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Saturday, 30 June 2012

Using a Numerical Advantage

More often than not I see people in games building a large army, till they are positive they outnumber their enemy, then marching it forward to crush the foe. Combat happens, they win, but they lose a lot of units, more than they expected to. Sure they won the battle, but the cost was high.

The trouble is the cost is often too high to actually do any real damage. Most large scale battles happen once a player leaves their base, and heads into the enemy base. The danger here is reinforcements – the enemy is on home turf and the travel time for his reinforcements is real short. The player on the other hand, well his reinforcements have to stream across the battlefield, and usually its a long walk!
In this article I will discuss a little strategy for handling battles when you have the numerical advantage.

Consider this first picture.

Blue has the clear advantage of a larger force. His unit count is 30, whilst his opponent, Orange, has only 16. A positive advantage to Blue of 14 units.

Picture 2 shows both sides meeting in battle. Notice how the Orange units move out to each flank to meet the attackers.

Blue still has 30 Units, Orange still has 16. But lets count the actual fighting units. In this example 10 Blues are in contact with 10 Oranges. That is an equal number of units fighting. So much for Blues advantage.

In Picture 3 we can see the fight continues. Blue's units have moved to cover both flanks of Orange.

Picture 3.5 shows the next step in the fight, as the last of Orange's units, move to protect the flank.

Now I am sure anyone reading this has seen this picture a hundred times. It looks like any battle.

But lets count the tiles that are actually fighting.

In Picture 2 we clearly saw that although the fight was 30 v 16, the actual fighting units were 10 v 10.

Picture 3 we can see Blue's numbers coming into play. The number engaged in combat is 12 Blue v 10 Orange. That's 2 in Blue's favour. Which is of course good, but the battle started with Blue 14 units stronger than Orange, so what’s going on?

Moving to Picture 3.5, we can see the last of Orange's spare units have moved to the flanks. Orange is close to being over run. A quick tally of fighting units shows Blue has 14 in combat, and Orange has 12.

14 v 12 is still only 2 in Blues favour. Nowhere near the +14 Blue began the fight with.

At this point it is worth noting we have assumed both sides, Blue and Orange, are equal strength fighting units. Blue's superior numbers have only counted in his favour by 2. What if the units belonging to Orange were better fighters? They only need to be superior in quality to Blue by a small amount and this has been a fair fight!

In essence 30 v 16 where both units are equal strength, the 30 strong side is always going to win. That’s never in doubt. What this article aims to do is help achieve a faster victory, with less damage taken, and in turn less loss by Blue. The key to doing this is to ensure Blue uses his numerical advantage.

Prior to the fight we need to assign combat groups (Hotkeys etc), were able, otherwise manually select groups of units.

Picture 4 shows an ideal set-up, with two groups 'Grey' and 'Yellow'.

The combat begins as normal, except both Grey and Yellow are given orders to advance past the enemy and not to engage, where as the main body is given normal 'attack' orders.

In Picture 5 we can see the fight has begun, and the same as before, Orange's units move to extend their flank. Grey and Yellow both move in the same fashion as last the last engagement, heading down the flank, except this time they are not going to attack the first time they reach the enemy.

Its also worth noting that the combat is still 10 v 10 fighting units, the same as before.

Picture 6 is similar to to Picture 3, but rather than stop and fight Yellow and Grey continue to move,

 until we reach Picture 7, at which point the surround is complete and the active combat units are Blue: 16, Orange: 12.

Instead of the +2 in Blues favour, its now +4. This Battle is over.
One question I am sometimes asked when I show this example is why doesn’t Blue move more units, after all he has a full 2nd rank stood there doing nothing. Well, its safe to assume as the fighting goes on both sides will suffer casualties. Blue has a fresh rank ready to plug any gaps, Orange at best has half a rank.

Thanks for reading! I hope this helps improve your game-play, and may you forever crush your enemies!

Any comments/suggestions are always greatly appreciated.

Friday, 29 June 2012

FORTRESS AMERICA - Strategy Guide, Part 1

Welcome to the first part of my strategy guide for the 2012 Edition of Fortress America by Fantasy Flight Games.

In this chapter we will look at the mathematics of combat, the unit types available to the player, and how they perform in battle.

The Dice

Combat in FA is handled by rolling a set number of dice, which dictate the units combat effectiveness. There are 3 types of die in the game,
Red (D6) used by Foot Units (Infantry) and by Mobile Units
White (D8) used by Hovertanks and Helicopters
Blue (D10) used by Bombers

Each die has 4 possible outcomes, Hit, Combined Arms Hit, Miss, Defender Retreats/Attacker Withdraws

The chance of each of these outcomes is different depending on the die rolled. Red being the weakest and Blue being the strongest.

I will assume anyone reading this already has an understanding of the 'Combined Arms' rule ( the extent of which will also be discussed shortly), and the knowledge that the Defender fires and inflicts casualties before the Attacking player. A working knowledge of the Combat Sequence, and 'Order of Casualties' is also assumed.

