Making a Good Stew

Flames Of War

Making a Good Stew:
Or how to build a Flames Of War army that you will have fun playing


By Sandy Addison

Within Flames Of War there are a plethora of choices in the kinds of army that you can field. While all this choice is a good thing (and in fact one of the main reasons why the game is fun to play), it can be overwhelming for a new player. As well, the inherent complexity that all these choices represent can also cause the new player to look for simplistic solutions (such as relying on a perceived “uber” unit for victory) when trying to create a playable list. These simplistic solutions often fail in Flames Of War because of the games combined arms aspect.

Therefore when faced with the pleasurable task of designing your first army an analogy that I would suggest using is that of a stew. A good stew is a blend of different ingredients that work together to create a unique flavour, and a good Flames Of War army should work the same way.

Step One: What Kind of Stew?

For many players, the first step is deciding which country they want to play. I would strongly urge any new players to start with another question. Namely what kind of army you want to play?

I believe that your first Flames Of War army should be one that you have the greatest chance actually enjoy playing. The best way to ensure this is to choose an army that best matches your style of play. Only then should you start to look at choosing a country.

In Flames Of War there are three basic types of army: tank, infantry, and mechanized. All can be game winners, all have their own strengths, and none of them are guaranteed to dominate the battlefield. 

TANK:

The name says it all. This army contains tanks and lots of them. Whether you’re dealing with an elite German panzer company, a Soviet tank horde, or a hod podge British Desert Rats list, the tank company is all about a lot of firepower in a few platoons.

No matter what, all nationalities Tank companies share a three thing in common.

1. Tank companies are almost always going to be the attacker. Most of the basic Flames Of War scenarios use the defensive battle rule. So unless your opponent is also fielding armour you’re going to be attacking. This is not a bad thing, since you know that you’re going to be attacking a lot you can design your army accordingly.

Panzer 38(t) tank used by the Germans

2. Tank companies are fast. The bulk of a tank company’s tanks are medium or light, therefore they are going to be moving at either 12”/30cm or 16”/40cm a turn. As well, most of the tank company’s weapon and support choices are going to mechanized (or at the very least have motorized transport). This allows them to keep up with the armour’s advance.

3. Tank companies are almost always going to have fewer platoons than your opponent. Tanks eat up a lot of points. Expect to have your HQ and two combat platoons to cost around 1000 points. This does not leave a lot of points to bulk up with weapon or support platoons. It is therefore not usual to see a Tank company with a company break point of 3, or less!! (The break point is how many of your platoons must be destroyed or removed from play before you are forced to make a Company Morale check).

So what does this mean about the style of play that is best suited to a Tank company? One word: aggressive.

Italian Carri Platoon A Tank Company has to attack and attack quickly. At the start of most defensive battles half of the defenders platoons are off the board. Therefore, if the tank commander attacks quickly he will face less troops than latter in the game.
However, for all their speed and firepower, Tank companies are surprisingly fragile. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen a tank platoon completely destroyed by a well-placed ambush. Therefore tank companies are generally a finesse army as well. You can’t afford to make mistakes with them, lose one platoon and you’ve got nothing to replace it with.

INFANTRY:

This is the PBI (Poor Bloody Infantry) list, containing lots of individual soldiers and their support. Whether you play a Soviet infantry battalion, a German motorized company or an American Paratrooper company; it’s all about a lot of infantry and their toys.

Like a tank company all infantry armies are going to have a few things in common.

1. Infantry armies are almost always going to be on the defensive. Like a tank army you know what you’re going to be doing most of the time. Therefore you can plan your army accordingly.

2. Infantry armies are slow. While they can contain fast platoons, the bulk of most infantry armies are footsloggers. Even a motorized company with the bulk of its troops in trucks is not going to have the cross-country speed of a tank company.

Gebirgsjager on the march

3. Infantry armies are rarely outnumbered. Combat and HQ choices are cheap when compared to that of a tank company. Therefore you have a lot of points left over to add weapon and support platoons. It is therefore not usual for an infantry army to have a company break point of 5 or more.

So what is the key quality that an infantry player has to possess? In a word: patience.

