Flames of War – A quarter fighting for Freedom (Season 2023-2024)

Hello there, boys and girls,

Fred here, updating you on my 2023-2024 FoW Season. With French GT on the horizon (Dec. 02nd & 03rd), I’ll give you a debrief of my first quarter playing for Freedom, a.k.a “3 months playing USA @FoW LW”. Plug your Patton’s speech in your ears, make your Detroit’s finest motor roar, here we go for an American ride!

Solid yet feeble

In the continuity of my previous article on the topic (https://www.breakthroughassault.co.uk/flames-of-war-preparing-for-gaming-season-2023-2024/) I tried a couple of things at the beginning of the Season. I knew I wanted to explore deeply Concepts based on “Reluctant Careful” troops, so I cast in a couple of Builds from 3 Nations, US, GER and UK, to try and test this approach.
I lean on selecting a majority of troops focused on those ratings (either native or with downgrades), leading me to field assets such as US 3rd Armored Division and/or Battle Weary, GER Berlin PanzerBattleGroup and/or Clausewitz, and even UK Desert Rats and/or Recce Squadron.

I may not have as much time as I want to test extensively what I wish, yet the outcome was quite clear and as expected:
– on one hand, you have troops that can soak up quite a significant portion of damages
– on the other hand, those troops are really fragile when things go too hot.
Another forecasted consequence that effectively occurred:
– the ratings allow you to field more troops
– but they are not reliable.

More comprehensively:
– those Builds tend to have a good model counts, higher than classical Confident or Fearless ones (or equal should you select more solid troops (like Jumbo, Panther, Crocs…) of if you face Aggressive or Reckless troops)
– the Careful rating protects, especially while using wisely the game mechanics (stay tuned for a next article – Tactica Move&Shoot)
– but Reluctant rating hurts them a lot, namely in shooting duels, high pressure from bombardments, and in close combat (where you do need your Morale up)
– affecting significantly their capacity “not to let you down”.

In Offense, more often than not will you be in a position to pressure high your opponent with more Units that you would have in non-Reluctant Builds, but you are fairly dependent on selecting your engagements and actually winning them, as you can’t sustain the return of fire. Same goes when you need to critically commit in the game, either while moving&shooting, or engaging in Assault, both areas where the Reluctant rating will fail you more often than not.
In Defense, you have higher capacities to build a solid multi layers network around Objective, but you can’t count on it to hold the ground when Opponent is pressuring it (high shooting, bombardments, Assault…) nor rely on it to reclaim lost ground.

In term of wargaming timing:
– you start the game at an advantage with more assets (or same number of assets but more protected)
– by mid game, you must have selected the engagements that you need to win and the ones you can afford to lose quite carefully, and perform as expected
– you have many difficulties in the end game, where you and your opponent will need to rely on independent troops (= synergies between assets being chattered and broken by the heat of the battle) and where your troops inner difficulties put them in a bad spot (unpinning/unbailing, last stand checks, counterattacking…).

In essence, Reluctant Careful is an interesting concept, but an insecure one, as it forces you to be extra cautious on when and how to commit, win the battles you want to be engaged in, and expect to lose on attrition.

Arsenal of Democracy

In this quarter, I mainly focused on Americans. First, I acquired a large US force a couple of months ago, so as every child, I wanted to use my new toys. Second, US is not my “army of heart” at this game (more below) so I found challenging to come out of the comfort zone to try something new. Third, I had in mind to play at French GT, which implies a fully painted force, which I could get by borrowing UK to friends (but it’s not “your” army, right ?), and Real Life didn’t leave me enough space to fully build up and have painted my German I’ve prepared since Bulge and updated with Berlin.

So I experimented a couple of Builds from Bulge, which is clearly America – Level 2. I mean, Fortress Europe is a transition book with some nice aces in the sleeve, D-Day is cool with some niche plays, by Bulge is really putting the US on the competitive scene of FoW. I reckon this book to be 2nd best overall in the period, behind the unbeatable UK D-Day, and tight with GER Berlin. What shines in this Bulge book is the capacity the US have to field a lot of different tools to fulfill every situation and mission they will face in FoW, the boost they get to their Sherman and Tank Destroyers, on top of their still consistent other assets (light tanks, artillery, infantry). Moreover, this book whispers in my ear the sweet music of Reluctant, so I had to give it a go !
That doesn’t mean you don’t need (or will) to combine with other Books to have an army that fits you well (spoiler alert: which I did for French GT).

