27 November 2012

Flames of War: Prokhorovka AAR part 2

The battle itself ended a pretty uncontested German victory, the Soviets were either annihilated or severely battered. The only survivors of the eastern flank were 2 T-34 tanks from two different platoons that fled off table, so you get the idea of what kind of a meat grinder it turned out to be.

The battle and game was very impressive, to look down the table and see hundreds of tanks (half of them burning) was extremely cool. Even more impressive was the fact that 90% of the tanks belonged to Mikael and Peter who ran the game, the rest of us just showed up and enjoyed the game.

However the Flames of War system has its minor and major flaws. In regular games these are not always visible and can be easily overlooked to have a good time, but a clash between two tank in particular the  Soviet and German isn't the most balanced thing. Even with the initial larger numbers the Soviet side failed due to several factors.

The Hen-and-chicken rule and limited vision of the Soviet side combined with Veteran tanks using Stormtrooper (God I hate that rule and how it is always used) to move back and forth behind cover isn't something I'm happy with. Combine this with relative short and universal ranges of guns in the game where almost every tank in the battle fires the same distance and with the same kind of accuracy you go from a zone of "nothing is coming at you" to "a barrage of devastating fire" smashing into your face. Worth mentioning is that all (or almost all) Soviet tanks were Fearless/Trained so at least we didn't have to run Conscript rated troops but they were still no match for the Germans. Long range + cover makes you unable to fire and maneuver, I honestly don't know how people play Eastern front in FoW (which is said to be the failed front of the game from a gaming perspective).

Now if we want to look at it from a FoW rule/game perspective, the Soviet side is always set up to have the numbers (huge numbers of cheap stuff), and the Germans the skill and thus being more expensive. True enough the Soviet side outnumbered the Germans but it helped very little as the Germans got 3 rounds of shooting at the Soviet tanks with full effect while the Soviets were unable to even make potshots in return.

My extreme bad luck with the dice didn't help either, had I rolled even near average results I would probably have pushed some of the German tank platoons on my flank back - but considering my die rolls and that I had the best list out of the 3 flanks the experience was still horrifying and I'm now thinking how the game could have been improved for a more balanced experience if we play this scenario in the future.

Balanced in the term of at least giving the Germans a sense of a challenge rather than providing them with moving target practice. You can't change the terrain as it is meant to be very open. Right there the FoW setup cripples the game, maybe if both sides had more stuff in reserve and reserves worked a little differently. Having the Germans drop basically another army in my face felt tactically correct and I would have done the same if I was playing the Germans, but it made the Soviet situation which was already very hard turn impossible and the German tanks all arrived at the same time in a wave of destruction.

Starting out with fewer troops on both sides would allow for a bit more clever use of the little terrain that there was, and perhaps some maneuvering. With the massive amount of tanks we had it was almost impossible to make anything but drive into the German line. Many people reading this will probably (and a possibly correct assessment) think that FoW rules aren’t really made for these kind of battles. The best games I've had in FoW are those close calls when both sides have a pretty good chance to win and mixed forces on both sides. The few times I've played the extremes with tanks or infantry only the game isn't that exciting anymore.

So back to this mega battle, there were objectives on the far ends and center line of the table, but the Germans had no real incitement to meet up with the Soviets. Logic and sense dictated that they stay put and kill the rushing horde, Peter had to coax the German side to leave their entrenched positions after several turns of shooting gallery action. A different take on how the objectives were placed and provided victory points would probably go a long way providing a more fluid gaming experience rather than having the Germans be the static gunline that they were.

As such I think a more asymmetrical approach could have been a better choice over deploying both armies to 95% .  For instance, keep roughly half of the stuff in reserve, and make each flank weaker/stronger than the opposing flank so that there is some movement from both sides of the table at least in some spots. Then use reinforcements delivered by the game master to drive the game further along at the right point and more pressing objectives to push units out of their positions. For instance the objective only yielded victory points at the end of the game, had the VP's been ticking at the end of each turn, the Germans would have probably leapt out of cover and engaged more directly as the Soviet side was basically the victor of the battle Victory Point wise for the majority of the turns while the game lasted.

Do I regret taking part in the game? Hell no. It was a cool experience. I do wish that my luck with the dice had been somewhat better though as it soured the middle part of my game with David (my mood only improved when I stopped investing myself in the action towards the end). This is the second game where I have faced David where absolutely nothing I did worked and my dice failed in every roll. I can't imagine him having a good time with be being all grumpy. I do hope that Peter and Mikael will arrange for another Prokhorovka game as the battle itself was impressive to behold, making changes to the approach to the scenario would certainly improve the enjoyment and tactical experience for both sides.

