Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Luke Writes I

Luke has sent me some notes on his list writing thoughts. As he tends to know what hes talking about, I'm posting them unedited. All views in this post should not be construed as being the views of the blog owner, unless they are also the views held by the blog owner. As you were...

With Rhys' permission, I thought I'd post something about organizing lists for lesser WarPac forces under Keith's system.  I'll use my Czechoslovakians as an example, but will include asides at appropriate places to say what I would do for analogous non-Czechoslovakian forces .

The first thing you need to consider in writing up a list is the date. This comes up even before deciding your nationality, because it tells you how many points you have to play with.  Most people seem to like playing in the early 80s for some reason, which means a base list of 850 points in the attack, and 650 in defence.  Since I like earlier rather than later, I'll take 1980 as being the year under consideration - the earliest date at which you get 850 or 650 points.

I'll look at an attack list, because as a WarPac player, you are more likely to be using this than the defend list.  Attack lists are also conceptually simpler - you are always going forward with one; whereas with a defend list, you are only *usually* defending with it; you may also at times be called upon to use it a more aggressive role: in a mutual encounter, or in a spoiling attack (note that Keith's system conceptually calls for separate "Encounter" lists to "Attack" lists, but most people use one and the same; I'll do the same here).

So, we have 850 points of 1980 Czechoslovakians to organize. The next question is what force are we looking at? A first-echelon force, which counts as all Regular in MSH-parlance, or a second echelon-force, which will mix Regulars with Greens? I'll go for the second option - because most people will be a bit wary of using Green troops and may not have considered how they can most usefully  - and gainfully - be employed. 

The next decision is which organizational list we will take our force from.  For Czechoslovakians there are essentially only two real options - a Tank Division, or a Motor Rifle Division.  WarPac Tank Divisions offer less flexibility in planning a force, because the fighting battalions can choose to be based around only two kinds of vehicles: BMPs (or BVPs in Czechoslovakian paralance) and Tanks; whereas a Motor Rifle Divisions has 3 main legs: BMPs, tanks, and OTs - the equivalent of Soviet BTRs.  And in wargaming terms, flexibility is generally a good thing (Poles have essentially the  same choices, but Hungarians don't have access to the BMPs that the others do, so are a bit more handicapped here).

The Czechoslovakians only had two 2nd-echelon Motor Rifle Divisions - the 3rd and the 15th.  My force will represent a force drawn from the 3rd Division, because they incorporated two platoons' worth of T-72s amongst the stand T-55 units, giving you the potential choice of adding some extra beef into the armoured assets - if you take a tank regiment, that is. (The Poles and Hungarians were also similarly provided with two platoons' worth of T-72s for evaluation purposes by the Soviets at the end of the 1970s).

So now let's get down to some design choices.  The first point to note is that I find "B" list options to be not worth the "money" - a 3 VP penalty for 120 extra points just isn't usually worth it in my book.  So the only point in having a B option is when it is a free option - converting a defend list into a spoiling attack list, in other words.  So I won't say anything more about B options.  On the other hand, a 1 VP penalty for 60 extra points - an "A" option - is often very much worth it.  A options are very useful for sticking in stuff that you are likely to use, but only in certain circumstances (and indeed, some stuff is allowed only in an A option).  In fact, we might usefully consider some of these options before we even look at the base list.

The first extra option I consider is counter-battery artillery.  I used to *always* put in some army-level 130 mm M-46 guns for counter-battery work - they are cheap enough - but if you happen to be facing an opponent using M107s, they will probably be destroyed the very bound after they have let off their first fire mission, in which case you probably might as well have not bright them along.  So let's relegate them to an A option - one that I would probably consider taking almost all the time, unless the enemy has a habit of taking M107s...

