It Began in Afrika (Korps)  – Version 4 Army Book review

Today, Duncan looks at the new, shiny v4 Afrika Korps army book… Oooooh SHINY!

Hi Duncan here and today I’m looking the new Afrika Korps army book for v4 and like the review of the Desert Rats book by Lee, I feel like v3 has taken me full circle and back to where it all began for me for v4; back to North Africa.

North Africa was the first book that I brought in v3 and the deserts of Syria and Tunisia were the first battlegrounds that I rolled the tanks of the 21st Panzer division and then the boots of the 90th Light division out on to. The Desert War, both personally and for the guys I play with, has always been a preoccupation since we started playing Flames of War back in 2010. The connections are embedded in who we are; my Grandfather was a Captain in the Royal Engineers and another of the guy’s Grandfather was in the 102nd Royal Horse Artillery attached to the 7th Armoured division.

This gaming dynamic is also what brought me to play German (almost exclusively) for the last 7 years – in our Flames of War gaming group Leigh plays Italians, Luke plays British and to round it all off we needed some DAK so for Father’s Day 2010 I choose a mix of Panzer III G/Hs and Panzer IV F1 tanks and began storming around the sandy topography of North Africa.

But enough reminiscing what does the v4 Afrika Korps bring us?

“My experience in previous theatres of war had taught me that the more critical a situation, or the more alarming the reports, the more calmly every experienced leader should react.”

― Hans von Luck, Panzer Commander: The Memoirs of Colonel Hans von Luck

Presentation and Background

The book is 44 pages of full colour content including background, painting guides and the formations.
The formations included are similar to those in the Desert Rats book being two armoured and one infantry formation:

  • Panzer Regiment 8
  • Panzer Regiment 5
  • Leichte Afrika Division

And which are accompanied by their support units.  The layout of the book is very much in the style of the Team Yankee army books, with a similar layout of information.

When the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) had decided to send a “blocking force” to Libya to support the Italian army after it had been routed by the British Commonwealth Western Desert Force in Operation Compass (9 December 1940 – 9 February 1941) it at first consisted of a force based only on Panzer Regiment 5, which was put together from the second regiment of the 3rd Panzer Division. This was the core of what became the 21st Panzer division.

Panzer Regiment 8 was part of the 15th Panzer division shipped to Libya in April 1941 and the 90th Light division was official born from the 28th November 1941 and holds the unique title of being the only German combat division to have been largely raised in Africa itself and was always known colloquially as the Africa Division.

The background to the War in the Desert gives a brief overview of the situation leading up to the main Afrika Korps engagements of 1941-1943 explaining why in February 1941 German troops were forced to intervene in North Africa in support of their Italian allies. We then get details on 3 major engagement in this period: The Fall of Tobruk 20th June 1942, The Battle of Alam El Halfa 31st August 1942 and finally the Battle of Medenine 6th March 1943. All these battles are covered in some detail and are accompanied by some very nice colour maps showing the far reaching and often complicated movements that the vast open spaces of the desert allowed and marked this theatre of conflict as something very different to anything encountered on the Western or Eastern fronts.

Finally there is a section covering the different types of panzers that were available to Rommel in the Afrika Korps. There are some nice real world details on the Panzer II, Panzer III, Panzer IV and Tiger over 2 pages which, I imagine, gives a new player some insights into the types or vehicles available. It is here that I get my first nose wrinkle.

I understand that to make the game more accessible to new(er) players that simplifying the naming conventions to Panzer III (Short 5cm) and Panzer III (Long 5cm) works but for me it does lose some of the finesse and historical reference-ability. I realised that there is no difference in game terms, in v3 or v4, between a Panzer III G and a Panzer III H but there is in terms of modelling. I am no rivet-counter, and frequently I got and still get stuff wrong, but think that there must have been a compromise which kept that historical naming convention present so that even someone new to either Flames of War or WW2 gaming in general could ground the game in the historical past.

It’s a very small thing but it did leap out at me and I do think it is worth mentioning.

