House (Divided) Rules: Flames of War “Krieg unter Brüdern” Campaign

5367354868_43bb5019d6_z My buddy Matt (also a developer here at SBG) and I got tired of one of us not getting to play our beloved Germans in Flames of War (FoW) games so we decided to play some red-on-red games.

This decision quickly grew into a plan to run a Heer-vs-SS/Luftwaffe, 4-game, de-escalation mini-campaign complete with house rules and a late-1944 German civil war back story starting with the fictitious success of the July 20th Plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

We named our planned mini-campaign “Krieg unter Brüdern” or  (If Google translate got it right) “War between Brothers.”

NOTE: All the photos of 15mm minis in this blog are Matt’s beautiful work.

Re-Cap – The Fictional Alternate History Behind the Campaign

We imagined that the July 20 Plot  succeeded in killing Hitler in his “Wolf’s Lair” but that the conspirators’ plan to seize control of the government using the Replacement Army (sort of like the National Guard in the US) failed. Hitler’s named successor, Herman Goering, has taken over the government but the OKW – the western command of the German regular army (aka “Heer” in German) – still hopes to achieve a coup d’etat.

Goering has recalled to Germany the forces loyal to him – the SS and the Luftwaffe –to secure his grasp on power. This self-appointed, Heer backed government led by Ludwig Beck has ordered all Heer units to integrate any nearby SS units into their commands or to disarm said units if they refuse to submit. Beck has sent diplomatic envoys to the Western Allies offering conditional surrender to the UK and inviting the US to oversee this surrender to avoid an all-out invasion of the Fatherland by the Soviets.

In the midst of this confused situation, the aforementioned Soviets continue their rapid advance in the east. There, the entire Wehrmacht – OKH, SS and Luftwaffe – continue to fight together to prevent the collapse of the front.

Western Europe is a different matter. In the wake of a general German retreat, US and British forces liberate France without firing a shot and the Wehrmacht retreats from Italian soil entirely, leaving it in Allied hands. The Western Allies have stopped at the German border at the end of July 1944 to regroup in the wake of their unopposed, lightning advances behind the rapidly withdrawing Germans. Allied air forces continue to patrol the skies and, favoring the Heer side of the civil war that’s broken out, sortie against SS, Fallschimjager and other Luftwaffe units when targets present themselves. But for the most part the Western Allies are content to let the Germans tear each other apart and take advantage of the gift of time to make ready to launch a new offensive when the dust settles.

Matt's KTs1.1Re-Cap – The Plan for Our Four-Game De-Escalation Campaign

We decided to do a four-game mini campaign. At the end of our four games we’ll look at the win/loss results and declare a winner.  But winning and losing isn’t really the focus of this series of “friendly games.” Instead we’re focused on mastering rules, practicing tactics and running all the fun army lists we’ve never gotten to play before.

There is a well-established FoW campaign format called “escalation” where the size of players’ forces increase with each game over the course of a multi-game series. We decided to do the opposite: a de-escalation campaign. The size of our forces would shrink over the series of four games, representing an attritional effect that we think a civil war in 1944 would have had on German military strength.

House Rule #1 – Choosing Sides

Matt chose to play the SS/Luftwaffe side (partly because he has a beautifully painted Fallschirmjager force) and I happily took the side of the Heer. It may go without saying but this dictated that he stick to SS/Luftwaffe lists in the source books we selected for the campaign and I was prohibited from these lists. Those sourcebooks are:  Atlantik Wall, Bridge at Remagen, Bridge by Bridge. Devil’s Charge, Desperate Measures Fortress Italy and NUTS! My previous blog about the campaign describes in detail why each of these books was selected for inclusion in the campaign.

