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

Hello Readers,

Fred here, back for some competitive tricks & treats for you.
Today, I would like to digress about the most controversial Unit type of Flames of War: Aircraft.
Air support is fully part of the WW2 gaming experience, yet seldom present on the FoW tables. We are going to investigate a little bit more why, and how to optimize your planes when they care to show up in your battles… This will be a two part article, and let’s go first with some basics with aircraft. Buckle up, ready for takeoff!

Revvin’ up your engine – Listen to her howlin’ roar – Metal under tension – Beggin’ you to touch and go – Highway to the Danger Zone – Ride into the Danger Zone

Death from above

Aircraft are a specific Unit of FoW. Same as other Units, they come with a composition and a profile, yet fairly different from the other ones. They have a Hit On value (5+ base, can be 4+ if Flying Tank), a Save (3+ base, 2+ if Flying Tank), a Skill value (4+ base, can go up to 3+), an absolutely useless Motivation (why BF?), a single Movement value (Unlimited!), an array of weapons (both with Direct and Indirect), and some special rules (Flying Tank, Bombs…). And always two they are (Like the Sith…). Just remember: it’s a Unit, and each Aircraft is a Team.

They do operate differently from other FoW Units.
First, they are part of the owner army, and will come into play during its turn, and leave after.
Second, Aircrafts never deploy on table. They start offtable, and they may even start off table and in Reserve should the mission allows/requires. How they arrive is based on a dice roll: if they are not in Reserves, 4+ and they will show up. 1-2-3 and they stay at base. If they are in Reserves, you first have to roll for the 5+ to make them available for the rest of the game, then roll for the 4+.
Third, when they are allowed to come in, they can be placed anywhere on the battlefield, providing of course they can fit (so no aircraft on a peak of a mountain, no aircraft on top of other models…). They are still Teams but it shall be noted they are not constrained by any safety distance (such as the 2’/5cm away from Infantry and Gun Teams).

When they arrive on table, they will be entitled to Shoot (and only to Shoot) during the player’s turn. Here, they are like any other Unit, they follow the rules of the Shooting Step.
The difference lies at the moment the Aircraft Unit decide to open fire, the opponent can elect to fire Anti-Aircraft (or AA) before any Shooting is made by the Aircraft Teams. To conduct Defensive Fire, the opponent check which Units can fire (they need to have Weapons with AA in their special rules, either Self-Defense or Dedicated) and try to destroy any or all Aircraft Teams. It’s a Unit by Unit shooting, so select one, shoot, then another, shoot, until you want to stop.
When this is done, any remaining Aircraft Teams can conduct its own Shooting.

We will get in details in a sec about tactical implications of all this. For now on, just remember the basics :
– Aircraft never starts on table
– Aircraft roll to arrive or otherwise stay offboard
– Aircraft can be placed (almost) anywhere when they arrive
– Aircraft can be shot down before they shoot
– Aircraft shoot, then leave, repeating the process the following turn.

So powerful yet so unloved – why?

The sturdiest unit

After those generalities, let’s get into the specifics.
Aircraft are the hardest Teams to destroy in FoW.
“Wait, how can a flying piece of paper be sturdier than my massive heavy tanks ?”
Indeed, Aircrafts are super hard to take down.

Above all else, contrary to other Units, Aircraft are placed exactly where the player want them to be when they are available. Either in/from a deployment area, or coming from Reserves, all other FoW Units have a pre-set position, a region where the opponent know where they will show up or operate. Moreover, should a Unit want to participate in the battle, it has even less spots it can be, so, by its own, will negate itself portions of the battlefield (you will never deploy your Immobile guns behind a Hill, you would hardly engage your Cross 5+ Tanks into a huge Swamp, you won’t move your Softskin Transports in the open at MG-range of your Opponent…). Aircrafts don’t care about all this, especially as they don’t participate in the Victory Conditions (nor being part of a Formation nor being able to Hold or Capture Objectives). Even the mightiest Tank has to watch out for battlefield dangers (side shots, top shot, Assault, terrain…): Aircraft are only in danger when their owner decides to put them in danger. On a 6’x4’ (180cm x 120cm) board where you can go anywhere, they are many places you can be safe.

Should the Aircraft’s player decide to put them in danger (a.k.a : want them to participate to the party because, well, that’s what they are here for : shooting!), it can control the level of danger they will be in, by controlling which Teams will indeed do AA. First is self-explanatory: you can’t fire AA if you don’t have AA weapons! On the other hand, diving into a nest of AA Guns (Bofors, FlaK 20mm…), or even 0.3cal and 0.5cal AA MG cluster, will result in a risk of damage. Second is more tactical: AA fire is done just before the Aircraft fire. Meaning you can “protect” your planes by impairing opponent AA capacities first.

