Flames of War – Tactica : Assault (Part 3)

Hello Readers,

Fred here, back for our article on Assault.
After our 1st part on what / why / how Assault, 2nd one on details of the Assault and decisions to make, here is the 3rd and last one on the outcome of Assault.

Phase 4 – Is the Assault won ?

The first topic to be spoken of is : is the Assault over or not?
We briefly spoke about this in the first part, let’s get into the details. There are only 2 ways for an Assault to be terminated :
– either one side is wiped out
– or one side walks away (breaks off)

Picadilly Circus VE Day, image from Sky News

The 1st case is straightforward in principle, a little bit more complex in effect. To determine if the Assault is over, you need to check if, by making a further “Move to Contact” move, any Attacking Team can be moved to contact another Defending Team (important note here : this is not the other way around, meaning Teams that can’t move into Contact (such as Heavy Weapons) prevents the assaulting Unit from winning the Assault). This follows every constraints of the Move to Contact rules. Remember when you conflicted with your opponent before the Assault even started ? Well, go on and dispute, friends. This is even more complicated by recent “Designers’ Notes”, such as an Infantry Team in Building not having to leave its position because the Assaulting Tanks can’t contact it. Also, even if the Units move around each other during the Assault, you don’t count the Teams that were not involved in the original Assault (hence a good idea to mark with tokens Teams that are in the Assault from the beginning). Having in mind that Bailed Out teams are not considered active, so if the defending Unit only has Tanks that are Bailed Out in the In Contact radius of the attacker, it’s the same as if they were all Destroyed and thus not here. Before scratching your head with the numerous conflicting situations you will end in, just have in mind that if you have nobody active within 4’/10cm of your attacking Unit, unless exceptions, the Assault is won.

The 2nd case depicts the enemy not being defeated, but having to flee from the attacker. Here you have 2 main situations, the teams that must break off, and the teams that will test to stay or break. Teams that must break off are marked as such in the rules. Those Teams break off immediately when they are required to, no discussion. Teams that are testing to stay or break are rolling Motivation : you roll a single die for every Units engaged, re-rolling fails if there is a Commander nearby (and the re-roll is only affecting those within distance of the Commander), and applying the result to all Units. If different Motivation Units are in the same fight, it may lead to some breaking off and some Counter Assault. You have to apply the result immediately, with its consequences. This can lead to situation where some Units are fleeing, and other Units around them are staying and fighting, in effect blocking them or forcing them into treacherous situations.  (E.G : an Armored Team that has to break off, but can’t because it is Bailed Out, ending captured and destroyed, even if its side didn’t lose the Assault yet). Last but not least, breaking off is a move at Tactical Speed, as minimal as it can be (but you are authorized to take a safer path, notably to avoid Cross check), to be directly away from the attacking teams (once you reach the safe mark, you stop, and you can’t use the move to get a better position, you need to break away from, by the shortest route). Also, Break Off supercedes Moving In Command : your troops are fleeing, they are not trying to maintain discipline !

This is quite important to have all this in mind because it’s not enough to break off to be safe, you also have to break off a sufficient distance to be safe from harm. This distance is both 6’/15cm from an assaulting team, and the minimum distance to be respected while moving next to enemy teams (such as the 2’/5cm from Infantry and Gun). If both can’t be achieved, the Teams are captured and destroyed. The recent LFTF removed one condition which was not moving through Teams you can’t move through during the movement step, unfortunately removing a key mechanism of FoW known as “trap” (E.G : surrounding the enemy assaulted unit with your own troops, and preventing it from moving away). In essence, unless your assaulting unit (and only it) completely surrounds the enemy and totally blocks it from running away (meaning wherever they will go, they will still end up being within the danger area), including while running through your assaulting teams, the opponent can still escape (hint : trap is now close to impossible in real game, believe me, we’ve tried…).

Once a Unit breaks off, it can’t break again. All the results of breaking off are resolved simultaneously, meaning if the Unit manages to break off, removing teams that didn’t flee far enough, and that’s it. It can’t be engaged again in combat by the same assaulting unit, it doesn’t need to flee again, even if the opponent come closer to them.

