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Mid War vs competitive gaming

Ok, now that I played enough tournaments to have my own, stable opinion about Mid War competitive gaming in general, I thought it would be good to put it on "paper" and share/look for other opinions. To be honest, I have no coherent structure for this article in mind so I will just go ahead and shoot with whatever seems to be relevant. Sorry for the mess :)

1. Mid War is arguably the period that is least suitable for singles tournament play.

I found out that Mid War is like paper/rock/scissors for a lot of armies. There are fewer possibilities to build a true all-rounder list. With only 2 books and a few PDFs flying around and just one or two notable exceptions, choices for some nations are very limited. I even built a matrix depicting which type of forces/which nations get the best opportunity to build a balanced list (top of the list is best flexibility - by combining the two you can figure out which combo is most feasible):

--------- NATION ------
1. Germans
2. Brits
3. Hungarians
4. Romanians
5. USA
6. Italians
7. Soviets
--------- TYPE ----------
1. Infantry
2. Mech
3. Tank

There are several exceptions from the matrix caused by Always Attack and Always Defend special rules. For the forces that have them: AD (Fucilieri) adds to the flexibility while AA (Cossacks) is more of a hindrance than help in my opinion.

However, if you go to a singles tournament and hope for a win, your best bet would be to build a German Infantry list ;)

2. When you play Mid War, be prepared to get anti-aircraft!

With heavy artillery being so expensive, a lot more aircraft hit the tables than in any other period. One other reason is the Soviet I-153. I mean it is really ridiculous not to get the sporadic version which only costs 90 points. Every Soviet player should use it. For mere 90 points you get an aircraft that has both a 3+ MG and a real heavy-hitter in the form of 4+ AT 6 FP 3+ rockets. Considering how playing Soviets against some heavier tanks is an uphill struggle, a cheap, killer aircraft strike option is something I would always buy (one exception might be AA Cossacks, who need to get into assault range as soon as possible, limiting aircraft placement).

So if you were considering getting anti-aircraft, consider no more - get it. Even a light unit should be more than enough to keep the little fokkers away. And there will be plenty coming your way :P

3. Do not ignore the possibility of meeting AT 12 spam! :)

When building your list, do not get deceived by the fact that many AT 12 guns cost quite a lot. Mixed Tankovy, you are not safe in a singles tournament :) Same for US and a few other tank briefings. In a recent singles tournament with 18 players, I have seen 6 armies that pack 12+ high AT shots, met 2 of them and 2 of them placed first and second.
You just cannot ignore the possibility of encountering high-end anti tank, and my understanding is that it is absolutely necessary to include at least a token answer in a list that aims to be competitive.

4. Do not be afraid of US forces.

Unlike in Late War, the US companies in Mid War do not seem to be dominating. This is mainly because:

- all of their main North Africa rosters are Confident/Trained
- tanks/tank destroyers are fairly expensive and relatively easy to destroy with Mid-High AT
- artillery is expensive
- infantry cannot field so many bazookas, leaving them vulnerable to tank assault
- their main anti-tank gun is No HE
- they have no option to field double tank destroyer units nor an AOP

In fact, the ratio of US to non-US forces in Mid War and Late War are two completely different things. So far, in 3 MW tournaments, with approximately 60 participants, I have seen around 5 US lists (2 tank, 2 mech and 1 infantry). Some would say: hooray for Mid War :)

5. There 2 really strong Warriors in Mid War that you need to be prepared to meet:

- Mariya Oktabrskaya - I described her in details in this article. She will be present in most Tankovy/Mixed Tankovy lists that field T-34 tanks as she only costs 25 points but is a huge overall boost.
- Otto Ernst Remer - this guy needs another article. But in short words, he is a Higher Command team that turns one Heer unit into assault monsters with 3+ morale and 2+ to hit in close combat. He will be appearing in Infantry and Mechanized German forces.

