Saturday, October 24, 2015

Infantry Sabot Bases


My blog entries have taken a bit of a hiatus recently because I've been busily working on a new basing system for my Infantry.

I've always been a bit uncomfortable with the way infantry are represented in FFT when they dismount from their APC/IFV transports. I don't like the amount of space that is taken up by the two bases (Infantry + Transport), and the way they are treated as completely separate entities - in reality, at the ground scale of FFT, the infantry and transport fight as a closely integrated team most of the time. Added to this is the added time and irritation of moving and positioning two bases when 90% of the time they move around together anyway.

But I think I've hit upon a solution that I'm happy with - Sabot Bases.

I've spent a bit of time re-basing a whole load of my infantry onto Sabot bases that fit around my existing vehicle transport bases. Whilst re-basing is the bane of most wargamers, I think it's been worthwhile.

My sabot bases are laser-cut MDF with a 50mm frontage and 62mm depth. These sizes were chosen after  experimenting with different options, but I settled on these because two of them will fit in each of the 4" hexes I use for my terrain system, and they balance functionality and aesthetics. The front of the base is an area 50mm wide by 20mm deep for the dismounted infantry to occupy, and the laser cut-out holes are designed to accept my existing APC/IFV bases (on either 40x40mm or 30x40mm bases). This avoids re-basing of all my vehicles at least! Since both the vehicle bases and the sabots are laser-cut, they fit together nice and tightly so the base can be picked up and moved as a single item without the vehicle stand falling out all the time. Some photos are below.

The two stands: An Infantry Sabot on the left; and
One of my standard APC bases on the right (this one BTR-70s).

Fitted together (APC base fits into the Infantry Sabot).

Because they're laser-cut, they fit together nicely, without big gaps.

To show the versatility of the system:
The same Infantry Sabot that is used with these M2 Bradley IFVs...
... Can be used with these CV-90s...

... or these Warrior IFVs...

... or these ZBD-09s.

So how are these used in play? Well, the vehicles move around the battlefield and when the infantry dismount, the sabot is added to them to make a combined base. This is easier to move around (one base instead of two), and occupies a more realistic combined frontage and depth (instead of occupying twice the space, the combined platoon occupies about 1.5 times the space). I've found in my FFT games that 90% of the time when Infantry dismount, they still operate together with their transports. So it's easier to treat them this way, allows them to fight together and also does away with some ambiguous rules about Infantry and AFVs supporting each other within 1/4" (with a combined base there is no ambiguity).

Sabots in action!
This attacking Soviet MR Battalion is an example of a bunch of Infantry Sabots, in this case with BTR-70s.

I've added some updates to my FFT3 House Rules file to outline how these are used, but in summary:
  • The dismounted infantry and transport for a single combined base (Transport + Dismounted Infantry Sabot);
  • They still fight, are spotted and fired upon, and take casualties as two bases, however they both occupy the area represented by the combined base;
  • If players really wish to fight their dismounted infantry and transports as separate entities, with significant distance between them, then use the bases separately (ie. don't use the infantry as sabots).
The BTRs could just as easily be swapped out to make this a BMP mounted battalion.

A closer up view.
These are my Soviet Infantry, in brownish uniforms with lighter olive helmets.
They'll also do for Arabs in my Arab-Israeli games.

A nice view of an advance.
Tanks lead, Infantry advance supported by their integral APCs.

Other added bonuses of this basing system are:
  • for attack scenarios (probably deliberate attacks) where the attacker wishes to concentrate a lot of infantry in a limited frontage, Infantry bases could be added into the sabots in lieu of transports, effectively giving two infantry platoons in the same footprint. So more concentrated firepower in the attack / close assault, but very vulnerable to indirect fire. But it gives the player an option to do this if the tactical situation warrants it;
  • The combined Infantry / Transport bases also provide versatility for using the same miniatures and basing system for other rules systems. For example, they are perfect for using as "combat teams" for Modern Spearhead, and butting two of them together makes a great company base for FiveCore Brigade Commander.
  • Since the transports fit into the Infantry sabot, the same Infantry can be used with different transports. So the system retains the flexibility of being able to swap out different transports, rather than permanently basing the Infantry and Vehicles together in fixed single-base systems like MSH.

