Monday, March 2, 2009

First Flames of War game

Last Thursday, Chris brought his four Shermans, two jeeps and two M10s over and faced off against my 3 Panzers and 2 StuGs (pronounced stoog, with a hard G). My first Flames of War game. Again, I did not take enough notes for a real battle report, but this is meant to be more of an evaluation of the game.

First of all, if you are familiar with Warhammer 40,000, you shouldn't have too much difficulty picking up this game. It does seem more complex than 40k, but the rules tend to be presented in a much clearer manner and layout. For example, when dealing with a vehicle being hit, all of the rules are collected in the same place and specific rules are in italics whereas descriptions are in standard font. It makes for a much easier read.

Furthermore, it also seems to have greater verisimilitude than 40k does in it's play. You don't have the one or two uber killer units that can be maximized across the army. Instead you are forced to have a much more realistically structured army. Vehicles move more realistically. In 40k, land vehicles only move 6 inches if they want to fire and if they move flat out, they can't fire at all. However, as my Panzers developed in the game, they were able to move 12 inches across country and still blast away. Now, they weren't able to maximize their rate of fire (the Shermans could because they had stabilizers) and they received a penalty to hit, but it meant that I felt my army was working with me, instead of against me.

A real departure from other miniatures games is that shooting depends on your opponents ability to avoid being hit, instead of your ability to shoot. In modern warfare, with modern weaponry, the skill of the shooter doesn't come as much into play as the ability to keep from being hit. Flames of War mimics this by rolling against your opponents training (Conscript, Trained, Veteran). Think of it like an "Armour Class" for your opponent. This, of course, makes me happy as most of the Wehrmacht are considered "veterans" in Flames of War making me much harder to hit.

Another interesting quality of Flames of War is that tactical options exist that permit different types and sizes of armies to play against each other. To clarify, in 40k, there would NEVER be a battle of a 2000 point army vs. a 1000 point army. Except in certain min-maxing situations, the 2000 point army will utterly crush the 1000 point army. However, in Flames of War (as in real life), a small force may be called upon to hold off against a much larger force. Flames of War *has* tactical options that can permit a general to formulate tactics that can make this sort of thing possible, and not an exercise in frustration. I have a perfect example of this in Thursday's game. As the game started, the Shermans moved in and quickly killed two of my Panzers (bad rolls on my part, great rolls on Chris's part). This meant that for the first half of the game, I was at a disadvantage. However, Panzer #3, managed to move into a good location and planted itself allowing for it's main gun to fire at it's full Rate of Fire without penalty - destroying 2 Shermans and one M10 before it died. I managed to pull off a Pyrrhic victory as one of my StuG's survived vs. one of Chris's jeeps. Had this been 40k, I probably would not have recovered from this loss.

One other option I've touched on previously in my Flames of War rants is the educational portion of the game. Did you know that the Soviet Army had a female tank driver in World War II who posthumously earned one of the USSR's highest honors? Did you know that the StuGs were used throughout most of the war, including at the end when Germany was short of equipment? These are just a couple of the myriad facts that you can learn by reading the books and playing this game.

With all of this 'realism', the question may be asked, "what about the game aspects? Is this pure simulation?" It certainly does have more "game-mechanic" aspects about it. Notice the jeeps and the M10s that Chris brought? He had the option of moving the jeeps in and basically doing the FoW equivalent of a "Deep Strike" and place the M20s where he wanted them. Vehicular turning has some 'hand-wave' qualities where you can end up facing any direction you want when your turn finishes.

All in all, this is a very fun game. As I previously said, I really felt like my army was working with me instead of against me, as is often the case with Warhammer 40,000. The scale was fun because I didn't feel as cramped as I often do in 40k. I've still got some more playing to do to really formulate a full opinion, yet I think this may end up being an excellent hobby option for miniature wargamers.

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