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!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Spam - or How to Max/Min your Army Without Even Trying

Once upon a time a long time ago, there was a canned meat product called "Spam," that turned out to be easy to deliver to American troops during World War II. It became ubiquitous during that conflict and its popularity continued post-war. Eventually "spam" referred to more than just the branded product and ultimately referred to various canned meat (or "mystery meat") products. Then in the 1970s, the British comedy group Monty Python took up the call...

In honor of this sketch, with the advent of the internet, unsolicited emails became known as "spam." Not to be left out, the gaming community (online and otherwise) adopted the term for any repetitive action or repetitive use of an item - usually to create some advantage in the game.

One of the beauties of Flames of War in V3 and earlier was generally players were required to build their force from a single army list. Because the force levels in any particular list were fixed, it became very hard to "max/min" lists to gain an advantage in the list creation step. This began to change in the Team Yankee rule set which permitted players to take multiple formations, and has been carried through to Flames of War V4. Now players are not limited to one or two force organizations and can instead bring, theoretically, as many as they like as long as they meet the minimum requirements for each force.

From a game design perspective, this makes it very hard to balance the respective forces. While an overall single formation list may be balanced, enterprising players will find ways to take the minimum number of points for multiple formations to maximize their firepower on the table. In general this technique is referred to as MSU, or "Multiple Small Unit" (no offense to my fellow Mississippi State University alumni!).

For example - a single unit of three Leopard 2 tanks costs 33 points. Playing East Germans, I could use multiple small formations to create the following list:

T-72M Panzer Battaillon
1x T-72M (3 pts)
3x T-72M (7 pts)
3x T-72M (7 pts)
3x T-72M (7 pts)

T-55AM Panzer Battaillon
1x T-55AM (1 pts)
3x T-55AM2 (2 pts)
3x T-55AM2 (2 pts)
3x T-55AM2 (2 pts)

...and still have 2 points to play with to use for Spandrels, AA, or recon...

While this is an extreme case (among the most expensive NATO MBT facing off against the least expensive Pact MBTs), in a larger tournament or campaign, it wouldn't be unreasonable for a player to go such a route. While it is accurate that Pact forces typically outnumbered their NATO counterparts, it wasn't by that large a degree.

In a tournament setting, such lists are often self-correcting. Because they contain many small units, they will "bleed victory points." It will be hard to get 6:1 victories because you will almost always tend to lose a few units. That being said, it will likely be easier to win with such formations, and if you're good (and fast), you may be able to stave off enough casualties to score well.

So what is the solution? Well, honestly to pose a solution there has to be some consensus that there is a problem. While you may be able to get more individual units at 100 points by using MSU, you're not going to get more space to deploy them - which means you're going to run out of space in some missions. Quantity also has a quality all its own - large units can be hard to break. So an argument can be made that one or two formation lists can be equally effective.

In the end I think we're going to need a fair amount of data to understand the actual impact of MSU on game play. I'd hypothesize that they will be more effective at small point values - especially if the opponent has taken high-priced units - than they would at larger point values. That being said, I do think we'll see some tournaments experimenting with limiting the number of formations allowed in lists.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

DDR BMP-1 OP - or - Advanced Moldeling Syndrome "Hold My Beer, I'm Gonna Try Somethin'" Edition - Part 1

It's an innocuous enough unit in Team Yankee, the BMP-1 OP. It serves as an observation post for any of your artillery units. It will pretty much sit there the whole game unless your opponent truly has nothing else to shoot at, or needs to find a way to nerf some particularly effective artillery - which is fairly rare. However, if you take a look at the stats or card for the unit, you'll notice something a little unusual:

The picture of the unit shows a normal BMP-1, though it has a few additional "dot" abilities at the top of the card. However if you look at the weapon entries, or in this case entry, surely there has to be something odd going on. There's no 73mm 2A28 gun. There's no AT-3 Sagger missile. So what's up? Well, it turns out there's a good reason that the OP version only has the machine gun armament - it's a different variant of the BMP-1.

