27 January 2011

Trying out Flames of War

So I went to Lund last night to the "Studiefrämjandets spelkväll", it was like a open evening at a school with various activities going on from arts and crafts, some live RPG and miniature wargaming from what I could see. There was probably other stuff going on in the other rooms as well. This occurs like once a month, but it always collides with my schoolwork in one way or the other. Not this time though, and since it was announced that they would play Flames of War I decided to visit and give the game a try.

Now, a short back story about me, 15mm scale and Flames of War prior to this day.
I used to think it was stupid and I hate the scale. I had witnessed FoW games down at the club at a few occassions and was very far from being impressed with what I saw - like one game was Soviet infantry riding in trucks doing an WH40k style all out attack on enemy armor - literally riding in a 60" wide line into a line of enemy tanks (while being given covering fire by Katyusha rocket batteries firing at point blank 40" range or something like that. Kind of made my jaw drop. Pardon my French - but  who the fuck would do such a preposterous thing as the truck assault over open ground !? Not even the Soviet army was that suicidal. And the Katyusha batteries were historically used for indirect extreme long range bombardment. We are talking about rockets being fired at distances like 5 kilometers, and scattering like crazy creating a large area of destruction. And there were other stupid stories as well. On top of that, honestly – the scale to me is not a source of excitement. 15mm is small! Really small, not as tiny as 6mm but it’s pretty much an abstract scale when it comes to infantry. Vehicles and artillery DO look good, but infantry lack the level of detail that I love about larger scale miniatures. And let’s not forget the game is on a Games Workshop level when it comes to prices (at least for original models) and I have grown accustomed to very priceworthy skirmish games over the past 3-4 years since I ended my period of GW gaming.

All these factors together had just created a thick smokescreen between me and FoW, there was really no reason or interest within me to start with 15mm. But of course, as always, there is someone who pulls you into things by saying the right thing or planting an idea – not in a cool “Inception”  way though. While driving fellow wargamer “Widgren” to the last gameday down at the club we started chatting about FoW and it turns out he has an interest for Early War. Early War… God dammit!  Newly released the Early War from Battlefront is a campaign book focusing on the 1939/40 campaigns – including Fall Weiss (Invasion of Poland) and invasion of France.  Any other period during WW2, any other campaign of mid or late war – I can play that in 28mm. Early War however is quite rare, I mean I have early war Polish 28mm miniatures used for SoTR games but I don’t really play them as “early war Poles” – they are more like cool looking proxy Brits for 1949 gaming.
So with Widgren having the same interest for Early war, with all the flimsy early technology, odd armored vehicles and weakass tanks and my great interest for this forgotten piece of WW2 history I started thinking about FoW again.

Back to my testing of FoW from last night. The demo was held by a group of kind gentlemen who pretty much answered all my questions regarding the rules and allowed me to try out a game with a US force against a German force to get a hang of how the game plays. It was a mix of infantry, armor and artillery – which I think should have given me a good coverage of the rules.
The game is on a more abstract level then  Secrets of the Third Reich, it’s also a step back to “you go – I go” games like WHFB and WH40k, instead of using alternate activations of basically every game I play today (except Legends of the Old West which is a bastard version that is in between).
Among the things I liked, and I’m sure this will be enhanced even further in Early War, was the artillery. The “Ranging in” feature where you get a few tries to zero in on your target, lowering the ability to inflict damage if you fail on the first attempt, it gave a somewhat realistic sense of scattering artillery barrages. Hit enemies also became “Pinned”, which I think became a mayor part of the gameplay in the demo.

The feature of infantry being able to dig in, lowering their rate of fire but enhancing their cover in the open was a nice touch.  The way armor works was also quite OK, not super convinced about Tank assaults, but it was kind of fun to see infantry running over a tank with massed numbers throwing grenades into hatches (attacks vs top armor).