So if you are thinking of going competitive, it is advisable that you at least know the basic things about these two guys. There are some other decent Warriors out there, but they will certainly not be as prevalent as these two :)

Ok, enough is enough - these are my thoughts around Mid War competitive gaming - would love to read yours! :)


How to start collecting a US force - hints for newbies :)

Soooo, following up on the last article on how to start Flames of War, today I will say a few words about creating a US force. I figured I will use the basic structure of the previous article, since the points to be considered remain pretty much the same.

So here we go:

1. What period should I start with?
Just like with the Germans, go for Late War. There are two main reasons for this: it has the greatest number of available books that can be used to build your army on and a lot of players flock to this period because of all the shiny toys that come with it, like E8 Shermans, Jumbo tanks, Calliope rocket launchers, etc.
What has to be kept in mind, is that all books of the period have already been released, so I would expect no real novelties in LW apart from some cosmetic changes every now and again (and maybe an Ardennes compilation that might counter what many players view as high overall power level of the US forces in these briefings, so beware :) ). This state of period freeze might be considered both a good and a bad thing at the same time - depending on how you look at it.
In any case, if for some weird reason LW is not for you, my next pick would be Mid War, as there are no US forces available for Early War (historical reasons of course!) :(

2. What company type should I go for?
With a US force I would go for an Armored Rifles company. The reason for this is that the US Armored Rifles are a very flexible and inherently balanced force. What is also a great learning opportunity is that you can get all kinds of support with it: infantry, tanks, tank destroyers, guns, artillery, recon, anti-air, aircraft, you name it, it is bound to be there :)
Playing US Armored Rifles might be a bit more challenging than leading an infantry company at first because you will be attacking more often (you will need to stay active instead of reacting to what your opponent does). Do not be afraid however, as with all the toys and big, tough platoons this force will also forgive more mistakes than some of the more subtle choices.

3. Which book should I use?
Good news is: for Late War, there are so many books available to the US player. Bad news is: oh my god, so many books :) My favourites are described below - top is best all round book (considering Digital content), but please consider that the rating does not focus on infantry companies but rather the nation's forces as a whole:

Blood Guts & Glory - a must have for any tread-head. Includes the dreaded Patton + 7th Armored combo
Devil's Charge - known for the deadly 2nd Infantry Division which can field 2 Tank Destroyer platoons and a ton of artillery
Bridge at Remagen - very good Reluctant Veteran troops (mostly tanks) with the ability to Auto Attack via Sherman Crocodile platoons
Overlord - perfect all-rounder. Has absolutely everything + a fast, hard hitting Task Force A company
Road to Rome - good all-rounder + the option to field your Americans as the Free French (which are arguably even more competitive than the US forces!)
Nuts! - a treat for the parachute infantry enthusiasts
Market Garden - same like in Nuts! but with different Warriors mostly
Nachtjager Digital Exclusive - parachutists again, with a mix of British troops (Churchill tanks most notably! :) )
Gung Ho - latest addition, Marines and their dog friends

4. What models do I need to learn the game and not get beaten all the time?
For your Armored Rifles company (1500-1800 list), I would go for:
- 2 platoons of Armored Rifle infantry
- 1 Tank Destroyer platoon
- 1 Armored Artillery Battery (3 priests, staff team, command + transports)
- 1 Cavalry Recon platoon
- 1 Sherman tank platoon (these can be either M4s or M4A3s with a mix of Jumbo/E8 tanks - you will probably need a mix of several types)

To extend it beyond this point level, I would keep adding more artillery and an Air Observation Post (Grashopper aircraft). Other possibilities are: another recce platoon, air support (P 47 for example), anti-tank gun platoon (57mm).

I can assure you - if you build your company like so, you will not be disappointed! :)


German tanks for the win!

Hey, long time no see :)

Today I thought it would be nice to share with you my idea of a LW 1420 list that I would like to play during an upcoming tournament in Poznań. Recently, there has been a lot of talk regarding how playing Germans is an uphill struggle and of course my spirit of perverseness kicked in whispering to me that I should demonstrate that not all is lost to the defenders of the Vaterland. And what is more, I should do it with tanks (no Always Defend Tigers)!

