Monday, October 1, 2018

The Czechoslovak People’s Army (ČSLA) in Team Yankee

Team Yankee has really captured my gaming imagination over the past couple of years and whilst I started with World War II and Napoleonics, the passion for WWIII has always lurked just under the surface (much like a Los Angeles submarine hunting its prey) waiting for a chance to burst out.

I have a few armies on the painting table and for the past few months I've been slowly putting together a plan to add a Czechoslovak force to that list. I cannot really explain why this particular force has captured my eye other than perhaps a strange liking of the Vz.61 Skorpion thanks to playing Twilight 2000 all those years ago?

The Czechoslovak People’s Army in Team Yankee is much like the other Warsaw Pact nations in that they have 2nd line tanks with the T-72M and T-55AM2, along with a few other (super cool looking) locally built vehicles like the DANA SP Artillery and OT-64 APC. They lack the really first line gear that the Soviets have but make up for by just being cool.

Other than gear, where the Czechoslovakians differ from their allies is their Courage and Skill ratings. They have a base Courage of 5+, whereas the East Germans have a 4+. This  represents a little less commitment to the cause than their allies and some long memories going back to 1968. They also have a slightly lower Counterattack (1 point less). This means that for a company of T-72Ms you are paying 1 point less at the bottom end with 3 for 6 points vs 7 points (for the East Germans) and 27 points for 10 tanks, vs 35 points.

When it comes to T-55AM2 Companies it is a similar story with 5 tanks costing 1 point less and 10 tanks being 3 points cheaper (at a total of 13 points).

My current plan is to finish building two T-55A2 Companies, each of 16 tanks. These would be supported with integral (min strength) infantry Companies in OT-64 armoured personnel carriers, small scout platoons with BRDM-2 and perhaps (depending on points) some AA in the form of some SA-9 Gaskins. Each of these companies come in at 28 points (or less depending on how I support the infantry). 
They would form the aggressive core of the force, pushing forward to get up close with the enemy and hopefully causing some casualties to the enemy support elements or even their tanks if I can hit the flanks. 

To give the Force a little more punch I'd add some T-72M tanks. Ten of these backed up with some infantry in BMP-2 APCs and BMP-1 Scouts are 35 points. In a 100 point game this doesn't leave me with much left over for support units, however I can either chose to play a bigger game, or drop a Tank Company (either the T-72Ms or T-55AM2s) or merge them by swapping the 3rd platoon in the T-55AM2 Companies with some T-72Ms. Assuming I get everything built and painted I'll have plenty of options to choose from!

To support the Force, I have a wealth of very nice options.
  • Hinds - yes please.
  • DANA SP 152mm guns - wait till you see what they look like.
  • RM-70 Rocket Launchers - oh why not!
  • Spandrels - because I can.
  • SU-25 Frogfoots - it would be rude not too as the Czechoslovakian Air Force was one of the few (in addition to the Soviets) that used them.
Hinds helicopters are problem solvers in my opinion. Their Spiral AT missiles are more than capable of knocking out enemy tanks whilst their save means they have a good chance of ignoring enemy ground fire. 

Because they are airborne they can move around the table with far more freedom than my ground based anti-armour assets and unlike all other helicopters they can move and shoot their missiles.

Plus, they look cool, and there are specific Czechoslovakian Hind decals! 

Next up are the DANA Self-propelled 152mm guns. As Leeloo said, "Big Badda Boom!" 

These look phenomenal and pack some fairly serious firepower with AT 4 vs top armour and 2+ Firepower. They also have the Autoloader rule which means you reduce the score to hit teams under the template by 1.

Oh, and did I mention the words Smoke Bombardment? Just another tool in their arsenal.

RM-70 Rocket Launchers are what you get when you take a Hail (or Grad) rocket system and put it on a much better-looking truck.

Thanks to their nice large Salvo template they should provide a useful option for taking on British Milan teams.

The addition of some Spandrels to the Force is a bit of a no-brainer to me as they come in at a very affordable 2 points for 3 vehicles and their AT 21 missiles are quite potent on the battlefield. Plus, they have wheels and in this force anything with wheels gets a look in.

