Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fighting Formations - Lessons Learned In First Play

I've covered the rules and the components of Fighting Formations, but how do those things translate to play? Here are the lessons I learned from my session with Matt on Monday evening. We played the Learning Scenario (#0, non-historical) on a half map with only vehicles, infantry and a machine gun on each side. Germans had the extremely effective but directional StuGIII self-propelled arty, while I had the excellent if relatively underpowered T34 tanks on the Soviet side.

  • Cover is fine, especially in buildings, but you aren't going to have the nearly-impregnable hexes like you might in Combat Commander when you get an effective leader in them. Woods in particular seem less effective.
  • LMG special actions might seem lame (adding one hex to range for an asset?) but when you consider that it actually can give you *three* extra hexes (for long and extreme range) it's a better deal. You still want to use it selectively.
  • There is an art to deploying vehicles/squads. Doing so dilutes your firepower but gives you more shots. It also increases your Initiative costs during activation. If you do deploy while under fire, it may make more sense to do it as part of an Advance action or Move action if you're going to Rally immediately afterward (and have the Initiative points to do so). Do not deploy before you fire if you think you'll get Return fire because it can chew you up fast if you have a platoon with a single hit on it.
  • Outside of cover, this game is much more about maneuver than CC is. It is hard to get hits on units with high armor values, you almost need to flank to get decent chances of hitting. 
  • Asset cards may be expensive to get, but they are generally going to be worth it even if you use them to discard to gain special actions. 
  • Every bump up in die size gives you an average of two extra points. It also improves your chances of avoiding hindrance or Rate of Fire penalties. Every bump down does the opposite. Note that going from d12s to d20s is much better in both regards. 
  • When going into Melee with infantry assaulting tanks, it's good to have external units that can fire on the hex with AP. You can set up traps around chokepoints that involve buildings or woods to force the enemy into column and really mess with their melee values. If you can get your infantry to d20s you are almost guaranteed hits. 
  • Don't forget the effect of command markers on arty. I got three arty cards but didn't have command in a place to exploit it, nor could I get them there. 
  • Even with a couple of command markers at your disposal, don't neglect snipers. A lucky roll can really put the hurt on your opponent. 
  • Pay close attention to what sort of Initiative costs your opponent will have if they perform Op or Return fire. I did not mention this before, but it's possible to push the Initiative marker into your opponent's side only to have your opponent do so much Op/Return fire that it comes back to your side for another order. 
  • If your opponent doesn't have asset cards, you can try to starve him for order cubes in the matrix if there are more than one or two on the 1 slot. Conversely, you can use expensive cubes to prevent types of orders that will allow entry into Melee, or prevent the drawing of asset cards, or generally just make your opponent's turn less effective. 
  • The more you think in terms of Initiative costs for the things you want to do, the better you will plan. The more you think in terms of your victory conditions as opposed to shooting every chance you get, the more efficient your Initiative costs will be. 
  • This game is a lot like American Football. You are going to get a set of orders (downs) based on where your opponent left the ball on the field (initiative track). Most of the time you are going to be concerned with taking ground, but even taking out units corresponds to gaining yardage depending on the scenario. Know what tools (plays) you have at your disposal and think strategically while still being effective tactically. 
  • Force your opponents into making hard decisions. If you can flank a tank on two sides, one of your units is going to get a flank shot, and even individual vehicles can do well against platoons if they're flanking them. 
  • The Fate card is best used as a threat in being rather than using it to save units. Right up until the unit is in a critical location or is all that's standing between you and victory. 
  • Use your infantry for melee in woods and buildings, use your tanks from a distance to soften them up. 
  • Whenever you can score two consecutive orders, do so. You should make your opponent pay for orders that activate a lot of units and have high Initiative costs. Using your command in a smart (or smarter) fashion will affect this more than I can emphasize. 
  • Get to know the maps and the fire lanes. Agree on the width of your sighing tool - I recommend a thin thread even though I also find it harder to manipulate and find easily. You can check LOS any time, but knowing where those lanes are will make a big difference when you plan out your attack or defense. 
  • You'll want to have a plan and group units for different tasks within the mission appropriately. Just sending everyone off and hoping there will be plenty of Initiative points to use will lose you the game.
  • Remember that when vehicles are in column and the hex they are in or moving into has the problem terrain under the LOS dot, you need to follow the road to enter *and* exit. 
  • Flanking maneuvers are going to require a certain amount of command to be efficient. Plan them carefully.
  • When a platoon starts to take hits, pull it out of the firing line to get it rallied and mustered (if necessary. Remember that you need on-board command to muster!
I made a lot of mistakes in this game, but perhaps the biggest one was not instructing Matt's dice that about the hindrance rules - I think he avoided hitting those numbers on 90% of his rolls, while I hit them regularly. ;-)

Seriously, I did a few things very poorly. First was violating the concept of getting your units broken up once they started taking hits. My units just sat there and took hit after hit because direct fire was so effective (and Matt's rolls so high). I moved a tank unit into what was a pretty good spot for shooting at German infantry at medium range, but had nowhere to go (buildings and woods all around) once his StuG moved into firing position. 

