Flames of War: 70th Anniversary Battle Of The Bulge Mission

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This past week marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge fought between Allied and German forces in the snowy, wooded Ardennes region of Western Europe. The six-week German offensive through a frigid December 1944 and January 1945 surprised Allied forces and proved to be costly for all involved. At its conclusion, commanders on both sides counted nearly 100,000 casualties and much of the German ground and air reserves had been smashed as a result of their ill-fated gambit against the Allies.

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The Battle of the Bulge Mission rules from Flames of War

To mark the occasion, several of us met at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY to run through the big Battle of the Bulge Mission available free online for Flames of War. The simple scenario plays out on a huge 6′ x 8′ tabletop with 4000-point forces on either side drawn from the Nuts! and Devil’s Charge books as well as the Panzers To The Meuse PDF. We set our table using a large off-white canvas with roads crisscrossing the forested field dotted with a few small structures.

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101st Airborne US Parachute Rifle Company from Nuts!

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US Glider Rifle Company from Nuts!

On the Allied defending side, I ran my US 101st Airborne Division “Easy Company” list made famous by the book and TV series Band of Brothers. Several special character Warrior figures were included in my list and I also added a hefty group of five M4A3 76mm Shermans and an 81mm mortar platoon. My partner fielded a US Glider Rifle Company, also with 81mm mortars and a 57mm anti-tank platoon. In support, his list was rounded out with M7 Priests, M18 Hellcats and a tank platoon with a Jumbo, two Easy Eights and two more M4A3 76mm Shermans.

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Lehr Panzerkompanie from Panzers To The Meuse

For the armored attacking Germans, both players pulled Lehr Panzerkompanie lists from the Panzers To The Meuse PDF from FOW. Across the lists, a swarm of Panzer IV platoons were accompanied by Panther G and Jagdpanther tanks, Puma armored cars, rocket launchers, Wirbelwinds and two Panzergrenadier platoons. To supplement their massive armored ground forces, the German players also opted for limited air support from a ME 262 A2a Sturmvogel jet plane.

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Initial Battle of the Bulge set up as German players plot their offensive

Per the scenario, the largely infantry US forces were deployed with the exception of our 76mm tank platoon and anti-tank guns which we held in reserve. The US anti tank platoon deployed at the center of the board with their M20 Greyhound scout cars, ready to spring support with the soft but deadly Hellcats to either flank.

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Panzer Lehr forces deploy and move toward the American right

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The German armored assault pushes to the American left

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German ME 262 jet attempts to dig the 101st Airborne out of their positions

The German forces moved quickly onto the board with reconnaissance moves from the Pumas stretching across the table. A mass of Panzer IVs and the Jagdpanthers rolled to the US right. On the American left, Panthers moved to cover in a small wood while the two platoons of mounted Panzergrenadiers pushed down the road toward a US rifle team dug into another woods looking to attack with an armored assault. At the rear, the first run of the Sturmvogel took after the US Airborne in position protecting an objective to no effect.

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The German armored assault on the US rifles in the woods

The German armored assault commenced but was bounced back over the first couple turns with the Americans taking only a few losses from the protection of the trees. Panzer IVs moved in to support from behind the German halftracks and took fire from the Jumbo, Easy Eights and 76mm Shermans sitting in a treeline across the road. The Americans sprang their first ambush, placing anti-tank guns nearby the Panthers. While shots from the US AT platoon were unable to crack the heavy panther armor, their position would go on to strongly limit the maneuverability of the Panthers for the whole game.

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US 76mm tank platoon springs an ambush on the right

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US tanks receive heavy fire from the Panzer Lehr

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US Hellcats move to stop the German armor advance

Over on the German right, the Panzer IV and Jagdpanther force divided around a wooded area and was engaged by the platoon of five 76mm Shermans exposing themselves in ambush. Over the next several turns, armor fire was exchanged as the German tanks sought cover in and around the woods. Three 76mm Shermans were quickly destroyed and the position was quickly reinforced with the US Hellcats deploying from behind a nearby barn. One Jagdpanther quickly bogged and sat stalled over repeated attempts to unbog for the majority of the remainder of the game.

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Panzer IVs are devastated by US armor fire from the woods at the left

Back on the US left flank, the German armored assault was pushed back with most of two platoons destroyed in a crossfire from American rifle infantry in one woods and tank fire from another. the combined fire from the US armor likewise laid waste to the approaching Panzer IVs and Pumas. At mid-game, the American left was holding but the US right was in trouble.

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The ME 262 Sturmvogel takes a run at the US Priests

Supporting fire from both sides proved relatively ineffective throughout the game. The German ME 62 failed to score a hit on multiple runs over the table both to infantry and the rear American Priest platoon. The Priests themselves served to only stall the German armor advance with poor results from multiple bombardments. German rocket fire from their rear also showed little for its repeated efforts once spotting teams were in position on both flanks.

