Monday, 1 May 2017

GF9 Tanks - New Panzer IV Model

Pay day! And that means goodies...

This month treat will be to add a new tank to my GF9 TANKS game, a German Panzer IV tank model. This is because - as mentioned in my last game report - I don't have this tank and had to use a spare Soviet T-34 model as a stand-in!

Well, I don't have to resort to that now as I have the correct model. It's a pretty good one to have as the Panzer IV was the bread and butter of the German armour from the mid to the later part of the war and saw service on all the fronts that the Germans were fighting on.

A PzKpfw IV Ausf. H of the 12th Panzer Division carrying Sch├╝rzen skirting
operating on the Eastern Front in the USSR, 1944. Source: Wikipedia.

To be honest, you can't really do a German WW2 armour force without including either a Panzer IV or StuG III in the mix, particularly if you are intending to play some Normandy based scenarios.

The model itself is quite nicely detailed for a 15mm scale wargame quality kit and the sprues that you get do come with some extra parts so you can customise your tank...

This is the Ausf. H (June 1943 onwards) variant, as can be seen by the extra armour additions and the long barrelled 75mm gun. This was still a very potent tank in 1944 and could best the M4 Shermans and equal the T-34/85, but was already starting to be - but was never really completely - replaced by the Panzer V (Panther) and was still being made when the war ended in 1945.

The kit is pretty simple to put together and shouldn't take too long...

It comes in a soft beige plastic - which might pass for German 'Dunkelgelb' (Dark Yellow) - so would be a suitable colour for all fronts, but - of course - it would look better painted.

I'm really pleased with this model and my first expansion for the GF9 TANKS game. The pack comes with additional upgrade card and one special 'hero' card to add to the starter set, so I can really beef this panzer up if I want to!

I look forward to adding the Panzer IV to my next game and seeing how it stands up to the standard M4 Sherman. Judging by my last game - where I used my T-34 'fake panzer IV' - it should be a pretty equal match.

Friday, 28 April 2017

GF9 Tanks Practise Games - Part 2: Test Game 2

Still smarting from the humiliating thrashing that my Shermans got in my first practise game, I was determined that they could do better. But, at the same time, I also felt that I needed to adjust some of the parameters of the game to meet my experience level.

I decided to add some additional scenery this time, just to make the line of sight
a little less obvious and also obstruct the temptation to rush tanks in a straight,
unhindered line to their target.
In my last game, I perhaps complicated matters more than I had to by adding quite a few 'uprade cards' as if dealing with the basic rules wasn't enough to be getting on with. So I left this aspect of the game balancing out this time, and instead took a simpler 'nearest equivalent' means to achieve force parity.

I used a spare 1/100 scale T-34 model I already had to give the German force two tanks to match the US force's two. While the points value might not match exactly, the benefits of simplifying the attack and defence values - by just having the basic tank cards - makes calculating effects of engagements easier for a novice like me.

The T-34 will stand in for a 17 point Panzer IV, so the German force will add up to 49 points while the US will be 45 points. Not too much of a discrepancy - hopefully the addition of a 76mm armed Sherman will help counter the fearsome Panther this time around.

Game On! Time For Revenge?
My strategies were - once again - fairly rudimentary (for either side). I split the US team, with the standard Sherman making a bee-line for the 'Panzer IV', whilst the slightly more powerful 76mm armed Sherman had the job of keeping the Panther busy...

As for the German force,  I decided to be a little more defensive - despite having a slight advantage and I was hoping to use the extra cover I had added on the table to maybe do some crafty sniping with the panther before the Sherman '76' could use its mobility to close in.

American 'Blitzkrieg'
I settled the Panzer IV in some nearby wood, hoping to use the cover and block the standard Sherman's headlong dash down the flank. But, I swung the Sherman in towards the middle of the table - my thinking was that I wanted to try and deal with the Panzer IV as fast as possible. If I got lucky and destroyed it then it would be 2v1 against the Panther...

Meanwhile, on the other side of the table, I could see the Panther laying in wait for me behind cover so I switched the direction of my '76' and turned left hoping to sneak a peak (and get a shot) at the 'Panzer IV' from a distance through the gaps between the scenery...

