Miniature Ordnance Review looks at the world of historical and fantasy miniatures wargaming and model building. From 15mm Flames of War, to Warhammer 40K, to 1/35th scale tanks, with some potential surprises on the horizon - you'll find them here!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Thoughts on What's Next for Flames of War

Last year John-Paul made us wait until March for the "state of the union" address as to what was coming next for Flames of War - this year we get the update on New Year's Eve (New Zealand time - a day earlier for many of us!). All I can say is that I'm very excited for what I'm seeing!

First up is the V3 update for Mid War. The update of North Africa and Eastern Front was supposed to happen earlier this year, but as JP says, "it has taken the game designers longer than we anticipated..." Given the volume of changes in V3 and Lessons From the Front it's not entirely surprising that something had to give and these were pushed out. This is a digital only update, but I'll be going ahead and picking up the new versions of the books as I still enjoy MW quite a bit and have a new MW army I'm working on...

Given that Team Yankee was pushed out to the end of the year, it's not surprising that the original December and January release dates for Flames of War Pacific also slipped. At this point we're being promised a release in the March time frame. The American book covers the U.S. Marines in the Pacific and is called Gung Ho, while the Japanese book is called Banzai. No official word on what lists are covered in each book at this point, but I'll have more information once the books are officially released into the wild. Again, this is a part of the war I've wanted to model for a VERY long time - especially the fun (though fragile) Japanese tanks.

With the release of the Berlin book, I'd thought we were pretty much done with World War II in Europe, but the a few weeks ago JP indicated that there would be a Battle of the Bulge compilation. We now have a little more detail on that project, which will combine the three Bulge books, Blood, Guts and Glory, Nuts, and Devil's Charge, into a two volume set with some additional material added. Unfortunately there's no detail on the additional material at this time.

JP also indicates that there will be "a brand new book release" for Late War, and that this release will be accompanied by new plastic models. I honestly have no clue as to what this will cover, but I can think of a few operations that haven't been covered yet by lists. The "new plastic models" bit intrigues me as well. Maybe an updated (read corrected) all plastic Panzer IV Ausf J? I know I'd scoop those up in quantity...

Team Yankee is also getting updates with two new new nationalities being added to the fray. The not so subtle hints include pictures and a video of the BO 105 helicopter, which was developed in Germany and used by the Bundeswehr (among other operators). The other photos show British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher riding in the commander's hatch of what I believe is a British Challenger tank. It also appears that some Digital exclusive lists will be showing up for Team Yankee as well, though the business model for getting the unit cards to the players is still being finalized.

Speaking of Digital - it's coming for Android! The current ECD is around the end of March, but apparently Battlefront doesn't have complete control of the project, so there could be some softness in that date.

The new Tanks skirmish game is also shown in some more detail. It appears as if the plastic tanks for the game are the same as the plastic models we've come to enjoy for Flames of War, but they are molded in color (the German Panther is in panzer yellow while the American Shermans are in a green drab). Tanks will use unit cards like we've seen in Team Yankee and were seen previously in Dust. I don't know if I'm totally sold on Unit Cards yet, but I can see the utility of them, especially in a skirmish game. We'll also get British and Soviets as well, again based on the current plastic range.

Finally, a couple of really nice looking Battlefield in a Box buildings are shown - again, these look great (see below), and honestly I love pre-painted terrain, as that is one more thing I DON'T have to paint. I barely have enough time to paint my armies - I definitely don't have time to paint a bunch of terrain as well.

It also looks like Battlefront has outgrown its space in Malaysia and will be moving to new digs. This move may throw a wrench in production schedules depending on how they have it set up, and I don't envy them the task. Moving is always a pain!

As it stands, 2016 looks like it will be another exciting year to be a Flames of War player. I was hoping we'd get a bit more granularity for later in the year as most of this update appears to be front-end loaded, so I suspect that Battlefront has at least one more rabbit to pull out of their hat.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Team Yankee Miniature Review - Abrams and T72

Unless you've been under a rock, you're aware of the massive launch of the new Flames of War variant released by Battlefront, Team Yankee. I'd proofread the original rules coming through, so I knew this was going to be at the same time a familiar, but in many ways totally different game. The original Flames of War rules work well for World War II, and honestly any conflict prior to the addition of the massive high-tech you start seeing in the 1970's and 1980's. Speculation on the various forums was rampant, but I'd always felt you'd need a modified version of the FoW rules to make "modern" work properly, and that's what Battlefront has given us.

