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Friday, August 22, 2014

Building a Better List: Chaffee Edition

By Bill Wilcox

The Chaffee has gotten a bad rap in Flames of War in the current V3 tournament environment. A Confident Veteran Chaffee from Devil’s Charge has the same point cost as a CV Plain Jane Sherman, 5 for 415 points.  

With a Chaffee, you get the same weapon stats and special rules as the PJ Sherman, but with 2 fewer points of both Front Armor and Side Armor; however, you move 4 inches faster. The Chaffee platoon cannot be upgraded, so no Jumbos, E8s, 76mm guns, protected ammo, etc. For a paltry 25 additional points added to that Sherman platoon, your 5 PJ Shermans can be upgraded to M4A3 Shermans with Detroit’s Finest and a 14 inch move, thus negating some of that speed advantage that the Chaffees bring to the table.

The other big downside to a Chaffee list is that you lose access to Patton from the Blood, Guts, and Glory lists. Having Always Attack, Spearhead with everyone, a re-roll for reserves, adult leadership (a higher command team with re-rolls), and for all intents and purposes a fearless force is well worth the 100 points even with the potential VP loss for losing

Old Blood and Guts.

The Chaffee list has some pretty tough competition for best tournament US tank list from the Confident Trained 7th Armored Division (7AD) from Blood, Guts, and Glory. Here’s my normal 1780 point force that I’ve some good success with and that I’ll be taking to the European Team Championships.

HQ with E8 and Jumbo – 235
Patton – 100
Sherman platoon with 2 E8s, Jumbo, and M4 – 415
Sherman platoon with 2 E8s, Jumbo, and M4 – 415
4 Stuarts – 160
Cav Recon – 70
Priest Platoon with half-track – 175
Priest Platoon – 170
AOP – 40

This list really has it all; great AT, survivability, speed (Stuarts and E8s), lots of artillery (HBG/anti-infantry capability), smoke, and Patton’s special rules to meld everything together. It can take on all comers and dictate the battle. The downside is that the list is very dependent on the Jumbos and Spearhead for much of its success, so this does slow down the rest of the Shermans in the tank platoons. Spearhead goes a long way to mitigate the slow moving Jumbos since they get an 8 inch pre-game move. So the question is, “Why take Chaffees when the Sherman list is a slightly better tournament choice?” 

The answer is simple, Chaffees go VROOM! For those that know me, I’m all about fast light tanks that can zip all over the battlefield, flitting like dragonflies from one side of the board to the other. The extra speed means that you can get anywhere, and get there fast. You can concentrate your force from multiple points on the board to hit your opponent right where you want to at the time and place of your choosing with every tank platoon that you take. That extra four inches of movement also means that you have the speed to get on the flanks of pretty much any other tank out there: Panthers aren't so great if you are using AT10 versus SA5.  Having stabilizers on those fast-movers also means that you get a ton of shots on the move, so even SA8 King Tigers can have problems (even the new Bridge at Remagen list will likely only have 6 of these on the table, and they’re RT so only a 4+ to hit at close range with Stabilizers). If you get enough hits, and you can with 4-10 Chaffees taking flank shots, those expensive tanks go boom when they roll ones.

Rating and Speed are Your Armor

The best armor in the game is being veteran. Why make armor saves when you can just be harder to hit? Chaffees really need to be taken at a vet rating, otherwise they get hit too often, and since pretty much everything penetrates FA4 in LW, trained Chaffees just melt away. The CT 7AD guys get by with using Jumbos and better overall front armor, but we don’t have that luxury with a Chaffee force. 

The second best armor in the game is speed. Face it; you can’t be hit if you can’t be shot, and that extra four inches of movement likely means that you can get from cover to cover more easily.  It means that you can run away when needed only to quickly regroup and hit your opponent’s force someplace else. And most importantly, it means that you can normally dictate the pace and place of the battle, thus getting the first shot in with hopefully overwhelming force. The more that you kill in that first salvo, the fewer shots the other guy has coming back at you.

Smoke is Your Friend

Face it, US tanks just don’t have the glamour of German tanks (who doesn't think that the big cats look cool), and they can’t field the numbers that the Soviets can (have you see how many Lees you can get into that Lend Lease list). What US tanks do have that other nation’s tank forces don’t have is access to lots of cheap smoke. Direct Fire Smoke (DFS) and smoke bombardments are plentiful in US lists, and to play these lists well, you as a player need to learn how to use both of these important tools. 