Now let’s do a couple of maths-of-war, should we?
Let’s say your Aircraft Unit is entitled to be shot down. What firepower does the opponent needs to actually remove it from the game?
Aircrafts are Hit on 5+ base. This is huge, better than Careful (4+). This means, without any other modifiers, 2/3 of the shots against Aircraft will be wasted. Now consider other modifiers can stack on. Yes, Aircrafts can be concealed. True, it’s not easy, as you need a Tall Terrain within 4’/10cm of the shooting team and between it and your Aircraft, but it can happen. What is more manageable is Long Range (over 16’/40cm), as it is really determined by where your Aircraft is going to strike from. This can lead to Aircraft only being Hit on 6+ or even 7+, which is a type of protection you normally get by stacking Aggressive/Careful, plus Conceal, Gone To Ground, Long Range…

Now let’s say the shots did go through (after all, most dedicated AA weapons have high rates of fire! Oups… sorry 8.8!): the Aircraft has to roll for its Save, which is stunningly 3+ base. Yep, another 2/3 of the connecting shots going away… As a side note, Flying Tanks are even nastier: they are Hit on 4+ (instead of 5+), but their Save is 2+. You will be hit more often, but you will dodge 5/6 of the connecting shots. Huge.
But dice rolls are made to be missed, so when an Aircraft fail a save, they must fly away, right? Yeah… no. The opponent then has to roll for Firepower to actually try to Destroy it… otherwise the plane is perfectly unharmed.

Calculating a little bit, let’s say you put the best AA Units of the game (6 GER Triple 15mm AA halftracks or 6 UK Bofors) in the best conditions (only Hit On base, no modifiers), they will shoot down1 Aircraft. That’s right pilot: you fly head on in the heat of opponent anti-aircraft network like a rookie… and only your wingman is down!

And as we will see in a moment, Shooting down 1 Aircraft and not both is not quite enough to prevent them from fulfilling their deadly mission…
For now, just consider that Aircraft are super resilient. And even more if you play carefully by positioning your toy better, selecting your target wisely, shutting down the opponent AA…
Side note: GER in LW do have access to the almost indestructible Jetfighters being Hit On 6+. I let you calculate how many shots you need to bring them down…

Elton John’s inspired flight – “Lookin’ like a true survivor – I’m still standing!”

Bring the rain

As cool as it may be to have a Unit your opponent will hardly take down, you are selecting Aircraft for the only thing they can do: deal pain to opponent’s toy soldiers.
Aircrafts have two types of weapons:
– MGs and Guns
– Bombs and Rockets

MGs and Guns are their direct fire capacities. They follow the same rules as any other direct fire weapon of the game, expect for one benefit and one key constraint. Otherwise, you simply select the target and roll to hit, roll for save, and roll for firepower.
Bombs and Rockets are their indirect fire capacities. They follow the same rules as Artillery, expect for two benefits and one key constraint.

The benefit from Aircrafts fire are:
– you can’t be Concealed from direct fire Aircrafts, unless by Tall Terrain
– you can move and shoot with indirect fire Aircrafts, one Aircraft acting as the spotter
– you don’t have to reroll successful hits if only 1 or 2 Teams are shooting indirect fire Aircraft.

In effects, it means an Aircraft Unit can zoom around the battlefield, select a Team that is either in the open or concealed/in Short Terrain, and shoot it directly with full effects. It also means that Aircraft going for a Bombs/Rockets run don’t care about having 1 Team shot down as the other will fire with full effects.

MGs and Guns are okayish to shoot Infantry, Gun and Unarmored Tank teams (and remember Aircraft positioning can allow you to go beyond Gun shields), but are good to supremely good to take down Light to Medium Tank teams. Their AT may not seem much on paper, but is quite enough to pierce through Side Armor 0 to 3 (Light) or can even cripple heavy Side Armor 4 to 6 (Medium). Going from the front may even be an option if there isn’t a better spot.

Bombs and Rockets don’t hit Front or Side (depending where the Aircraft is) but Top armor. Moreover, they use an Artillery Template, meaning they can get several targets at once. Bombs usually have a decent but not exceptional AT (3 to 4) but a good to great Firepower (3+ to 2+), and Rockets do have a great AT (5) with average Firepower (4+). Before getting carried away by the all-mighty power of this, just remember you have to roll to spot the target (and here Terrains of all sort, including Small, will limit their effectiveness), and roll to Hit the target (with +1/+2 depending on when you spot). Bombs are okayish to shoot Infantry, Gun and Unarmored Tank teams, good to shoot Top 0 Armored Tank teams, decent to shoot Top 1 Armored Tank teams, while Rockets are okayish to shoot Infantry, Gun and Unarmored Tank teams, and OK+ to shoot Armored Tank teams.

On one hand, you should see MGs/Guns Aircrafts as an additional way to deal damages the “classical way”, and the Bombs/Rockets as an additional way to bring artillery fire (yet potentially more powerful), in both cases where you need them the most.
Overall, with the weapons set they have, Aircrafts are quite good at hunting down Light/Medium Armored Tank Teams, while less efficient at Unarmored Teams and Heavies.

Alright, the movie sucks, but that moment feels like a real advertisement for Air Support!

That’s it for the 1st part folks. Aircraft are specific FoW Unit, really iconic from WW2, with a tremendous capacity to soak up damages (or not be damaged at all!) with good damaging abilities. Next time we are going to investigate why they are the “unwanted children of war” and how to take the most out of them. Stay tuned!

Knowledge is power: share it widely!


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