Bear in mind, that while it looks like the Panther can see me, the Sherman '76'
is actually completely behind the woods so - according to the rules - out of sight.
Spotting this change of direction, the Panther used it's 'Blitzkrieg' special ability to move from behind its cover in order to track the '76's' movement. And here's where I got clever...

On the next Movement round, the 'Panzer IV' moved first (having the lowest 'Initiative') and chose to retreat back behind the wood and to it's right - still trying to block the oncoming Sherman's advance down that outer edge of the table - BUT, instead, the standard Sherman moved even further in toward the middle of the table and bravely - threatened the Panther's flank!

The Panther - which moved last (having the highest 'Initiative') - used its move to counter this thread by swinging around to face the little Sherman...

Having the highest 'Initiative' also meant that the Panther shot first in the Shooting phase and I held my breath as it rolled its attack (remembering how it had decimated my Shermans in the last game) but the German's dice rolling let it down and the little Sherman managed to pull off a terrific defence roll and survived!

Not only that, but the Shermans replying fire scored a critical and the resultant 'crit card' meant that the Panther suffered a damaged turret. This meant that in the next Movement phase the Panther could not turn its turret to engage the Sherman '76' as it took advantage of the Panther's occupation with ethe little Sherman and rushed forward to - again - threaten the German's rear...

It was a perfectly executed trap (albeit dependent on a good deal of luck), as whichever way the Panther turned now it would expose it's weak rear to either one of the American tanks.

It was a case of the lesser of two evils and with its turret still jammed (as it failed to repair its damage during the previous Command phase), the Panther chose to focus its fire on the little Sherman as that already had the most damage on it already. But - bless it - the little Sherman again pulled off a mighty defence roll and so the 'Initiative' and the advantage passed to the Sherman '76'...

And what a shot! Two crits and three hits, it was a devastating attack and one that the Panther's defence dice failed to cancel out. So it was three normal hits plus to Critical Cards which also added another two hits each for each crit card, making a total of SEVEN hits. The Panther already had two hits, so this meant that it now had a grand total of NINE damage and it was goodnight Vienna for the big cat!

KA-BOOM! ...But, not quite yet! (A tank isn't actually destroyed until the end of
 the next Command Phase and then it gets a chance to have one last consolation
shot at the enemy.)
And meanwhile, it was the little Shermans turn to shoot - caught as it was between a rock and a hard place - and it turned its gun to deal with the 'Panzer IV' in its rear. The Dice Gods definitely seem to have jumped ship in this game as the Sherman pulled off a roll of no less that three 'crits'...

The panzer - unable to answer this with its defence roll - took a huge pounding and drew the drew some very unpleasant 'crit cards', including the dreaded 'Bail Out' card which effectively left it dead in the water! (This also raised the panzers total damage to 4, leaving it just one point away from destruction.)

And, as that action brought the Shooting phase to the end and the Command phase began, it was the time for the Panther to perform its very last action in the game. The 'Final Fury' rule allows a tank which was - technically - destroyed during the last Shooting phase to end its life with a bang (literally) and take one final shot at any target it chooses.

In this case, the Panther attempted to lend what support it could to its teammate and targeted its spite at the little Sherman...

But, in yet another epic turn of events, the little Sherman dodged fate again and rolled an incredible 6 & 5 to counter the Panther's 6 & 5! 'Gott in Himmel!'...There was a moment of stunned silence...

And with that, the Panther exploded...

(I had to pause for a cup of tea at this point before continuing...Honestly, the game was so tense.) In truth, with the Panther dead and the 'Panzer IV' out of action the strains of the Fat Lady warming up in the wings was clearly audible. And after a couple of slurps of tea the star of the game, the plucky little Sherman, could take its time and move in for the final kill.

And - as if it needed the help - the Sherman '76' repositioned itself so it could support its mate with a long range shot...

BUT...In another twist of fate in had already been a game of surprises, the next Shooting phase did not bring about the expected coup de grace, not immediately anyway. The stay of execution was brought about by my being confused about what to do about defending a tank whose crew had abandoned it.

Did a 'Bail Out' have an impact on the number of dice that was assigned to the defending tank?

I actually had to 'pause' the game and seek clarification by means of the GF9 Tanks Facebook page...