Mortars and artillery batteries provide smoke barrage templates, with the cheap half-tracked mortar platoon leading the way. The downside of a barrage is that you have to fire it before every other shot in the shooting step. The plus side is that it can cover an entire flank if the wind is with you, and your opponent can’t shoot at you from over 16 inches away. At less than 16 inches, anything being shot through smoke is considered to be concealed and Gone-to-Ground even if you moved and shot in the previous round. Those veteran light tanks at 4+ to hit just became a 6+, so again, who needs armor. Sure, your opponent can move to shoot at your force, thus getting rid of the smoke effects, but now his RoF just dropped. You might be a 4+ to hit again, but now he’s rolling half the dice. Fewer shots mean fewer hits which means that your Chaffees are still around at the end of the turn.

DFS is also a great resource. Like a bombardment, return shots firing through the smoke are concealed and GtG. Unlike the bombardment, a DFS template typically only affects one enemy team, and these shots can be taken throughout the shooting step. You shoot platoon by platoon, so any smoke rounds coming from a platoon are fired before the regular HE rounds. The nice bit is that you as the attacker get pick the targets, so you can smoke the things that are either hardest to kill, or that have the best chance of killing you back, and take the remaining HE shots at the rest of the guy’s platoon. This can be the key to survival. Your OP and HQ tanks along with your mortar platoon are great for lobbing direct fire smoke rounds since they are either single tanks or vehicles with little AT. You don’t have to waste shots this way and you can selectively target those stands that really need to be smoked after your big guns have had their chance at kills.

Putting it all Together

So the next question is how to go about crafting a force that will work in the tournament environment where you don’t know your opponent, mission, table, etc. ahead of time, particularly in this day and age of infantry/artillery parks.

There are two great options for the Light Tank list, one from Devil’s Charge and one from Bridge at Remagen. My first light tank list was from Devil’s Charge; I tried to recreate the effectiveness of my 7AD Sherman list using the Light Tank TO&E. So what are the pluses of the Sherman list, and how can I mimic them with Chaffees? 7AD’s strengths, as I said earlier, are great AT, Artillery/anti-infantry, survivability, speed, and Patton. 

Well, we know that I can’t get Patton and all that he brings to an army, but I can get pretty much everything else. Chaffees give me the speed and DFS, but they lack great AT (unless shooting at the flanks), and they are not as survivable as the CT Shermans with the Jumbos. Taking these as vets and using smoke helps in the survivability category, but they still lack an AT punch that can tackle a panther from the front. What my 7AD list didn’t have was tank destroyers. If I add these to the Chaffee list, I regain the great AT punch, just not all in the same platoon. I’ll likely have to take them as CT to fit everything in, but I still get the AT that I need.

The artillery selection is easy as I can now take two veteran batteries of Priests with an AOP. This is a big upgrade from the CT list as veteran artillery is far more nasty than trained. It means that these platoons are likely going to be used to kill stuff, and not just for smoke. Remember, you can combine the two batteries for either a double wide template, or a single with re-rolling misses. The other nice, but often forgotten, thing about Priests is that they are Heavy Breakthrough Guns. There is almost no better thing in the game to kill infantry with. Roll these boys up to 15.9 inches, lift GtG, shoot, and repeat. No save and a 2+ FP makes infantry and gun armies quiver in fear. Sure, you only get 6 shots a turn, but combined with all of the other shots that your opponent’s army is suffering from your tanks and .50 cals; it’s normally more than enough.  Also, don’t forget your Ninja Shermans (OP tanks from the Priest platoon). Having two independent Shermans with a ROF1 AT10 gun and DFS is a beautiful thing.

The last list selection is recon, since pretty much every tank list in the game needs recon. You use the platoon to lift GtG this making your HBGs more effective, to push back an ambush, or to race those jeeps to the objectives for the win. These guys make your already good force better.

So here’s what I came up with at 1780 points at CV.

HQ with 2 Chaffees – 165
Light tank platoon with 4 Chaffees – 335
Light tank platoon with 4 Chaffees – 335
Cav Recon – 90
CT Tank Destroyer platoon with 1 M10 and 3 Jacksons – 335
Priest Platoon with half-tracks – 220
Priest Platoon with half-tracks – 220
AOP – 40

Apart from losing Patton (but keeping the re-roll for reserves from the 2AD special rules), this list has pretty much everything that the 7AD list has and upgrades in a few key areas. Almost all of my force is CV instead of CT (TDs excepted) meaning that I’m harder to hit and make skill checks more easily. The list has great AT with the TDs; getting an M10 at AT13 and 3 Jacksons at AT14 (the 7AD list has 5 E8s at AT13, so this is a wash). It upgrades the artillery and recon going from CT to CV, meaning that it is easier to lift GtG and easier to then pound them with ToT and repeat bombardments. All-in-all, this is not a bad tradeoff. 