The Know Your Panzers section includes images of the Flames of War models and it was enough to make me get my old Panzers and immediately sell them. I forgot that I’d need to play some games so in retrospect this was extremely silly but the new plastics look awesome! I have my fingers, toes and other strange and wonderful parts cross that the Panzer II model is a new plastic kit as the Panzer IVs and Panzer IIIs have me very excited indeed!

The next section gives an overview of the Deutsches Afrika Korps with the composition of the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions and the 90th Leichte Afrika Division. I love this kind of insight. I don’t want 10.5 cm leFH 18 guns – I want 10.5 cm leFH 18 guns from Artillery Regiment 190 (actually I want captured 7.62 cm FK 36(r) guns but that I will come on to)

Each of the 3 formations is laid out in a similar fashion to that used in Team Yankee and like Team Yankee is not strictly generic but tries to give the flavour of its historical moniker.

The Lists

Special Rules

Before diving into each of the lists and support options it’s worth quickly covering off the special rules.

Kampfgruppe is gone, which is a bit of a niggle but not a real problem as the min/max method for reserves doesn’t apply in v4 as it’s now 60% of the total points not platoon numbers which always played squarely into Kampfgruppe.

Mission Tactics is also dead as a dodo as this is now a universal special so nothing else to see here.

Storm Trooper in my experience this is THE German rule that caused the most frustration in opponents and players alike – to your opponent it sometimes felt you were playing your own game as your tanks popped round a corner shot and retreated, to you it felt like it never worked when you really, really needed it to. In v4 this now becomes the ability to attempt a second Movement Order after succeeding in its first Movement Order. The second Movement Order must be different from the first. I can see this being just as powerful as the v3 Stormtrooper if not even more so (Blitz > Fire Full ROF > Shoot n’ Scoot anyone?)

Tiger Ace is again incorporated into the Tiger units themselves. Rather than being a random bonus Tiger Aces now have a better Last Stand rating and a significantly better Remount rating. Making them awesome.

So let’s now look at each list in detail…

Formation Lists

Panzer Regiment 8 (AKA 15th Panzer Division) & Panzer Regiment 5 (AKA 21st Panzer Division)

At this point the way things get compiled gets a little confusing. I had to read through this a couple of times to check that I was correct. The way that it is laid out originally made me think that in a Panzer Regiment 8 formation you can only take Panzer IIIs. This is not the case. It is just that all the Panzer III variants are covered under this section. Basically the 2 Panzer Regiments have the same composition the only difference is that you find the Panzer III tanks under the Panzer Regiment 8 section and Panzer IV tanks under the Panzer Regiment 5 section. Bit of an odd layout given both regiments used both, but once you get your head round it it’s fine.

The flexibility of the Panzer III Tank Company is what is going to make it really shine. You can have a chunky formation of 22 Panzer IIIs with as many Long 5cm guns as you want or just 8 with the short 5cm making it a very attractive secondary force. As an example, a HQ with 2 tanks, one of which is a Long 5cm and then 2 platoons of 3 each, each with a Long 5cm gun weighs in at 46pts – which is not terrible if you are playing 100pts games and gives you some decent striking power.

I also think that 3 or 4 Panzer IIs for 2pts a pop is an excellent investment with the Spearhead move available to them and they are significantly better than the 221 or 222 armoured car in terms of survivability, although they lack the “scout” ability (letting them move and stay gone to ground).

The one thing I really hate though as option in this list is the inclusion of the Panzer III 7.5cm Short (AKA Panzer III N). The PzKpfw.III Ausf. N served with the Tigers of sPzAbt.501 and 504 in Tunisia as a support tank and its inclusion in the mixed Panzer III platoon and HQ platoon is most odd.

Outside of this historical strangeness, in game terms it makes the Panzer IV 7.5cm Short a bit obsolete; for 3pts more you get +2 AT value and the HEAT special rule which means no +1 armour over 16” but lose the ability to fire an ok barrage and no direct fire smoke. You are able to take the Panzer III 7.5cm Short as a support tank to a Tiger – which is fine but I think that whole platoons of them should be discouraged.  I do however reserve the right to be wrong if someone want to provide some historical evidence to the contrary of course!