To get the ball rolling, they've started releasing the miniatures to support this new game system. Right now all we have is Soviet and American, but there are some nice army deals to help the new player get his or her feet wet. The American set is called Bannon's Boys (TUSAB1), named after the character Captain Sean Bannon in the original Team Yankee novel, which consists of five M1 Abrams tanks, two AH-1 Cobra helicopters, and an objective marker (in addition to commanders, decals, a template, and unit cards). The Soviet set is called Potecknov's Bears (TSUAB1) - (don't fat finger those SKU's!) - which consists of nine T-72 tanks and two Mil-24 Hind helicopters (in addition to commanders, decals, a template, and unit cards). Because of a production delay, people who'd ordered early got an extra M1 in the American set or an extra T-72 in the Soviet set. In this first blog I'm going to look at the tanks, and so far overall I really like what I see.

The M1 Abrams was the first completely new tank fielded by the U.S. Army since the introduction of the Pershing in 1945. Overall the Battlefront Miniature looks pretty good, and they've made some smart, and a few confusing, design decisions. First the good news, the sprues as produced will allow you to construct either an M1 or M1A1 Abrams tank. The Team Yankee universe assumes that World War III starts in 1985, given the M1A1 didn't start production until 1986, the fact that you can currently build both variants bodes well for future plans with the rule set!

The Abrams comes on two sprues - one with the major hull and turret components, the other with the running gear and most of the detail parts. One very clever thing Battlefront did was to leave a large slot for the blast panels over the ammunition stowage on the turret roof. The detail parts sprue includes a reversible piece which will allow you to replicate the M1 style (three spaced panels) or the M1A1 style (two panels) turret roof.

The detail on the wheels and tracks is very good (and yes, the drive sprocket has the right number of teeth!), As you can build the M1 or M1A1 variants, one version of the rear side skirt armor includes the large 25 inch retainer plate seen on the M1 version, but which was dropped on the M1A1. The purpose of the plate was to reduce the frequency of thrown tracks, but in practice the system didn't work. In fact, the original side skirt armor (reproduced in the kit) actually allowed mud to build up clogging the drive train. Therefore the troops quickly field modified the side skirt (or removed it all together!), into the later version of skirt - but generally kept the retainer plate installed. By 1985, the time frame in which Team Yankee is set, tanks in the field would have had a the modified rear armor skirt and retainer plate - a version you can't build with the parts available in the kit since the retaining plate is molded to the initial version side skirt. I haven't decided whether I'm just going to go with the early style "as is" (as I have photographic evidence of unmodified side skirts as late as 1983) or do something crazy yet... watch this space...

In many ways the T-72 is a lot simpler as there only one variant, and all you have to decide is whether or not you want the hatch open for a commander and whether or not you want a mine clearing device. There are a few tricky bits in construction, however. The massive 125mm smoothbore gun has three sprue attachment points which are somewhat difficult to remove without damaging the fins which run the length of the barrel in several segments. The auxiliary fuel tanks are also a bit troublesome as they have a large seam where the two halves join. The 1/35th scale modeler in me still twitches a bit, so I'm trying to remove them at least on the most visible edge. I also had to redo the ends as the seam was too pronounced to clear easily - I just sanded them flat and re-added the disc in the center.

The kits include the new "pins" to attach the turrets, but I'm still generally using rare earth magnets on all of my tanks - makes painting and detailing easier. From the photo below you can see the size (and sleekness) of the T-72 compared to an in-progress Panzer IV Ausf H and a T-35 tank.

Overall the T-72 has gone together well, but once you start getting a few of them together, you quickly realize that modern MBTs are gernally larger than their historical cousins and will look different on the tabletop. It will be interesting to see where Battlefront takes the game (and the T-72) from this point, as starting in 1985 reactive armor was standard for the T-72.

Thus far I'm very impressed with the plastic tank miniatures Battlefront has produced for Team Yankee. Overall they are well-engineered and fit well. Battlefront has also made some very clever decisions early on to ensure that the kits are modular for more than one era. Next I'll start going through the helicopters - I've been working on one of the Hinds so far. By way of a preview - it's big, but it's also a fairly demanding kit.