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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My Impressions of Version 4: An Editorial

Let me start off with a few disclaimers; if you have not listened to Episodes 10, 11 & 12 of the Why We Fight Podcast you may be confused by some of the things I plan to bring up in this article. Even a cursory listen will help you, or if you read any of the detailed breakdown of the WWF in places like the WWPD forums you will have a better understanding of some of the changes and my impressions of Version 4 of Flames of War. Now a second disclaimer, this article offers my opinion which is based on my reading of the rules and play testing them over the last few months. This opinion is not influenced by any relationship we here at WWPD have with Battlefront. In the past I feel I have called out things I do not agree with enough to call myself impartial. The final disclaimer is that my opinion is based on the draft we received from Battlefront which converts the Early and Late War into Version 4. Things often change from the draft to the final version and often we are not privy to this. I can point out to the issue I had with the T-55AM2 stats in Volks-Armee just last month.

I was not very vocal about the fact that I felt that Flames of War was getting stale.  I was not as active in the tournament scene in 2015-2016 as I was in years past and did not look to play the game outside of tournaments.  It’s not that the game was bad, it was that very little was changing.  A lot of this is self-induced, I played the game a lot when I first got into it, and collected army after army in all three of the time periods the game covers.  So call it burnout or staleness I just wasn’t getting the same enjoyment as before.  I was not alone, I have noticed a shift in the FoW “old guard’ in my area, even this web page, once totally devoted to FoW now covers all aspects of the gaming community.

When Team Yankee was announced I was not 100% thrilled, which I was vocal about.  Having seen so many modern miniature war games fail to capture a large ground swell I doubted that this new game would be anything special.  I also used some confirmation bias to protect myself when I made claims that modern war should be fought in 6mm and that the 15mm scale was unrealistic.  Then I played it and realized how it just worked at 15mm, and the rules were tight.  So I was not a fan until I tried it, and once I did I became hooked.

Over the last few months I have done some soul searching as to why I play certain games and why I pass on others.  I really was surprised with what I came up with when trying to answer this; and this is what I came up with.
  • Community:  Is the game popular enough to grow an active community that plays the game on a regular basis? It sucks to invest in a game that few play; having spent time building my FoW Great War forces and fielding a whole British Napoleonic army for Napoleon at War, I realized that no matter how great the rules are, if folks aren’t playing it, I won’t get to play it much either.
  • Tight Rules:  This is related to community since games with obvious flaws will not become popular.  I need logical rules that make sense and that I can explain to others without them scratching their head as to why the rules do not make sense.  With this I would add historical accuracy; do the rules put things in play that are counter to history?
  • Availability: Can I find all of the assets I need for this game to play it?  Without the toys, you cannot play the game, I think this one is simple to understand.
  • Fun: While many would think this would be number one on the list; it shouldn’t be for a few good reasons.  Enjoyment is a sliding scale that changes through time and environment. As I opened up this article, I admitted that FoW is not as fun as it used to be, however because of the community (I love you guys) and the fact that the rules are good and that I own so many armies I continue to play.  We play these games because we have fun playing them, not because they are fun in themselves.  I know that is deep, but I know many of you are tracking what I am saying.
  • Aesthetics: It was hard to not include this one no matter how hard I tried to deny it.  Do the models look cool?  Does the printed rule book have great pictures in it? Can I do creative things with the models when I paint it?  Naval gaming is fun for those who have tried it, but the models lack sex appeal and few of the rules books have a cover that grabs you.
I could have put down “interests” however this is just not true most of the time.  I love history, yet I got into Malifaux for the above reasons; since Sci-Fi and fantasy are not my things.  Perhaps you can use both Star Wars X-Wing and Armada as examples too, they are not in my ally, yet I love these games.

Last thing I want to explain before I get into V4 are my thoughts on V3 and impressions I have of it.  I never played the first two versions of FoW so I do not know the problems with the game before I got into it.  In my time playing V3 I have heard many folks bash aspects of the game.  The biggest one is the lack of opportunity fire; who many argue makes the game unrealistic.  I would say that the game has it when it matters (Defensive Fire in Assaults), and that if FoW had it, the game would take forever to play.  Sure the game is unrealistic, and short of getting a time machine and going back to 1939 and enlisting would any game be a real simulation of WWII? With this said is the game realistic enough, and I think many of you would agree it is.  Would 3 Tigers crush a column of Cromwell tanks that start a game bailed out? This actually happened and the game would have the same results, however for balance some things are changed to make the game playable. The rules, no matter what we think of them, is one thing we have to accept in order to enjoy playing it with a community.  So while V3 was not perfect, I was not hoping that V4 would make the game more realisitc where it becomes impossible to play.

