[Click link above to download the actual replay]
I know 2.400 is out, but as I said, there was too much done on this Battle Report to not finish it. In this edition, Rifles Ready! continues its series of Battle Reports focused on players who display fearless ingenuity in the face of proven, tenacious strategies. Case in point: this matchup between SweetLorraine (better known to sports fans as Kodachrome) and Zerocrack. It should be noted that Sweet and Zero are typically Wehrmacht and American players, respectively. At least, that’s what they played during their rise to fame back in the day, when I myself was grinding relentlessly up the 1v1 ladder.
These are proven, tenacious players, tough kids who’ve been in the COH world a long time. These seasoned veterans meet on the familiar killing fields of Angoville (and yes — I will do a different map next time, thanks to popular demand). It’s a standard tier 2/tier 4 strategy for Zero, while Sweet decides to fight a defensive army with a little defensive action of his own. There’s a veritable war of barbed-wire placing, plus a constant series of tank attacks and slowly escalating artillery barrages.
This is one unique game, sports fans. Let’s get right to it. The game is off to a rather unimpressive start, with very few direct skirmishes and the initial Volks/Rifles avoiding each other in favor of rapidly capping the left and right side of map respectively. The first real move comes when Zero puts up a Bunker on the left side of the map. It’s extremely well-positioned.
Zero has the option of creating an unflankable position by upgrading the bunker with an MG, then adding a garrisoned MG42 team. He ultimately goes for the standard Medic Bunker, but it’s a reminder of how solidly you can protect a position if you need to. Meanwhile, Sweet sends a Rifle squad into Zero’s base, neatly running right past the MG bunker, which gets off a burst but fails to suppressive the squad.
The real question is why does he do this? Maybe he wanted to see if Zero was planning a fast-tech to tier 3 for Pumas, but it’s too early in the game for this. The Rifles engage a Volk squad in front of Reich HQ but it’s a total stalemate; they end up retreating quickly. I don’t have much an answer for why Sweet did this; presumably it was to scout, and eliminate the slim possibility that Zero was going for fast Pumas. But it’s so early in the game that even if Zero was going for fast Pumas, it’s unlikely he would be building a Sturm Armory. In any case, ruling out fast Pumas is probably the best explanation, because Sweet proceeds to OP his +16 fuel soon after his men get out of dodge.
The rest of the early game is characterized by continual avoidance by both players, which is highly unusual for any American player. The Americans, as Surprise once told me, are best played aggressively. Aggressive capping, aggressive, large-scale Riflemen attacks from multiple directions, constant attempts to overwhelm the enemy and dominate the map sectors early on. “If you’re the U.S., you gotta be hungry, you gotta push,” Surprise has admonished me on more than one occasion when we played sparring matches.
The extra time, which results in very steady and high resource income for both players, allows Zero to build a Supply Depot and Tank Depot one after the other, in rapid succession. A straight tech from tier 1 Riflespam to Shermans is rare these days against Wehrmacht, but it can happen if you’re really dominated the Wehr player. In this game, Sweet can hardly be said to be dominated Zero, but he has so much fuel that it makes sense to push for a fast Sherman.
Meanwhile, Zero hasn’t been resting on his laurels; he’s been laying down enough barbed wire and mines to create Fortress Europe. This image (and several others in this Battle Report) are so huge that I’ve uploaded full-size versions; remember to click them to enlarge and read the markup.
You might think that wide swaths of barbed wire are a waste of time when vehicles, to say nothing of tanks, are soon to hit the field. But large amounts of barbed wire are highly, highly effective against infantry squads, and frequently in very subtle ways. The presence of barbed wire will immediately affect infantry pathfinding, causing them to automatically go around barbed wire — even when you haven’t seen the wire! This can result in your units unexpectedly taking an alternate route and getting suppressed or killed, or being funneled into the path of well-laid mines.
The natural, instinctive American answer might be to charge through all that Kraut bullshit, Shermans roaring up front and Riflemen screaming behind, but Sweet goes with his natural Wehrmacht-player instincts and picks Infantry Company for the ability to have Riflemen lay field defenses. You want Fortress Europe, Krauts? You’ll get it!
You see him go for very common wire setups for players with southern HQs; blocking off easy access to his crucial strategic point (SP) and the civilian building near it, plus protecting the next SP above it. He goes for similar funnel traps, though he doesn’t lay mines like Zero does. Still, you can see where the mines would naturally go.