These are my greenish uniformed infantry.
I use these for NATO Cold War forces, and any others that wear green uniforms.
I'm going to do some light Tan uniformed troops too, to use for desert-camo and other light uniforms.
Maybe some in grey(-ish) uniforms too...

Near Wurzburg, 1988...

My mate Ray was visiting from interstate this week, so the opportunity arose to catch up for a game. Ray hadn't played Fistful of TOWs before (our usual games are Napoleonics or Ancients), so this game was an opportunity to introduce him to the rules and to the modern period.
I provided a scenario and a mix of forces to provide an intro. It was a reasonable sized game but was still a manageable 8 turns, played down the length of the table. Whilst he was new to FFT, Ray is an experienced gamer, so I was confident we could get it resolved.
The forces provided a feel for the main equipment and troop types (tanks, APCs, IFVs, Infantry, and Artillery). Also the difference between forces with varied Quality levels (a major aspect of the FFT rules philosophy). I left out aircraft of any sort for this intro so as not to complicate things too much.
The scenario was a Pursuit Scenario.The Soviets have invaded West Germany, the year is 1988. Details were:
  • Length: 8 turns
  • Table Orientation: Baselines are the short edges.
  • Setup: Defender deploys first, anywhere on the table, then attacker chooses which baseline will be his, and deploys using moving deployment. Attacker may use flank deployment.
  • Forces: Defender gets half of attacker’s points. Defender may use up to 20% of his points for hasty field defences only. Attacker may use airstrikes, but not pre-planned artillery fire.
  • Objectives: Attacker receives one victory point for each quarter of the defender’s combat units (companies) eliminated. Defender receives one victory point for each quarter of his combat units exited off the defender’s baseline.
  • I added a scenario special rule to limit artillery. Artillery Fire Groups would have five Barrages only (non-HE barrages, eg. ICM, Smoke, FASCAM, count as two barrages. This rule does not apply to Battalion Mortars, which may fire every turn.
MR Regt (BTR) (FAIR quality):
  • Regimental Assets (1x Recon BMP, 1x Recon BRDM, 2x AT-5 BRDM, 1x ZSU-23-1, 1x SA-8 BRDM, 2x Engineer in BTR)
  • 3x MR Bn (each 1x Inf w/SAM, 6x Inf, 3x Inf w/ATGM, 1x AGS-17 AGL, 1x 120mm Mortar + Truck, 11x BTR, )
  • 1x Tank Bn (9x T-62M)
  • 1x 2S1 122mm SP Battalion (3 FUs)
Tank Regt: (FAIR quality):
  • 3x Tk Bn (each 7x T-64BV)
  • 1x 2S1 122mm SP Battalion (3 FUs)
From Divisional Arty:
  • 2x 2S3 152mm SP Battalions (ea. 3 FUs)
Mech Infantry Battalion (all AVERAGE, except Tanks which are GOOD quality):
  • BHQ (M2)
  • 3x Mech Companies (ea. 3x Mech Inf, 3x M2)
  • 1x Tank Company (3x M1A1)
  • 1x AT Company (3x M-901 ITV)
  • Mortar Platoon (2x M-125 81mm SP Mortar)
From Brigade Artillery:
  • 2x M-109A1-4 155mm SP Battalions (ea. 3 FUs) (+1 Availability)
I played the Soviets and Ray played the US. The US troops were heavily outnumbered and the scenario would be a challenge for them, however there were fewer stands of better quality, which I thought would make them a more 'forgiving' force for an FFT novice.
As well as using my Hex-terrain rules modifications (available in the house rules section), we were trying a new semi-hidden initial deployment and movement system for this game. I anticipated this would require less up front preparation than the orders system I usually use (modified from the Modern Spearhead rules). I quite like it and think it works well, so it's worth explaining how it works and some of its benefits:
  • Each 'unit' is represented initially only by a counter (in FFT a unit is a Company for western style forces and a Battalion for Soviet style forces). This counter would mark the unit's "forward elements" (ie. the stand closest to the enemy).
  • Once the forward elements marker of a previously un-revealed unit is within spotting range (or it fires), the marker is removed and the whole unit it represents is placed on the table. This has the added advantage that the initial game moves can be made very quickly (just move the counters!). It goes without saying that this system requires an element of trust between players.
  • When placed on-table, none of the unit's stands can be closer to the enemy that spotted them than the forward elements marker.
  • Battalion/Brigade/ Division assets are allocated out to the units prior to the game commencing, and operate under their new parent unit's marker. However, if they are of unit size in their own right and are operating together, they can be represented with a forward elements marker. Recon units do not need to be attached (no matter their size) and may be placed on table (no marker) and operate individually. However, a full non-dispersed Recon unit still retains the option of operating as a unit in its own right and move under a forward elements marker.
  • To introduce further deception, surprise and fog-of-war, each side would also get two additional "Dummy" unit markers. These would move, behave, and be spotted as if they were the majority troop type within the formation.
Using this system, a cunning player can create uncertainty around the composition of each of his units in the initial turns of the game (eg. "is it a tank unit or a mechanised infantry unit?"). Also dummy units can be used to trigger hesitation and delay for opposing forces, because of uncertainty over their ability to successfully attack the unit or not. Dummies can also be used for many situations to create confusion and hesitation in the enemy's mind:
  • feigning a flank attack ("is that counter that just used flank entry 'real' or not? Do I need to divert forces to deal with it, or not?");
  • a flanking or infiltrating movement through cover ("are those two units moving in cover to my flank real or not?");
  • dummy defensive positions ("where do I concentrate my forces to attack? What is the strength of that position, and therefore what do I need to attack it?")
  • representing the existence of a reserve (where none exists), or a stronger reserve (where it is only weak in reality). 
As long as dummies remain where they are difficult to spot for long enough, they can potentially create uncertainty for enough turns to make all the difference in many scenarios. But better than that, the uncertainty the system produces causes realistic behaviour by the players:
  • Recon stands become useful for actual recon! Their job is not just to act as artillery observers - it is spotting the enemy hiding under forward elements markers, revealing units and exposing dummies, thereby building up a picture of the enemy dispositions;
  • Players make sure they have observation over approaches to their position; and
  • players use more realistic tactics, incorporating deception and security, using flexible groupings, and maintaining reserves to react to contingencies.
Back to the game!:

