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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Building a Better German Tournament Tank List

By Bill Wilcox

I’ve had several requests to provide advice on constructing potential tournament-winning LW German tank lists.  I have to start with a big caveat; as I see it in the current Version 3 Flames of War Late War environment, there are no really good German tournament lists – tank, mechanized, or infantry. 

Let me explain what I mean by that.  For me, a good tournament list is one that can handle the greatest number of opposing armies, in any scenario, and on any board.  It has ways to deal with the greatest number of enemies, while minimizing or masking its own weaknesses.  A good tournament list must be able to defend as well as attack: sitting and waiting for the other guy to make mistakes or hoping that they will break their army on your defenses doesn't always work.  Knowing how to win in both Encounter and in Breakthrough (and in every other scenario) is equally important.  German armies have problems achieving the above in V3. 

This is not to say that German lists can’t win LW events as player ability is still the number one distinguishing factor in tournament placement.  What it does say is that German lists have more to overcome than many comparable Allied lists.  For example, German infantry platoons lack numbers, and even if they are all machine gunned and fausted up, they still have the same 3+ save as everybody else.  You pay a points premium for those teams, and the platoon’s capability decreases with losses faster than that of a comparable US infantry platoon that loses a rifle or bazooka team.  Armored companies face the same challenges; German tanks are great, but they are very expensive, and their traditional high FA has been mitigated by speed and higher Allied AT.

As I mentioned in the Chaffee article, a good tournament army has to have a viable way to deal with
tank hoards (Soviets, US mediums, PzIV hoard, etc.), infantry blobs and arty parks (Strelkovy, US infantry, Brit infantry, etc.), and heavy tanks (big kitties, IS-X armies, and British Crocodiles).  The Chaffee army handles tanks through a combination of speed, numbers, good AT, smoke, and Stabilizers.  It beats infantry with both Heavy Breakthrough Guns (HBG) and massive numbers of shots, or with Sherman Crocodiles and massive numbers of shots.  Heavies are typically fairly easy to deal with using a combination of speed and high AT to work the flanks on the much smaller force, and even if you don’t kill them, they have so few shots in return, that they are typically survivable.

So how can we best replicate this type of Swiss-army knife functionality of a US tank army with a German tank force?   The first thing that we have to acknowledge with any list, Axis or Allied, are the list’s weaknesses.  Once we’ve identified these, we can try to mitigate them through force structure, tactics, and play style to get the most out of the company.  For me, the work horse German tank in LW is the PzIV.  It is relatively cheap in comparison to other German tanks, it has a decent AT value, Schurtzen for assaults, it can be taken in lists that provide some decent special rules and good force structures, and has the German special rules of Stormtrooper and Mission Tactics.

Unfortunately, the PzIV, like all other German tanks, has several glaring weaknesses.  Unlike its US counterpart Sherman platoon; PzIV platoons can’t be customized to give you the desired combination of armor, AT, speed, and special rules.  German tanks also lack Direct Fire Smoke (DFS), AAMGs (particularly .50 cals), Stabilizers, and they have Mission Tactics and Stormtrooper (yes, these can be negatives).  Given the problems above, how can we build a list that can perform well/win tournaments?

Mission Tactics and Stormtrooper – The Two-edged Sword
These two special rules are often considered to be the best in the game.  I do agree that they can be very useful; however they aren’t even close to the best special rules that FoW has to offer (Stabilizers, DFS, ToT, and Sherman upgrades come to mind).  At first look, Mission Tactics seems to be great since it allows your platoon to pretty much always have a commander, even as you start taking losses.  So, what’s the downside?  The downside is that Mission Tactics kicks in because you are taking losses, and taking losses is not a way to win tournaments. 

The goal of tournament winning forces is to not bleed victory points by taking platoon losses.  I often see German commanders take unnecessary risks with their platoons’ commanders because they know that losing the commander doesn’t matter.  Sorry guys, but you’re wrong.  Sure, the platoon is still in command, but losing a tank is losing a tank.  You need to husband your resources as you achieve victory if you want to win events.

Stormtrooper is another great, but potentially lethal special rule.  I can’t tell you how many times my opponents have complained that they lost the game because of one or a few failed Stormtrooper rolls.  They didn't lose the game because of the failed die role; they lost the game because they put themselves into risky situations where they were relying on die rolls to get their butts out of the fire.  The best way to play Stormtrooper is to assume that you’re going to fail every role.  Use it as an enhancement, not as a crutch.  Use it when the possible benefits vastly outweigh the risks.  If you are putting a platoon of PzIVs out there to snipe at one OP tank and you fail your ST roll and the panzers disappear the next turn when the opposing Sherman platoon turns the corner, you deserve what you get.

