A not so long time ago in a gaming shop not so far away…
It seems longer than 18 months ago that Version 4 of Flames of War made its debut. We had known it was coming for sometime, there had been rumours, pictures, even discussion of the end of the world. However, Version 4 dropped and perhaps wasn’t what a lot of us expected. Now, eighteen months on, this article will look at how its come along and where it is heading.
The reason I felt like writing this was something that occurred to me when building some list ideas for next year’s Mid War ETC. I was playing around with some lists and posting them to my team mates and fellow Breakthrough Assault writers. It then occurred to me that this felt really normal. Perhaps an odd thing to say, but this time last year I think Flames of War was in a tough place. Now I have a wide range of forces and get to debate what infantry force my team should take. Should the Russians go on mass, or would a more experienced and (expensive) hero force with a Storm Group achieve more? Is three Churchill’s effective or just bait to the 88s and Lancias? All these debates show how much variety I now have, whereas last year I could pretty much field everything due to the much more limited Mid War product line.
New for Old
Battlefront have always supported players changing versions. This case was no different with various books given out to existing players. The Late War and Early War conversion books were given out on mass honoring the idea that your armies wouldn’t suddenly become redundant. While the books weren’t re-pointed and arguably balanced for Version 4 (eg the cheap mortars in EW or the cheap guns in LW) they are certainly playable and no easy feat to achieve considering the number of lists and units.
Along with the conversion books came the news that Mid War was becoming aligned to ‘full V4’. I say full V4 because they have had a new rulebook and new army books all geared towards the new formation design and have been re-pointed for balance in version 4. Originally released as a hard back the new Midwar rule book was released as a small booklet (now covering all periods) that now comes free in the army starter sets.
Some players were upset that their Mid War books had been invalidated and that is understandable. However it should be pointed out that before V4 hit there was a lot of noise being made by players for them to be updated (Both books had been out since mid-way though V2) so its hard to argue that a lot of use hadn’t been had from them.
The main missing aspect was the MW Eastern front. It hadn’t been converted to V4 and wasn’t in the initial release. Only now in Q3 of 2018 to we now have it coming online.
Late War and Early War
Lets look at these two areas separately to Mid War.
In someways they sit in a bit of a limbo at the moment. While Version 4 compliant, they have not been re-pointed and, due to the large differences in V4 compared to the V2-V3 switch, are arguably playable but not optimal at the moment. In fact Battlefront have been quite up-front about this.
Firstly Late War was further repacked last year with an ‘Armies of Late War’ book which produced some generic lists for all major nations using the formation V4 layout however still with the same points. This was an easy side project that helped to get new players into late war while Battlefront thought about what to do next.
At the Open Day it was announced that Late War would be upgraded to ‘Full V4’ in 2019. In fact, 6th June 2019 will see the new version of Armies of Late War released fully re-pointed and ready for V4. This may upset some players who shelled out for the book last year but i’m willing to bet Battlefront will do something to alleviate the issue.
Early War has not had a new book and again Battlefront have been quite open about its future. Peter (Owner of Battlefront) confirmed that Early War would not be fully re-done for Version 4. It is not a major seller and the company wants to focus on other lines. However a Osprey style release (Look at Fate of a Nation or Vietnam for examples) seems highly likely. Thus the rules will get updated, a few plastics might come along for the most popular vehicles but then Early War will be left alone. This was perhaps the most controversial announcement at the Open Day. Many existing players were upset that their Early War forces would be left unloved, perhaps fueled by some players viewing Early War as the most balanced of the periods in Version 3.
In some ways I understand this. I have some lovely Early War armies, and I certainly want to field them. However I am not a fan of the V3-V4 conversion books. They are certainly workable however for me the balance has gone. An Osprey rewrite, along with new points in one or two large books, could be just what’s needed.
I don’t need new armies released or new theaters; Early War is pretty complete. I just want the forces updated and for it work fully in the Version 4 construct. This can be perfectly achieved by an Osprey-style release, so I cross my fingers and wait while my EW Germans sit on their shelf awaiting a return.
The main focus of Version 4 thus far, now switching to the Eastern Front, has been Mid War in the Desert.