Last, but certainly not least is the crowd favourite, the SU-25 Frogfoot.

Much like the Hind, they benefit from the ability to target models that think themselves safe hiding behind terrain. Their Kh-25 missiles are deadly with a capital D thanks to AT 27, Firepower 2+, and just to finish it off, Brutal, Guided and HEAT.

They will find you, and they will kill you. Of course, they only turn up half the time so a bad series of dice rolls could result in 21 points and 6 Frogfoots never turning up... so don't roll badly!

With so many projects that I want to work on I had better start planning my Christmas holidays!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Returning To The Seas Of Dystopian Wars

Long-time readers will remember that many years ago (when it first came out even) I dived into Dystopian Wars by Spartan Games. In the designers words...

The year is 1870.
The World is at War.

The world of Dystopian Wars is similar to our own but subtly different. The year is 1870 and the Industrial Revolution occurred decades earlier than in our own world. Technology is far advanced, and in many cases, unrecognisable, which has led to the development of fantastic naval vessels, hulking land ships and terror from the skies in the form of airships and war balloons.

Let's recap
  • Ships
  • Cool Technology
  • Really Big Ships
  • War Balloons?
Needless to say, it ticked many boxes for me and in no time had I picked up a small pile of ships and even painted up a decent chunk of them. The story gets a little less happy from here.... over the years the designers kept making outstandingly cool models, which I of course kept buying and stashing away. Unfortunately, I never played enough games to really bed the fundamental mechanics in my head and over the course of a relatively small number of years we saw V1, then V1.1, then V2 and subsequently V2.5 of the rules published. So, with a small number of games and so many improvements to the rules happening I ended up just putting the game (and the models) on the shelf. As I said I still kept picking up models along the way (very happy to have the Ice Maiden! above right) but without a whole lot of desire to do much more.

Unfortunately the story gets even worse here as a little over a year ago Spartan Games ceased trading. I was fortunate enough over the years to have traded a number of emails with the folks at Spartan and found them to be a great bunch of passionate people. Seeing the company close the doors was an obvious loss to those of us in the community as well of course to the staff that had poured their heart and soul into the business.

So this is where the worm turns a little. Warcradle Studios (a subsidiary of Wayland Games) bought the rights to Dystopian Wars along with some of the other Spartan Games properties. On a personal level this was great as it meant that the game would continue to live on but I still had very limited reasons to play or paint my models.

And now the happy ending... (for me that is). Recently an old colleague, and once again colleague, Victor, dusted off his old ships and challenged me to a game. Armed with the "new" 2.5 edition of the rules and the Fleet Action 'fast play' version we sat down to a game one evening. The Fleet Action rules are...

...the new fast play game engine set in the world of Dystopian Wars, which will allow you to take your existing forces and, with no change to what you already own, play a faster, leaner, deadlier game of the world's leading Victorian Super Science Fiction Wargame.

I'd say it is 90% of the best bits of the game, with only 10% of the complexity. Within 90 minutes we managed to fumble our way through a small game, but we got to use our ships for the first time in probably five years. Even though the rules abstracted a number of the ship details compared with the full game, they were all different enough that the flavour of the full game seemed to still be there and most importantly, we got to use our ships!

Time to dust off the old ships and perhaps start painted up some of the backlog?
Two fleets line up

The Battleships clash

Friday, August 3, 2018

Army Planning For FlamesCon 2018

FlamesCon is just around the corner, which is to say it is still a few months away but I need to nail down which army I am taking and then finish painting it. I have at least nailed the very first issue which was Flames Of War, or Team Yankee.