The most common command and control variant of the BMP-1 is the BMP-1KSh (pictured above).  (EDIT:  ... and I've since discovered that the artillery units generally didn't use it, instead they had an alternate vehicle used for observation... more on that in a future blog - this baby's still getting done even if I just use it as an objective!)  You'll note it does away with most of the armament of the BMP-1, though it does retain a 7.62mm machine gun for close in defense. So I decided, "what the heck, why not convert one." I mean, after all, how hard could it be? Well, there's a reason this is called the "Hold my beer..." edition.

Using photos of the real thing along with images of a few 1/35th and 1/72nd scale kits as reference, I began to map out the project. The first thing I needed to do was remove the rear top doors and a few other details. The turret also needed to be re-worked a bit so I sanded it and then used Mr. Surfacer to fill any remaining holes. I also began work on a couple of stowage boxes (to the right of the photo above) which will end up on the back edge of the vehicle.

Once the Mr. Surfacer had time to dry I sanded it back ended up with 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper for a smooth surface. As this variant also uses the BMP-2 hatch, I got it ready to attach to the vehicle. After sanding I went ahead and glued on the turret, which is fixed in this variant.

Another key feature of this version is the very tall antenna mast which I'm modeling stowed as raised would be a foot tall or so! Some of the mast appears to be held in brackets on the top deck, so I used styrene rod and tubing to create it - capping the ends with circles punched from sheet styrene.

Once I had the ends on, I used some scrap photo-etched brass to create the brackets:

Then the fun truly began, I started putting it all together and working on some of the detailing I first had to build a small bracket for the middle stowage box (which you can just see underneath it).  I also added some tie downs for the turret itself (I've seen pictures where tarps or other bags have been attached to these - though the number and placement seem to vary greatly).

Once the mast was added to the rear deck, I began work on the front antenna. This was built with a combination of brass rod, aluminum tube, copper wire, and sheet styrene carefully punched and sanded to create brackets.

In the photo above you can even see what appears to be a winch to raise and lower the mast assembly. At this point I'm working on the last part of the forward antenna (seen in the photo below - the green putty will need overnight to dry), and I still have to build a few more detail items yet.

All that being said, this one is actually getting fairly close to being done and into the queue with the rest of the Volksarmee "stuff" which is awaiting paint. Stay tuned for "finished photos" of this fun little conversion, which has taken way too much time but I've enjoyed every minute of it.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Defensive Battle at Marburg - A Team Yankee Firestorm After Action Report

The Firestorm Red Thunder campaign has entered its second phase. Soviet forces have taken Denmark and are advancing on Frankfurt and Bremen. Locally, it was another great evening at Guardian games – several players were out this evening with 2 players in a Flames of War desert battle and the other four of us battling it out on the neighboring table. Tonight was a real treat because I got to play against my friend ZEKE from CGR Painters and his absolutely stunning West German force with Barca as his deputy commander. Jeffrey served as my political officer this time around to ensure I upheld the honor of the Soviet Army.

As you've seen from other posts this week I'm still working on getting my DDR forces together. I'm going to probably focus on infantry this next week and try to get some stands together. I think the BMP-1 teams will do well.

So without further ado - here is the latest from the front lines! If you're a part of the campaign, you can check out and rate the battle at the firestorm site.  


Bundeswehr Force

Marder Company Command – 1x marder (1 point)
Marder Platoon – (7 points)
Marder Platoon – (7 points)
Leopard 1 Platoon – 3x Leo 1 (9 points)
Leopard 2 Platoon – 3x Leo 2 (33 points)
Jaguar 2 Platoon – 3x Jag 2 (5 points)
PAH – 2x PAH (8 points)
Total: 70 points