As such, Matt took out much of my main force in the center buildings pretty effectively, including the tank I had there, plus two rifle platoons and my Maxim MG. I moved too many units right into the firing lanes for his StuG and MG 34 and couldn't get them out again easily to recover. 

In our fourth turn, Matt started bringing up the StuGs to take the objective spaces, but we figured out quickly that was a bad idea. Much better to take an empty space, then wait for infantry to move into melee to beat them up using OpFire. Remember that you only fire at a single unit in Melee, though, and that the owner of the enemy units gets to decide which unit gets attacked, while any of his units in the hex (or outside of it) can Return/OpFire. 

Matt was doing well, but I had the advantage of having most of the objectives held so he was going to have to push me out. He kept the Fate card the entire game, but it would have been interesting to see where the Sudden Death roll would have put us. 

Our play was pretty fluid, although we took a leisurely pace to make sure we had all of the concepts down. I would expect a turn to take from 15-60 minutes depending upon Orders chosen and the size of the scenario, although Initiative limitations will keep things relatively tight around the 30 minute mark for experienced players, 45 minutes for the really big scenarios with lots of command markers keeping initiative costs lower. 

My initial impression is that this is a really great game that has a lot of depth and is going to require multiple playings before I can consider myself more than a mediocre player at best. Compare with CC, where I believed (incorrectly) that I had a good grasp of tactics and the system early on without understanding how important it was to acquire the right cards rather than just shoot at will and burn up the clock. In FF, the clock is the order cubes, and the more of them you use and prevent your opponent from using is important, although as the attacker you'll need to use them efficiently as well. If anything, I think that the biggest problem with getting this on the table will be that the scenarios seem like they'll take longer than a standard CC game, which I could general get done in two hours with brisk play even with a larger scenario. I would put the average play time at 3-4 hours for FF, although that's a very rough estimate on my part. 

I'm going to play some ASL this coming weekend (ASLSK #1 level scenarios) for the first time against an opponent, and frankly I've played a single player turn in preparation solitaire and aside from a little SL gaming back in the day, that's all I know about that system despite owning a lot of product (all the original AH core stuff along with a lot of the MMP product). Once I've played that, I'll do a comparative study of the tactical level games I'm familiar with (Combat Commander, ASL, Conflict of Heroes, Panzer Grenadier, Frontline) with FF in a future post.

Thanks for sticking with me this far. I've reposted my OIC Complex post on the 'Geek, as I do with my analysis posts.


Tim said...

I look forward to your comparison article - and thanks for the FF coverage so far. It's been interesting!

I got in a play of Scenario 0 Tuesday night, and enjoyed it quite a bit - I was the Germans, and definitely I'd agree that you really need to focus on Initiative costs (both for orders, and for Op/Return Fire).

We never did try Melee, though . . .


Mark H. Walker said...

I'd love to see you include Lock 'n Load or White Star Rising in that comparison.

Kingdaddy said...

A very thoughtful first session report. In the two games I've played (one face-to-face, one solitaire), I'd make the following comparison:

Combat Commander emphasizes preparation. You spend a lot of time amassing the forces and cards needed to take an action.

Fighting Formations emphasizes planning. You spend a lot of time thinking ahead about what you'll be doing this turn, and the next few turns after that.

Dug said...

Great comments. I'm glad to hear people are enjoying my essays.

Kingdaddy, that's a very interesting comparison. I am nowhere near ready to consider myself as a knowledgeable FF player (as opposed to someone who knows the system), but it makes a lot of sense. Of course, you need a certain amount of planning for CC too, it's just that time seems to be a lot more malleable in the latter game.

Mark, I do plan to do a comparison against WSR and LnL at some point, but those games have never really gained any traction with my regular opponents. I do own titles in both series, and as part of my interest in WW2 tactical games, I'll be getting to them fairly soon, if solitaire to start. I also have several of the WaW titles as well, and if WSR is as easy to get into as WaW is, then that may be my next tactical game to learn.

Sharp said...

Great articles. Well written stuff glad to have found your site.