Following up on that idea, I started digging :)

There are 2 things that I discovered in the process:
1. An overall thing about German tournament tanks is that it is extremely difficult to build a true all-comers list. The reason for this is that every time I build a list I like, it turns out to be 6 platoons strong (normally, majority of platoons are tank teams). The problem is: what do I do if I get to defend in a battle with the Mobile Reserves rule? I can either put the nebs + maybe a Gepanzerte platoon with 1 platoon of tanks on the table or just 2 tank platoons. This means that my force is very vulnerable until my reserves arrive. No-go in my opinion. I can also try and mitigate that risk by using an always attacking list like tank companies from Devil's Charge, Panzers to the Meuse or Nachtjager. But then, I am faced with a force that is not so strong against infantry companies (not enough tanks in most cases).

2. Many other nationalities have it so much easier! :)

- US get quite a lot of briefings with Always Attack tank/mech companies with a very good selection of support options and helpful rules
- Hungarians get their assault gun battery, which is a good choice against pretty much everyone else, especially at low points
- Soviets cover up their weaknesses by either heavy tank choices or artillery support (think 120+160mm mortars in one list)
- British who are not attacking with their tank companies have it even better, because of their semi-indirect fire rules

All these things considered, I came to the conclusion that whatever I will build, the list will not fit to my high standards. But I had to decide anyway (still need some time to collect and paint the missing models).

While going through numerous briefings, one caught my special attention: HG Assault Gun Battery from FoW Digital. Normally, people tend to avoid playing HG tanks as they are almost exact copies of regular Panzer companies with the Guards tax added on top. At first, this seemed to be the case with HG Assault Guns. With further investigation though, it turned out that this list could have at least some potential.

There several reasons for this:

- StuH assault guns are one of the compulsory platoons
- all StuG and StuH platoons can be fitted with up to 4 tanks
- Company HQ can include up to 2 tanks, instead of the normal 1
- StuGs are late version models, equipped with an extra co-axial MG, which helps agains infantry in the open
- the company can employ very good recon units
- obviously Nebelwerfers are also an option

One extra strenght of the company is the Warrior who can join it: Hans Sandrock. This guy is just awesome! For 160 points he is a Cofident Veteran Higher Command team in a StuG (late) assault gun. His skillset is pretty impressive:

- he ignores +1 penalty to hit at long ranges
- when he closes in to under 16", he can hit side armor of tanks even though he is shooting them from the front (on a 4+ or automatically if there is a choice between turret/hull)
- and most notably, he makes one platoon he joins use cautious movement

Overall, he is something between a heavy hitter and a force multiplier. A must have, if you ask me :)

WIth all these options on the table, I decided to build my HG Assault Gun company version 1:

HQ: Sandrock + 2 HQ StuG (late) assault guns + recovery vehicle
CP: 4x StuG (late)
CP: 4x StuH
SP: 1x SdKfz 234/1 + 1x Pakpuma
SP: 1x SdKfz 234/1 + 1x Pakpuma

A very straightforward and quick to play list when I think about it. When designing it, I knew it could take on pretty much anyone. The only obstacle I could see was defending in Counterattack. This is why I decided to defend without recce support (although the recovery transport can be of some limited use here) but to have the main force in the form of 11 assault guns, including the Warrior on the table.

I hope to be able to use this list to effect next month. We will see how my concept works :)


Battlefront Miniatures vs Disruptive Innovations

3D printers, 3D models, cheap materials - this is the dawn of a new era for miniature wargaming. I bet Battlefront can already feel disruptive innovations slowly biting away at their market space. While this is happening, I wonder what will be their reactions and which way will they choose to go in the future. And this is not only true to Battlefront. They will be the first to feel it with full force as nobody can own copyrights to historical designs like tanks, guns, infantry and so on, which means me, you, anybody can print whatever units Battlefront uses in their Intelligence Briefings for around 1/4 of the retail price of their products.