Going US – Reluctant means I focused on the 3rd Spearhead Armored Division and on the Battle Weary (Rifle and Armored Rifle). I found both quite telling for the experimentation: both have budget reduction allowing to field troops up to the level of Confident Aggressive, both being not reliable when battle tempo is not going their way.

Fighting with them for a quarter now, I have a complex image I’ll try to describe in my own words: they play counterintuitively. While in a normal game you would expect yourself to rely on your own capacity to score, they are making you relying on your opponent for not scoring.
E.G :
– engaging (in mobility, in a fightl…), you would much rely on your opponent missing its shots than you succeeding yours. US can be superb at fighting on the move, the reality is more complex. Lot of MG/Stabilisers is great to catch opponent in the open, but throw in terrains (bread & butter of FoW), your shooting effectiveness is dramatically reduced. Same applies to lot of US assets that don’t hit well or at all in the first place (either because they need to move and they are slow (like ATG) or because they rely on following turn for effect (like Artillery, or Slow Firing weapons)). If you want to actually score, you need to sustain the returning fire from the opponent (Careful helps here) and calculate the odds well (because Unpinning/Unbailing/Last Stand is harsh).
– committing (in a duel, in an assault…), you count on your opponent breaking off rather than you keeping on the fight. US 3rd AD/BW can have a good mobility (native + Tactics 3+), but their fighting strength being mainly a two turns action (reaching the point, dealing some damages, sustain the fire back, then counterpunch hard), more often than not you just don’t have enough fighting force in to keep the fight live. Same, for Assault, they have nice Reaching capacity (Careful + access to Smoke & Smoke B.), limited Damaging capacity (hitting on 4+ or 5+), and non-existent Continuining (Reluctant).

To be honest, that is also true for other Reluctant Careful builds I’ve tried: at first sight, yes it’s easy to get carried away by how many toys you can field (hello, Internet!), but when its matters, your troops will fail you! Not only have you to forecast on more turns in advance than classical Builds (both in Offense and Defense), but you also need to choose wisely your fights as you won’t win in attrition. This is perhaps what I found at the same time the most frustrating and the most challenging.
More than I can count, in the last months, I found myself in a position where I was confident I can’t lose the game… but was neither in a position to win it as well, my army just doesn’t have the steam left in its engine nor the tool to break through opponent, or at the very risk of breaking as I couldn’t count on its capacity to hold the ground (both in Offense and Defense).

I appreciate what the US teach me in this quarter, what new gaming tricks I’ve learned with them, what glorious opportunities I’ve been able to make with them (most of the time : failing !), but I don’t think the US suits my playstyle: I am an attrition player, and US is not an attrition army.
Now, if you want to run a chattered and battered battle line suffering from enemy fire, with the cavalry coming in at the sound of a trumpet, or if you like a steel wall relentlessly advancing toward the enemy, expecting to exploit a breakthrough thanks to your shooting… then US is an army for you !

Do or not do. There is no try!

Now you would expect me to tell you that, as the US don’t suit me, and as I’m a known-competitor, I would turn to the Big Bad Wolf (a.k.a: Germany). And you would probably be right a couple of years ago… except Real Life kicks in!
With a 2nd kid on the horizon in January, family demands attention, and work needs to be conducted properly so as to leave a clean slate by end of the year, so I can take good care of the baby. Meaning: I don’t have enough time to properly FoW! Old Me would be ashamed for such laziness in competitiveness, New Me would just say “welcome to the life of fathers-workers-wargamers!” (side note : with kids, you can’t go back to Old You, so just stick with New You and deal with it !).