An infantry company commander has to let his opponent come to him. He also has to wait for just that right moment to counter attack. To hopefully to disrupt his opponent’s own attack, and for that counter attack to succeed. Often he also has to wait for his reserves to come on the board before he can launch that counter punch.

Australian Platoon However infantry armies are nothing if not durable. With a 3+ save against all shooting, infantry platoons are frustratingly hard to kill. This is especially true if they are dug in. Infantry armies also have a lot of redundancy.
Sacrificing a platoon to lure your opponent into a trap, while almost unthinkable to a tank commander, is a perfectly valid tactic for an infantry army. Therefore an infantry army is also very forgiving. You can make mistakes; have plans FUBAR and still pull out pull out a win.

Mechanized:

This is a catch all term that Flames Of War uses for all the other types of formations that can play. Not only does it include the German and American mechanized infantry companies but also reconnaissance companies, cavalry companies and the Soviet tank rider company.

So what are the common traits common to all Mechanized companies? Well:

1. Mechanized companies have to plan for everything. While you’re going to be attacking most of the time you are going to be defending enough that you have to keep that in mind when planning out your list as well.

Soviet motorised troops
2. Mechanized companies are mobile. While only some mechanized companies are as fast as tank companies, all are more mobile (or at least are meant to be) than infantry companies. A skilled mechanized commander can therefore still take the initiative away from a tank army, but he shouldn’t expect it.

Given these factors, the key quality that a mechanized company commander should possess? One word: flexibility.

German Sd Kfz 251/1 D half-track More than any other Flames Of War player a mechanized company commander does not know what he’s going to be facing from one battle to the next. For example in a tournament a tank commander can pretty much plan on being the attacker in 4 out of the 5 games that he plays. An infantry player can plan on being the defender 3 or more games (it’s lower because there are more infantry players in tournaments now days). The mechanized company player? He could very easily be attacking all the time, defending all the time or some sort of mixture.

The good news is that the choices that are available to a mechanized player are just plentiful. The core units are inexpensive (though not a cheap as infantry) and mechanized companies have some interesting weapon and support choices with enough points to take SOME of them. This means that mechanized companies are very unpredictable in what they can and will deploy. Your opponent may never know exactly what he will be facing. And you can’t counter what you don’t know about.

In summary the characteristics to the three types are:

    * Tank army: Aggressive, finesse
    * Infantry: Patience, forgiving
    * Mechanized: Flexible, unpredictable

Which is best for a starting player? If you really don’t know your play style, I suggest looking at real world practicalities. Tank armies are the cheapest (in a real dollar sense) army to build and require the least amount of painting to get into action. However infantry armies because they are forgiving, have a gentler learning curve than other armies. Mechanized forces have few of the advantages but all the problems of the other two forces. They are expensive to buy, because you’re buying both infantry and transports, and you have a lot to paint.

Checking the lay of the land
STEP TWO: ADDING THE SPICE

Now that you have an idea, of what kind of army you want to play. It’s time to figure out the country that you’ll base your force from. Once again the sentimentality can play a big part of this decision and that’s fine. One of the reasons for choosing the type of army first is that country selection actually become easier. However, always ask yourself “will I have fun playing this army?” If you are not sure of the answer then I strongly suggest making another choice for your first army. Like many hobby games, Flames Of War requires a lot of front-end investment of time and energy. It’s always best to stack the odds as much as possible that you are actually going to like to play the army that you are building.

 The Catalogue Where to start?

If you’re not sure which country you want to start with then what? The best place to start is with the each countries doctrine and special rules. See how they appeal to you as a player. Then take a look at the actual equipment that they can be fielded with. If at any point you go “they get that COOL!!” that’s a pretty good indication that you are on the right track to which country is right for you.

Another factor to consider is how you are going to make the army feel like it belongs to you. Most players like to customize their army in some way to make it their own. Each country’s forces have their own way of doing that, so it’s important to choose one that fits with your style.

One note of caution, DO NOT take number of special rules that a country has as an indication that it has a advantage over others or that it has somehow been ‘ripped off’ by the designers and are therefore not fun to play. Flames Of War is one of the best-balanced hobby games out there. All countries armies are fun to play and a challenge to play against. The doctrine and special rules are there to give a particular army a flavour (much like spice will give a stew a particular flavour) sometime more rules are needed to do that then other.

