Hello Readers, Fred here, back for some more Competitive goodness.
Continuing our series of Armies of LW in Competition, today I propose to speak about the former Big Red Bear, now closer to Winny the Pooh: I give you the Soviets in Late War! This article aims at addressing why USSR is currently struggling in LW competitive play, and to provide hints on how to use them best with what they have, alongside an opinion on what BF could do to restore their glory.
1. USSR at (Late) War
Same as the other Allied Nations, British (UK) and the Americans (US), the Soviets (USSR) in FoW LW currently have access to 3 Books:
– Fortress Europe
These books pretty much cover 3 different periods of 1944-1945 for the Soviets fighting the fascists, with FE being in early 1944, Bagration the grand summer 1944 offensive, and Berlin end of 1944 until May 1945. There is a clear evolution of the equipment available, with higher quality stuff being available to the Soviets as the war progresses. Under the same trend, the ratings of the troops improve. On the principle, it is fair to say that closer the Soviets are coming to putting the war to an end, the better tools they have to do it. Now, how does it translate to FoW?
Fortress Europe has the cheapest troops access, everybody is Aggressive, with seriously limited AT (dedicated + in-built portable infantry AT)
Bagration has the widest variety of troops, almost everybody is Aggressive, correcting some of the AT issues of Fortress Europe
Berlin has the highest quality of equipment and troops, including a fair share of Careful and Veteran, and thus higher point levels.
If this doesn’t sound bad on paper, let me hold the horse for a second and address the elephant in the room: Soviets have significant issues of pricing versus efficiency which we will cover in detail later.
Summarizing what those 3 Books provide the USSR, we can pinpoint:
Mediocre quality troops.
Hard to overcome inherent flaws.
A complex assets balance.
Decent mobility, Reserves, and Assault.
Hoarding capacity at the expense of clear vulnerabilities.
Unless you play full historical, it is quite likely you will pick & choose from those books to build your Force, and possibly from another book that is worth mentioning: Axis & Allies Bagration. This one is not strictly the Soviets but includes the Romanians, which are much more valuable Allied to the Soviets right now, covering a lot of holes in their current gameplay (we will see how).
2. Bear with Gloved Claws
V4 hadn’t been kind to LW USSR. The general pattern of the 1944 Soviets as designed by BF, continuing partially in 1945, is they are not quality troops. Their default rating is Aggressive, they will, in principle, suffer many blows during the game. There is a world of hurt between Careful and Aggressive, and while pretty much every other Nation’s standard is Careful, this is not the case for the USSR. Sure, some of their Units can be Careful, true certain Nations have now wide access to Aggressive troops (US and GER notably), but no other Nation is a « Hit on 3+ » default. In past versions, this native default was compensated by 2 major means: motivation and numbers.
Motivation is still a forte of the USSR. If most of their Units start with default Confident, many of them are either « motivated » by the Kommissars (+1 to Motivation unless the guy is slain), or with Last Stand 3+, or even with Fearless. Some Units may even get bonuses to remount or Counter Attack (like assault tanks). Plus with V4 Command Leadership rules, it’s possible to have bubbles of re-roll with your HQs, to keep the Soviets in the fight. This is good.
Numbers are not really something the USSR masters anymore. Let’s do some maths-of-war together.
Not really having access to a « Recce » Formation (the closest thing they have is the Hero T-70 Formation at 1 point per model, but 10 max), nor « Tracks » (you can have HT or UC, but they do cost more and are less efficient than UK/US/GER counterpart), USSR start at a disadvantage in the V4 concept. They should primarily look at their interesting Light Tanks (lend-leased Stuart and Valentine) to play numbers. Albeit more expensive than the V4 « classic » Recce/Tracks, for around 1.5 points a model, they do provide a good compromise between cheap AFV and Medium Tanks. Either faster and more AP (Stuart) or slower and more resilient (Valentine), those are currently the go-to Units for Soviets in an environment where Recce are systemic.