The Lure of Big Kitties
Just say no!  Or if you do say yes, say yes with moderation and only if you have a plan.  The coolest
looking and best performing tanks in the game are German big cats.  They are what most of us got in the game to play.  They look awesome painted up in crazy camouflage patterns, they have a great combination of high armor and huge AT, and in some cases have Tiger Ace skills that enhance their already stellar stats.  However, like Mission Tactics and Stormtrooper, these abilities come at a cost – in this case, points.  I view Panthers and Tigers as relatively free victory points when I’m playing TDs, TFA, Chaffees, or my 7AD force.  KTs are isolated and killed, ignored, or smoked while I kill the rest of guy’s army.  The best armies to include big cats is in support of infantry armies where you are on defense with blood bags to protect your flanks, and not in a tank force where you are already paying a premium for your combat platoons and have to push them forward in the attack.  You might beat tank forces, but infantry armies will take you apart.

One CV King Tiger clocks in at a whopping 345 points.  Even a “medium” CV Panther is 187 points.  This is a pretty steep cost in tank lists where you have a limited number of platoons that often have to perform double duty as both tank and infantry killers.  Best case, standing still, and having Rapid Fire, a KT can only kill 3 of something (excluding the two MG shots) during any given firing phase.  Four PzIVs are 350 points and have 8 AT11 shots and another 8 MG shots; granted, these are less likely to take out heavy tanks, but they are far better at killing light vehicles, guns, and infantry.  AT11 is also pretty darn good against other nation’s medium tank hoards, and PzIVs have the same 3+ FP as the heavies.  The AT16 of a KT is overkill in most in-game situations, you just can’t kill enough with them, and they can’t move infantry.  The other downside is that the high FA is no longer such a deterrent as it used to be.  Allied armies now have far more fast movers with AT10 or better, and there is a proliferation of AT13+ that make sinking points into big kitties less of a sure thing.  The Allied AT platforms also cost less than the German heavies, have better special rules, and in some ways are more survivable.

Overcoming the Gloom and Doom
All that being said, there are a couple of German tank lists that I actually like.  They are fun to play, and assuming that things fall your way, can be tournament winners.  All of these lists start with a solid core of PzIVs; a minimum of 10 FA6, AT11 tanks can go a long way to put a dent in the other guy’s tank force.  The 12 inch movement also means that they can get flank shots on those slow IS-Xs and big kitties.  Where possible, I also like taking a third tank platoon along to make sure that I can really maximize the tank’s benefits.

German lists also have access to some of the best recon troops in the game.  Pumas and SdKfz 234/4s are awesome!  Just remember that these are not tanks, they are reconnaissance troops that just happen to have a nice gun.  DO NOT take these platoons toe-to-toe with tank forces unless you have lots of support and have already whittled down the other guy’s force.  Sure, they might snipe a vehicle or two, but the return fire will lose you a platoon and a victory point.  These guys have the speed to get where they need to be to prevent ambushes, to lift GtG, to get a couple of flank shots to make sure that the other guy’s platoon goes away, or to race to the objective for victory.

Smoke is also a really nice thing to have, and luckily the Germans have one of the best artillery platoons per point in the game to provide a nice bombardment, nebelwerfers. It’s hard to beat a virtual certainty of ranging in with no to hit penalty with AT3, 4+ FP that can also drop a smoke bombardment.  Just make sure to get the boys dug in or they disappear quickly.

Putting it All Together

I’m going to focus on veteran forces.  As I stated in the Chaffee article, the best armor in the game is a veteran rating.  Some armies, like 7AD, are very good with a trained rating, but they have other factors like Jumbos Lead the Way adding for their survivability.  There are a couple of decent trained lists from Devil’s Charge, but I find that they are a lot less forgiving than the veteran companies.  Having cheap big kitties is great, but they die far faster than their veteran counterparts.  I find that spending all of those points on Panthers just to watch them die to an artillery barrage or two (or a good TD drop) drives me a bit bonkers.  The Devil’s Charge lists are nice being Always Attack with some Spearheading troops, but they require even more finesse to get the most out of the lists.

