Understanding an Opponent

Following on from Phil’s article “How to win at Flames of War” Martin takes a look at understanding the nature of your opponent and how their choices influence their playing style and what you might be able to do to help you win the game.

I see lots of people post lists on social media and ask for comments or feedback but rarely do any of these come with some background context of what the player is trying to achieve with the list build or how they intend to use it. So today I thought I’d share with you my insight of over 40 years of gaming into how I initially determine what a player might be looking to do with a list and how they may use it on the table top and most importantly what I would be looking to do to counter such an opponent.

To help frame this let’s start with looking at playing styles, we all have one even if we don’t realise it. These break down into three broad groups which I shall call Aggressors (not to be confused with the French Death Metal band),  Passives and finally because I can’t think of a better term the Flexible Middle. Each of these groups of players has some fairly distinctive traits which we can potentially deduce from their list choices and this can help you in setting up to play against them. This is just one aspect of wargaming you have to be able to understand to be a successful competition player but it is an area most give little thought to.


This is probably the largest group amongst competition players more often than not they favour fast hard hitting lists often looking to overwhelm opponents in the early turns of a game, often these players will be playing the currently perceived “meta” list. These are typically win-or-bust style players, there is no plan B for them. Lists wise we are currently taking about two typical types;  tanks only armies or min/max style list such as German armoured car formations backed up by multiple high-end mobile tank hunter platoons. An interesting aside I will make here is that in v4 Soviet forces often need to be played in this style to be successful so you need to look carefully at them to discern a potential alternative playing style from them. I see this as a sub-optimal group overall as the nature of the lists tends to mean there is always a nemesis force ready and waiting out there to defeat them.

To defeat these types of players what you need to do is frustrate them, not let their early game aggression dictate the battle and ultimately play for a bit of time, from experience I find the longer the battle goes on the less likely they are to win. Scenario choice can win and lose you the game, look to use the battle stance that is most likely to result in them having delayed reserves reducing their initial attacking power. With tank only opponents use the terrain to shield your key anti-tank assets until you are ready to use them, deploy your objective markers in terrain where they will be disadvantaged such as in buildings or woods make defending them difficult for your opponent, deny them freedom of movement or force them to dilute their attack over a broad front. For the min\max lists concentrate on eliminating one side of the equation either concentrate on their formation and breaking it or their support units, these lists typically only have power on one side of the balance. If it is high AT that is the problem focus on that if it is light tank spams manoeuvrability that is the issue focus on space denial and try to funnel their attack forcing it to assault piecemeal (this works just as well against heavy tanks as light ones).

Soviet all tank list the only option is an all out assault to quickly overwhelm an opponent


This is a less effective style of play in v4 Flames of War than formally due to the changed nature of movement, reserves and changes to the scenario victory conditions but these types of players can still win. Typically we are talking about pure infantry armies based forces supported by large numbers of anti-tank and artillery gun equipped platoons. These lists can absorb huge amounts of punishment and strangle an opponent, victory here is the aim and losses are inconsequential as this is a numbers game for these type players and it is a war of attrition they have set out to win. But this is another sub-optimal force selection in my view as like the aggressor group armies these again often have a nemesis opponent.

Reserves are your friend in this game, look to maximise the chances of your opponent having only 60% of their force on the table this can often seriously weaken these lists as often they have large numbers of low point value units and they will end up with far more units off the table than they can reasonably expect to get back on and into the game automatically giving you an advantage. Aggression is what is required if you can achieve this else it is time for patience awaiting the arrival of your reserves to provide a sufficiency of force to defeat their defensive line attacking a narrow targeted front, after all with lots of units they are forced to spread out due to the physical restrictions of the space needed to deploy their models. Use your scout troops to prevent them from moving out of the deployment zone and surrounding your assault force when you choose the moment to attack. A classical refused flank type attacking formation can often be effective in this type of matchup and always be ready with a fast moving unit to exploit any gap you can create.

Nine Formation Units and an enhanced rally roll make this a difficult force to dislodge

The Flexible Middle

These are those players who can adapt their style effectively and have plans A, B and C ready and waiting to go, often they play with very balanced looking lists covering all aspects of formation building but don’t be fooled into thinking these folks are just the average player. It takes a lot of skill to play these more balanced armies well against all comers. Whenever I come up against this type of force list at a competition I always start to look very carefully at the terrain and to think about my battle stance and the options these might present as they could be critical in determining the outcome.

Unlike the other two groups, these are the hardest lists to predict what to do against. The balanced forces means they are prepared for any scenario so you might need lady luck to help out here, I often look to get all of both forces on to the table against these type lists purely so we are both starting with the same level of challenge and playing skill becomes much more the dominant determinant in the conflict rather than an imbalance generated by the force selection. The last thing you want is for them to be able to hold your opening assault then deliver a massive counterpunch winning the game with their 40+ point Panzer unit which has just come on from reserve long before you get your own multiple reserve units into play.

