Flames of War – Q2 : return of the wolf (Season 2023-2024)

Hello there, boys and girls,
Fred here, updating you on my 2023-2024 FoW Season. With French GT concluding my 1st quarter of the season, and achieving it with a solid win for US fighters for democracy, here is an update on my 2nd quarter, returning to the big bad wolf…
Howl at the moon, the Germans are back!

Be a wargamer … and a father

Wargaming is good, but not as great as family. My 2nd son was born on January 2nd 2024, and hence came with significant changes in our life. I decided to stay home for 2 months to take care of him, his older brother, and their mother, managing work remotely. Clearly, my family needs me, and I have to take care of them. Now I’m back in office, but we still have to handle house-moving prior to summer, so more changes coming, and a complicated life rhythm. Let’s be honest: it’s tough. And clearly, little room for the hobby.

Now, before this website turns into “how to raise kids and manage a career and social life” (you are not here for that, your soulless warmongers gamers!), let me just say: you can be both a father and a wargamer. True, it needs adaptations, and concessions. It’s harder with 2 children instead of 1. It’s not possible to go out every month across France/Europe to play a full weekend of toy soldiers with friends while your wife is handling both little kids. It’s not possible to go every weekend or any night of the week to the gaming club to practice with your teammates. Even remote gaming needs to be calibrated so you don’t spend too much time in it. And there is work (because toy soldiers are cool, but we do need to buy them, right?). I knew 2nd quarter of the season would be hard for gaming, and I did expect the troubles to last until the end of season, until we are all back and settled this summer.

However, what this situation did bring me for wargaming:
– more opportunities to theorycraft
– more focus on time allotted to the game

Most of us like to spend time in studying a game and making theories, assumptions, ideas about it. Theorycraft is not as great as practice (because theory needs to survive the heat of the battle to be viable and nothing replace playing with actual toys) but it’s definitely a good way to keep an involvement in the game while you can’t play it as much as you want. While gaming needs a good length of preparation and time (going to a place to play/welcoming the game at yours, playing a 2:30-3:00 game x X games…), studying the game and making conjectures is far easier to fit in a crowded calendar. Reading an army book while giving the feeding bottle to the baby, casting a Build on paper during lunch time, making quick maths-of-war calculations while helping dress the older one… Being away from the battlefields (at least the real ones, “online” gaming is still a late night option!) forces to find ways to keep on being connecting with FoW.

During those 3 months, I was lucky enough to have possibilities to explore myriad of possible combos for Late War, as well as debate with friends. FoW being a relatively steady game, what was available by end of 2023 is (still) in place beginning of 2024 (Missions, Books, Builds…), and this exercise has allowed some good challenges of opinions. Same, listening to what the global meta says, gave useable data to work with. Trends noticed in 2023 show strongly in 2024 (comeback of the Medium Tanks, reduction of light armor’s presence, threat of “no-game” from hard defensive lists…), and other options can be explored as well (as counter or alternative).

A nonperfect gaming tool for nonperfect wargaming times… #FairEnough?

The other aspect that “father-wargaming” allows to grow is time. We all have Real Life constraints that dictate the time we can spend in gaming. A new-born child (and all that that comes with it…) being highly time-consuming, how to handle the time allotted to the game is even more important. On the rare occasions granted by Real Life to actually play the game for real, I realized a couple of things for me:
– back-to-back games are hard. Having the opportunity to go to a Club session, or even better, a Tournament, mean spending time away from home. Clearly, I can bring my older son with me and have him occupied for 1 game, but more is impossible. Same, tournaments mean at least 1 day away, or even more (like going to a foreign GT means leaving on Friday, and at best being home Sunday night). Meaning selecting the games you can afford to be in.
– spending more than 2h30 to play a toy-soldier game is tough. You have hundreds of thoughts in your head from Real Life, and cleaning your head for at least 2 hours is already a performance. More feels like “shouldn’t we be somewhere else?”.
– the actual social experience means way more than the game. I mean, it’s cool to move models and throw dice, but socializing with your gaming partners and opponents worths way more than the actual game.

On the flip side of the coin, managing time had been skills improvement for me:
– time being precious, I find myself way more focused than before in playing. Gaming is recreative time: let’s not waste it! There is also this feeling of “giving the best” to your gaming partner, because we are lucky to have this game on.
– I also find myself playing faster than before. I don’t really know how to explain this: maybe that’s because there is always something to be done with kids demanding attention and me feeling guilty to play without them around!
– eventually, I find the “I go – you go” system of FoW quite a bit old and need to occupy the time I’m not playing (my opponent’s turn) by actually doing something. I understand the system and why full alternate activations can’t be implemented in FoW, I simply can’t stand 15-30 minutes steady while my opponent is conducting its turn (throwing saves and defensive fire is hardly enough to occupy the time…). So don’t be surprised if we play together and I’m measuring stuff, putting markers on the field, taking notes… while you are playing your turn. I’m just trying to find an interactive way to occupy my non-playing time!