The Mathematics of the Dice

The Red Dice (D6)

Unit Type: Infantry, Partisans (attacking with other units), Mobile Units
The faces of the Red Die look like this,

As we can see, in any combat situation, units rolling a D6 will be 50% ineffective. Half of the time they will do nothing regardless of the situation.
A Hit result (thus a kill result) is always favourable over a Defender Retreats/Attacker Disengages, but as territory is very important in FA, we can safely say that a Positive Result will be gained 33.2% of the time.
If used as part of a Combined Arms attack these units increase in fire-power by 16.6%, to a total of 49.99%
If used as defenders, these units increase in fire-power by 16.6%, to a total of 49.99%

What we can learn from this,
Red Dice units make poor attackers without Combined Arms. With CA they will be 50/50 effective. In defence they are always 50/50. Despite the players best efforts to use these units correctly, they will still only perform half of the time.

The White Dice (D8)

Unit Type: Hovertanks, Partisans (attacking solo), Helicopters
The faces of the White Die look like this,

As we can see, in any combat situation, units rolling a D8 will be 37.5% ineffective. This means they have the higher chance of achieving a positive result over no result.
A Hit result (thus a kill result) is always favourable over a Defender Retreats/Attacker Disengages, but as territory is very important in FA, we can safely say that a Positive Result will be gained 50% of the time.
If used as part of a Combined Arms attack these units increase in fire-power by 12.5%, to a total of 62.5% If used as defenders, these units increase in fire-power by 12.5%, to a total of 62.5%

What we can learn from this,
White Dice units make average attackers without Combined Arms. Its a 50/50 chance they will inflict damage. With CA however, this puts them into positive numbers – they will inflict damage more times than they will miss. They also make good defenders, inflicting damage more often than they miss.

The Blue Dice (D8)

Unit Type: Bombers
The faces of the Blue Die look like this,

As we can see, in any combat situation, units rolling a D10 will be 30% ineffective. This means they have over twice the chance of achieving a positive result over no result.
A Hit result (thus a kill result) is always favourable over a Defender Retreats/Attacker Disengages, but as territory is very important in FA, we can safely say that a Positive Result will be gained 60% of the time.
If used as part of a Combined Arms attack these units increase in fire-power by 10%, to a total of 70%
If used as defenders, these units increase in fire-power by 10%, to a total of 70%

What we can learn from this,
Blue Dice units always have a higher chance to achieve success in any situation, than they do to fail. Being part of a Combined Arms attack is not necessary for these units, and being part of, or being a defender only increases their chances by a small amount (10%).

Now we have some idea of the numbers behind the dice, lets look at the Units in the game.

For this section we discuss Unit Movement Speeds, Order of Casualties and Special Abilities. Then we will add the two sections (Dice % and Game Units) together to see how best to use the units available to us in game.

There are two phases for movement in the game – Manoeuvres Movement and Invasion Movement.

Manoeuvres cover moving units in territory you already control. Again, I will assume the reader has a knowledge of movement within the game and will not address the actually mechanics. I will discuss tactical movement in a future article, for now we will simply look at the move values of units and what this offers in terms of combat.

Infantry (inc Partisans)
Manoeuvre Move:0    Invasion Move: 1

Infantry are slow and predictable. With zero Manoeuvre moves they have very little strategic flexibility, and their 1pt Invasion Move is used simply to cover and take ground. The exception to this is when they are used with a Mobile Unit, see below.

Mobile Unit
Manoeuvre Move:1   Invasion Move:1
Special Ability: Transport

Mobile Units offer the first step in strategic movement with their Manoeuvre Move of 1pt. The Transport Ability also allows them to take one Infantry Unit with them when they move. Not only does this give Infantry a strategic edge, it also completes 2 parts of the 3 needed to receive a 'Combined Arms' bonus.

This makes Mobile Units valuable pieces when combined with Infantry. On their own they remain a weak combat unit, faster than Infantry but with the same fire-power. The key to using Mobile Units correctly is to always have them transporting Infantry.

Manoeuvre Move: 1   Invasion Move:1

Hovertanks should be viewed as the first real combat unit. They are flexible enough in movement to provide real tactical options and strong enough in combat to deliver a decent hit.

Mobile Units v Hovertanks
As both count as Mechanized it is often tricky to decide which should be employed in combat (to achieve Combined Arms) and which to be removed as a casualty. Do you lose the tactical bonus of a Mobile Unit? Or the strength of a Hovertank? Mathematically the Hovertank is the superior unit, and a general rule would be keep your stronger units alive. However we cannot ignore the Mobile Units much needed 'Transport' bonus. I will address this problem in a future article, but for now will keep with the general theme of the article.

Manoeuvre Move:2   Invasion Move:2
Special Ability: Scouting

Helicopters are very valuable pieces, and the best strategic unit available to a player. Their high movement keeps the enemy guessing of their destination, and a combined move of 4 allows them to quickly redeploy to strengthen any area. The Scouting Ability also allows them to rapidly increase the advance of the Army (or threaten an Invaders supply line), by landing and taking areas ahead of the main force. Added to the ability to 'fly over' enemy territories, makes the Helicopter the best tactical unit in the game.