The US defenders had five companies; three Infantry, one tank and one ATGW. US 'Units' are companies in FFT so they had to exit companies off their table edge, gaining one Victory Point for each. Since they did not know which direction the Soviets would approach from, the US plan was to spread their companies down the long axis of the battlefield. Whilst this dispersed their force, it ensured that at least a couple of companies would be close to their exit point, and the others would fight a delaying action against any advancing forces. The initial deployment is shown below.
The battlefield (view from the S)
US deployment (blue) and Soviet initial moves (red).

The plans for the two sides are both shown below:
The plans...
The US Dummy markers are at the far N and S ends of the US deployment.
The Soviet dummies are trying to portray forces advancing in the centre.
The US tank company was placed centrally to react in any direction to key Soviet threats. The Mech companies and the ITV company were positioned N and S of this, to enable them to move more quickly to their exit points. The US dummy units were positioned furthest N and S, to encourage caution by approaching Soviet units, and hopefully providing just a little bit more delay. The Battalion's recon platoon was positioned on the level three hill in the E of the battlefield; whilst the hill was open, the platoon could provide good observation across the battlefield for artillery spotting, and remain concealed for a reasonable about of time, provided it did not move. The battalion's mortar platoon was located in some concealing light woods in the S, with coverage of most of the battlefield. Artillery would be on-call to react to spotted targets.
As the Soviet attacker, I had to destroy at least three (out of five) of the US companies to ensure a win. Alternately I could still win if I could kill just one company and slow the remainder enough that they couldn't exit the table within the allotted 8 turns. My plan was to flank-march deep onto the third table quarter from turn one, attempting to cut off any troops making a rapid escape. Infuriatingly, I had seven battalions (battalions are 'units' for Soviets in FFT) which meant that with a maximum 25% allowance for flank-marching units I could only use one battalion to flank march (two units would have been more than 25%). I would use one of my T-64BV battalions for this task. The rest of my forces would march as rapidly as possible (using roads if available) down either flank until they were in a position to catch any rapidly withdrawing US troops. Then I had to pin them and destroy them. Not an easy task.
I elected to enter from the N table edge. One of my MR Battalions entered on the road from the NE. This battalion would advance quickly along the road and through the town in the E. My flank-marching T-64 battalion would attempt to enter from the E third table quarter, then move as rapidly as possible to overwatch positions on the S end of the battlefield to destroy US troops attempting to withdraw off the S table edge. The remaining battalions of my MR and Tank Brigades would enter from the NW, attempting to attack in strength down the length of the table as quickly as possible, to pin and destroy any US companies encountered. Artillery would be on-call to react to spotted targets.
The game commenced with the Soviets rolling for entry of the flank-marching tanks. Success! The tanks entered on the very first turn, from the middle of the specified table quarter as required by the FFT rules. This worked out, rather logically really, to be on the road entering from the SE.
US Mech Company in the woods. M1A1 company in the fields.
US recon platoon on the hill, overlooks the Soviet MR Bn entering the town.
Soviet T-64 battalion enters on the road and moves around to the S.
The tanks entered and commenced their rapid movement south, across the wooded hills in that area.
T-64BVs on the move.
Unfortunately their entry was spotted by one of the platoons of the M1A1 company, which fired from overwatch and the US tank company was placed on table.
view from behind the US tanks
The M1A1 platoon destroyed a T-64 without too much trouble. The remainder of the T-64s continued on their route. However the lead company ended its movement adjacent to, and was spotted by, a concealed dismounted Mech Infantry platoon.
A US Mech Infantry Platoon (infantry with their M2s)
Again the US troops fired from overwatch, revealing their parent company, however failed to destroy either of the T-64 platoons targeted (firing through heavy woods with wire-guided ATGMs, TOW-2 and Dragon, was not particularly effective!). In their own fire phase, the T-64s returned fire and destroyed the US platoon's M2s, meaning their escape just got harder since it would be on foot!
US Mech platoon fails to kill the T-64s, and pays the price.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, the MR Battalion in the E advanced quickly up the road, with the lead elements making it into the town in the first turn.
Soviet MR Bn enters the town in the E.
T-62s lead, followed by BTR-70s and Infantry.
Unfortunately for them, they were spotted by one of the other M1A1 platoons of the already revealed US tank company. The M1A1s fired into the town and destroyed a MR Infantry platoon. 
The M1A1s destroy a MR Platoon.
None of my platoons could spot in the Area Fire Phase, so no artillery was used.
MR battalion advances in column.
The forces entering from the NW came on at march pace, but still moved far too slowly for my liking. I immediately realised this had been a mistake to bring the bulk of my force on from this direction. The lack of roads in this area, along with rough terrain and heavy woods slowed my advance right down to a practical crawl.
T-64BVs advance in the N.
In the US turn, their stands with LOS to targets called on their supporting artillery. Both US battalions were available, although with only 1 or 2 batteries each. The US decided to use their assets whilst they could and opted for firing ICM (using 2 turns of available fire missions). The US tank platoon called in fire on the advancing T-64 battalion in the SE, pinning two platoons. The other battalion (with 1 battery firing) was called in on the lead company of the T-64 battalion, again pinning them.
Artillery slows the flank-marching T-64s.
The US companies then commenced their hasty and un-dignified withdrawal (I couldn't fault them for this, however, since that was exactly the scenario victory conditions!). The Mech Companies in the N and centre of the battlefield both mounted up and commenced moving towards the S (they were spotted and placed on table).
The N US Mech Battalion.
Bradleys in the Sunflowers!

