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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Version 4 Mid-War US Nationals Practice Tournament Review

By Tom Burgess

Flames of War's Version 4 Mid-War has certainly not been without its controversies and mixed opinions since its release. A good bit of it is justified, with much of the consternation about the new rules and lists coming from tournament focused players. Many of these have opinions that the lists in the first two Mid-War books are too limiting, that formations would be too hard to break, and that games will just stagnate into dull draws. In short, some have claimed that the new version of the rules would not be viable for tournament play.

However, our local gaming group has been having quite a bit of fun playing Version 4 of Flames of War, to include the new Mid-War period lists. We did not see any reason why we should not at least try to run a Mid-War V4 tournament. So we schedule as small event that was conducted on May 20th, 2017 at Hard Knox Games in Elizabethtown, KY. We decided to make this a "practice" event for the upcoming 2017 US Mid-War Nationals as many of the players who normally travel to our events are already planning to make the pilgrimage to Fredericksburg, VA this July for the US Nationals. Accordingly, we set the event for 75pts forces coming from the two new Mid-War books, with two hour rounds consisting of a Basic Mission, an Advanced Mission, and ending with another Basic Mission.

We set our upper limit at 16 players. This is the most Hard Knox Games can accommodate without impinging on other card gamer space at the store. On May 20th, 14 players from Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and Arkansas answered the call! It should also be noted that this tournament did not utilize the new "Command Cards" as they had not been released in time for this tournament though they will surely be available by the time of this article's publishing.

"Best Painted" Winning force!

So with this back drop, lets get down to some of those questions players have been so concerned about when it comes to Flames of War Version 4 Mid-War tournaments.

Aren't all the forces going to look the same in Mid-War Flames of War now? One of this first concerns about Version 4 Flames of War Tournament's was that the list options were too narrow. However the ability to take multiple formations as part of a force allowed for some very distinct combinations. Out of 14 forces present eight were single formation forces.  These included; four single Formation Panzer Kompanies, two were single formation Afrika Rifle Kompanies, two were single formation Grant Squadrons, and one was a single formation Motor Company.  The other  six players used forces with two formations. Even when players had the exact same formation breakdown, unit choices still widely varied. No two forces at this tournament were exactly alike.

The exact breakdown of forces in descending order of how they placed in VPs is as follows:

1) Joe L. Afrika Rifle Kompanie (6:3, 8:1; 3:3) Tournament Winner
Formation 1 – HQ 2 x SMG; 4 x MG, HMG, Mortar, 1 x 2.8cm; 3 x MG, HMG, Mortar, 1 x 2.8cm; 3 x PaK38; 1 x PzKw-II OP; 4 x PzKw-III Short, 2 x Lorraine Schlepper, 3 x Marder; 2 x SdKfz 231(8 Rad)
2) Tom B. (Author of this article) Motor Company/Crusader  Squadron (8:1; 6:3; 3:3)
Formation 1 - s x SLME Rifle; 4 x Bren Gun, Boys ATR, 2" Mortar; 4 x 6pdt; 2 x 3” Mortar, 4 x 25pdr, 3 x UC, 3 x Humber
Formation 2 – HQ 2 x Crusader II, 2 x Crusader CS; 2 x Crusader II, 1 x Crusader III; 2 x Crusader II, 1 x Crusader III; 2 x Crusader II, 1 x Crusader III; 2 x Crusader II, 1 x Crusader III;
3) Don B. Panzer Kompanie/Afrika Rifle Kompanie (2:7; 8:1; 7:2)
Formation 1 - HQ 1 x Pzkw-III Uparmored; 3 x PzKw-III Short; 3 xPzKw-III Long; 3 x PzKw-II; 2 x SdKfz 231(8 Rad);
Formation 2 – HQ 2 x SMG; 3 x MG, 1 x 2.8cm, 1 x HMG; 3 x MG, 1 x 2.8cm; 2 x PaK38
4) Chad U. Grant Squadron (7:2; 1:8; 8:1)
Formation 1 – HQ 2 x Grant, 3 x Grant, 3 x Grant, 3 x Grant, Hurricane Flight
5) Chris F. Motor Company/Crusader Squadron (3:3; 6:3; 7:2)
Formation 1 – HQ s x SLME Rifle; 4 x Bren Gun, Boys ATR, 2" Mortar; 4 x Bren Gun, Boys ATR, 2" Mortar; 3 x 6pdr; 3 x US w/ ATR
Formation 2 – HQ 2 x Crusader II, 2 x Crusader CS; 1 x Crusader II, 2 x Crusader III; 1 x Crusader II, 2 x Crusader III; 4 x 25pdr; Hurricane Flight
6) Jim M.  Grant Squadron/Honey Squadron (1:8; 6:3; 8:1)
Formation 1 – HQ 2 x Grant; 3 x Grant; 3 x Grant
Formation 2 – HQ 4 x Honey; 3 x Honey; 3 x Honey; 3 x Honey; 3 x Honey
7) Ed H. Panzer Kompanie (8:1; 2:3; 2:7)
Formation 1 – HQ 2 x PzKw-III Short; 4 x PzKw-III Short, 4 x PzKw-III Short; 2 x SdKfz-222, 1 x SdKfz-221; 3 x Marder; 2 x SdKfz-10/4 2cm AAA
8) Charlie C. Grant Squadron/Motor Company (7:2; 3:2; 2:7)
Formation 1 - HQ 3 x Grant; 3 x Grant; 3 x Crusader II
Formation 2 - HQ 2 x SMLE Rifle; 4 x Bren Gun, Boys ATR, 2" Mortar; 2 x 6pdr; 3 x UC; 1 x OP Honey, 4 x 25pdr
9) Mike H. Panzer Kompanie (8:1; 3:6; 1:8)
Formation 1 - HQ 1 x PzKw-III Short, 4 x PzKw-III Short, 4 x PzKw-III Short, 3 x PzKw-IV Short, 3 x Marder
10) Dick H. Panzer Kompanie (2:7; 2:3; 8:1)
Formation 1 - PzKw-III Short, 3 x PzKw-III Short; 3 x PzKw-III Short; 3 x PzKw-II; 3 x Marder; 2 x FLaK36 8.8cm; 2 x SdKfz-10/4 2cm AAA
11) Mike P. Afrika Rifle Kompanie (3:3; 3:6; 3:1)
Formation 1 – HQ 2 x SMG; ; 4 x MG, 1 x 2.8cm; 3 x MG, 1 x 2.8cm; 2 x PaK38; 2 x SdKfz 231(8 Rad); 4 x PzKw-III Uparmored; 3 x 8.8cm FLaK36
12) Larry O. Motor Company (3:6; 3:2; 1:3)
Formation 1 – HQ s x SLME Rifle; 4 x Bren Gun, Boys ATR, 2" Mortar; 3 x 6pdr; 3 x 6pdr; 3 x UC; 3 x Grant; 4 x 6pdr, 4 x 17/25pdr;
13) Charles M. Panzer Kompanie (1:8; 3:6; 1:8)
Formation 1 - HQ 1 x PzKw-III Long, 3 x PzKw-III Long, 3 x PzKw-III Long, 3 x PzKw-IV Short, 2 x Marder
14) Alan W. Grant Squadron (1:8; 1:8; 1:8)
Formation 1 - HQ 2 x Grant; 3 x Grant; 3 x Grant; 2 x 6pdr; 2 x 17pdr; 3 x Bofors 40mm AAA; Hurricane Flight

A "true" combined arms force!

So what's the new meta? The question everybody wants to know when there's a new edition or version of a game released! The British scored more VPs in his event, but only just so with the British scoring 88 total VPs and the Germans 84 total VPs. Two of the top three spots (by the way these three were tied at 17 VPs) at this event were German forces. It certainly seemed that player skill was at more of a premium at this event. More so than force type/composition than I had seen in Flames of War for quite some while. The forces employed at this event seemed very balanced.

