or what I have learnt about my Mid-War ‘Fighting First’ force so far…
Having been an almost exclusively German player in Mid-War, branching out into another nation and a different playstyle has been a little daunting but it has definitely improved me as a player. Pushing yourself outside your comfort zone will always help you evolve your understanding of the game and how you play it.
A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there…A beatnik on the internet (probably)
So six months into playing only forces from the wonderful Fighting First book what accumulated wisdom have I gathered?
Be a Shark
This was the very first lesson that I learnt care of Mr Fez-man himself – if your armour isn’t moving you are definitely losing. The advice is simple but it is actually quite hard to put into action sometimes.
The US forces are absolutely unique in having access to the Stabiliser rule on all your tank units – the M4 Sherman, the M3 Lee and the M3 Stuart. Stabiliser means that rather than reducing your rate of fire (RoF) when you move, you increase the difficulty of the shot instead.
The natural instinct for a German player is to maximise your RoF by blitzing or simply remaining still; Stabilisers means that you can, and should, be moving tactically and laying down two shots per tank each and every turn.
This does take some getting used to, but once you have it ingrained in your thought process it makes a huge difference to how aggressively you can play.
As an example, I’ve even started to forgo using cover as much as I did playing Germans; the additional +1 to hit is more often than not worth the 3+ roll to see if you can move next turn. I find that if I am using cover it is either for a unit that I plan to deploy and use as a static firebase or, more often, I am dashing up behind cover ready to come round or through cover all guns blazing. No being shot at all is a much better bet than having that additional +1 and getting bogged down.
More Like a Demi-God of War
At first glance, the US artillery rules are great; at first glance. Observer allowing you to use some Unit Leaders as additional eyes for calling in bombardments and Time on Target making units reroll saves if you range in on the first attempt are great rules – awesome rules in fact – the issue is you have a 5+ Skill rating.
In practical terms, this means 6s to range in as the juicy targets you want to get will be in cover, or on a hill or in a town and you won’t be able to avoid some part of your template overlapping the terrain.
Fishing for 6s on your artillery support sucks. You will get it eventually – occasionally on the first roll – but you cannot guarantee it at all. There is around a 42% chance of ranging in of a turn (either first, second or third attempt) and a canny opponent will not just sit under that barrage if they don’t have to and thus making you range in again.
So having ragged on the artillery a bit, on the flip side I never leave home without some cheap indirect support. The T30 75mm HMC and the M4 81mm Armour Mortars are excellent support options to include. Both have access to a smoke barrage and both are armoured and mobile.
The cost of the T30s and M4 Mortars is such that if you don’t have a decent target or they find themselves not ranging in then you are not committing a good percentage of your points to getting that support. I’ve found that trying to accommodate either M7 Priests or 105mm Field Artillery just never seems to work out. Putting 10-22 points into Support that may or may not ever range seems prohibitive to me.
The T30s and M4 Mortars are also in formation assets for the Armoured Company’s which is a huge bonus and in those games where you have access to pre-ranged artillery markers they can be the difference.
The Ender of Civilisations
Air Power is, above all, a psychological weapon – and only short-sighted soldiers, too battle-minded, underrate the importance of psychological factors in war.B. H. Liddell Hart
This will not come as a surprise to long term US player but take air power in your force. Just take it. The Mid-War option for the US player is the Warhawk and it is brilliant.
For the points you pay for the Warhawks you will make your opponent play differently. I have yet to drop a bomb from these glorious little machines but the strafing runs using .50 cal machine guns weighs on your opponent.
I am yet to face an opponent who has invested in AA assets to keep these planes at bay and their ability to reach out to anywhere on the board is invaluable. Yes, they only turn up 50% of the time and yes, they suffer from the same issues ranging in as the artillery does if you want to barrage with them but six dice of AT5 5+ Firepower shots is what you want and need.
Hunting Marders, Artillery, Recce, advancing infantry, and other light assets are not what you want to be ploughing your 75mm rounds into but they are what your Warhawks will gobble up. They make your opponent change their game plan to avoid leaving anything tasty in the open, they force them to spread out and they have a demoralising effect when you clip off a 25pdr (or *three* – Lee) or neuter a Marder platoon and there is nothing that they can do about it.
Warhawks went from being an “I’ll throw these in” choice to the first points I spend in my list now.
Be a Flat Track Bully
The mobility that a US force can deploy on the tabletop in Mid-War, is I believe, unparalleled. Being flexible with your planning and deployment will allow you to make the most of any opportunities that arise and keep your opponent on their toes.
In the example above I had 3 main areas of deployment in a recent game against Lee’s DaK. The left-hand zone had a platoon of Shermans, the Armoured Recce and the Armoured Rifle platoon. The small zone in the middle was reserved for the M4 Armoured Mortars, while the right had my platoon of Lees, the Sherman HQ and the T30 Assault Guns. The arrows above show the intended lines of attack.
As you can see I have loaded up on my right with the intention of driving straight at the objective behind the town and my left would screen my own objective and look for any opportunity that presented itself. The flexibility and mobility of the US forces mean that even though this deployment looks lopsided I could swing the Sherman platoon into the centre quickly and, using the available cover, relatively safely.
The ARP, even dismounted, can dash forward to put pressure on the town’s German defenders or alternatively hunker down with their halftracks and deny that objective freeing up the other elements to redeploy. Finally, if push came to shove the central placement of the M4 Mortars means that they can reposition themselves to contest either objective should they come under serious threat.
The more I play with the ‘Fighting First’ the more I appreciate that you can deploy centrally initially and then choose your attack vector rather than committing early on – something I found happened a lot with the more elite force of the Germans.
I am still learning with the Fighting First, as with all armies, but I feel like I’m really starting to find my feet with Detroit’s finest.
This article is just some of the thoughts and teachable moments that I’ve experienced as I’ve gone through the, sometimes steep, learning curve of getting my head around a new army and new play style.
I’ll play some more games and report back – so until next time…