An A option is worth 60 points, and a full battalion of M-46s don't cost anywhere near that much, even remembering that tows must be purchased for off-table artillery... To round out the points we can include the fighting portions of the Divisional Engineering battalion, which is not something we would normally consider bringing.  This is really small, so can be sent on a flank march to really freak somebody out, who might over-commit resources to counter it before it arrives...  Even this won't bring us to 60 points, so we will add in some ICM ammunition for the M-46s, bringing the total to 60.4 points, which will round down to 60 :-)

4 x M-46 130 mm guns with tows (off-table) @ 13 x 0.6 = 33.6
1 x HQ Light Engineer team in OT-64 @ 6 x 0.8 = 4.8
1 x Recon OT-65 @ 3 x 0.8 = 2.4
2 x Light Engineer teams in OT-64s @ 6 x 0.8 = 9.6
3 x ICM ammunition for M-46 guns @ 3 x 1 = 9

Another thing I relegate to the A options is non-battalion-level AA, by which I mean not only SA-4s and/or SA-6s, but also the self-propelled regimental autocannon-equipped elements (PLDvK vz. 53/59 for Czechoslovakians; and ZSU-23/4 or 57/2 for Hungarians and Poles; these latter countries also have SA-9s that I would normally skip as well).  Most NATO players don't bring aircraft for one of two reasons: a) their aircraft aren't the cheapest (which isn't actually all that relevant - since their high price reflects their high degree of effectiveness); or b) there aren't enough high-value targets in a cheap WarPac2 list to make their points worthwhile to the NATO player.  Accordingly, AA isn't usually a priority for spending points on for a Czechoslovakian player (an A-10 has just taken out 3 of our T-55s? Well, no great harm - it's only just broken even in terms of points! Carry on!)  But we can keep it as an option.  I'll add in what would have been the missing regimental AA companies, plus buy an off-table SA-4 missile unit from the 183rd AA missile brigade (better than an SA-6, as its longer range makes it invulnerable to all enemy artillery). This lot costs 58.4 points all-told:

1 x 2K11M KRUG (off-table) @ 32 x 0.6 = 19.2
2 x PLDvK vz. 53/59 @ 14 x 0.8 = 22.4
2 x PLDvK vz. 53/59 @ 14 x 0.6 = 16.8
A third option to consider is your own air support, because NATO players often skimp on AA assets themselves, given how expensive they can be.  Air support can take three main forms:  attack helicopters, transport helicopters (and perhaps extra troops to be transported in them), and fixed-wing air support.  The Czechoslovakians didn't have enough Hind-Ds in 1980 to equip a MSH flight (at least two models), so I will rule that out as an option, but it is definitely something worth considering if you have access to them. 

I've yet to experiment with heli-borne troops, because the scenario rules restrict you greatly in what you can do with them: any company you land can't contest an objective unless landed at least 3 turns before the end of the game.  It would appear that a heli-dropped *battalion* (of at least 10 stands) can hold, as opposed to merely contest, an objective if landed in the last couple of bounds.  However, this will require a fairly substantial investment in transports and landing troops: one I have yet to try out. But it certainly could be done: Mi-8s can transport quite a lot of guys, so this lot 'the 1st Parachute Battalion from the 22nd Special Purpose Assault Regiment) could be transported in a single lift, for example:
3 x Mi-8 @ 11 x 0.8 = 26.4
2 x Mi-4 @ 5 x 0.8 = 8
1 x HQ stand @ 6 x 0.8 = 4.8
6 x Infantry stands @ 6 x 0.8 = 28.8
2 x AGS-17 AGL stands @ 5 x 0.8 = 8
2 x Vz.52 88 mm M stands @ 3 x 0.8 = 4.8
Alas, this comes to 80.8 points...

So let's turn to fixed-wing aircraft.  You are limited to 4 aircraft.  Although the scenario rules say any non-3rd world country can have an AGC, I have found no evidence any thing resembling an AGC was used by the Czechoslovakians, so we will have to do without.  Czechoslovakians get the following aircraft options in 1980:
Type     DEF      Armament options (cost)
MiG-23   4         Rockets 5 (15); Bombs 4 (15); Cannons 5 (12); SB 4 (24); Nap 4 (21); ICM 4 (18); ARM 5 (21)
MiG-21   3         Rockets 5 (12); Bombs 5 (9); Cannons 5 (9); SB 5 (18); ICM 5 (12)
MiG-15   3         Rockets 5 (9); Bombs 5 (9); Cannons 4 (12)
Su-7       3         Rockets 5 (12); Bombs 5 (9); Cannons 5 (9); ICM 5 (12)
Most have their uses - although a lower (i.e. better) attack factor is, I have found, better value for money than a high one of the same type, so we shouldn't bother with Def 5/Cannon 5 when we have Def 5/Cannon 4 available.  Let's buy a mixture of planes and weapon loads totalling 60 points; all these should find a use any almost any battlefield - we just have to call them in at the right time and place!
1 x Su-7 (Bombs 5) @ 9 x 1 = 9
1 x MiG-15 (Cannons 4) @ 12 x 1 = 12
1 x MiG-21 (SB 5) @ 18 x 1 = 18
1 x MiG-23 (Napalm 4) @ 21 = 21
Note that in practice, you might want to have two squadrons of 2 identical aircraft, as these will be easier to call in that way.