That being said lets take a look briefly at the advantages and disadvantages of each combatant’s army. I’ll divide the each army into mid and late war sections.

Americans

Mid War

In comparison to other armies the American offers a limited number company options.

They do have a true mechanized infantry company, one of only two armies that do, but the rest of the armies are pretty standard. This does not mean that customization is not possible however. Individually comes from the combination of support choices that the Americans can take.

The American army is all about toys. Because they are all Confident Trained (accept for the Airborne and Rangers), the Americans have a lot of points to spend on extra’s like artillery, mortars, HMGs, tanks, tank destroyers etc. The American forces are definitely an “and” army as opposed to an “or” army. What I mean by that is that the American can take mortars, and artillery, and HMGs, and tanks, and anti-tank guns (not to mention enough bazookas to make your opponent turn green with envy) and still have enough points left over for more. Think I’m joking just take a look at the American infantry army box!

Afrika
US Mid War Rifle Company

Festung Europa

Bloody Omaha

D Minus 1

Cobra

Their doctrines also support this with their excellent communication network. Every platoon HQ can call down artillery if they need it, and with a lot of your artillery support you won’t even be at a penalty to call it in.

The Americans are also a surprisingly fast army, almost everything is motorized and if you want to risk The Truscott Trot you can keep the infantry moving at a good clip as well. However, it is the American tank and armoured infantry companies where this speed advantage really shines. Everything in these companies has a movement of 12”/30cm cross-country. This allows the American player the ability to redirect an attack or redeploy part or all of his army to another flank in a matter of 1 or 2 turns. Not even the Germans can match that speed.

Late War

Nothing much changes for the Americans in late war. Much of the equipment is identical only the tanks become a lot cheaper. You can also take Italian Veterans, which allow you to finally get Confident Veteran troops. This can allow for an easy conversion for troops mid to late war. As well if you’re try to be historical take a serious look at getting air support, especially if you’re playing a tank or mechanized company.

British

Mid War


The British forces along with their empire and commonwealth allies represent a rather strange dichotomy. Their infantry and artillery are the as good as the German’s and arguably better in some respects. The British armour…well can leave something to be desired. The British forces do however; offer a lot of variety in the kind of companies that they can field. This is because of the wide variety of “colonial” forces that can be taken, from the Fearless Veteran Australians, to the Reluctant Veteran South Africans, not to mention the British Commandos. All the variation within the types of armies is great, because there is a general lack of variety with the British equipment. Don’t get me wrong the weapons are solid choices but you can’t vary them as much as say the German’s.

Because the default for the British forces is Confident Veteran it can often limit the number of points available for support, they are defiantly an “or” army. So you can have mortars, or artillery, or HMGs or scouts etc. If this truly bothers you as a player the British do offer a solution in that a Canadian or First Army company, which is Confident Trained, so you start with more points. 

Afrika
Crusader III British tank forces on the other hand are a bit trickier to field. On the good side you can field two or three different type of tanks in one list, and since they are Confident Trained you can take a fair number of them. The down side is the one support option per tank platoon. So you can’t take AA support, artillery, recon, and plain old infantry support, not because you don’t necessarily have the points, but because you don’t have the support choices to take them all. This can make it difficult at times to create a balanced list that can handle the various armies and scenarios. While a headache at times, it truly does represent the problems faced by British armour in this period of the war.
As well the British do have a lot of special rules that they can choose to take advantage of. Not the least of which is the semi-indirect fire, British Bulldog, and night attack. However, one group of special rules that every potential British player has to deal with are centred on the British artillery. The 8-gun battery that the British can field, can be very powerful, and very flexible. However it is over 400 points. I’m not going to suggest one way or the other, what a player should or should not do. I simply feel that any British player has to ask himself “Should I not take the 8 battery, and if not, why not?”
Late war