Luckily, it is a big and very active FB Group and it wasn't long before I got some replies (enough time for me to finish off my mug of tea). The answer was that there was no special effect, it seems, other than the defender not receiving an extra dice for moving - obviously - because it couldn't.

But this pause in proceedings had allowed the German to catch his breath - it seems - as when I got back to rolling the dice he actually managed to throw a saving roll (admittedly, it was a poor attacking role by the American tank)!

Could this game get any more of a twisty finale? The answer to that was YES...For, as it turned out, the help of the Sherman '76' had to be called upon to finish the job, but guess what?

REALLY? You are joking!
Nope, no joke, the abandoned panzer beat two attacks, it's crew must have been hiding in the nearby woods and laughing their heads off. What a time for the Germans to get their dice mojo back.

But, hold onto your socks, because it gets worse (or better, depending who you are rooting for)...

With the 'Panzer IV' unable to return fire it was onto the Command phase and the German chose to roll - naturally - to cancel ('repair') the 'Bail Out' card and put the crew back in the tank. This was successful and so the next Movement phase saw some shuffling about for positioning with the German (first to move) ending up with the little Sherman firmly clamped to his side (I was darned sure I wasn't going to miss this time)!

And - with some relief - the Sherman didn't miss and threw a destroying roll...But (yes, another 'but'), you remember that 'Final Fury' rule?

With the very last shot of the game, the tenacious Panzer IV (where were these rolls in the rest of the game) managed to roll a critical and a normal hit and the poor little Sherman drew a nasty 3 damage 'crit card' in the most brutal and ironic 'trade kill' (which is one death for another).

--- THE END - U.S. VICTORY! ---

The Debrifing
Phew! That was emotionally draining. I could not have asked for a more different game after the last lacklustre practise game I had. This one had everything in it!

Most of all, I was exceptionally pleased to have my faith in the M4 Sherman tank restored after the beating they took in that earlier practice game. While - as it was historically - the M4 Sherman was at some disadvantage when compared to the later WW2 German tanks, given the right circumstances (and a bit of luck) the Sherman could still pull off a victory.

I think the addition of the extra scenery probably helped, as the Shermans used these to good advantage. Though, the decision to play the German tanks defencively probably helped the Shermans cash in on their aggresive manoeuvring.

Still, in the end, the dice had the last say and I have relived that the American dice were not 'broke' (as I was beginning to think after their last horrendous outing).

Still Learning, But Making Progress
I am still making a few errors in my interpretation of the rules, or am not quite sure how certain rules should be interpreted. But, on the whole, I felt this game flowed a bit more smoothly than the last, with only two or three stops to check the manual or web for clarification.

Even so, there are two areas of the rules I must sit down and study again, and take pains to reinforce in my next game. These are...

• The Defence Dice Allocation Rule: How many dice assigned to a defending tank can vary, and I need to get the various modifiers clear in my head (I felt I missed out a dice here and there, or maybe added one on occasion because of my uncertainty).

• The 'Stand Still' Rule: A tank does not have to during the Movement Phase. In fact, there are certain advantages to standing still. I need to be clear on the rules about this and - in particular - its effect on the allocation of dice regarding a stationary tank when attacking or defending.

But, overall, most of my errors were down to simple forgetfulness due to the excitement of battle. So, the more practise games I have the better I will get and more natural the mechanics of the game will get. And I was exceptionally pleased and had lots of fun with this latest game of Tanks.

The 75mm gunned M4 Sherman was the mainstay of the Western Allies during
the latter half of WW2. So, I was most relieved to find that it actually could
hold it's own against a technically superior enemy if it was handled correctly!
One thing I decided, though, is that for my next game I will print out a 'crib sheet' for the turn order. This will give me a 'tick list' of things to do in a turn so I don't accidentally forget to apply certain rules.

Next: Let's play Tank Destroyer, as I practise using the Assault Gun rules with a Jagdpanther! 

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

GF9 Tanks Practise Games - Part 2: Test Game 1

Setting Up
I've finally got to my first test game of GF9 Tanks, though it's not my very first game - I had a couple of tries at the local game club last week - but, this would be the first game where I would be responsible for the interpretation of the rules. Part of this learning curve is how to set up the game board...

