Saturday, July 17, 2010

End of an Era

Black Diamond Games is dropping Flames of War. This means a lot to me because I played my first face-to-face game of Flames of War at Black Diamond, and bought the vast majority of my WWII miniatures there.

I first got into Flames of War a couple of years earlier with two orders I placed online, one to a company in the US that distributed the product, and the other directly with Battlefront in New Zealand. Other than painting a handful of models, I'd done nothing with the game since then until I discovered Black Diamond.

Shortly after discovering the store, the owner, Gary, asked me my opinion on his stocking Flames of War. I recommended against it, or that he at least be conservative in what he stocked. Fortunately for all of us, he ignored my advice and started carrying a large selection of the stuff.

My advice was based on my opinion that it was a niche game, and that with a Games Workshop just down the road he'd have a hard time selling people on a new miniatures game. As it turned out that Games Workshop actually helped as a lot of people were looking for alternatives to Games Workshop at the time. It soon became the biggest selling product line in the store!

His customers for the game even included most of the redshirts from the Games Workshop store! Black Diamond had very little room for playing games back then, but we still managed to get together a small group to play every couple of weeks. There was a lot of interest and we hoped that when the store moved to its new, larger location that the game would really take off.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. There was a perfect storm of factors that led to the demise of Flames of War at Black Diamond. The first was life. Most of us involved in playing the game regularly at the store saw our lives get busier. Among the factors contributing were new jobs, a new marriage, and a new school.

Another factor was that Games Workshop closed its local store. This let Black Diamond get into GW games in a big way. Combined with the fact that GW had fixed a lot of the problems that had led people to look for alternative games, and GW ended up taking the spotlight at the store that had been briefly held by Flames of War.

At the same time, Battlefront started going downhill as a company. Their quality control tanked in a big way, as did some areas of their customer service. They adopted many of the very same policies that GW were in the process of abandoning after finding them to be counter-productive.

From a retail perspective, Battlefront established a US distribution office that has never provided service as good as what was provided by the office New Zealand. The office was kept out of the loop as to what was really going on in the company, and when they moved that office from the west coast to the east coast, things just got worse. Gary said that the rep changed so often he stopped adding them to his contact list!

Those that had fled GW for Flames of War now fled Flames of War back to GW.

There were still people playing Flames of War in the area, and some of them even lived close to the new store, but for some reason they never played at the store on a regular basis. They played at other stores in the area, but not Black Diamond.

All these factors led to sales of the game stagnating. About the only time the store sold anything was when it was put on sale for clearance. Obviously this couldn't go on forever.

Gary's manager had been urging him to drop the line for some time, but Gary let it hang on partly for nostalgic reasons. It had been one of his first breakout successes at the store, and he felt he owed it a chance to recover. It never did, and now it's out of chances.

Interestingly, Gary made this decision the same week that my current FLGS, Castle House Hobbies & Games, also decided to drop its remaining Flames of War inventory at clearance prices. I was also asked by the manager there whether or not to carry the game prior to his stocking it, and I also advised against it.

My basis for that advice was based on more solid information, and sadly, this time I was proven correct. The game failed to ever take off here. There's been some tepid interest, but no one ever followed up on it, and sales were almost non-existent.

I'm sad to see it go at both places, but I can't say that I'm really that surprised. It's an end to an era that's been a long time coming.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Nafziger Collection Goes Online

I've been hearing about George Nafziger's orders of battle (OOBs) for years. As I understand it, the Nafziger Collection has been a major resource for a lot of game designers, both professional and amateur.

Citing mainly issues of technological obsolesce, Captain Nafziger has announced that he has donated the collection to the U.S. Army's Combined Arms Research Library (CARL), which in turn is making it available for free online.

This should make for an excellent resource for gamers and amateur historians alike.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Numerical Confusion

Ever since I first started thinking about starting a Schwere Panzer Company from Hammer & Sickle, one thing has bothered me: the Schwere Panzer Armoured Scout Platoon. In the book each team in the platoon is assigned a Sd Kfz 251/1C half-track to ride in. The first thing that bothered me about this is that the 1C variant is the earlier variant that was replaced in the late war and has not appeared in any other late war list that I'm aware of. Certainly there were still plenty of 1C half-tracks being used, but they haven't appeared in the FoW lists until now. The second thing that bothered me was that the 251/1 and 1C are squad carriers. They carry complete squads and a single team would have a lot of extra room in one. The third thing that bothered me was that there was no specific entry in the German Arsenal section for the 251/1C, but that wasn't conclusive because the 251 and the 251/C have the same stats.