Right now, I have two competing options (plus a 3rd wild card) that I am debating
  1. Canadians: lots of Leopard 1 tanks, supported by some infantry and anti-tank guided missile vehicles. This army is almost finished and I just need to paint some crews, apply decals, paint machine-guns and do final airbrush dusting and varnish.
  2. Czechs (masquerading as East Germans): lots and lots of T-55AM2 tanks, with plenty of in Formation support so they won’t break, and plenty of high altitude support. This army is largely assembled but otherwise not yet started.
  3. French: these are my wild card as the army is assembled, but otherwise not started. Given the fact they would be significantly easier to finish than the Czechs I am not sure why they are relegated to wildcard.....
The Canadians:
Simple list, as many Leopard 1 tanks as I can fit in (given the points level), some infantry, recce and plenty of M150 TOW and ADATS. The Leopards can rush the enemy and either flank them or just try to overwhelm them, whilst the missile carriers do much of the heavy lifting as the Leopards 105mm gun is a little underwhelming.

I am keen to finish the army, but I have built it as a 100+ point force so cutting it down to 75 points hurts my soul. 
Click the image for a bigger version
The Czechs (East Germans):
Best way to beat MSU spam is to play it and see how it works? Also, I am thinking of using part of this force next year at Panzerschreck where Casey and I are going to team up again so painting this up kills (or wounds) two birds with one paint brush.

Plus, it is a pile of cool models... and I am being cunning and using my Syrian infantry that I carefully based up on a fairly brown/grassy basing style to be my generic Warsaw Pact infantry teams. So, painting these means I get to progress two projects at the same time. I know the figures are not quite right but they are close enough.
Click the image for a bigger version
The French:
I've been chipping away at this project as a fun, spare time, when I want too project. Other than infantry and AMX-10RCs I have no idea what the force might look like other than having lots of wheels!

Where to from here????
Short answer, no idea! I will be getting the Canadians finished in the coming weeks (stay tuned for photos) now that I have some extra decals to complete them.

The Czechs have been progressing as a relaxing evening hobby project. It is too cold to paint out in the garage but assembling some tanks in front of the fire whilst watching some TV has been nice.

For now, lets assume the Czechs are option 1, whilst the Canadians are a fantastic back-up option when I inevitably run out of time.

Stay tuned.......

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Syrian Tanks: Strengths and Weaknesses

Last week I took a look at the Israeli tanks and how I think they match up against their Syrian opponents. This week I thought I'd do the reverse. Quick disclaimer, I've been generous with what I consider a tank when it comes to the Syrians as they just don't have the variety as their opponents.

Tank X vs Sho't
Just like last week I think we need a baseline and in this case it will be the good old Israeli Sho't (105mm) tank. Coming in at 9 points each the Sho't (105mm) is a solid mid-range tank. You can field a reasonable number in a 100 point game, along with some support elements. With fairly average movement numbers and a Cross of 2+, paired with an excellent long range (40"/100cm), high anti-tank (18) gun that is Accurate (ignores long range penalties to hit), counts as Brutal (great for killing soft targets), and can fire Smoke. Finish it off with sold crew stats (Courage 4+, Morale 3+, Remount 3+, Skill 3+, Assault 4+ and Counterattack 3+) and good all-round armour (Front 13, Side 6 and Top 2).

The other reason for picking the Sho't is that it is a common opponent for the Syrians in the Golan Heights.

T-54 vs Sho't
The T-54 is possibly one of the most ubiquitous tanks ever designed. If a conflict happened in the years following World War II, there is a pretty good chance the T-54 (or T-55) was there, somewhere.
First up, let's take a look at the crew. As expected this is one of the areas where the T-54 does not compare favourably with the Sho't. They are just as keen for the fight with good motivation (Courage 4+, Morale 3+ and Remount 4+) but are let down by their lower Skill (6) and Assault (5+). However, their Counterattack is pretty solid and comes in at 3+.

One area where the T-54 shines (perhaps being a little generous here) is the armour, having Front 13, Side 9 and Top 2. Next up is the 100mm gun that has good Anti-tank (16), Firepower (2+) and access to HEAT rounds (so no long-range penetration penalty). Unfortunately, it has Slow Firing and only Rate Of Fire (ROF) of 1. Moving and shooting is not one of this tanks strengths. Speaking of moving the T-54 is pretty average cross country, but pretty quick on roads (24"/60cm) and terrible moving through rough terrain thanks to a Cross of 4+.