Soviet Force

T-72 Tank Battalion – 1x T-72 (5 points)
T-72 Tank Company – 5x T-72 (22 points)
T-72 Tank Company – 5x T-72 with one mine clearing device (23 points)
BMP-2 Recon Battalion – 2x BMP-2 (3 points)
2S1 Carnation SP Howitzer Battery – 3x 2S1 Carnation (5 points)
BMP-1 Observation Post – 1x BMP-1 OP (1 point)
ZSU-23-4 – 4x Shilka (4 points)
Su-25 Frogfoot – 2x Su-25 (7 points)
Total: 70 points

Major Mikhail Tupolev’s personal journal

Wednesday 7 August 1985

Despite our victory north of Hanover at Kröpke, NATO forces in that sector continue to stymie our advance. NATO air power has been far more decisive than the Red Air Force ever gave it credit for, and particularly hampered our efforts in that region. However, the glorious Red Army had greater success to both the north and south, and our forces have been ordered south toward Frankfurt to exploit our breakthrough at the Fulda Gap. Our forces are ready, and have been supplemented with ZSU-23-4 Shilka anti-aircraft tanks, and we have been informed we may call upon Su-25 Grach strike aircraft of the Soviet Air Force in the days ahead.

Thursday 8 August 1985

We have been ordered to secure the small town of Marburg north of Frankfurt and serve as a blocking force to run interference for units attacking Frankfurt itself. From our position at Marburg we can continue West toward Bonn, Cologne, and Düsseldorf or wheel north to pressure the positions near Hanover.

Marburg itself is lightly defended and most of the city is quickly pacified. It is an old city with a castle overlooking most of the town. The town itself is situated in a valley. We set up a command post just west of the ridge at the far edge of town and await further orders.

Thursday Night 8-9 August 1985

Our reconnaissance unit reports enemy units closing in on our position. A quick call to headquarters confirms that a Bundeswehr force is closing in on our position apparently with orders to retake Marburg and disrupt the overall advance towards Frankfurt. We are ordered to repel this attack at all costs to allow time for the units to secure Frankfurt.

Frankfurt Sector Situation Map

I order our forward observer post to mine the immediate approaches around its position and await their report on the disposition of the enemy force. Unfortunately, it is an extremely dark night and we’re forced to rely entirely on night-vision equipment to assess the situation. Complicating matters is the fact that my own forces are currently scattered. The Gvozdika battery is in position along with its observer as are the Shilka and one company of T-72 tanks, but the other T-72 company is mopping up some stragglers south of town while the Reconaissance platoon is still making its way back to our lines. Who knows where the Air Force is – calls to them go unanswered.

Commander and T-72 First Company

I position my command tank alongside first company near a small wood to provide us cover until the enemy reveals himself. We are in a position to relieve the forward observation post if the West Germans venture too close. The Gvozdika battery and Shilka are just to the south around the artillery command and control area. Hopefully the Germans will be cautious and give us time to mount a proper defense.

Anti-aircraft and artillery prepare to defend the command post

Our scouts report the enemy is in sight. It appears to be a mechanized infantry company with armor support – including at least 3 of the Leopard 2 tanks – technical marvels that are extremely difficult to kill. The scouts also report hearing rotors, so there will be helicopters incoming as well. I immediately order the Shilka to be ready!

It appears as if the Germans are planning on advancing across a broad line. Their Leopard 2 tanks are positioned to attack 1st Company, while what appear to be the lighter Leopard 1 tanks are on the south flank working their way toward the anti-aircraft battery and artillery. If I were their commander I'd come in hard and try to push us back before we can mount a reasonable defense - I hope his intelligence is faulty and we're able to bluff him into giving us more time!

Leopard 2 tanks anchor the line

Given the whine of the German engines, it appears that the enemy commander knows that we're spread thin and is coming in at best speed. In the pitch black of night even their gunners will need to get close before they can open up on our forces, and the enemy commander is apparently wasting no time closing that distance. At this point all I can do is try to preserve my forces - moving the tanks out of cover would be suicide against the German 120mm guns, and all of these tanks will be needed to push back this force. The Leopard 1 tanks are meanwhile getting dangerously close to the artillery and anti-aircraft forces.

