Flames of War – Tactica: Theorycraft about Aircraft (Part II)

Hello Readers,

Fred here, back for the 2nd part of “Theorycraft about Aircraft” our air support Tactica for FoW.
Last time we checked the basics of this irregular Unit, now let’s go deeper in why it doesn’t have favour with players, and how to get the most out of them should you care to bring them out of their boxes. Please remain seatted until the aircraft comes to a stop and the captain turns off the seat belt sign.

Feeling like spinning the wheel to win the big prize? Yep, that’s Air Power @FoW!

Unwanted children of war

Summarizing previous article, we can say Aircraft:
– are extremely able to strike everywhere on the board
– can be quite hard to take down
– can deal significant damage
– are random.

To that list, we should add that Aircraft are quite decently priced. Both in MW and LW, an Aircraft Unit is between 5 to 10 points, not that big investment, yet not that cheap either.
Unless you want them to make it a Core element of your Build (more on that below), they are definitely Utility, something you add to your Force to help it fulfil the Mission, but most certainly not something that will regularly win the game for you.

Investigating why players are not keen on selecting Aircraft, the comments that came the most are:
– they aren’t reliable
– as Utility, you can pass on them
– the budget is not there.

Reliability seems to be the biggest issue here. While players have the opportunity to take a toy that can show up everywhere on the map, is really safe from damage, and can actually push way over its weight… they just don’t take it! The first hurdle of Aircrafts is their 4+ roll to arrive. 50% of the time, they won’t appear. Moreover, when they show up, they are vulnerable to enemy fire. Plus they need to have the correct weapons for the correct targets… which sometimes they just don’t. Eventually, the safety distance between Aircraft targets and your troops mean there are times they just can’t contribute to the battle (because your own troops are too close to targets, or leave opponents damaged but not killed, without opportunity to seize the initiative – notably with Assault).

Utility placement has three implications. You can play without Aircraft, it won’t change your strategy and how you design your Force. Passing on Utility is easy (while you won’t for Core). Especially as this one comes last in the list, while Recce, Artillery, Infantry – if you bring a Tank heavy force, Tanks – if you bring an Infantry heavy force, Tank Destroyers, and even Anti-Air, are before it in the selection process. The simple fact they don’t count for Morale nor can Contest/Hold Objectives make players wonder: “do I really need them?”.

Budget constraint is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Considering you have filled up your roster with everything you need to properly do the job you believe your Build can do, how many points do you have left to spare? Aircraft may not be that expensive, but they do come with a price, which you may pay for nothing (either because they don’t show up, or because they don’t have the tools to actually change anything to the course of battle).

Despite how great Aircraft may be, there are tons of very valid reasons why they are not selected. Both in casual play and competitive play. But wrong to assume they should be discarded…

While Elon Musk is launching a new satellites network, the planes wisely stay on the ground… #FlightSafe-AvoidCollision

Breaking the glass ceiling

Now you’ve reached the point of reading this article where you wonder what’s the point in talking about a Unit nobody will ever care to consider bringing… Well, as my former World CEO always said: “There is always another way”. Advocating for the planes, I would say you can counter every reason not to take them by a reason to take them. Apart from “they looked damn cool as models on table”, right @Soren?

I would start with a gaming experience anecdote. While toying around last quarter with my US Armor, I plaid a Dust Up match against a USSR balanced force. My opponent had an IL2 Aircraft Unit in its Build but choose to keep it in Reserves, preferring to deploy 100mm ATG instead. Before the game even started, it put itself at disadvantage. Without the threat of the planes, I was able to push Turn 1 to pressure its line, smoking and blowing the ATG, and break deep toward the Objective. Now, my opponent should have had its IL2 from the beginning, it could have lay once or twice a massive template of Rockets on my pushing Tanks; and even if he didn’t, the simple possibility would have made me play far more conservativly and carefully. Indeed, the Aircraft were a game changer.

