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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Great Danes: Fistful of TOWs AAR

By Mitch Reed

Having spent many years training for “nuclear combat toe-toe with the Ruskies”, I find that gaming the what-if the Cold War turned hot fascinating. While many games test if we can get a different historical outcome via game play, World War III gaming is open to review and interpretation as you review your results.

Anyone who has read about my games knows that I sometimes play with a group of local gamers who focus on very historical based Flames of War scenarios. Thus, you should find it no surprise that this game was set up by the same group.  With the lack of responses for the Friday afternoon game the week before Labor Day, our game master Jay Mischo decided to change the weekly FoW game to a game using the Fistful of Tow’s Version 3 ruleset, which many who game the modern period swear by. 

In full disclosure and in fairness to the publisher “A Fistful of Games” a lot of my review will be mostly cover the basic rules which can be downloaded for free.  I did have some time to review the hardcover edition of the game which our two game masters had, and we did play with the full ruleset, but I really did not have enough time to review the rules in great detail. 

The hardcover edition, which looks like a text book is available for around $65, and a digital only copy will cost you about $40.  The book is over 450 pages long and most of it is taken up by one of the most complete databases on military hardware and troops from 1940 until today.  Players have to use that data base to build a force list on a separate sheet of paper so they can quickly look up the ratings of the units they possess. 

Your force list is taken from the extensive database

One thing that I did see in the book before we started was that each model represented three or more vehicles, tanks, etc.  I was figuring that at the 6mm/1:285 scale we played at that each model would only represent a single vehicle.  I wondered how this would play into the game and how the mechanics of the rules would represent this fact.

Flensburg is the objective, so the finger says! 

The Scenario
Once again Jay produced a great scenario for us to play, and like his taste in collecting forces in FoW, the battle we fought dealt with an obscure part of a NATO vs. Warsaw Pact battle featuring the fighting that would take place in Denmark.  I knew that a simple Fulda Gap bash would not be to Jay’s liking.  This scenario covered the WP forces securing the northern flank of the attack in Central Europe, and featured the forces from Denmark and West Germany facing off against the Soviet Union and Poland in the early 1990’s.  Being of Polish decent and knowing my history, this game could easily have been 3 vs. 1 with the Poles deciding to fight the Soviets instead of NATO.  While this scenario was possible and brought up by all the players, it was not part of Jay’s scenario, so maybe next time?

The Table
As the pictures show the game table was a bit larger than 6’x4’ and featured the east coast of Denmark.  One thing I noticed is that at the smaller scale, the playing board does not have to be as ‘busy” as a table set up for 15mm/1:100 gaming.  A carpet and some masking tape worked well and our game masters had a lot of small buildings at the proper scale.  

Flensburg on the table

The Models
Jay and Dave Luft provided all of the models from their massive collection and was made up of mostly GHQ and CinC models, which are so close in size and detail I could not tell which was which on the table.

I have invested in this period and I have a painted Soviet T-80 battalion and a US M1A1 force which has yet to be built.  For those of you unfamiliar to 1:285 scale models I can say they are very simple to paint.  For my T-80s I had to build them, spray on some primer, then spray the basic colors of the vehicle. I just painted the tracks (a waste IMHO) and then applied a dry brushing and a wash and they looked done to me.  The more serious painter can add camouflage, highlights and even some decals if they wish.  

Very tiny Leopards.

My Set up

The Mechanics
Learning a new game system can sometimes be difficult since we often try to compare and contrast the rules of the new game with the rules we already play.

I think going into a game with experienced game master after a quick review of the rules is the best way to learn, and that is what we did.  The game is an I-Go then You-Go affair with each turn consisting of an artillery phase, movement, then attack phase.

While the attacker is moving the defender can conduct “opportunity” fire if they meet certain conditions (I think this was called having a unit in “Over-watch”).   The defender can also return fire when attacked, one twist I liked is how units eliminated still get to fire and are removed after the phase ends.

The final administrative phase consists a “Quality Check” for units that have suffered 2/3 casualties that turn, if they fail the whole unit goes away.  The “quality check” die roll is based upon a rating the probably measures the units level of training, cohesion, command and control, and of course morale and motivation.

The artillery phase is a slick way to represent supporting fire in combat.  It happens before a player moves or fires and how much support you get is based on a D6 roll.  Unlike other games, artillery is enduring until a player moves the fire or does not get any artillery support due to their die roll. What I didn’t see is artillery playing a game changing role in the game, its acts much like it should for the period in question.

Up for a Danish... Tank battalion?

The movement is very straightforward and of course is based on the unit type (tracked, wheeled, etc) and the movement allowances for each particular tank, APC, or infantry unit.  I did like the fact that the defenders can shoot you while you are moving, a rule which did not seem to slow things down.