Now these A options all gives us something quite different in terms of capabilities, but they are hardly the real meat of a force.  In my next post, I'll turn to the main list itself.


  1. An very inteersting article.

    As a frequent Soviet player I seem to always run into British aircraft. Those Harriers zipping across the battlefield leaving a trail of distruction. However, the Soviets are a bit more expensive than the reserve Czechs. I find it really interesting to see peoples views on what is needed when points are limited, as they are in many scenarios. I have even found SU-7s useful on occasion when a player hasn't considered his air defences.

    In Arab-Israeli games, as an Israeli player, I have certainly been known to have some optional aircraft in '73 games. But then I do with West Germans and '80s French...

  2. Well, I think the frequency of aircraft usage depends heavily on the quirks of your most regular gaming opponents. You will always be meeting tanks and infantry, no matter who you play; some people will consider air support a vital component of the game, while others see it as a bit of a distraction from what's going on, literally, the table, and not above it...

    In general terms, defending against aircraft, a player IMO should be looking at mitigating their strikes than shooting them down, because you earn no victory points for owning them. You can get a maximum of -3 off all enemy strikes, if you have a combination of off-table missile AA, on-table vehicle-mounted missiles, and either MANPADs or AA guns. Soviets should have an advantage here, because every one of their infantry stands counts as a MANPAD element, since their SA-7s are issued at platoon level.

    It's the mid-level stuff that can be a problem - any on-table missile element has the potential to be detected by an enemy EW mission, and then attacked by counterbattery assets, and their mitigation range is only 30", so you will need more than one to protect your forces. So a -2 is probably a more realistic goal. A -2 adjustment is quite big, however. Let's assume the enemy has brought along Harriers. Their best possible attack factor is a 3. Thus a -2 will take them to an effective 5, at worst, for you. This means you have, at worst, halved the amount of casualties they cause. Now, an attack factor 3 Harrier model costs 24 points; at attack factor 3 it can expect to kill 2 models. By halving its effectiveness, it can expect to kill only 1. Will 24 points be a worthwhile expenditure to kill one of your elements? In certain circumstances, it will be; but in general, the answer would have to be no. But if it was 12 points an element, the answer would be a clear yes, IMO!. So bringing along off-table AA should be worthwhile for a Soviet player - that will cost you, for an SA-4 stand, 22.4 points compared to the 19.2 a WarPac2 player pays; not a huge difference.

    Trying to get that last mitigation factor to get the total to -3 costs more points. An on-table SA-9 is 21 x 0.9 = 18.9 points, and you will probably need 2 of them to cover all your forces; you definitely will if you are playing the reduced scale. And they, unfortunately, and not entirely accurately, can be targeted by enemy EW as noted above.
    They will however, halve your expected casualties once again, so are hardly a waste of money. Assuming the enemy is in a habit of bringing aircraft in the first place, of course!

    So this implies the costs for AA are generally are reasonable - they are worth it if the enemy invests in aircraft, but not if they don't (unless the AA assets have another non-AA use, such as cheap filler, or a substantial ground role).

    This also implies the costs for aircraft are reasonable too - they are definitely worth it if the enemy has no AA assets, but not quite so good if the enemy does... On average, I would say the balance is tipped towards aircraft being the better buy than AA - especially for NATO players who can call them in more easily, so I should probably expect to see them to be used against me more in the future given my opponents are likely to be reading this...