Hoarding was a classic for USSR Medium / Heavy Tanks and SPG. Not quite now: Lee/T34 (3), M4 (4), T-34/85 (4.5), and M4 76 (5), those costs are pretty standard for V4 LW Medium (albeit in the high range of the scope). But for the Churchill (@3/model), Soviets Heavies are quite expensive (KV series starting @4/model, ISU series @6/model, IS series @7/model, Captured Panther @7 also). The same goes for SPG (non-Heavy)/Tank Destroyers: if SU-57/SU-76 is not bad for 2/3 points (more if Careful), M10 being in the magnitude of US/UK (losing either SS&D or extra AT to gain Fearless), the SU-85/100 are fairly expensive for 6+/model.
Regarding the other portion of the army, Guns, and Infantry, the Soviets have access to 3 kinds of infantry; the really bad one (around 0,75/model), the OK (around 1/model), the super soldiers (starting at 1,25/model) … quite the same as the other Nations. Concerning Guns, pricing is fairly standard for things like HMG, Mortars, ATG, and Artillery. Sure Aggressive Soviets pay less than other Nations Careful, but the price is quite similar compared to Aggressive to Aggressive, and they are not even gaining much in comparison when you apply the 1/3 tax on other Nations Careful.
Even if it’s still possible to outnumber your opponent by a number of models, that would only be limited. Especially if you fathom the fact most of the Soviets units have a lower efficiency/points ratio compared to other Nations.
For instance, on Tanks :
– USSR T34 vs US Sherman (3 points/model): both Aggressive, same motivation, T34 moves faster (better Tactical + Dash + Cross), as resilient as each other, but the T34 deals less damage (-1 MG (no 0.5cal) and AT9 + Overworked instead of AT10 + Stabilisers) and have worse Skill (Green vs Trained)
– USSR T34/85 vs US Sherman (4,5 points/model): both Aggressive, T34 move faster (better Tactical + Dash + Cross), but deals less damage (-1 MG (no 0.5cal) and no Stabilisers), T34 has worse resilience (Armor 6 vs 7 + no Protected Ammo) and have worse Skill (Green vs Trained).
Also, on Infantry :
– Soviet discount infantry (0,75/model) may be the worst in the game. Not only they are not that cheap (price per model is similar with GER/US crap boys, which, BTW, can be better equipped) but they are also highly vulnerable with their 4+ save (hint: don’t rush in the open nor stand still in your hole … not much space for them on the table). But for the use of the Command Card Partisans, I hardly see why you will bring those along especially compared to …
… the normal guys! Which are in fact the non-normal as they are Hero … anyway! The Hero has the default of being Aggressive, but the quality of hitting hard in Assault (3+ or 2+ depending on Unit) and good Motivation (3+ with Kommissar or base). You can keep them cost-efficient with simply RPG6 (Bagration/Berlin) or go for the super soldier’s road in upgrading them in Careful, better portable AT weapons (Faust), and inbuilt Heavy Weapons. They are quite OK and haven’t much to envy other Nation’s Infantry.
– last but not least, the super soldiers can be normal guys with a boost, or some of the shiny Soviets Units such as the well-known Sappers Engineers. This type of Infantry can cause serious wreckage in Assault … if they achieve contact.
Also, in the lethal environment of LW, few Soviets Units can be Careful, and when they do, their Fearless/Veteran ratings increase the bill radically, putting them in the same category as other Nations’ « powerful-yet-no-invincible-super-expensive » Units (all but the British Paras and Engineers – those are super good !). E.G: Sappers Engineers being 2 points per Team, IS2 (Late) being 12 points per Team. Not necessarily a safe bet but for some key Units.
Firepowering-wise, the Soviets have some hardlines, especially as they can’t always count numbers of their side to compensate. Their Artillery suffers from lack of Veteran skill, meaning either relying on pre-ranged in markers (with possible expensive Reconnaissance by Combat relocation helping) or a lot of attempts to pinpoint the target. Also, as most of those Artilleries are unarmoured and Aggressive, they do suffer greatly from retaliatory fire. And they don’t have access to a regular Smoke Bombardment.