The gameplay was quite streamlined, units moving, then shooting phase, then assault. Even with units standing in the open or being attacked by artillery, mortars and tanks the survival rate was quite high and the battle dragged on for 5-6 turns before I withdrew my badly beaten US force. Everything is based around your and the enemy force training and morale. You hit the enemy based on how well trained they are (to avoid being hit). It’s an interesting game mechanic, kind of reflecting how it would be with green troops fighting veterans (at least on this large scale) in a reasonably good way.
And using training to try to overcome the “pinned down” feature of enemy high rate of fire and barrage artillery kind of adds to the feeling of mayhem, and I can see the tactical opportunities with either striking enemy with artillery or using poor high rate of fire troops just to inflict a Pinned Down result allowing the rest of your force to advance somewhat safe.

The other morale aspect that comes into play on unit and company level is the amount of dead infantry bases/vehicles/artillery pieces in each unit.  There is a risk the unit will withdraw if the casualties become too severe, artillery pieces become weaker and weaker in their attacks as their numbers dwindle and tanks rely on friendly models to keep bailed out vehicles safe (in order to jump back in again).

Is it a mind-blowing game? – Not really, but it appeared quite solid and seemed to convey a good sense of large scale battles. There is for instance no Overwatch or Suppressing fire rule. There are other rules that work their way around it though, such as “ambush” features and the “pinned down” rule. The guys who held the demo reflected on how useless the 2nd in Command team was, but I’ve read that it has been amended in the Early War rules, which seem to have a twist of their own. I am quite convinced that I will indeed start an Early War Polish army force sometime during the Spring.
Just need to solve my “lack of shelf space” problem first. I’ll just have to force myself to paint those tiny miniatures with the end result of gameplay in mind. I have scouted manufacturers of Polish stuff, and think I will go for Battlefront infantry and artillery, while ordering cavalry without lances (used for parades - all Polish cavalry charges during 1939 were made with sabers) and single tanks from OldGlory (so I don't have to bleed my wallet while actually only wanting a couple 7TP tahnks and tankettes.


Again, big thanks to the guys showing me how FoW works and answering my questions, hope to repay that by showing SoTR during the next gameday down at the "Brainwürst" club next weekend.

6 comments:

  1. I was informed on TMP that Forger in Battle have a range of Polish stuff. And it looks as if they are cheaper and you get more miniatures / pack compared to both OldGlory and Battlefront.

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  2. Anatoli, I'm glad to see you're giving FoW a shot! I'd love to see how you paint that stuff :)

    I have a boat load of After Action Reports on my blog and we also do a podcast talking about FoW: www.whatwouldpattondo.net Click on the "Battle reports" link on the top to see a massive list of them.

    Is FoW perfect? No way. But it's a results driven, historically BASED (not necessarily accurate), easy to learn ruleset.

    It's "The game of the movie of WWII" :)

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  3. Thanks for the link indierockclimber! Will check it out ASAP (stuck reading a book for school once again *sigh* ).

    Yeah, it's not perfect - but it was actually fun and interesting enough to warrant a start of FoW imo. Compared to what I had seen before and what I experienced during the demo was two very different things.

    Then again, neither I nor Widgren are competitive gamers so I'm sure the early war take will suit us fine as the games will be exclusively about having fun.

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  4. Anatoli, once you start...yer doomed :)

    Steven has it right, it really is "The game of WWII movies". For me, I can accept many of the abstractions but, more than anything, I can find opponents locally and have a good game or two on a gaming night. It may not be (OK, isn't) the best WW2 game or the most realistic, but it can be heaps and heaps of fun. As with any game I've ever played, having a cool opponent can often make all the difference.

    CdlT

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  5. hi there, anatoli and indierockclimber!
    today i listened to WWPD and is a big fan. that has inspired me to give FoW a try and now i inspire anatoli enough to give it a try. the circle is complete.

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  6. It's the ciiiircle of liiiiiife :)

    Thanks Widgren!

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