Flames of War – Tactica: Turn 0 (Part 2)

Hello Readers,

Fred here, back for the 2nd part of our article on Turn 0.
Last time, we saw how Turn 0 was something everyone of us actually do, regardless of how we want our games to be (casual or competitive). We explain what it is and the keys of it.
Now is time to go a little bit deeper in understanding the implications of it, and how to master it, to use it properly.
Generals, keep your strategy books open, and here we go!

“Ok guys, I was about to show you the pictures of my wife on our last trip to the beach, but now we have an official photographer watching, let’s pretend we are talking strategy…”

Implications of Turn 0

Last time we saw Turn 0 was subdivided into 2 intricated parts :

  • You : Deciding / Planning / Play wishing / List building
  • The Other : Match up / Mission / How to win Strategy / Deployment

First, why it is called Turn 0, and not subdivided into Phase 1 / Phase 2, or Turn -1 and Turn 0? Because Turn 0 is it all. Steps you will do in the beginning will impact Steps in the end. For instance: if you have gathered an army that is good at defending, maybe it’s not that great at attacking. As such, you would most probably like a mission where your forces are in defense and not in offense.

This concept of impact is the substantive marrow of Turn 0: what you will do in your Turn 0 will fully influence your game, from Turn 1 until the end. And that’s true for both casual and competitive gaming. E.G: if you decide with your best mate to play an historical and fun game, none of you shall come with a really pushy unhistorical competitive list; if you set up a training with your teammate for a tournament, both of you need to be very open-minded an constructive to improve; if you enter a competition to win it, don’t expect the opponents to simply fall in front of your might: you will have to fight for the crown !

Here are some implications of Turn 0 you should consider:

Mindset: FoW being a game of players, be sure you enter your game with the right mindset. Your opponent may not have the same one, and here you have two options.

If it’s a casual game, just consider finishing the game fast, so you can spend time socializing. It’s pointless to carry on a game where one side is fun-focused or “whatever” and the other plays it as if it was an ETC final; none of you will get what they are in for, and surely something went awry in the planning phase.
If it’s a competitive game, consider if the issue is yours or your opponent’s. After 15 years of tourneying in FoW, I can confirm most of the grim and sour resentment players may have after losing a tournament game (both factually losing it or just not enjoying it) comes from the fact they didn’t come in the game with the correct mindset: you come to a competition and you want to just have fun, that’s fine… but don’t be pushy with your opponent or start arguing every time there is a move or a shot. Or blame the dice in a game of dice rolling… Same, you want to win the game but you didn’t put your back in it, you can only blame yourself. In case of doubt: just play with sportsmanship (and the majority of FoW competitors are playing as gentlemen) and accept the game will be an experience, whatever the outcome. If you believe you gave your best and play with honor, you may lose the game, but you will not lose your time.

Force selection: both you and the other, as per every wargame, FoW pits two forces against each other. FoW is a symmetrical wargame, meaning both you and your opponent will enter your game with the same odds of winning it. That’s the rule of the budget: you both start with the same points to spend on toy soldiers.

Now, what Turn 0 will implies here is, your force selection will, regardless of what you do, shift the balance toward you or your gaming partner. Several Builds/Formations/Units are stronger against others Builds/Formations/Units, and the opposite is true. Unless you play exactly the same Build as your opponent, Turn 0 will see 1 side having an advantage (big or small). During Turn 0, you should look at having either the biggest advantage or the smallest disadvantage, and use every tool at your disposal to push your advantage or limit your disadvantage. As a general principle of force selection, in case of doubt, go for the most balanced force. The more you unbalanced your Force, the better it will be at one aspect of the game, but the worse it will be toward another aspect of the game. Playing afoot can be a great gaming experience, but is complex and needs practice and humility. List building is the part of Turn 0 where this is controlled by you, but when match up is revealed, it’s in Mission / How to win Strategy / Deployment where you will need to adjust.