Leopard 1 tanks working the flank

With enemy forces closing in rapidly, my political officer is getting nervous about my apparent inaction. I have received radio transmissions indicating that 2nd Company and its T-72 tanks should be here soon, but it can't be soon enough. As if two armored units bearing down on our position wasn't bad enough, we can now see those accursed anti-tank helicopters lurking about just out of range. Adding insult the Leopard 1 unit begins taking out the Shilka battery with the loss of one. The flashes of their main guns, however, allow the Gvozdika to range in and one of the enemy panzers is set ablaze!

One burning panzer!

All is not well however, 2nd Company has been further delayed allowing the West German forces to navigate around the minefields and threaten our forward observer post. German gunnery was also strong with one T72 from 1st Company destroyed when it peeked past the woods to begin lining up shots on the Germans. Our only hope is the dawn and reinforcements, else this will be a very uncomfortable debriefing - if we survive at all!

German forces threaten the forward observation post!

As dawn breaks across the battlefield, I can truly see how desperate our situation is - the West Germans have moved up to our forward observer post. Leopard 1 tanks threaten our southern flank as well as the Shilka and Gvozdika batteries - with two Shilka having already been lost and a third temporarily out of action. Attack helicopters are advancing up the center of the battlefield and will soon threaten our forces from all sides. Now is the time for desperate action! Just as I began to order the advance, I heard the roar of Soviet diesel engines heralding the arrival of 2nd Company's T-72 tanks. Now we may just have a chance.

Given the close proximity of the Leopard 1 tanks, I order the Gvozdika battery to fire directly at the encroaching panzers resulting in their destruction. The remaining active Shilka braves fire from all directions and draws a bead on the Wessi helicopters, destroying one and driving off the other.

Charge of the light bri... err... the Shilka!

With ten T-72 tanks at my command, we advance and bring the mighty Leopard 2 tanks under our guns destroying all three. I would have thought the Great Patriotic War would have taught Fritz that technological marvels alone can't win wars if they aren't fielded in sufficient quantity! Give me a rugged, simple tank with a hard hitting gun that is simple to maintain any day! The only concerning issue is that the Red Air Force continues to be absent from the battlefield.

Leopard 2 tanks destroyed!

Though the greatest threats to my force have now been eliminated, the enemy still has enough anti-tank assets to tear us apart if we don't tread carefully. Both the Gvozdika and Shilka batteries are wiped out by West German anti-tank rockets, though the T-72's manage to shrug off multiple hits! My focus now is to eliminate their anti-tank vehicles which will allow the battalion to mop up the infantry at our leisure.

Jaguar 2 formation nearly wiped out!

In a final desperate bid to secure the rear command post, the Germans pushed their mechanized infantry transports forward, but the timely, though belated, arrival of the reconnaissance platoon made short work of them. And yet again, the Red Air Force was absent.

Burning wrecks litter the rear command post

With their anti-tank assets effectively eliminated, the few remaining German infantry either withdrew or threw down their arms. It was a hard fought battle, and we were nearly pushed back by sheer weight of numbers - but the timely arrival of 2nd company allowed us to hold out, though the cost was very high.

Mopping up the infantry

We are now ready to advance further into Germany and then on to the English Channel! If only the Red Air Force would join the party!

Battle Honors

In the end it was a 4-3 victory for the Soviets, but it could have easily gone the other way!

There was a lot of credit to go around this time - the Carnation battery did well as did the T-72 companies. However, possibly the most spectacular result was the lone Shilka neutralizing the enemy air power. So in honor of that effort, here is a video of a Shilka firing!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Battlefront's T-72 and Advanced Modeling Syndrome - Part 1

By all accounts, the Battlefront 15mm T-72 (TSBX01) for use with Team Yankee is a great little miniature / kit. I did a quick review of the miniatures when they first came out with the original Team Yankee boxed sets in 2015, but now that I'm finally getting my East Germans together and ready for painting, I'm taking a more critical look at the miniature to make sure it's ready for painting.

