Flames of War – Q3 : Back in Rats (Season 2023-2024)

Hello there, boys and girls,

Fred here, updating you on my 2023-2024 FoW Season. With German GT concluding my 2nd quarter of the season, and achieving it with a honorable 2nd place for GER fighters for tyranny (despite the very lack of training), here is an update on my 3rd quarter, returning to the King’s Men… Tally Ho, the British are in the place!

UK in FoW: same number of models on table as there are attendees in Britain’s pub at 06.00 PM on Friday

Be a wargamer … and a father (new episode)

So, we left the series in March with baby Alexandre being born and his humble father (me… unless proven otherwise) being overwhelmed by dealing with him, his brother, his mother, work, swapping houses… and without time to play a proper game of FoW!

Fortunately, from the wargaming perspective, April was actually quite productive. Not only did I manage to squeeze a full weekend abroad playing the German GT, but, by the randomness of the calendar, I also managed to play another full week-end, in French Cup qualifiers for Star Wars Legion (ok ok, it’s not entirely FoW related… still it’s toy soldiers). Despite the lack of proper focus and preparation on both, I was quite proud to end up on German GT’s podium, and get my Golden Ticket for the SWL French Cup (being 1 amongst the 48 best French players of this game I only started 1 year ago!). At last, achieving something!

May would be less, because of family vacations (#Priority). As a good example, I was expecting this article to be written during our 2 weeks holidays in Corsica (the first one as the whole crew of 4!), but the children were so demanding attention it wasn’t possible to finalize write something! Anyway, now we have our new apartment ready and the moving planned, it’s easier to project (both for our family life and for wargaming time). I’m confident I would be able to throw a couple of actual games before the next threshold : Italian GT.
Before we reach Milan in mid-June, let’s keep on exploring the “Reluctant Careful” concept of the season, and go in detail with the 3rd Faction with a clear identify for it : British.

… and Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians, South Africans, Indians… their great performance in FoW has explanation: why on earth would you choose to attack such a large Empire?!

Back in the rat’s hole

For this 3rd quarter, with time and actual gaming still being counted, but planning more set, I’m looking forward getting back to another previous beloved Build from the past.
Since I launched in FoW in V2, UK Desert Rats (or UK DR or Rats) always fought hard in my heart with my other favorites, GER Armored PanzerGrenadiers, to be fielded (which is funny as both don’t have the same playstyle). I notably recalled advocating for taking Desert Rats in Team France to every LW ETC of V3… but I only succeed in piloting it in 2017, sharing the love of the big mouses with other players from the Team previously! With 80% win rate in all appearing editions, the Rats and the French were definitely in a love affair (must be cheese…).

Players’ skill don’t explain everything. A key concept of the UK DR has always been competitiveness cluster. You might know it with another name, here we call it that way as a reference to French economic policy, which basically transcripts as a gathering of multiple firms (large and small), with their support (research and education), on a specific part of the territory, aimed at a targeted thematic. Doesn’t it ring a bell for FoW? If it doesn’t: you are gathering troops to protect an objective, and you need the most efficient ones with the lowest charge over your battleplan. Competitiveness cluster is all about minimum efforts to maximum efficiency. The UK in general and the Rats in specific are really good at that. Throw in a platoon of Infantry, a pair of Bren Carrier, and a Unit of 6pdr, with everyone Careful, you have a solid stronghold able to overcome any menace of any sort, to protect decently an Objective and even cause a threat to the opponent’s one should it is left alone. And it’s not crippling your budget. And you can double that up to have both Objectives covered. Brillant.

Another competitive advantages the Rats had back in the day where their capacity to have solid heavy AT threats: with either speedy Cromwell with sniping Firefly, or twin Achilles 17pdr, they had more capacities to deal with armored threat (Medium or Heavies) without having to go the road of Bulge Americans (very solid but really Tanks oriented) or Market Garden British (very expensive and definitely elite).
Last but not least, Rats being Reluctant meant you had slightly more budget to tailormade your force to your need, adding a pair of platoons, better for Morale, Reserves, and Firepower overall (25pdr and Sexton were notoriously fans favorite), still keeping a solid “Hit on 4+” base line.