Managing the match up: disclosing your opponent may be a surprise… or not. In casual, this part is important, but less essential. In short: you didn’t set a high goal to your game but for spending a decent time, if both of you come with the same mindset and abide by it, there are little things you can do to be certain everything will be fine. Make sure you are playing a Mission that suits both of you, don’t set a too complex situation for either of you (e.g: heavy tanks force attacking a horde of infantry in a city…), monitor the timing of your game according to the time allotted (e.g : don’t play Fighting Withdrawal if you only have 1 hour to spend…), defines clear and simple How to Win strategy for both… Really, simple.

In competition, this part is essential. You discover that your well researched strategy will dramatically fail in the face of opposition… but don’t quit the game just now! To every adversity, there are solutions. It’s too late to change your Build, so acknowledge the difficulty and go on with it! You selected an Infantry heavy force and your opponent brought tons of MG-platforms? Well, set your Battle Plan for Defense if you don’t want to slowly cross the board being grinded by fire. The board is very heavy in cross-tests terrain and you have many Tanks? Determine which Missions will be less risky for your models and set up your Battle Plan and Deployment for it. The opponent have many units of ATG and you have small armor? OK, determine when will you be the most vulnerable, and how much can you afford to lose before it’s critical. You definitely can’t beat your opponent? Just consider playing for a Draw if it still leaves you a fair shot at the podium after. A match up is a conflict: you may have prepared well for it, but your opponent may have prepared even better! It’s up to you to find the solutions to keep the balance as steady as possible, and give you the best shot to Victory, and if not, the Draw.

“-Look boys, I found the perfect spot to cross the river! -Euh, chief, are you sure the road is safe…?”

Mastering Turn 0

Now you know the basics and what Turn 0 implies for your game, maybe you want to get better at this pre-game phase that is Turn 0, both for your casual games and your competitive ones.

Should you want to improve your Turn 0, the main areas of focus (where you should spend the most time preparing and adapting well) are :
List building
Mission
Strategy and deployment

To build a better list, connected with your wish to play a game, in an environment you picked (casual/competitive, time allotted to it, expectancies), you should learn about what the toys you want to select can do or can’t do, and how to assemble them as a team. E.G : Tanks are good at moving and fighting, but will struggle with terrain and can’t go anywhere they want. Infantry are good at positioning and assault, but are vulnerable to every weapon of the game. If you pick only Tanks in your Force, you have to accept several areas of the battlefield will be denied to them. If you pick only Infantry in your Force, you have to accept you won’t do shooting duels.
If you are unsure about your list, just get back to the basics: pick what you know how to play, go for security (large platoons are more forgiving than smaller ones, medium tanks are less dice rolling dependent than heavies, Confident Careful is the safest rating of the game…) and try to pick a force somehow balanced (mix of Tanks and Infantry, with Recon, Artillery and AA). Word of caution here: a fully balanced force is indeed far harder to create than an unbalanced force, because the data and parameters to apprehend are wide and numerous (all the Building possibilities – yours and the ones of your opponents, the Missions, the gaming constraints…). Don’t be overwhelmed by the task and go for simplification: in essence, a balanced force is doing something decently (either Offense or Defense, sometimes both) without letting its player afoot (thus having tools for every task). The best example of a simple balanced force would be US Armored Rifle Company with Medium Tanks/Tank Destroyers (both MW and LW). It is decent in Offense, with mobility, artillery, and correct assaulting capacities, it is decent in Defense, with number, firepower, and good Reserves. It’s neither perfect nor bad nowhere.

Moving forward in improving your list, you should consider an overall strategy for it. Attacking/seizing objectives revolves more around mobility and firepower, while Defending/holding objectives revolves more around numbers and resilience. Of course, your list aim at being somehow jake-of-all-trades and expect to manage to do both Offense and Defense properly anytime, but most of the time the team you assemble is likely to lean more into one aspect of the game. Bear in mind the more you push into one direction, the better it will be if it is in the right conditions, but the less forgiving it will become if you don’t end up where you plan on being. The more you extremize your Build (pushing it toward one direction, detrimental to others), the less you will have rooms to manage situations where your list is not in its best conditions to do the job. E.G: fielding tons of light assaulting vehicles and cheap artillery is great in Offense, but will struggle to tackle oppositions with Medium/Heavies Tank also set in Offense. Hint: a good gamer is someone able to adapt – so does need its Build.
More often than not, “better” is the enemy of “good”: the less extreme your Build is, the more capable it is to effectively react to battlefield situations and failures. You might regret not having fielded that 4th Tank platoon to help your push, but the Infantry/HMG/ATG trio you’ve picked instead will act as backliners to support your push from being overrun. On the other hand, if your strategy is to develop a fast and decisive hammer directed to the enemy lines to grab the objective in a minimal amount of time, then surely you should consider going big or going home.