That’s quite an awkward feeling to enter in a tournament where you know you won’t play something which you believe is best. I mean, we all came to tournaments knowing there must be a better list than the one we fielded, or knowing players are better, but I’ve never experienced an event where I come in knowing what I play doesn’t fit me. Even in teams tournaments, where you do sacrifices for the greater good, there is always this spot left for you where you will field a Build that’s suits your game style, how you behave on and around the tabletops, that brings you confidence even if you don’t trust your Force 100%. But this is how I enter French GT this year: unfitted.

For the records, FoW France community had experienced a couple of changes in the past years, with a new generation brought forward, communication of knowledge by the veterans, events organized to share skills and tricks, discussions over the meta, the Builds, ETC’s renewal… From the game perspective, FoW is not as attractive as others, and the barrier of the language, is, as I imagine for non-English speaking countries as well, still a restrain to FoW development (surely a Rulebook approved by BF in French would be helpful). To that extent, French GT (or Nationals as we say now…) has been designed as a bridge between two worlds to help in this process, same as in 2022.
Now this 2023 will have the same mixture of the core of FoW France veteran competitive community, and new faces or less accustomed to competition.

As a remark here, while designing my list for the event, I did realize how complex it can be for new comers to tip their toe in the competitive world of FoW. Albeit the rules of FoW are quite simple (but for the Assault Step… https://www.breakthroughassault.co.uk/flames-of-war-tactica-assault-part-1/) and the Books are nice (thank you BF for V4), let’s consider they are only a fraction of the iceberg to be appreciated:
– the number of Books to pick your Force from is huge (LW only : 13 !), especially as, contrary to previous versions, you can mix and match a lot of stuff,
Lessons From The Front being FaQ AND rules modifications AND almost as heavy as the Rulesbook,
– the Command Cards adding material to the consideration (albeit 80% of them being ignorable to say the least),
– confusion reigning on how to build a list (despite LFTF 2022 bringing clarity, we still have Forces that is not user friendly nor accurate, plus it’s not clear in everybody’s head),
internet’s ruling adding to the mix for good measure,
– and we don’t have Dynamics Points LW hopefully to confuse even more!
Albeit not all these factors are negative, taking a step back, the number of data to be assimilate by beginners is huge, and how to effectively exploit them is hard.

Not whining for the sake of being grumpy, here are a couple of ideas for BF (many being shared already by the Community) to make @FoW (including competition) more beginners friendly:
live Rulesbook, free and downloadable on BF’s website, updated quarterly and including rules properly written as intent and clarified,
free army builder, easy to use and accurate,
simpler system to build Forces,
better and more regular communication.
Meanwhile, from us, sharers of community content, veteran players, community drivers, we can do more:
– keep on explaining the game,
– publish more After Action Report, including from tournaments,
explain choices over lists and games,
– update regularly the Community with our visibility on the meta,
– be more didactic in our approaches.

I also realized how difficult the exercise can be if you want to build a fully balanced list. And by all means I think it’s great for the sake of the game: it tells how healthy it is. There are thousands of combinations of Builds, many being unexplored. True they are 4-5 archetypes lists per Nations that are really shining, and its easy to build a nasty list when you have the code plugged in. But the LW meta is much deeper than this. While planning for the GT, I tried to think of hundreds of various possibilities to try to find the most balanced list (not necessarily the best), using both the US and the constraint of Reluctant Veteran.

After this (rather long indeed…) introduction, here is my list for French GT:

My first iteration was more focused on the defensive, using both 3rd AD Sherman and BW Rifle, which, I think, is the correct mix and match to limit the weaknesses of Reluctant Veteran stated previously. But the tournament has a system where you need to qualify on the 1st day to have a chance to play for final victory on 2nd day (no worry : all players keep on playing the full games during both days, but max they can achieve is 3rd), meaning you need to finish 1-2 out of 4 in your pool to advance to semi-finals. Knowing I will face some hardcore gamers in Day 1 (aka : players without kids and/or work and/or with older children), I must be prepared to lose at least 1 of the 3 games of Day 1 and most probably win 2 of the 3 games. The first iteration was quite good at not losing … but not necessarily winning. The main problem of being the defender right now @FoW is accepting not to be the master of the tempo of the battle, and accepting to be dictated the course of the game by your opponent. Which is quite an issue if you need points to qualify.