So, I figured that maybe BF had come across some TO&E information that indicated the 505 Schwere Panzer had been equiped with the 251/1C during Bagration, and that's why they were listed with it. The thing is, I have many of the same sources that BF has access to and after going through what I had there was nothing indicating that this was the case. Finally, I got a copy of Sledgehammers by Christopher W. Wilbeck, and there on page 144 was a picture of a Sd Kfz 250 with the caption indicating that each Heavy Tank Batallion had 7 of them for carrying the armored reconnaissance platoon, with each having five troopers and a non-com assigned to them.

Going back to the German Arsenal section I see that there is indeed an entry for the Sd Kfz 250, and I can't find any other units in Hammer & Sickle that use it.

Sd Kfz 250/1 alte

This seems to confirm my suspicion that BF made an error in the listings, probably simply due to cutting and pasting the wrong item. However, there is one more possibility. In trying to find out which version of the Sd Kfz 250 (there are two possibilities, which I'll get into later) was more likely fielded in June/July 1944 I stumbled across a photo that confuses matters. There's a picture in Tigers In Combat I that shows a Sd Kfz 251/1C next to a Tiger I and describes it as belonging to the reconnaissance platoon. The picture is undated, but both vehicles are in winter colors and the Tiger lacks zimmerit coating which places the picture in the winter of '43. In the same book there's an entry for 4 April 1944 that 7 SPWs were received to form the reconnaissance platoon, so even if it was equipped with 251/1Cs in the winter of '43, they were apparently replaced with the 250s in April '44.

Sd Kfz 251/1C

Fortunately, in game terms there's no difference between a 251/1 a 251/1C or a 250, so a written errata seems unnecessary, although it would still be welcome. Unfortunately, it means that none of my existing half-track models would be appropriate for the force, increasing the cost of building the force by $44 retail. More if I decide to get new infantry as well, rather than using my mid-war Panzergrenadiers, since I won't be using their half-tracks as originally planned.

I also have to decide whether or not to use the old (alte) or new (neu) chassis for the 250/1. A design change was made in late 1943 similar to the change made in the 251 half-track that simplified many elements to make it easier to manufacture. The picture in Sledgehammer is an alte model, but does not say when it was taken, nor what unit it belonged to. In fact, the markings indicate that it's part of an armored car unit rather than a reconnaissance unit, so it's probably just a stock photo rather than a vehicle that belonged to a heavy tank batallion.

Going back to the date in Tigers In Combat I when the 505 received 7 SPWs, 4 April 1944, indicates that it's most likely that the unit had neu model 250s. According to Military Vehicles in Detail: SdKfz 250/1 to 250/12, the neu model went into production in October 1943, although some variants were still being produced with the old chassis until July 1944. It's unclear, but I have to assume that the base model, the 250/1, was the first converted to the new chassis. If that's the case, then the 505 probably received the neu model 250/1 in April '44.

Sd Kfz 250/1 neu

An interesting side note to all this is that in the 1 June 1944 entry, the 505 is listed as having two Panzer IIIs operational. This is interesting because the Panzer IIIs were droped from the TO&E of the 505 almost a year earlier in July 1943! There's no further mention of the 505 having Panzer IIIs after that entry, but assuming the entry is accurate, it's certainly not unthinkable that the 505 might still have had one or two available to them during Bagration. There's no way to officially take them in the list, but adding a couple using the point values from Fortress Europe might be interesting in a friendly game.

One other unrelated bit of information that I've been trying to track down for the 505 is the yellow band around the barrel that BF shows on the tanks in Hammer & Sickle. The sources I have don't confirm the existence of that band. There are photos that show a lack of camo in that area of the barrel, but the only color plate I've located shows it as being the base dunkelgelb color, with merely the absence of camo. It's unclear whether BF has another source that indicates the color was a brighter yellow, or if they simply took artisitic license.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Guards Tank Company

Here's what I'm thinking about for my Gvardeyskiy Tankovy Batalon.