One of the nice things about GF9 Tanks - especially if you compare it to the other 'tabletop' skirmish games I'm interested in (Bolt Action and Flames of War) - is that the game only requires a 3-foot by 3-foot play area. This fitted very nicely onto our dining room table, which is exactly 3 feet wide. And, even nicer is that it has extra length at either end so each 'player' (me and me in this case) can lay their game cards out without encroaching onto the play area.

I laid the terrain out in a roughly symmetrical manner - as this would normally be done by the players taking turns to place scenery where they want - and deliberately made do with the game's 2D flat 'woods' and 'houses'...

And, They're Off!
Well, no more procrastination, let's try out the game...And with but the most cursory plan of defence/attack (it's hard to really plan tactics when you are playing a game solo) my tanks simply set off towards each other!

I guess that's a bit untrue, as I had decided that my Shermans would try out a widely spaced advance to try and catch the Panther is a cross-fire. My initial experiences - both in my initial participation and through watching tutorials - gave me a sense that these small tank battles can easily turn into a rather farcical 'Benny Hill' style of chase if you aren't careful, so I tried to limit close engagements...It didn't rally work...

With just two or three tanks sides seem to naturally just home in on each other, and with no range factor in the shooting, there seems little point in long range sniping. Within a couple of rounds, the Shermans were closing in on the Panther, trying to catch it in a pincer movement.

Turn 3 saw the Panther first to be in a shooting position, as he swerved into the woods...

Technically, I guess both Shermans can actually see the Panther through the trees, but my thought here were to try and do a hit and run as I could still pull the German tank back up behind a house that is just out of shot on the left. Plus I wanted to engage the Shermans at as big a distance as I could and not let them catch me close in as a pack...

The Panther engaged the farthest Sherman first, knowing that the special  'Blitzkrieg' rule would allow me an additional movement in the following Command phase (remember, the phases are Movement, Shooting then Command).

BOOM! First shots away and it was a very good roll, with three critical hits (6s) and one normal hit out of six die. It could have been worse, as one of my crew upgrades also allows me to re-roll one of my non-hits...Unfortunately, this still produced a miss, but it was still a blistering attack...

In reply, the Sherman actually minimised what could have been a knock-out throw, by rolling a 6 and a 5, cancelling one of the crits and the normal hit...But things were still bad, very bad...

The two critical hits resulted in a couple of devastating cards, both with high damage. The total damage wiped out 5 of the Shermans 6 defence points in one go...Holy crap! I had to hope that the Shermans shooting could cause some equally punishing damage, surely two Shermans could get some revenge?

The closest (as yet undamaged) Sherman now moved in between the Panther and his crippled partner, while the damaged Sherman - with only 1 defence point left - did the only thing it probably could do in the situation...

And hide behind the cover of a nearby building in the hope his teammate would grab the Panthers attention long enough for it to - perhaps - do a sneaky flanking move.

It was a heroic attempt to minimise the damage to the team and it certainly caught the attention of the Panzer but the result of this selfless act was not any sort of good karma as the dice gods favoured yet another devastating attack roll by the big cat!

But the most significant blow was that one of the Crucial Hit cards was the dreaded 'Crew Bail Out' card...

With Sherman No. 1 (cowering behind a house for cover) on just 1 defence point and now this brave Sherman down to 2 defence point BUT with a bailed out crew the writing was on the wall. The Panther had thus far only taken 3 damage - so still had 3 left - which was a dreadful performance by Team USA...

So, in the next Movement phase - with the condemned victim unable to move (I didn't manage to roll a 'repair' save in the Command phase), the timorous Sherman decided to move out of cover. Unfortunately, I made a bit of a tactical error here - not that I feel it could have turned the game around, but you never know - as, instead of moving to a position where the still active Sherman could chance a shot, I moved it with the intention of flanking the Panther (a case of too little too late)...

The red overlay - in the above picture - shows where I should have moved in order to give at least some covering fire to the other helpless Sherman! But, stupidly, I moved the Sherman into yet more cover (thinking I might still be able to sneak around the southern-most house and get a shot on the Panther)...

But it was an obvious and mistimed action and the Panther signalled its intent and used it's 'Blitzkrieg' movement to position itself for the coup de grace...

