Today we continue our journey in FoW LW Competition, with a focus on drivers.
Buckle up, as this one will be technical !
As much as Flames of War has always been a game where the combined Force power is greater than the sum of its components, V4 (its rules, missions, victory conditions…) and especially Late War, even more emphasize that.
Inter-arms cooperation is the capacity of Units to support each-others, and perform collectively to achieve the goals settled by the players.
But for Annihilation (a scenario hardly ever plaid in competition), the Missions are all about Defending or Seizing an Objective (Attack vs Defend Scenarios), or both at the same time (Fair Fight Scenarios).
Sure you can aim for destruction of the opponent’s Force, but it’s an opportunity that may come in the game process, but never a target nor a goal at the start of the battle.
If I am to defend an Objective, I can put my Units around it and see what happen, but I can’t expect much out of this.
More accurately, I will basically need Units that can both take blows, and retaliate in return.
If I am only mustering Units that can take blows, sooner or later they will break. If I am only mustering Units that can retaliate but can’t take blows, I’m dependent on my firepower to break the opponent push, failing will mean leaving the Objective wide open. Same, the longer I can hold the opponent at bay, the better are my chances to actually deprive him for winning : any artillery that can pin/counter smoke, any small Unit that I can sacrifice… that’s time bought, time that bring me closer to achieving my goal as Defender.
If I am to seize an Objective, I can drive straightforward my Tanks in the enemy line, but I will be fool to except much success out of it.
On the contrary, if I build an Assault force with several Units of Tanks, paired with an Infantry Unit and Tank Destroyers to tackle specific threats, backed up by one or several HQ to help with Rally/Remount/Last Stand/Counter Attack, spearheaded by a reconnaissance unit, and the whole supported by overhead artillery for smoke/pinning/destruction, then I much increase my chances to get to the Objective, take it and hold it.
This principle is true for every Flames of War game and every Period.
Where LW takes it a step further is, before all else, by the actual pricing of Units, allowing those combinations to be real :
– a decent Tank Team (with actual Gun/MG and mobility/assaulting and/or shooting capacities) costs between 1 to 6 points per model
– a decent Infantry Team (with actual weapons able to treat all gaming threats) is around 1 – 1.5 point per model
– a decent AT Gun Team is around 2 – 3 points per model
– Recce is around 1 point per model
– Artillery Units have wide range of prices, but the useful batteries falls within the 2 – 12 points area
– Aircrafts are around 3-5 points per model
Sure, you can have toys exceeding those points magnitude, but they do bring something more to the party.
E.G : German Big Cats.
For those of you familiar with other FoW Periods (or other gaming system where you need to watch carefully your budget), you can see the huge differences and efficiency-pricing ratios. Within a 100 or 105 points budget, it is fairly easy in LW to have all the inter-arms cooperation you need to perform the task assigned, and even have spare budget to push into one or several directions, or even get some fantasies.
Then you need to consider that many Units in LW are multi-purpose, as well as the higher firepower available in LW (notably in AT) give Units way more responsive capabilities. And more lethality to the period.
E.G : Infantry, with its integrated AT-AP, can deal with Tanks and Infantry alike.
This is combined with LW bringing a lot of options and diversity within Nations (even more expanded if you consider Allies), giving the players almost every tools to do the job, everytime. There are many viable Formations, many capacities to mix several Formations or Units, and lot of Command Cards to emphasize specifics tasks of Units.
Regardless of all other considerations of powerful list building, a competitive list that stress well this inter-arms cooperation is on the good tracks for success. Any list that doesn’t let its player afoot is viable for competition.
Core and Utilities Units
The second aspect of any performing competitive LW Build is how it deals with its Core and Utilities Units.
Core is the bulk of your Build, what constitutes the main leverage to achieve goals settled.
It is the driving force, the hammer that will break into enemy’s line or the anvil on which the enemy’s attack will break. The bigger or better your Core is (in term of Units or their size or equipment/skills), the higher its chances will be for your plan to survive the contact with the enemy, and be successful. It can a wagon of well-armored/well-armed/well-motivated/hard to hit Tanks that will constitute the cornerstone of an offensive Force. It can as well be legions of super-equiped/super-motivated/extra-careful Infantries that will build an unpregnable castle for a defensive Force. But it can also be Units aimed to support each other, such as a infantries/guns/tanks trio that you will duplicate to cover objectives (offensively and/or defensively).