The big minus for the Chaffee list is losing the Always Attack and Spearhead granted by Patton. Knowing that you likely get first move and that you’ll be at short range on Turn 1 is a huge benefit. Those are the key components that make the Patton 7AD so deadly. That being said, this is a great list to play and can pretty much take on all comers in the tournament environment.

Mastering the Dreaded Reluctant Rating

I picked up the Bridge at Remagen book, and lo and behold, there is another Chaffee list available (gives an evil chuckle and rubs hands together). The best part about this list is the rating, Reluctant Veteran, the best rating in the game. I know, you think that I’m crazy, but it really is (just think of how good those Desert Rat Cromwells were in V2). The reluctant rating only matters if you have to start taking morale checks, and as we discussed before, having a veteran rating and lots of speed combined with liberal and pinpoint uses of smoke mean that you should take fewer hits, thus fewer failed saves, and fewer smoking olive drab tanks on the table. A key to doing well in tournaments is not taking morale checks; the more checks, the more lost platoons, and the more victory points granted to your opponent. If you don’t take losses, you don’t have to check. 

The other place where that reluctant rating might matter is in assaults. Since assaults are crazy hard to make work with tanks these days (too much organic AT in infantry units and the 2 effective hit bounce rule), you’re typically only assaulting when you get the target platoon down to a few stands, so there is really no need to hang out in hand-to-hand for multiple rounds. So basically, I get the benefits of being a Vet, but I get them at a discount.

So, how do I again get the pluses of my 7AD force in a RV Chaffee list from Bridge at Remagen? I need speed, survivability, smoke, artillery/anti-infantry, and Patton.

Like the Devil’s Charge list, the Chaffees out of Bridge at Remagen give me speed and DFS, but they lack AT. I could again go the TD/artillery route, saving points from the CV that I pay in the Devil’s Charge list thus giving me points for more cool things (maybe veteran TDs), or I can take a unit that is unique to this book, the Sherman Crocodile. 

Get some!!
The Crocodile platoon gives me 4 CT PJ Shermans (stats, gun, special rules, etc.) with the lovely addition of a RoF5 flamethrower with a trailer (so no Fire Power re-rolls when hit). These guys are perfect for the anti-infantry role in the list. You can roll them up and unload 20 flamethrower shots, and watch that dug in GtG infantry melt away (sick pun, I know). Flamethrowers are the best anti-infantry/anti-gun equipment in the game, and until now, US tank lists didn't have the option. 

Remember, flamethrowers are also great against transports and open topped vehicles like TDs since they get no save. They also, in a pinch, can do well against RT King Tigers. Don’t discount those possible double bails that you may get with 5+ rolls to stay on the table or to remount if they do survive (low probability, but sometimes you might need to take the chance). The best part about these is that they are also regular Shermans:  having DFS, a .50cal, and an AT10 gun with Stabilizers makes these guys a great dual use platoon. They’re also faster than your standard crocodile so they can keep up with the rest of your force and get into position to flame on quickly (remember, “Speed kills… the other guy). And did I mention that they also give you Always Attack?

The high AT comes from a Sherman platoon with E8s. Bridge at Remagen gives you the opportunity to upgrade 3 Shermans in the platoon to E8s and one to a 76mm Jumbo if desired. I find that the 76mm Jumbo at +90 points is way too expensive, so I’ll stick to the 3 E8s. Taking a Medium Tank platoon as part of your Light Tank Company wasn't an option in the Devil’s Charge list, and the ability to do so here really rounds out this list with another hard-hitting tank platoon to dazzle your opponents and present them with target overload (assuming that you have left them anything alive).

So far, this gives me 4 tank platoons with 10 Chaffees (including the HQ), 4 Sherman Crocodiles, and 3 E8s plus maybe another Sherman or two. I have my speed, AT, DFS, and anti-infantry, but I’m still lacking a smoke template and recon. These deficiencies are easily fixed by adding cheap mortars and an armored recon patrol.

So here’s what we end up with at 1780 points.

HQ with 2 Chaffees – 150
Light tank platoon with 4 Chaffees – 295
Light tank platoon with 4 Chaffees – 295
Sherman platoon with 3 E8s and 2 M4A3s – 565
4 CT Sherman Crocodiles – 280
Armored recon platoon – 115
2 mortars w/.50cals – 80

Apart from the Crocodiles, everything in this army moves fast since all of the other Shermans have Detroit’s Finest. I can get to the flanks of pretty much anything, mass my shots when and where I want, and smoke what I miss. I do lose the AOP which helps in the ambush prevention category, but I gain an extra recon M8 making that platoon more survivable. I have 4 platoons with AT10 or better, all with DFS which will give any tank army out there worries, and having the crocodiles helps solve that camper infantry problem that we all seem to be having.