All in all, I would say that being a father makes me a better player. Less active, sure, but both a better person and better wargamer.

The brand depicting my Q2, including wargaming…

Return of the wolf

For this 2nd quarter, with time and actual gaming being counted, I mainly focused on the Faction I know best and I wanted to explore at the beginning of the season: Germany. It was indeed an “FBI” (Fausse Bonne Idée = False Good Idea) as not only Germany is the faction that changed the most in the last 24 months, but also because studying it doesn’t prevent from studying others to know how it will match with them!

Last year, I wrote an article about how Germany (GER) was fairing in LW the competitive scene :
https://www.breakthroughassault.co.uk/flames-of-war-flower-power-late-war-competitive-germans-part-1/
The article concludes with hopes for the GER. Hopes even more confirmed with Berlin, which we can safely say is a meta-changer. True, Bulge was the forerunner (and did participate in bringing expectancies to the Competitive GER):
– bad quality medium tanks
– super heavies
– vulnerable yet numerous mad tracks
– multi-artilleries Builds
– multi-faust Infantries
We can find all those in Bulge prior to Berlin, and a couple of assets (or full concepts) emerged from Bulge (Brigade Half Tracks, the Super Soap KG Speedy, dynamic duo of KT, dual purpose arti…).
I believe Berlin either shift the throttle to full speed or gave an extra layer to those (not removing the interest of Bulge!) for a complete positive gaming experience:
– Training Panzer are the even less rated version of Brigade, while BattleGroup/Clausewitz providing good fighting troops… unless you have to roll for Motivation (hint: often!)
– more heavies and super heavies available (from less qualitative Training KT to single JadgT/Ferdi, with actually playable Tiger/Panther in the middle)
– less vulnerable yet less numerous mad tracks (Clausewitz, KleinPz, Reco…)
– StuH backing up traditional mortars and field artilleries (for good offensive playstyle)
– even less qualitative infantry (but possibly deadlier and/or more numerous).
It is safe to assume that currently, the 5 GER books have opened almost all gates for numerous play styles for Germany in LW.

I still firmly believe neither Berlin nor Bulge can’t compete for the title of “best book” of LW, or “second best book”. D-Day British is still tremendously high in the hierarchy, with its absolutely stellar capacity of bringing the safest Builds possible, while Bulge US does it less safely but with more balance. I would say the 5 GER Books of LW (including Berlin and Bulge) offer less security, less balance, less room for mistakes, but offer more reward should you manage to take the appropriate risks and pilot your Builds well.

In my 2023-2024 season quest for the unconventional, away from the safety of “Confident Careful”, both Berlin and Bulge books were on top of my wisdom pile in the past quarter…

Berlin – a book studied many times in the past weeks … well, when sons allowed!

German Christmas’ tree

One important key to understand current Force selection @FoW (for everyone, and especially the GER) is how LFTF tells you to select it.
Pick a Nation. Pick a Book from this Nation. Get access to the Command Cards and the Support from this Book. Field whatever Formation(s) from the Book or another one of this Nation (but not from Command Cards, and you can’t modify them with Command Cards, unless specifically noted). Add Blackbox Units and Allies from other Books (optional).

Most of the Formations and Units I found interesting in Berlin and Bulge are Book Formations and Blackboxes. Meaning we can take them with any other Book from GER. The 2 exceptions being the Recce companies (234 from Berlin and Schnell KG from Bulge), and of course Units in Support of either books.
So the three data to choose between both are:
– do I want to field a specific Formation only allowed by one Book (like CC Recce)?
– do I need Berlin or Bulge Support?
– do I need to upgrade/downgrade a Book Formation or Unit from either?

Interestingly, I believe the Recce Formations that got my attention in both Books should be Books-swapped…at least from a gaming perspective! The 234 from Berlin would be better in Bulge and the Schnell KG from Bulge better in Berlin. That being said, those Formations play really differently and offer good playstyle opportunities.
Schnell KG is a top tier Formation simply because it has all the attributes of a classical Reconnaissance Cy (you know, the one in D-Day, Bagration… with Infantry) without the troop tax (… Infantry). HQ, inexpensive (yet fragile) fighting Recce, mortars, SPG… and even Infantry if you want to pay the tax. On the other hand, 234 is a really specialone, pairing AP vehicle (234 with 20mm) and AT vehicle (234 with 7.5cm, either short or Pak40) for an extremely fragile deadly duo (IMHO, the ultimate glass canon of FoW). To select either, you need the corresponding book.