I cannot capture in words my feelings when I saw the draft of V4.  After telling folks it was not going to be Team Yankee I was disappointed that it took many things from that game (ego, hate looking like a liar).  I did even think during the first 24 hours that Battlefront had broken the game.  However after I re-read it, and talked Tarzan off the ledge, I started to accept it.  I realized that some of the things that made Team Yankee slick were changed and brought into V4.  However I think playing it a few times made me realize how total the change to game was and I was very excited about it.  After the playtest, I told the others involved how we have not talked about the game this much in years.
What changed?  Looking at the text of V4 you cannot see it; however the way in which we play the game has totally changed. After the test I told Luke and Eric, if you approach the game as something totally new you will like it.  If you approach it with how you PLAYED V3 you will think it has been trashed.  The basics of the game; pushing around lead and plastic to win a mission are unchanged, however the way in which we built forces, and used them in the game is way different.  Playing to force a Company Morale Check on your opponent is gone.  When we saw the “Good Spirits” rules, we all immediately thought that a huge Soviet blob could not be broken in V4.  I will say that is true, however you do not win why breaking your enemy, you win by beating them and that is what V4 brings back to the gamer.  If that huge Soviet blob sits back (or if anyone sits back), they will see nothing but ties in the Mobile Battles and Fair Fights.  With the points for wining being increased, this blob winning just a defensive battle and tying the other two will place them at the bottom of any tournament final standings.  The fact that nothing can guarantee that you will defend or attack in each mission like in the past, it makes how you build your force a different animal.  So my British Infantry lists that have to defend and which I can opt for a night attack at times is now replaced with a force that has to be able to be strong at both holding an objective as well as taking one.  So when you read the rules you will (as we did) think that the Strelk or Tankovy are unbeatable, I would caution a player from making these separate lists, since they now must combine the two into one force which is now an option with multiple formations in V4.   One of our play testers commented after the game that hard to kill tanks (big cats) just got harder to kill with the new artillery rules.  My response was simple “correct, so now you will have to rely on skill”.  Which I mean your skill as a player, and your skill in knowing what your weapons can and cannot do.  I thought arty taking out big tanks was one of the logical problems of the game, which has now been taken out.  Arty cannot kill any tank with a top armor of 2 in the game, they can only bail them; which seems consistent with the reality we saw in WWII. We did a play test made up of a Big-Cat list that ruled tournaments in 2015 and early 2016. Even in the hands of a seasoned Big-Cat player, it did not win.

The V4 has taken static defense and winning by forcing a morale check out of the game and now forces you to use the new rules which accent mobility into figuring away to beat your opponent.  So in one revision, Battlefront has taken the calculus we used in V3 and thrown it away and will force us to play this game with a better appreciation of tactics as they are represented in in the game.  This will benefit the game in many ways; first of all no matter how well we played V3, we have to use our forces differently, so we are starting out at the same level when V4 is released.  Does this mean that I will finally beat Ron Wismer in game, probably not, however I am excited on how Ron will use his forces with the new rules, and I bet he is too.

Subtle rule changes really will have an effect on the game.  The fact that taking a 9th platoon doesn’t give you a free one to lose and the fact that you can now lose a platoon without a point penalty will lead to players becoming more aggressive.  Speaking of the points, the lowest score you can get in a win is 6 points while the loser can get only 3 points is a huge change.  The moral victory of coming out at the bad end of a 3-4 game now has real consequences in standings.  Ties or really timed out games become more of a loss than a non-win, so from just these rules changes it is easy to see how much the game has shifted.

So what has V4 really done to us?  It has pulled our community (#1 reason above) out of the stale rock paper scissors’ game that V3 had become, and breathed new life into our game.  I once claimed the game had no “Meta” however whatever Meta it did have is now gone, and we have two choices now stop playing, or develop new tricks for old models.  The gamer in me is ready and excited for the challenge.

One of the responsibilities I have taken on as a writer for WWPD is to gauge what the community thinks and write about it.  In three years of talking with you and writing articles I am no closer in figuring out what gamers think; however in this case I can take my reactions and apply it to our community.  The first reaction will be outrage to some of the individual rules changes; this will be seen on the forums since most of the comments posted tend to trend negatively now.  They will see their favorite tree getting cut and will feel offended, however they may not see how the forest has changed. We also resist change; I was not a Team Yankee fan at first and I wrote that the game “was not my cup of tea”.  I explained above why I did this, and now realize that I pushed away because of very simple reasons.  I didn’t want to buy a whole new army let alone paint it, and if I did all of that and liked the game I may not have a community to play with.  I do not feel that the changes in V4 warrant those feelings, they are going to let us play with our old toys and give us the rules for free.  After the initial shock I will echo what Pete said in his interview “give it a try”.  Folks who come to me and say they hate Team Yankee always get the same question from me; “Have you tried it?”  If their answer is “No” I have to be honest, I stop listening while feigning interest in the points you make.  Give it a shot before you comment is my takeaway here.

