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Monday, February 27, 2017

Flames of War: Version 4 for Early/Late War, Rules Preview

Now that we have taken care of all of the Mid-War releases for Version 4, it is now time to turn our attention to something I am excited for, which is the EW/LW update to V4. For those who have been following my coverage may be thinking, what a hypocrite, he blasted MW V4, let likes it for EW/LW. First of all I do think we have two related but vastly different games here, and I feel after you have taken time to compare the two, and perhaps play them you will see the difference as well. Despite my praise I do feel gamers will have some issues with some of the concepts that have changed from Version 3. This article is the first of a series that will cover the V4 EW/LW rules, the next article will cover the Special and National Rules from this book and from the Special Rules book.
The new rules come in two books; the first are the core rules which comes out to 109 pages and is a standalone set of rules not a translation of the V3 rules for V4, so you do not have to keep referring back to V3. The other book, which covers Special Rules and Warriors is not a standalone book, and serves to translate, amend, and update the info from all of the previous EW/LW intelligence briefs to V4, so you will need to refer back to the original book.

Both books will be given to you free if you present a copy of the V3 book, and even that simple statement has led to many questions of the forums. So why have two books for the V4 rules? It goes back to what I stated above, they are different games now. All of the rules that dealt with things like warrior teams, pioneers, flame throwers, etc. are not out of the MW version of the game, so why have it the rules since they are no longer applicable. Also, the deep and interesting lists, with their unique special rules are unchanged and are no long comparable to the mid war game. Another big difference between the two is that MW will have a different point scale and use cards for players to keep track of their forces vice using lists.

The V4 rules book looks a lot like the V3 book we were all used to and the book starts off with showing the player what has changed from V3. One of the biggest change here is how gun teams have lost their command stands and staff teams, followed by how transport teams behave in the game now and the limitation to one artillery observer per side. Before the rules delve into the mechanics of each phase in a turn, it does touch on how players can now field multiple formations in the game. This is explained in greater detail at the end of the book and I will discuss it in greater depth later.
The next section of the book explains how the ratings system for motivation and skill from V3 remain unchanged.

The section on terrain that follows does have examples of how terrain has become simplified in V4, however they are more fully talked about in the section on Shooting.

Movement in the game has drastically changed from V4. All of the movement listed in previous Arsenals have been scrapped for a uniform movement standard. Units can either move tactically and shoot, or use one of 3 types of dashes where shooting is sacrificed for greater mobility.
As you can see infantry got faster and fast tanks got slower.

Bogging is now gone and has been replaced by taking a skill check to cross certain types of rough terrain. If you fail you have to stop at the edge of the terrain you were trying to cross. No other status changes occur.

Command distance plays a bigger role in the game now and this section is a bit more detailed than V3. Units must stay within 6” regardless of skill of their unit leader to be in command (8” for large units). This cohesion is important when giving movement orders or taking a last stand check.

Mentioning movement orders, they have come over from Team Yankee and are now in V4 of Flames of War. Players will have the option of 5 movement orders that take place at different time during the game turn.

Perhaps the biggest change here is that the shooter now gets to pick where the hits fall. This is a great change and now a player can pick out those nasty bazooka or Panzerfaust teams. While the defender can force a change with the “Mistaken Target” rule, it does alter some of the games calculus. Now a required roll of 7 or 8 can happen in the game, so a player can hope for some lucky shots that can wear down an enemy.

Now tanks/unarmored vehicles can now fire either its main weapon or all of its MGs during a turn is a change. Much like before, one MG gets a RoF of 3 and each additional MG can add one to this total.

Another thing players should look at when playing V4 is how the concealment rules work a bit differently than in V3. The pictures on pages 29-31 explain this very well and it will become second nature in no time.

The other major change is that most Guns and Heavy Weapons now save on a 3+ as do passengers in vehicles. In the past these all saved on a 5+, which gave teams a short life expectancy on the table in the past. This does change a lot for us, we will not use our AT guns more often and we may keep our infantry in vehicles longer. Now that vehicle attachments no longer need to have teams in them, the Kangaroo now becomes a much better investment for the British forces.

The last interesting change in this section is how flamethrowers can be used multiple times, instead of one flame attack and then removing them from the table. Flame attacks still pin the defender, and they are treated as “Breakthrough Guns” which means that defenders re-roll successful saves. Flamethrowers will retain their current RoF (full RoF when moving too), however the AT rating is now a 2 with a firepower of 1+.