Is infantry viable in V4? Four of the top five place forces had at least one infantry unit. The top player's force was an infantry formation. Honestly, in my force my lone Motor platoon did not do too much other than capture and 8-Rad and cause its wingman to flee next turn. I can't say there were any significant infantry assaults going on at this tournament. Infantry mostly seemed to be static, but they did seem to often be the hinge positions that the tanks wheeled around. Joe, who won the event, may have got more use from his infantry in other games but in our game they were mostly  dug-in support for the 82mm mortar and 2.8cm ATR in each platoon.

Mike's Panzers flank my left infantry "Blocking Position"

Aren't Crusader/Honey swarms just going to dominate? I honestly thought going into this event that the British Crusaders and Honeys were the horse to bet on. I was running one full Crusader Squadron formation myself. It surely has to be intimating seeing all those dust clouds pointed your way if you are a German player. However, I found even the basic Panzer III Short to be a tenacious opponent. The 3+ remount and the 3+ Last Stand really keeps the Panzers in the fight. In multiple games, I saw a single Panzer knock out multiple Crusader troops. In fact it was a single Panzer III Short that denied me taking top place in this tournament. This last Panzer III was surrounded by three of my Crusader troops but it just would not die and would not run. I ultimately lost two of those Crusader troops and never took the objective. That Panzer III would not give up before the two hour time limit ended and my last game ended up as a tie. To be fair, nobody was running multiple Crusader or Honey formations at this tournament so they still might be the horse to bet on. But to German players I say "Have faith in those Panzers!" I found them very tough to knock out with my Crusader troops which even had one 6pdr gun per troop/unit.

Won't "gun lines" just rule the battlefield with their new 3+ and 4+ saves? Few of the top players even had Anti-Tank guns in their lists! The winner had only 2.8cm ATRs. Guns can be powerful in V4! I know, I had 6pdrs and 25pdrs that both did a lot of tank killing in my games. But in general, the more guns taken, the worse the player did at this event. In my games, my opponents targeted my guns with indirect fire as they well should have. But I just kept getting great saves, or due to bombardments of just two guns or less guns firing, the reroll requirement just was not panning out for them. I did not get much of a chance to see how the players who took 17/25pdrs and 8.8cm FLaK-36s were doing, but I did not hear any concerns about them. Players who took them generally ended up in the bottom half of scores.
Thank goodness for Turntables!

Won't most all the V4 Mid-War Games just end as draws? In our tournament we played 21 games total and just four of them ended up as draws. Our randomly determined missions were:

Round 1 - Hasty Attack - 3 British wins, 3 German wins, 1 Draw
Round 2 - Bridge Head - 4 British wins; 2 German wins, 1 Draw
Round 3 - Dust Up - 3 British Wins, 2 German Wins, 2 Draws

Of course if this was V3 then we'd not have had any draws in the 1st or 2nd rounds. So in that sense even though less than a fifth of our games ended up as draws, you could say that they were twice as likely to occur than if this was a V3 event. But the requirement to "counter attack" as the defender in order to not settle for a draw I found interesting and kept the battle active in some cases. I'm not so sure that a risk of a draw for the defender in a defensive or mobile battle in V4 is necessarily a bad thing. Let me give one example.

I'm my second game, I ended up has the defender in Bridgehead against Mike H's Panzers. I started with my Motor Company formation entirely on the board and my Crusader formation entirely in reserves. My 6pdrs were deployed on the board center and my 25pdrs were in ambush. His PzKw-IV Short bombardment had a hard time making a dent on my 6pdrs as I moved some out from under his template but left him two guns under it to tempt him not try to re-range in. Between the surviving 6pdrs and my ambushing 25pdrs, his offensive potential got blunted pretty hard and he stated that he did not think he could push in on the objective after his big losses. Great! If this was V3 I would have earned an easy 6-1 win. But in V4, even though Mike could not likely win by this point he could still force a draw. So as my Crusaders came in from reserves they had to go after his crippled, but not knocked out Panzer units. Those handful of Panzers cost me three full Crusader troops which allowed Mike to earn two more VPs in this game that he never would have got from me in V3. In V3 my reserves would not have been thrown into the fight and I'd have just sat back waiting for the clock to give me a 6-1. 