What the Soviets fear the most is entering a Tank vs Tank duel. With mobile guns (RoF>1 + no Slow Firing) being limited to AT12 but for 1 (Captured Panthers), Soviets do struggle when facing other Medium or Heavies. SU100, ISU, IS … all are quite poor at this game, being ROF1 and Slow Firing. Maths-of-War this: you need 6 of those tanks to actually score a single hit against a long-range concealed Careful tank, and 9 of them if you moved or if the target is gone to ground. Not having the capacity to double the shots when standing still and having the +1 to hit when moving makes these guys really sub-optimal and fair disadvantaged in a Tank duel.
As a slight ray of light in this darkness, Captured Panthers can bring their ROF2 AT14 40’/100cm to the party, but be careful, those expensive Tanks are absolutely no match for the AT13+ US/UK/GER have in stock.
Overall, these defaults make assets balancing quite complex for Soviets.
Soviets do have some areas where they aren’t bad.
Mobility is actually quite decent: several of their Tanks have a good cross (Churchill, IS85, Unditching Logs Card) or Tactical/Dash (Stuart) or both (T-34 Series). With many Units having Motivation 3+, it’s quite common to get an extra 4’/10cm in Follow Me for better assault or positioning in the following turn. Using better mobility to limit the damages sustained or reach the opponent faster than it can react can be quite a significant advantage for the struggling Soviets.
Reserve system can also be easy as several of their Units can host a lot of Teams (Tanks or Infantry), making a single Reserve arrival a big blow-up. True, all Nations can wrap up a low Units-count Reserves pool. Soviets can do it slightly better when mobbing in 1 or 2 big Units with a higher number of Teams than the others. E.G: instead of having 2 Units of 5 Tanks, the Soviets can bring a full Unit of 10 Tanks, which will bring devasting firepower when entering the board.
Assault can be great when you overcome the issue of contacting the enemy (which can be hard with Aggressive troops). Soviets do have nice damaging troops in contact, with several 3+ or even 2+ to hit, with decent weaponry or layer of resilience (armour or numbers of teams), and pretty good morale to continue the fight and resist this deadly step.
From my perspective, to benefit from the few competitive advantages they can get, in Competitive LW, the Soviets should maximize their hoarding capacity at the expense of vulnerabilities. This means accepting the fact they can’t really compete with the rest of the pack (neither in mobile duels, resilience, AT…) and they will suffer a tremendous amount of hits, but concentrate on their decent mobility and good morale to pill in waves of troops with inherent defaults to try to make the difference. Go big or go home.
That is certainly riskier than other Nations, and with fewer contingencies to prevent the plan from not working. Yes, the Soviets are the hard-core mode for players in LW, certainly why they are not so popular at the moment.
3. Fighting with what we have
With this rather long introduction, it is fair to state USSR is a challenging faction! But FoW is a game of players, so you can make it work! Here are some insights which I hope will help you try to mitigate the difficulties of the Soviets in LW Competitive.
If there is not really a go-to Formation to start your Build with the Soviets, it should be stressed you can make good use of their high Motivation by having a basis of 2 Formations. With overall basic 4+ motivation and fairly common 3+, 2 HQ will allow covering a significant portion of the battlefield with re-rolls, transforming something the USSR are good at into something they are excellent at. A good one if you pick Bagration as a book is the Hero T-70 Formation, your cheapest way to get this important 2nd HQ.
Working on the 2nd forte of the Soviets, Mobility, I believe you can safely invest in troops exploiting that. Assaulting Infantry will benefit from their 3+ Follow Me Order to cover more ground, Light Tanks can use their 12’/30cm Tactical and crazy Dash speeds to gain effective key positions. The T34 and T34/85 are ubiquitous Units: they do contribute to this mobility forte, having the same mobility as Light Tanks, very good Cross 2+, and being able to complement that with possible Hero Tactics 3+ and/or Unditching Log, but they do cost a lot with a mediocre efficiency. However, well used, they can compensate for their inherent flaws to make a great value of their speed.