But how does all this fair in V4 ? I would venture in stating half the D-Day British Book is a Desert Rats Book. Obviously, the elites Commandos and Paratroopers don’t fill up the concept, same as the mighty Churchill (Guards or not) Squadrons, or certain Units (the Royal Artillery is sadly the former self of what it was in previous versions…). Looking at the rest (which is a good chunk!), from Tanks to Infantry, crossing Tank Destroyers and Recce, I would say the heritage of the Rats lives on!
Overall, D-Day British embraces the concept of competitiveness cluster that is fueling the Rats train. Most troops are specialized (AP without AT or vice-versa), have big flaws (such as the dreaded Rally 5+ for most of non-Tanks/non-Artillery Units – sounds like Reluctant, right?), work supremely well together and fairly bad alone (even the Medium Tanks!).
Ratings-wise, the average is Confident Trained Careful. If Careful is the steady data, Confident is variable, as you may get a critical Warweary (Rally 5+) opposed to Bulldog (Counterattack 3+). Same for the Skill, if Trained is the norm, it’s common in the book to tune it up (Veteran, Deadly (Assault 3+)) or down (SPG/Gun or Royal Engineer (Assault 5+) or Flame (Assault 6+)).

As my 2023-2024 season focuses on Reluctant Careful, I will need to push some buttons to make this “it’s an half-Rats Book” into “I will play full Desert Rats spirit for real”.

Ready – yet reluctant – to take on Guillaume The Conqueror home land

Rat’s bite : small teeth? Hell no! (still we won’t go)

Focusing on the UK DR, 3 Formations are available in D-Day, and those are definitely the ones I will work on this quarter. Both share the common Reluctant Careful base I keep on aiming at this season.

First to lead the charge, the DR Cromwell Armored Squadron is a Medium and Light Tanks mix. The Cromwell is a decent tank, with quite a great mobility (both Tactical and Dash), but lacking a bit of punch (both AT and AP). Firefly can compensate a bit in high AT (at least constitute a threat), however, I’m incline to believe the UK DR are, here, below the US 3rd AD (which is the closet thing you can find as a compare) ; for the same price (18 points), I would prefer betting my money on the 2 M4 + 2 M4 76 with AT13 from the US which has better firepower and are more secure overall (Stabilisers, more armor and constant AT (S.76), 0.5cal). Where both Formations differs, it’s also from the limited access to Artillery: the US got a great artillery park with 81mm HT mortars, and either Calliope or M4 (105). But for a pair of expensive and not super efficient Cromwell CS (because they are 2 and integrated in the HQ – otherwise useful for Assault), the British can’t compete. Also, access to Light Tanks. The US can only field 1 Unit, and they need to sacrifice a Medium Tanks slot for it, while the UK don’t and can also field 2 (including 1 as compulsory blackbox). The Stuart from the Squadron are quite decent, at 2 points a model, Careful/Scout goes a long way of survivability. They hit weaker than the US ones, but they are also cheaper. I would say this is perhaps the only area where the UK DR Cromwell Armored Squadron beats the US 3rd AD Sherman (Veteran) Company.
Situationally, the British can field a duo of Crusader AA: those are not great, but it’s a decent way to add up a platoon for Morale purpose. Don’t count too much on them as being 2 in a Reluctant Unit is not reliable at all (looking at you 234 Recce), but they can actually do good stuff when well plaid (such as Mistaken Target with HQ).
IMHO, competitively, this Formation is meant to be plaid with only 1 Cromwell troop, but 2 Stuart troops. I would throw in the Crusader mainly for Morale preservation, and of course compulsory HQ. Per essence, HQ build depend on the rest of the list, it’s tempting to field a full HQ with 4 tanks with all options (notably for a very neat 8 Tanks Assault) but it’s pricey and you would probably need the points elsewhere.
From a global meta perspective, I think this Tank Formation sits well between the US 3rd AD Sherman and the GER Panzer Battle Group (Berlin), both Reluctant Careful contenders. The 3 of them do play quite differently. Only the Soviets are missing here...