I further compounded my mistake by again opting to keep my severely damaged - but sole working - Sherman behind cover (really, I don't understand my own thinking here). With my bailed out Sherman unable to make use of the Movement phase it was straight onto the Shooting phase and the merciless execution shot by the Panther...

The 'Blitzkrieg' special rule really allows the Germans to take control of a situation when they have an advantage, and so the Panther immediately switches from one target to another...

FINALLY, my remaining Sherman comes to life - or, rather, it is forced to do something by the threatening Panzer - and attempts to move round to take on the Panther from the side. But the German tank reacts in its Movement turn to counter this and swings around to block and face the Yank...

The Panther then uses it's extra 'Blitzkrieg' move to complete a flanking run and gets around the side to position itself for a side-shot in readiness for the next Shooting phase. At this point, I could have begun a pathetic 'Benny Hill' chase around and around the house but instead decided to chance to luck and have the Sherman stand its ground...

The next Shooting phase should have spelt the end of the game, really, but - for once - the German roll let it down with just two normal hits and the Sherman actually managed to cancel these out with it's defence roll!

Taking some hope (that the dice gods were now favouring the Americans) I decided to pull the Sherman back around the side of the house, while still facing him down!

But - again - the German's frustrating ability to get an extra move in the Command phase meant they were always going to be able to catch the Sherman up. So, I opted to keep my Sherman stationary during it's Movement turn and just accept the punishment, in the hope I could pull out another lucky defence roll. But, things didn't look good when the Panther's attack produced two 'crits' and a hit...

Unsurprisingly, considering the very poor rolling of the Americans thus far, I couldn't pull a miracle out of the hat and my last Sherman succumbed to the withering fire of the German...


Debriefing and Final Thoughts
First of all, experienced players of GF9 Tanks will have spotted the mistakes I made in my novice interpretation of the rules which are scattered throughout the game! This was a learning experience and I did spot quite a few of these myself as I went over my photo-log of the play. Hopefully, I will rectify the majority of these mistakes in my next practise game.

(In 'live games' - against real opponents - I will benefit from the second pair of eyes double-checking and correcting my understanding of the rules.)

But, other than this understandable wobbly rule-knowledge I really enjoyed the game itself. Though, understandably, I was very disappointed with the lacklustre performance of my 75mm armed Shermans. But, at the end of the day, you can't do anything about phenomenal dice rolls, and the Panther certainly had the lion's share of those (forgive the pun).

The Pros: Well, every game is learning experience so every game I have will improve my competency. This is perhaps the best I can say for this instance of the game. As to the game itself, it's fast and fun and easy to learn. It's a great icebreaker or warm-up for an evening or something you can do quickly between or after larger more complex games.

It's also a great segway game for wargame novices (like myself), and it can lead onto more in-depth (but still not too complex) wargames, like Flames of War (which uses the same 15mm tank models).

The Cons: At the same time, GF9 Tanks lack of complexity is perhaps also it's weakness.

I particularly, found the lack of a ranged handicap a wee bit frustrating as no range penalty meant that tanks were bound to want to close quickly. And then - if one side felt they were not up to a 'one on one' - this would inevitably lead to what I have called the 'Benny Hill' effect where one tank would end up chasing a weaker one around and around nearby cover!

However, I think the Meeples & Miniatures blog can do a better and more in-depth analysis of the quality of the rules of the game: Review: Tanks – Panther vs Sherman Starter Set

Suffice to say that, as a newcomer to tabletop skirmish gaming - and thus very inexperienced - I found this 'Tanks' starter set a really good leg-up onto the first run of the wargaming ladder. However, I am a bit sceptical about the long-term entertainment value and feel that - after a short while - the player may feel that they want something similar but with greater depth in its rules (Flames of War, for example). But, maybe this is what the game developer had in mind.

Anyway, for the moment Tanks does the job for me. And, with the ability to add objectives, missions and lots and lots more tank models I can see it being a while before I feel I have to move on.

Next: More of the same please - but perhaps with better American tactics this time!

Postscript: I mentioned that I 'deliberately made do' with the games included flat scenery, this was so I could double check my initial impression that the 2D house tiles didn't help the player quickly ascertain what was and wasn't in 'cover'.  Now I have played this game, with plenty of time to study the line of sight I concur with my first thoughts, 3D houses would be preferable for determining whether tanks are exactly in and out of cover.