In a stand-up shoot out with the Sho't, the T-54 tanks should lose every time as they have had a hard job hitting and a difficult job penetrating the Sho'ts front. Conversely (like all Syrian tanks) the T-54 is hit on a 3+, more than likely to be penetrated by the Sho't (105mm) and probably knocked out.

T-62 vs Sho't
The T-62 represents an evolutionary step in the design of the T-54 / T-55 tank, pairing a tried and true design with a larger 115mm gun. In Fate Of A Nation each T-62 comes in around 5 points, making it a fairly cheap upgrade option from the T-54.

The T-62 has the same movement, crew stats and armour as the T-54. This makes the tank a solid option, but certainly not star performer. Where that point cost really goes is the 115mm gun. And it is well worth that extra point!

The 115mm gun has AT 19, making it more than capable of penetrating the Sho't (with Front armour 13) even at long range. Like the T-54 it suffers from Slow Firing thanks to its cramped turret and a ROF of 1.  Coming back to a stand up fight, this one is going to be interesting folks as the two tanks (the Sho't and the T-62) look pretty even to me when you match 1 vs 2. I'd put my money on the Sho't at long range thanks to having 2 shots, a higher To Hit number and the Accurate rule, but if the T-62 tanks are allowed to close then that thin line of Israeli tanks will be under some pressure.

T-34 vs Sho't
We are starting to work the lower end of the Syrian armour barrel already here. I won't go into too much depth about the stats of the T-34, but we can agree that it is worth it's 1.2 points per tank. It's armour is only 6 (making it about as good as an Isherman) and has a ROF 2, AT 12 gun.

This means it cannot touch any of the larger Israeli tanks, but is useful for hunting down light armour and support vehicles. Finally it is a threat to the Sho't (and Magach) if it can get around the flanks. Whilst I won't be painting any for my army, if I ever really wanted to drop in a company to act as armoured skirmishers I might borrow one from my Late War Flames Of War army.

SU-100 vs Sho't
The SU-100 is another venerable ex-WWII design that is still serving a purpose (and it won't be the last) in the Syrian army. Like the T-34 these are not exactly top-shelf but do have a powerful 100mm gun that chalked up its share of Panther and Tiger kills on the Eastern Front.

It will have no problems knocking out light armour (like Isherman and AMX tanks) but at AT 15 will struggle to kill a Sho't (with armour 13). However, at least it does have a chance. At approximately 1.2 points per vehicle they do have a place in the force as some static 'covering fire' for your other tanks.

Panzer Bunker vs Sho't
I've included this in the list because I think it is interesting, not because I think it is useful. The Syrians had a number of ex-WW2 German vehicles in their inventory. These were no-longer useful as tanks so found themselves turned into bunkers. Realistically they are not much of a threat, unless you choose to let them be a threat by forgetting about them. They are slightly harder to kill than a normal Panzer IV or StuG would be, however they are still easy pickings.

So... do I have a conclusion? It turns out that overnight I've found myself going from a big fan of the T-54 to thinking that I really don't have enough T-62 tanks. Five T-62 tanks are only 3 points more expensive than five T-54 tanks and they effectively have 2-3 points of extra AT. These couple of points will be the difference between penetrating a Sho't or Magach, or just being targets moving up. 

Don't get me wrong, I think the T-54 still has as solid place in my army, especially if I don't want to play a strictly '73 game as the enemy has to treat it with respect so whilst they are shooting up my T-62s, the T-54s can be dashing across the table getting in close.

It is also important to remember that whilst the vehicles listed above represent the Syrian armour, you cannot forget the BMP-1 and Sagger teams. These are going to provide some really good tank killing ability for a lot less points than a platoon of tanks. The downside is that they are just a bit less mobile and (potentially) a lot more squishy!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Israeli Tanks: Strengths and Weaknesses

Fate Of A Nation gives players a wide range of tank options for building their Israeli force. Because of the variety, trimming the list down might be harder than it seems depending on your preferences and criteria. Right now I have a little of everything painted, but these lists will require me to add some extra models if I want to maximise the performance of the Formations.

