Saturday, 21 May 2011

Beginners: De-mystifying Flames of War

Alright then. As I mentioned in my post earlier this week on the subject of the Games Workshop scandal, the Bunker 3030 authors want to put together a series of post designed to help new players or people not familiar with Flames of War. For this post I want to talk about some of the key differences with Flames of War (FoW) compared to my previous love, Warhammer 40,000.

It's certain that Flames of War is different to Warhammer 40,000 in more than just the type of miniatures used and the scale. However, if you have the ability to comprehend the rules of 40k and assembly and paint the models Games Workshop sells, you are more than qualified to start Flames of War. I'll break if down for you.

Fluff vs History
Flames of War is a historical game that is based on real events of World War 2. If you consider one of Warhammer 40,000's major assets to be it's fluff and rich background, then perhaps you can consider the real and detailed history of the War to be a suitable replacement. I wont talk much more on this as I know Mat is working on a post on the topic of History and picking a force. If you're no big fan of fluff or history, you really don't need to justify your selections at all. Just pick a list and run with it. For those that don't want to work hard with the history but want to remain close to actual events then it can be as simple as picking a real world unit or simply a tank of a particular kind that you like and search the Internet for; 'Who used Churchill mkVIs in Normandy'. That got me a long way when I started with my 6th Guards Tank Brigade.

So, what about the miniatures? We'll FoW works with metal, resin and plastic. The scale is 15mm and this is close to 1:100. This impacts the models, the scenery and the tactics used in the game. Models are bought in blisters or box sets. Blisters typically include enough for one platoon or a gun and team or a single tank. Box sets often include the bigger platoons or a platoon of tanks. Battlefront has a huge range available for Flames of War and practically wherever a type of tank, infantry, gun or transport is available for selection in their source books, the model is available for purchase.

Being a smaller scale, infantry are modelled with between 3 and 5 models on each base. When killed the whole base is removed.

This is one of the bigger differences. The scale allows a different approach to putting a superb looking army onto the table top. Given the smaller scale, you really don't need to focus too much on quality when painting troop models. Making sure the colours are correct and making an effort to pick out the webbing, helmets, rifles and skin is often enough. That doesn't mean that the really strong painters can't put in the extra effort and achieve stunning results. Then can. However if you're looking to get to the table and play games your infantry need not be a chore. Tanks are where painting is really fun in Flames of War. I find them quite easy, fun and rewarding to paint. Again, the most important aspect is often the colour but you can block paint, or you can wash and drybrush. You can go at it how you please. I recommend a review of the Gallery section of the Flames of War forum if you'd like to see some examples. Don't worry too much about some of the harsher comments on there. Tough crowd. Check out some of the pictures on this blog too. Mat and I have turned out some armies pretty quick. Especially Mat. He knocked over some serious hardware in recent months. Try this!

I will say that the best way to achieve a coherent and quality table top appearance with Flames of War infantry is to ensure your basing is of good quality. Some basic static grass on the plastic base will look decidedly average. You want some texture and some variety in styles of grass or flock. I don't think a unique painting post for beginners is really required as Battlefront do a superb job of this on their own site. Try this link.

Ok this is a big one. How do the rules compare for simplicity and how well is the rule book laid out? Is it going to give you a headache? Simple answer is no. Your head should be just fine! :) Once you have a copy of the rule book and a few miniatures, you'll be up and gaming quickly. However, you'll probably find yourself learning new rules many games in as you field different units. Mat and I still get a few things wrong but we are both only about 20 games into our Flames of War hobby.

One of the key differences to the FoW rules is that whether you're successful or not when shooting at something depends on the targets skill rather than your own. (With some exceptions). So, shooting and hitting a 'Conscript' is much easier than hitting a 'Veteran'. The roll required to hit is modified by distance and terrain between the shooter and the target.

Movement is simple. Each type of unit has a specific move distance that is modified by the type of terrain you roll through. No dice required to determine your movement distance. This makes for a more tactical experience.