Aerial view.
View from the US lines.
The Mech company in the woods in the SE, that had already been engaged by the T-64 battalion remained dismounted and started a measured fighting withdrawal. The M1A1 company also commenced a slow withdrawal, maintaining their orientation to the N, and also maintaining the range advantage provided by their superior main armament and quality. The tank platoon furthest S engaged and destroyed another T-64 platoon. The Soviets could not interfere with any of these moves, since they had no stands on overwatch.
Turn 2. The Soviets completely failed to have any of their four artillery battalions available, so all those juicy US targets moving in the open were free to continue on their way, unscathed! The flank-marching T-64 battalion broke contact with the US Mech Infantry in the SE, and continued around to the S, to focus on their main mission of establishing a cut off position. Unfortunately the wooded, hilly terrain in this area meant it would be another turn of movement until they could reach their intended position.
T-64s try to bypass the Mech Company.
The MR Battalion in the E dismounted and pressed forward into the town, to take up fire and observation positions. Also, the battalion's attached T-62 company moved up onto the high ground next to the town and from there were able to engage the furthest north of the retreating Mech Infantry companies. Unsurprisingly, two M2 platoons were destroyed - one with the infantry inside also destroyed and the second one's infantry managed to dismount from the fiery wreckage and would have to continue on foot.
Supporting T-62s with the MR Battalion move up...
...and destroy two platoons of withdrawing Bradleys.

MR Battalion presses into the town.
In the NW, the mass of Soviet troops continued their agonisingly slow progress. 
In their turn, the US tanks called down another ICM artillery barrage, this time on the T-62s firing from the hill. One was destroyed (failed quality check) and the other was pinned.
The T-62s get suppressed by US Artillery. do the T-64s.
The US troops continued to withdraw - one of the Mech companies and the M-901 ITV company almost made it off table.
M-901 ITVs high-tail it out of danger.
The terrain did not really provide the long fields of fire favoured by the TOW missiles,
so they were a bit of a liability unless they escaped.
The other two mech companies, having both lost some of their IFVs were limited to the dismounted infantry movement rate in order to maintain their unit cohesion. This really slowed them down.
Overview of the action.
The company in the SE woods again fired at a T-64 platoon with TOW, Dragon and LAWs - this time killing one.
the dismounted US infantry destroys a T-64  platoon with LAWs and MAWs.
The US M1A1 company also continued to slowly withdraw to the S.
Withdrawing Abrams MBTs.
Turn 3. The Soviets finally got some artillery availability - lots of it! Both 2S3 battalions were available, with two and three batteries respectively. One of the 2S1 battalions was also available, also with three batteries.
The Soviet Artillery rains down!
The 2S1s destroy withdrawing dismounted US infantry in the open with a heavy HE strike. 

Whilst the 2S3s pummel the M1A1 company with ICMs, pinning all three stands.
At least their fire would be less effective next turn!
The remaining (four) platoons of the T-64 battalion marched into position on the ridgeline covering the US exit points on the S table edge. Unfortunately they would be too late to stop the exit of the first couple of US companies in their own next turn.
T-64s continue around to the S (left)
The T-62s of the eastern MR Battalion again engaged the withdrawing US Mech company in the N, but without effect. The MR and Tank Battalions in the NW continued to press forward and would next turn clear the broken ground that impeded their progress. Marching would be acceptable here, since the US troops were focused on movement and as a result had no overwatch capacity. 
The Soviet Tank Regt (-) advances in the NW.

Close up of the advancing lines.
In their turn the US tank company called in HE against the Soviet Infantry in the town (their last remaining barrage as the previous two barrages of ICM had used up four of their five available missions).
The US tank company calls in artillery.
One battalion drops short (SNAFU result) on the left.
The other wreaks havoc on the MR Infantry in the town.
The M-901 company and a Mech Infantry company then withdrew off the S table edge - two VPs in the bag! The other companies, including the tanks, continued to withdraw to the S at best pace.
The Mech Company in the W withdraws to the S at full speed.
Turn 4. The Soviets called in artillery on the N mech company again, to little effect other than pinning them (their remaining infantry were in their IFVs, and relatively protected from artillery). The T-64s did not fire, in order to retain the ability to conduct overwatch fire in the US turn, hopefully against withdrawing troops as they moved into the open. The battalions in the NW broke out of the terrain and started moving at best speed to finish off the depleted northernmost US Mech company.
The Soviet tanks clear the terrain in the NW.

Pursuing the US withdrawing forces.