Medium Tanks passing by wrecks of GER Mad Tracks… could it possibly be the sign of the solution players should look for?

Next in line, the DR Motor Company is an Infantry & Gun line spiced up by some AFV. It’s quite defensive in its essence. Compared to a “classic” Infantry Formation, the Motor Company has a compulsory Bren Carrier Unit. What shine here are the Motor platoon, smaller than the regular Rifle (5 to 6 teams only) but cheaper and with MG, and the 2nd 6pdr Unit available. This combination makes for super great competitiveness cluster, where the trio Infantry/Bren/6pdr can hold any opponent at bay unless it commits hard on them, for a very decent budget (14-16 points depending on possible options). Clearly, with a Reluctant rating all over, it is meant to prevent the enemy from contacting them, thus betting high on firepower (including defensive fire). Math-of-warring a bit, just consider the Infantry will throw 8-14 AP shots (PIAT will also bring its AT shot), the Bren 9 AP (and even small AT shots if you put 0.5cal – 360° firing by the way – or not), and the 6pdr 8 AT-AP shots (which make even the mightiest tank scared as AT11 on Side 8 is no joke at all). It’s less AP than a US Armored Rifle platoon, but clearly more AT and which much better range threat. As a side note, the Bren component of the cluster can be replaced by a Daimler Recon troop, which is even better and for the same price (well, we all know this is a problem since Fortress Europe, don’t we?). The Bren can then be used to cause an inexpensive threat to backline assets.
Considering the Formation will have two of those competitive clusters, you can clearly see the pattern of it. All in all, with HQ, this will cost only ¼ to 1/3 of your budget, for a reliable way to protect both your Objectives. Be careful of Artilleries thou (especially the big ones – AT3/FP3+) which will chew on your cluster efficiently – just consider tools to chase Arti Units to protect them.
To complete it, the Motor can field Mortars, HMG (either on foot or on Carrier), and WASP (albeit a single unit). This is a great base or side Formation, either to constitute the Core of a fighting defensive Build, or to back up another Formation (notably with a Build focused on many fully-armored Tanks) as Utilities.

Rats’ tactics – be small, be cunning, strike from behind

Last is the DR Rifle Company which, despites being similar to the Motor, plays different. The Rifle is an offensive Formation, not a defensive one. Wait, what?! Offense while being Reluctant?! Yes! DR Rifle has exact same structure as normal UK Rifle (which is also made for offence). The only difference comes from lower motivation… which transcripts into reduction of points costs. Reluctant is slightly more problematic in DR than in regular, but considering the later already have War Weary (Rally 5+), it can be acceptable. The two downsides would be limited access to morale bonus (no access to specific Command Cards – such as 3rd Division (Rally HQ & Inf platoon on 4+)) nor proper transportation (the famous and fan favorites Kangaroo Rifles of Bulge). However, if you are prepared to accept the Reluctant hurdle, you get nice points savings everywhere. In effect, it means you have the budget to load up your assault force (notably with Artillery and Flamers), to project it properly : the British Rifle are really good in Assault (unless swimming in a sea full of Tanks), with decent size platoons (up to 9 + 2 HQ), Careful (good to actually reach contact), hitting on 3+, and Counter Attacking on 3+ (4+ for the Rats). “All” they need is the proper support to get in the melee: Artillery (notably Mortars) to undig/smoke/pin, Flames to undig/pin, MG (of any sort) to pin/limit opponent moves, and of course AT to remove tanks (which you would hardly handle with the Infantry). Not overexpanding into optimization, considering a DR Rifle base is only 29 points for HQ, 2 full Rifle, 4 mortars, and 2 x 3 WASP. Regular would pay ~15% more for the same.
Actually, a little bit more, but at this stage it worth mentioning one of the best ace the Rats Rifle (and Motor) can pull: Cautious Not Stupid. This 1 point Card is absolutely stellar in a Reluctant Force. See for yourself: try to Rally a Unit. Fail. Re-roll with Commander. Fail. Discard this card. Test succeed! Magical. Your Infantry Unit is now ready to make this last critical assault, or your 6pdr Unit is now in shape to deliver full fire to stop the Tanks advance. Don’t leave home without it.
On a similar pattern, Bagpipes (Command Card – 2 points) or Stan Hollis (Command Card – 3 points) provides a Rally 4+ (3+ with Stan) provided Infantry and Gun Unit is close to the HQ; both are also available to DR Rifle. Both are objectively more consistent, but more expensive and making your deployment more constraining.
From the defensive side, the DR Rifle can provide even better competitiveness cluster than the Motor: 9-stand Rifle backed up by 4 MMG Carriers and 6 6pdr ATG is a lot to chew up for any opponent when properly anchored on a objective. But it’s almost twice the price of the Motor cluster, and you can only have one, while the Motor have two … same as the number of Objectives to be defended when you have to. So yes, DR Rifle can play defensive, but it benefits more being in offense.