  • Company HQ: 1 T-34/85 w/ cupola 80pts
  • 1st Company: 5 T-34/85s w/ cupolas 395pts
  • 2nd Company: 5 T-34/85s w/ cupolas 395pts
  • Guards Heavy Tank Company: 3 IS-2s 470pts
  • Decoy Tank Company: 1 Panzer IV and 1 Panther A 155pts
  • (Tank Rider Company: 2 Platoons at 1750 for 250pts)

Totals: 1495 and 1745 pts.

I don't think that cupolas are actually that useful in 2nd edition, but there's not much else to do with the 25pts that they cost me, and the models come with them already cast as part of the resin turret, so modelling them without them would be a huge pain.

Much like my first mid-war list, this is very much a "get it on the table" list. Sixteen tanks shouldn't take me that long to paint up, even if I spend a bit more time on the two decoy tanks. I do need to paint more SMG carrying infantry for the Tank Rider Company, but I can proxy rifle stands if I need to.

I could easily see swapping the IS-2s for ISU-122s and using the freed up points to equip some of my tanks with tankos, but I'd like to try out the IS-2s first.

Edit: Dropping the Panther in exchange for a second Panzer IV would free up enough points to add the warrior Komissar MA Dedov, which is something I'd probably want to try at some point as it would be nice to have a 2iC in a Soviet tank force for a change.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Tiger List

Here's my thoughts on what I plan on putting into my Schwere Panzerkompanie at 1500 and 1750 points.

  • Company HQ: 1 Tiger 225pts (add Bergepanther recovery vehicle at 1750 for +15pts)
  • 1st Platoon: 2 Tigers 430pts
  • 2nd Platoon: 2 Tigers 430pts
  • Veteran Tank-Hunter Platoon: 2 Hetzers 175 (add 2 more at 1750 for +180)
  • Armored Scout Platoon: 4 scout squads plus panzerfaust command team 230pts
  • (Heavy AA Gun Platoon at 1750: 1 AA section 65pts)

Totals: 1490 and 1750 pts

I haven't thought about what I'd do for 2000pts yet.

Brainstorming Bagration

Now that the Bagration books are out (and gee, wasn't it nice that us Eastern Front guys got two books of army lists, after five for the western front [edit: my bad, I was under the impression that they were done with Bagration, but there's one more book coming out for it]), I'm actually considering building late war armies for Flames of War. There are two Soviet lists and one German list that interest me.

First, I'll go into the Soviet lists. Right now, my main consideration for choosing a list is how fast I can get it painted, and how little it's going to cost me in terms of dollars. The latter probably being the more important of the two factors.

The first Soviet list that caught my eye was the Gvardeyskiy Tyazhelyy Tankovy Polk from Stalin's Onslaught, this is basically the Allies' answer to the Tiger company. IS-2 heavy tanks that don't suffer from Hen & Chicks. Two companies of three each with some infantry in support would be a nice little force, and most likely the only thing I'd have to buy is the tanks, since most of their support options I already have, some of it already painted as part of my mid-war force.

The weakness of this force is the lack of support options. The new force structure chart means that while they have three choices for infantry support, they can only use one at a time. That means if you want to defend both your objectives, then you're going to have to have one of your tank companies do it, because the only other options (Katyushas and anti-aircraft guns) won't be able to defend it from an attack with any strength. I can see some ways around it, but it really leaves the list feeling a lot like a one trick pony.

The list I'm more likely to try to build is from Hammer and Sickle: the Gvardeyskiy Tankovy Batalon. This is sort of a toned down version of the Gvardeyskiy Tyazhelyy Tankovy Polk. Instead of IS-2s, it has T-34/85s, and they suffer from Hen & Chicks, but they have a gun capable of threatening the big German cats, and cost a lot less in terms of points. Plus, they can take IS-2s or SU-122s in support so you can at least have some vehicles that don't suffer from Hen & Chicks.

They also have a lot more support options, including multiple infantry options, and the deal clincher for me: the Decoy Tank Company. Finally, the Soviets have a chance to field captured German tanks! I've already bought a Panther in anticipation of painting it up in Soviet colors, and will probably eventually get a Tiger and some Panzer IVs. Of course, just as the Germans were able to use Soviet tanks better than the Soviets, German tanks in Soviet hands are worse, but that's made up for a bit with the new Forward Detachment and Decoy rules that let these tanks penetrate into the enemy lines without getting shot at, if they're careful and a little bit lucky. It looks like they'll be fun both to model and to play with.