Another key of bettering your Build is to be sensitive to your environment. The metagame data is a great tool to forecast what you are likely to find in the opposing lists. A meta can be as simple as your local area gaming group (where there are limited players, with limited forces available), or as complex as the global meta (involving all players across the globe), with national/continental competitions in the middle (involving players from your Country or your Continent, with similar gaming experience/feedback/knowledge/practice).

You can find more in depth analysis here : https://www.breakthroughassault.co.uk/flames-of-war-competition-in-late-war-part-2/

To summarize list improvement :
focus on what you want your Force to do and enforce it in your Force selection (the Concept)
build a strategy around it to better your Concept
adjust it with the experience you will learn playing/reading/exchanging with other players.

The Nations Starter Sets are absolutely great to begin FoW for beginners. Most of them allow for a solid base for balanced Force, the US one definitely being my favorite for new players

To master the Mission, you should first read and apprehend them all. It seems obvious, but you would be surprised how many times players are confused when they learn they will play Mission X, and spend a great time reading it and appreciating it. Missions are available here : https://www.flamesofwar.com/Portals/0/Documents/FOW-Missions-NB.pdf

Unless you play strictly casual (and you basically don’t care), those are your bread and butter. Not only they give you the conditions to Win the game, but also How you will be able to win it. The Missions directly influence how you Build your Force, and set a direction for it. Missions are divided into 2 categories: Attack vs Defense (AvsD), and Fair Fights (FF).

In AvsD, one side has to Seize the Objective, while the other has to Repel the Attack. Those are mainly 2 dimensional, one Force is pushing through the other line focusing solely on Offense, while the other is focusing on Defense and try to hold the line. Easy to apprehend Missions, because they solely focus on one aspect for each player (Offense or Defense). To determine if your army can play those Missions, simply look at the set ups and conditions, and see how you can project your Force on the battlefield. E.G: in No Retreat, you start Defending on your Objectives, you have Minefields and Ambush, and 40% of your Force starts in Reserves; a decent Infantry Force backed up by ATG can hold up in place for a while, and expect reinforcement from Tanks coming from Reserves. In Counter Attack, your Force starts on one Objective, but needs to move to protect the other one (and you have a couple of turns to do it before its too late) : as such, you army that may be good in No Retreat needs to be slightly adjusted to cover this “mobile” aspect of the Counter Attack mission.

In FF, both sides have to Seize the Objective. Those are 4 dimensional, because both forces have to both offend and defend, simultaneously. You can’t simply rush all your army to try to capture rapidly one Objective, because it will leaves yours unprotected: simply speaking, that would be betting on your capacity to grab the Objective faster than the opponent grabbing yours. It can work, but it’s very risky. To win those Missions, you have to consider having a decent part of your list that will push for the win, while you keep another decent part of it guarding your Objectives, having in mind the more you push, the less you guard, and vice versa. The balance is hard to find, and its not rare many FF ends up in Draw: the reasons being the pushing force is not strong enough to break through the opponent’s line, and involving units standing guard to help the push would have let the Objectives not enough protected. Most of the time, this ends up with players preferring not to lose instead of trying to win. To tackle this, simply consider what you really need to guard, and for how long they can hold the might of the opponent’s pushing force, while considering what you really need to push, and what opposition they may be able to overcome before their attack comes to an halt.