He wires off his nearest Victory Point and the +16 ammo, which he also OPs; you know there will be lots of Off-map Howitzer spam coming up. The stalemate and wire spamming finally stops when Sweet sends his first Sherman on an expeditionary trip up to Zero’s base, chasing a Volk squad that promptly retreats. At this point Zero has a panzershreck upgrading and a Pak 38 nearly done, but not quite. And so Sweet does a lot of damage to an MG bunker and with his Sherman, while cautiously looking for the inevitable tier 2 Axis AT.
When it comes, it’s sudden; a tough Grenadier squad packing a shreck and a sudden, deadly 38mm shell splattering across the Sherman’s armored flank.
Soon Zero has two Paks and advances them quickly on the Sherman, which is being repaired at the top of the map. Two Paks firing their camo’d, extra damage shots will very quickly hurt a Sherman, and Zero uses a Sniper to plink away at the Rifles. This provokes Sweet into retaliating with an Off-map Arty blast, which appears very attractively positioned in the screenshot below…
…but very little actual damage is inflicted, and no fatalities are incurred. The massive fuel income allows Sweet to add a second Sherman and a Sherman Croc to his tank battle group, an almost unheard-of amount of armor for any American player in a 1v1 match. Sadly one Sherman is quickly handicapped while breaking through an innocent-looking stretch of barbed wire between hedgerows. Given all the ammo Sweet had, I would’ve gotten the .50 cal gunner and the mine flail upgrade if I were him. You just know mines are going to accompany all that barbed wire and meticulously placed defenses.
In any case, Sweet continues his plan of tank harrassment and base siege, supported by plenty of ammo for his Off-map Arty. This is very strong, given how effective a Sherman + Off-map Arty fire is against single base structures. You can kill a Panzer Command or Sturm Armoy in short order this way.
This is pretty much Sweet’s plan, which meets with limited success. There’s a lot of randomness inherent in the effectiveness of Off-map Howitzer fire, by the way. Sometimes a random round in one far corner of the hit box will jack up entire squads quite unexpectedly. Sometimes most will miss infantry completely.
These screenshots give you an idea how effective Sweet was.
He winds up losing two Shermans.
But his Croc is able to flank the Flaks and kill two crews, plus a mortar team. Very nice. The Croc does a drive-by, killing infantry and earning a stripe, before making a clean getaway. Still, Sweet’s top priority goes undone: he is unable to destroy the Panzer Command, which Zero manages to finish building despite all the moon craters in his base. That’s the problem with Off-map Arty; it can leave you maddeningly close to a jugular strike, but fail in the end. Zero proves very rugged and persistent, and is soon building a Panzer IV.
Sweet knows he’s in trouble; he has no AT outside of his ability to build Shermans and M10s, which are simply not cost-efficient alone against Panthers. They even lose to Panzer IVs, and in this case let’s not forget Zero’s Pak and Grenadier support. Sweet immediately builds a Motorpool upon returning to his base and prepares the ideal counter: 57mm AT guns. He built up a lot of extra manpower while his attention was occupied microing those tanks and dropping all that artillery in Zero’s base, so he can afford to spam a Motorpool and AT guns right away.
We have another lengthy period of turtling, again highly unusual in a 1v1 match involving Americans. But Sweet’s got a sweet game plan, as you can see (click to enlarge):
The Howitzers are used to pound Zero’s base yet again, with the Croc used as a spotter. Unfortunately the Croc finds itself nose-to-nose with a fresh-from-the-factory Panzer IV. So we have a familiar game of ring-around-the-base-structure while the howitzers fire in the distance.
It’s really so annoying that Zero turns the game on its head; he allows Sweet to shell his base because he’s quietly building a Flak 88 RIGHT NEXT TO SWEET’S BASE! Crazy! Axis goes defensive and barbed wire; Americans mirror with wire and harrass with tanks! Americans chip away with artillery and base sieges; Axis builds 88mm guns and mirrors with a base siege!
This isn’t some half-baked Axis base siege, either: it’s a friggin’ well-defended base push, as you can see in this illustrative screenshot (click to enlarge!):
Flak 88s kill buildings, including HQs, VERY fast. When an 88 has direct line-of-sight to an HQ, it will kill it much faster than even two on-map Howitzers can kill a Reich HQ. To spot, Zero uses his Sniper; to maximize his 88’s field of fire, he manually directs it to cut down a single offending piece of hedgerow.