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IMG_4841German armor pushes for the crossroads objective

By the sixth and seventh turns, the game continued to progress steadily on two fronts. At the US left, Panther tanks moved into position after their allied Panzer IVs sat burning all around them. Smoke rounds from two US mortar platoons effectively kept the Panthers out of most of the fight as they crept forward and back in the woods. Finally, a couple of side armor shots from the American anti-tank 57mm guns took a couple of the Panthers out and effectively ended the German threat on one side of the field.

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101st Airborne troops rush forward to contest the crossroads objective

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Panzer Lehr forces attempt to push out the 101st Airborne

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German armor continues to roll to a second objective crossroads at the rear

Things were fairing much better for the Germans all along at the other end of the field. Over several late game turns, the German armor pushed forward, leaving all the US Hellcats in flame and the final surviving 76mm Sherman fleeing the field. The veteran 101st Airborne troops continued to snarl the German advance, remaining static and dug in under wooded cover. With the Americans handily holding their left, two US platoons ran to the right to shore up the defense of two objectives. Just as one platoon of US paratroopers broke, a round of fire from the Priests took out one of the Jagdpanthers. With German armor at one objective and pushing hard at a second, a lot of American troops were poised to go down contesting two crossroads with plenty of mortar support ready to shift their attention across the table.

The written scenario doesn’t call for a turn limit, but after having played for nearly eight hours we called the game at the ninth turn. This was one of the longer and larger FOW battles we had played at the club in Brooklyn in this year. In a year of 70th anniversaries, wrapping up with an exhausting and dynamic Battle of the Bulge game seemed the best way to play some tribute in miniature to the largest battle fought in US history.

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Flames of War: Forces of War Launches

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This month, Battlefront Miniatures, the makers of the popular World War II miniatures game Flames of War, took its first big digital step forward with the introduction of the first of their two new digital services — Forces of War.

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The soon-to-be retired EasyArmy.com

Debates have been raging through online message boards, Facebook groups, Twitter and over WWII-themed tabletops ever since the announcement that the beloved EasyArmy was being closed down and absorbed into Battlefront with Forces of War. During its run, EasyArmy had become a much relied-upon tool for FOW players worldwide. Battlefront has maintained a lengthy working relationship with EasyArmy’s designer in an incredibly rare example of a corporation willing to cede some control of their intellectual property. Now, like so many other companies working in the digital space today, Battlefront has brought the ideas and work of a passionate outsider in-house with this month’s launch of Forces of War.

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The New Companies menu on Forces of War

Beginning with Forces of War, buying a company list will run $1.00 USD with a 25% discount extended when buying all lists from an entire book or compilations at about $16.50 USD. The initial offering of lists is meager, focusing on the more recent FOW books Road To Rome, Barbarossa, Road To Remagen and the World War I themed Great War. Devil’s Charge is listed but the complete book is not available and instead points to the popular Panzers To The Meuse list. This set of German companies is the only free offering at launch, allowing for some limited experimentation with the site before buying additional lists. Being a Late War player who mostly plays US and British lists of the D-Day, Market Garden and Battle of the Bulge operations, my hope is that FOW quickly updated Forces of War with these lists as well as Eastern Front lists for Late War Russian and German players.

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 Company builder on Forces of War

As a test, I went through the quick PayPal process of buying the US 92nd Infantry list from the Road To Rome book. The performance was familiar to my experience on EasyArmy, although I did find the Forces of War site to be somewhat faster than its predecessor. Within a platoon, options are selected with simple clicks, and a running points total is tracked along the top of the page by company and platoon. Forces can be saved with custom names and a nice (but minor) new feature allows notes to be added within each platoon.

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A sample Saved Company page on Forces of War

Saved companies are accessed through easy to view lists which can be filtered by period, country, type, name, source, motivation and skill. Companies can be exported and saved as PDFs or printed. The printed lists are somewhat clearer with better page breaks than those with EasyArmy, a simple but welcome tweak. Frustratingly, the platoon motivation and skill ratings still print within unnecessarily colored text boxes which are nearly unreadable on the page.

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Scenarios selector on Forces of War

Most other aspects of EasyArmy have been ported over to Forces of War, including the handy Scenarios map. The Scenarios page could use some upgrades with a search or menu feature to allow quicker access and some better designed graphics or links.

Much like EasyArmy before, Forces of War offers an easy interface in which to view and manage force lists for FOW. In a nutshell, all the core functionality of EasyArmy has been preserved and then packaged with an official FOW wrapper.  Like a lot of players, I would have very much liked to have seen more lists available at launch. As more lists become available in the coming months, re-buying lists already purchased via EasyArmy is also a sticking point for many but I find the new pricing scheme to be completely in-line with FOW balancing customer usability with needed company profit. Some will also continue to complain about the inaccuracies in some lists, but clean-up edits over time, cross-checking the books and being a considerate, mindful and fair player will always trump any gaming tool.  Gone too are all the ads which cluttered the layout of EasyArmy — a true step forward for any premium digital offer. As transitions go, the evolution of EasyArmy to Forces of War is a good start with room for greater improvements to hopefully occur in the very near term.