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Monday, March 6, 2017

No Retreat - V4 MW Desert Playtest AAR

"Is Mid-War the new Early-War?"

By Tom Burgess

The Goal
I have been very apprehensive about V4 Flames of War, but I have also been equally determined to give V4 a thorough work out. Once my trusty Local Game Store, Hard Knox Games, had a preview copy on site and I had a chance to listen to the WWPD V4 preview podcasts, watch the excellent Dice Devils playtest videos, and participate on the WWPD forum discussions I thought that I was sufficiently armed to give V4 a first go.

Mission Selection
I wanted my first playtest of V4 to be "No Retreat." I thought the Dice Devils did a great job doing three "Free for All" playtest video. More importantly, much of the gripes I've heard about V4 was that infantry backed up by anti-tank guns would be too hard for tank forces to attack into. As much as just getting a feel for V4 as game in general, I did want get a sense for how hard it would be for tanks to go up against defending infantry and anti-tank guns.

The Players
I was joined for this game my gaming buddy, Ed, and a new gamer, Tony.  Ed and Tony would play the German force. I would run the British. In terms of knowledge of the new rules and skill, I'd have to say I had a advantage over my German opponents.  Chad, the LGS store manager, had been reading the V4 preview rulebook for days and when he was not busy tending shop, he would come over and help us look up or resolve rules questions.

The forces I had available, or could borrow, as well as the very limited lists in the new "Afirka Korps" and "Desert Rat" books drove me to employing German Panzer Force as the attacker against a British Motor Company, backed up by as many guns as I could get in the force.

The attacking German Panzer Ko
Fortunately, I had a lot "Axis & Allies" Panzers. Cheap models, but they'd suffice for a playtest. I had only just started repainting them, but for a playtest they would do.  I had to borrow the Schleppers and the AAA Halftracks. 

The 100 point Panzer Kompanie was organized as follows:

Panzer Kompanie         
PzKo HQ              PzKw-III Short, PzKw-III Long       12
Pz Plt                    4 x PzKw-III Short                         20
Pz Plt                    4 x PzKw-III Short                         20
Pz-II                      4 x PzKw-II                                     8
PzK-IV                  3 x PzKw-IV Short                         18
AAA                      4 x SdKfz-4/10                                8
SP Artillery           4 x 15cm (Sf)                                 12
Recce                   2 x SdKfz-231                                 2

The defending British Motor Company

My first Flames of War force was Mid-War British Rifle Company. I had no problem converting it to a Desert Rat Motor Company.  The only unit I had to borrow was the M3 Grant platoon as my Shermans and Churchills are not in V4 MW just yet. 

The 100 point Motor Company was organized as follows:

Motor Company            
HQ                        2 x Rifle Teams                 2
Motor PLT           4 x MG, Lt Mortar, ATR      8
Motor PLT           4 x MG, Lt Mortar, ATR      8
Motor PLT           4 x MG, Lt Mortar, ATR      8
6 pdr                    4 x 6pdr ATG                    12
25pdr                   4 x 25pdr                           14
25pdr                   4 x 25pdr                           14
Humber               3 x Humber A/C                  3
UC Platoon         3 x UC                                 2
UC Platoon         3 x UC                                2
Tank Platoon      3 x M3 Grant                     18
Air Flight                2 x Hurricane                          9

The Battlefield

Of course with these forces, it had to be a desert terrain board. We kept it "true desert" with no buildings (towns) and no Palm groves (woods). We had two large hills, two smaller lower hills, and three areas of "low terrain" that would not cause bog checks and would provide concealment.  The final piece was a single road (desert track) that cut down the center of the board at a slight angle.

One interesting addition to V4 is the addition of minefields to "Hold the Line." With 100 point size armies the British were allowed four mine fields.  I placed two of these to the right of Little Round Top and two to left of the hill where the road would be mined.

The British Plan

As the defender, the first new thing I had to contend with in V4 was the reserve rules. 40 pts out of 100 was kind of hard to come up with most units being either very expensive or very cheap. The M3 Grant Platoon, was an easy choice because of their mobility.  But the "other" big ticket item had to be one of the gun units.  That got me to 32 points with just those two. I really wanted to do the normal V3 thing and put my "useless" light recon units off board. But those three units combined only came up to 7 points! So I had to put an 8 point infantry platoon off board. What I did not realize until after the game was that should have been, according to the new rules, my 9 point Hurricane flight.

I picked the side of the board with the higher hills to defend in.  In retrospect that might not have been the best option as one of the hills straddled center line of the table. This kind of required me to take up a "reverse slope" defense behind what I will call "Little Round Top." There I placed one motor platoon and the onboard 25 pdr battery. On my left was the taller "Big Round Top" where the second objective set. I placed my other on-board Motor Platoon there along with my CO to give him good observations for calling in artillery fire.

British Deployment

The German Plan
The German deployed with PzKw-III Shorts on the right, PzKw-IIs on the left, supported by the 2IC in the only PzKw-III Long in the force. Schleppers and AAA Halftracks would follow in support. Since the Germans were run by two players "unity of command" became a bit of an issue, but for the most part the German plan was a general forward push.

Turn One

On turn one as the PzKw-III's and PzKw-IIs all advanced, the PzKw-IVs and Schleppers bombarded the troops on Little Round Top with minimal effect. A key point of disagreement between the novice Tony running the German right and the veteran Ed occurred with the 8-Rads.  Tony had wanted to push the 8-Rads right up to the brush area, but Ed wanted them more in the middle. The consequence of this was that the brush area remained a viable ambush location. In V3, the recon would have closed it down while moving to the center, but in V4 the 8-Rads would have to move right up to the edge of it, like Tony wanted, to close down an ambush there.