Thus, if the assaulted Units are not destroyed, and refused to carry on fighting, they have a chance to flee and regroup, with still a risk of being caught cold in their retreat. Breaking Off mechanism is notably key to understand how some Units, if well played, can punch way above their weight. E.G : a single Infantry stands contacting a Unit of fully Bailed Out tanks, and capturing all of them, a single Tank charging an Infantry protecting Tanks Bailed Out, and making it run away, removing all the Tanks as well.

Capture of Tiger 131

Last but not least, if one or several assaulted Units managed to pass their counterattack test, they can choose to break off, or to counter attack. If the decision is to counter attack, roles are now inverted, and the assaulted Unit becomes the assaulting Unit, starting up a new assault round.

To summarize the “Is the Assault Won” sub-phase :
1. When the defending Unit finishes taking casualties from the attacking Unit attack, the attacker check if the assault is over ;
2. Check if there is at least one non-Destroyed and/or non-Bailed out team that can be contacted by an additional Move to Contact move (simplification : check if they are any non-Destroyed and non-Bailed out team within 4’/10cm) ;
3. If there is none, then the Assault is won, and the defending Unit must break off ;
4. If there is at least one, then the defending Units roll to counterattack. Units that fail must break off immediately, Units that succeed can break off or stay and counterattack ;
5. Units breaking off must do so by the shortest route away from Attacking Teams, using their Tactical Speed value, taking Cross checks if need be, and trying to be as soon as possible 6’/15cm away from them. All breaking off Teams that didn’t manage to move away (because Bailed Out, failed Cross, distance…) are captured and destroyed ;
6. When the Break Off is resolved, Units succeeding in their counter attack test and are eager to stay and fight resume the assault against the opponent, inverting the roles.

And this go forth until one side is defeated.

Phase 5 – What’s next after the Assault ?

We have covered in detail how the Assault works, and how to win it. Now, this question is important to answer if you want to fully appreciate this Step. Let’s start with the player who initiated the Assault, a.k.a the offender.

If its assault goes well, it pushed into enemy positions, damaging troops and making the rest flee. Now the assaulting Unit can consolidate. Consolidation is an additional 4’/10cm movement from all the teams in the platoon, not only the ones involved in the Assault. This is done regardless of Command Distance. The first application is to use the consolidation to regroup your troops. Simplest way to appreciate it is to put back your guys together so they can be prepared for the opponent next turn. But as Command Distance is irrelevant in the whole Assault Step (except for Force/Formation Leader influence), you can have a Leader sitting in the back of the battlefield with a Commander giving it re-roll for testing (including Counter attack for the Assault…) now moving toward its men. You can also move the whole platoon to support the sole Infantry Team boldly charging alone.

Second application is to optimize the position taken by the assaulting troops, granting a better field of fire or positioning close to an objective. Consolidation is a small move, yet a move nonetheless.On the other hand, if the assault goes wrong, the Assaulting unit has been pushed back, and thus must retreat away from the opponent. This retreat can take it further away than it was at the start of the turn, into an exposed spot or an okay position (more on that below).

Continuing with the player who didn’t initiated the Assault, a.k.a the offended. First option, the Assault hit their line, and it wasn’t able to push it back. It had to break off, in an organized (or not) way, with its troops losing ground to the benefit of the offender. On paper, it’s bad, but we will soon see how this can be managed, or even be beneficial.

Second option is the Assault was repelled. Its troops can stay where they were, but can also consolidate. Staying still can be quite beneficial, notably for Infantry and Gun staying in their foxholes. The Unit can also move slightly to recover foxholes that were abandoned during the fight. Both are usually refers as the “defenders doing their job”, holding the line in face of the opposition, having a chance to rally and unleash fire in the next Shooting Step, and waiting for the next wave to come. Full consolidation for the offended is more subtle, and, more often than not, better. Simply because it’s a move nonetheless. How can leaving the safety of its foxhole be beneficial ? We will get there in a minute.

For now, let’s just consider that, regardless of who won the Assault, the situation is very rarely the same as if the Assault didn’t occur :
– both offender and offended have moved (or had the opportunity to move) their Units
– both offender and offended had traded blows
– the breaking off Units are Pinned down.

And now comes the greatest question …

What is worth it ?

