Flames of War

I got a chance to flip through the 2nd edition Flames of War rulebook over the weekend.  I’ve been considering Flames of War for the simple reasons of it being both a relatively simple and relatively popular set of rules for World War II combat.  Here’s my quick snapshot on the system…

  • The rulebook is well-produced.  The layout and production values are excellent, especially for a historical miniatures product.  The typeset is easy to read, and the graphics are lush without getting in the way of reading the rulebook, unlike some other products I’ve seen.
  • The rules themselves look pretty straightforward.   As I recall it was based on an earlier version of Warhammer 40K, so it has that’ ‘classic wargame’ feel from the looks of it.   I gave the detailed rules only a cursory overview, not having the time to pour through it or run through some trials.   From what I saw it was a fairly simple and straightforward set of rules.
  • Battlefront is definitely going the GW route in terms of marketing and cash extraction.  The new rules have no stats for units or vehicles in them.  In addition to forking over $40-$50 for the main rules, you’ll need to drop at least $20 on a theater/battle book just to get the basic stats for whatever force you want to build.  It also appears that they will be churning the books every couple of years to freshen things up.  Some of this is necessary to keep a living rules set up to date.  Some of it probably isn’t.  FOW gets a number of gamers from the 40K/WHFB crowd, so they are probably more used to having to buy new rules on a regular basis… cheapskate grognards not so much.
  • The releases of the theater books will also give rise to munchkin armies, as each book will highlight a particular division, which will be the elite ones, of course.  One of the knocks on FOW is that it encourages historically-ignorant new players to build armies made up of SS panzergrenadiers and King Tigers or Russian Guards and IS-2’s.   Those folks who like to play tourneys or just don’t care will have a field day with things, bugging the crap out of those of us who would really like to see Panzer III’s and IV’s running around.  
  • Another knock on the rules are some of the liberties taken with ground scale to get everything on the board.  Not having seen a game played yet, I can’t comment on this.  I’ve seen several games where a tahnk platoon is lined up more or less hub-to-hub like a Napoleonic infantry regiment.  This would bug the crap out of me, but I also remember seeing that formation quite often when playing North Africa micro-armor at the Little Tin Soldier shop in the mid-1980’s.   Without playing the rules set, I won’t comment further… doesn’t seem fair to the rules or to me.
  • There appears to be a decent-size group of gamers locally playing the rules at various shops around town.  Based on recent email traffic it looks like the group’s activity levels have died down in recent months… Maybe it’s the usual downturn in activity due to summer, or maybe it’s due to the butterfly effect as gamers flit off to play the latest and greatest game that shows up.  Hard to say.  Regardless, there’s still more people playing those rules than pretty much any other historical miniatures game in town.
I’m interested in finding a fun, quick WWII game.  Maybe Flames of War will be the one, or maybe not.  The initial investment needed to play the game is sizable, which is off-putting to me without first seeing the game played.  If it’s a good game and the local group of guys playing it are good, maybe I’ll invest.  Until then I’ll withold both my judgement and my cash.    I’ll try to catch a game locally some time and take a look for myself.
I also got a chance to see the FOW “Art of War” book.  For $12-$14, it’s a good deal if you’re into 15mm WWII figures.  Some decent painting articles and interviews with painters, along with many nice photos of Battlefront’s miniature line.  Well done gamer porn indeed.
This is the last installment from my road trip to Sioux Falls.  A good break from the everyday grind, and a chance to meet some new people and play some new things.  

4 Responses to “Flames of War”

  1. 1 Jeff October 15, 2008 at 8:28 am

    There are two main issues with “Flames of War” as a historical rule set.
    1) The lack of a ground scale that has some basis in reality.
    2) The requirement to build unrealistic organizations so that you have a chance while playing another player.

