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Monday, August 29, 2016

FOW: After Open Fire - Part 1

If you’ve recently purchased an Open Fire starter box for Flames of War (FOW), and are trying to figure out your next steps, you might be a bit overwhelmed by now. What to purchase next? Which army should I collect first? How do I paint all of this?

Don’t panic!
Just like the cover of the infamous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, these words are there to comfort you. If you’re reading this article, you’ve taken a good first step in your quest to become a table-top general to rival Rommel, Patton, or Monty. You’ve found Best yet, no towel required for this game (unless you’re hanging out with a guy named Zaphod Beeblebrox). 

First, you’ve got a lot of learning to do. There are two basic types of Open Fire purchasers: The Newbie to Wargaming, and the experienced wargame player.  This piece will be geared toward the new wargamer, although some of the links I provide here may be new to even experienced players who haven’t yet learned to play FOW. But, where to start?

Where to begin? If you've played a demo event, like this one - where Able Kompanie members (in khaki shirts) "Bofors" Dave Cuthbert (left) and "FlammPanzer" Ron Hanson (center) help players learn the basic rules in their club's Stalingrad introductory game at GenCon - this article can give some guidance on your next steps to get into the Flames of War hobby.
  • Blogs: The best two places to start are the already mentioned, along with the FOW official site. There are, also, more independent blogs about this game than a German Field Marshall can shake his baton at. Google the name of the game, and you'll find plenty of blogs.
  • Forums: You can investigate both the WWPD Forum and the FOW Official Forums. Other wargaming communities as well, may have sections devoted to FOW, or at least to WWII era topics. Model painting forums are good examples of where you can see excellent (and not so good) examples of painting larger versions of the tiny models we play with.
  • Video: As you see links in the various blogs and forums, you’ll find your way into the labyrinth of painting or training videos on YouTube. One caveat here - start with the official Flames of War - Open Fire Boot Camp videos. Phil is the grand poobah of FOW and gives a very good intro to the rules in those videos. Or, check out Tracy George’s training videos. Some of the other videos that claim to cover the rules try to do good, but have some glaring rules errors in their videos. Be sure to read the comments on any video covering rules or tactics. If the producers of the video have committed a faux pax, knowledgeable players will let them know. 
  • PodCasts: That’s one of the areas is famous for. There are several podcasts linked at the top of this page. Don’t be overwhelmed by these, though. I’d recommend saving them for later. Become familiar with the game first, learn the rules by reading and watching videos. Use podcasts to listen to while you’re working on painting your Soviet Strelk Horde.
Find a Gaming Group
I know, easier said than done, right? 

Actually, not really. Gaming groups are usually located at the independent friendly game store where you purchased the Open Fire boxed set. Ask the cheery face behind the counter about finding other players. 

Members of the Able Kompanie group in Indianapolis play at a variety of locations around the city. If a game store sells a product line, such as Flames of War, they will usually try to attract gamers for an evening or weekend of playing. That helps the gamers by giving them a place to play, and helps the store by growing and maintaining interests in their products. Be sure to ask the store clerk when their Flames of War players meet up.

Also, try posting on the appropriate section of the FOW official forum. When I relocated from the midwest of the United States, to California (about 2,000 miles away), that’s where I dropped a post asking my fellow gamers for insights. 

The local groups will have knowledgeable teachers of the game, as well as potential opponents to teach you the ins and outs of how to be a better general of your tiny tin soldiers.


Every gamer needs more toys in their army. Despite your desire to have something, spend some playing with what you've got first. Find out the areas where you lack something specific - do you have a way of smoking your opponent's artillery or big tanks? Do you have a platoon that can hold your own objectives while the rest of the force attacks to take the opponent's objectives? Figure out your basic list, and what it needs. Then expand to the *New SHINY* that you can build another army list around.

Every gamer wants more stuff. That’s why we don’t have as much money as we’d like. It always seems to disappear from our bank accounts every time we visit the game store. But, what to purchase next? This is where it get’s tricky. Your eye sees the *New SHINY* - but is that what the new player needs? Yes you do (don’t worry, we’ve got your back on that purchase excuse) - but not right away. There are other bits and pieces you should look at first.

The Rule Book
The Open Fire sets have gone through two “printings.” The earlier print run came with the small “Pocket” version of the main rule book. This is the same as the larger hardcover rulebook, but small enough to keep in your gaming box. The later editions of the box set include a stripped down “basic” version of the rule book. If you get the stripped down version - it’s worth the $10 USD to purchase a real one.

The Pocket Sized main Rule Book no longer comes as part of the Open Fire boxed set, but can be ordered from your local game store for $10 USD. A trip to the office store will get it spiral bound and the covers laminated for an additional $10-15 (approximately)

The hardcover rulebook comes in “printings” as well. Both are the same edition, but the later printing has had most of the errata corrected. You can tell this by opening it to the National Special Rules toward the back. Turn to the US section, pages 238-9. If you see two photos, one on the bottom of each of those pages, you’ve got the older version (1st print run). New version has one large photo, instead. No problem. You’ll just need to spend a little time with the errata.

Yep. Like any other game with a large set of rules, things do get missed, or wording parallels in different sections don’t always get cleaned up to match each other. Errata in a game is a fact of life.

For the beginning player, the rule book is good enough, no matter which version (small or hardback) you get. You can stick with the stripped down basic rules from the Open Fire set at first,for the first few games with your mates around the kitchen table. You don’t even need to read the big version right away. Unless you’re an engineer. I’ve known too many engineers (and accountants, and a few other numbers based analytical based professions) to know that they HAVE to read the entire rule book, including the copyright page, and the index, and all errata before rolling their first die. 

But, what if you’re not an engineer, but you want your rules to be 100 percent correct right now? Don’t worry. It’s in a document called Lessons from the Front. The first part of the pdf is answering questions, and clarifications. 

Whenever I alter the rule book according to the official errata, I make sure to note on that page where the change comes from (usually from the PDF of "Lessons from the Front").

I spent some time with the errata, and made an entry on each page in the book where errata is needed. If it was an easy fix, such as deleting a word, or adding a phrase, I made the correction. For longer changes to the wording, I made a note in the margin next to the rule to “check LFTF.” The key here is to make sure you label each change as coming from LFTF. Then be sure to drop a copy of the errata into your gaming box. That way, if you’re questioning an opponent's understanding of the rules, you have the source to refer to.

One Ring (or string of) to Bind them All
One final suggestion on the rule book: get it spiral bound. Find your local office supply store or print shop. See if they can do a spiral bind on it. They’ll need to trim the glued spine off of the book, then punch and bind the pages together. Many such shops can also laminate the front and back covers as part of this process. All together, I paid about $12 USD to get my book bound and laminated. This helps the book lay flat, you won’t lose pages as easy. Trust me, with a rule system this big, crammed into that teeny-tiny little book, it will get well used. Like any other tool, the more you invest in keeping it in working order, the longer it will last.

Coming in Part 2: We’re only about half-done with what the new FOW player needs to look at, and we haven’t even got you buying and painting miniatures yet. Next part we’ll cover more basic items to get for your gaming bag or box, and look at some things to consider as you make that initial decision on which nation’s army to begin collecting. Don’t worry, you’re not limited to just one nation for your collection. But, you have to start somewhere.

Troy recently relocated from crossroads of America, and home of Able Kompanie – Indianapolis Indiana in the USA — to the “Western Front” of North America — Los Angeles California. He is a long time gamer, having dabbled in almost every type of gamer-crack. His small claim to fame is editing a Forgotten Realms supplement, “FR-16 The Shining South” back when TSR still existed.

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