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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Desert Rats for V4 Previewed and Spoliled

The British 7th Armored Division, known as the Desert Rats must be a favorite of someone at Battlefront because these guys pop up in so many books. And now, the first Mid-War Version 4 Allied army book follows this trend. It really shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, like the Monty Beret, few things make us think of the war in western desert more than the Desert Rats. So, in the aptly named book of the same name, players are given the opportunity to build a formation that features the tanks used by the 7th during the war in the North African desert.

What is in store for us in Desert Rats? Players have the option of fielding 4 formations in this book; a heavy tank formation featuring the Grant tank, two cruiser tank units that feature either the Honey or Crusader tank, and of course an infantry formation that represents the 7th AD’s motor rifle brigade. The formations available in DR represent a huge reduction from the variety of units that were previously available in the V2/3 North Africa books. However, this book only covers the 7AD and perhaps follow on books will cover the other units involved the desert war. One omission that I noticed is that the Sherman tank is missing from the lists - a fact  some “rat lovers” may gripe at. Rumor has it that Battlefront is going to include them in a later release. So until then your fights vs. the Afrika Korps will have to be without the iconic M4.

OK, let’s take a look at the formations.

First up, the Heavy Tank Squadron: This is a small unit that has only 3 platoons, with 2 of them mandatory, however your second mandatory platoon can be either Crusaders or Honey tanks. This unit reminds me of the “one of each” options that the Panzer III unit had in the Afrika Korps book. Your formation HQ can have either 2 or 3 Grant tanks and each platoon has 3 Grant tanks for a total of 18 points.

Next, The Crusader squadron: This list has the ability to be a huge horde, with an HQ of up to 4 tanks including the CS version which can double as an artillery piece if needed. The Crusader platoon, of which you can have 5, all have 3 tanks each and can have either all 2-pdr guns or a mixture of 2-pdr and 6-pdr main guns. One of your mandatory platoons on this list can be swapped for a Grant platoon.

Third, The Honey Tanks: Also known as the Stuart light tank to the Yanks; like the other cruiser unit you can have up to 4 of these tanks in your HQ troop and 3 tanks in each of your 4 platoons or swap one of the mandatory platoons for the Grant tank platoon.

Its striking how similar these units look like their German counterparts. Take away the ability to get the Tiger and one can see how these two new books seem like they were created and pointed to fight against one another.

One thing I did not like about the presentation of the book is how they list features of the tanks next to the special rules for them. The two are even written the same and they are hard to tell which refer to actual rules and what are interesting facts about the tanks. It would also help if the special rules section actually gave you the rule or a page reference for it. The “Overworked” special rule is listed on page 92 of the Mid-war V4 rule book, and gives you a +1 to hit when moving. So not only are you confused, you are not given the actual rule or a reference for it. Perhaps it is on the back side of the Crusader 6-pdr card as we have seen in Team Yankee.

Finally, the motor rifle company: Much like its German counterparts, it is much smaller than in previous books. The motor rifle platoon, of which you can get only two, is made up of 6 stands, 3 stands smaller than the average British platoon in V3. In support, you can take up to two troops of 6-pdr guns, an HMG section, and a 3” mortar section of 2 tubes. In this formation, you can get up to 9 universal carriers in 3 troops of 3 carriers each. These carriers get a front armor of 1 a change from its older FA of 0. These carriers get the Scout and Spearhead special rule but cannot carry passengers, and sorry no .50 cal HMGs like before. So, you have a motor rifle unit without transportation that is light in infantry and seems like a very defensive force. Once again these are built like the German infantry in Afrika Korps and give you the option to field a wall of AT guns. This unit does resemble the motor rifle unit we saw in the North Africa book to some extent but without a lot of the options that were previously available. British players will have to do without sticky bombs like the Germans who no longer have Panzerknackers.

Moving over to Support: You have what I would call a standard British package, with the ability to get up to 3 batteries of 25-pdr guns.

The only OP option is a Honey tank.

There’s the option for two platoons of recce giving you more universal carriers, or up to 3 Humber armored cars per platoon.

For AAA you can get a platoon of up to 6 Borfors guns.

And for air, you get the Hurricane “tank busting flight”.

Finally, you can get some more AT guns, which can be either another 6-pdr platoon, or a platoon of 17/25-pdr guns. The 17/25s go from having an AT of 13 to 12 in the new book.

Just as notable is the list of what is missing from the 7th AD lists: no portee AT guns, no Deacon or Priest mobile artillery, and my favorite Marmon-Herrington III armored car is gone as well as the other wheeled recce vehicles. For those who liked warriors, Pip is gone, he was a favorite of many 7AD players.

What will be confusing is how many of the games special rules are now woven into the game. The British motivation for most units are a 4+ which was the old “Confident” rating, however the British in the game have a rule called “Fight Another Day” for all tank units which makes their “Last Stand” die roll a 5+. Infantry has a skill of “Trained” which gives them a 4+ skill test, however they get the “Deadly” rule which makes them hit 3+ in assault. So a lot of the special rules are incorporated on the cards which may be confusing to veteran players. I will go into this more in the preview of the V4 Rulebook.

Impressions after Reviewing Afrika Korps and Desert Rats
I have seen a constant theme on FoW forums over the last few years that the game is not balanced enough between nationalities, well you can’t say that the folks at Battlefront didn’t hear you. With these two new books, you have near identical forces with some of the same capabilities; yes, the British have more artillery which is historical, but the Germans have the Tiger which is nearly un-killable.  Every unit in these books are new as far as product lines, almost as if Battlefront produced this as a standalone game. I would say that the army box sets just proves this point. Maybe this first foray into V4 is to target and attract new players into the game and those deep and wide lists we played in the past will come out in later books in order to satisfy the veteran players who may have a lot of painted lead that seems worthless right now.

As a loggie (logistics expert to you non-military types) I understand the urge to reduce product “Codes” and eliminate products that did not appear in many lists. In a way, it resets their lines of production putting an end to the other standard forum complaint gamers have - not being able to find certain items for their lists. While I am not privy to the strategic plans of the company, I must say that in many respects this is a smart move. We all knew that there was no way that BF could keep producing so many of the products players needed to play the game while also producing new lines. It’s also making the game accessible to gamers who stayed away because of the difficulty of collecting a specific army. As an older player, I loved the unique units; I run German Infantry and I have separate infantry platoons for EW, MW, SS, Hermann Goering, Panzer Lehr, and plain old Heer. I would hate to think that the days of making specific products for a single unit are over.
I am going to ask you to have some hope that the later MW releases return the flavor and variety we all loved about the game. As I said in the AK article, my MW lists are the British in Tunisia and Sicily or the Germans on the Eastern Front. I will hold final comment until I see what those books contain. 

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