To help the process, we have Battle Plans (BP). Those are superb tools to put your Force in match ups it is supposedly designed to fight in. BP are divided in 3: Attack, Maneuver, Defense. Each side chose a BP, and when the match up is known, the Mission is plaid according to the matching of the BP: roll a die, selecting the Mission in the Matrix. E.G : Attack vs Defense, roll of 1, Bridgehead, the Attack attacks, and the Defender defends.
BF gives a quick description of what they believe each stands for and is meant for which armies. This is useful for casual play. In short: if you designed a Force with many classic tanks (Sherman, Panzer IV, Churchill…), you prefer to be on the offensive, and select Attack or Maneuver; if you designed a Force with many infantry and ATG, you prefer to be on the defensive, and select Maneuver and Defense. Simple and easy.
Moving in depth, BP are primarily used to avoid missions you don’t believe your army is fit for. E.G: if you selected a force very heavy on Medium tanks, you don’t want it to Defend on a mission with Deep Reserves: having the majority of your tanks Units in Reserves and not on table will make the task of repelling the attack really difficult. Word of caution here: unless you managed to design a “sweeper” list (a Force that can play ALL the Missions without problem), you should definitely consider focusing on 2 BP at most (Attack + Maneuver or Maneuver + Defense). It is the safest road to actual efficiency of your Force on the battlefield.
Additionally, BP can be used to corner the opposing Force into Missions they are not happy with. E.G: if you selected a force very heavy on Infantry and ATG, you don’t really like Missions which force you to slowly cross the field, exposed. Your opponent can select a matching BP according to what he believes you will select to put your Force in a difficult spot (like matching Defense vs Defense to force a FF). This approach is more risky but can actually pay off greatly should you manage to apprehend your opponent’s force, what it can and can’t do, and secure a better Mission for you, or a worse Mission for it. The vast majority of games (casual and competitive) don’t impose a fixed BP. Meaning you can swap BP when knowing your match up: it’s a great opportunity to tailor-made your plan.

“The Army always has a plan, and your formation has a mission as part of that, plan.”

Eventually, adapt your Strategy and don’t mess up your Deployment! You know your Build, the one of your opponent, the Mission is set, and now it’s time to Deploy: wait for it! Deployment massively drives the game in FoW. In Defense, it sets up the positions of your force able to hold the enemy at bay. In Offense, it dictates your axis of attack. Before you set any Unit on the field, pause and consider what needs to be your Strategy fathoming:
– your Force and the one of your opponent
– the Mission
– the battlefield
– time
We have talked about the first two, let’s expand a bit on the last two.

The battlefield influences how the game is played, and thus impacts your strategy. Terrain are a two-ways street: they protect offensive(s), but equally offer defensive spots. To apprehend that in Turn 0, just consider where the Objectives can be (determined by the Missions), how to get to them, and how to protect them. Your super-stellar horde of Tanks may be able to fully rush the opponent, but if it holds a solid Unit of Infantry in buildings overseeing the Objective, well your Tanks will have to blast them off should they want to grab the win, fairly uneasy (and it can take a looong time). There are basically two types of terrain in FoW: the ones you can claim without fighting, and the ones you will need to fight for. The formers are basically anything in your Deployment area (or your potential Spearhead extension) as well as the ones in No Man’s Land which you are certain to reach before the opponent (because you start close by, or because you have the initiative and you will move and claim). In this category also lies all the terrain that are secondary in both plans (you don’t have to prioritize them, but you can’t fully ignore them neither). In Turn 0, consider those first, because it will drive your axis of approach and defense. The later category will play a significant part in dictating the course of the game: it can be a good hill overlooking the enemy line, or a key wood allowing for perfect ambush, or a group of buildings baring the road to an Objective. You don’t start on them, nor can you claim them without battle. Here you have to consider how they can help both Forces (closing with the enemy or preventing it from reaching yours/its lines) and how many resources you need to commit to insure they are yours or, at least, managed.