So of course... that brush area is were I had the 6pdr ATGs ambush from in the British turn one allowing for three KO's PzKw-IIIs and one bailed.

Turn Two
In turn two, the PzKw-IIs and 2IC moved up on to Little Round Top, targeting the 25pdrs. Not being able to fire main guns and machine guns really hurt as by going for the "kills," which did not materialize, the Germans had to forgo any chance to pin the British guns.

The Hurricanes made an appearance, but lost a plane while only bailing out a single Schlepper. Poor return on investment there.

Turn Three & Four
After failing a "Shoot & Scoot" the PzKw-IIs caught a particularly salvo from the 25pdrs. The 6pdrs fell to combined bombardments of the Schleppers and PzKw-IVs. One of the PzKw-III platoons broke and the other was only left with two tanks. By this time the Grants had moved up from reserve and a duel between them and the remaining Panzers. This "duel" almost seemed like early war with both sides barely able to scratch the other. The 2nd battery of 25pdrs also came in from reserve moved up behind the already on-board 25pdrs. The Germans were down two platoons and the British were down one.

Turn 5 It was clear that whoever won the "tank duel" on the British Left/German Right was going to carry the day. The tanks continued to have no effect on each other, but the Schleppers managed in a bombardment to kill one Grant and bail another. In the British start phase of turn one, the bailed Grant did not remount and then the platoon bolted leaving the Humbers as the only British AT assets on the left. We called the game at this point.  It was a weeknight at the LGS and we were coming up on closing time after two hours of play for five turns.

First off let me say, though I was put off by not having all of my available MW British kit, when the dice started rolling I had fun. I can't say it was perfect and I know we did not do everything right, but the Germans had fun also. The two hour experience still felt like "Flames of War." In fact, it kind of felt like Early War with the lower AT and lower FP tanks

Previously, my biggest issue with V4 was the morale rules, but with these small MW desert units they work well enough and are simple enough. I can't imagine how the morale rules will work with much bigger units, but they seem functional enough for this game.

Recon not having an extend range to deny ambushes was my second biggest V4 issue. The reduction of recon pushing back ambushes clearly hurt the Germans in this game.  There is no denying that, but I think there were many things that the Germans could have done to help mitigate that. Maybe its because of the inherent difficulty of playing a single force with two players, but the Germans did not seem to have a well thought out attack and approach plan. They really should have massed more and employed smoke (they never did). They could have, and almost did, deny me the key ambush site.  I feel the Germans could have minimized the impact of the smaller recon ambush push off if they had thought about it. After all recon can still deny ambush sites, now its just at 4" like everybody else, so they only lost a 4" push off, not all of it. I think I can live with and work around it when I get use to it.

I think lack of transport became my biggest MW V4. It was very painful trying to get the reserve 25pdrs into any sort of decent direct fire position. Soft skin transports are clearly still needed. I feel with the new moves, Infantry get along OK without soft transport but guns are just left hanging. However, just as I was drafting this article, Battlefront announced that it will expand the initial two MW V4 lists with a "Command Card Deck" that will add more units...and transports!  So my concern here may be very temporary.

I'm not sure I got a good sense for how balanced ATGs are. That 12 point 6pdr unit chewed though about 30 points worth of PzKw-IIIs before the 6pdrs were done in themselves. The Germans really did not mass on the 6pdrs for an assault and never tried. Even though the 6pdrs were pinned from turn two until they were destroyed, they kept picking off a tank at a time after the first ambush volley. If they were denied that key ambush position it would be a much different story.

One thing weighed heavily on my mind as I packed up. Sure, my maxed out infantry and gun British force could defend well enough, but what if I had to attack in this mission? In V4, I could end up being the attacker as much as the defender. I'm not so sure that I'd take my British force from this game to a tournament type event. I think I'm going to need more tanks to go on the offensive. I only have three Churchill and three Sherman tanks for my entire MW British collection, none of which I can use with the "Desert Rats" book at the moment. So I think if I'm going to play MW Desert British, I'll need to take advantage of the new plastics.

Ed thought the new move orders were a bit confusing. He thinks he'll need makers for "Blitz", "Failed Blitz" etc. to keep track of who did what and what consequences or benefits they have incurred. I tend to agree with here.

Tony, for which this was his first ever FoW experience, had a really good time. He's been a 40K player and caught on quick. Tony was very excited to start off with V4 MW. I was very happy to hear that as it made me feel like I did my job in this game, but then he said "and I think I'd like to do Italians." My sad face response: "Yeah.....well....about that...." However I assured him he could borrow my plastic Axis & Allies DAK Panzer force to continue to learn the game while he waited on the Italians.

In the end, most of this game of V4 MW seemed to play fine. I think I could play V4 MW at tournaments "as is" even with the limited unit options until the "Command Cards" come into play. I am even beginning to wonder if the current limitations might make tournaments a better judge of "table top skill" rather than "list building skill"  In any case, I don't think I'm doomed to have a miserable experience at the Historicon MW Nationals and it appears that the gloomy narrow sight aperture that I had on V4 MW is getting a little more open and a little more brighter. Certainly giving V4 MW a fair go has been a major factor in this process. However, this was just one test run and not a final verdict for me. I plan to try a game of V4 LW next and I encourage all to give it a go.

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

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