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Friday, March 10, 2017

No Retreat - Late War Version 4 Flames of War Playtest




Following an initial Mid-War Version 4, my good gaming buddy Ed and I returned to Hard Knox Games to borrow the store preview copy and give Version 4 a Late-War tryout. Again, we wanted to test out the "worse case" scenario of  a tank force attacking against a infantry & gun force in the No Retreat mission. The presumption was that tanks, especially medium tanks, were going to have no chance against a strong infantry & gun force.

The Forces

The Soviet Strelkovy Battalion







The Germans Panzer Lehr Kompanie







The Terrain


The table was set up with five hills, four of those topped with woods, two low ground woods, and in the board center as small town with adjacent crop fields (low terrain). Ed chose to defend the side of the board with more woods and hills.




The center was a little too open, but I did not want make it too easy for the Panzers to compartmentalize the battlefield.







The Game Table (Soviet zone on the Left)

Soviet Deployment and Plan
Ed paced his objective far in his rear area I placed mine up forward as far forward and as far to the Soviet right as I could. So Ed in turn place his two minefields tied in with the Soviet right side of the board. These were "free" minefields where the defender in the V4 No Retreat mission gets one free minefield for each full 750 points in the force.

Ed then deployed his big Strelkovy company with attached ATRs and Pioneers in the board center. It was really hard for Ed to get all of these with 8" of the command team. to the right of the big Strelkovy company was a Tank Destruction company of four Zis-2 57mm guns. The heavy 120mm mortars sat in the rear and covered an objective there. The other four gun Zis-2 57mm Tank Destruction company was in ambush. This left off board in reserve the M3 Lee/Grants, the SU-85s, and the small Strelkovy company meeting the requirement for 40% of the defending force being in reserve.



German Deployment and Plan

I had two course of action to choose from as I saw it. I could swing to my right across the open space advancing my full force behind a smoke screen while pushing on the rear objectives. I'd would expect a ZIS-2  ambush in the woods on my right. But with smoke screen blocking LOS from the woods, Ed might not pop his ambush with no shots and in turn two I'd have cleared the woods making them unusable as an ambush site. However, this would put my small Panzer platoons at risk to Ed's reserves coming from off board.

So I opted for the other course of action, sit back initially and use the advantages my Panzers had at longer ranges over their less well trained opponents. I also wanted to give my artillery a chance to work over the Zis-2s before I dared to bring my Panzers into "No-Man's Land" where the Zis-2s could wreak havoc with a good round of rolls on my small Panzer platoons.



Turn 1

Turn one kicked off with my 105mm artillery having to shift off my pre-plotted target point. Two Zis-2 guns and an infantry team were hit. One Zis-2 was destroyed and both platoons were pinned from the fie.


First blood fell to then Panzer platoon on my left, who killed one Zis-2.


Another gun Zis-2 then was KO'd by my center three tank Panzer Platoon. My right Panzer platoon, my CO Panzer, and my Puma, who failed a blitz move, failed to cause any damage to the Zis-2s.


I attempted to "Shoot and Scoot" both the left and center Panzer platoons, back out of LOS but failed both rolls.

Ed shook off his pins and placed his ambushing Zis-2 on the board on his left. The Zis-2 on his far right avenged his fallen comrades.


In typical ambush fashion, Ed's left Zis-2 company only achieved a few bail results.



Turn 2


I started my 2nd turn again with a 105mm bombardment, but I shifted it to Ed's fresh Zis-2 platoon where I could get three guns and a bunch of infantry under the template. Again, no kills on the initial bombardment, but two units were pinned.


Meanwhile back on my left, another Zis-2 was KO'd.



On my right long range fire my right Panzer Platoon KOs two Zis-2s!


You'll note in the center of the above photo that I tried to move the smaller center Panzer platoon into some cover. They "Blitzed" into the woods, but one failed a cross check on the Blitz. I did not remember that I could also try to move into the woods in normal move, so the Panzer left out in the open unnecessarily.

And then the CO Panzer joins in and KO's a third Z-s-2!  Of the eight original guns only three are left!


But in Ed's 2nd turn he rolls up a reserve and chooses his SU-85s Company. Even with a dash move, I will have a turn or two before I have to worry about their AT 12 guns with "Cat Killer."


Ed's two remaining left Zis-2 fail to have an impact again as now all of my Panzers have range and concealment helping them.


But his sole remaining right Zis-2, who made its Last Stand test, KO's a Panzer from my small center platoon.

Ed also brings in his 120mm mortars against the woods on my left. No affect though as tank teams are much more resilient against artillery now.


However...his volley firing ATR on the edge of the town bails a Puma. Scary as that could cause a Last Stand check if it does not remount next turn.


