New Player Advice

Panzerlehrbrigade 9

New Player Advice
By Garry Wait

Firstly welcome to the world of (semi) Historical gaming. I know I’ve built friendships with fantastic people from many countries and cultures and universally have loved the experiences of sitting down to roll dice and talk nonsense with friends.

Historical gaming is a rich and enjoyable hobby – just don’t let anyone tell you that painting a Panzer V in shocking pink is no fun. For me, though, the chance to muck around on a gaming table is unbeatable for sociable enjoyment. It can help even more if you have some clear ideas in mind for your game experience and this article seeks to provide some guidance for those starting out. This isn’t an exhaustive list and I’d love to see further discussion on our Facebook page for more insights from those who wish to share.

Let me start by saying that – as you will hear said by many of the best players – games are won by players not lists. You can give someone inexperienced a list that a tournament winning player developed and they will stumble often in games. Likewise, give a top player what you think is no good and watch them sculpt brilliance out of dross.

 Cancon 24

 A classic example of this was last year’s Team Yankee Australian Nationals. One of our most friendly and helpful local guys asked a few months beforehand what he would be most challenged by. People were asked to vote on what that player should run. The answer by popular acclaim was Dutch because no one had done well with them previously. The guy duly bought up minis, painted them and promptly won the Nationals convincingly with Dutch. Player, not list.

So what do you need to do to improve your playing ability? In no particular order here are some thoughts and suggestions:

  • Play often socially. Branch out and try to meet as many new opponents as you can. Treat each game as the social and friendly opportunity to have fun with likeminded people. Don’t play the same people over and over again if you can possibly extend your playing circle. Oddly enough, I find that tournament play can introduce you to the nicest and most friendly guys possible. I am very lucky in Australia that I have never been to a tournament I wouldn’t recommend and attend again. We have a great bunch of people downunder here.
  • If you lose – and we all do at some time – ask your opponent honestly what they saw in the game and what they thought you could do differently. You might be surprised and no one ever minds sharing their opinions. Yes you might disagree and yes you might think you were unlucky. Luck is something a good player makes for themselves. It’s rarely ever the difference between winning a tournament and coming last.
  • Armies. Everyone has favourites and opinions (as noted above) are cheap and plentiful. Make sure you build an army you can love even when it loses. NO ARMY IN FLAMES OF WAR OR WWIII: TEAM YANKEE IS UNBEATABLE. Yes I know I put that in bold and capitals. But accept that you need to enjoy the army you build and paint up. I tell new people that gaming is vaguely like Rock Paper Scissors. Sure your army will have weaknesses but against some others it will have opposing strengths. Learn to find out what they are and enjoy your army even more.
  • Reserves. Face it, sooner or later even if you are attacking every time, you will need to allow for reserves. New guys often look at army list planning like a chocoholic in a candy store – little bit of this little bit of that. Go nuts sure, but just realise that in some games you have to leave out 40% of your army and sometimes need to allow for Deep Reserves (read up the missions part to see what I mean). You will see that the best players ALWAYS plan for this eventuality. Don’t assume that having four units of Leopard 1 tanks or three units of Shermans in delayed reserves will ever see the light of day if your dice are terrible. Try to consider limiting the NUMBER of units in reserve to a manageable number. Points sink units like German Tiger IIs, French WWIII Leclerc’s, West German Leopard IIs are perfect for this. A single or double unit in reserve is far more likely to arrive and have SOME effect upon the game than four or five units waiting to arrive – and probably won’t. 
  • Missions. Honestly the best single part of our gaming on table is the tension and excitement achieved by missions. Help yourself to enjoy the game more by thinking about this beforehand. If you are running a Tiger Company in Flames Of War or a British Challenger squadron in WWIII: Team Yankee, you’re only handicapping yourself by choosing Defend. Don’t do this. The game is structured to make players think about their intentions before rolling dice in the game. This is good but means you need to consider the focus for your list before you start doing anything on the tabletop. If you are running a mass of infantry and your opponent has lots of tanks and not much else, then choosing attack means you either have cojones of steel or the brain of a supercomputer and lucky dice to match. Give yourself the backing of choosing the right option of Attack, Manoeuvre or Defend at the time.

  • Orders. Not every army requires “Blitz” orders. I know this is controversial but hang with me for a moment. Your list needs to consider what it is realistically capable of and for you to act accordingly. For example, if running Mid War Flames Of War US or Soviet (or WWIII: Team Yankee Soviet), I wouldn’t even bother trying to roll for a blitz unless it will have NO effect whatsoever on my plans if I don’t achieve it. Not all armies are created equally when it comes to skill and this isn’t a bad thing. If your army doesn’t NEED to blitz, then don’t risk the possible failure.
What do I mean by this? 
Simple. If you are running a unit of Abrams tanks or Green Sherman 76’s (3+ to hit), why take the chance that maybe half the time statistically you will fail your dice roll to blitz? You already get ROF2 for your main guns and your vehicle is designed to be used aggressively. I would argue much of the time you are better off moving than sitting still. Work the flanks, push those stabilisers hard. Don’t expect Blitz to be the answer – even if your opponent with a radically different list gets away with it with their better Skill rating.

