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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Review: Flames of War Digital and Forces of War

By Mitch Reed

Two new “tools” released by Battlefront in 2015 will never see the gaming table; however they will impact all players who play the game.  Forces of War and Flames of War Digital have been out for a few months now, and I have read the comments posted in the forums which range from positive to a bit disappointed for a lack of a better term.  I wanted to address some of the issues players have posted about and get to the utility of these two tools and how they can be used by the players.

Forces of War
I laugh when I think of this as a “new” product, since it is really a continuation of  When I first started playing the game I was a bit overwhelmed when it came to list making.  The web based Easy Army solved a lot of the problems I had when it came down to selecting a force for an upcoming game, and Forces of War picks up where Easy Army left off.

For those of you who may not be familiar with either of these tools, they are best explained as a database that contains the full lists found in in the campaign books.  A player calls up a list they may want to run, then they make selections in each of the boxes, and the tool adds the points and creates a list of their forces that includes all the information they would need to play to include weapons stats, some special rules, and of course their list broken down by points.  The final feature of this tool is a list that can be emailed to you or downloaded as a PDF, and it solves that pre-game ritual of trading lists with your opponent.

Since the developer for both Easy Army and Forces of war are the same person, little has changed from the original product in the aspect of functionality.  When it comes to the cost, we do have a big change.  In Easy Army, each book would be available for $1 or $2 US dollars, with the new Forces of War the cost is $1 per list or $7.95 for a book like Desperate Measures.  This is a huge price jump and I know many gamers were not too happy with this.  Another issue that has been raised is how those of us who paid for Easy Army lists would be handled when that site closes and the data is ported over to Forces of War; many of us are looking at shelling out a lot of bucks to have access to the same data we had before. 

Let me first state that Battlefront is running a business and that they see Forces of War as a way to make money, which is what businesses do.  They also have the right to shut down Easy Army and create a new site that enables them to charge what they feel these lists are worth. Let’s be frank here, $2 for a bunch of lists was a deal too good to be true, and we all knew it wouldn't last forever. So in defense of Battlefront they did nothing wrong, but does that mean they did the best thing in a business sense?

After using Easy Army to create my first Canadian Infantry list, I swore that I was set with all lists I wanted to play.  However after playing against some lists that seemed fun, I found myself prowling Easy Army to see what lists I should collect next, which in turn leads to buying more models.  This almost seemed like an addiction at times; I bought a bunch of Panzer IVH’s or Panthers for one German list, which then became a search for what other lists have those tanks and what else would I need to buy to make another list.  So in many ways, Easy Army became a “wish list” that caused me to keep expanding my forces.  I did have all the books I needed for these lists, but call me lazy or a convert to the information age, but Easy Army enabled my addiction because of its ease of use. 

So did the change in sites and the cost increase dampen this lust for list exploration?  At this time it’s hard to say because of the lack of lists on Forces of War, however I have realized that my desire to explore lists has been curtailed.

So where does this leave us?  I think tools like Forces of War are great for the player; they also standardize the look of a list and provides players with a great in-game reference sheet.  It will be up to the means and desires of individual players if they want to use this excellent tool.  Forces of War can be called up on any computer, smartphone, or tablet and is simple to use, just point and click.

Flames of War Digital
The next tool produced by Battlefront was long overdue in my opinion.   As someone who always has his tablet in tow, and someone who has helped test and develop tablet games, I have the opinion that tablet gaming is the next wave in the hobby. 

Picture from the flames of war website; the prices listed are higher than what came out in the app.

One thing about Flames of War that most of us have noticed is that few of us can quickly recall all the rules and list details we need to play the game, so we end up dragging those oversized rule books or campaign books with us everywhere.  The format of the books also prevents us from taking them anywhere to read in public, they look like coloring books from a distance and it’s not the kind of thing you would want to read on the metro or at Starbucks.  Flames of War Digital solves this issue by letting the player purchase and download all of the data required to play the game.