Albeit sharing several similarities, Berlin and Bulge Support lead to separate Builds. Berlin emphasizes the “I’m not reliable” aspect of GER in Late Late War (Reluctant or worse) with more access to lightly armored fighting vehicles (price depending on the gun picked), but also access to single heavies you can hardly pierce with high penetration guns that will make anything but other super heavies sitting ducks. Berlin also have more Air Support to pick from. Bulge grant access to cheaper supporting Hetzer, either AT (Volks with AT11) or AP (Heer with Flamers) and the dual purpose Volks Artilleries (both AT – Pak40, Pak43, 8.8 – and AP (sporting a decent AT2/FP4+ template)) which you can definitely build a Concept on.
 
Last but not least, upgrading or downgrading Formations and/or Units from either Berlin or Bulge may not be as critical as it is for D-Day or Bagration, but still a good reason to pause for a choice.
Berlin offers both powerful (yet expensive) Heroes to the RVC Panzer and Tank-Hunting Stuka (Rudel), good Super Soap (notably angry Tank-Hunting group and friends), and cheap (maybe too much) downgrades to the Infantry (Volks) and the Training King Tigers. And of course, the train (well, at least wagons that we still don’t know exactly how they work…). Bulge is all about upgrades, turning the humble Brigade or VolksGrenadier into very angry elite men (notably the VolksG with both Formation and Hero upgrade), or adding new equipment (Sdkfz 251, Stuka Zu Fust…), expect one downgrade to the JadgTigers.

Meca Infantry 2.0 – one of many new ways to play GER in LW!

I made dozens if not hundred of Builds in the past quarter. Here are the 5 Concepts I mainly focus on.

The first Build I worked on was Recce based. One was with the 234, which was super funny to field, not so many vehicles, with high damaging potential, yet super vulnerable. I really encourage players to field it, it’s great gaming experience for both players. Issue that I saw with this Build is it need 6 Troops to be viable (6 times a 234 duo, 20mm/7.5cm (with my preference on Pak40)), and some tournaments (German GT, ETC…) restrict the use of Scouts (which, to be honest, is sad, as this very fun Build proves). Opposite to it, I went with the Schnell KG, which I knew of (having field it in 2022 in my infamous triple Stummels build). I think FTA (Fearless Trained Aggressive) is an interesting mixture, less reliable than CVC (Confident Veteran Careful) and on par with RVC (Reluctant Veteran Careful), with pros and cons. The limitation of Scouts which is quite the bane of the 234 is not an issue there, and it’s OK to field a Formation with just the compulsory HQ and 2 Recce, adding up solid Mortars HT and Stummels. A very decent supporting Formation, with the constraint to field it with Bulge (as it is a Command Card Formation). Both were paired up with either Infantry, or Mec Infantry, or Tanks. I found both quite decent for Defense, slightly less balanced for Offence.

The second Build I worked on was a Fun, Fast & Furious (FFF) concept: Clausewitz StuG and Panzer BattleGroup. The general idea was to enforce the Medium Tanks aspect, which I find quite en vogue right now. RVC Panzers were right in the area I wanted to explore beginning of the season and on par with the 3rd AD Sherman I battle with in Q1. I believe Berlin gets the price of GER Medium Tanks right, better than previous books. Now they are fully playable. Fielding ~30 RVC vehicles that can zoom around the field and use mobility and tactics to bring their firepower to good effect, while fearing retaliation, is clearly FFF. StuH are not as good as Wespe for almost the same price (lack of Smoke B. is huge), but they do add Medium armor bodies. It’s awkwardly reliable, but lacks a little bit of torque in certain situations. Also, it’s a nice build to socialize more with your opponent!

The third Build I worked on was a tribute to Mr Steve C. Resurrecting the “vampires”, it used both Night Fighters Formations, Panther IR and Sturm Clausewitz. It’s quite a hard list to master… for many reasons. You can Attack at Night, but it needs a certain configuration (which your opponent may not grant you), you have a stellar Connecting and Damaging capacity, but a poor Continuing one, you are indeed quite fragile against many things. It’s a foil fencer concept. And you have to plan your list for cases where you would not Attack (or not at Night), which was something you didn’t have to worry in V3 (the Build was Always Attack). Notwithstanding, the Concept is quite nice and out of the box.

The fourth Build I worked on sticks in the unconventional category. Pairing Clausewitz StuG and Berlin KG, we would say both are not really matching together (one being more offense and the other more defense). However, I found out they are, albeit unusual, quite not bad fighting side by side. True, the Berliners are at high risk of being crushed while on Offense, but their Local Militia rule perfectly negate the low cost of the StuH for handling Reserves (a problematic area for the StuH) notably in Defense. What I really liked about this Build is how it projects itself on the field: in Offense to rush forward taking high risks, in Defense creating network of solid Defensive choke points. Deep Reserves may be a thing, but Battle Plans selections can mitigate that.

