Following on from Phil’s article “How to win at Flames of War” Martin takes a look at understanding the nature of your opponent and how their choices influence their playing style and what you might be able to do to help you win the game.
I see lots of people post lists on social media and ask for comments or feedback but rarely do any of these come with some background context of what the player is trying to achieve with the list build or how they intend to use it. So today I thought I’d share with you my insight of over 40 years of gaming into how I initially determine what a player might be looking to do with a list and how they may use it on the table top and most importantly what I would be looking to do to counter such an opponent.
To help frame this let’s start with looking at playing styles, we all have one even if we don’t realise it. These break down into three broad groups which I shall call Aggressors (not to be confused with the French Death Metal band), Passives and finally because I can’t think of a better term the Flexible Middle. Each of these groups of players has some fairly distinctive traits which we can potentially deduce from their list choices and this can help you in setting up to play against them. This is just one aspect of wargaming you have to be able to understand to be a successful competition player but it is an area most give little thought to.
This is probably the largest group amongst competition players more often than not they favour fast hard hitting lists often looking to overwhelm opponents in the early turns of a game, often these players will be playing the currently perceived “meta” list. These are typically win-or-bust style players, there is no plan B for them. Lists wise we are currently taking about two typical types; tanks only armies or min/max style list such as German armoured car formations backed up by multiple high-end mobile tank hunter platoons. An interesting aside I will make here is that in v4 Soviet forces often need to be played in this style to be successful so you need to look carefully at them to discern a potential alternative playing style from them. I see this as a sub-optimal group overall as the nature of the lists tends to mean there is always a nemesis force ready and waiting out there to defeat them.
To defeat these types of players what you need to do is frustrate them, not let their early game aggression dictate the battle and ultimately play for a bit of time, from experience I find the longer the battle goes on the less likely they are to win. Scenario choice can win and lose you the game, look to use the battle stance that is most likely to result in them having delayed reserves reducing their initial attacking power. With tank only opponents use the terrain to shield your key anti-tank assets until you are ready to use them, deploy your objective markers in terrain where they will be disadvantaged such as in buildings or woods make defending them difficult for your opponent, deny them freedom of movement or force them to dilute their attack over a broad front. For the min\max lists concentrate on eliminating one side of the equation either concentrate on their formation and breaking it or their support units, these lists typically only have power on one side of the balance. If it is high AT that is the problem focus on that if it is light tank spams manoeuvrability that is the issue focus on space denial and try to funnel their attack forcing it to assault piecemeal (this works just as well against heavy tanks as light ones).
This is a less effective style of play in v4 Flames of War than formally due to the changed nature of movement, reserves and changes to the scenario victory conditions but these types of players can still win. Typically we are talking about pure infantry armies based forces supported by large numbers of anti-tank and artillery gun equipped platoons. These lists can absorb huge amounts of punishment and strangle an opponent, victory here is the aim and losses are inconsequential as this is a numbers game for these type players and it is a war of attrition they have set out to win. But this is another sub-optimal force selection in my view as like the aggressor group armies these again often have a nemesis opponent.
Reserves are your friend in this game, look to maximise the chances of your opponent having only 60% of their force on the table this can often seriously weaken these lists as often they have large numbers of low point value units and they will end up with far more units off the table than they can reasonably expect to get back on and into the game automatically giving you an advantage. Aggression is what is required if you can achieve this else it is time for patience awaiting the arrival of your reserves to provide a sufficiency of force to defeat their defensive line attacking a narrow targeted front, after all with lots of units they are forced to spread out due to the physical restrictions of the space needed to deploy their models. Use your scout troops to prevent them from moving out of the deployment zone and surrounding your assault force when you choose the moment to attack. A classical refused flank type attacking formation can often be effective in this type of matchup and always be ready with a fast moving unit to exploit any gap you can create.
The Flexible Middle
These are those players who can adapt their style effectively and have plans A, B and C ready and waiting to go, often they play with very balanced looking lists covering all aspects of formation building but don’t be fooled into thinking these folks are just the average player. It takes a lot of skill to play these more balanced armies well against all comers. Whenever I come up against this type of force list at a competition I always start to look very carefully at the terrain and to think about my battle stance and the options these might present as they could be critical in determining the outcome.
Unlike the other two groups, these are the hardest lists to predict what to do against. The balanced forces means they are prepared for any scenario so you might need lady luck to help out here, I often look to get all of both forces on to the table against these type lists purely so we are both starting with the same level of challenge and playing skill becomes much more the dominant determinant in the conflict rather than an imbalance generated by the force selection. The last thing you want is for them to be able to hold your opening assault then deliver a massive counterpunch winning the game with their 40+ point Panzer unit which has just come on from reserve long before you get your own multiple reserve units into play.
I hope this has made you think about your playing style its just as important as list construction finding what your natural style is for you as a player is important as it helps you learn how to compensate for your natural inclinations from what types of units you favour or why you always include X unit in a list. All three styles work but a better understanding of your playing style its strengths and weaknesses will help you approach opponents playing the styles you don’t favour and this will help you develop as a player steadily getting better. By making the effort of learning to play with different types of forces and in different styles you learn to cope with all eventualities the miniature battlefield can bring.