The Panzer IV is much more straight forward that the Panzer IIIs and for a minimum cost of 30pts for a single HQ Panzer IV Short 7.5cm (Panzer IV E of F1) and 2 platoons of 2 Panzer IV Short 7.5cm I think game-wise they make an equally attractive secondary formation as the Panzer IIIs. I think that you will be more likely to see this as a secondary formation as the points cost for the Panzer IVs is a significant increase on the Panzer III if you want to start popping in the Panzer IV Long 7.5cm (Panzer IV F2*Special*) in any real numbers.

The problem with the Panzer IV Long 7.5cm is it is 10pts per vehicle and whilst it hits like an absolute train with AT10 up to an incredible 32” and a 3+ firepower, it has no additional protection. With front armour 5 the Panzer IV chassis has that awkward amount where it *should* be ok… Should.  Like Stormtrooper wait till you really need to make that roll of 3+ and watch it fail and again in game terms you are paying 2pts less for a Panzer III 7.5cm Short than the Panzer IV Long 7.5cm for -1AT and 4” less range.

90th Leichte Division

And finally we come to my first love – the 90th Light Division. It’s changed dramatically from the v3 list from North Afrika, notable exclusions are:

  • 7.62cm PaK36(r) guns
  • Captured 6pdrs (although they can at least stand in for a PaK-38)
  • StuG D assault guns
  • Diana’s (although they can at least stand in for a Marder 7.62)

I’m hopeful that as this is the tip of the v4 release iceberg that these units will make their way back in as either new formations or as additional cards that can add variety to a formation. What upsets me is that everything that made the 90th Light the unique formation it was is currently missing and only the support choices of the 15cm Lorraine Schleppers (YESSSSS!!!) and the Marder III 7.62cm (YEEEERRRRRSSSS!!!!) mark it out as something other than A N Other German unit.  It’s a better match for the Schutzen Regiments that accompanied the two tank divisions.

Whilst I lament their current exclusion I will not dwell on it as having played the new 90th Light formation and found it very playable. For a meagre 14pts you can have a HQ of 2 MP40 armed infantry stands and 2 platoons of 3 MG34 Teams and a 2.8cm AT rifle which is very solid. Access to the Long 5cm AT Guns and SdKfz 10/4 AA platoon as part of the formation and not support is very nice indeed – I found for around 40-50pts you have a tough self-supporting unit that is very hard to shift.

Support Units

Tiger Heavy Tank Platoon

Wow what a beast in v4. Not sure what else to say FA9 and SA8 mean anything that the British have is going to struggle against this Tunisian monster. The range and AT are also currently unprecedented in the German arsenal and a 2+ Remount and Last Stand means that you are more than likely going to have to put the big cat down permanently if you want to get rid of it.

I am very puzzled as to its inclusion in this book though. The Tigers only fought in Tunisia towards the end of the North African campaign and there is very little in the British kit bag that is going to trouble them – Yes, yes, 17/25pdrs, but part of me thinks they were only included to provide some counter to the Tiger Heavy Platoon which feels very wrong. I’m hoping that this wrinkle will be smoothed out later on but at the moment I think it is a no-no to include it in my lists.

Marder (7.62cm) Tank-Hunter Platoon

I love these little guys and for 12pts for 3, I think they are a bargain! They are a nice flavourful addition to the lists that are such a glass cannon that you should be wary of a Boys AT rifle even in the front.

8.8cm Heavy AA Platoon

The iconic ’88’ is here and it hits as hard as ever. I’m thinking of trying to run a platoon of a single 88 as that way you don’t have to take a Good Spirits test and a 6pts it can snipe away or deny an area to your opponent without being a massive point’s sink. I can’t imagine a Flames of War release without the 88 in it and it seems appropriately costed within the structure of the book.

SdKfz 221 & 222 Light Scout Troop

Recce was perceived as taking a bit of a hit in v4 but I’m not sure that is 100% accurate. The 221 & 222 Scout Platoon should be used as it was historically – scouting ahead and then either withdrawing back to the main force or harrying light targets. With no more lifting Gone to Ground with Recce units I think that hordes of marauding armoured cars and scout carriers will not be as common. For its points cost I can’t see why you would not include this platoon.