For now, I am using history to guide me as I want to paint more Sho't tanks (Centurions) and Isherman (105mm) tanks as I am going for a Golan Heights based Force. However, I am going to want to paint a bit more of everything in time so I can do whatever I want, or just play really big games!

To help guide me with my painting prioritisation I thought I look at each of the tanks that the Israelis can field and share my thoughts.

Tank X vs T-54
I am going to use the good old T-54 as my baseline enemy tank. Whilst the Arab nations can field other options I think the T-54 provides a good enemy for comparison and is likely to be the most common tank that players will face. A Syrian T-54 comes in a little over 4 points per tank and has a Courage and Remount of 4+, with a Morale of 3+, whilst the Skill is a base of 6 with improved Assault (5+) and excellent Counterattack of 3+. Finally, it is Hit On 3+.

The T-54 has good armour with Front 13, Side, 9 and Top 2, whilst the gun is average with a Range of 32"/80cm, Rate Of Fire (ROF) 1 across the board, AT 16, Firepower (FP) 2+, HEAT (no long range penalty to the AT value) but Slow Firing (+1 to Hit when moving). Rush to a position and then concentrate fire is the order of the day when playing with T-54 tanks.

Sho't vs T-54
The Sho't comes in two varieties, the original 20pdr version (8pts each) that was fairly uncommon even in 1967, or the much improved 105mm version (9pts each). What differentiates the two versions in terms of stat lines is that the 105mm has a higher AT (18 vs 16), Firepower (2+ vs 3+) and has the Brutal rule which means infantry, guns and so on need to re-roll successful saves.

Comparing it with the T-54 we see that the 20pdr gun is slightly better than the T-54s 100mm gun, with better Range, better ROF, and the Accurate rule (no long range penalty). However, the T-54 does claw a little back with slightly improved Firepower and the HEAT rule. The 105mm version is clearly superior on all counts.

Turning to the rest of their details, they both have the same Front Armour (13), whilst the T-54 has slightly better Side (9 vs 6). The T-54 is slightly improved in terms of its Dash speeds but the Sho't has an excellent Cross of 2+. In terms of the crews it comes as no surprise that the Israeli crews have equal or better Courage and Skill across the board.

For the points I think the Sho't (105mm) is easily the best buy. They should out shoot a pair or T-54 tanks every time, whilst I think a pair of T-54 tanks vs a Sho't (20pdr) is a much closer match up. Forcing the T-54 tanks to come to you, even if they get off the first shot should still result in you winning the firefight. Just remember though you don't have many so each loss is costly.

Magach vs T-54
Much like the Sho't, the Magach can come with a 90mm gun (7pts each) which has the same stat lines as the Sho't 20pdr, or the upgraded 105mm version (10pts each) that has the exact same gun as the Sho't (a British L7 105mm gun).

As the guns are the same, the differences in points is driven by an increase in Side Armour on the Magach (8 vs the Sho'ts 6), higher Dash speeds but slightly lower remount (4+ on the Magach vs 3+ on the Sho't).

Frankly all of these changes are bad news for the T-54 as it means that in the areas where the T-54 eclipsed the Sho't, the Magach narrows the gap. In terms of battlefield performance I think it comes down play style, although the Magach (90mm) does look pretty effective for its points.

Magach 6 vs T-54
Magach 6 is the Israeli designation for the US built M60 tank. Israel had a relatively small number of these at the start of the 1973 war and received emergency shipments from the US stocks in Europe. The tank is armed with a 105mm gun and the stat line is the same as other Israeli 105mm armed tanks, but it has even more armour (Front 15) making it impenetrable at long range when engaging in firefights with T-54 tanks. However, Sagger
teams will still cause some consternation thanks to their AT18 missiles.