Depending on the sophistication of the injection molding process - and the degree of shrinkage as the injection molded plastic cools - the final parts may have imperfections known as sinkholes in them. These generally occur in thicker areas of the part - and as luck would have it generally obscure some critical detail. On the T-72 visible sinkholes (post construction) appear to be generally confined to the turret stowage boxes.

Sinkholes in the stowage boxes on the T-72 turret

There are two sinkholes sometimes found on the rear of the stowage boxes marring the box detail. There is also usually one on the side as well. At this point the modeler has three options:

  • Option 1:  Do nothing - paint it up and go. 
  • Option 2:  Fill the holes, sand them down, and go. Don't try to recreate the pattern on the boxes
  • Option 3:  Fill the holes and recreate the original pattern to make the final product look like a part without sinkholes.

Okay - so since this is me we're talking about - which one did I choose? Is that even a question?

Filled rear sinkholes on T-72 turret - the green areas were formerly recessed

Step one in restoring the stowage boxes is to fill the holes and sand down the putty. I use Squadron Green Putty for most of my fill work. You should wait until it is completely hardened to sand it. I generally let it sit for 24 hours.

Filled side sinkhole on T-72 turret - mold line clean-up still needed 

One the putty has dried, I us a combination of sanding sticks and fine files to flatten and smooth out the area. This results in a good flat surface, but it is now devoid of the surface details which were originally supposed to be there (and were obliterated by the sinkholes). 

Ultra-thin styrene sheet and a dental tool are used to emboss new surface detail

So now comes the hard part - how do you re-create the surface detail? Fortunately the detail on the T-72 turret boxes are relatively simple horizontal lines. Any time I'm making new surface detail, I use ultra-thin styrene sheet (in the U.S. Evergreen is a good source of sheets - I use the 0.005" / 0.13mm for my fine detail work) and emboss it with a dental tool.

Embossed lines - lines were pre-measured and drawn

Some surface details are easy enough to do freehand, but in cases like this it is important to at least draw out a rough outline of what needs to be embossed first. In this case I found the entire detail panel to be about 0.15" tall by a little more than 0.4" wide. I split the difference evenly for the horizontal lines.

Embossed lines - be careful with your pencil! It will emboss as well!

Once you've generated your surface detail, then comes the tricky part - no really! Extremely thin styrene should be attached with a liquid cement, but you must use the liquid cement sparingly or it will simply begin to dissolve the styrene and obliterate you brand new surface detail. I put on some liquid cement, let it get tacky, then let it dry overnight before trimming the detail to integrate it into the overall part

Rough detail added - final trimming and sanding remains to be completed

In the next update I'll post photos of the completed surface detail once it is trimmed back and integrated into the turret. I'll also point out a few other areas of the T-72 that could use just a little attention as well.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Meeting Engagement Near Kröpke - A Team Yankee Firestorm After Action Report

The online Team Yankee Firestorm campaign is currently in full swing. I'm serving as one of the liaisons for Warsaw Pact forces, and based on the experience so far I can tell you if you haven't done one of these before, you really don't know what you're missing. The campaign is easy to join, and intuitive to report battles - all you really have to do is play some games. Once you sign up you'll get access to your faction's command room (Warsaw Pact, U.S., British, or West German), and there should be plenty of good advice there to help you make your way around the site.

What follows is a report from a game I got in this week at my favorite local gaming store, Guardian Games. I feel very lucky to have a store of this caliber in my local area, especially with all of the struggles many local stores have experienced.

Guardian Games - your mecca for all things Geek in Portland, OR!

As I'm still painting up my East Germans, a friend of mine from the Ordo group kindly brought out some of his miniatures so we could get a few games in. He also invited a couple of new players and they fought as a group in this game. It was great to meet some new people and hopefully get them sucked in to the miniatures wargaming hobby!