This second iteration is not fitted to be tagged Defense (#DeepReserves), and I know I will alternate between Attack and Maneuver, both giving me the opportunity to be the Attacker or be in Fair Fight. Much better if I need to fish for points.

As a couple of explanations on my Build, I always try to focus on the key drivers of competitive lists in LW (https://www.breakthroughassault.co.uk/flames-of-war-competition-in-late-war-part-1/) :
instigate inter-arms cooperation (dual purpose Sherman & Stuart, combination with Core and Utilities, with clear roles for both and synergies)
insure Force Morale and Command bubbles (2 Formations / 2 HQ)
divide clearly Core and Utilities (Sherman vs Stuart/Artilleries/Recce/Infantry)
abide by the rules of 4 (4 medium AT-Assets (the Sherman) and 4 Artilleries (both mortars, the T30 and the recce))
I’m slightly bending the rules on the last one, as you can’t really compared the major 4 Sherman Units with the 2-stands HQ ones, but I found the PIAT from the Paratroopers to be a nuisance completing them well. Same, the 60mm mortar from the Recce is not as reliable than the HT mortars or T-30, but there seems to be a resurgence of Aggressive (and even Reckless) infantry and gun teams recently, granting good targets for the solo mortar.

I made a pair of choices in the Build to rend it to this form:
Sherman: those are the back bone of the Build. Totaling 62 points for 14 teams, averaging ~4.5 points per model, they aren’t cheap and every loss hurts. But they provide 3+ Units (3 Units + HQ to support) all-rounders of models that can play pretty much every battlefield position, from Offense to Defense. They do suffer from the unreliability of Reluctant, so they need to actually win the duels they are in (or slow down long enough duels they are supposed to lose), and they have trouble in the late game (notably if Assault is needed). The combination of decent mobility, Tactics 3+, 4-5 360° MG/team, Stabilisers, and AT10/13 with FP3+ make them a huge possible threat that opponent can’t ignore. The key bet of this list was to push the number of Units to 3, mainly driven by the fact the Sherman constitute a formidable Reserve Unit, and experience told me you still need 1 Unit to be with the HQ on table. The said Unit would have liked to be upgraded with a Jumbo, but truth be told, I didn’t have enough Sherman models for it.
Stuart: they are a decent complement to the Sherman. I don’t have the budget to play them as well as I wanted (I believe 2×4 are way better), so I put them into my Utility category. By themselves, there isn’t much they can achieve, but they can protect the advance of the Sherman, they can hurt light armor Units (Recce, armored artilleries, other light tanks…) negate ground to Infantry (15 MG shots on a 30cm/12’ moving platform is cool) and, when HQ is with them, they are slightly better at assaulting than the Sherman. On top of that, the three main reasons for the Stuart to be hire are 1. Number (they are significantly cheaper than Sherman, way worse, but sometimes all you need is an unpinnable MG and a pop shot gun) 2. 2nd Formation for a constrained budget (Infantry are more defensive, Recon could have do it but the US lot didn’t came with Greyhound !) 3. Artillery delivery system.
Artillery (and Recce): the bulk Sherman may be expensive, but the US light artillery isn’t. The Veteran Sherman Formation from Bulge comes with 3 artilleries slot, 1 being very shiny (the 81mm HT mortars), one clearly overpriced (the 105mm Sherman), and one really interesting (the Calliope). The 1st is an auto take in any Sherman armored formation, and the 3rd one was a heavy hesitation for me, because of the opportunities it creates (more than its damages output). But budget is crippled by the 3rd Unit of Sherman, so Calliope is a no go. By selecting the Stuart from Fortress Europe, I open the gate to 2 additional decent artillery Units: another 81mm mortars, and the T-30 (which is a mortars unit … expect it scares recce with its gun). Good. The choice of the Recce was initially dictated by the actual Reconnaissance coming in the US lot I bought: the M3A1 may be old school, but I’ve learnt to like them, being 4 guys for 4 points, 2 being armored, they aren’t matching the Greyhound, but they are cheaper and are part of the Stuart Formation, boosting its Morale. Plus they bring the 60mm mortar with them as any good US Recce. The Build is missing the great Priest, which AT3/FP3+ on top of Veteran rating make the life of troops concentration (including Top 0) a nightmare. This is certainly the Unit I’m missing the most, but with metagame leaning less on top 0 and more on top 1 and top 2, they may not be as critical as they were.
Infantry: here comes the controversial choice of the list. As mentioned, a key area where US Reluctant Veteran are not performing is Assault. They just can’t damage nor continue as best as they can connect. Not only am I a great fan of Assault, but I should also be reasonable in forecasting a couple of battles in this GT will be decided by the fate of a bayonet (or shrapnel charges) combat. The US have decent infantry in stock, but none of them actually match the 3 criteria… but for the Paratroopers. Issue with the 82nd or 101st, as iconic as they may be, is they are very expensive (to be honest, you are paying dearly the permanent Veteran skill and their weapons). In a tight budget, there was no way to fill a US paratroopers unit in! So here comes the idea of my good friend Teo: British Paratroopers. Not only are they decent (but for crossing minefields…), but they do bring the last stone to the balance of the list I was looking for: a Unit that can go where the Tanks can’t, have a good number for correct price (11points for 9), good capacities to reach/damage/continue, and 2 AT weapons helping to deal with armored threats. They are Allies, so they will be exposed one way or another to motivation issue (sounds right in the ballpark of the rest of the list!), but otherwise, a solid choice. 
Lucky: a Force with an Allied Unit without Lucky is like a morning without sunshine… I’m an increasing fan of the Lucky Card. 1 point is not auto take, still not a big hit in the budget, and on top of helping Allies motivation issue, there are so many utilities to a re-roll in critical moments (a 4th attempt for Smoke B., a critical FP, a Scattered Reserve roll…). Besides, as the tournament is 101 and I already have 2 Reserves system totaling at least 41 points each, I can go with the Card without problem.