Herman Goering from Fortress Italy
This isn't a bad German tank force as it has a good number of PzIVs, smoke, DFS, recon, and a means to deal with infantry.  As I mentioned earlier, the force starts off with a core of 10 PzIVs.  To this I add a platoon of assault guns for the HBG and double duty AT10 along with a platoon of Wespes (another 3 HBGs and a nice artillery template for bombardments and smoke).  The other big benefit of the StuH42s is that unlike most other German tanks, they have DFS!  I round the company off with reconnaissance and either werfers or AA depending on my mood.

HQ w/2 PzIVs – 180
4 PzIVs – 380
4 PzIVs – 380
4 StuH42s – 390
3 Wespe – 245
2 8-Rads – 80
2 Flakpanzer 38(t) – 90
1745 points

This force has a nice combination of platoons.  It has a solid AT section with the PzIVs and StuH4s2 that can handle most medium tank hoards, 7 HBG platforms with 11 non-moving shots to help you dig out infantry and gun teams, a decent artillery platoon, recon, and AA to help mitigate AOPs and other air attacks.  This is not a blindly rush forward force.  You need to maneuver to the flanks of most opposing tank forces, particularly anything with heavies.  When facing infantry, you need to knock out opposing AT first, and then roll up the HBGs to pound the infantry.  It’s not particularly fast, but it can get the job done.  The HG special rules are also nice granting the ability to re-roll failed platoon and company checks.  Just remember that losses are still bad, so don’t take unnecessary risks.  And remember, as I said in the Chaffee article, smoke is your friend.  Lastly, you can start with 3 tank platoons on the board in 50/50 missions.

Desperate Measures – Panzer Kampfgruppe
This is another fun list that can do well in a tournament.  It again has the core PzIV component, great recon, Tiger Ace Skill Hetzers (whoohoo), werfers for smoke, and Rudel to give your opponents conniptions. 

HQ w/2 PzIVs – 175
4 PzIVs – 350
4 PzIVs – 350
3 Hetzers – 275
3 Heavy Panzerspah platoons – 375
2 werfers – 75
Rudel – 175
1775 Points

Yes, this company has 7 platoons, but the combination of good AT, awesome recon with the 3 SdKfz 234/4 (PaK40)s, Tiger Ace Skills, and Rudel for surgical strikes makes this force a contender.  Remember that AA (even self-defense AA) can’t fire through smoke.  Use the three tank platoons to force your opponent into unfavorable positions, keep him anxious and flanked with your recon, and use Rudel to knock out heavies and other targets of opportunity that would threaten your force.  Big dug in infantry will give you problems, so knock a few out, and assault with your PzIVs from a flanking position to roll up their line.  And as always, don’t forget to smoke.

Panzers to the Meuse – Panzer Lehr
This next list is more my style, and likely the best option when it comes to German tank lists assuming that you really know how to attack.  This PDF gives you the option to take an Always Attack force with lots of Spearheading platoons by including an Aufklärungs platoon.  Like the HG Company, the Lehr list relies on many PzIVs to provide its punch, in this instance I take 14 of them.  Your anti-infantry force in this list (and anti-heavies in a pinch) is a fully beefed up half-tracked Aufklärungs platoon.  Like the other lists, I then add werfers for smoke and Pumas for recon to round out the list.

HQ w/2 PzIVs and a recovery vehicle – 190
4 PzIVs – 350
4 PzIVs – 350
4 PzIVs – 350
Gepanzerte Aufklärungs Platoon w/extra tracks and schreck – 335
2 Pumas – 100
3 Werfers – 70
1745 points

This army relies on its speed to get the job done.  Every platoon in your army except the werfers gets pre-game movement.  Use Spearhead and recon to close distance quickly.  You use your three tank platoons in support of each other to work the flanks of tanks that you can’t hurt from the front.  Your Aufklärungs platoon gives you a good veteran assaulting force that can roll up an infantry line.  Remember to assault under smoke thus making your troops a 6 to hit in defensive fire.

The other nice thing about this list is that you now have a dice off against other pesky Always Attack forces like the US 7AD, thus denying them Spearhead and allowing you to get up close and personal to those jumbos.


German tank platoons do lack some of the flexibility and crazy good special rules of their allied counterparts.  They can have problems dealing with all armies and situations.  That being said, many of these negatives can be dealt with through good list design, really knowing your force – its strengths and weakness, and patient play, whittling your opponent down until you can take the quick thrust to the jugular.  Have fun with these lists and let me know if they work for you.

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