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Monday, December 8, 2014

Playing Historical Games

By Mitch Reed

One of the great aspects of Flames of War is how the game can be used for different types of play that are each enjoyable and present different challenges for the players.  FoW tournaments are a huge success at conventions and local gaming stores.  There is also one on one play where two opponents play a game at their home or at their gaming store. And finally, there is using the game to re-create a historical battle, which this article will highlight.

In my 2 ½ years of playing Flames of War I have observed two types of players; you have the gamers who are addicted to the thrill of gaming and play many different types of games and then you have the historical gamer who uses a game or rules system to see what they would do if allowed to refight a battle from the past.  Many gamers can identify themselves as being part of both groups at different times, and while playing, the rationale for gaming is immaterial to their success or failure on the table. However I always like at tournaments how players will explain why they chose a particular period or army to play; it shows some connection to the history that the little soldiers on the base represent. 

Kevin Hatch writes a history of the unit he uses for most tournaments

Kevin also likes the movies that take place during WWII and makes awersome objective markers that pay tribute to the great movies of the period; at the top is his Bogart in Cassablanca and above is Bogie once again in Sahara.

One way in which we take the historical bond we have with our armies further is to play them in games that are based on actual battles they fought in.  I find “historical gaming” has a large appeal to many of the “non-tournament” players and is also a lot of fun!  I have been gaming with a core of players for over two years that prefer the historical fights over all others.
The Friday Afternoon Group

Here in Northern Virginia a group of guys has been getting together for a few years now to play large Flames of War games every Friday.  Each week one of the key players becomes that week’s “gamemaster and picks a battle;  he then  informs the group via email of the battle chosen and the forces involved and asks who wants to play on either side.  While email goes out to about 80 players, most games are between two sides of 3-4 players each.  Once the head count is done and the sides are determined, the gamemaster will tell each player what their point total is and what books they can make their lists from.  Normally each player has about 1000-1500 points for their force and in most games each side is capped with a point total which allows the players on a particular side to give unused points to a team mate.  Even if you do not have the forces required for that week, these guys have everything you can think of in their collections and can often field all the forces for both sides by themselves!

Set up for the Java fight, Holland/Austrailia vs the Japanese
The gamemaster also sets up the table, which is usually larger than the established 4’x6’ table used in Flames of War play.  The table is 5’ in width (due to the size of the table at the venue) and can be anywhere from 8 to 10 feet or more in length.  This extra room allows battles of 4 on 4 or larger to be played without crowding since each player generally controls their forces in a “sector” of the board.  Before each game, one player per team acts as team captain and will coordinate with players to assign what “sector” a particular player will have and what they should do to support a victorious outcome for the team.

Java: Players set up, not how big the playing table is

With the larger table, and the historical based objectives frequently used, one can easily see how the missions in the rule book are often not a good fit for this type of play.  The gamemaster establishes objectives on the table or sets up location points (much like the Domination missions used by the I-95 Gamers in many of their tournaments) that each team has to control in order to win the game.
The gamemaster also can inject other special rules into the mission such as time of day, ambushes, type of reinforcements, and, if air support is to be used, the gamemaster provides aircraft so that the players do not have to pay for it out of their team’s points.

Other than the mission, all other Flames of War rules are used faithfully.  Another thing to point out is how the gamemaster does their homework when deciding on forces, table set up, and special rules so the historical feel is well presented to the players.
These match-ups are designed to finish in  4-5 hours and the outcome is based on how the gamemaster decides the game should end; e.g., you can have your team mate next to you lose their company but you can fight on.
Dutch Marines; Jay uses Romanian models painted as Dutch troops

Match-ups and What-ifs
Besides refighting a past battle, one of the fun aspects of playing a historical game is that match ups are always red vs blue (between two historical opponents) and are limited to lists on a specific front.  So you will never find a German list from Atlantik Wall versus a Soviet list from Red Bear.  Battlefront has done a decent job of researching the forces found on a particular front and usually releases books with lists dedicated to the major combatants of a particular period.  I have heard many of my fellow players’ state that certain lists in a particular book are balanced by design to play other lists in that same book; I have not found that to be factual.  From playing the historical battles I have found that lists in a given book are truly representative of the forces that fought in that campaign and are not created for how well they will do in an “open” tournament.

 Japanese tanks roll down a road in Java

One of the best aspects of the Friday group is how they take on periods of the war or campaigns that have not yet been presented in a book by Battlefront.  One of the recent games I played pitted my Early War Japanese against a combined Dutch-Australian force in Java.  While the actual battle was not a big fight, and the Australians did not deploy a force to Java, it was fun to see how those forces would have done if in fact the Allies would have put up a fight for the island.

Dutch troops await the Japanese attack

It was actually easy to find the forces for this fight.  The Japanese used lists from the Rising Sun book, the Australian list was from Hellfire and Back, and the Dutch came from the Netherlands 1940 PDF.  Other than a few guidelines by the gamemaster (like no Matildas, or support from nations like France, who were not present) the selection of forces was left to the players to decide.
While lists can be easy enough to find, the models are not.  One of the group’s most steady players is Jay Mischo who has quite a collection of what I like to call “Boutique Lists”.  Jay has models representing every Nation you can think of, Soviet Naval Troops, Hungarians, Finns, Norwegians, Italians, and of course forces from the Germans and British Commonwealth.  In the Java scenario his Romanians were already painted up like Dutch Troops and he even had the actual models for some of the vehicles and guns that are not produced by Battlefront.

Austrailian troops move into psoition

Pros and Cons of Playing Historical Games
The one thing that may be a “con” for the tournament focused player is you do not generally play the same missions listed in the rulebook and that are played at tournaments.  Another concern is how with a large table and restricted lists you can never really gauge how a particular force will compete against another.  I have realized that knowing how to play missions and how to go about playing a particular list is key to tournament success (and good dice!), and while playing in this format is an excellent way to learn the rules, two of the major factors of the game are not a consideration in historical play.

Japanese guns knock out a Dutch armored car; Jay picked these up from Old Glory and are the models of the actual Dutch vehicle in use at the time.

Despite the cons above, I feel the pros far outweigh them.  One aspect I like is playing lists I would never have played otherwise; you get to see how lists you felt were noncompetitive actually play on the table. It also lets you use those models you purchased and painted “just because” in a game.  The major plus appeals to my love of history; I like to see how things could have turned out if a few different choices were made.

Australian artillery sets up in a Javanese fishing village

So if you are in Northern Virginia on a Friday afternoon, I recommend stopping by the Game Parlor in Chantilly and giving an historical game a try.

Dutch Cavalry charges the Japanese infantry

I would like to thank some of the steady gamemasters who run these games; the best players and folks you will never find at a tournament but should:  Greg “The Scribe” Cilia, Ray “Vacanza” Koch, Bill “Rules” Pittman, and Jay “I have that in my collection” Mischo. 

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