The British are in for a bit of a let down Late War. The default for them is now Confident Trained. This does mean that they can take more troops and some nice weapons (Firefly tanks anyone?) But they can end up looking a lot like the Americans.
Festung Europa D Minus 1 Villers-Bocage Monty's Meatgrinder
You can take Italy Veterans but then you loose a lot of the new weapon systems. However Confident Veteran tanks should not be sneezed at.
Canadian Rifle Company from Monty's Meatgrinder
Afrika Ostfront

Germans

Mid War 

When you care send the very best! The Germans have the best of everything. Only the British are the German’s competition as far as the quality of their infantry, and NO ONE can match their armour in mid or late war (you don’t see endless threads on the BF forums on how to beat a Sherman tank for example). Add to this a lot of different weapon choices, and endless variant lists (not to mention minor German allies lists) and you have an army that you can customize to suit almost any taste.

The German’s are not without draw backs however, the largest being of course the cost. German’s are expensive points wise, so the German player can expect to be outnumbered. This is especially true in regards to a German tank company. Having 8 to 10 tanks is pretty standard for a German panzer force, which takes up two thirds or more of your points. 8.8cm FlaK36 gun
Not only are your German forces Confident Veteran, they are also blessed with some of the best across the board special rules in the game. The storm trooper move is great for playing peek-a-boo with your lightly armoured tank hunters. Mission tactics are a real advantage in keeping up the momentum of an attack. Finally don’t underestimate the Kampfgruppe rule. The ability to create an extra platoon specifically for a certain opponent, in a certain mission, on certain terrain is an advantage not to be taken lightly.

DAK Panzergrenadierkompanie

Late War

All that I’ve said above is still true, just add cheaper Panthers and Tigers to the mix and watch your opponent turn green with envy.

Festung Europa

Bloody Omaha

Villers-Bocage Monty's Meatgrinder

Cobra

Afrika Ostfront

Italians

Mid War

When they work, they can work extremely well. When they don’t work…you can still have a lot of fun with the game.

Just don’t let the reputation that the Italians had during the war fool you. This army can be tough opponent. Remember, Flames Of War is a point-based game. A 1500 point army is a potential challenge to any other 1500 army. While the Italian tanks are nothing to write home about they can field a lot of them and back them up with 88 or 90mm anti-tank guns, or 75mm assault guns.

As for the infantry you can field a lot of them as well, the basic infantry are just as capable as the Americans, and their elite infantry (which come in three flavours) are just as good any others. The only real hole in their equipment is around medium AT guns, but they can take German allies to help fill that gap if they so desire.

The special rules for Italians can cause a lot of concern for both the player and his opponents. The 8 Million Bayonets rules is really the core of what makes the Italians a fun army to play. With this rule neither you nor your opponent really know just how good your army really is until the start of the game. 

Italian Compagnia Bersaglieri
Late War

The Italians can be an interesting force to play late war. At the time of writing there was only a list for the Italians who fought with the Allies. However, I imagine that there will be an Axis list coming (now available ~ Ed.). Given what is in the Allied briefing the Italians are a capable force but really need have to reply upon either British or American support for the heavy guns needed to survive the late war battlefield. This is not a bad thing; the Italians can make an interesting add on to a force that has a variant for your otherwise normal late war force.

Later War RSI (pro-German) Bersaglieri
Another advantage of late war Italians will be, once the Axis list comes out, is the ability to “switch hit” sides depending upon what kind of support the Italians take. Playing a friend who has only Germans? Well take your allied support, next opponent is British well just add those nice German tanks. It’s a little more expensive but at least you’ll always have an opponent.
Ostfront

Soviets

Mid War

As the Soviets themselves say, “quantity has a quality all of its own.” The Red army is a classic horde army and that is the main reason why they are fun to play and to play against. However, it takes skill to get the most out of these large units. While simply charging everything at the enemy can be a viable strategy, Soviets can be played with more subtlety

However, the Soviets are not just limited to a large horde of infantry or tanks. With the Reconnaissance Rotas, Cossacks, Militia and Guard battalions there are a lot of options. In short there are a lot of different Soviet armies that can be created.

An important thing to keep in mind, when choosing support platoons, is that everyone is conscript. Not only does this mean that you are easy to hit, but when it comes to an artillery barrage Soviet players have a difficult time hitting as well. Maximizing platoon sizes so that you are dealing with a six gun or more batteries to get the re-roll can be very important. Remember with Soviets GO BIG OR GO HOME. 