In terms of dollars, I already own all the infantry and most of the support options I'd need. I also already have five T34-85s, so I'd only need to buy 6 more, plus 3 IS-2s and a Panzer IV or two. Unfortunately, a lot of what would be used in the list isn't actually assembled yet, so I'd still have a good deal of painting to do, although I could at least proxy the infantry with what I already have, so I could probably get it on the tabletop as soon as the vehicles were assembled if I can find an opponent.

The final list I'm looking at, a German list, is also in Hammer and Sickle: the Schwere Panzerkompanie. Yep, the cheesiest of the cheesy, a Tiger Company. My decision is centered on two major factors, neither one of which is how effective a company of Tigers might be. The first is that I already have most of the models. I've had the Tigers Marsch box since it came out, as well as the Wittman box, giving me a total of six Tigers, one more than I actually need for the list. I have the infantry models I'd need, as well as four out of five of the half-tracks from a box of mid-war panzergrenadiers I bought for my planned mid-war German force. I also have a box of 88s leftover from one of my earliest purchases for the game, although I may go ahead and get the newer box for various reasons.

The second attraction is that the list can take Hetzers as a support option. I love Hetzers, and this would give me an excuse to buy some. Hammer and Sickle marks their first appearance in Flames of War 2nd Edition, and I don't really care for the other two German lists in the book. The only things I'd have to buy would be the Hetzers, a late-war command pack to get a panzerfaust model for my infantry, a single halftrack, and a bergepanther recovery vehicle as an option for my Company HQ.

The end result is that two 1750 point armies should cost me just under $200 at full retail to complete, $55 less if I decide not to buy new 88s. Of course that's not counting any decals or paints I add in, or the airbrush I'll almost certainly buy if I build the German list, but it's still a price point I could live with to get into the late war period. The trick now is finding someone to play with.

I've still got a few details to work out before posting my preliminary lists, but I should get around to that soon.

One final note on those 88s. Battlefront changed the basing methods with the change in editions, and I rather like the bases that the new ones come with, but that's not the only reason I may get the new box instead of using the ones I already have. In addition to changing the bases, they changed the models so that they are easier to assemble, but can only be assembled in the unlimbered position. If I get the new models, I can then assemble the older models in the limbered position and turn the scenic bases into objectives. Anyway, that's my rationale for possibly spending $55 on something I already have.


I've gone into more detail on my reasoning for resurrecting this blog over on my main gaming blog: postGeek. Basically, as I begin to get interested in painting my 15mm WWII miniatures again, I decided I'd rather keep using this blog to chronicle my efforts rather than my more general gaming blog. I expect that my posts here will be even more sporadic than those on postGeek, but there will be at least a few posts here before it goes dormant again, if it does go dormant.

One other note, I'm a fan of Flames of War, but I'm not a fan of Battlefront. I'm going to try to restrict my rantings on the business side of Battlefront to postGeek and keep most of the negativity out of here. I doubt I'll be completely successful though, so fair warning that if you feel the need to praise the company that makes the game you like, you may take offense at my occasional snide comments regarding BF's publishing schedule or marketing decisions. All I can say is that I'm passionate about the game, and that passion often leads to frustration as I see BF make decisions that I disagree with.

In any case, if you're reading this I hope you can find some enjoyment and maybe even a little information to help in your own hobby.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

StuGs and 8-Rads

Continued from Fallschirmjagers.

I've been working on my Fallschirmjagers quite a bit lately, including some of the vehicles I plan to use to support them. As you can probably tell from the title of this post, those will include some Sturmgeschutz IIIG assualt guns (StuGs) and SdKfz 231 armored cars (8-rads). The 8-rads are purely a point-filler for my 800 point Infantry League force. Ninety points for a pair of 8-rads is a cheap way to give my force another platoon, plus some much needed mobility. By saying that they are a point filler I mean that the choice to add them to the force was based on game rather than historical factors.

The StuGs won't see use until I expand to a full 1500 or 2000 point army. Unlike the 8-rads, the StuGs are a solid historical choice for supporting my fallschirmjagers. They were often attached as support throughout the war, and in the late war period there were at least two fallschirmjager sturmgeschutz brigades.

