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Category: Floody

Flames of War?

Ah, Flames of War. There’s been a sudden surge of interest in the WWII war game during 2012, and with the hope of finding something to mix up my war gaming routine I’ve picked up a few bits and pieces and played some games. Here’s a few thoughts for the beginner by the beginner. A lot of this will be from a 40k perspective, so should be familiar enough to most people.
Great rules. Fluff is sometimes a little unbelieveable.

While it used to be an expensive game to play a few years ago, smart people like the Plastic Soldier Company spotted this and started to produce excellent plastic kits for the most popular (and a few really bizarre) core choices in the lists. A typical platoon or unit will cost €24 if available, most contain five vehicles or a company of infantry. Depending on the choice it could be a considerable chunk of a list. 

Cheap and excellent quality.

The real winner here is the starter set “Open fire”. Containing an Allied mix of American and British tanks and infantry and German infantry supported by field guns and tank hunters, a full colour rulebook, dice, tokens, markers and probably the best start up rules I’ve ever seen. And clocking in at around €60 it’s a steal. Coming from 40K the price to play is remarkably lower. There some units that still require battlefront metal or resin models, namely artillery, but it’s about the same as GW prices.

So many of…everything!
This is quite different to 40K. Where you were judged on individual figures, here it’s all about the cohesive look of the force. Like most military engagements of the time the individual mattered much less then the overall force. Washes are your friend even more at the 15mm scale, a simple green uniform, back boots, face, hands and metal gun washed liberally with a brown ink produces some excellent results. This isn’t to say you can’t do the level of detail seen at the 28mm scale, there are some amazingly painted models around locally.
Simple, and great looking as a platoon
So you’ve picked up your starter, swapped one side with another person, and it’s off to write up some cheese flavoured bentness. But hang on where do you get a list from. Well this is one of the few hurdles in Flames of War. There are many, many books with lists available. Each focuses on a specific part of the war, Normandy, Battle of the Bulge, Eastern Front clashes, and contains army lists based on the historical forces that took part. The most famous example I can think of is Easy Company from Band of Brothers which were released in Nuts, focusing on Bastone.
To play most german lists a dictionary is required at the start.
These lists have a slightly strange layout referring you to pages further back in the book, very different from the self contained codex page of a GW book. Some lists might look very similar, different Panzercompanies for instance, but small differences in organisation based on available resources or specific training make the key to spotting the really good stuff a little more difficult.
There is a website. A very good website that has a program similar to army builder but uses the force org charts as templates and lays everything out very clearly, and the output has all the stats in a very readable manner. This website is called Easyarmy. For a donation of one to two dollars per book you get access to a build any list from it with the website along with all the free books and PDFs released. Extremely worthwhile even for one book to get going. The basic forces one if free too!
The other thing with Flames of War is the names. Everything has it’s army designated title, which is fine for the English speaking countries but gets very complicated when looking at German or Russian lists. There’s a slight learning curve with it due to the slightly more technical nature of the naming than 40K but it starts to make sense after seeing it in action.
A lot of the terrain comes prepainted too!
The Table
After battling through the army lists trying to work out why one should choose a Panzercompanie from Grey Wolf source book over the Basic Forces book, we arrive at the table. And what a table it is. Forget about your GW building and hills, Flames of War has some of the most amazing looking tables out there. Russian villages, French countryside, bocage, railways, cratered roads, vineyards, churches, little houses with chimney pots and outhouses, the list goes on and looks better then the last. Reasonably densely terrained, the game plays very well with tables set up with historical semi-accuracy.
Some lists have fortifications included.
The Game
No, not that game. So you’ve got your tiny, tiny men set up in foxholes, tanks ready to roll over the French countryside with your artillery zeroed in, keeping the enemy pinned in place, what next?
Well it’s very similar to most turn based games. There’s a movement phase, with difficult terrain of various types, vehicles potentially getting stuck. All quite standard. The shooting phase is where things start to get interesting.
Pewpew tanks!
In Flames of War the roll to hit an enemy is based on their skill not yours. This is to represent the ability of veteran soldiers to dig in better, use cover to the fullest extent compared to a green rookie, poking his head up and silhouetting himself. It’s a strange one to get used to alright.
Cover works slightly differently with various effects resulting in penalties to hit not affecting your save. Saves are very similar to cover saves in 40K, you have a set one you either get or don’t, unless you’re a tank. They have a slightly different penetration mechanism not hugely different from 40K.
Assault is brutal. No being held in combat here, you either break the enemy or they break you. And being forced to fall back is no joke. Luckily to balance this there’s defensive fire at the unit making the assault, which with enough hits can be stopped dead. Leaving them in trouble indeed.
Infantry making a mess of armour.