In this sense I felt like Mike and I had the pleasure of two games in one. Phase one -  his initial assault, that lucky saves on my guns and unlucky failed armor saves for his Panzers, kept him from being able to win. And Phase two - where my Crusader reserves had to come in and drive off what was left of his Panzers. This effort cost me quite a few brewed up Crusaders and gave Mike VPs that he would have never had a chance to earn in a similar V3 situation.

Isn't it all but impossible to cause a Formation Last Stand Check in Version 4? I was not keeping close track of this. I wish I had asked players to record how many times a formation was pushed past Formation Last stand.  In my three games I never had a Formation Last Stand break nor did I cause one (came close to breaking Mike's Formation in round 2). I did cause and sustain many Unit Last Stand breaks though! However I do know of at least five Formation Breaks that did occur, two of those in formations from the same force in the same game!  It seemed to me it was the Grant formations that were having the most problem with Formation Last Stand breaks in this tournament.

Good thing these guys don't count toward Formation Last Stand!
Where are the Tigers? No German player took Tigers at the this tournament. The event was only 75pts, so maybe they were not to be expected. Still some British players took 17/25pdr ATGs. Maybe they wanted some wanted "insurance" for Tigers appearing? What I can say is that in all of my group's local games before this tournament, forces with Tigers have not won a single game. They just take up too many force points and the rest of the formation gets rolled pretty quickly.

Won't the Command Cards mess up Mid-War V4 games even more? As mentioned earlier, this tournament occurred before the release of he new Command Cards so I can't say too much about them here. I will say that the forces present at this tournament generally used up all 75pts. I don't see a lot of items being dropped to add in Command Cards. I myself thought that the soft skin transport Command Card was one I was extremely likely to use. I sorely missed transports in my first few V4 learning games. However I must have learned to live without them because in this V4 tournament I never once regretted not having transports for my guns. I think this is mostly due to the fact that my Guns were never in reserve and I recall in my earlier V4 games it was when I was brought guns in from reserve that I was griping about not having a transport option. Nonetheless, I'm not sure I need two Recce units and may drop one to get some Portee or Transport upgrades. More playtesting and experimentation will be required once I get the Command Cards in hand. But don't be surprised if I end up not taking any at all for the US Mid-War Nationals. I bet I would not be alone.

What its all about!
Final Thoughts? This was a GREAT tournament! I believe all had a lot of fun. The games were exciting. The Red vs. Blue desert theme as very cool. In every aspect this V4 Tournament provided just as much value and enjoyment for me as any V3 tournament I ever played in.

There have always been a lot of things about Flames of War I did not like long before V4 was released. Chief among them is Blue vs. Blue matchups. Everybody who knows me knows I am all about the history. Accordingly I have always run themed Red vs. Blue tournaments that have proven to be popular.

Though I personally loath the idea of Blue vs. Blue games, I never let that be the reason I did not sign up for somebody else's tournament even when I knew it was likely to place me in a Blue vs. Blue game. What I always found was that once the table was set, the miniatures were deployed, and the dice started rolling I always seemed to forget about my opposition to Blue on Blue games and I just got on with the business of some great gaming! Similarly, I suggest that former V3 tournament players who think there are obstacles for them to them enjoy V4 Tournaments might just aught to try one or two V4 Tournaments. Like me, they may find, that what they thought was going to be a major hang up for them having fun, may not be so significant after all. At least maybe not significant enough to warrant them missing out on some great games with some great friends. In the end that what its all about.

Who let these Jokers in?
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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