So here you have it folks, my take on the most balanced Build I can cast using US and Reluctant Careful. To be honest, I’m disappointed to have to use a Fortress Europe entry to field in my 2nd Formation. That’s one of the issue of BF current V4 army selection: as not everything related to the front/period is in the dedicated book, you need to pick and choose elsewhere to have your Build complete. For instance, I would have love to field 3rd Armored Division Stuart, but that’s not a proposed options. So, as per the British Paratroopers pretending to be American ones (we can call them “the independent unionists”), I will pretend my Stuart are fresh troops coming to replace the hardened veterans of the 3rd AD. It’s a game after all, right ?

Here we are, 3 months down, 9 to go, Flames of War season launched and first milestones in 3 weeks! How do you like my Build? What would you have done differently? How do you feel it will behave? Let me know in the comments section!

Knowledge is power : share it widely !


One thought on “Flames of War – A quarter fighting for Freedom (Season 2023-2024)

  1. Bonjour Fred,
    Comme d’habitude, c’est ac’vec grand plaisir et prise d’expériences que je lis toutes tes publications.
    J’ai très peu d’expérience par rapport à toi.
    Mais je commence à mieux maîtriser le jeux.
    Je fais très peu de concours (1 Firestorm et un tournoi par an maximum), mais au moins une partie toutes les 3 semaines.
    Et j’aime jouer à chaque fois une liste différente, et différentes nations.
    Meme Si j’approuve la notion d’allié, je ne suis tout simplement pas du tout fan de pouvoir mélanger des unités provenant de différents livres.
    La notion des “Command Cards” c’est bien, mais pas si facile à pour les jouer (est-ce que je peux ou pas les utiliser avec tel ou tel foation ou combinaison). Les critiques sur le forum en atteste…
    Peut-être du à la barrière de la langue. Pour moi, je n’en doute pas !
    Quoi qu’il en soit, continue à nous exposer tes remarques, tes théories et tes conseils.
    Merci beaucoup.
    Je suis en attente 3ton prochain article .

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