To illustrate this, let’s consider a situation that all FoW player have experienced during their games : they perfectly prepared their Assault, optimized their Movement Step to position well their assaulting unit, optimized their Shooting step by Pinning Down whatever Unit may Defensive Fire (even pop-shooting enemy teams in the process), they connect in full force their strong unit in a battered opponent, their troops steamrolled superbly the opposition, crunching opponents under their tanks tracks or impaling troops on their bayonets, and now the enemy is either destroyed or running away.

Great ! Good job !
Or is it so … ?
Let’s rewind a little bit.

First and before most : couldn’t you have achieved exactly the same thing without Assault ?
If the question is yes, than surely the Assault wasn’t worth it.
Why ? Because the very key element of Assault is opening a window of opportunity where both players will interact. FoW being a classical “I go-You go”, the player whose turn is on has the absolute control over it. Simply speaking : you don’t want to get hurt, just do nothing, and certainly not give free actions to your Opponent ! Assault means you will give over your opponent, who is not playing its own turn :
– a free shooting phase on your Units (Defensive Fire)
– a free bashing phase on your Units (Rolling to Hit in Assault)
– a free moving phase for its Units (Counterattack, Break Off, Consolidation)
In a game where time is the only constraint (but for Fighting Withdrawal), you just give an almost a full turn to your opponent. Moreover, you took risks, that may not have paid off.

If your glorious Unit intended to win the Assault effectively won it, and the opponent is either fully destroyed, or has to run away, just consider the state of the board. Same, if your (not so) glorious Unit intended to win the Assault effectively lose it, is it bad ? Determining the status of the board means evaluating the game after you intended to modify its outcome. The Assault Step is a strong determinant given how Units interacts with each others, at a much faster and riskier pace than in the Movement/Shooting phases in the rest of the FoW turn.

There is exactly one occasion where an Assault is risk-free. It’s when an Infantry Team (or Unit) is assaulting Bailed-Out armored tanks teams, with nobody able to provide Defensive Fire nor Counterattack. Hold on this picture, because it’s the only one. In all other occasions, no Assault is risk-free.  You may believe your unbreakable tank running through harmless infantry without AT to protect is without risk : it’s not. Even if the infantry has no way to harm your tank, it still needs to pass its counterattack tests to kep assaulting. If not, than the super mighty tank may back away, and the infantry may consolidate, opening new windows for the next turn which, by the way, is the offended’s turn.

Again, why did you do an Assault ? Go back to phase 1 (why Assault ?), and you will know the answer.
Which leads us to …

Forecasting the outcome of Assault : road to mastership

Now you know why you want to assault, how you can do it, you need to learn how to gaze into and read the crystal ball to know exactly what will happen. I’m kidding : just learn how to play smart.

As we said, Assault can only end two ways, with one side being destroyed or running away. Before engaging an Assault or being engaged in one, it’s good to appreciate how it can end. It’s both considering what will happen if you win or if you lose the Assault, but also forecast how you actually achieve both.

The first easy indicator is defensive fire. Both for the player who will receive the assault, but also for the player who will launch it. Just maths-of-war it, this is not rocket science. What is more complex is understanding, regardless of who won, both players will have Units in a different positions as they were before the turn began. Make no mistake : both players can end up being on the receiving end of an assault, this will just happen at a different timing in the game ! It means settling positions where assaulting will be harder to achieve. E.G : lining your tanks right in front the enemy is bad : infantry teams can sneak around the flanks of your armored line and charge it so as for only 1 tank will defensive fire (which is seldom enough to stop the assault from connecting). If you are to defend a position, you should consider positioning 1 or 2 Unit(s) upfront to prevent the position to be overrun or surrounded, and have several Units within 8’/20cm of the front of the teams to be able to trigger defensive fire.

The second indicator is the Units who will be engaged in Assault. This all falls down to Reaching, Damaging, and Continuing probabilities (see part 2). Counting those probabilities gives a very good idea on what would happen effectively during this step. We often hear players complaining about “back luck” : yes, it can happen, and this is actually why we are playing war games with toy soldiers. If it was only probabilities, we would play chess. FoW is a game of dice rolling, so be prepared for the worst. An “unmissable” assault (or defense) can fail badly to Lady Luck. That’s OK if you know it can happen. And this basically starts before the battle begins, when you write your Army list, and even before Round 1, when you deploy. It is not that complex to forecast where the opponent will be in a game where Objectives are fixed, so it’s up to you to position your most fitted Units at the correct spot, and plan for back up if they are tackled, one way or another. Don’t blame the dice if your opponent simply plays better than you.

