I have spent most of the last six or so months playing Soviet armour and I have both loved it and found it frustrating as hell. Why I hear you ask? Hen and Chicks is the simple answer, it's both the Strength and weakness of any Soviet tank list and learning to live with it will either win or lose you the game.
So what is Hen and Chicks? For those of you who don't know, Hen and Chicks is one of the Soviets National rules.
The rule is:-
"If a Platoon Command team moves in the Movement Step, all of the Tanks and Transport teams in it's platoon (Soviet Company) must move as well.
If the Platoon Command team does not move, only Tanks and Transport teams that start that Movement Step Out of Command may move.
Any Vehicle that moves adds +1 to the score required to hit when shooting with it's main gun or guns. This gives a cumulative penalty of +2 for RoF 1 weapons. Machine-guns and Flame-throwers do not suffer this penalty."
So what does this mean in game? Well this rules gives you some big up sides and some big down sides. The advantage is your platoons are really cheap, 10 Confident Trained Hero T-34/85's cost about 940pts where as 10 Confident Trained T-34/85 with Hen and Chicks costs 640pts. That's a saving of about 300pts, or about 33% cheaper, that means a lot more tanks!
The downsides are a little more obvious, +1 to hit for the whole company if one tank moves means a lot of wasted shots if you are out of position. Any other army in the game that has a tank out of position would only lose the shots of that tank, the Soviets would lose the shots of all the tanks, that's a massive penalty for bad positioning.
The other downside is if you're facing Gone To Ground, Concealed Veterans and you move, you need 7's to hit them at short range. So basically you can't hit them. Even Trained teams in the above position are 6's to hit and any of your RoF 1 Soviet tanks can forget about hitting anything bar teams in the open if you move.
So how do you learn to live with this? Well the core mechanic is based around movement, you should always be thinking a few turns ahead, but with Soviets thats doubly so. You need to think if I move here how many teams will get to shoot next turn? Where will the enemy be next turn? It's almost like playing a Naval game with a Hen and Chicks army, your movement options are far more limited than everyone else.
So how do you work with this? Well the temptation is to bunch up so all of your tanks can see, the problem with this option is you are very vulnerable position against artillery and planes, being trained or even conscript you are an easy target to range in on. It might be worth taking it if you can get the shots the following turn. If you can have all 10 tanks bunched up and only lose 4 you are better off than if you have spread out and had only 5 tanks in a shooting position (assuming none die in the opponents turn). This can lead to a war of attrition, this maybe a tactic you have to use. Robin Spence a veteran Tankovy player has told me a lot of times that sometime you win with Tankovy by out lasting the opponent, he's won many games with only having 5 or so tanks left. Basically in the above example 12 shots with no +1 to hit is better than 10 shots with a +1 to hit.
Lets do some maths on this. Lets say you have 8 T34/85 vs 4 Veteran Panzer IV's, 5 can see the Panzer IV's at short range and 3 can't see them at all. Now is it worth moving?
Don't Moving Stats
10 shots hitting on 5's = 3.333 hits
3.3333 hits saving on 6's = 2.777 kill attempts
2.7777 firepower tests = 1.85 dead tanks and 0.92 bailed tanks.
If you did this for 2 turns you should wipe out the platoon (assuming you don't lose any in the return fire)
8 shots hitting on 6's = 1.3333 hits
1.333 hits saving on a 6's = 1.111 kill attempts
1.1111 firepower tests = 0.75 dead tanks and bail 0.36
Thats not much of a return for getting the 3 extra tanks. But next turn if all 8 got to shot again.
16 shots hitting on 5's = 5.333 hits
5.333 hits saving on 6's = 4.444 kill attempts
4.4444 firepower tests = 2.96 dead tanks and 1.48 bailed tanks.
So after 2 turns of shooting the Platoon that didn't move would kill 3.7 tanks and bail 1.82 tanks. The 3.71 tanks and bail 1.82 tanks. Now this doesn't factor in return fire but the platoon that didn't move has a fair better chance of not taking damage as they are likely to kill 2 tanks in the first round were as the moving platoon might kill one if they are lucky. But it is interesting that over two turns in this example there isn't much difference. Personally to me this shows if most of the platoon can see take the shots, don't move. But also show that once the whole platoon can see it's devastating!
My favourite option with this is to have 2 blocks of 8 to 10 tanks advance in close support (but not too close otherwise they get in each others way. Each turn I will try to get one block to shot and one block to advance. It's not an original tactic but it's tried and tested in both real world tank tactics and in many different wargames I have played.
Another option I like to use is Shermans with .50 cals. .50 cals like all MG don't suffer the +1 to hit for moving, when faced with infantry they double your chances of getting any kills. I do think that it's an expensive upgrade but if you use the above advice you can equip one platoon with .50cals and one without. The platoon with .50cals can be your assault unit looking for pins and kills with the .50cals, whilst the platoon without can be the platoon staying still so they can use their main guns to either help with the assault or target other threats. The only thing you need to be careful about with the assault is shooting the .50cals will make you top armour 0, if you're sure you will break the unit on the first round of attacks it's worth doing, if not that the 5 MG shots each Sherman can put out should stop any infantry that think about charging your tanks.
If your looking at running Soviet tanks I think you need recon with the goal of lifting Gone to Ground. Thats important for ever army but I think it's much more important for Soviets. You may only have one or two turns were your not moving each game, you need to make the most of these turns. The add advantage is if you have to move but you have lifted gone to ground, you can hit Veterans and it's almost as if you haven't moved. Basically doing anything which either negates or equalizes the +1 to hit is only going to help you.
Finally the biggest advantage you get, 10 tanks that can assault together. No other nation can get that many tanks assaulting a single point of the battlefield. This does have it's own disadvantage of a bigger footprint so you're more likely to bring in more defensive fire shots and 2 bails or destroy results stops the assault like it does for any tank platoon. But if you can get all 10 tanks throwing a dice in assault you should remove a fair chunk of the enemy platoon, combined that with having so many tanks assaults are you best way of moving Dug in Infantry.
Thanks for reading, I hope this has given you a few ideas and something to think about. Until next time