SdKfz 231 Heavy Scout Troop

The 231 troop suffers from one thing – it is only 2 vehicles. You will have to be super careful not to get one either bailed out or destroyed and then the platoon to be on a Last Stand roll very early on. I don’t think that the FA3 is enough of a bonus for me to take this platoon over its little brother the SdKfz 221 & 222 Light Scout Troop.

10.5cm Artillery Battery

Artillery is now great at shredding infantry formations – if you think you will need to get rid of infantry then the 10.5cm Battery is a great inclusion but be warned they are not cheap in terms of price. Now that a smoke barrage is only once per game you have to be very conscious when to use it and the ability to range in on areas means that your 10.5cm guns should have a use 99% of the time.

15cm (SF) Lorraine Schlepper Artillery Battery

Ok I have a real soft spot for these guns both in terms of look, historical-ness and in game but they are mega vulnerable if anyone gets to shoot at them! For 2pts less – that’s right less!! – than a 10.5cm Artillery Battery you get 8” less range and no smoke but a mighty 2+ Firepower. This unit does one thing – kill infantry. Dead. Pre-ranged in on an infantry target, making them re-roll successful saves and then killing them on a 2+… yeah that’s tasty.

Panzer II OP Observation Post

Currently the only observer option available and for 2pts it’s not for me which is a shame. I hope that there will be another option for either a cheaper infantry team or the SdKfz 254 at some point as the cost of this little fella just pushes the artillery into that expensive bracket.

JU87 Stuka Dive Bomber Flight

Can’t quite afford an artillery battery? Then the Stuka flight is for you!

The hitting power of a 15cm Lorraine Schlepper anywhere on the board but only turning up 50% of the time. The Stuka now feels in a bit of a weird spot as if it is unmolested by AA it will ruin your day – if your opponent has invested in some cheap Bofors guns then you are going to either have to run the gauntlet of AA and suffer the consequences or be very skittish in how you use your planes. I think that this will not be one for the player seeking consistency as I get the feeling it’s either going to bomb the snot out of something or not turn up or worse still get shot down. This is definitely one that need some play testing to see if the points or tactical edge they provide are worth it.

Final Thoughts

I am so pumped for v4 after playing my first game that it was actually very hard to do this review. Had I had no legacy involvement in the game I think that I would be very happy where as now I’m optimistic more than anything.

I will frame these thoughts by saying I was always working within the framework that like the initial Team Yankee release the first lists and books were to open the door not to present the whole of Narnia in one fell swoop and in those terms this book delivers.

The thing that I find strangest is that the British release focussed heavily around a single fighting formation – 7th Armoured – whereas this book has included 3. I think that for the initial release Battlefront may have been better served looking at one division, say 21st Panzer, and giving the player base a more rounded single unit and saved the 15th Panzer and 90th Light as add on releases like the Afgantsy and M113 Panzertruppen lists. There is no reason why the infantry in this book could have been a 21st Panzergrenadier company from Schutzen Regiment 104 .

Finally I understand that the Tiger tank is an icon of the Second World War but it just feels wrong to me sitting in this book, along with the Panzer III N. I’m not going to speculate wildly as I have no knowledge of the conversations and I’m sure tough decisions that had to be made compiling this books, and why the Tiger is here in it. I will say that I think that until more comes out in MW for v4 that its inclusion in competitive play will have to be careful considered and monitored by tournament organisers just as it is such a strong choice.

As always the quality of the production from Battlefront is exemplary and as I said before having played just one game of v4 that the vast majority of concerns I may have had quickly evaporated. I believe that as soon as we have some more variety injected into the MW arena that this will go a long way to resolving some of the nose wrinkles I found myself having. In the meantime I’m busting to get my hands on some of the new plastic kits as if any of the pictures here are anything to go by they should be corking.

Until next time – thank you for reading.

Don’t fight a battle if you don’t gain anything by winning.
– Erwin Rommel