This leads us to the Reserves capacity the Soviets have. They do have access to very expensive Units which, per se, is not great, but under the same logic as GER Big Cats, can be quite a strength playing with Reserves. I don’t recommend having large/pricy Units of Soviets Tanks on the board from the start: a combination of limited Skills rating (like Green) or bad moving/shooting abilities (Overwork, Slow Firing) plus the access to general good Last Stand (Not One Step Back 3+), you are better off having multiple smaller Units, tactically more flexible. But Reserves are another story: you want few Units held out, and you want them to make a real difference when they come in. Just consider how scary a wall of 10 Medium Tanks can be coming as a whole: they will machine-gun to death any Infantry in the open, and the volume of fire from their guns can shred all but the heaviest tanks. It will definitely serve as a great deterrent to your opponent’s bold moves. If you aren’t sold on the T34 series, maybe have a look at the M3 Lee, which may not be as flexible but does bring similar MG fire on top of a better gun (AT10 + no Overworked). In addition, the Soviets have a Card which is perhaps the sole reason why regular USSR Infantry isn’t immediately binned: Partisan Band (works the same as FTP/FFI), useful to create a single unit Reserves pool.
In terms of Assault, the Soviets have several roads they can take. For the classical « armored fist », the Churchill ain’t too bad with their decent Side 7 and Top 2, backed up by acceptable Fearless/Trained ratings. They won’t break « the lines of Mordor » (= Infantry loaded with portable AT or well-backed up by ATG), but they aren’t bad at making surgical assaults or keeping positions if helped by the rest of the list. Notably, Hero Infantry and Sappers from Bagration and Berlin have 3+ Counter Attack, 3+ or 2+ to hit, with 2 to 4 portable AT (RPG6 and/or Panzerfaust). The default is Aggressive making assaulting complex. Sappers do have a limited Smoke Barrage to shift the odds though. If they can connect, yes they will deal with and endure pain. With the Berlin release, it needs to be tested if the Careful and/or Panzerfaust upgrades are really worth it on them (PzF on Bagration Sappers is already a good bet, but they are cheaper, and Storm Group is already available but seldom see use due to its cost and a high number of non-assaulting Heavy weapons).
Considering the generally limited abilities of the Soviets (notably their standard Aggressive/Trained), I believe hoarding can be the key. If investing in better troops/equipment won’t really put them up to pace with the other Nations, perhaps accepting their vulnerabilities would simplify their plan and achievements. Artillery is a good example of this logic. The heaviest of their park desperately needs Reconnaissance by Combat to be efficient. 122mm, Katyusha, the dual-purpose 76mm, they aren’t cheap (8 points for 4), and they really don’t appreciate retaliation fire (Aggressive + weak mobility = say hello to counter-battery fire). If they spend time ranging in (and missing due to native Trained rating), there is a high chance they won’t achieve much before being silenced. The Card isn’t cheap, and is useless if you don’t have pre-ranged in Marker (be prepared to leave a spot in your Reserves pool for it), but can vastly improve their capacity to damage your opponent from Turn 1.
There are indeed some builds relying on twin-122mm or Katyusha batteries for bringing the rain like this (both batteries and both Cards are being put in Reserves if the strategy can’t be used). Under the cover of Smoke can be an alternative to this: the Card isn’t as great as true Smoke, but can potentially lead to interesting protection for the Aggressive Soviets (same as the new Night Attack Card from Berlin). If you are not comfortable with all this, I strongly suggest you turn to the cost-effective Mortars. 4 points for 6 (82mm) or 6 points for 6 (120mm), may not be the greatest, but they do the job without much support to them, and it’s fairly possible to get access to 2 or 3 batteries should you bring a Hero Motor or Rifle Formation.