Humble and yet so powerful… they may keep their head down, but don’t mess up with those guys in a close quarter… unless you are a Tank

UK DR propose 3 quite different Formations to toy with in FoW. I’m personally not convinced by the Cromwell Armored Squadron, mainly because I believe the US 3rd AD – same concept, which I plaid quite a bit during 1st quarter – is better and more balanced. I do like the Defensive playstyle of the Motor, and, in opposition, the Offensive playstyle of the Rifle. I’m considering both as a good base of work for a solid balanced force for Q3.

“Gee Brain, what are we gonna do tonight?” – “The same thing we do every night Pinky, try to take over the world!”

Small mouses with big canons

OK I have my Rats base, now I need to get the mouses some back up. Bad thing about Reluctant troops? They die. Fast. After a proper game of FoW, you will have tons of wrecks and corpses. Good thing about Reluctant troops? Many of them. A lot.
UK DR are no exception. In a Faction that already pays almost always less for what they get, it can change significant to huge. Don’t get fooled by GER Bulge, GER Berlin, or USSR Bagration: UK D-Day, especially with a Core of DR Motor or DR Rifle, can still definitely compete for the “hoard” title should you want to design it so.
With only ¼ or 1/3 of your budget spend on a very decent Core, it leaves you between 2/3 and ¾ of it to boost your Core and buy all the Utilities you need. Who said Drillings had the monopoly of numbers?

I won’t elaborate here on the question of numbers, hoarding, or whatever thing that can be qualified as “spam”. There is much to debate on this topic, which has raged within the wargaming community for decades and for which we may not even have the same base understanding. I would probably do a dedicated article in the future. For now and related to this one, let me just put my assumption: full hoard don’t win game. In my books, Reserves and Playmakers are two key data not to be ignored. To that extent, those are some ideas I’ve considered while complementing the Rats’ Core (DR Motor or DR Rifle):

Armored Cars. Same as Sdkfz being the iconic V4 AFV for the German, the British got the Daimler (and similar). Quite on par with the Carriers tracks included in both Formations, they help provide defensive mobile firefighters for the DR Motor and pushing fighting number for the DR Rifle. Armored Cars are great to be a 2nd Formation: clearly your Rats morale is weak, relying on a single Formation is tricky. Also, with your HQ being Infantry and Reluctant, it will have trouble moving around the field to support everyone (especially your support). The downside is they aren’t Playmakers Units and they clearly play against the Reserves problem (emphasizing it instead of solving it).