What follows is the battle report - which can also be accessed at the Firestorm site (you may have to sign up to view it there), though it doesn't have the preamble and the forces themselves are in a separate PDF.

We ended up playing Free for All because we wanted to start with something basic as we taught the new players.  We played roughly 60 points, and the game ended up in a 5-2 victory for the Soviets.  For the after action report, I took a few pictures and decided to go with a more narrative style - I think I'll stick with it going forward

U.S. Force

M1 Abrams Armored Combat Team – 2x Abrams (16 points)
M1 Abrams Tank Platoon – 3x Abrams (24 points)
M1 Abrams Tank Platoon – 3x Abrams (16 points)
M163 VADS AA Platoon – 2x M163 (3 points)
M901 ITV Anti-Tank Platoon – 2x M901(3 points)
Total:  62 points

Soviet Force:

T-72 Tank Battalion – 1x T-72 (5 points)
T-72 Tank Company – 5x T-72 with on mine clearing device (23 points)
T-72 Tank Company – 5x T-72 with on mine clearing device (23 points)
BMP-2 Recon Battalion – 2x BMP-2 (3 points)
2S1 Carnation SP Howitzer Battery – 3x 2S1 Carnation (5 points)
BMP-1 Observation Post – 1x BMP-1 OP (1 point)
Total:  60 points

Major Mikhail Tupolev’s personal journal

Sunday, 4 August 1985

The drive toward Hanover has gone far better than expected.  We are north of the city across the Aller near a town called Kröpke if I’m reading the signs correctly – and they haven’t been changed to confuse our advance.  I’ve moved forward with a small advanced force to try and secure an interchange allowing better access for the main force to follow, but I fear I’m still north of a good interchange – fortunately the Red Army doesn’t have to obey traffic laws!  Unfortunately, I’ve had to leave my anti-aircraft assets behind to protect the main body as NATO airpower has been a far greater thorn in our side than we were led to believe.  The Air Force promised they’d clear the skies of enemy aircraft, but that hasn’t happened.  I’ll likely be unable to call on our own air support either.  We’ll move forward again in the morning and secure the Autobahn.

Monday 5 August 1985

Our reconnaissance team has identified a small American force heading this way.  I can’t let them delay our advance to the interchange.  I immediately order the battlegroup into action.  The Gvozdika battery can shield our armor against enemy light vehicles, while the T-72’s will take care of any American armor. 

As we make contact I see several of the new American M1 tanks, but they have also brought their anti-aircraft support – they may not have air assets.  They appear to have TOW equipped M113 IFVs in a small stand of trees.  Cover is sparse in this agricultural area.  I deploy my armor to the flanks while the Gvozdika battery holds the center, unfortunately it will take them some time to get in firing position, and I can’t simply wait and let the Yankees dictate the pace of the battle.

My second company of T-72s advances, but all can’t reach cover.  Two fire at a unit of three Abrams tanks, and score hits but do no damage.  The company nearest me fares better destroying an Abrams and causing two more to panic.  One of the BMP-2 scouts closes with the TOW launchers firing his cannon, but fails to destroy either of them.

The Americans return fire destroys one of the BMP-2 scouts, but the remaining reconnaissance team continues to work its way around a small stand of trees to outflank the Americans.  TOW missile fire ultimately destroys my observer, complicating matters for the Gvozdika battery, but a couple of them still have good fields of view, and if all else fails they can fire directly.  The American commander seems concerned with the batter and moves his anti-aircraft and TOW assets in that direction – perhaps he wants flanking shots on my first T-72 company?

I order the second company to stop its advance – there are a couple of tanks which can try and keep the American armor pinned down while I advance along the other flank.  First company manages to take out the remaining American tank on this flank and decimate the TOW battery as well.  The BMP-2 scout reports that he has pushed forward and is entering what appears to be a command and control area.  I order him to hold and defend the area.  Second company continues to trade fire with the Abrams, but now they are reacting to the threat of first company as well.  A couple of crews bail out of their T-72 tanks, but another Abrams is smoking on the horizon.