16 comments:

  1. I really thought we (ze germans) were losing the battle as Peter keept calling out the results all the time "now its 13-1 to the russians". So I thought you collected points each round from uncontested areas. And I couldn´t see the germans winning by going head to head close range firing.

    And for the stormtrooper rule... I prefered standing still in cover, with longrange most of the time I could only get hit on 6+. This way I could get full ROF from my Panzer IV.

    Its the first Megabattle I didnt feel tired after, so thats good! :)

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  2. Well I myself was amazed and mindblown that we were done in roughly 4 hours!! That was a great success and shows how the divided table with each player handling a single sector worked well - it should definitely be kept for the next game.

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  3. With that low amount of "line of sight"-blocking terrain, I would expect the germans to win in this battle! Especially when there is so much tanks around.

    If the german player has enough tanks and troops to hold the line, and the attacking Soviets has little or no terain to hide in, in my experience, it will be pure luck if the Soviets win...

    Bigger board, and more terrain, and the game would be so much more fun! I´m talking from experience here, as mostly when we play, we play a two on two game with roughly 3500 points per side.

    /Tweety

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  4. What a parking lot!
    This guy http://meeples.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/why-i-dont-like-flames-of-war-101/
    seems to take great offence to you having fun. Enjoy!

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    1. Well I couldn't care less really, as if I wasn't aware of, or didn't describe, the problems in this particular game. If that guy took the time to check the other mega battles set in the desert, or my regular AAR's of 2 player battles he might have had a different opinion. Though I'm not wasting MY time digging that stuff up for him.

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    2. Couldn't agree with you more. It seems he looked at the pics but didn't read your write-up. Playing games like this and discussing them afterwards is how the game gets better.

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    3. Yeah, I have no problem with him hating FoW or anything like that. But if he based his opinions solely on games like this one and don't look at the other more tactical games with mixed forces and stuff then is based upon the wrong idea. Also love the crowd high fiving each other and stroking each other’s ego's namedropping games that aren't on a company/battalion level or that have completely different core mechanics and compare that to FoW.

      FoW as a set of rules has problems, most of them can be omitted by players themselves in how they choose to play and their playstyle. It's a lot of fun 95% of the time. And far from all battles look like this in terms of unit deployment and movement.

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  5. This looked like a really un-fun scenario to be honest! German armor with a PERFECT ridge line with which to gun down soviet tanks in the open? Yeowch!

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    1. Sorry if that seemed harsh- I typed it on my phone.

      Terrain and all does look awesome, just looks like an exercise in futility for the soviets. Of course Germans hull down on a perfect ridge like that are just gonna slaughter em!

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    2. Don't worry Steven, I think Peter and Mikael learned a bunch of things from this experience that they will implement in their next game. I think going the route of Patrik who was an active game master in our Dester Mega Battles with a constant stream of events affecting the table and directing reinforcements is the way to go. And also start out with a lot less on the table.

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  6. Excellent reports and post-game analysis. My gaming group is planning a large scale battle early next year, so it was really helpful and interesting to read your thoughts on the game balance and mechanics at this scale. FoW is a great game, but there can be force match ups and scenarios that leave one side with only luck to get them anything from the game. Soviets are prone to this as it can be difficult to get a good combined-arms force. You often have to put all your eggs in one basket and hope for the best! Thanks for sharing your experiences :)

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  7. Well, i dont play FOW, so cant comment on that aspect, but if the players enjoyed themselves, had a good time and also found and discussed ways to improve for the next time, well that seems like a successful event to me.

    But the world would be a dull place if we all liked the same thing, and that diversity is what drives creativity within a hobby like ours.

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  8. Do the FOW artillery rules punish a player for having tanks deployed so close together in a line? I know it's only a game but that is just so unrealistic

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    1. In regular games, if there are heavy artillery guns or bombers in the air - then yes. The problem here was that there was no artillery or air during the battle, only pre-game bombardment of each side which did almost nothing.

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  9. What do you expect to happen when you line trained tanks up shoulder to shoulder and drive forward across open terrain against a stationary hull-down enemy? This isn't a flaw in the abilities of the Russian army list, it's a flaw in the setup of the scenario and the strategy of the Russian generals. I had an almost identical Tanksgiving game last week with western allies vs Germans with similar results. Why would you set yourself up for this? There's nothing as boring as a wide open table with fender to fender tanks. It's just dice rolling and little else.

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  10. Great looking table and great looking minis. But the pics convinced me never to play FoW. It looks like Warhammer Fantasy Battle, just with Panzers for Orks.

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