Tanks! Obviously! The Carriers and Daimler are good to provide number, but they have paper thin armor which will get blown in the wind as soon as anything with a 20mm or 0.5cal (and of course: higher calibers) pass by. Also, they have limited AT, making them far from ideal to go against armor. And of course bad assaulting capacities. Tanks for the Brits are anything Sherman, Cromwell, Comet, Churchill, Ram and also M10. All tick both the “playmakers” and “high cost + mobile firepower = good for reserve” boxes. Albeit it is fully possible to play without any of those (looking at you Night Attack special rule), they do bring a lot to help your Rats get the job done. The choice from one over another fairly depends on how you want to play your Build. I would reckon a pair of D-Day Achille (17pdr) Units are really nice to complete a DR Motor, pairing up very well with their competitiveness clusters anchored around 6pdr. On the contrary, Churchill Crocodile are excellent to follow up on offensive of DR Rifle platoon backed up by WASP (a hell of a flame wall … #Barbecue). In both case, unless there is a specific game plan for the Rats, the budget liberties and gaming constraints mainly drive the inclusion of at least 2 Units of “real” Tanks. It’s also totally possible to play a Tank Formation added to the DR Motor or DR Rifle! Last but not least, going Rats’ spirit, a DR Cromwell unit is quite appropriate to support either Formation.

Artillery. Let’s face it: the British are not the kings of indirect fire anymore. The US are way ahead of them. Heck, even the GER beat them flat. However, with Bulge, UK got a couple of options to play the Arti game: Matador, PIAT Battery… are good complement to the DR mortars. They won’t damage much armored teams, but they are good against Infantry and Guns. One Unit that can actually shine well with the Rats is the Sexton (now 3 points/tank in both D-Day and Bulge). Yes they can Arti, but they can also direct fire good medium AT, completing the area where Rats are in need. Being armored tank team, with a decent gun, they can also tick the “Reserves” box if need be.

More Core. When something is good, it’s quite tempting to take more. If it makes your Build better, why not? More Core means either boosting your Formation (like a 3rd Rifle platoon in your DR Rifle) or adding similar Units to your Formation’s ones (like 17pdr ATG for your DR Motor) or doubling the Formation. The later is quite rare in general to be honest, but it makes a lot of sense for the Rats. It’s possible because of the budget, and it’s viable because both got a very solid, dedicated and efficient Core. Consider a DR Motor with competitiveness clusters twice the size they normally are (technically: 1 DR Formation on each Objective – Come and get them! #SpartanStyle). Consider a DR Rifle with 40 angry troopers and 12 WASP (and Night Attack option). Tempting, ain’t it?

Cheese. British fromage sucks. But French cheese within British army is good. French Resistance, FTP and FFI, pair up nicely with Rats. Above all else because they reduce your Reserves pool, something the UK in general, and the DR in particular, are really happy with. Both operate differently. FTP are somehow more Rats (being Reluctant Careful, they fill up your battleline), while FFI are more vulnerable but Fearless base (great for unpinning while the Rats keep their head down). Good options to consider.

Talking about cheese in an article about rats … how could have I missed such play on words!

Sweet Minnie or Angry Skavens

While theory crafting about and playing with the Rats, I was quite happy with the number of Builds players can put together. There are lot of possible concepts, from just adding a small Formation of Rats to pretty much anything UK/US, to large double (or even triple…) Formations of Night Attacking Rats or Roadblocking Rats. I think Rats can be anything from a nice and friendly Build to something really scary to face off.
Here is a sample of several concepts I’ve explored in the last weeks.

The 300 – This_is_Spaaarta!

This is what I find best illustrating the competitiveness cluster concept. It’s quite an old school Defense list, with Infantry/Gun defending, with few AFV in it (V3 style).
Why it is sexy? 4 Infantry Units and 4 ATG Units, full Careful. M10 in firefighters Reserves. Better be prepared to have serious firepower to go through this defensive network.
How to play it? Defensively. Create deadly fields of fire anchored around Objectives. Be prepared to redeploy should the opponent avoid the area: try to muster the full firepower of your Army, there isn’t much armor in that game that can withstand 6 dedicated AT units shooting all together.
How to beat it? Cover your advance. Force the Rats to split and keep splitting it – you don’t want to face their firepower in full. Also, the list is vulnerable to Artillery – bring the rain.