Utilities are side Units, designed to help the Core do its job.
They are not meant to win the game instead of the Core : they are here to cover the holes in the Core of your Build. It may be Recce and Artillery supporting an Infantry and Tanks combo. But if your Core is composed by Recce and Artillery, then one Unit of Infantry and one Unit of Tanks can become your Utilities.
When building a competitive list, it is key that you determine the pattern of your Build, how it will behave, what it can do and can’t do.
It’s truer in LW, where it is fairly easy (due to access to numerous options and aggressive pricing) to have a clear and powerful Core and include all the Utilities to support it. Also, typical of competitive LW : while you have designed and picked your Core, and got your needed Utilities, just emphasize your Core. Too much is never enough in a lethal environment, and duplicating several elements of your Core will prevent your Force being crippled too early in the game. E.G : 3 units of fully loaded Tank Destroyers instead of 2, doubling your Stuart Formation (like Veteran + Regular) to get twice as much Stuart and armored Artilleries, 3 Infantries with 3 AT-Gun units, adding 2×3 Priest batteries in your already heavy on mortars US Build…
Whatever Core you pick, make sure you know well what it can and can’t do, and support it with the appropriate Utilities.
Some good competitive lists don’t really have this Core/Utilities separation, relying on complex mechanics of super inter-arms / inter-Units cooperation. It can work very well in the hands of good players.
Word of advice here if you want to follow this road : it may seem a very great idea on paper, it has two flaws, unforgiving in competition if you are not cautious enough.
First, you need to play above average to make this work as your plan will be more complex to set up.
Second, good opponents will understand the logic and focus on breaking key Units to prevent you from actually developing your plan.
A good competitive list in LW is always looking at finding the right balance in all its components.
Unbalancing will put the player in difficulties and will provide the opponent means to tackle the Build.
It can be the level of Core and Utilities : a too powerful Core with too weak or without the Utilities will have trouble holding on objective or seizing it. On the opposite, too many Utilities leave you a Core not strong enough to fulfil the Mission. Bearing in mind that, at FoW, when situation becomes too complex, your opponent can switch to full negate mode, and don’t take any risk, forcing you to take them all and hope to succeed. Doing a little bit of maths-of-war here, just consider how huge your firepower need to be to shift 3 decently-armored Careful Tanks, Concealed and Gone To Ground from an Objective…
A good list will almost always include :
– AT (anti-tank) assets in enough numbers to win multiple shooting duels, break the opponent defensive points or its advances, or constitute such a high treat the opponent need to commit more resources to tackle it or will just avoid the area,
– AP (anti-personal) assets in enough number to be able to negate portion of the battlefield to un-armored troops (including in Defense fire) and saturate soft targets with bullets (at least achieving Pinning if not else),
– Reconnaissance (for Spearhead, useful in Offense but perhaps even more in Defense),
– Artillery (for Smoke Bombardment and Undigging)
– Infantry (to go where Tanks can’t go, notably Building).
The level of each of those 5 components being up to the players, how they design their Builds and how they want them to perform.
Aircraft is a complex matter at FoW Late War currently. Airplanes are near impossible to shoot down, they are quite reliable (4+ meaning they will show 50% of the time – more with the right Cards), can come almost everywhere, have a decent damaging capacity, not that expensive. Yet, they don’t really make the cut for most competitive lists, but can be a highly valuable addition to several of them.
I guess we should have a dedicated article on them considering how wide the topic is !
Let’s say, for now, they don’t really count for the 5 key components.
One other thing that characterize a competitive Late War is stuff. Stuff is bringing toys to the party. And as you all know, the more friends you got in the party, the funniest it is for you…
In competitive LW, even the most elite army usually has 2 Formations.