Italians are a mixed bag jack of all trades force making them unpredictable to play against

Summing up

I hope this has made you think about your playing style its just as important as list construction finding what your natural style is for you as a player is important as it helps you learn how to compensate for your natural inclinations from what types of units you favour or why you always include X unit in a list. All three styles work but a better understanding of your playing style its strengths and weaknesses will help you approach opponents playing the styles you don’t favour and this will help you develop as a player steadily getting better. By making the effort of learning to play with different types of forces and in different styles you learn to cope with all eventualities the miniature battlefield can bring.

8 thoughts on “Understanding an Opponent

  1. I’m fairly new to the game, and while I don’t envision myself as a “Masters” or a high level tournament player, I don’t want to be an easy victory.

    You’ve mentioned tank lists and I’ve built a list around the “Death or Glory” formation. In my last two tournaments, I’ve ran into infantry based lists, with dug in, gone to ground infantry on objectives. My opponents never did anything with those forces. They never move. They never shoot. They sit in their holes, forcing a 6 to hit them, then needing them to fail a 3+ save, then needing a FP roll to kill. That’s a 1 in 108 chance for a MG to take out a hit on a 4+ infantry. I spend the entire game stalled out inches away from the objective, only to be slowly taken away by the attrition.

    What’s the answer?
    I’ve been told tank assault. Sure. I get the viability of the tactic. I’m hoping that my side armor will take the incoming hits, maybe take a few of them out on the assault, then “hope” they fail the counter attack. If the succeed, then I’m looking to at worst avoid a 1 in 36 chance that I don’t bail out with improvised weapons, and then “hope” I succeed in my counter attack.
    I see how it works, but I can’t see the answer to “more tournament success” being deviation from the mean with respect to dice rolls.

    I’ve been told to use artillery. I’ve tried that. I’ve got to range in on a target that’s likely going to hit a terrain feature, then make sure my forces are not too close away. It’s

    I’ve been told to play a different force. Sure, I understand when a “Masters” level player is telling me to play something like Armored Cars. I understand that my “Death or Glory” force might not be optimal with regards to tournament success, but I’m pretty sure that there should be some middle ground between, “Sorry, but you picked the one non-viable force in the book” and “Hey, welcome to the game. I see you have a nicely painted historical force there, can I interest you in an ahistorical, mathematical gamification of the numbers to put maximum effectiveness on the board.”

    Help me out here!

  2. Hi Bob, first up thanks for reading the post and secondly for the long response. So let me try and make a few observations about the Drath or Glory list which is a very interesting option in my view. Lets start with looking at its strengths and weaknesses first up, on the positive you have the mixture of well armoured Valentines combined with the fast and reasonably well gunned Crusader, on the down side you only have platoons of 3 tanks but that is true of all British tank forces so it shouldn’t be a hinderence inparticular to the Death of Glory squadrons. To me the key choice is about the HQ option and secondly the balance of the core Formation platoons. As a key point I would always max out the number of Formation platoons with British armour so in this case you want to have 5 units.

    Looking at your HQ you have two practicable options the Lees of C Squadron or the 4 tank A or B Squadrons with 2 Valentines and 2 Crusader CS as the options now me if I want to go all in so I’ll take the 4 tank option paired with 2 platoons of Crusaders and 2 of Valentines.

    The Crusaders use their massive dash speed to get into flanking positions then bring their 6pdr guns into play in turn 2 against any kind of armoured or softskinned vehicles. The Valentines are for anti infantry duty again closing quickly (that’s a relative term) in a more frontal apprroach.

    Then I’d get a bit gamey once the HQ is deployed I’d split it into 2 elements (remember your HQ platoon is always in Good Spirits) using the CS tanks to hold in a concealed position and fire a smoke bombardment to screen the either your assault or flanking units, place your ranged in marker roughly where you think it will be needed to achieve this rather than on an objective somewhere in no mans land is what you are looking at. The HQ Valentines join my other Valentines advancing to enable me to bring into play a 5 tank assault (HQ + 1 platoon) against an infantry position, their 2pdr is more than sufficient to back up this type of play if you have a reasonable chance of hitting with them or use the MG’s to pin the enemies most threatening assets even fearless troops will fail to rally a third of the time, the more units you pin the more chance the key units will fail to recover reducing the chances of you taking significant damage before launching your assault next turn. In my next turn the CS tanks can advance using direct fire smoke to assist your assault tank platoons. The Lee platoon can be used in a similar way but lacks the bombardment capability of the CS so it a bit riskier option but does benefit from the extra shooting from the 37mm turret and overall is a fairly resilient option. Now this is my core tactical play and it uses up a mere 51 points leaving you enough points to field either another formation or plenty of support unit choices and maybe some command cards to beef up the durability of the Formation.

    So that’s how I would look to play the D&G list so how would I support them?

    In terms of support I’d look to add a c carrier patrols to enable me to spearhead against an infantry dominated opponent, or to grab an objective with, or just to get in the way after all I want to get my assault tanks into combat as quickly as possible with the infantry.