Unlike my Soviets, which are based on forces that fought in a specific battle, my fallschirmjagers aren't based on a specific unit or point in time. Rather, they are meant to serve as any fallschirmjager unit in a European setting (east or west) from '43 to '45. More specificaly, I want them to be able to serve as both a reasonable op-force for my Soviets on the Eastern front during the mid-war, and as any of the fallschirmjager units fighting in Normandy or during Market-Garden during the late-war period.

For my vehicles this means a dunkelgelb as opposed to a dunkelgrau paint job, or so I thought. When it came to the 8-rads things actually become a bit more complicated. Whenever I start to paint a new type of unit or vehicle I try to do some research to find out the best way to do this. Most of the time this involves some web searches and the purchase of an Osprey book or similar book. In exploring 8-rads I ended up getting both and Osprey book on German armored cars and a Military Vehicles in Detail book specifically on 8-rads.

I had two main concerns, The first was whether or not to put the cow-catcher like device (called a pakschutz) on the front of the vehicle, and the second was how to paint the vehicle. My initial research based on the web and the Osprey book indicated "yes" to the pakschutz and a dunkelgelb paint job, so that's what I started with. Unfortunately, after I got the book specifically on 8-rads I discovered a few things. First, the SdKfz 231 that is sold by BattleFront actually stopped production in 1942. After that only the command model, the SdKfz 232, was produced, and that most of these appear to have been produced with thicker armor instead of the external pakschutz.

While early versions of the SdKfz 232 featured large wire frame antennas, advances in radio technology meant that later versions were very similar externally to the 231 and identical in combat performance (the difference was the better radio). As a result, it would appear that the unit in Festung Europa is actually meant to represent this model rather than the one actually listed in the book.

After finding all this out I realized that 8-rads probably either had the pakschutz or were painted dunkelgelb, but that it's quite possible that there was never an 8-rad with a pakschutz painted dunkelgelb. By the time I figured this out I had already painted the base coat on the models with the pakschutz attached, so I just decided to go with it instead of starting over. My story is that these are older 8-rads that were re-painted dunkelgelb.

As for camo, despite these being used as reconaissance vehicles, I found few pictures showing them in camo, so I decided to leave mine plain dunkelgelb.

The StuGs were a different matter. Since I plan to eventually use them as support in Normandy, I tried to find out what paint job the fallschirmjager StuGs used there. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any definitive sources. Instead, I ended up doing a variation on a couple different '43 and '44 camo schemes that I saw in books and photos. I also took inspiration from a picture I've seen of tank camo being applied with a mop. I figured the brush I was using was pretty close in scale to what was actually used to paint the tank, so I didn't worry too much about cleaning things up.

I don't like to do much weathering. It's probably more realistic to paint on a lot of dirt and mud, but I prefer a cleaner look to my models for the tabletop. I limited the weathering to a bit of dirt drybrushed onto the tires and mudguards. The final detail was to apply balkenkreuz decals to the sides of all the vehicles.

That should do it for my vehicular support for my fallschirmjager. Now to continue on with the infantry. I'm almost done with the first two platoons. Next up is assembling and painting a mortar platoon, probably followed by either an MG platoon, AT platoon, or 3rd infantry platoon. My goal is to eventually have all combat, weapons and non-divisional support options available for both mid and late war.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Book Review: War Without Hate

War Without Hate: The Desert Campaign of 1940-1943 by John Bierman and Colin Smith (also published as The Battle of Alamein) is the best single volume book on the war in North Africa that I've read. The title refers to the air of chivalry that still existed between British and German forces during this phase of the war. The authors are British journalists, and the focus is naturally on the British side of the conflict.

The book covers from the entrance of Italy into the war until the final capitulation of Axis forces in Tunisia, but the primary focus is on Operation Crusader and the battles around El Alamein. Around a dozen maps do an adequate job of illustrating the actions described in the text.

From the gamer's perspective there's probably not much to gain here other than a good general knowledge of the history of the conflict. The focus is at too high a level to provide much in the way of inspiration for a company level game like Flames of War. There are a few good photographs, but not that many.

I still recommend the book as a well-written primer on the military aspects of the war in North Africa.