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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Myth Busting: The Meta in Flames of War

By Mitch Reed

Big Cats, Arty Parks, and Strelk Spam are all terms I have heard in my time playing Flames of War; these terms are in reference for what some folks call the current “Meta” of the game.  Let me first define this term which is really short for “Metagaming” and defined by Wikipedia as “any strategy, action or method used in a game which transcends a prescribed ruleset, uses external factors to affect the game, or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game.”  So by definition it’s more than just what is popular, it is something that breaks the game and gives players an unfair advantage.  Having been a gamer for a long time I never believed in the “Meta Myth” and feel the term is improperly used by gamers. Let me take you through some examples and facts in order to de-bunk this very popular myth.

As long as people have been in competition they have looked for ways to gain an advantage over their opponent while still following the rules.  Let’s use American Football as an example.  The game was created from a modified form or rugby (the sport I love) and it looked almost the same as its predecessor until 1906, when Saint Louis University first used the forward pass in game.  The forward pass took advantage of a rule change to prevent players from getting killed on the field, and soon many teams were using it to dominate their opponents.  Teams that were not ready to defend against this new play suffered on the field until they learned how to defend against it.  The question you need to ask is; did this rule change “break” the game or did it help it evolve and change?  It still took many years for football to perfect the passing game into what we see now on the fields across North America. So much like the football analogy, each new book that Battlefront publishes helps evolve or mature Flames of War. 

Big Cat with Company From Remagen

Another example we can use to de-bunk this myth is that as things evolve, a new “threat” emerges which creates learning curve that people must learn in order to defeat it.  Think about how the submarine changed warfare in the first part of the 20th Century.  When used in mass many people thought that this silent hunter was an unstoppable weapon.  However technologies and tactics emerged to help defeat or lessen the effectiveness of this new weapon.  It took two wars until developments like ASDIC, better Sonar, depth charges, and the convoy system turned the advantage away from the submarine.  The lesson here is that while a new rule, list weapon, may seem unbeatable in a game, the supremacy it enjoys is short lived.

When Bridge at Remagen came out a few years ago many folks thought it created a new “Meta”; and while my Wesfallen list did enjoy some success, good players found ways to kill my Jagdtigers, and nullify my Panzer Trap teams.  So much for the “Big Cats” meta. 

U-Boats Suffered 75% Losses during the Battle of the Atlantic

One weapon that had mythical status was the longbow, which ruled the field during the 100 Years War.  History has levitated this simple weapon beyond its actual capabilities; because within a few years armies developed ideas that could defeat the longbow and render them useless.  The long was defeated by tactics more than the development of another weapon that would defeat it.  This example really applies to Flames of War; since we are forced to use tactics on the playing table to defeat a perceived meta.  Think of “Arty Parks”, a mobile force that can close in on the guns fast enough can defeat any of Ben Gobel’s 20 gun lists.

Long bowmen have an FA  of Zero, But a high Morale

So with these facts in hand, let us now look at the unseen hand in all of this, the developers at Battlefront.  Flames of War is a popular game in a field that has seen more flops than smash hits and a great part of this is how balanced and tight the ruleset is.  Having worked on some projects with the developers I can attest that they heavily playtest each list, tank, platoon to ensure it does not affect the balance of the game. Which brings up another question; why would a company create something that breaks its very popular game?  The answer is that they wouldn’t; however they do try to grow the game which translates into the players having to learn ways to counteract the latest evolution.  If quality control fails; we do get things like Naval Gunfire which Battlefront addressed to balance the game.

NGS was fun while it lasted... Thankfully
Another way Battlefront keeps things balanced is via the points system, where game changing weapons cost a lot of points and at times makes them uneconomical to use.  While the Panther is a great tank, at its points cost (3 LW CV 560 points), it makes it impossible to field a balanced list at 1425 points in Late War.  Taking the Panther further as an example, while its front armor and gun are excellent, getting around to the side of these beasts exposes a vulnerability that a player can exploit in order to defeat this threat.
The expensive Panther 

So why do we as players claim that the game has a meta?  My opinion is that we are not embracing the learning curve with each new addition to the game.  We like playing certain lists or types of lists repeatedly and are slow to change things up.  Yes; some of this has to do with disposable income and time to paint a new force, however we do like to stay within our comfort zones as things change.  Each list comes with a built in learning curve and can play differently than every other list in the game; the onus is on us to learn new tricks and evolve with the game.   Sometimes it is not a new list we need it is teaching an old dog new tricks.  We seldom look at the different capabilities a list offers us and learn to apply them differently in new situations.

Another thing we as players do is to buy into the myths we hear about certain lists or weapons.  When I came to the table with my Westfallen list last year my opponent would usually say “crap, not this again”.  That showed me that some players buy into these myths we create and have not yet adapted their style of play or have tweaked their lists to meet a new threat.

How much did the Berlin book change the game?