The special rules for Soviets encourage large armies. Quality of Quantity and Hens and Chicks rules encourage larger formation of Soviets troops to be used. Like the British, the Soviets also have some interesting artillery rules that are dependant upon the number of guns. The Komissar rules really help keep the infantry attack going forward.

Late War

Of all of the armies the Soviets are subject to the biggest changes between mid and late war. First off their forces go from Fearless Conscript to Confident Trained.

T-34 obr 1943

This allows for a lot more tactical flexibility, while still keeping all the rules that make the Soviets hard to stop in the first place. Like the Germans the Soviet get some really cool tanks as well, from the T34/85, and the IS2 to the ISU152. All of which allow the Soviets to go head to head with the German armour with a greater chance of success than what the western Allies have.

STEP THREE: COOKING THE STEW

So now that you’ve decided what kind of army and which nation you’re going to play the next step is actually choosing the platoons that you want.

Festung Europa

There are endless ways to build an army. In fact that one of the fun things about his hobby is trying to figure out what works best. I’m not going to make any more suggestion about what you should or should not included in your army than I already have. This is your army and you ultimately have to decide what you’re going to put into it.

The best place to start is to develop a plan before hand of how your army is going to deal with or counter certain situations. What I like to call the HOWs. How you deal with the HOWs is up to you, but you should be aware of them when you’re building an army.

The HOWs that all armies are going to have to face eventually are:

US Assault troops

1. HOW am I going to deal with dug in infantry? Eventually you’re going to have to attack an infantry platoon that is dug in around an objective. There is no tougher nut to crack than dug in, gone to ground, infantry. They’re hard to hit, have good saves and you have to make firepower checks to do anything to them. The only sure way to deal with them is to assault, but that leads to a whole other set of problems. Airpower, heavy tanks, heavy artillery, smoke, and lots of infantry are all components to an answer this HOW.

2. HOW am I going to deal with heavy tanks? Whether German Tigers, British Churchills, or Soviet KVs, you are eventually going to face a tank(s) that is immune to all but the heaviest anti-tank guns.

I’ve seen three Churchills slowly moved to an objective take it and defend it all the while the defender threw everything he had at them and did nothing. Heavy AT/AA guns, smoke, engineers, lots of bazookas or PIATs, or a well-placed ambush are all effective counters that you have at your disposal.

3. HOW am I going to hold an objective? Flames Of War is all about the objectives. Whether you’re attacking and have to hold against a counter-attack or defending an objective right from turn one, at some point there is going to a small piece of real estate that is going to mean a great deal to you. Infantry, heavy machine-guns, light and medium anti-tank and infantry guns, mortars in various combinations are best for holding an objective.

Romanian tanks
US Assault Company advances

4. HOW am I going to deal with air strikes? While effective, air strikes are more of a problem for some armies than others. When you’re building an army figure out if you have any critical platoons, for example a British 8 gun battery. If you do have such a platoon(s) then investing in some sort of anti-aircraft defence is probably a good idea. If not, don’t wreck your list trying to fit AA into it. As well, keep in mind that aircraft cannot strike within 16”/40cm of friendly troops, so closing with the enemy as quickly as possible is also a valid tactic.

5. HOW am I going to deal with a hoard of light tanks? Sort of the opposite of How #2 but it can be just a tricky.  Some players love light tanks, both because of how many they can get, and  because of the speed and firepower that they possess against infantry.

40 machine gun shots or 30 37mm cannon shots can’t be easily ignored even by dug in infantry. As well, because of their numbers and speed there is a good chance of getting side shots on medium tanks, which will go through. Plus since there are so many, the player can afford to lose 5 or 6 of the things while closing and still doing damage. Heavy artillery, lots of light and medium anti-tank guns, long ranged anti-tank guns, as well as tanks of your own can be counters to light tanks.

6. HOW am I going to deal with the infantry hoard? While this is largely a Soviet trick, both the Americans and Italians (and Hungarians and Romanians as well ~ Ed.) have some potential of doing it as well. The big issue with lots of infantry is staying power. It can take a lot of time to reduce large platoon/companies down to something that is more manageable. And in Flames Of War time is sometimes something that you don’t have.  Artillery, mortars, HMG (of course), light tanks and lots of your own infantry all can counter infantry.