The fifth and last Build I worked on was truly a heart crush: Double Stummels. That is definitely the Build I enjoyed the most in FoW in 15 years of gaming, and I was quite sad to see it disappeared with the (deserved) nerf of Greyhound (a tiny bit too much…). Thanks to Berlin… it’s back baby! OK, that’s not the same, but it still a concept revolving around 12 Stummels that can do many things on the field… providing they are in the right spot (which is all about player’s skill). The Build needs to be adapted to the 2023-2024 season environment, and have some serious flaws to be exploited by good opponents (clearly, it’s not as sexy as 2 seasons ago). But it’s quite a hard Build to properly tackle, and always leave room for actual stuff to do to try winning its games.

Stummels – under-armored and under-gunned light tanks… can the stars of 2021-2022 season still have a place in 2023-2024 season? Let’s find out!

German GT : test of valor

OK, now Q2 is over, with few gaming and many theorycraft, I’m looking forward to Q3… where I can do more actual fighting and less thinking! The good news is German GT is settled for early April 2024: a perfect date for running one of those 5 Builds.

The tournament will be 2 days, 5 games, 2h30, 105 points. An interesting format as it forces to play fast, not taking too much time thinking about what you are doing and the consequences… while you have more points available! I’m not entirely sure all players manage to settle a FoW competitive game of 105 points in 2h30, and I might consider bringing a chess clock. Anyway, I wanted to come with my FFF Build, but then I recalled a similar build failed miserably the last (and only) time I went to German GT with it (back in V3). I could have field a Recce Build, but only the Schnell KG, due to restriction on Scouts (too bad for the 234…), but I feel it too defensive for a 2h30 format. Both Panther IR + Clausewitz Sturm and Clausewitz StuH + Berlin KG were quite tempting to create disruptive effect, but I didn’t have enough practice with them to feel confident fielding them in a GT major event. Eventually, I went for my heart crush: Double Stummels.

My list for German GT 2024 on April 06th and 07th

For those who remembered the 2021-2022 Concept, there are quite a couple of differences. The most obvious one is RVC. Obviously less secure than Confident! It may be less effective game wise, but I personally love to see 1945 German eager to flee when things go awry! Next, the major change is the presence of 10 Medium Tanks; while previous Double Stummels concepts were revolving around either nothing with armor superior to 1 (no shield – all guts!) or solely a pair of King Tiger (and you can still do so), I think the new parameters of season 2023-2024 forces players to think slightly differently to avoid having their Build trapped in certain configurations (both Offense and Defense). Medium Tanks allow this flexibility. Also, the number of infantry decrease (this is due to troop tax reduction compared to D-Day/Bagration) and while less efficient (Reluctant or even Reckless for the HJ!), they have better AT equipment (glory to the Faust). The number of vehicles increase significantly, as mad tracks are the new troop tax of those late war formations. Eventually, the number of ATG also decrease, in favor of more mobile assets: not that it is better (it isn’t), but more it’s more in line with the fast and interactive playing mind set I’m currently in.

I think they are a couple of areas where the list can be bettered, but I wanted to go to the tournament with a more balanced than extreme Build. Tournament rulespack also dictates how it shall be constructed. It will definitely bleed out platoons (combining low morale and small size Units).

As per tournament’s expectancies, I’m looking for at least 3 wins and a Top 10. This may be hard to achieve considering I’m out of the field since a full quarter, not fully mastering the Build, and I will face serious opposition from all over Europe. But we like challenge, don’t we?

Painting bench for German GT – courtesy of Mr. Ben Seeling

Here we are, 6 months down, 6 to go, Flames of War season in full swing, and second milestone in a couple of 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!

Fred

2 thoughts on “Flames of War – Q2 : return of the wolf (Season 2023-2024)

  1. I like the look of the list, did you consider the pak 40 halftracks? They seem to be a big attraction to Clauswetiz Panzersturm.

    I really like the in formation Stuh 42’s, I enjoyed pairing mine with a unit of Wespes and an OP, but I guess you already have the armoured mortars for smoke so that’s less of a need.

    1. Thanks Sean. I like the Pak40 Half tracks, but they take the same spot as the regular Stummels, so it was hard for me part with them (especially in a dual Stummels concept list). I use the PzIV for a “somehow” similar role to the Pak40 HT, but they are not as reliable. So difficult equation, but I guess that’s the lot of every wargaming list building !

      I think your addition of the Wespe and OP is perfectly fine ; it gives a full square (30x30cm) of AT3/FP3+ template, an additionnal source of protective Smoke B., and an additionnal source of spotting (notably for the Wespe and Mortars who don’t really like to be on the front line).

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