The game’s been pretty even up until now; Zero lost a lot of infantry to tanks, and his base is badly damaged, but Sweet has lost most of his tanks. Sweet had a slight edge with his well-defended Howitzers, but Zero proves swiftly that his fearsome Flak 88 can kill a base, HQ and all, much faster than Howitzers, which tend to hit nothing but dirt 20%-30% of the time. Even with an Engy desperately trying to buy time with repairs, the Allied HQ falls to earth in a shambles. This makes it extremely apparent that the 88 needs to die, right away.
What happens next is waves of desperate Allied infantry attacks on the well-defended 88, while Sweet sends a regular Sherman up to try and force Zero to defend his remaining base structures.
NOTE: I am now uploading HD versions of all FRAPS-captured gameplay segments on YouTube. You can only watch the regular-quality videos embedded on the blog, but you can watch the larger versions by clicking the appropriate links under the video.
A 57mm eliminates the Flak at first. But in the back-and-forth, as fighting rages from one base siege to the next, Zero rebuilds it, necessitating more infantry attacks. This is likely the last time you’ll see guns sniping each other to pieces with pinpoint precision; this is gone in patch 2.400.
Full video and optional HD: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJeLBNZAfrQ
This video shows how fast an MG42 kills infantry manning a Flak. It doesn’t even get one shot off!
Full video and optional HD: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuBPkwi65wI
In this video, Zero desperately races his Knights Cross in defense of his 88, but this time Sweet doesn’t want to capture it; he wants it gone, and the Rangers blow it up with bazooka fire.
Full video and optional HD: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWw_HCCbGXE
Sweet goes all-out; he manages to repair his HQ and research demo charges, and his lone Engineer demolishes Zero’s HQ, which was already battered by the Sherman and countless artillery barrages. The fighting centered around the 88 is just so intense Zero doesn’t notice the placement of the demolitions until they actually go off and topple his HQ. There’s lots more action to like here, stuff that doesn’t change the game but is really cool to see happen in the heat of a real, spontaneous high-level match.
For example, Zero attacks the Howitzers of his enemy, and a sandbag actually proves effective in stopping Pak shells! Now it doesn’t stop them forever, but it shows Sweet was smart to bag his Howitzers for additional protection.
The Howitzers are eventually overrun, with Zero destroying one and forcibly capturing the second, which he mans with Grenadiers and proceeds to turn against Sweet’s base. This is the kind of awesomeness I’m talking about — it really shows off everything that’s wonderful about COH, especially the emergent nature of the gameplay, with weapons being able to be defended, overrun, captured and used against their owner. The German-manned Howitzer isn’t terribly effective, as most of Sweet’s army is trying to hunt down Zero’s remaining structures for a destruction win.
In fact, Zero only has one final structure — that original Medic Bunker on the left side of the map!
Both players realize this but by the time Zero can marshall any kind of response, it’s too late. The bunker goes up in flames even though he still has a force strong enough to defeat the Americans. And with that it’s finally GG and time for my breakdown of the match. Overall I have to say there were very few obvious mistakes made and a high level of adaptivity, creativity and tenacity from both players. A great showcase of skill.
SweetLorraine (aka Kodachrome)
– Nice trick sneaking the Riflemen into the Axis base at the top of the map; could be useful for a crazy demo-charge rush maybe
– Good use of counters at the right times
– Successfully teched to Tank Depot and back-teched to Motorpool, the result of reading the opponent perfectly
– Good situational awareness
– Tireless use of field defenses proved effective in locking down large parts of the map for a long time, which is not typically an American strength
– Most of the Off-map Artillery was obvious and didn’t inflict many losses
– Failed to spam mines despite the terrain being so well-suited to them
– Building a Sniper to spot for Howitzers and Off-map would’ve been very helpful
– Great bunker placement and use of barbed wire
– Great mine placement
– Relatively good unit survivability
– Perfectly countered large numbers of enemy Shermans
– Great tide-turning base siege with well-defended Flak 88s
– Didn’t really use Registered Artillery or 250mm Rocket Barrages, which could’ve hurt U.S. forces early on
– Needed more than just one Panzer IV
– Late with Knights Cross, which could have reversed the tables permanently