    Next I need to consider I may need to hold some objectives as well, my tanks aren’t really very good for this so some kind of infantry support with some AT guns is pretty much a neccessity in a British list (you can go a whole rifle company with HQ, 2 platoons, 6pdrs and Carriers for 36pts (running total 87pts) and finally I want something to distract my opponent with that whilst not overly powerful is just powerful enough and this is where a platoon of armoured cars are a useful option and/or planes the Kitty Hawks are an unopredicable but useful option for air support and I still have enough points for one more strong choice and you might consider a 4 gun priest battery they add an additonal smoke bombardment, they can dig out troops with FP3+ and are lethal against buildings with their Brutal guns not to mention are equipped with a handy 0.50 cal if the enemy get up too close. All up I’m at 107pts so that leaves me 2 pts for a couple of helpful command cards.

    Without your specific model list this is just my view of how I would be looking to play with this Formation, hopefully its helpful. I realise the Priests are an ahistoric option but you can take RHA 25pdr guns instead to keep historical and add a bit more bulk to the supporting Rifle formation with the extra 6 points some HMG’s would be nice to protect the gun units oh and another bombardment option is always handy.

    1. This is what I ran at the last tournament. Results were 1-8, 7-2, 1-8

      Lee Death or Glory Squadron HQ
      Valentine III Death or Glory Troop
      Crusader III Death or Glory Troop
      Valentine III Death or Glory Troop
      Crusader III Death or Glory Troop

      Priest Field Troop (4 guns)
      Honey OP Observation Post
      Universal Carrier Patrol (3 MG’s)
      Armored Rifle Platoon (U.S. Allied Unit, Full Platoon)

      Death or Glory (Entire formation passes Last Stand on 2+)
      Cavalry Commanderx2 (pass Follow me on 3+ and shoot after)
      Artillery Expert (1 pt) (Re-position one Artillery Marker after deployment)
      Regulars, By God (US Armored Rifles become hit on 4+)

      1. Model Reserves:
        I could convert the Lee’s to the 2 Vals/2 CS tanks. I went with Lee’s for the 75mm guns to give a better AT option, since the Vals are a bit light (AT 7), and the Crusaders are overworked. The Lee’s are also a smidge better in the Anti-Infantry role, since the 2#ers on the Vals have no HE, so those GTG and Foxholed infantry would be hit on 7+ with the 2#er.

        I do have a Hurricane flight, and while they’ve done a great job in taking our Marder’s, they are not very effective due to the arrival role and the low FP# to kill what they hit.

        I don’t have any British Infantry. My use of the US Armored Rifles was due to having the models already and looking to add an Infantry element. I’ve used them to park on an objective. The tracks also give me a small amount of AA cover and they can move quickly.

        Every time I play the force i feel that it’s just a bad list. Given that I don’t expect to see Valentines and Crusaders in the LW, I leave every tournament with this list thinking that it belongs on Ebay to try and get the funds to start something new.

  3. Overall the list looks like a reasonably competitive build. The ARP are a nice support option not so sure the Regulars card is really worth all the points for an allied platoon making them cheaper may alter the way you think about using them as well, which may be part of your personal challenge with the list. Rollling them forward with the armour may encourage the enemy into giving up their gone to ground status to shot at this soft target and thus boosting your armoured units chances of hitting back with weapons that will dl some real damage. I’d suggest trying a game with swapping them round to basic ARP and add in the Kittyhawks with the points that frees up, Im sure no one would mind a bit of proxying for an odd game. For me the hurricanes are not as useful as you don’t really need more AT capability but the bomb option could prove to be really helpful against a lot more types of targets, if only to pin them down.

  4. Good article Martin, one that could really be useful to new players to understand the way they should play a game according to their playstyle. I am more of a flexi mid guy and I’m very happy with version 4 being more for me than V3, where all the aggressive players were having a blast. V4, in my opinion, clearly favours balanced lists and I really enjoy it. I’ve seen most of my buddies being let down by the new V4 system, either complaining about the rules in general or about the lack of list options in mid war (like the axis allies missing or most of the English lists), but after reading your article I realised that they don’t like the game because they used to be either aggressive, all out players, or lazy boys dug in infantry passive folks. V4 is all about balancing the lists, and I thinks this is great for a table top game even in competitions. I play ETC and various other international tournaments and I’ve seen players turning from all out lists to balanced lists and they do finish in the top tiers.
    As about Bob’s list, which I kind of like, I made one myself only using crusaders and not death or glory, I think the list is not actually to your play style. From your comments, Bob, I see you as a more of an aggressive player and for that I recommend you try out an American list with Stuart/Lee formation and 1 ARP support unit. You will really have a blast about it. Stabilisers will be very sweet and also the larger tank platoons. Martin described a really nice way to play the D or G list but I think that requires a fair amount of skill 
    The list that you Bob exampled should be played in mobile stance, letting the enemy come at you and punish him in return, or exploit any gaps your opponent lets you use.
    Cheers and looking forward to an opinion!

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