The list still lacks some of the benefits that Patton grants like Spearhead, adult leadership, fearlessness, and re-roll for reserves, but because of the crocodile platoon it does pick up Always Attack.

Building these Lists at Different Point Values

Crafting competitive tank lists at lower point values in Late War can sometimes be tough; for example, decreasing points hurts both heavy tank lists and CV tank armies since you pay such a premium for that veteran rating, high armor, or a big gun. It always seems that tank armies get hit the hardest when points drop; infantry armies always seem to be able to fit in all of the support (AT, Artillery, AA, etc.) that they need to get the job done, particularly US infantry lists. The nice things about these two light tank lists are that you get a quality tank for a discount and massive flexibility in your support choices. The one other point to remember is that the other guy gets fewer points as well. Those infantry armies may look like they still have everything, but they did need to make cuts to drop to say 1650, so you as a tank attacker need to spot those weaknesses and go right at them.

The key to remember when building any list, not just those at decreased point levels, is to make sure that each platoon that you take furthers the design philosophy of your army. For me, a tank list has to excel both in the anti-tank and anti-infantry role. It has to be survivable (not bleeding platoons), and it needs to be fun to play (fast). 

The Devil’s Charge list is simple to shave points from. We can accomplish this with some combination of dropping the Jacksons back to M10s, taking one Stuart platoon and one Chaffee platoon instead of two Chaffee platoons, switching the Priests from CV to CT, or dropping the TDs to TTDs. The key is maintaining the lists strengths; speed, good AT, good anti-infantry, and smoke. A good list at 1650 might be something like the following.

HQ with 2 Chaffees – 165
Light tank platoon with 4 Chaffees – 335
Light tank platoon with 4 Chaffees – 335
Cav Recon – 90
CT Tank Destroyer platoon with 3 M103 and 1 Jackson – 325
CT Priest Platoon with half-tracks – 180
CT Priest Platoon with half-tracks – 180
AOP – 40

Dropping the Priests to CT somewhat lessons their effectiveness in bombardments, but still keeps the 6 HBGs while maintaining your main Chaffee/TD punch. This is one of several good choices available to you. Practice with the options to see what best fits your playing style.

The Bridge at Remagen list is also easy to adjust to 1650 points. The best place to shave points here is from the Sherman platoon.  You can drop a tank, change the upgrades maybe taking 76mm Shermans instead of E8s, take the recon platoon instead of the armored recon platoon, etc. US lists have lots of flexibility unlike those of every other nation.

A good 1650 point list might look like this.

HQ with 2 Chaffees – 150
Light tank platoon with 4 Chaffees – 295
Light tank platoon with 4 Chaffees – 295
Recon platoon – 75
2 mortars – 70
Sherman platoon with 3 E8s and 1 M4A3 – 485
4 Sherman Crocodiles – 280

Like the Devil’s Charge list, there are multiple good ways to adjust your Remagen force while still maintaining its effectiveness. You just need to remember to focus on your strengths, and make sure to cover your list essentials. How you play the list might alter a little as you drop points, but you should still have the tools to get the job done.

The Hardest Thing to do in the Game is Attack

Light tanks lists, like almost any tank army in the game, have to attack to win (always defend tank list are an abomination, just say NO:  I mean really, why sit when you can zoom). The controlling player really needs to know how to concentrate force and create the opportunities necessary to break your opponent’s army. Most tank lists don’t win by waiting for the other guy to attack or through attrition. You need to hit the other guy, hit them fast, and keep hitting them until their army melts away. Unlike infantry armies that can mass 9+ platoons and just sit there (yawn), tank lists typically have a few expensive platoons that need to do double duty as anti-tank and anti-infantry assets. Make sure to work your tank platoons together. Scattering your tank platoons across the board will allow your opponent to defeat you in detail. Mass your shots, blow away one of his platoons, then move to the next target. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can rip your opponent’s army to shreds leaving smoking hulks in your dust. Think of the Chaffee list as wielding a scalpel with a sledge hammer in your back pocket if needed.

In Conclusion

Both of the Chaffee lists above excel at lightening attacks against opposing forces. They both have the tools to take on most if not all comers in almost all situations. I think that both have good pluses with manageable minuses. The added speed and veteran rating that the two Chaffee lists gain does make them a bit more deadly than many players might think. Give them a try and tell me what you think. I’ll be taking the Bridge at Remagen force to the European Grand Tournament in September. Fingers crossed that it does as well as I think it will. 

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