Allumer le Feu as Johnny Halliday would say

As much as I wanted to show you the triple DR Rifle actual Flaming Circus, I restrain myself and only show a balanced version.
Why it is sexy? It’s a solid list to Attack, with decent firepower to go through enemy lines (notably Inf/Gun lines). 10 flamers and 3 artilleries can pierce through a lot of Mordor lines nowadays, and 3 Rats Rifle platoons can really wreak havoc. Your Tanks are either big armor or no armor. It’s also decent to defend.
How to play it? Offensively. Albeit it can defend, you are looking at pushing, covering your advance with Smoke B. Inns can piggy back the Riflemen to deliver them fast where they need to Assault. Flamers are to pave the way to the Rats (don’t forget they shoot 6’/15cm). Beware of Morale thou.
How to beat it? The Build will struggle a bit against Tanks. Picking Attack BP against it has high chances in resulting in a Fair Fight. Everything is vulnerable to either volume of fire or morale – strike hard and win duels, cause pinning/bailing, and Last Stand checks. Also, heavies are a problem, especially if they are protecting an Objective.

Rats’ spirit for ever – Made in V4

Mixing all up, here is what I believe a very balanced version of the Rats, able to play any position. I hesitated between the DR Rifle and the Motor, I picked the former as it can play better both Offense and Defense. Mixing US may be an option, pushing more into Offense or Defense as well, but I wanted to show a full balanced UK build.
Why it is sexy? It’s a solid list overall. It ticks boxes, from the 4-AT assets to the OK Reserves system, with a decent capacity to break through enemy lines. It’s perfect nowhere but never on the wrong foot.
How to play it? Offensively or Defensively, it’s fairly adaptative. Picking your Battle Plan depending on your opponent, and not being scared of any of them. It should consider striking hard and fast if it’s in Offense, and delaying opponent through network of AFV while in Defense. The 12 actual Tanks offers the mobility, firepower, and Reserves system the army needed.
How to beat it? Well… I won’t tell you now as that will probably be my list for Italian GT in Milan!

[EDIT – it won’t be my list for Italian GT due to Captain’s order to go and try something else at this event !]

Some really angry Rats…

Italian GT : where the Rats get their cheeeeese!

Fortunately, every quarter of my season had been concluded by a major event. Q3 will be no exception, and I will go in Italy to compete in the hottest tournament my grand parents’ homeland could offer. The Italian GT will be held in Milan on June 15th and 16th (https://fowmilantournament.wordpress.com/). A 5-games rollercoaster where the super motivated ETC Team Italia will sharpen its blades one more time (see how productive they were these season – good job Capitano Livio!). But the rest of their community have great players as well! And a pair of super hot Swiss guys just to have a tougher challenge

I’m excited to go on the battlefield against those great players before the big show of the season, ETC. Having worked one quarter on the British and specifically on the Desert Rats, I’m definitely looking forward bringing them in. I love them! Compared to previous quarters, I’m quite peaceful: the UK are such a secure Faction, players shall feel really comfortable when playing them. Well I know I am! #FoWeasyMode

Another reason while I would like to play the Rats is to have a complete experience of the Reluctant Careful concept. The Brit are the only one missing their test of valor in a major event this season so far (Americans and Germans had them). Should I complete the circle, I will have the liberty to fully choose if I bring the Reluctant Careful concept to the last and most prestigious event (ETC), or if I swim back to safer waters (Confident and co).

However, my estimated ETC 2024 Team (Switzerland) obviously has a word to say here. With the big event just around the corner (August 2/3/4) and rosters due on July 1st, they may have another plans for me…
Anyway, GT lists are due for June 09th, let’s practice with the Rats until then, and see if I can bring them in a tour in Italy!

[EDIT : magic of editorial priority, this article was supposed to be out end of May, but will be out in June – in the meantime, my Team Captain’s asked me to play something different in Milano… stay tuned on social networks during the 15th/16th June week-end and on this website to discover what I brought to the party!]

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