Sensing the threat to his command post, the Yankee commander moves his anti-aircraft vehicles in range of the BMP-2 scout, destroying it in a withering crossfire.  However, by this point it is too little, too late, only two of the American tanks remain, and are facing eleven T-72’s – I order all armor forward and the remaining Yankee armor is quickly decimated allowing us to secure the area. 

These American tanks are much better than their older models, though they are still using the old British gun.  Intelligence gained from the 1973 War in the Middle East taught us that American armor would be no match for our advanced guns and ammunition, but these tanks are something else entirely.  The Americans also suffered from poor gunnery today (i.e. some bad dice rolls) – if their gunnery had been better, this would have been a far costlier exercise.

... End Report...

So there you have it - fun game, reported to the site - that's all there is to it. I encourage everyone interested in Team Yankee at all to consider joining the campaign. It promises to be a lot of fun!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

DDR Build Log Progress - Infantry and Recon!

Here is the latest on painting my East Germans - the good news is I'm making some progress, the bad news is it looks like I'm going to have to continue to borrow and proxy for the first few rounds of the Firestorm Campaign. If you haven't gotten in on the latest online Firestorm campaign, it really is worth your time. I'm one of the helpers for Warsaw Pact, and so far the discussion is good and people are getting a lot of games in.

Over the past week or so I've spent a lot of time going through the infantry. In my last entry, I'd indicated that one of the figure styles was missing from my Mot-Schützen Kompanie (TEBX02). True to form, Battlefront quickly responded with the replacement figures, and a few more for good measure. Overall clean up on the infantry wasn't bad, it just took a while.

I also went ahead and cleaned up the East German Mot-Schützen Heavy Weapons platoon (TEG706) as I'm going to need the SA-14 Gremlin team and the AGS-17 grenade team for my main force. I went ahead and built up the AT-4 Spigot teams as well, though the first incarnation of my force won't need them. The Spigot teams were a little more challenging to assemble, and the grenade launchers will likely provide some challenges as well in final assembly.

Once I had all of the teams assembled on the ubiquitous "craft sticks," I went ahead and primed them with a white primer - I just used a standard can based white primer and it worked well. I try not to use thick primers as they can obscure detail.

I then moved on to base coating the infantry. I'm still using Vallejo paints, so I used the Battlefront color conversion. They recommend English Uniform as the replacement for Battlefield Brown which is recommended in the Volksarmee book as the base coat. To my eye it looks a lot darker than what was actually used on the figures, at least in the large detail pictures. If you look at the distance shots near the end of the modeling guide, the uniforms look much darker.

I'm not going to bother trying to do the camouflage as the detail is simply much too small to bother with at 1/100 scale (see actual uniform below).  I may end up going with a slightly lighter shade then what is recommended for the final uniform based on the Vallejo to Colours of War conversion chart, but I'm going to play with some images and see what "net color" I visually get when I shrink an image of the "real thing" to the right size. I have a hunch the uniform guide in the book may not be too far off as long as I add a good highlight as the final step.

I've also been working to finish up the vehicles, which are going to take a bit to paint, but should come out nicely. I finished up my recon section which consists of the BRDM-2 Recon Platoon (TSBX10). The resin pieces are some of the nicest I've seen from Battlefront, but the guns take a little clean up.

So again - slow progress - but steady progress. I'm going to be "at it again" tonight to see if I can mostly finish up the building. I've been playing with the T-55AM both from Battlefront and PSC, and it is an interesting comparison which I'll talk about more in a future blog.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Edition Wars - What Are They, and is Flames of War in One?

Like any business, game companies like Battlefront need a constant, reliable flow of cash (sales) to remain healthy. Therefore every so many years we see a refresh cycle in rules which allows a company to update and revise their core offerings to re-invigorate the market for flagship products. The venerable role playing game Dungeons and Dragons is currently on its 5th edition, the less venerable but very popular Warhammer 40K miniatures game just released its 8th edition, and Flames of War has recently released its 4th edition.