Similarly I am always amazed how many players forget to use OTHER mission orders. Yes, your Soviets or Iranians in WWIII: Team Yankee have Skill 5+ so don’t dig in easily. Stop and think – maybe this is what their doctrine intended? Don’t sit back and hope the enemy will impale themselves on your foxhole lines – take the fight to them. 

How? Follow Me. This means you can’t shoot, sure, but you sure can Assault. Sometimes this is a far better solution than hoping for that unsure Blitz roll. Especially if you have extra troops to provide support while stationary on the way in. If your skill is 5+, chances are good your motivation (or Courage in WWIII-Team Yankee) will be far better than the usual. I find this a brilliant way to redeploy forces.

British Challenger Tank

Likewise, Cross Here is a magical rule especially for those vehicles with 4+ cross check (or worse in some cases). Why not use this – especially if you are planning a “cross the Suez” sneaky outflanking manoeuvre where every vehicle is needed.

Missions are NOT a one size fits all. And I’m reminded that when you have even the crummiest 5+ skill trooper, there is no harm in rolling for shoot and scoot if you didn’t move previously – unless you are an artillery unit that has ranged in of course! You can always decide if you want to scoot or not after you roll, no one says you MUST move if it’s a success. If you fail that roll, no harm no foul. Move on. 

  • Objectives. Focus on what the mission requires to be successful. I have lost count of how many times I or others I’m playing have overlooked that objectives can start “live”. This means that you have to allow for your opponent to be aggressive – and be the same yourself. Don’t focus on destroying your opponent’s army as this will rarely be successful alone. Instead see what it takes to win easiest of all. None of this hobby is meant to be a math equation or mental challenge – simplest is usually the best tactic. Read the mission carefully before you put any miniatures down to play, you might be surprised what it takes to win isn’t as hard as you first thought. If you are really unsure, go and look at the game table from your opponent’s side, especially during the game and see if it’s different to what you were thinking. Often we can underestimate the challenge for our opponents – or overestimate our own chances.
  • Forward Defence. As stated above, the key to any of these games is usually objectives. Why assign one unit to defend an objective when you could have three? More is always better. I consider it redundancy of risk, meaning that if one of your units crumbles due to monumentally bad dice rolls or poor deployment, make sure you have a backup nearby and in close proximity to the objective. Safety in numbers isn’t just a trite saying, it works on table too. No army unit wants to work in total isolation – even the best special forces unit depends on transport units, supply units and armourers at the very least. On table, your best unit is no good if it’s expected to perform in a vacuum of no support. Always deploy your force in front of the objective if you can and if your opponent has any template weapons, show them some respect and spread out. If you are in front of the objective – and able to do so – then that gives you a further turn to hold onto the objective if needed.
  • Infantry. Yes, I grew up with my first real job being in armoured in the Army as an armoured vehicle crewman so I love tanks as much as the next person. But when you are starting out, just be aware that those lovely tanks you painted up can do many things but certainly not everything. A good player works to the strengths and weaknesses of their list and a key strength is the ability to hold objectives. Sadly no one has ever been able to replace the footslogger to take and hold objectives. If you don’t believe me, imagine your lonely Tiger tank or Challenger Troop trying to clear an objective when there is an infantry platoon within 4”/10cm – but on third story of a residential building. Short of hoping to shoot them out and using harsh language, there isn’t much hope of clearing that objective in a three hour game or more. Likewise, nothing beats what we used to call “crunchies” for being foot protection to heavy armour. No one bothers the heaviest possible tanks in these games frontally from ground level, but the minute flanks are turned, it’s a whole different game. Eliminate this chance by using infantry forces. I know even when running tank formations, I want to have a minimum of one and preferably two or three infantry platoons to hold objectives and protect my priciest tanks.
  • Most important of all - winning isn’t everything. Shocking to say, I know, but getting a result of a win OR a loss is always infinitely better than timing out because neither side knew how to finish the game. More importantly, I often feel that the worst day gaming is better than the best day working overtime at my job. Get over a loss and move on, reflect on the upsides (such as hanging out with good mates) and laugh about the downsides (like how brand new painted minis always perform terribly in their first outing) Make sure you enjoy yourself, can’t emphasise this enough but getting stuck in and trying to get a result makes for a great experience you can laugh about later over your favourite beverage.

~ Garry Wait

 Soviet T-80s