You may measure any distance at any time during the game. You have no excuse for placing a template too far for your guns to reach. Just measure before you decide. This is a good rule.

There is no defined game length in the rules, though you may decide on a time limit. That means that if you really decide that a long flanking manoeuvre with your infantry is the only way to succeed, you strictly have the time to do it. Again, this promotes a more tactical experience.

There are many differences and many similarities. On the whole though I find the rules to be based on a great deal of common sense and follow what you'd expect to happen.

The rule book is available in large format hard cover. You can also get a smaller rule book with the 'Open Fire' box set. This has all the rules you need to start your gaming but misses out on a lot of the history, colour plates and some of the lesser used rules.

Picking a list
This is definitely worthy of a post of it's own so I'll touch on it just briefly here. FoW has three war periods. Early, Mid and Late. Each has different theatres as dictated by history. Whilst you're not prevented from playing Mid vs Late in the rules, as an example, it isn't sensible or fair for the earlier period. The points for units is very balanced within each period such that to a large extent there is no need for Comp in a FoW event. You pay for what you get. But, a Panzer IV was a lot more potent in Mid War than it was in Late War and is costed as such in each set of books.

So, pick a war period based on what interests you. Then pick a source book for the lists. If you like late war then a great place to start would be Fortress Europe. Buy it between friends. It has lists for German, British, US and Soviets so you only need the one source book along with your rule book.

Often each country will have a number of lists in each source book, split between Tank lists, Mechanised lists and Infantry lists. Beyond determining what units predominantly make up the force you will play, the type of list you pick will determine in a lot of battles whether you attack or defend. For example, a tank list will always attack an infantry list in missions where an attacker and defender is defined.

At first, picking a list might not seem so straight forward. It is, it's just different to the way it works in the GW world. You must pick a selection from each Dark box in the list and may pick one selection from each grey box in the list up to the maximum point limit for the game. Usually 1750 for late war.

Given recent events, we cannot leave without talking costs. Flames of War costs less than any major GW system to start. Rule book, source book and 1750 point late war list will probably run you through $350 AUD whether bought locally in Australia or via Internet retailer. I've talked that through before. There are costly armies and those are typically the lesser trained forces. These generally required more models to achieve the same point cost of a more elite force. If you want to tiptoe into the hobby then start with a Fearless Veteran list or a Tank Company. They would be my tips. If you have loads of cash to burn and want a horde on the table top, then consider getting a Russian tank or infantry horde.

FoW is a simple game to start and a hard game to master. If you're anything like me, it will give you a lot of hobby enjoyment along with some really tantalising options for re-creating historical battles. It has a lot of tactical depth and this will keep you coming back for more. Each time you play you'll learn something new and there really is no one solution unit to a given problem.

I think I'll close this post here. If you're reading this and want any specific introduction to any aspect of FoW then please do let us know.



  1. Thanks for good introduction. It's funny because I was playing 40k as well. I'm fed up of GW politics and constant ridiculing the hobby. Now I really got interested in FOW.
    I have a rulebook but I'm bit overwhelmed by amount of new rules. I need to draw in to the game my friend. Can you advice any quick step by step scenarios? Just to learn basic rules during game.

  2. Hey there rempage. I'll need to think about how best to do this. The rule book has a great summary page at the end which is logically laid out for movement, shooting and assaulting and it also has a summary of each nations special rules. I reckon I can maybe break down one of our AARs and add a precise ruling step to a turn. This may be helpful?

  3. That would be fantastic and helpful for all new players! I know about rulebook summary page- it's good but it doesn't explain other game situations like infantry against tank (and vice versa) or artillery.
    It's hard to interpret the rules not mentioning explaining them in action. Unfortunately I don't know any other person or game club/war-game store playing FOW in my city. GW has a total control here:)

  4. Ok rempage. I know what you need. I'll give it a go. Might take a few days.