You can construct your Build around Aircraft. That’s the first very good reason to bring them: they can reliably contribute to how your Force will actually behave on tabletop. To that, you must increase the reliability of your Aircraft. Mainly by increasing the odds it will indeed show up: both by timing your battle (how many Turns you have to go for? 6 being a very good norm in Competitive Play with experienced players around the table) and with the Command Cards, you can bring the 50/50 chances close to 80%.
Timing your battle is simply gaming experience: I’m not talking about stalling a game (which is bad, really bad… go somewhere else, we don’t need to waste 3 hours of our time for this!), simply playing wise and appreciating the full scale of the conflict and the Victory Conditions (notably Defender not winning until… Turn 6).
Also, if you want your Aircrafts to show up more often, don’t put them in Reserves. If you need to roll for a 5+ before having to roll for a 4+, and especially if it’s Delayed Reserves, don’t blame anybody but yourself for your Aircraft stay at home!
On CC, all Nations having access to Lucky, this simple 1 point Card can easily change a showing 3 times out of 6 to 4 times of out of 6 probability. The major Nations of LW all have Cards to increase the probabilities of your Aircrafts showing up more often: UK and US have Air Superiority (3+ instead of 4+ when discarded), USSR have Make Your Own Luck (an automatic 4+ success), and German have Rudel (3+ arrival. Always.). Math-of-waring, a Stuka with Rudel and Lucky can show up 77,78% of the time in a 6 turns game. Yep, that almost every turn guarantee. I just leave that here…

The Plane – The Legend (‘cause without his machine, it’s just a man with bad political tastes)

Connected to that, make sure to prepare well your Turn 0: not spoiling a future BtA article coming on that, Turn 0 is all about player’s strategy and decisions. How you design your Build, what it can and can’t do, where will it perform or be in difficulty, what toys you need to fulfill the Missions you may end up playing, what’s the meta like and how would you Build fit in? Aircrafts are a data to take into consideration (both for and against). What will they bring to your Build? Do you need to consider countering them? If you select a Rocket Fighter, will be your 4th AT-Asset, or simply the (almost) only way you have to deal with Heavies (looking at you MW Soviets!). Do you have resources to hunt down long-range enemy Artillery or won’t an Aircraft do it better and safer (e.g: HS-129 for the ROM)? What Battle Plan do you select to make the more out of your Aircraft?

Pausing here for a moment, Aircraft tend to play better with Defensive Builds rather than Offensive ones. First because Offensive Builds have a gameplay forcing them to go up-close and personal with the enemy, with areas where the Aircrafts placement can be limited by your own troops. Second, Aircraft being good at hunting down Light/Medium Armored Tank Teams, you don’t really need to focus on back field Artillery (which have less impact while Defending) nor don’t you really need to “force” your opponent on spots it will likely already place its important assets or you will already deny it (e.g: Achille in the Woods). Lastly, Aircraft play counterclockwise with Offense: in Offense, you need to seize the Objectives as fast as possible, while in Defense you need to wait for at least 6 Turns to try to win. The more chances you will have for your Aircrafts to show up, the more damage they will be able to score, and the faster you want to play the less the Aircraft will show up. The Attacker being threaten more turns by Defender’s Aircraft mean it has less opportunities to play conservative and blast you from afar: in effect, Defender’s Aircraft force its hand, which is absolutely great to get back part of the battle tempo you are losing by being the Defender. Last but not least, Aircraft are impacted by Deep Reserves: if you select Defense as a BP, be certain you don’t need another Tank with Frontal Amor 3-4 Unit on the field (e.g: an Armored HQ) if you want to rely on your airplanes. Make sure to select your Battle Plan wisely.

Budget and Utility placement are utterly connected. If you plan on making your Aircraft fully part of your game plan, don’t hesitate to invest heavily on it. As a general wargame principle: go big or go home. E.G: a LW Soviet IL2 starts at 7 points. But if you want to make it a Core, you go for the bigger one, and pick Lucky, and Make Your Own Luck. That’s a 12 points investment, ~+70% points, roughly the same increase as the odds of arrival of your plane. Which, by the way, has a way better gun now. See the logic?