We also decided that when permissible lists included support platoons from the “opposite side” of our fictitious civil war – called “Allied platoons” in FoW (not to be confused with the historical “Allies” in WWII: the UK, France, Poland, Austrailia, New Zealand, India, the US, et. al.) – we had to substitute equivalent platoons from our own “side. These “substitute” platoons would lose the “Allied” keyword, be assigned the base  motivation and skill ratings of the substitute platoon in the source list from which they were being substituted, lose the “Allied” keyword and be re-costed as needed to adjust for changes in rating. (eg Say a Heer list rated “Confident Trained” had a Luftwaffe 2cm anti-aircraft artillery platoon rated “Reluctant Trained.” I am required in our campaign to go find the Heer list that is the closest to the one I am using that includes a Heer 2cm AAA platoon and substitute that platoon and use its cost. Having done this several times now, I have typically substituted CT Heer Flakvierling platoons for RT Luftwaffe platoons at an added cost of +10 points.)

Matt's Nebs2.1House Rule #2 – Heer Air Support

Unlike the US during WWII, which had both an Army Air Force and naval aviation, Germany had just one air force: the Lufwaffe. The supreme German commander of the Luftwaffe was former WWI fighter pilot Herman Goering. Goering was also the former head of the Gestapo and Hitler’s appointed successor, so in our little fiction Luftwaffe forces clearly had to join the SS in supporting Goering’s assumption of power.

In our campaign force-building, this left the Heer side without any options for Air Support. After contemplating leaving things this way, we decided this was too problematic.  The Heer player would need to worry about air defense and spend point on AAA and the SS/Luftwaffe player wouldn’t. Prohibiting the Heer from taking air support also limited its options for countering heavy armor.

So we invented a new piece of the back story to give the Heer player an air support option: Allied sorties against the SS/Luftwaffe. The Heer player could purchase US and UK Air Support options – Typhoons, Thunderbolts or Spitfires. This air support option would represent the fact that the Western Allies were favoring the Heer side of the civil war and so Allied pilots were authorized to attack SS/Luftwaffe forces if clear opportunities presented themselves. But because in our fiction the Western Allies are not engaging in concerted military action and are instead sitting back and waiting to see how the German “civil war” turns out, we decided that the Heer player could only buy Air Support at the “Sporadic” level – the least amount of air support available in the game.

Interestingly enough, because the Western Allies had achieved air superiority in WWII by mid-1944, Allied FoW lists don’t have Sporadic options. I had to extrapolate costs by comparing the proportional reduction in points from Priority-level Air Support to Limited-level and from Limited to Sporadic in Mid War lists. The results of this extrapolation? Sporadic Typhoons cost 125 points and Thunderbolts/Spitfires cost 110 points.

Matt's 2cm AAA1.1House Rule #3 – Terrain

Matt and I typically play on terrain boards arranged into what we call “mirror maps” – each side of the board has the same terrain as the other side. This eliminates – as much as possible – any terrain advantage being given to one side or the other.

This has disadvantages and advantages. The disadvantage is that we don’t get practice “reading the board” and identifying the most advantageous deployment. This is an important FoW skill for competitive tournament play. The advantage, though (besides equalizing deployment) is that game set-up is faster. Since both sides have the same terrain, there’s no delay while the first player to set up studies the board.

We also decided to make terrain density subject to random determination. Before setting up the board we would roll to see how dense the terrain would be: 1 = light terrain, 2-5 = medium terrain and 6 = dense terrain.

Heavy terrain favors infantry by reducing the greater mobility and longer ranged weapons of mechanized forces, so terrain can definitely work to one player’s advantage. Though Matt and I are friends and wouldn’t be likely to intentionally skew the terrain set up to the disadvantage of the other player, we decided to avoid even unintentional “terrain bias” with this random determination system. Since he and I have been playing together for something like three years now, we pretty much have a common sense of what the different terrain densities would look like.

Matt's PnzIVs1.1House Rule #4 – Testing an Experimental “Opposed Roll” to Determine which Side Attacks and which Defends

Finally, we took the opportunity presented by a dedicated four-game series to play test an experimental house rule we had been discussing for some time.  Every FoW game is played using a scenario from the rule book or other official source – called a “Mission” – that lays out starting conditions and victory conditions of a game. The basic rule book has a table of 12 of these missions.