Any time a new edition of a game comes out, there is the risk of alienating existing players because they suddenly need to buy all new books and supplements to continue playing the game they've already invested both time and money in. Some players won't make the switch - they'll continue on with the old edition or drift away from the game entirely. Others will make the switch and continue to buy, but the main goal is to draw new players to the game as they generally represent the largest potential new revenue base.

I've only played Flames of War since 2nd edition, but moving from 2nd edition to 3rd edition was relatively painless. The changes to the rules were relatively minor and improved some of the "gamier" elements that crept in to 2nd edition. Over the course of 3rd edition, several players faded away for a variety of reasons covering normal attrition through problems with stacked special rules which gave some lists inherent advantages when constructed properly, meaning sales were likely flat to down cueing the need for a game refresh cycle.

However, 4th edition marked a major shift in the rules for Flames of War based on the earlier Team Yankee model. The MW lists have also seen major changes in depth and organization. While one can play 4th edition for EW and LW, the points values have not been adjusted for the new rules and have some major balance issues. Therefore anecdotally the 4th edition transition appears to be more contentious than previous changes, and in fact in some ways resembles other major shifts in system - like the 4th edition of Dungeons of Dragons or GW's Age of Sigmar.

There's a good write-up of the Dungeons and Dragons edition wars, which went way beyond just the major changes with 4th edition, but ultimately resulted a competing system (Pathfinder) taking over the top spot in the pen and paper role playing game market.  Conversely, when Games Workshop quite literally blew up Warhammer Fantasy Battle to create Age of Sigmar, it has at least been successful at bringing new players in though it completely alienated a lot of their existing (and viewed as saturated) customer base.

So that brings us back to Flames of War. Even a cursory read of the official forums or other third party sites will show that there is a wide array of opinions from the very positive to the extremely negative - with most of the negative coming from established players. Overall the discussion seems to be more polarized than in previous editions, and the proportion of negative comments seems higher. That being said, comments on a forum a movement does not make, so what's the bottom line?

For me it is too soon to say whether or not we have a full fledged "edition war" going on with Flames of War, or if this is simply going to be a disruptive shift in the player base. At this point I see some people expressing a desire to stay with V3, but as of today I don't see a lot of support for a continued V3 tournament scene or organized play. That may change as time goes by. Another factor is there is no easy outlet for 15mm World War II gaming that fills the same niche as Flames of War - so there is currently no Pathfinder waiting in the wings to siphon off those who were looking for an update to FoW V3. Again, that could change over the next 12 to 18 months with varying levels of impact. There also seems to be a contingent waiting for the rules and/or the lists to be brought up to the depth of previous editions. Again, only time will tell whether those hopes are founded.

All of that being said, as maligned as some products like D&D 4th Edition were, there were a lot of people who truly enjoyed them - especially new players brought into the game with that edition. When one has a great deal invested in a hobby or pastime, it can be hard to take two steps back and understand how someone could see a particular version or ruleset completely differently - and that works both ways.

So, some points to remember as we try to navigate the stormy waters of the Flames of War V4 transition:

  1. Version 4 impacts both the game mechanics and the lists. Like and dislike for Version 4 can be focused on either or both of those facets of the game.
  2. Don't automatically assume someone with a negative opinion of the new version "simply hasn't played enough games." Some people aren't going to get past the new lists. Others will be able to tell from a read through of the rules whether or not it is the game for them. Others will need more time. It is sort of like buying a new car - sometimes you know it is the wrong car from a glance, others you'll need to sit in the seat, others you'll need a full test-drive.
  3. At the end of the day I think we all want Battlefront to continue to be a successful company. Ultimately Version 4 will fail or succeed based on sales and profitability. If either of those metrics fall short - Battlefront will work to revise the system to appeal to a more reliable customer base.
Until next time, no matter what version of Flames of War - or other miniatures game - you prefer, to quote Wil Wheaton, "Play more games!!!"