It is tempting to use them in a combat role as they have a high fire-power, and are Air Units (for Combined Arms Bonus), but their main strength lies in their manoeuvrability, the Scouting Ability, and the ability to fly over enemy territory.

Manoeuvre Move: 4   Invasion Move:4
Special Ability: Bombing Run

If the Helicopter is the best tactical unit, the bomber is the best combat unit. Its huge movement allows it to remain safe behind friendly lines and assist in any combat in range without advertising to the enemy where it will go, thus making it the most unpredictable unit in the game. Its combined movement value of 8 also means it can redeploy almost anywhere on the board in one turn.

The Bombing Run ability is also very powerful. Used in this way the bomber does not need to worry about the '5 unit per territory' rule, flying directly into the contested zone. Strategically, with its long range movement and the fact it is an Air Unit, it can grant a Combined Arms bonus to a combat that otherwise would suffer without.

Order of Casualties and the Combat Sequence

My intention here isn’t to teach the reader the rules governing either the Combat Sequence or the Order of Casualties, but to educate how these rules impact on the strategy of the game and the units involved.

One general rule to follow would be -
'The attacker should always try to keep a Combined Arms Force, and the defender (who strikes first) should try to keep a Defence Force that is capable of knocking out a Combined Arms bonus in as few shots as possible.'

Keeping a Combined Arms bonus is worth around 13% per combat (based on the average of the 3 dice). Without it combat is further stacked in favour of the defender.

The Order of Casualties and what this means for combat
Foot Units – FOOT, then MECH, then AIR
Mechanized Units – Choice of FOOT or MECH, then AIR
Air Units – Choice of any unit

Bombers: As we already know, Bombers make for the best attackers and best defenders in the game mathematically speaking. Being Air Units they attack first in the Combat Sequence and are free to choose their targets, making them without a doubt the strongest military unit in the game.

Helicopters: Being more common in number than Bombers, are also powerful in combat due to Air units shooting first and being able to target any unit. Helicopters make ideal anti-bomber defence, or perfect strike craft, able to dive into combat and precision strike units of choice.

Hovertanks: Are unlikely to bring down Aircraft, but at least have a little flexibility in their choice of target, able to take out enemy Mech or Foot. Their high combat value make them capable of striking predominately ground forces with good effect.

Mobile Units: Similar to Hovertanks but with less effectiveness.

Infantry: The weakest tactically of all the unit types. They have a set order, with no choice over target priority.

In Summary
Now we understand the dice percentages, movement, and basic combat abilities we will look at how to use the units of the game, generally speaking, to achieve the best results. In future articles I will go in depth on the strategies of the game using this summary as an introduction.

Defence, holding ground and meat shields.

Infantry should always try to move with Mobile Units, and always forward (Invader) or into key defendable locations (America). Never attack just with Infantry, as they improve 16.6% if used on defence. As part of a main force, try to include 2 Infantry units, as given that every other unit in the game is able to target them, losing Combined Arms is easy to do.

Mobile Units
Transporting Infantry, forming base of Combined Arms force

Mathematically, using the same die as Infantry (D6) the same rules on combat apply (i.e. Defend for maximum effect), however the key to these units is their movement value and the fact they can transport Infantry. For an Invader, its all about land grab, so use Mobile Units and Infantry to follow up Helicopters advance. For America, use them to rapidly move Partisan units, evacuate cities, or transfer reinforcements. Mobile Units two territories apart make ideal 'taxis' to quickly move Infantry.

Combat, blitzkrieg

As most Mobile Units will be used to deploy Infantry, the need for a Mechanized unit (to achieve Combined Arms) is usually met by the Mobile Unit. This leaves tanks at a loss of what to do. Ideally they can move alongside the Mobile Unit, taking its place in combat and freeing it up to continue transport duties, or with a base 50% Attack value, a group of Hovertanks are more than capable of demolishing a mediocre defence on their own. They are also good at ambushing other groups of tanks. A pair of Tanks make ideal 'Helicopter Hunters', preying on lone Helicopters using their scouting ability.

Scouting, advancing the main army, threatening supply lines, defence

As tempting as it is to employ Helicopters to the attack, their high move value makes them far more useful as a tactical unit than a base combat unit (For Combined Arms bonus, a Bomber is a better choice, and solely used for combat). Use them to move behind enemy lines. With a high defence value, a choice of targets, and defender strikes first rule, they are more than capable of handling themselves. They are also the main (aside from other bombers) form of defence against enemy bombers. A dangerous use for them, but a very effective one, is as a wolf-pack to destroy precision targets or out of position units.

Attack, Carpet bombing

A sole bomber can move to support a conventional attack force, and grant a Combined Arms bonus, without much risk to itself. Using its Bombing Ability it can also move direct into an enemy territory and in doing so bypass any 5 unit max to a territory worries. The best use of bombers though is in mass effect. Sending in 3 or 4 bombers, with a regular combat force helps to ensure the attack is successful even if the defender rolls some really good dice.

Thats it for Part 1!
I hope you enjoyed the introduction. In future articles I will go into more depth on the different strategies and tactics in the game. Thanks for reading, happy gaming and may the dice ever roll in your favour!