In three of these, the terms “attacker” and “defender” are almost meaningless – both sides have to “attack” because seizing an objective is the way you win and both sides have to “defend” – make an effort to keep the opponent from taking an objective on your side of the board. But in the other nine missions, the attacker truly attacks – usually having to push the other player’s force off of a prepared defensive position in order to take an objective. In these missions, being the “attacker” or the “defender” can really add to one player’s advantage, especially if s/he brings a force well-suited to one role or the other. In competitive tournaments, where games are played in a short period of time and where “timing-out” in many of these scenarios means that the defender wins, it seems to us like being the defender is a distinct advantage.

The way that FoW determines who attacks and who defends in these nine missions is by comparing the two types of forces the players bring. The types of forces in order of likeliness to be required to attack are: Tank, Mechanized, Infantry and Fortified. When two matching force types play against each other players dice off to see who attacks, but otherwise a Mechanized force will defend against a Tank force, an Infantry force with defend against a Tank or Mechanized force and a Fortified force will defends against the other three types of forces.

We have always felt like this is overly “deterministic” and  not very historical. While military commanders do compose forces with a mind to whether the force will be attacking or defending, there’s rarely a guarantee in war that things will work out as planned. The fog of war has often resulted in battles where the “wrong” force composition for the job was called on to get it done nonetheless: armored forces defending, infantry attacking, etc. Game-wise, guaranteeing that certain types of forces will defend against other types is “deterministic:” players have an unrealistically high degree of certainty about what “job” their force will have to do by virtue of the type of force they bring. As a result, it seems to us, a player can significantly increase his or her chances of game success by sticking to “conservative” list choices, specifically infantry.

So we decided to experiment with taking some of the determinism out of the system and experient with using a “dice off” to determine who attacks and who defends. In our campaign, at the start of the game, each player rolls a d6 and the high roll defends. The player with the force that is further in the “defending” end of the spectrum adds to his or her roll +1, plus a cumulative +1 to his or her roll for every degree of difference between the two force types. For example, if a player with an Infantry force is facing a player with a Tank force, the Infantry player will add +3 to his or her die roll because it is two “steps” further down the “defends’ spectrum. So the Infantry player’s roll will yield a result of 4-9 whereas the Tank player’s roll will yield a result of 1-6. So while it is still much more likely that the Infantry player will defend, there is some chance that s/he will be forced to attack.

We’ll be experimenting with this house rule over four games to see if it has any effect on the way we think about force selection.

Matt's FJs1.1House Rule #5 – Excluding Missions

At the start of our campaign I said: “Matt, I want to exclude the Free-for-All Mission from our campaign” and he agreed. Free-for-All is essentially a “non-mission:” both sides have to capture an objective on the other side of the board, forcing both sides to both attack and defend. Its essentially FoW’s version of the most basic “last-man-standing” scenario that almost every table top miniatures game suggests players start with. Matt and I have played it to death. We wanted to practice other Missions we hadn’t played as often.

Then a funny thing happened: when we went to roll for a Mission we would invariably roll one of the other two Missions in the same category as Free-for-All, what is called the Fair Fight category. Because these missions are in the same category as Free-for-All, they’re not much different. We kept re-rolling and getting one Fair Fight Mission after another until finally we agreed to exclude the whole category!

Getting the Party Started

To date, we’ve played a practice game and then on 12/20/14 we played our first “official” game at 1650 points.

After the game was over, we decided that the game had represented an armored spearhead from I SS Panzer Corps Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler meeting a hastily assembled blocking force of “Frankentigers” from Schwere Panzerkompanie “Hummel” from the Paderborn Tank Training School led by Major Hans-Peter Knaust on the Belgium-German border .

My next blog will present after-action reports (AAR) covering this game and several others we’ve played on the way to completing our 4-game series.