Turn Three

Again I start off with artillery, but again I shifted fire to get more teams under ten template forgoing the reroll of save that repeat fire now requires from infantry and guns. Both infantry and guns were pinned,  and while though one infantry team was eliminated, no guns were lost.


My Panzers fail to KO any Zis-2 guns in turn 2. I also shift my left platoon and Pumas out of the woods in preparation for a move to the center.



In Ed's turn three, he gets on a second reserve unit and bring the M3s up on his left with a dash move.


Ed's left Zis-2s KO one more Panzer from my small platoon. It will now have to take Last Stand checks every turn. His Zis-2 on his left makes its Last Stand test with help of the nearby Battalion Commander, but it fails to cause my Panzers any more damage.


Turn Four

I start out  with a Blitz move from my left Panzers which nab another Zis-2.


My artillery then repeats fire, that last Zis-2 will not go down even with rerolls on saves, but the infantry behind re not so lucky and lose five teams.


In crossing fires, my right Panzer platoon KO's the last Zis-2 on Ed's left, but the one from the unit on his right remains.



In the bottom of turn four, Ed last Zis-2 gun fails its Last Stand.


On his right, Ed decides to attempt a Blitz move, it succeeds and he is able to slide out three SU=85s and use his full ROF along with "Cat Killers" for rerolls. However even with rerolls "6's" are hard to get and the SU-85s fail to get a kill.


Meanwhile on his left, Ed's M3s also Blitz and the lead M3 has just enough range to hit the Pumas, KO'ing one of them.


Turn Five
Oops! Though I've been doing well with the long range shooting and bombardment, I realize I've not moved particularly close the board center and that I'm about to loose the game!


My last Puma does not remount or pass its Last Stand, but the Panzer to their left does both!


I dismount and move forward my Panzergrenadiers. Should have done this long ago.


I Blitz forward my right, still full strength Panzers, while left Panzer swing in the center.


At this point, I had begun to realize that my long range fight has eaten up a lot of turns and that I would auto lose at the start of turn six if I did get some units across the center line by then. The Panzers were capable of doing this with a terrain dash and maybe a "Follow me." But I needed them still shooting, so my SdKfz's dashed forward to get across the center line and then my artillery dropped a smoke screen so that the M3s would not be able to shoot at my Panzers while I concentrated on the SU-85s.

We were a fuzzy on whether my unloaded Halftracks getting across the center was enough for the game to end at the beginning of my turn six.  In V4, "Transport Teams" are not a separate Team Type and appear to be a sub-category of Tanks teams. So for the moment we ruled it that way because we wanted to keep playing. But we decided that for turn seven or beyond that it would have to be a true tank team of infantry team for this criteria.



Even if I was being a chowder head about the turn six victory conditions, 13 shots from my Panzers put a good hurt on the SU-85s, killing two and bailing out one.


I then executed a "Shoot and Scoot" my right Panzer platoon off of the hill. On the hill, they would be in the open. So I wanted to get them in the low ground where the crops would give them some concealment protection.


On Ed's turn, he could not remount his bailed SU-85, but he made his last stand check.


His M3's on his left failed a blitz attempt.



Ed's return fire, even with the heavy mortars pitching in, in turn five only resulted in a bailed out SdKfz-250.



Turn Six

At the start of turn six, my last Panzer from my small Panzer platoon finally failed its Last Stand roll.



My left platoon Blitzed forward, but I'll had to move them further still to get them past the center line of the board.


My artillery, done with its smoke mission, lays down fire on the big Strelkovy again.


The CO and the left Panzer platoon have no trouble at close range destroying the rest of the SU-85s.


Meanwhile, the right Panzers start to whittle down the M3s.


The right Panzers then do a "Shoot and Scoot" to make sure all have some concealment between them and the M3s.


Ed's turn six starts off with a heavy mortar strike on the Panzer Grenadier dismounts. No losses, but they are pinned.



Ed's M3's engaged in long range fire against my Panzers, but most shots are obstructed and all are at long range. The few that connect are defeated by my saves and he only ends up with a couple of bailed out results.


Turn Seven


My SdKfz-250s try to get sneaky and slip around the M3s.


My Panzer Grenadiers move toward the center line, but will just be short. I should have tried a follow me order or something.


My artillery continues to rack up kills with repeat fire.



In Ed's part of turn seven, he brings up his small Strelkovy through he wood to assault my left Panzers, the only unit over the center line.


The assault with no more Tank Terror goes in, but defensive fire sends the infantry back in the woods with four teams destroyed!


Turn Eight
Panzergrenadiers fail to rally or dig in, so they just go to ground. I was so hoping for a Blitz into the field and across the center line!


But my Panzers clearly have the advantage in the log range gun dual and KO all but two of the remaining M3s, and one of those is bailed!


