In many ways, our latest two books,Desert RatsandAfrika Korpsare a return to the beginning for me. Way back in 2004, two very similar books were some of the first army books published by Battlefront. In the intervening dozen years, many things have changed and we’ve learned a lot, and the latest incarnations of these books reflect this.
I’ll start with a quick look at each book in turn, then talk about some of the changes that the new Version ofFlames Of Warhas wrought in them.
James Brown, the latest addition to our games design team (although he’s been working with us in other roles for a decade), took the lead in this book and has done a magnificent job. The book starts with an overview and a look at the special features of this force.
British infantry have theBulldogandDeadlyattributes that improve their determination to win assaults and their lethality while they do so, making them really good up close. Meanwhile, their tanks have theFight Another Dayattribute which reflects their past bad experiences and unwillingness to hang around in a losing situation. This attribute reduces theirLast Standrating, making them more likely to cut and run if they take heavy casualties. Although this makes them a little fragile when things go wrong, it does let you field a few more tanks with the points discount, hopefully allowing you to avoid the whole going wrong thing in the first place.
The Crusader and Honey tanks have theTally Hoattribute to recognise the tactics imposed on these tanks by their relatively high speed and light guns. This attribute gives them a really high Tactical speed to go with their impressive Dash speeds, allowing them to race in to close range and engage the enemy in the flanks. The downside of this recklessness disregard for clever tactics is that they have a Tactics rating of 5+ and are rated as Aggressive, meaning that they are hit on a roll of 3+ rather than 4+, so can’t really pull off clever moves.
It’s interesting to compare these two tanks as they are so alike in many ways, yet so different.The British-made Crusader tank is fast with a Cross-country Dash of 20”/50cm and a Tactical speed of 14”/35cm. This Tactical speed reflects its high speed, its reckless tactics, and its well-designed three-man power-traverse turret. The American-made Honey tank is even faster with a Cross-country Dash of 24”/60cm, although its Tactical speed of 12”/30cm is a bit less, but still excellent. A quick look at the two models hints at the reason for this. The Honey has a tiny wee turret! Designed as an infantry-support tank, the Honey had a very poorly laid out and cramped turret designed for just two men with the commander having to double as the gunner. When the British received them, they rebuilt the turret interior to allow a third man to squeeze into the turret and moved the traversing controls from the loader to the gunner. This helped a lot, but it was still less efficient than the Crusader.
Talking of modifying tanks as they received them, the British fitted their American-built Grant tanks with armoured ammunition bins and lathed down German anti-tank ammunition for their 75mm guns. This is recognised by the Protected Ammunition attribute that makes them more likely to remount if Bailed Out. This goes with their Secondary Weapon special rule that allows them to fire their 37mm at the same time as their 75mm, although only at ROF 1 and with a +1 to hit, letting them engage two targets at once.
Back to the topic of special rules, the last one is Mike Target. Under the new rules, a Spotting team who hasn’t used all three of their Ranging In attempts can use the remaining ones to Range In a second (or even third if they are really lucky) artillery battery. The Mike Target rule allows the British to immediately attempt to Range In another 25 pdr troop after they Range In the first. If they succeed, this counts as Ranging In on the same attempt as the first one. This can get artillery concentrations on target very quickly!
The next part of the book is a history of the war in the Western Desert and Tunisia, with detailed looks at the battles of Gazala, First Alamein, and Second Alamein. This is followed by spread showing the various tanks and their historical characteristics. This is handy given the different variations of the Crusader (a 2 pdr gun tank, a later 6 pdr gun tank, and a 3-inch close-support tank).
Then we get to the game part of the book (still filled with history and organisation diagrams, though!). Here we see that a Desert Rats force is quite flexible. The core of your force is a choice of four different formations (or a combination of them if you prefer): Grant Armoured Squadron, Crusader Armoured Squadron, and Motor Company. These have a good range of support from armoured cars, anti-tank guns, artillery (up to three batteries!), anti-aircraft, and tank-busting Hurricane ground-attack aircraft.
The armoured squadrons (tank companies for non-British speakers) are quite clean organisations, with just a bunch of tanks. While each armoured squadron has only a single type of tank, there is the flexibility to swap out one troop for a different type reflecting the composite units formed during the confused fighting in the middle of 1942. The Crusader Armoured Squadron adds a twist with a pair of Crusader CS artillery tanks in the HQ, and the option to upgun some of your Crusaders to 6 pdr guns (although at the cost of having the tank commander doing double duty as the loader, giving a +1 penalty to hit on the move).
The motor company, on the other hand, has a small rifle platoon, a 6 pdr anti-tank gun platoon, and a scout carrier patrol as its core, with the ability to add more of these along with heavy machine-guns and mortars to create a powerful combined-arms force. The anti-tank guns are tough opponents for tanks, having a good penetration and a 3+ save when shot at, and with the rifle platoon protecting them from infantry assaults, they are a real challenge to move. Their mortars, all two of them, aren’t to be sneezed at either. They are excellent at pinning down enemy machine-guns and anti-tank weapons and the new artillery rules force their targets to re-roll their saves if the mortars repeat their bombardment. Combined with a 4+ save, that can start to cause serious casualties.
The support options include the renowned 25 pdr field gun and the interesting 17/25 pdr conversion to an anti-tank gun capable of penetrating the Tiger tank, troops of Humber armoured cars, Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft guns, and the awesome Hurricane tank-buster armed with under-wing 40mm cannon!
The book ends with a guide to painting and basing your forces and a list of the models available.