So I feel I have de-bunked the myth of the meta well enough; the question is how do they get created?  The answer is simple as we like playing with the newest and coolest toys which leads to them becoming very popular until a new kid on the block changes everything up. Much like fashionistas, gamers also love the latest trends and styles.   I played Remagen lists for many months because I liked how my Jagdtigers and Panzer Trap teams looked, I liked to defend, and most importantly I knew that few of my opponents were taking the time to develop ways to beat this list.  I would not say my foray into the perceived “Big Cat” meta was very successful and soon I moved onto Comets from Nachtjager.  Another way these myths get created is from speculation when we read about a list in a new book; before we ever get a chance to play with or against it.

My Time with Comets did not last long
I have heard the claim from many players that they enjoy mid-war because it is the most balanced and lacks a game breaking meta.  While this fact may be true we should also realize that right now the Mid-War period is the oldest in Flames of War and the folks at Battlefront have yet to grow and evolve this period.  The fact that mid war is so balanced also de-bunks the myth that certain national rules create an unfair balance since they are the same as in the late war period where the myth of the meta seems to always be buzzing around.
So I hoped to have cured you from any fear you have of the latest meta and I hope to be asked to host Myth Busters when they reboot the show.


Paul Cummins said...

I think you may misunderstand the term meta as usually used. The requirement for learning to deal with a new threat is the metagame. Ie the game of designing and choosing lists and tactics to deal with a new popular threat - all your examples seem to be examples of this metagame taking place rather than proving it doesnt exist.

zap123 said...

Yes, unless a game system is completely random every game for every player, a meta for the game exists. Flames of War has an obvious and very strong metagame, and the things you need to consider as part of your meta gaming change as new lists are released. Mid War isn't particularly balanced, it's just really static so the meta is very well established and understood. The Meta is also a local thing, if there are a lot of arty park players, you meta response is to build a Japanese tank list.

Markg said...

Sorry I think you have missed what a huge number of players experience. US Arty and Jumbo cheese has dominated tournes for a few years now. It is exploiting a rules to the max. You use lots of German examples of 'breaking the game' however not many people of suggesting this. I have seen literally no one complaining about panthers and most good players shrug off Jagtigers as expensive. The issues with the meta are the Allies dominance.

The US 'Football' example is also rather flowed. In essence you say that someone took a established game, exploited the rules to the max and then created a new game! Thats the example you want to use, suggesting push the rules to the max until th game splits!!!

Panther-Fan said...

Panthers are a waste of points. There are too many weapons which can destory him from the front. Or Artillery on the top...
Fast closing in on british Arty parks are also a problem. If you are quick, you should have many light and medium tanks. Then the enemy has 25pdr direct fire + 6pdr ambushs with 18 shots.
Or the strelk with GoW, enough direct fire support and cat killer to kill your assets.
BGG and Bridge at Remagen together with cat killer rules had a huge impact on the game.
And if the game i well balanced, i should be able to win as likely with a Panther company as with an US list- but this is not the case.

Brian Bjerregaard Bergh said...

Think the author has completely misunderstood what players say is "meta".
The historical examples have nothing to do with it a miniature game ruleset.

This article looks like an "ordered job" from Battlefront, where they gave the conclusion and then the author have to write the rest to fit. Bogus article.
That the game creators have to order construction of an "there are no meta in our game and it's perfectly balanced" just say to me there are a meta game and problems with it.

Luke said...

Brian we will address this on our podcast soon. In the meantime please have a clear understanding that we, WWPD, do not in any way work for Battlefront nor do we receive orders or requests from them to write articles or give us subject matter. The only thing they do is occasionally send us items for review and as you have probably seen they get an honest review and they are balanced and not always kind to them. A lot of the controversy over this article revolves around individuals opinions on the article including the authors. This is Mitch's opinion on the meta game or perceived meta game. Everyone's comments and opinions are welcome on the subject, but please again, understand that we in no way shape or form get orders from Battlefront. We love the game and we, like most of the people reading this site do. That is why we spend countless hours writing articles, recording podcasts slowing or stopping our games to take pictures for battle reports for everyone's enjoyment. So yes we are fans of the game, but not always Battlefront as a company. They look at our site and ask if they can copy our articles to their site. You may not like the article or disagree with it, but you and thousands of others have read it and got a lot of folks thinking. As I have posted on Facebook and mentioned on the podcast we are always looking for new writers and new perspectives that will further the Flames of War community. Please feel free to email me directly if you would like to be a contributor.

Flyck Cole said...

Berlin was (IMO) the most underwhelming pile of rubbish ever printed by Battlefront. The German list is interesting and thematic, but you tend to see German players still defaulting to the other books. The only Soviet list in there worth the print space, is the Hero Strelk. But that's just "Udarny+" with 160mm Mortars, and crappier tank support. The two heavy tank lists aren't even worth the paper they're printed on. The only good things for Soviets from Berlin, are a couple of digital lists (Cossak, Engineer Sapper, and generic Strelk), and that it gives the generic Tankovy Briefing #4 from Desperate Measures the 160mm Mortar and Bedspring options.

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