Before I get to the massive changes here, I want to tell you how aircraft are more woven into the shooting and artillery rules. I think this makes them easier to use however as I will explain below, they do not have that hard-kill ability they had before.

The rules for artillery have been overhauled and arty now acts as WWII arty. In V3 arty wasn’t really OP, however it was often used to take on hard to kill tanks. This is just not historical and was not as effective against tanks as the game would have you believe.
So what are the changes?
  • Only one spotter per force
  • No more command or staff teams
  • No positive effects of having more than a 5 gun battery
  • Tube artillery can only generate one 6” x 6” template
  • Fire can be directed to a point on the table as opposed to a team
  • Danger close added, now you have to be 4” away from the arty template, 8” for a template being dropped by aircraft
  • All artillery teams automatically drop a “Ranged In” marker, including rockets
  • Repeat bombardments require infantry and gun teams to re-roll successful saves
  • One smoke bombardment per game per unit
  • AT rating lowered and Firepower increased on all guns
  • Roll to-hit based on skill ratings of target teams
  • Spotters can spot for more than one battery per turn if they succeed at their first or second attempt to range in

These are big changes and are long overdue. To be frank I was hoping that all field artillery would be removed from the game and would become an off-board asset. This move would have had many players freaking out that their arty parks are now worthless. However with the change in stats, weapons platoon level mortars (60mm, 8cm, and 3-Inch) are now lethal and we may see a shift away from players taking big and expensive batteries of tube artillery.

Rockets got a huge boost.  They can fire a double wide or a pie plate template, however they may have to re-roll hits depending on how many actual weapons are shooting. So that 3-gun Nebelwefer battery that never costs over 100 points is now one of the best guns in the game. The new rules also mean that all of those old man-packed gun mortar teams have a bigger role in the game (and at 3+ save, they live longer too).  I think the days of the arty park may be over; maybe.

This section is proof that less is more. When you first read this section you will feel that little has changed, which is not true. First of all, you need to really set up the assault the turn before you attack since the rules on who can assault are more restrictive.

Defensive fire is also a bit different and an attacker can be a bit more creative to reduce the amount of shots they take as they go into the assault.

Infantry swinging against tanks can either hit side (with full AT) or top with its assault AT rating. This is a big change because a Panzerfaust team now auto-bails every tank with a side armor of 5 or less.

Small teams with 2 or less figures have a +1 to-hit penalty in assault. This hurts those 2-man bazooka and PIAT teams that the Allies have.
Did you notice that Tank Terror is gone? I am sure they can bring it back if folks complain about it.

The rumors of how morale works in V4 have cause so much concern to a lot of the players if you listen to what is posted on the forums. Morale is much more forgiving in V4 and this will certainly change how the game is changed. Now called “Good Spirits”, the picture below shows the conditions on when a unit has to take a morale check.

Units will only have to check for “Good Spirits” in the starting step of each turn, after they have rolled to remount bailed out tanks. So instead of checking after each phase the morale condition exists, you only check once per turn. However, once your unit checks, unless they can re-generate stands or vehicles, they will have to check every subsequent turn no matter what. So hiding a weak platoon is no longer an option. Also, sneaking that unit with only one stand left off the table is not allowed.
Before you yell “foul” as you think of a Soviet blob or an ARP, give the rules a good look. You will see occasions where a large formation will have a lot of teams out of command, and since you can pick where your hits go, you can try to get creative with this. Also note that attachments do not count towards the platoon total, but will have to run if the owning platoon fails its last stand check.
On paper this really sounds like large units may become the new “Meta”, however in actuality that is really not the case. We play tested an EW game with Japanese F/V infantry vs. a German Panzer unit. The size difference of the two forces are considerable, however with the new scoring system and the fact that most scenarios will not let you sit back means I had to attack with my huge infantry units and I got clobbered. In fact these huge units, sitting in defense are very beatable with patience and a small unit of mortars. Whittle them down and assault them, it’s easier than you think when you have played it out on a table.

So it will be harder to cause a unit to break; which means it is that much tougher to make a force break. Looking at the rules below you can see that winning by forcing a morale check is not something you can count on any more.