The same goes with Tanks: cheaper stuff means limited capacities but a higher number. The Stuart is my personal favorite being quite a contender to the Recce/Tracks meta (Armor 3 + AT 7), with good mobility, 5 dices of MG against infantry, and the cherry on the cake of being not counted as Battle Tank in Deep Reserves scenario (it is not Frontal Armor 4). If Churchill lost their shine as V4 progresses, the view of a line of those beasts goosebumped us back in V2/V3. Of course, BA-64 is a must-have, a shame it’s so hard to have 2 Spearhead Units in your Force. SU-76 (weaker gun but bombardment) and SU-57 (better gun but no bombardment) are a little bit overpriced and complex to use (watch out for no MG and ratings), but you may appreciate their flexibility and intermediary position between Light Tanks and Medium Tanks.
In the « unspotted-yet-interesting » category, Soviets have access to cheap Heavy weapons (on top of the Mortars) and small ATG, who complement their Builds: PTRD and 45mm are quite good given the current light meta, HMG and Flame-thrower still work well with Infantry. It is also worth mentioning Soviets have one of the most efficient aircraft in the game: the IL2 with small or big guns. Often overlooked because of its randomness, with Cards such as Lucky and Make Your Own Luck (don’t drop a die: it’s a 4+. Period) it’s far more reliable, which makes this unstoppable baby (= Maths-of-War this: in the perfect conditions, there is not a single AA unit in the game that can have a 100% probability to shoot down ONE IL2) and nice mobile threat with its dreaded Rocket (AT5 on top) and guns (if you have the budget, I suggest you go with the big ones as AT8 on the flank will shred everything Side Armor 3 and below).
In Competitive LW, I personally really don’t believe in shinier Soviets. The new 203mm Howitzer(with its dreaded AT4/FP2+ bombardment, but 3.5 points/model, Aggressive and Trained – it could have worked with Reconnaissance by Combat but this Card IS NOT in the Berlin Command Cards deck), the KV series, the ISU and IS series, the SPG/Tank Destroyers (but for SU-76, SU-57 and M10 which may work), the higher calibers ATG… all those stuff are clear improvement of the original Soviets, no dispute about it, but they suffer greatly from significant issues of pricing and efficiency. They all suffer from fatal flaws, being too expensive, not enough resilience dealing not enough damage … you name it! A good example is the presence of the Captured Panthers in many Soviets lists who would like to at least try to play the game of move-and-shot duels with other Medium and Heavy Tanks. It is clearly the best bet for the Soviets here, but given how so-so they are right now, it tells a lot about where the Soviets stand.
We can’t be complete on the topic if we are not speaking about the new Soviets’ best friend: Romania (ROM). We’ve discussed in a past article how ROM can help GER. ROM can provide great value to the Soviets in 3 areas :
– access to Careful
– access to Smoke.
– access to Anti-tank
Being default Careful, ROM may have weaker armor, smaller squads, and worse Motivation, they do sustain damages better than the Soviets. On that aspect, it’s fair to compare apples with apples: ROM infantry will deal less damage in Assault and withstand it shorter, but they have better chances to reach contact. ROM tanks will deal less damage in Shooting and are less mobile, but they will survive longer.
Access to Smoke Bombardment. may sometimes be the only reason why veteran Soviets players pick ROM alongside their USSR. Either in-built into Infantry Formations or with the 75mm Support Batteries (same price as the Soviets’ 76mm), this great tool massively increases the survivability of the Soviets’ push on Turn 1 or 2, or helps them curtain falling in Turn 5. Last but not least, should you pick ROM as your Primary Force, you will unlock access to more efficient Anti-tank: mobile AT12 (the T-60 – a soviet Tank btw – Marder-like) and/or fix AT13 (the M43 – like a better Pak43), both Careful and 11 points for 3. A superb improvement over the Soviets struggling in this category.
There are basically two ways to combine USSR and ROM.
The 1st approach is to select a single Formation from ROM and add it to your USSR. I believe the choice revolves around either the R-2/R-35 Light Tanks company, which brings 12 1 point / Careful Tanks to boost the number (works well in a full hoard Build with T-70 and Stuart), or the Motorised Rifle Company brings Careful twin portable-AT infantry, the alternative to your Hero Rifle, with the super important Mortars unit with Smoke Bombardment. You can go with the Panzer IV and StuG companies (sorry: T-4 and TA), but I’m not quite sure the Soviets benefit from them.
