Flames of War: Fielding the Guards Armoured Division

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Among the multi-national Allied forces that participated in the campaign following Operation Overlord on D-Day on June 6, 1944 were the British Guards Armoured Division. Arriving a couple weeks late to the party on June 26, the Guards would roll on to participate in many of the key post-D-Day engagements including Operation Goodwood, Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge. I’ve been encountering the Guards over and over again in Rick Atkinson’s engaging The Guns At Last Light, the latest and final volume in his “Liberation Trilogy” telling of the Allied march to victory in World War II. And so, it is great timing that I’m finally getting around to adding the Guards as my first allied group supplementing my already extensive US forces in my Flames of War gaming.

FWOFBoxI’ve been working away for half this year on finishing up the models included in the excellent Flames of War Open Fire! box set. Among all the plastic goodies included, the set offers up a nice Guards platoon to provide support to their allied US Airborne infantry. The eight models include six of the US-supplied Sherman V tanks and two of the famed Sherman Firefly tanks, retrofitted by the British with a massive 17-pound anti-tank gun.

Aside from a rather significant and well-documented issue with some parts fitting together, the models glue up pretty nicely. To the included stowage and gear included on the sprues I also added some leftover bits. A quick coat of green armor spray paint followed by black and silver lightly brushed on the treads made up the majority of the painting work. The exposed drivers received a tan uniform, black beret and radio headset picked out in detail. Crates and tool handles strapped to the hull got a quick touch of brown.

IMG_1894For decals — a big oversight in not being a part of the Open Fire! kit — I used a set from the Plastic Soldier Company and guidelines found on the Flames of War site. I found the decals from PSC to be easier to apply than those I had used from FOW in the past, but I did still use a few Allied “star” markings I had lying around from previous US tank models from FOW. With the decals dry, a bit of dried mud color and watered-down brown wash added some wear and tear around the tanks before they were hit with a matte finish.

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IMG_1898Now that I’ve got some Brits on the table, I’m eying some UK infantry to add some depth to my collection and flavor to my games. There’s a big full-day Flames of War gaming event coming up in just a few days at Metropolitan Wargamers, but I don’t think the Guards will be making an appearance this time around. Still, it will be good to know they’re waiting to throw in with the Yanks on another day in the near future.

Favorite Kickstarters of the Month (July 2013)

Kickstarter can be a weird, volatile environment. Some projects come and go with little fanfare while others soar into the stratosphere with backer support. There can be all manner of highs, lows and outright trouble for projects on their journey from idea to funding to delivery. That said, four of the projects I wrote about in June wound up successfully funded in the past month. The fifth, the seafaring game Admiral, was funded but the project was then suspended inexplicably with a day to go. No doubt there’s a story there, but for now, here are the projects I’ll be watching as we hit the first hot month of the summer in July.

Cthulhu Wars: Drawing on the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, this game is the big story in games on Kickstarter right now. With dozens of gorgeously grotesque miniatures and many planned expansions, this strategy board game turns the tables and allows the players to play as Lovecraft’s beastly horde seeking to control the surface of a ruined Earth. Many of the pledgers have bought in at the higher funding levels of $200-500+, no doubt attracted by not only the theme but the tons of extra maps, gaming pieces and figures rewards. The project is trending toward nearly $1 million in funding in its closing days, and the more than 3300 backers are delivering a built-in fan base of this classic horror genre already popular with gamers.

Seas of Iron: I’m not a big naval gaming fan, but I really like the looks of this very modest battleship wargame from Battle Bunker Games. The battleships are comprised of two-sided cards defining the sections of each ship where you deploy your crew and fire volleys at your opponent. When a section is destroyed, cards are flipped over to show that part of your ship aflame. The Kickstarter exclusives include the famed Yamato and Bismarck warships. Just $20 allows for a backer to get a full version of the game which allows enough flexibility for 1-on-1 or small fleet play with combined sets.

Devil Dogs and Dragons: I’ve invested in more than a few of the Anglo-Zulu War 28mm miniatures from Empress Miniatures. They make quality, spirited and detailed miniatures, so its great to see them expanding their Modern Combat line. There’s a lot of interest in gaming modern warfare right now, and the 28mm scale seems to be a clear favorite with small squad-level engagements in the dusty and hot embattled corners of the world. These 28mm figures fill out modern US Marine Corps and Chinese People’s Liberation Army options for deployment in the Asia-Pacific desert and jungle regions. With a bit more imagination, these guys will even find a home in various zombie, alien invasion or post-apocalyptic scenarios.