Now, if you don’t have a specific plan in mind, play with the fact you don’t really need them. You don’t bet on something that can (and will) let you down. And it’s fine.
Just consider Aircraft are not your priority. Focus on rounding up your Build with the actual assets you need (such as the 4-AT assets for any list, the 4-Artillery assets for an Offensive list), make sure your Core is large enough, fill up the Utilities to complement it, and see what’s left, both in term of things you can/can’t do, and budget remaining. In that case, you should never consider solely relying on your Aircraft to execute a dedicated task. E.G: if you wish your Aircraft go hunting Tanks (notably Heavies), consider bringing ATG, TD, Infantry with portable AT… Never trust your planes to do the job on their own, they are far too unreliable for it. They will complement your plan, not make it work for you.

Keeping Aircraft in Utility is the best way to have no expectation about a Unit that can’t give you any certainty. It simply opens opportunities you can exploit.
For instance, you can use them as Gone To Ground “remover”: due to AA Fire being launched right before Aircrafts shoot, you can decide to shoot them first, forcing opponent to reveal GtG Units by having them fire at the planes. Sure, the Aircrafts are more likely to suffer damages, but it can allow the rest of your Force to have easier shots at the opponent then. Also, the “cool” effect of this tactic is weapons shooting at the Aircrafts won’t be able to shoot during opponent’s next turn, and Units firing those not being able to Assault.

Under the same pattern, you can use your Aircrafts as the “sand grain” in your opponent’s plan. Don’t underestimate the fear factor of a Unit and how it would affect the way your opponent plays. With the threat Bombs & Rockets Aircrafts, grouping troops will be riskier (and grouping troops is a very solid tactic currently in FoW). Should you have MGs & Gun Aircrafts available, you can force your opponent to hide possible targets in safer spots (such as Woods) but in which they may be less effective. The probability the Aircrafts will indeed deal damages is low, but the possibility of it makes the opponent to consider it.

Controversially, you can put Utility Aircraft in Reserves. Remember when we said it wasn’t a great idea? It is still, but you aren’t expecting anything from them already, so why bother? The main advantage of this tactics is to benefit from the “I can place myself everywhere on the board” capacity of the Aircraft. Reserves areas are always constrained: Aircraft don’t care about those. True Aircrafts will barely show up, not weight much in the whole game, but situation is actually not different from other Reserves Units, except the planes can really go where they want.

Now you’re ready to be part of the elite 1%. Be a top pilot. Be Tom Cruise.

Here we are readers, I hope you now have a better view about the unloved Aircrafts @FoW and how to love them better. This Unit has exceptional positional and survival capacities, doubled up by possibilities of spiking damages. It’s lack of reliability and constraints are a brake to its inclusion in Builds, but they can be countered, mitigated, or at least accepted. Whether you focus your Build on a strong dedicated Air Support or you simply add Air as cherry on your cake, Aircrafts have a marvelous capacity to massively impress you or totally let you down. In any case, they will add another dimension to your FoW game which shall worth the try.

If you want more analysis, I suggest you have a look at the former articles by Duncan :
https://www.breakthroughassault.co.uk/the-airpower-assessment-chronicles/

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

Knowledge is power: share it widely!

Fred

The captain has turned off the seat belt sign. Thank you for flying with us, we hope to see you again soon.

4 thoughts on “Flames of War – Tactica: Theorycraft about Aircraft (Part II)

  1. Bonjour Fred,
    Comme d’habitude c’est toujours un vrai plaisir de lire tes articles car ils sont vraiment riches en enseignement voire en tactique.
    Effectivement, je fais partie de ces joueurs qui n’utilise pas les avions, ou si rarement. Et surtout plus avec De bombes :jet de dé pour que l’avion arrive et jet de dépourvu que ciblage réussisse. Bref c’est, pour moi, quasiment impossible !
    Par contre, c’est vrai que pour augmenter les chances de faire entrer l’avion, je ne pense pas aux différentes cartes de Commandement.
    Pour mes prochaines parties, je vais remettre l’avion dans mes listes et voir… ce que ça donne.
    J’attends un autre articles de ta part, en autre, la suite du premier article sur les formations de”BULGE German”

  2. Thanks again for writing this two part article. Waiting for the second part was well worth it!

    I haveva tournament coming up in a few weeks that requires aircraft. My initial thought was “put them in reserve”. After reading this I’m going to relook that decision.

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