Another view of the tanks...just because I like tanks!!
A minor attack occurred against the US Recon Platoon, by a MR company supported by the battalion's AGL platoon and Mortar Company. In a text-book little manoeuver the battalion Mortars suppressed (pinned) the target. The MR company then formed assault line and the AGL platoon provided direct fire support from a position at 90 degrees to the assault. The Recon Platoon with their LAWs, MAWs and M2 cannon were able to kill a few assaulting stands, but was itself destroyed.
MR Company moves to assault the US Recon Platoon.
Infantry Platoons top of picture.
AGL Platoon to right of picture.

The battalion Mortars suppress the target.

The assault is vicious, but ultimately successful for the Soviets.
The remainder of the MR battalion in the town re-mounted their APCs to move in for the kill on the other remaining depleted US Mech company in the SE.
Soviet MR Battalion re-mounts and pursues the withdrawing US forces.
All of this was a bit too late, however. In their own turn, the US Tank company fired against the T-64s on the ridgeline (most at close range). The superior US gunnery destroyed three of the T-64 platoons, with the fourth one failing its unit losses quality check and also vanishing back into the woods (unit destroyed).

The M1A1 company makes short work of the remaining two companies of flank-marching tanks.
Even pinned by artillery, the US tankers' gunnery is superb.
In subsequent turns, the remaining Soviet troops were too far away to prevent the M1A1s covering the withdrawal of the Mech company and themselves off table from the SE (two more VPs).
A platoon of M1A1s covers the movement of the rest of the tank company and a Mech Company off table.

Close up of the withdrawing M1A1s.
M-125s ready to provide fire support.
The unfortunate remaining platoon of the northern US Mech Company was caught by two battalions of T-64s and quickly destroyed (1 VP to the Soviets).   
The remaining platoon of the N Mech Company is pinned by artillery,
prior to being destroyed by volley fire from T-64s from the NW.
Overview of the Soviet advance in the W.

Final result: 4 out of 5 US companies withdrew off table (4 VPs), albeit one of the Mech Companies was badly mauled. The Soviets, with two Regiments (!!) only managed to catch and destroy one of the US Mech Companies (1 VP). So it was a solid US scenario win, and their battalion would live to fight another day.
It was an interesting scenario, since the aim for the opposing sides were very different. The US focus was on withdrawing rather than inflicting casualties - in fact the only benefit for the US in inflicting casualties was to clear their withdrawal route from interference, or to delay the Soviet pursuers. The Soviet aim was to destroy enemy units, as many as possible. This also required that they stop them from withdrawing (you can't kill a unit that isn't there!). 
The US M1A1 company did a great job at covering the US withdrawal. Their tanks are mobile, well protected and with very good firepower. Combine this with "Good" quality crews, and they really are a significant force to be reckoned with. As the US commander, Ray did the right thing in using these as his primary delaying force and focusing on withdrawing with his other troops. The Mech companies only really engaged enemy targets in order to ensure they slowed them enough to let the tanks take up the effort again.
Unfortunately, as the Soviet commander my choice of entry point for the bulk of my forces sealed my inability to really put pressure on the US withdrawal.   I wanted to create a bit of a pincer down both flanks, which is why I deployed as I did. However, if I had my time again I would have entered my main force onto the table split between the road running from NE-S through the town (the one the MR Battalion actually did use) and the other road running from NNE-S more centrally. I think this would have allowed me to apply more pressure through bringing more forces to bear. Additionally, taking some additional risk of non arrival by entering my flank-marching battalion from the deepest table quarter would have avoid them slowing down by contacting the US Mech Company and allowed them to more easily move into their cut-off position even if they failed to arrive for a turn or two (on a 33% chance of arrival each turn).

This is what I probably should have done?:
Flank-mark deeper,  and use higher speed approaches to put on pressure across the frontage.

Overall, I thought the game again demonstrated the strength of FFT in portraying the importance of troop quality. A battalion sized US force of better quality was able to successfully hold off a Soviet Motor Rifle and a Tank Regiment, long enough to extract themselves and withdraw with relatively light casualties. Well I think 20% casualties is 'relatively' light, given that they were outnumbered by almost 5:1 overall...