The third indicator is acknowledging you and your opponent will get free actions. That can be as simple as counting the economy of the Assault (see phase 1 – why assault ?) or the shots of defensive fire, hit from assaults, and movements related your opponent will get. That can be as complex as considering what you and your opponent will do with these free actions. A couple of illustrations here :

you managed to engage the opponent in Assault ; it breaks off ; another Unit of yours is now too far to Charge Into Contact. Plus the fleeing enemy Unit is now bettered positioned for its next turn. Did you see that coming ?

your Tank Unit is repelled by your opponent Infantry who is the Defender and guarding an Objective. Instead of reoccupying its foxholes, the enemy Unit moves straightforward toward your Assaulting Unit which just fled, ending 2’/5cm from it. Now the Infantry you charged is playing its turn, and all it has to do is succeeding in its Rally Pinned Down to sneak up on your tanks. Did you see that coming ?

Assault is, by far, the fastest way to settle a FoW game. Not only because you achieve way more in a single turn than any combined Movement/Shooting step. But also because of the number of actions granted to both sides. Forecasting is knowing clearly what you and your opponent can do with these, and never be left wrong footed, especially if you are the instigator of the Assault.

The fourth and perhaps hardest to master indicator is playing several turns in advance with your Assault(s). Most often than not, we see players preparing superbly well their assault, but having totally forgotten what will happen next. Either because they were sure their assault will go through (see defensive fire and Units who will be engaged in Assault) and it is not, or because they just didn’t consider what can the opponent do. Or simply because they totally skip the “why” step. Most of the time, losing an Assault is not critical. And as it’s far easier to forecast a negative outcome, you would sometime expect your Assault to actually fail and not succeed. Before you yell “take this man off his computer, he is crazy!“, just consider that, if you are the one launching the Assault :
– you set up your models in position for it
– you thus know what free actions you will give your Opponent
– and you know where your toys will end if Defensive Fire stops you
– and you know where your toys will end if Counterattacks breaks you

Again, nobody is forcing you to take the risks of the assault, but if you do, just consider what happens if it doesn’t go as expected. Or be cunning and plan for a failed assault to open opportunities or force your opponent to reveal its intention or make him take risks he won’t take if you left them alone. Same, if you are on the receiving end of the Assault, just anticipate the worst : all your defensive fire will fail, all your counterattack will fail, or worse, you will succeed your counterattack but you will miss all your damages and the opponent will wipe you out in its counterattack ! How about forecasting this failure by settling two lines of attack/defense for example ? After all, if you miss to stop the assault once, you can regroup and still be in the fight. Not bad especially if you put less valuable teams upfront.

On this, here is a layout of a good defensive position : place a Unit of Infantry with a couple of teams (heavy weapons are great for this !) upfront, separated by 4’/10cm to prevent moving through gaps, leave your portable AT within 4’/10cm of the front of your front teams, deploy your supporting ATG/Tanks within 6″/15cm and 8″/20cm of the front of your front teams. That way, you will achieve maximum efficiency in the defensive fire, you can expect your opponent to wipe entirely your first line but not winning the Assault in one go, and you can anticipate both failing a counter attack (with your troops running away) or succeeding it (with effective contact of the opponent in full force). Sure, in both situations, you can always play as is not everything is going to fail (actually, that’s what we do, otherwise we would you just stay home and take care of the kids/dog/cat), but forecasting what will happen, both in positive and negative, lets you play better and don’t end up being in “gotcha !” moments where you totally lose the initiative of the outcome of the game.

Now it’s up to youto fix your bayonet or make the motor roar

As a conclusion, the Assault Step is the most complex phase of a FoW game. Not only because the rules as written are hard to understand and play right, but also because it differs greatly from other Steps, and has tons of interactions. In some matches, you won’t even see a single assault. In most, it will be where the battle is lost or won. Mastering it demands a bit of understanding of how it works, and above all else, preparation : why do you want to Assault, how can you set it up right, what can you expect as an outcome, both for you and for your opponent. As always, practice is the key.

Happy to read your views and opinions in the Comments section.
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