Notice that while some things (for example artillery) are useful against a lot of HOWS, there is nothing that is useful against everything. And that is why a good Flames Of War army is like a good stew. A good mixture of units (like a good mixture of ingredients) working together can create a unified hole that is stronger than the sum of its parts. 

Some examples:

A small infantry platoon, backed up by one or two machine guns will produce enough firepower to slow down (by pinning) a larger infantry force. Thereby giving enough time for the supporting mortar platoon to nail it while they are in the open. Or it can provide enough of a target to lure a tank into a position where the ambushing anti-tank guns can get side shots.

US 105mm howitzer
A solid artillery barrage that has been ranged in for a few turns will keep a group of dug in infantry pinned and cause a enough casualties that it will make the assault by a tank platoon possible. In the shooting phase, just before the assault, switch to smoke over part of the platoon, while the tanks direct fire with their Machine-guns on the remainder. The infantry stays pinned and the tanks get concealment bonuses while they attack through the smoke.
M8 Greyhound A recon team removes Gone-to-ground off of an infantry platoon, so that EVERYONE can hit it easier.  

Combined arms, teamwork, and the right firepower for the right opponent was what won battles in World War II.  The same can be said of Flames Of War, which in my opinion is the mark of a great game. If you keep that in mind along with your own temperament as a player then you will create forces, not only that will be fun for you to play, but one that will be able to take on all comers and stand a good chance of winning.

Addendum

Personal army list

I figured it would be only fair to put my money where my mouth is and put forward some of my army lists to show you how I answered my own questions.

First off, I’m definitely an aggressive player who even on defence likes to counter-attack at the first opportunity. Unfortunately I really don’t have the tactical skill to really be that much of finesse player. Keeping that in mind these are three 1500 point lists that I’ve come up with, one for each type of army.

Late War American mechanized company (Italy Veteran)

HQ

Armoured Rifle Platoon

Armoured Rifle Platoon

Mortar Platoon

Recon Platoon

Tank Platoon with 4 Shermans

Tank Destroyer Section with 2 M18 Hellcats

M18 Hellcat
Because they’re Italian Veterans I only get 1150 points for spend, but given that they’re Confident Veterans, I’m willing to pay the price. The firepower of the Armoured rifles is only matched by its speed. The recon allows me to keep ambushes back and get rid of Gone-to-ground. The mortars are more for smoke than anything else, but can also be useful against infantry or gun teams in the open. The Shermans are to dig out infantry at range and the Hellcats are for the tanks. I have enough self-defence AA that I’m not worried about air attacks.
Grille H Mid War Italy German Motorized Infantry Company

HQ

Motorized Infantry Platoon

Motorized Infantry Platoon

Heavy Weapons Platoon (2 HMGs and 3 Mortars)

Anti-tank platoon with 2 Pak 38s

Tank Platoon with 3 Panzer IV Gs

Motorized Infantry Gun Platoon with 2 Grilles

Motorized Anti-aircraft platoon with 2 20mm halftracks

In defence, my plans are to combat attach one of the HMGs and 5cm Pak 38 gun to each motorized platoon. This powerful force with should be able to hold out until the mechanized forces arrive to counter-attack. On the attack, the Panzer IV tanks attack, backed up by the motorized platoons. The mortars smoke blind anti-tank guns while the Grilles blast dug in infantry apart. The AA guns will either defend the Grilles and the trucks from aircraft, or they’ll provide additional fire against dug-in infantry.
Mid War British Armoured Company

HQ 2 Grants

Tank platoon with 3 Grants

Tank platoon with 3 Grants

Recon platoon with 2 Humbers and 1 AEC Mk1

Royal Horse Battery with 8 Priests

One of my more unorthodox lists, but that I think would work for me. Once again the recon remove Gone-to-Ground and prevent close range ambushes. The 8 priests are getting all of the advantages of 8-gun battery, but with AT4 FP4+ bombardments. This should be enough to reduce a dug-in platoon quickly.

Grant