Fife & Drum American Revolution Range: Just in time for the 4th of July weekend, Fife & Drum Miniatures is also expanding their established line of miniatures. Sculpted in a large 30mm or 1/56 scale, these majestic figures offer incredible detail for the Colonial Period ranging from the Seven Years War to the American War of Independence. The Kickstarter campaign will help fund the company’s expansion into new British cavalry, Hessian, Highlander and French infantry offerings. At the $50 level, backers receive a special three-figure “Spirit of ’76” vignette, making this project perfect for any patriot and fan of the AWI period.

Gettysburg: The Tide Turns: Finally, and in keeping with the theme of American military history, I’m throwing in one video game offering to round out the list. The Battle of Gettysburg is celebrating its 150th anniversary this month, and so this timely iOS game for the iPad and iPhone looks to be a deal at just $10 to back the project. Developed by Shenandoah Studio, the makers of the previously Kickstarted Battle of the Bulge iOS game, this simulation looks to be a very promising 21st-century tribute to the strategy, tactics and heroics found on the famed Pennsylvania battlefield 150 years ago.

Flames of War: Foy 1945 Scenario

With a big full day of Flames of War gaming coming up at Metropolitan Wargamers on July 20th a few of us got together for a practice game this past weekend. There’s a renewed interest in FOW at the club as of late, and one of the great things about the group is the way experienced and new players alike come to learn together.

Wanting a manageable but interesting late war Western Europe scenario with US Airborne and German forces, we settled on the Battle of Foy from January 1945. The battle was just one small part of the brutal and much larger Battle of the Bulge campaign in the Ardennes forest region of France, Belgium and Luxembourg during the winter of ’44-’45. The engagement near Foy is featured dramatically in an episode from HBO Band of Brothers miniseries (clip here), so I was looking forward to trying my hand at commanding Easy Company from the 101st Airborne Division on the table for the day.

The FOW website offers a downloadable PDF outlining the scenario which fairly represents the German defensive position in and around Foy. No guidelines are given on the make-up of forces, but we decided on 1780 points on a side with flexibility beyond the historic record. The US Airborne begins in two divided deployment areas with I Company pinned due to indecision by its commander Lt. Norman Dike. Only by the daring sprint across open ground by Ronald Spiers sent on orders by Capt. Richard “Dick” Winters to relieve Dike of command can I Company join the assault on Foy. In the FOW scenario, the US forces have six turns to wrest control of one of two objectives from the defending Germans. The Germans must hold their ground against the bravery and skill of Easy Company.

The US struck first with an airstrike from their P-47 Thunderbolt taking out two of the three German PaK 40 anti-tank guns tucked behind the churchyard walls at the center of town. After being pinned by the P-47, the anti-tank platoon wound up rolling poorly and remained pinned and ineffective for the remainder of the game.

That was pretty much the last major good story the US could tell for the rest of the game. Some house-to-house fighting took place along the German right flank with the Airborne eventually beating the Germans back from the protection of the row of houses along the road to town. The American Sherman tank platoon rolled up the center but remained stuck for the whole game attempting to machine-gun the German platoons dug in behind the churchyard walls. Four of the five tanks wound up taking fire and being destroyed where they sat.

With the US infantry moving too slowly on both sides of the table, the Germans rolled their armored reserves in on turn three as their Stug platoon entered the table to hold off any US advance on the German right flank.

US volleys from the parachute artillery platoon tucked far back in the field did little more than occasionally eliminate a few German infantry and keep the units protecting the objective on the German left flank pinned.

Aside from a deadly late game P-47 strike on the German mortars which had harassed the Americans for the entire game, US air support never did much more for the rest of the game. By the sixth turn, the final German Panzer IV armor support rolled onto the table. With both flanks locked down by the Germans, a final desperate US attempt at dual assaults on the German armor platoons were ineffective. With three American platoons eliminated and most others with heavy casualties, the US ceded victory to the Germans in a revisionary result from the actual American victory in 1945.

Games like this are fun but also an opportunity to consider lessons learned. My US 101st Airborne was entirely too cautious and didn’t get into the fight fast enough, losing the opportunity to control the town’s center before the arrival of the German armor. My machine gun platoon got stuck mid-field and got chewed up bit by bit without having the opportunity to truly unleash its full effectiveness on the Germans who remained out of range and dug in for most of the game. Other infantry platoons hung back too much in the woods or buildings and never really got up in the fight.

With a much larger game coming up in a few weekends, I see that taking greater advantage of Easy Company’s aggressive, daring and deadly experience is going to be key to an Allied victory. Looking back at our re-running of the battle at Foy this past weekend, I can see I was a little too much like the wavering Lt. Dike and never let the heroics of individuals like Ronald Spiers to take over.