In FoW/D you can download the third edition rules, campaign books, Know Your Enemy books, and even the hard to get Art of War books. Books can be downloaded onto your tablet, or can be viewed as long as you have a connection to the internet. FoW/D right now is an app only available in Apple’s app store and is free to download.  Once opened the app is easy to use and you can quickly find the purchases you have made as well as browse what is available to download or view.

In the case of the third edition rules, the sections are indexed so you can pull up the table of contents and double tap on a title and you are taken to that chapter.  As of now this function is not available below the chapter level.  Even in the books index, where the pages are highlighted, they do not seem to be linked to anything and I am always taken back to the cover page when I tap on a page number.  I do not know if this feature is working or if there are any plans to hyperlink the index to specific pages.  The “search” function also seems to not work with the rules and, once again, I do not know if it supposed to. The rules available for download do not have all the errata and updates included so you still have to download that on the website.

Also available are the campaign books and I picked up Nachtjager as soon as it came out.  These are not indexed at all, so you either have to go through the pages to find what you want or select a page on the index that pops up on the bottom of the screen. 

The paid content so far is limited to the 3rd Edition Rules, four campaign books of which two are new and the other two are Barbarossa and Bridge at Remagen; the last two books published before FoW/D came out.  Early and late war Know Your Enemy books are available.  You have the availability to download or view the “Art of War” books and the Great War rules supplement.  While I say this free content is available, I cannot seem to be able to download the second Art of War book and I was just able to download the Great War booklet today.  I hope this is a glitch that gets fixed.

Actual price for lists is $2.99

One new twist is how you can now buy parts of a campaign book which pertain to a particular list you wish to run.  This is a great option for someone who only wants a specific list or only one nationality out of a book and does not want to buy everything. 

On FoW/D a book costs around $14.99 and a list from a book goes for $2.99, so if you plan to get a bunch of lists from a single book, the price to buy the whole book may be a better deal for you. The rules and the Know Your Enemy books will run you about $4.99 each.  Now the cost for the books are for the smaller soft cover titles and I do not know how much a larger book like Road to Rome would go for.

Many know that FoW/D was delayed from its original release date because of some bugs with the program.  Based on this and the fact that I even found some bugs, it makes one wonder if Battlefront released this too soon.  The lack of links within the books, the lack of a search function, and the fact you cannot bookmark a page makes the product feel like you are paying for a PDF version of a book, which I am sure folks have been doing for some time now.  So based on these issues, I wouldn’t suddenly get rid of that well tabbed paper document you drag around.

Right now FoW/D is only available on the iPad however in the future Android tablets will have the FoW/D app as well.  I have heard many grumble that they do not want to spend a couple of hundred dollars on an iPad, which is fair.  However the price of Android tablets is quite low right now, in fact my family has gotten a few tablets for free for other purchases we have made in the past year, so the cost shouldn’t be a huge factor when Android version hits the streets.

I was very eager for FoW/D to arrive, and I know that with any new product, things have to be worked out and corrected.  While the version of FoW/D is not 100% optimal today it shows promise and it is a step in the right direction. 

The Future of Electronic FoW
When Battlefront announced these two “tools” a lot of people thought that they were parts of the same product which is understandable.  However as stated by Battlefront and obvious to me when reviewing these products that there is no linkage between the two, however, should there be?

When Nachtjager came out I quickly picked up the book on FoW/D, since I play both forces in the book.  I then went over to Forces of War and saw that the lists were also in the database.  I was not shocked that I had to pay for the lists, however linking the books I buy, with what I have access to on Forces of War would be a great idea.  Let’s say I only had money for one of the two; I would pick up what is cheaper and something I know I will use more like the lists in Forces of War.  Perhaps this can be something we see in the future.

By going “digital” Battlefront has an opportunity to bring the player a unique experience that leverages the latest digital technology which in the end benefits all of us.  I plan to address some of the issues I brought up here in a future article that discusses the economics of the hobby.

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