves then a violent conclusion.  Sitting turn after turn rolling lots of dice and moving few figures is not fun.

Back in the old days -- version 2 and early version 3 of Flames of War -- Steven and I used to say that the game was all about tanks.  Yes, there was infantry and support, but the game was really about getting the tanks in there and mixing it up.  This was a fun time for me, even though I usually played British infantry back then.  The game moved well and seemed to have a lot of flow back and forth.  I personally do not really see this game as often unless we just play some 'fun lists'.  Why is that?

Artillery Lethality and Value

The regular old 105mm guns that are all over the place are not THAT powerful vs. tanks and infantry. With stats that are usually AT 4 and FP 4+, you can expect a standard battery to get 4-5ish models under the template and do its thing kind of ok.  With a Staff team, you might want to move your stuff, but still it isn't all THAT bad.  Artillery should be able to do SOMETHING, after all.  If this was the majority of the bombardments -- like the old days - then there would be no problem.  But, this is not the case.

Now, there are many lists that allow one to get 155mm-class guns that are very lethal.  Many American lists do not even require a bank of smaller artillery to get these monsters, like the British.  This mechanic used to limit the appearance of this huge artillery, but not any more.  The guns are often in the AT 5 FP 2+ range, which is a huge improvement over the other guns.  You now have a MUCH better chance to kill expensive tanks with a relatively cheap asset - Vet 155s are over twice as likely to kill a Vet TA 1 tank in bombardment (8.33% vs. 20.83%) than a 105.  Now, this isn't so bad, right?  Use smoke, hide your pricey tanks, right?  WRONG!


US and British lists are almost universal in having an AOP now.  For a mere 35ish points, this guy is an enormous force-multiplier.  He zips around the table wherever he wants and calls in death before your AAA can even bring him down.  Your own air has to roll a 6 to kill him, and that sporadic air is usually a 100+ point investment.  So now, you cannot hide from the artillery observers.  Still, not terrible, you just shoot the AOP down, right?  WRONG!

Excellent Communications

Any US platoon command team can call in gun Artillery at a +1 to range in.  This is not optimal, but a good backup feature should your observers get smoked or your AOP gets shot down.  In and of itself, this is not too bad.  The key is that is severely limits an opponent's mitigation strategy options.

Time on Target

Now THIS is the straw that breaks the camel's back.  If the US player calls in the arty on the first shot, then you have to re-roll saves.  Again, with a single 105 battery, this is not bad at all.  However, combined with the above, this is just brutal.  Take that 155mm battery and AOP for right around 300 points and beat the crap out of any tank platoon out there.  At this point, each Vet TA 1 tank under the template has a 25.46% of being killed - and that is from a normal battery.  Playing Trained tanks?  HA!  You DEAD!  Now we are talking a 30.35% chance to kill per tank under the template.  

Brits are Good too!

Though not as bad, the British artillery options are very high value as well.  They get FIVE attempts to range in on you with the AOP.  If they range in, you better move, as they will force you to re-roll saves on repeat bombardments.  Because they have to buy 25pdrs before the big guns, you are more likely to see a huge arty park of 12 to 16 guns from dedicated Sitzkreig Brits.

Artillery Rules in General

Now, with all that, I can also combine batteries and smack you with a double-wide template or re-roll misses (OR BOTH!). 500 points of 155s can kill you dead.  Version 3 of Flames of War really ramped up the effectiveness of artillery with a Staff Team.  The explosion of lists with different arty options and tons of arty boxes has really amplified the effect.
...and you cannot hide from it (AOP)
...and if you do kill the AOP, any ol' platoon commander will call it in.
...and you are often re-rolling saves
...and he gets 4 attempts to range in on you (AOP) - 5 with Brits.
...and he's re-rolling misses with combined bombardment
Arty is just too good for the points.