So what do I like about V4 aside from changing the Meta? 
I love the fact that we can now have multiple formations.  This opens up the game immensely and lets us take more of the toys we love and less of the toys we feel we have to take.  The old list check of having recon and a template weapon for smoke is gone, and let’s be frank here.  We included those because of the game mechanics, not because it’s how WWII was fought.  Now we can make a force based on tactical decisions, like how well will this force attack or defend.  I have played around with V4 lists and they seem to top out at 5 units in 2 formations.  Infantry to defend and tanks to attack, with one support weapon, and those can be cheap mortars now.  I may throw in some scouts for a spearhead, however that may not be as important now. Overall I think this gives forces more flavor; however this is a flavor of my choosing when the historical framework of the game allows it.
Artillery has been historically balanced.  Any accounts of WWII I have read always mention mortar fire and how deadly it was.  This was never the case in FoW and I am glad it’s changed.  Re-rolls for saves for repeat bombardments are genius, no matter how deep your trenches, you will not sit back and take fire for very long.  The fact you now use a target point rather than a unit is also more tactically accurate and nice to have in the game.

The game also now makes it hard to break an enemy’s force.  I hated sitting back and watching my opponent throw their force against me until they reach 50% and run away.  I always felt that this was a cheap way to win since it is based on how the dice roll vice any skill I have.  Yes, companies will break, but not as often as before.

AT Guns now matter; with the 3+ save they are no longer an easy kill and you may even use them at range before your enemy closes in. 

National rules better balanced. This will also be mentioned in the section of what I do not like as well.  I have played with US Tank Destroyer special rule and I have felt it was a bit “gamey”.   I know it was based on US doctrine, however I never took books on doctrine with me when I deployed; and as an American I am bound to never follow doctrine.  It may also make many of the nationalities more easily playable for us.  Since the learning curve between how you would play an American list vice a German one is now shallower.

I also love the fact that the attacker gets to place hits.  This gives you the chance to kill what you want to kill.

Stuff I just don’t know about.
Let me start off with one thing I do not like at all and it will make you laugh.  The Annihilation mission which I hope tournament organizers treat like Cauldron and Surrounded.  The mission may be good to teach someone the game, but it nullifies all of the rules which make V4 more tactically challenging. It made me question some of the thought process I put into the overall changes to the game.

National rules better balanced.  Ok here is my counter point.  What made the Germans unique was things like Mission Tactics and Stormtrooper; which everyone now has it in some respects.  So the rules that gave forces so much flavor are not as stark as in the past.  I will have to see how this effects the game as I play test it more.

The War against the Re-Roll.  I noticed that many of the re-rolls are now gone, or they have become die roll modifiers.  So protected ammo gives you a +1 on your roll instead of the chance to re-roll a failed attempt. This one is personal, I may not remember the DRMs as well as I did what I was allowed to re-roll.

More multi-phase stat tracking:  This may not be a big issue to some or in how we create lists for V4, but now we have conditions that last multiple phases that we have to track.  In V3 the only things that effected a unit from phase to phase is if they are pinned down, dug in, or gone to ground.  All of that had markers for us to track.  Now we have to remember what units failed (or succeeded) a Blitz or a Follow Me movement order in the shooting phase because it now matters.  While we had to do this before, it was only in things like figuring out who moved for figuring out RoF.  Players forget things, sometimes even by accident, and this may cause problems.  Also many folks bunch stands from different platoons up without marking them, so they may lose track of status.  I am not saying folks cheat, but I have seen a tank be a member of two separate platoons in one turn before.
V3 Slip:  I saw this a lot when I started playing.  I got into the game when V3 was released and many players kept drifting back into V2.  This also made my learning curve as a new player harder since I didn’t know the difference and I thought many of the V2 rules were still in V3 because my opponent swore that it did.  I dread the first V4 tournament I have to go to; many players unaccustomed to the rules will take a long time to play their first few games.  They will also show up with lists built with a V3 mentality that will not fare so well in V4.  I figure I stopped hearing about V2 after V3 was out for 18 months, and expect the same here at the very least.

I know what some of you are saying; why recon isn’t on the list isn’t since it was a huge change?  Let’s be frank, we took recon because of the mechanics as much as we did to remove gone to ground.  Eyes and Ears was important; it was impossible to hit veterans who are concealed and gone to ground over 16” because you would need a 7.   Well the fact that you can now roll for a 7 doesn’t change things too much, but the need to remove GTG may not be such a big thing.   The changes to arty makes the need to remove GTG less of a factor since you pick a point and not a unit.  Removing GTG for guns was a huge deal because it changed your gun saves from a 5+ to a 3+; now with the 3+ save players will shoot these guys at longer range and they should not be GTG most of the time.   If your enemy wants to camp and stay GTG, fine.  Just roll out your mortar battery which can now actually kill something and have them stay put, for the attacker it’s a much better effect.  Also, the Eyes and Ears didn’t seem realistic to me, so you can see one stand at the edge of terrain and by a die roll the whole unit is now visible.  Recon was good in WWII, but not that good.

So this will make one of my longest articles I have written for the blog.  However I wanted to give you my thoughts and what I went through as I read over the rules.  Think of this as more of an editorial more than an article. So pick up the rules, go through the process I did, and I will see you on a table in the near future!


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