Several months ago they announced that they will be moving their factory to a new location as the output of their former manufacturing center was not enough to satisfy the demand of their customers. I am puzzled as to whether this was the correct move. Do they really understand what Disruptive Innovations mean for their business? :)

 When I look up the definition of a disruptive innovation on the Wikipedia, it says:

"Disruptive innovations tend to be produced by outsiders. The business environment of market leaders does not allow them to pursue disruption when they first arise, because they are not profitable enough at first and because their development can take scarce resources away from sustaining innovations (which are needed to compete against current competition). A disruptive process can take longer to develop than by the conventional approach and the risk associated to it is higher than the other more incremental or evolutionary forms of innovations, but once it is deployed in the market, it achieves a much faster penetration and higher degree of impact on the established markets."

This is exactly the case that is happening now and the symptoms can be seen over the internet. When I visit Facebook daily, I see all kinds of posts by people (outsiders by Wiki's definition) who already purchased their 3D printer and started using non-commercial use files to manufacture their own 1:100 scale historical models for a few dollars/euros per piece. 3D printing is actually gaining its momentum as we speak. When I go back to the definition, I can notice that we are at the stage of its deployment to the market and thus the next step will be a big hit to the core business of Battlefront, which is production of toy soldiers.

For me, this means: soon demand for their minis will decrease. Like with going bankrupt, it will be slow at first, and suddenly, very quick. In the forseeable future they will cease being a manufacturer for their historical product line and become an IP management company unless they do something about it.

Now some questions: are BF actively seeking a sustainable business model that can enable them to take the incoming punch and still stay afloat? What are their possible options?

In my opinion, one of the key survival factors is to create unique IP that will enable them to own the copyrights to the designs they produce. This means - new games with new models. They have still not reached that point.

Also, a creation of a truly competitive gaming system with simple rules and official tournaments would help greatly. When I think about it - Magic the Gathering would be long dead if not for the competitions that they manage. Rankings, ladders, cash prizes is what would really get a robust gaming system going. Current system somehow feels incomplete without the official tournament scene - there is no endgame in FoW (apart from maybe ETC - but it is not an official Battlefront event). I myself started playing Flames of War because I liked the generalship aspect of it and honestly only know a few people who buy models just to own/paint them. On the other hand I know tons of gamers who own gigantic colletions of models. The current whine on the Battlefront forums related to how overpowered US is also relates to this - people want simple, balanced gameplay and fair tournament play. If they get this, they will buy the minis/rules :)
GW seems to have learned it the hard way :) Hope Battlefront does not.

On the positive note however, a clear sign that they are trying to find a new way around disruptive innovations is the release of their Tanks game. Tanks in essence is the perfect marketing move:
- like mentioned a few lines before, it brings in unique IP in the form of hero/equipment cards
- it creates new market space by attracting more customers (low entry cost, simple ruleset)
- opens the possibility for truly competitive gaming (seems to be easy to learn, hard to master)
- maintenance of this model essentially costs them nothing - they just need to repack models they already produce anyway + print the cards
- is a gateway to Flames of War (if I have a few StuGs, why not create a StuG battery and play FoW?)

Still with this game, they are stuck with historical models. But as far as I am concerned, the selling point of Tanks is a bit different than for regular wargames. They rely on high number of customers who will not bother to print their own minis just to reduce their cost by 5-6$ while they get no cards and are probably left with lower quality models. I really hope this game works for them.

As for Flames of War, I think their future is IP management of the game rules. We can already experience the switch towards this direction: FoW Digital. It requires minimal effort to maintain and if the game gets popular enough, it can be very beneficial per man hour spent to develop. And hopefully, with everybody and their moms able to produce their own models at home and TANKS feeding in new players, FoW will get more and more popular.

Overall, I am really keen to see how the situation develops.

P.S. And if for some weird reason they would decide to improve FoW to be even more fitting to tournament play I would be the first person to volunteer to help. They still have a lot of supporters (promoters if you use NPS). My advice to BF: use the help! :)