Impact to Germans

Looking good, but you are terrible.
What I think make artillery very high in value is not just one thing.  Any of the above rules would be fine if not for the synergies with the other rules.  Combining these rules effectively counters most artillery drawbacks and also takes away mitigation options from the opponent.  This makes artillery hit well above its points cost - high value.

To even deal with arty in a tournament setting, I think German players are forced into a corner and will either just die or they have to take a number of actions to have a decent chance.

  1. Take Air:  This is now required if you think you are facing US players.  You take it to try to kill the AOP and to snipe Staff Teams.  Unfortunately, this will be at least 100 points out of your list and usually only be sporadic air. Not to mention, it just doesn't feel "right".
  2. Attack Always:  You cannot sit -- Brit and US artillery will destroy you.  I didn't like the Sturmkompanie that made Allies have to always charge forward, and now I don't like this.  If you sit there, you will die -- see above math.  You will always have to spread out, taking away more options.
  3. Take AAA:  Though this is only slightly effective, as the AOP can be mostly hidden with ease.  Take it anyway on the off chance you get to shoot something with it.  This will result in a platoon slot taken up, but the unit will usually have some other, non AAA uses as well.
  4. Take Cover:  Basically, you have to move through cover to have any chance at all.  This can mean leaving anything Overloaded at home - too risky to take'm.  This also limited the effectiveness of covering fire lanes and using the added range - that you paid points for - to kill things.  Remember: None of these Allied special rules cost a single point.
  5. Luke's suggestion is to stop artillery from being combined in bombardments.  This is a pretty good idea and I think is worth exploring.


So, what does all this mean?  I think it means that in the current meta, it is smart to take lots of Allied artillery to tournaments.  I think you have seen, and will continue to see, many games that feature a lot of unpinning and moving forward from the Germans, followed by lots of bombardments and digging in for Allies.  To me, this is just boring.  If this stuff was fun, then I really would not care.  I think that Stormtrooper and Mission Tactics are pretty darn valuable special rules for no points - but they don't make the game a snooze-fest.

Ever seen a German artillery park?  German artillery actually costs more and is less effective than Allied equivalents.  Now, they do get an additional observer and are better in direct fire, but I would argue that the US artillery is better because it doesn't have these things.  Because it specializes (like Nebs), the costs are reduced and it does one thing - bombard stuff - very, very well for minimum cost.


In general, I think arty is too effective vs. tanks across the board.  With these special rules, it is very, very effective.  This makes arty very high value, which makes people take it.  This also makes for a boring game .  I am generally fine with arty bombing the crap out of infantry -- that is what is is suppose to do -- and infantry has its trusty 3+ save to protect it.    Here are some possible solutions (and obviously are not a minor tweak- I am talking big picture here):
  1. Re-roll FP vs. Tanks:  Make all arty bombardments re-roll firepower vs. tanks.  This will hit 105s hard, but only moderately impact the big guns.  The big guns are really the problem, so not sure if this will do much.
  2. Re-roll Hits vs. Tanks:  This would cut the effectiveness quite a bit in all cases and could work.
  3. Pay for Special Rules:  This is a giant can of worms.  If it starts here, where does it go?  Germans want to pay for Mission Tactics?
  4. Increase Arty Costs for Allies:  This is a bit tricky, as it smells a lot like paying for special rules.  105s should cost about the same across the board, right?  Why would the Allied ones be more?  This would not impact Germans much, as their gun-arty is almost never played anyway - I JUST painted 105s and have no desire to play them, as the Nebs are where it is at for the cost.
  5. Limit Arty in Tournaments:  i95 has done some of this to moderate effect.  To me, this is not a great solution as it is pretty ham-handed (no offense to the i95 guys).  Also, I think this is a problem even in non-tournament games, so it doesn't fix that.
In short, I don't have a good conclusion that fixes everything.  Right now, if you plan to play Allies -- especially the US -- and want to get the best results for your points, Sitzkreig is the way to go.  It is boring as hell for both players, but the math says do it to win, and that is a shame.  I am sure that Version 4 will introduce new things, and perhaps this will get looked at.

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