It’s a game that requires a little bit of patience, charging down the centre will most sure get you your blaze but very little glory. There’s plenty of tricks and sneaky things, heavy armoured tough units, artillery batteries, infantry blobs, something for almost any play style.
Unfortunately there is one huge balance issue. The German Tiger 1e. This mechanical monstrosity is the terror of tank and soldier alike, coated in nigh impenetrable armour and wielding a weapon more suited to a Warlord Titan, these behemoths continue to ruin games driving straight over all forces in their path. A small black mark on an otherwise fun, informative and great looking war game.

The Beast itself.

Tactically Speaking.

The Imperium’s elite, superhuman defenders. Eight foot tall, acid spitting, mini-rocket-launcher-machine gun wielding Zealots encased in ceramite plates. Awesome! Well the back story and fluff of the Tactical Space Marine is at least. Unfortunately The Tactical Squad just doesn’t cut the mustard on the table. When my Salamander Space Marine army fist came into being it contained three full ten man Tactical Squads. Surely, I thought, a solid core of ultimate bad asses would be the base of a great army. Heavy weapons splitting into combat squads, Sergeants charging off with powerfists waving. But it was not to be. They proved to be largely ineffective. But why were the greatest soldiers of the forty first millennium failing so hard. There are two major problems with Tactical Squads.

Firstly the Tactical Squad is neither a dedicated close combat unit or a dedicated shooting unit. And suffers greatly because of this, not being able to deal with enemy assault units or form a shooting squad with less then ten troopers. Ah! but isn’t that the purpose of combat squads! Well yes, but it does little to solve the problems.

If fluff was represented by a paint job…
Taking a Tactical Squad with a flamer, Missile Launcher and Sergeant armed with a power fist might look like a decent way of splitting the capabilities of the squad, but there are huge problems. To get the most out of the squad it needs to split down into combat squads. In a third of your games you want to avoid small easily killed squads, and five marines is not a hard target, especially with wound allocation being able to knock off the few models with special gear.

Alternatively you can leave the squad whole combining the durability of a large squad and weight of fire. But the negatives are just as bad. Having a squad comprised mostly of boltguns means that infantry are the preferred target, wasting the hitting power of the free heavy weapons. It also makes the squad static. Moving with heavy or rapid fire weapons severely limits range and ability to fire. In this game static is dead.

If their rules were represented by a paint job…
Secondly, they’re scoring units. Now this shouldn’t be a big problem but it is. A squad that’s not very good at fighting and not good at shooting on the run is going to have some problems if it needs to move to objectives and then deal with anyone who might already be there or on the way. On the other hand sitting on an objective makes you predictable, another thing that your opponent can use to his advantage. A unit that needs to hold objectives and isn’t very good at either of the two unit roles in the game would be fine if they didn’t come with such a high price tag. And to make the squad better at either role it costs points, a lot of points.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, they boys do have a few options. Keeping the squad cheap is a must. Transports provide an armoured shell that needs to be cut through first. Combining this with the reserves rule, The squad hopefully will avoid the enemy until they cannot afford to spend the firepower attempting to destroy a transport and squad. A Rhino is preferable for the role as it’s so cheap. 125 points buys five Marines in a Rhino.

Drop pods give some interesting tactical advantages. They do need a full size squad to be bought but they allow a squad to break down into combat squads after arriving. Although they do need at least 2 in the list to avoid your scoring units arriving turn one. But the advantages are reasonably good. Using the Deep Strike rule to arrive with the pods rules to protect them, the squad can drop in close to enemy artillery pieces with a meltagun and combi-melta and clear objectives away from the main battle. Or just drop in away from everyone.

Another build for the Tactical Squad is commonly referred to as the “Melta Bunker”, involving as much melta in a squad as is possible and a Rhino transport. The idea being to move to a good shooting position and firing from the top hatch, preferably having the transport obscured. The squad still remains expensive, but is more mobile and has the option of dumping the squad out. I feel it still suffers too much from the problems above, as well as shaking the vehicle neuters it’s offensive ability.

They do remain quite tough with a 3+ armour save and the rule “And They Shall Know No Fear” give marines great chances of sticking around, not so much in combat but hugely from shooting. The nine inch potential move after a fall back means avoiding the enemy can be quite easy. Combat Tactics makes this very powerful but as the best Space Marine characters come with Chapter Tactics, it doesn’t appear all that often.

Being armed with Krak Grenades as standard also adds so utility against vehicles. Against armies like Imperial Guard some Tactical Marines near Hydras or Leman Russ Battletanks can help reduce incoming fire as they move to avoid automatic hits.

So to conclude, They’re expensive, not great at any particular role, too many will cripple you. But they do have some redeeming features. Keeping them cheap and going to ground in the face of low AP fire can give your opponent problems in target selection. It also allows you to take more of the heavy hitting stuff. Remember if your opponent hasn’t got any guns left he can’t hurt you back.

Coming soon to a War Alter near you:
Scouting it out.
Are the sneaky fellas any better then their power armoured buddies?

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