Time is a key component of FoW. First, we all have Real Life, and allotted time to play toy soldiers is never eternal. It’s true in casual, same as competitive. We talked about it in the first part, just consider in your Turn 0 mastership that you have to time your plan. Meaning: how long will it takes to break through the enemy lines and/or how long can you hold your opponent’s troops at bay? Without time, FoW will be a boring shooting duel of long range, concealed teams (until somebody decides to go Gone To Ground and makes the duel even more pointless…). Every battle has a timing, whether it is the time the Defender needs to wait until it can win, or the time the Attacker can run freely the field without caring about Defender’s Reserves, or until which point your line is going to break, or until which point your assault is going to be stopped. Time is firstly driven by the Missions (e.g: in Breakthrough, Attacker & Defender can’t win until Turn 6), then by both Forces (what you play, what are its resilience and damaging capacities, how both Forces fair against each other…). Past Turn 0, it will also be driven by players and their decisions (and obviously: dice rolls), but, at this stage, this is something you can forecast, not totally master.

Arriving at this moment of Turn 0, you should have a very clear idea on how you want this battle to be played: what is expected of both of you, what can both your Forces do to each other, what are the best/worst roads of approaches, what risks do you need to take, what contingencies you have to mitigate them. In short: what is your How to Win Strategy and how can it be implemented.

Deployment is the direct extrapolation of all that: you set your plan in motion. You literally apply what you think is the best course to win this game, by putting your toy soldiers in place: they will execute your plan for you. A good deployment:
save time
save lives (well, at least tiny bits of plastic/metal/resin)
You know where you want to go, and how you want to go. The best you have prepared prior to set any model on the board, the less confused your mind will be, and the more focus on the plan you will stick. Opponent’s deployment is merely an adjustment variable: should you have defined your strategy well, regardless of what the opponent will do and how it will deploy, you know how you will deploy and execute. However, stay alert: deployment mistakes or surprises can be heavily punished or exploited, just determine if it worth it or not (or if it’s not a bait from your gaming partner…).
A good deployment will definitely save you troubles. If your troops are well in place where they should be, there is no need to displace them multiple times afterward (unless its part of your plan). A player having to Defend in AvsD and shifting the position of its Infantry and ATG because they don’t have LoS or are not where they are supposed to be is an avoidable mistake: not only will you waste your precious gaming time (and in Defense, clearly every minutes counts to reach the damn Turn 6!) but you will also expose your troops to useless risks (hello MG vs Infantry out of Foxholes!). Same, a player having to Attack and realizing its approach road will be blocked by terrain or a pair of teams holding its whole Force for 1 full turn or 2 (#Barkmann’sCorner) made an error in Turn 0.
Time well spent on Deployment is time gained during the game. I would easily trade 30 minutes of my gaming time Turn 1 and onward for 5 more minutes in my Turn 0 deployment.

As a last word on this mastership of Turn 0, let me just say that, in competition, the fate of the battle can truly be determined by this Turn 0. Should you select the right Force, matching equally your opponent, on a decent Mission you can execute, if you have a clear and manageable How to Win Strategy, and deploy decently … you put all the chances to actually perform in the game. On the opposite, be prepared to fight an uphill battle… and perhaps its better to ask your opponent to buy you a drink quickly!

Seems like the Soviets mortars didn’t really picked the right deployment spot… Piou-piou Panzer incoming!

Road to Turn 1 and onward

Now you have it all Readers! A comprehensive view of the Turn 0, what it means, how you can do it well, and how to be better at it. You can start your game and roll dices comfortably.

Again, even if you are a fully casual player, just consider spending a little time in this Turn 0: you may not be interested by the complexity of it, but surely defining clearly what you and your gaming partner want and set this up right can only positively boost your gaming experience.

And for the competitors amongst you, just consider how important Turn 0 is: a well-executed Turn 0 is the best road to victory, and at least the safest road to avoid defeat. It definitely worths spending time in it to increase your win probabilities and effective results.

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

Knowledge is power: share it widely!

Fred

4 thoughts on “Flames of War – Tactica: Turn 0 (Part 2)

  1. Such a great writeup marred by peculiar use of bold. Reads like a boomer facebook post.

  2. Encore un article très intéressant. Merci beaucoup pour le partage de ton expérience.

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