    In skirmish games it is understandable to have issues with ground scale matching figure scale, I understand that and I accept that issue. Yet in Flames of War the ground scale has no basis in reality that I can tell. I realize that WWII is not my primary interest nor have I read more than couple hundred books on the subject but let’s take a look at my first argument. While I am not sure this continues in V2, but virtually all combat systems (Infantry, IG, ATG, Tanks) have a greater firing range than Artillery. While I am sure this was done on purpose to SELL more figures it has very bizarre affects on games. In the games I have played or watched you probably could count the number of Artillery rounds fired in you left hand and have four fingers and a thumb to spare. Interesting issue as Artillery was responsible for at least 2/3rds of the casualties during the course of the war. There are also issues with the ranges of ATG vs Tanks, IGs vs Infantry and so on and so forth.

    The second issue may be somewhat related to the first issue, the game is forcing players to build completely unrealistic organizations, along the lines of Warhammer WWII. It is not uncommon to see players pushing commands of American Paratroopers supported by a column of Pershing MBTs in 1944, Waffen SS supported by Tiger IIs, or even Soviet Guard Corps with nothing but Fireflys, I guess the British sent one to Soviet Union. I have a hard time playing a “historical” game where reality must be completely checked at the door. This makes no sense to me.

    Locally the group that plays “Flames of War” is far more vocal than size. They have half-a-dozen or so core members and another dozen or so “hangers” on. In my opinion as long as they hoot and holler and have fun rolling dice that is all that matters.
    The joy of “Flames of War” is that you can take you group and go play another group (locally the TC group has a matching group in Rochester) and hoot and holler against different players. This unfortunately has lead to the rise of Tournament Play and even more unrealistic organizations.

    All said and done I’ll stick to “Spearhead” and when I play a lower level game I’ll play a modified version of “Broadsword” by SPI.

  2. 2 Bart October 15, 2008 at 10:08 am

    Fair points, Jeff.

    I had the old version 1 rulebook some years back and the felxible ground scale was the deal-breaker for mer at the time. If that’s still in there, then yeah, it’ll be hard to get around. The munchkin arms race isn’t surprising since it’s basically cloning the GW games… as a 40K player I’d think that wouldn’t bother you so much… or is this different? 😉

    Spearhead is OK… just doesn’t grab me that much, since it’s another in Arty Conliffe’s mechanistic rules sets. I’d be happy to play it (and I have a set of the rules), but it’s not something that would enthuse me enough to run out and start buying figures.

    I’ve only seen Broadsword played at Recon & MGCON, and in both cases it seemed glacially slow. That probably had as much to do with the size of the scenarios as anything else.

  3. 3 xenite November 3, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    I am a big fan of Flames of War. The historical inaccuracies are smaller in amount, and magnitude than are the accuracies considering the goal of the games designers in producing something lighter than a simulation in my opinion. It is easy to get stuck on the aspects that are don’t mesh with historical record, while overlooking the many areas that Battlefront (the game’s publisher) did an excellent job in capturing what it is supposed to represent.

    The game captures some tactical options, and details that many TTGs disregard such as suppressive fire, and using artillery to provide smoke screens. Some of the Nation special rules are a little fantastic, but do address some of the character of the armies being played. These sorts of things create a more compelling representation of combat, and WW2 armed conflict than many games do, and I find them a stronger bonus than most of the criticisms that I hear. Flames of War really doesn’t stack up to something like Advanced Squad Leader in terms of accuracy, but then again I don’t think it is supposed to. I don’t think that FoW is supposed to be a simulation. It does quite well on the sliding scale of balancing representation and entertainment.

  4. 4 Bart November 4, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    Thanks for your comment!

    I think the biggest bugaboo is with the on-table artillery and some of the scale issues that brings into play. Again, not having played a game yet, this is just based on what I’ve read.

    Sacrifices are made in pretty much every WWII rules et that’s out there. FOW is no different. I’ll continue to hold my judgement until I can see a game being played. Even if FOW is more of a ‘hoot and holler’ rules set, there’s nothing wrong with that in my opinion. There are plenty of WWII sets that strive to capture realism at the expense of gameplay and/or fun.

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