In Ed's turn eight, he fails to remount the bailed M3 and then fails his last stand. So at this point I have destroyed all of his AT guns and all of his tanks.


Undaunted, Ed knows he can still win by pushing back the Panzers on my left. His small Strelkovy company on his right fails to rally even with the help of the Battalion Commander and the Kommisar! But the big Strelkovy comes on strong.


My defensive fire achieves only seven hits, one short of what was needed to pin the assault and buy another turn. A bunch of Ed's teams died from the defensive fire, but these were not his Pioneer, which I could have placed hits on and Ed would not have been able to move them to other teams due to being so close. Big mistake on my part. Also, as I look at the above photo, I no remember the ATRs are Gun Teams, and cannot assault.

But the assault goes in and the Pioneers do their job! I lose both tanks left from the original platoon.



It's now left to my CO Panzer, he must counterattack and he must drive off the Strelkovy. He gets the kill, but Ed counterattacks. He only gets a single hit and its caused by a normal infantry team. But wouldn't you know it...I roll a one an the game is over!



After eight turns played in just under three hours the game ends up as a 6-3 Soviet win!

Reflections on the Game and the V4 Rules

I had fun. Honestly the more I play V4, a whole two times now, the more I warm up to it. In this game I feel we were really getting into the nuances of  the move orders. They matter a lot! They also greatly delineate the differences in skill levels which many, including me, thought were being watered down by the V4 command range being uniform regardless of skill.


If you think about it, my Panzers had the ability to Blitz 4", shoot full ROF, and then Shoot & Scoot another 4". That's potentially a 8" move each turn while maintaining a full ROF with no negative modifiers. German stabilizers anyone? But the move orders also helped Ed's Soviet tanks make minor moves, decrease ranges or pop out of cover and not only get ROF but avoid Hen & Chick penalties. Seriously, veteran forces in the hand of skilled players are going to really flourish with the move orders.


I'm still not fully understanding the why the Last Stand rule was needed.  In this game it did not matter for the big Strelk Company. I killed 14 of 32 teams from that unit so it was not checking morale in this game anyway. But I still don't understand why we needed to go from V3 morale to "Last Stand." Its something I've not heard Phil Yates try to explain the logic for yet and I just can't figure out the logic behind it for myself.  Usually, I'm pretty good at rationalizing FoW's concepts, but I'm just stumped here!


However, I'm not worried about the Last Stand rule for most units in the game. I'm not even really worried about it for Soviet Tank units.  Those big Soviet Tank units are trained or conscripted and get whittled down quick enough. In this game the Last Stand rule bought what was left of the M3 Company just a single turn more. But when it comes to a 30+ Strelk unit, it makes no sense to me that they need to lose more than 90% to start checking morale. I think it would have been far more effective and realistic for the Strelk Battalions to be broken down into company units in V4.  Maybe we'll see that in MW East Front.  BF has already showed that they are not afraid to go with very small infantry units there.


The Soviet Teams Lost in this Game


Did I win this game? No, but I felt like I had  fighting chance and in the end it came down to a single roll. I can't complain when game is that close. Does that mean LW V4 is completely balanced? I'm certainly not going to make that claim. But I think I can have challenging and fun games with it consistently. To be fair, I'm probably a better player than Ed. But I think Ed played a pretty good game here. He did not really make any major mistakes and he actually quite surprised my by pulling a few Blitz moves that I was not expecting. Ed was actually feeling very confident about winning this game he saw the rosters Gothmog came up with and was surprised that it ended up as more of an even fight.


One thing I am sure about is that this kind of typical V3 match up will not be norm in V4. In V4 we cannot count on the Soviet Strelk automatically being the defender in this mission. The Stelk Battalion has some potential in the attack but it cannot rely on defending to get its wins. This affects the German list also.  Deep Reserves would have made it harder for this Panzer force to defend. It's possibly going to need some more infantry or maybe ATGs of its own to buy time for the Panzer Reserves to come up.


I'm starting to get a feeling that better players will start making tank forces less tank centric and infantry forces are going to have to include more offensive options. Forces will start to be more rounded than specialist role outfits. Rather than relying on one dimensional force, I feel the top layers in V4 will be those who master combined arms integration and the intricacies of the move orders.





Tom has been playing wargames since the late 70’s, and Flames of War since 2007. He maintains a gaming website www.battlevault.com for the BattleVault Gamers of Kentuckiana and posts and moderates WWPD as Iron-Tom.


2 comments:

Scott Miller said...

The T34 became M3 Lee?

Markg said...

So in the assault you only needed 5 hits. There must be 12 teams assaulting not just 12 in the platoon. It's really hard to do.

Nice report though.

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