So why would you even bother with the other tanks if this is the wonder weapon of the IDF? Two reasons jump to mind; they are 12 points each making them very expensive and whilst I feel they are worth their points it means you are not going to have many of them on the table and if you start rolling 1's you might find a tank or two dead and (assuming you are playing 100 point games) then the relatively small platoon sizes will start causing you to take tests to stay on the table. The second reason is simple history. They weren't there in 1967 if that is where your interest sits.

Sherman (75mm) and Isherman (105mm)
Putting my cards on the table here, Isherman (105mm) are the absolute best looking tanks in the game. End. Of. Story! 

Sherman (75mm) tanks are good old fashioned World War II Sherman tanks with an upgraded French made 75mm gun that was influence by the German Panther 75mm gun. With 36"/ 90cm range it is more than good enough, ROF 2/1, AT14 (bit low for killing T-54 tanks) and Firepower 3+. Great for hunting everything except front line Arab armour.

Isherman (105mm) tanks are the same Shermans but with a few upgrades, starting with a very long 105mm gun that bumps the AT up to 17, Firepower up to 2+, adds HEAT (so no armour penetration penalty for long range) and Brutal which is great for killing enemy Sagger teams.

Both tanks have average Courage and Skill ratings (identical to the Sho't) of 4+/3+/3+ and 3+/4+/3+ but thanks to their heritage have terrible armour ratings of Front 6, Side 4 and Top 1. Both versions have a Cross of 3+, with the Isherman (105mm) mitigating its overly long gun with HVSS style suspension (think Easy 8 from WWII).

Where they truly shine though is that they come in at 3 and 4 points respectively. A 10 tank company, with support platoon and integrated mortar battery will be around 55 points making it a great foundational Formation for your army, or a cheap backup Formation if you strip back the numbers.

Don't have a stand up fight in the open against T-54 tanks as the disparity of armour values will result in a poor result for the Shermans.

Tiran 5
During the 1967 war the Israelis captured many T-54 tanks from the Arabs. Short of modern tanks they pressed these into service under the designation of Tiran (Tyrant). In Fate Of A Nation they have been significantly modernised adding improved weapon systems (the traditional 105mm gun and extra machine-guns), new engines, gun sights as well as crew comfort improvements.

So how does the Israeli "T-54" compare with the Arab/Soviet one? First up the Tiran-5 comes in at 7 points each vs 4.3 each for the Syrian model. They both have the same armour values but the Tiran packs an AT 18 gun (with Brutal and Smoke) but still has the drawback of of the cramped T-54 turret leading to ROF 1/1 and Slow Firing. So mobile engagements are not going to be high on your list. However, since the Syrian T-54 has the same penalties but only AT16 it is still looking good for the Israeli player.

Despite a new engine both versions still have the same movement stats, but the Israeli version does still win out on the Courage and Skill side, although the stats are the same as most other Israeli tanks.

The Tiran 5 looks good, but this is a really close decision for me as to which is actually better. The Tiran should win the shoot-out thanks to the higher AT making it approximately twice as likely to kill the T-54 (at close range) than vice versa. However the Slow Firing and low ROF means it is less suitable for a mobile engagement that an Israeli force will have to be ready for against a much more numerous opponent. Either way a shoot out between the two tanks will be entertaining.

Another favourite of mine, the AMX-13 is (like the Sherman tank) outclassed by the T-54. With the same gun as the Sherman (75mm) and Front Armour of 4 there is no shoot out that these are going to win.

However, they are only 2 points a pop and fairly fast when Dashing (24"/ 60cm Cross Country) which means that whilst they cannot win a head-to-head fight, they are a cheap support Formation (10 tanks for 20 points) that can harass all of the Syrian support units and if they get around the flank of a T-54 their guns will penetrate like a hot knife through butter.

So which one (or ones) are the best? Good question that. I think that it really comes down to how you want to play but you should really be looking at either some Magach or Sho't tanks, and in both cases it is hard to beat the 105mm armed versions thanks to their increased killing power.

I still love the Isherman (105mm) though and think they make an excellent addition for some cheap firepower, just don't let them get caught in the open.