Because : Force Morale, 2nd HQ for re-rolls for this Formation & Support (as 1 HQ can’t be everywhere), Diversity (like having both a Tank Formation and an Infantry Formation), and, sometimes, emphasizing of the concept of the Build (when more is never enough).
Spamming Formations (above 2) is not usually that a great idea (because your Formations tends to have few Units, thus vulnerable to break), but can be part of a good Concept. E.G : Romania Tank Hoard (T-38 + R-2) with Infantry (and maybe a Soviet Tank Formation as well for good measure).
2 Formations is more often than not the golden spot of powerful Builds. Single Formation (fully single or with a Formation of Allies) is not that rare in competitive Builds, but they do play fairly differently than the reliable 2+ Formations.
Also, cheap or cheaper troops (again, remember LW aggressive pricing) are really common.
There are seldom situations were a single big expensive assets Unit is better than a multiple of smaller less effective Units. More bodies means :
– a wider presence on the battlefield, to properly cover it, both in Defense (protecting Objectives) or Offense (seizing Objectives).
– more capacity to hold (Defense) or threaten (Offense) objectives
– higher chances to mitigate luck.
E.G : a single Ferdinand heavy tank is almost 100% safe from front and top fire, have a big gun able to deal pain. But it is fairly vulnerable to side shots and assaults. Now, for the same price, you can get 5 Units of 3 recce sdkfz 250. They will deal little to no damage, and have paper thin armor. But they are nearly un-assaultable by Infantry, and you need to throw a lot of AT dice to break them in shooting. It doesn’t mean a Ferdinand is bad (it’s not), just that you will hardly see a Ferdinand company (which requires 5 (!) of those beasties to be fielded), win a competition. Recce Formations, on the other hand…
The limit of the exercise is the FoW Reserves system (something every army, even the more “Attacking” ones, need to take into consideration – have a look at the Missions and the Battleplan matrix if you are still not convinced). You can’t stuff all your Force. At one point, you have to get high priced assets to fill the 40% Reserves slot (albeit LW has nice mechanisms for Builds wanting to reduce their Reserves pool).
A good reference for Reserves is 2 or 3 Units. Because having more than 3 Units in Reserves means most of them may not even come to the game nor have an impact.
From experience, competitive games are usually won before turn 6 (if the Attacker has the upper hand) or on turn 6 or 7 (if the Defender has the upper hand – remember he can’t win before, so…). So, with Reserves being random (it’s a 5+ roll, and unless you roll 3 or more dice, you are never certain to get one), sometimes very constraining (Delayed Reserves, Scattered Reserves, arrival area from Reserves in certain Missions), the less you put in Reserves, the more chances you will be able to play with all your Force against the full Force of your opponent (the “bonus” you gain are far lower than the “malus” from having Reserves when your Opponent doesn’t have them).
Dealing with Reserves (which, how many, what…) is a key part of assets balancing of competitive FoW. As a reference point, a good Reserve Unit is an expensive one, mobile, with decent AP & AT, able to hold a position or take it. E.G : I reckon the current best Reserve system of @100 points in LW is the US twin Sherman Units of 3rd A.D with 2 M4 Sherman and 2 M4-76 with AT13. 20 points each, 40 points total. Fills every criteria.
But you can also play the toolbox tactic. You can have, in your Force, multiple Units that can be combined depending on the task to be performed, and changed when the Mission, Opponent, Battle Plan, and Defender/Attacker is known. E.G : a 9 points Anti-tank Guns Unit may be more useful to you when you are Defending than a 9 points Infantry Unit which may be more useful to you when you are Attacking. You will load your Reserves pools, but with Units that will anyway don’t play a significant part in the battle. So it’s not problematic not to have them (although there is always something a toy soldier can do for you in every battle… #FredHMG2022).
General advice : always think carefully about your Assets-balance, including your Reserves.
As always, practice is key : go out and play with as many players to test your assumptions and theory-craft. Not only will you have a good social experience, but also will you improve your gaming level, your knowledge of the game and its components, and your list designing.
So now you have the keys for the 3 classical drivers of Competitive LW lists.
Next we will move on the “Rule of 4”. Stay tuned !
Knowledge is power : share it widely !