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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Well Isn’t that Special; Examining the Special Rules in Flames of War pt 2

This is a continuation from Mitch Reed's previous article with annotations by Luke.

List Based Special Rules
While I could go on with other NSRs, I want to transition to those special rules that come with a particular list or book.  These List Special Rules (LSR) pertain to a particular force during a particular period.  A rule found in the Remagen and Berlin books such as “Enjoy the War” would seem out of place in Early and Mid-war and gives a force a certain period flavor.  I feel the LSRs really spice up the game and creates some very interesting abilities for your force.  Perhaps the developers use the LSRs to fix imbalances and to ensure parity within the game?  This may be wishful thinking since many of the books that cover a particular period repeat the same LSRs over and over again.  One LSR I hate is the “Jumbo’s Lead the Way” It lets the first hit you score against a US tank platoon be taken on the Jumbo’s front armor of 13 if it is also in your line of sight.  This rule changes the base rule of taking hits on the weakest armor first and should leave no one confused as to why players started taking Big Cats with a high AT rating to counter this threat.  Adding to LSRs I hate I can add Cat Killer, which gives the Russian self-propelled guns re-rolls against German tanks only.  Good rule if you are doing a late war Eastern Front event, but not in open play where you may face many different nationalities.  It’s an odd-duck rule since few other rules (e.x Political Assassins) are exclusive to specific nationalities playing one another.

I disagree with Mitch's premise on this point.  The example he gives of Enjoy the War versus Jumbos lead the way is that Jumbos break the base rules of taking hits on the lowest armor first.  Enjoy the War changes the base rule that individual teams make motivation checks instead of platoons.  I think the problem with Jumbos Lead the Way rule is that it was poorly worded and it came into conflict with not only the base rule for how to allocate hits, but it also conflicted with a semi-special rule everyone can use: Gun Tanks.  If you all recall, this conflict of rules almost broke the internet because people were arguing so much over it. This example is more of a problem with multiple rules being impacted by a special rule.
Hate the Jumbo
Warrior Rules
The last group of special rules are those applied top warrior teams.  While I can’t prove this, I do feel that these Warrior Special Rules (WSR) lets the guys at Battlefront use interesting puns that some find entertaining.  In the case of the WSRs used in Market Garden and Bridge by Bridge I can be certain that the guys at Battlefront love the movie “A Bridge Too Far”.  What I like about the WSRs is that they are purchased and are never mandatory; also they have at least one special rule each that doesn’t really effect anything (ex “Wooden Leg”).  However some of the Warriors are indeed game changers (ex. Otto Carius, Julian Cook) if used properly.  I played my good buddy Mark Magnuson who was running the Toccoa Sergeants and it seemed he has a special rule for everything.
Not all Warriors are even human
The Role of Special Rules
So having defined the three ways you can have special rules in the game illustrate how much they affect how the game is played.   I feel at times they go way beyond giving the game flavor to where they do create an advantage during certain conditions.  The special rules do accomplish one thing; it prevents the game turning into a contest of “Rock, Paper Scissors” where everything is equal and it’s up to a die roll (luck) to settle things.
One thing I will say is that remembering all of the special rules available to you does cause some issues.  I can recall many times where I forget to Stormtrooper or apply a special rule that would have given me a distinct advantage.  Special rules to make the game more complex and with that complexity it makes playing the game a bit harder.

As an American player I think Stormtrooper is the most under-pointed, most powerful special rule in the game.  Mostly because you do not pay for it.  It is absolutely free and it allows "more forgiveness for mistakes" as Dirty Jon would say.  You can completely whiff on your shooting and move out of site as to not receive return fire.  Since it is done in the assault step, if an assault fails other units can move forward or back as needed depending on the results of the assault.  I would put this rule up against any rule in the entire game and believe that it would win hands down.  Sorry everyone I just had to get that one out of my system.  The point is most German players would completely disagree with me because of their perspective.  I am going to list later a couple of suggestions at the end of the article how special rules could be amended for the future.
Stormtrooper Special Rule!
So am I against having special rules?  The answer is that it depends.  I do not like special rules that change the base rules (I mentioned the Jumbo’s before, warrior re-roll for reserves), or when a special rule can be used to nullify rules another lists use.  I do think the amount of special rules is close to becoming too much and perhaps with Version 4 they can be limited, used in certain situations only, or available for purchase on a specific list.  I noticed that in Team Yankee that they have not run amuck with tons of special rules that unbalance or detract from the parity of the game.

This guy would like the Time Machine Special Rule too!
If I could have a special rule it would be “Time Machine” where I can go back in time and have this article come out before my Meta piece.  I was developing both drafts at the same time and if this article preceded the other with a re-definition of what “Meta” means when heard in the Flames of War community would have made my points better understood.

 I would like to note that regardless of examples we put forth here, there will be multiple counter points and examples that can be found to anything we have said.  I do not believe anyone knows every special rule for every unit in the game because there are just too many.  My final opinion of special rules is that they should be "special" and not such an integral part of every new release.  I am fine with a few special National rules.  These add a bit of flavor and variety to the game as well as a uniqueness to different countries.  If there are no NSR's at all then the game quickly becomes very bland.  So many special rules and warriors with special rules have come out that individually they are not too bad and can add a neat perspective and feel on the game.  The biggest problem is when special rules start being combined with each other and then you throw warriors in the mix it can be not only overpowering, but overwhelming to the average player who is not aware of what these combos can do. 

This next part needs to be addressed.  The troubling question that has arisen in multiple conversations is "Does Battlefront make special rules to sell particular models?"  That I can not answer, because I am not on the BF team and have never actually heard that verified.  It certainly seems that way sometimes and if it is true it would be truly disheartening.  I like to caution myself in that thinking because I am cognizant of the fact that when we see something silly like the German Armored Ambushing Invisible train we can jump to conclusions of Battlefront doing something nefarious without us having the facts.  If these special rules were always a way to sell models one would think that they would be more of a game changer and a "must have" kind of unit to have, especially on the tournament/competitive side of Flames of War. 

For the current iteration of Flames of War I would like to see national rules be the only special rules used for tournament play.  In regards to all other special rules AND warriors I would like us to only game with them in themed tournaments, games or events when it is mutually agreed on by the players.  This prevents special rules for Nationality, units and warriors from stacking which can not only be overwhelming, but sometimes just down right annoying.

In the future I would like to see a limited number of special rules for Nationalities.  I do ardently believe that there should  be that special flavor for each country.  However, in place of unique special abilities for every other list or unit that is released I would suggest there would be a list of special rules that can be applied to units in the game.  We can not ignore some units in the war just did extraordinary things on the battlefield so they have to be represented somehow and as I said earlier should be a cost associated with them.  Not all units will have them and they will not be a player option to add them to their list, but would be assigned to them when the book comes out and they would be generic enough to be applied to any country.  My thought is they would be like special character traits in a roleplaying game.  In the rulebook a list of special rules is listed (and I would like to put a note here that in my mind they would be a strictly limited number) that are clearly listed on one page.  These rules are characteristics and traits that certain units can have regardless of Nationality, but again this way a point cost could be associated with them, which in itself provides a bit more balance.

So lastly do we need special rules and warriors to add variety and flavor to the game?  The answer is
"yes", but we are at a special rule overload right now and changes definitely need to be made in the future to tone down these rules in the future.

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