The 2nd approach is radical: take the USSR Formation that you like the most (only 1, and not from the Command Cards – LFTF 2022), and throw it in the middle of ROM goodness. Here the Soviets are complementing the ROM, getting the full benefits, including the heavier/mobile AT. We have recently seen USSR Churchill Guards being allied to ROM Inf/Light Tanks working very fine. This can also work with the M3 Lee Tank Battalion or similar.
I have the feeling the ROM is a strong support to the USSR right now, tackling several of their important flaws or complementing well their all-in style.
Here is the list I run, in line with my current vision of the Soviets in LW :
4. Care Bears Needing Care: correcting the Soviets
It is fair to state LW Soviets do struggle. Albeit we all love a good challenge, it is quite frustrating to enter each battle with disadvantages. This definitely translates into USSR not being favored by competitive players, which is quite sad considering the importance of this nation. Right now, I believe USSR sit in the same uncomfortable spot they were back in V2 with Red Bear 1.0. BF took the bull by the horns and provided a massive free update to this book, with Red Bear 2.0 being a balanced material for Soviets and non-Soviet players alike. It will be good to have BF do the same for LW Soviets V4, especially if the system of Dynamics proves its worth.
The 2 axis of improvement for the Soviets are IMHO actual efficiency and pricing review, both being connected. I believe it’s important to work on both aspects to do it right. Before being carried away in a historical debate (you know it’s not my area of expertise), let’s remind FoW is a game. Per essence, it must be agreeable to play: a couple of improvements should be driven by this, the pleasure taken by players in spending hours of their precious time manipulating toy soldiers. Including the ones with red stars on the flanks.
A lot of Soviets units can benefit from actual efficiency. Regular Soviet Infantry having a 4+ save doesn’t really make sense while another poor Infantry of other Nations has a standard 3+. T34 still bearing Overwork on their gun drastically reduce their fighting on the move capabilities. Soviets heavier AT guns suffering from RoF1 and Slow Firing make both standing still/shooting and moving/shooting way too random; they definitely should get a fair choice between shorter range / higher RoF / lower penetration or longer range / slower RoF / higher penetration (= gun choice) and with benefits (such as a bonus to hit if not moving and no minus to hit when moving for heavier AT). Reconnaissance troops not being all Scouts isn’t realistic. Soviets having limited access to true « veteran » (Skill 3+ / Careful 4+) Infantry fairly limits their playbook. When they do have access to those «veterans», it would be good to not limit it to super-motivated guys: some sort of battle-weary troops would make a fine addition to representing soldiers exhausted by more than 5 years of war.
Numerous Soviets units can also benefit from pricing review. It’s quite abnormal to face Nations that are correctly priced or too low priced with troops that, in their overall majority, have a too-expensive price tag. This massively concerns Tanks: T34/85 should cost 4 points (heck, make them cross 3+ if need be !), M4 (late) should cost 3,5 points (+1 point to upgrade to 76mm), the Churchill and KV series should be 3 points flat, the IS and ISU series should start at 6 points, the SU series should start at 4 points, and even the Panther should be in line with the Brigade ones for 6 points. Regular Infantry definitely needs a discount (on top of their save modification). Infantry and Gun suffer slightly compared with the other Nations, so a couple of points here and there may help, notably on the 4 per 2 / 8 per 4 Units (Light Tank killer, Katyusha, 122mm, 76mm…), where a 3 per 2 / 7 per 4 would be more in line. The heavier guns should get consideration as well, the 57mm being fairly expensive compared to US/UK 57mm/6pdr, and the 100mm should follow the same logic as the Tanks.
These lists are quite long to be honest, which shows how much the Soviets need attention from BF.
In conclusion, USSR is currently quite a hard faction, to begin with, progress and win. It can work in the right configuration and right match-up, but it leaves a really important burden on players’ shoulders. There are means to make the Faction work even in a competitive environment, but it will be appreciated if BF shows them some love with corrections.
Happy to read your views and opinions in the comments section.
Knowledge is power: share it widely!