There has been much discussion about the new Flames of War 4th Edition that has recently come out. The waves it has made in the wargaming community have been mixed to say the least. Since the first game in the desert that our gaming group was reviewing, I decided to see how I would feel about it in my first game. I cannot say it is going to be very positive, but will try to weight it out in categories: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Only we will not have Clint Eastwood chiming in!
The game we play tested were a German Panzer Company (Formation) versus a British Infantry Company (Formation). Now, playing this game, I had no intentions on winning. I have not won a game of Flames of War against my opponent, Hugh ever! We do not play against each other enough to make it a goal of mine. Hugh had picked the forces in advance, because anyone one who has seen my terrible rolling knows that I would never take Reluctant anything, especially, Reluctant Veteran Germans. These were against Confident Veteran British in the most defensible board ever for infantry. I somehow had forgot to take a photo of the whole board while over at his house. Rivers, hedgerows, a large village, woods, and wheat fields covered a good 80%. So with all of this failure potential stacked against me, you could say that things could have influence my opinion. However, this is not the case, because it was good for testing out multiple situations that we're uncomfortable to find ourselves in from previous Editions for Flames of War. I even took the liberty of using my most unlucky dice, my Flames of War 9th SS Hohenstaufen dice! Somehow, they rolled 50% better than all the other games they were used in. It must be because they were rolled for the first time, since 2011! Let us press on to the game!
We ended up playing the Rearguard mission which is pretty much the replacement to Fighting Withdraw. The difference was that there were now only two objectives, instead of three, and they all stayed on the table. This does not warrant spread out forces or causing much thinking for the placement of the defender's forces. Also, for every 750 points, the defender gets a free minefield. This is clearly a ploy for Battlefront to push minefields sales. I imagine they will lower the minefield points when they reissue the Late War and Early books, since the Desert Mid-war books have lower points. Despite all of the terrain, you cross linear terrain and similar types on a skill test. I failed this with my Tigers that never really saw action. I went through the minefield on one side of the river and assaulted. I only killed two stands of infantry. I lost most of the tanks in other assaults due to defensive fire and such. The surprise is that if you are stopped in an assault in defensive fire, you are bailed out of range of the assault, so you don't outright lose them. We had some Typhoons attack my AA armor just to see what would happen. I was able to shoot down one plane. A good change is that the shot down one can not come back any other turn. Otherwise, this was similar to a normal game, but longer and choppy. After this game and much discussion, the following below are my thoughts on 4th Edition.
After playing Flames of War since the 2nd and 3rd Editions, it is hard for me to start with the Good part of playing 4th Edition, so we are skipping to the Bad. One bad part of the new changes with Flames of War are the terms. Right off the bat, the writers decided to change a whole bunch of common terms. Platoons are now Formations. Morale Test is a Last Stand. Good Spirits take over for check morale. These seem like silly complaints, but it makes it a little confusing for veteran players. If you were new to the game, this would not affect you. They also renamed missions. Even if they had changes to them, there was no reason to rename them.
Another thing that seems a bit harder to wrap around are the movements. Blitz Moves, Tactical, Terrain Dash, and Shoot and Scoot. I am sure that this is not as bad as it seems, but it now requires extra rolling. I can see how this will end up adding more marker types to the board to keep track of things. Terrain Dash is suppose to take over for Double Timing in the previous additions, but without the doubled distance. So I can see why it is not called Double timing. Plus, to top all of this, you have a different movement rating if you are not in command distance, which is now based on the commanders location versus the chain linked distance between models. This makes it less flexible to spread out. So we went for two types of moves to four! There does not seem to be a reason for this, since I thought the point of 4th Edition was to streamline some rules.
On a positive light, let us look at the Good. There are several things going well for 4th Edition. One, it is relatively similar to Team Yankee for an easier transition from Modern Warfare to WWII. After all, Team Yankee has a younger customer base, so it does seem logical to interest them into other theaters and eras. Two, they break up static forces from previous editions by making you roll for who is attacking, so you don't look at a force and think I am automatically screwed. This has a double edged sword attached to it! It eliminates some of the redundant stands of infantry like command teams, staff teams, and others that we find we might have forgotten to bring. I forget to bring spotters all of the time. When you play with planes, you get the amount you pay for. No longer are there this amount of points equal one plane once on a turn. If you pay for three planes, three of them show up when they arrive. Planes can be shot down permanently! And they did give out the rules for free and share changes in Late and Early War books that would have been strait out obsolete otherwise. So all of the theater books we have in these periods are good to go with the exception of other Mid-War periods.
Another thing that bothers me are in the shooting step of sniping certain units. You can choose a target to hit first before it is evenly allocated. This can be stopped by the opponent rolling a 3+ to change targets using the "Mistaken Target" rule. This will just slow the game down more to me just like the ability to roll a 7 or 8 on a D6 as a re-roll after a 6 for hitting. Another rules set, Bolt Action, solved this targeting problem with a simple solution of "If you roll a 6, and then, roll another 6, you can choose you target. That could have been simply done. Besides, the opponent still gets a save. And who in their right mind is not going to pick up a Bazooka if a tank is trying to kill you. The previous versions thought this out that someone somewhere was going to try to pick up an AT weapon in the platoon after those guys were dead. The same goes for the player shooting. Of course, they are going to fire at the most potential threat! This is going to result in game micro-managing, even the rule book states that these rules will not be used as often. There must not be smart wargamers? Sure, there were slow lags in the older editions, but this is hardly a way to fix them.
A big wave in the 4th Edition are the introduction to cards. I cannot say that this is entirely bad. There are great games out there that use cards for all aspects of the game. However, I can see how people can get upset easily over this. Now, there are surprises! The negative way I look at it is by an example of the game of Chess. In College, my friend, Berto used to play me in Chess and beat me in 5 minutes on average. He was a speed chess champion of South Carolina one year. He would tell before the game started where I would be checked, how many moves it would take, and where I would end. This only changed if I did something stupid on purpose to prove him wrong. So on his birthday, I bought him a deck of cards called "Nightmare Chess." You could change the rules and results of a normal game when it was your turn. The results were that I still lost, but it now took an average of three hours to do so! The point being is this idea seems to penalize someone's skill with a card that should have just been a luck of the die. There are a bunch of card driven systems that work great. Most games are either all cards or all dice. If a company has to add cards to change up game play to a system that never had them before, the company screwed something up.
Over all, it is a shame that 4th Edition has changed so much from 3rd Edition. It seems like every rule had to be messed with, which is a little much in comparison to the other transitions of editions. I understand that Battlefront is trying to revive sales, but it seems like they ignored the veterans of their games. The argument can be made that the older players have already invested all of their money they planned to spending on their models and that the younger wargamers are the main attraction. Sure, on paper, this always looks nice. However, the counter to that thought is that the veteran players are the ambassadors of the hobby. If you convince them to stop playing your game, your game is not going to get promoted positively. And further more, there are going to be a lot of people selling their models like my wife and I are doing for a friend of ours. He had about $4,000 dollars worth, which is $4,000 Battlefront might not be getting, thus cutting into later profits. It is just a thought.
In conclusion, I am not completely writing off Flames of War. I just do not feel that it has not peaked my interest as the other two editions. Maybe, it will grow on me.