But, I reiterate that the starter set's 2D scenery is welcome and is great value as part of the set. Also, the same 'issue' isn't quite true of the woods, funnily enough. And the flat woodland tiles are actually more practical as they allow you to move your tank models freely in and out of the 'trees'. 3D tree models might be a bit of an obsticle to moving your models without constantly having to move them about.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

GF9 Tanks Practise Games - Part 1: Balance

Before you even put your tank models on the playing mat, you should take a little time to study and understand the tank balancing mechanics of the game. I noted that on my first game at the Scarborough Games Society they ignored tank balancing altogether (albeit to allow four people to join in a friendly game, but in tournament competitions, this would not be permitted)...

Balancing is fairly straight forward, it is a points based system where each type of tank is given a points value. For example, my Panzer V Panther has a points value of 32, while my American Sherman 76mm gunned tank has a value of 25...

These points values represent various positive attributes of the tank in question, it's perceived effectiveness, attack and defence statics, armament, etc. But also, importantly, it's 'initiative'.

Balancing a game of GF9 Tanks is a matter of trying to ensure that both sides in a game have as equal a number of points in their force as is possible. The total points value would be agreed upon between the players before you start the game. So, for example, a typical beginners game might be set at 50 points - which would allow me a couple of 'cheap' basic Shermans, for example, or a single more expensive tank with some points to spare.

However, what if you can't make your tank forces add up to the same points value of your opponent?

The answer is Upgrade & Character Cards...

Balancing My First Practice Game
The Tanks starter set pretty much dictates that you have a Sherman versus Panther game, this makes things a little easier as it takes some of the pressure off (you will get to chose from a wide variety of esoteric tanks as you get more experienced). So all I need to do is decide on a points level for my game.

Now (in theory) I could simply pitch one Sherman 76mm against one Panther and use some upgrade or crew cards to bring the Sherman up to the Panthers value of 32, but a slightly more historically accurate scenario might be to pit two Sherman 75mm tanks against one Panther. (Historically the Germans often found themselves outnumbered by the 'inferior' Shermans. It's a bit of a cliche but makes for an interesting skirmish.)

As the Shermans each have a value of 20 points (totalling 40 points) and the Panther has a value of 32, I decided to make my practise game a 50 point game so I could play with some upgrades!

Here's how I decided to make up my American team...

What I have done is added a 'Hero' crewmember upgrade to one of my Shermans (7pts) - 'Ground Hog' Oller and a 'Dead-eye Gunner' (3pts) to my other M4. You can only have one 'hero' crewman in your whole force.

Both these cards give me the ability to positively influence my chances of a critical hit...A much-needed upgrade to my piddling short 75mm gun. This makes my force exactly 50 points in value.

And here's how I decided to configure my German team...
With my Panzer V Panther worth 32 points, this leaves me a whopping 18 points of upgrades that I can make. This means I can really go to town to level the playing fields against two M4s...

I went big with a hero commander and chose the infamous Michael Whittman (a whopping 11 points). Whittman gives my Panther a chance to rectify a failed attempt to repair Bailed Out and Stunned Crew effects and also adds one extra dice to my Attack. (He also adds +2 Initiative, but the Panther already has the advantage with Initiative anyway.)

Additionally, I added a 'Precise Loader' (4 pts) and a 'Bloodthirsty Gunner' (3 pts) to this tank. These both add the ability to increase the Panther's attack in different situations.

Tank with upgrades = 50pts total

Summing Up
Well, that was easy. But whether - as a newbie to this game - I understand the full potential of my choices (there were quite a few of the upgrade cards that I didn't understand, so I restricted my choices to those I did) is a different matter. As I get more experienced and understand what different upgrades mean - in action - I may very well choose differently.

For example, I do not yet fully appreciate how 'Initiative' can influence combat so I did not take the opportunity to use upgrades to increase the Shermans' Initiative values over the Panther. With experience, I may feel this might be a good thing to do...I don't know (yet).

Anyway, those are my choices, the next thing is to see how these affect the run of play.

Next: Setting up the playing mat