Furthermore, how much a unit moves (if at all) effects if the unit can fire during the next phase.
When it came to the combat phase, the game seemed to slow down with the game masters working out the mechanics to the new players.  Combat is stand to stand, which at the level we played at took some time to figure out.  Another factor slowing us down is asking “what unit does that stand belong too?” in order to force a quality check on a unit. 

Combat is based off a rolling D6s that represent your unit’s rate of fire trying to get a 4+, this roll is modified based on the situation.  The defender can roll a save for a hit only if they are in favorable terrain, if you’re in the open you do not get a save. 

After securing a hit you then figure out a die roll modifier based on your weapons penetration versus the armor rating of the target.  A D6 is then rolled, a modified ‘6” kills the target, with a modified “4 or 5” causing a quality check.  Seems easy and I am sure we had other rules in play taken from the full game, yet I cannot remember what they were.  I do know that somehow the game got a bit confusing during combat. 

One aspect I did not like is how facing makes a difference in the game, where side armor hits penetrate easier. At this small of a scale coupled with the fact that each figure represents multiple vehicles I do not see where getting a side shot on a target is a clear cut issue. I assume that the vehicles are moving tactically and would cover the flanks of the unit as it advanced. I think this is a great mechanic in larger scale 1:1 games that seems out of place here.

My Forces at the start of turn 2
Our Game
As with most learning games, the first few turns took what seemed like a long time. I had the feeling if the board and forces in play were smaller and it was a 1v1 affair things would have gone a bit quicker. Speaking of forces, I was given a Polish Motor-Rifle battalion with a ton of BTR-50s and some PT-76s in support.  My job was simple; cross the river and; link up with the Polish Tank battalion that was landed on the Danes left flank. On my left I had a Soviet T-72 unit and a Soviet Motor-Rifle battalion.

Note the smoke and the persistent arty fire 

We faced off against two mechanized units of Danes and one West German battalion.   The Warsaw Pact forces on the table outnumbered the NATO units considerably, however the  basic rules clearly state; The Soviets should get 1.5 to 2 times as many tanks, IFVs and infantry in a meeting engagement.  This seems to really represent the disparity of forces in a potential WW III fight.  Historically NATO would rely on more advanced and sophisticated hardware and the fact that they are fighting over terrain they have trained over for a generation.

I went for the town to engage the Danes 

The word steamroller is the most common description of a Soviet attack in Europe and based on having seen how slow a steamroller moves I would say our game lived up to that term. Maybe it was the amount of models or the terrain, but 2-3 turns went by before I was in contact with the enemy.

Note my BTRs in the center, they took some losses 

While I moved into the town I was able to shoot my artillery a few times for little effect since my targets were in cover.  I do like how I can keep my fires going on single point on the board like a busy cross road.  It shows how artillery can interdict movement and make life tough for your opponent.

While the game has different types of artillery missions (mines, chemical, and counter battery fire), none of that was used during our game -- but, it’s good to know the rules include such things that makes fighting a modern war different from other eras.

Infantry out!  I swarm the defenders of Flensburg 

After few turns I was able to get into the city and do some shooting at the Danes.  I did find it tough to score kills against the troops that I found there, which is what I expected.  After a few turns of shooting back and forth I sadly had to leave before the game reached its conclusion.

My Thoughts
Even with my time truncated I felt I had a good enough of a feel for how Fistful of TOWs V3 works in a basic sense.  My basic reaction is that the rules seem sound enough to warrant another look at the game.  I would also love to get my hands on the full version of the game to do a more detailed review. However at the current price of the book, it will be a low priority until other needs (Star Wars Armada Wave 2) get taken care of.

So what is my recommendation for those who are looking for a WW III fix?  I would recommend finding someone who has the ruleset and play a few games to decide if it something you would enjoy.  The only two things that I didn’t care for was the armor facing and the fact it is not at the 1:1 scale.  Both of these things I can live with and did not distract from my enjoyment of the game. 

Another aspect of the rules is how broad the scope of the game is.  The game covers a huge chunk of time (WWII until the near future) and we all know how much warfare has changed since the end of WWII.  I wonder how the game mechanics gives a tank battle in 1950 Korea a different feel to one that takes place next year in the Ukraine. 

Did you know that the Roman Coliseum and Big Ben are in Denmark? 

I also would like to see the role of airpower in the game since the game we played did not have those,  assets available to us (foggy day in Denmark perhaps?).  So I will keep collecting my 10mm modern force with the hope Jay puts on another game of Fistful of TOWs V3 in the near future.

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