I am going to skip topics like armored trains since Steve MacLauchlan no longer plays the game, and fortifications (which covers mines, booby traps, engineering equipment, AVRE, barricades and bunkers) and go right to missions before I return to the special rules.

Another section that had some big changes from V3. First of all who attacks in the game is either decided upon or rolled off because we “Always Attacks” and “Always Defends” lists are gone. This means that you have to now build a force that can both attack and defend. So those 9 platoon all infantry force that we all toy with at times (1st AB list from Market Garden with Frost was mine) is not a viable option in V4.

The scoring system is also changed and it puts the onus on a player to actually use aggressive tactics rather than to wear their opponent down risking a tie. You also may now lose a platoon for “free” in the new system as well.

What folks do not like is how in a tournament a loss in an early round is something you may never recover from in a 3 round tournament. This may be true, a loss or a tie may kill a players chances; however I want to see how this plays out once V4 hits the streets. This was one area I wish the devs put some real imagination in and perhaps came up with a LGS scoring systems and one just for tournaments. I developed and posted an alternate scoring system for tournaments where you can actually 1-N rank any number of players at a three game event.

Reserves are also different and they go by a percentage of the points in your force. This will force some of us to do public math and sorry folks, you cannot split a unit to make the points work.
In this section you will find two things I hate; the first is the Strategic Reserves rules, which from my past experience this past weekend at a GW tournament is confusing for players and the Annihilation Mission where the winner is the last man standing. However the other 9 basic and 4 additional missions should be familiar to most of us who have played V3 or Team Yankee.

The Learning Curve
In this article I picked out some of the major changes from V3 and by no means did I cover everything. We still have special rules and formation building to get through in next two articles, which also adds to the list of what has changed.  As with anything new, a learning curve is established and when I got into this game V3 was just released and many players were still stuck thinking about V2 rules.

So here are some tips on how to approach V4 based on what we experienced.
  • Remember the first time you get the books in hand you really will not read the book, you will skim it, picking out certain rules which may be out of context, or you will search for a specific rule you heard a rumor about. After doing this you will throw down the book, post a rant on a forum, and look to sell you stuff.
  • After you do the above, READ the book cover to cover. Will it change how you feel from step 1 above? Not really. After you read it, go to your LGS and plan the bonfire for collection.
  • The next AM, read the book again, cover to cover with V3 open. Compare and contrast the rules between the two versions. Many players do not know all the rules or have learned the game incorrectly. Your second reading will show how the rule changes effect the entire game, you can figure out what is new, what changed for balanced purposes, etc. By doing this with V3 open, you will then realize that some of the concepts that you thought were changed were not, but clarified in V4. After this you can call your LGS and cancel the bonfire.
  • Your nest step can be too independently set up a small table and go over some of the rules step by step with a platoon or two. This will show you how some of the individual mechanics work. Do this a few times going over the different steps of the game. After doing this you can edit or retract your forum post.
  • Schedule a play test with some players who are not only skilled players, but are fair minded. You do not want conformation bias to ruin your test. As you test it, get a third person to read the rules verbatim as they come up, then come to a consensus on how they should be interpreted and move on to the next step.
  • I would then schedule another play test using different forces and see if they effect the balance. It took us at least two playtests to assuage our fears and change our first impressions on when we first skimmed the game.
Liking V4 is a personal decision and will be based on many factors which are going to be unique for each of us. A set of rules is not like a bible where any transgression from established canon will dealt with harshly. Think of rules more as a language where different people can play a game with a basic framework and understanding of key concepts. If your local group wants to keep playing V3, that is fine by me; however once that decision is made, you have no requirement to declare it to community. We will  mourn your departure from the game more if done in quiet protest.

As for blasting Battlefront as many have, you have to understand they are a business and like my favorite line in New Jack City… “It's always business. Never personal”. So they did not make these changes to personally upset you and your local gaming group.

In fact, as someone who analyzes the business aspect of gaming, I am surprised they are looking to make a new version at this time. They could have exploited Team Yankee for another 1-2 years since that was such a surprise hit. They also could have invested more into the “Tanks” line which seems to be doing well, as well as exploit their other successful games while keeping V3 in a “care taker” status, or perhaps re-releasing North Afrika and Eastern Front for V3 and dedicating more to the Pacific in 2017. Time will tell if this pays off.

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