The initial release covered the British and German Forces at El Alamein. This was perhaps a low point of the roll out of Version 4 and one that Battlefront via Peter at the Open Day has apologised for. Fundamentally the release of the Desert Forces was too limited initially. The British book lacked a lot of core units such as Valentines, Churchill’s and Rifle Companies while the other nations were still a way off. This mean that existing players were stuck with a lot of units that couldn’t be played and the game initially lacked variety.
While I am now a fan of Mid War and Version 4 (I’d even say i prefer it!) I was quite worried early on. An event was held at Battlefield Hobbies, billed as the first roll out Mid War in the UK for the normal event crowd. Arguably it didn’t go down very well. Players felt it was a bit rock paper scissors, with German tanks facing powerful gun lines, a lot of draws due to the way objectives were taken (more on that later) and even some horror as a couple of players bought along massive spam units such as fifty Crusaders which didn’t produce a fun experience. Now a lot of these issues were caused by the limited lists , the fact that it takes time to realize that you can’t just play Version 4 like Version 3, and also some initial issues with the missions.
I think this initial outing had large implications for the UK community. Many fairly die hard players threw in the towel at this point and a great wave of negativity hit our community, and there were similar experiences in some other countries. This lead to a period of negative feeling towards the game and Battlefront online.
Due to some of the more personal language and the fact that this could be off putting to new players it also, along with some other reasons, led to the shutting of the forums.
It was a bit of a dark time and I will admit I was very close to also quitting Flames of War. A lot of my friends and my gaming community had left and discussions around Version 4 seemed like a constant argument. However I and the rest of the Breakthrough Assault team stuck on to see where things went.
The Climb Back
It has taken time but for me Version 4 Mid War feels like it has overcome its initial teething problems and has cleared its choppy waters. The following things have made a big difference.
- The forces have expanded
Now with US, Italian, German DAK, British (greatly expanded in Armoured Fist), Soviet as well as Eastern Front German, there is a lot more to choose from. This doesn’t just satisfy the modelling itch, its vital to balance. That horrible gun line or crusader spam from that first event will now be a lot less frightening when it faces, say, Valentines or has to assault an Armoured Rifle Platoon.
- The missions have been improved
Battlefront listened to player feed back regarding the number of draws in games and changed the way you take an hold objectives making it easier to attack, rewarding forces who push forward rather than lurk or feed and objective. Additionally the updated attacker and defender table for the Battleplans system produced greater variety of games.
- A new army builder was released
A new development only being about a month old but something we really needed. Not only does it cover the forces in the books but it also allows you to add the command cards.
- People moved on
By this I mean the individuals who were angry with the direction of the game in Version 4. Despite not liking it and often stating they would not play it a small but loud number of players kept starting arguments on the Flames of War sites which fueled negativity. For some I had to compare it to stalking a girl friend you dumped a year ago. But with time, just like any break up they have moved on and I think the feeling on the Facebook pages is more positive and welcoming as a result.
The UK community is still rebuilding though. Certainly a lot of tournament/long term players left but its interesting that we are now seeing a few return. In fact our own Ben Davis returned to the fold earlier in the year and he had massive initial issues with V4. We are beginning to see numbers climb back up, with Warfare sold out out with 24 players and the UK GT back on after being cancelled in 2017. We at Breakthrough Assault are also starting a calendar of events and our first one is in October in Crawley, which has already had 12 of the 16 places filled. Whats needed now is to encourage the new players to come along.
Eastern Front is now in full swing and, while details can’t be given out yet, the next set of books will be adding some cool new lists that people have been asking for and will expand the front to 1943 and the Battle of Kursk. We also know that airborne forces are confirmed and the German and US books will cover both Mid War and also the re-pointed Late War using the 100pt system.
Late War will then be expanded on with an updated Armies of Late War and campaign books for Normandy. Battlefront want to focus on a new Campaign/Theatre each year, such as Bagration, Market Garden or Battle of the Bulge.
I’ve already mentioned that EW looks like it will get the Osprey treatment and Battlefront have also said that they would like to return to the Far East, although its a long way off. As the focus on Mid War drops off in favour of Late War, towards the mid part next year I hope we will see continued MW support with the release of the long speculated about ‘Wild Card’ units.
I am still crossing my fingers that we will see things like SAS Jeep Patrols, ie rare units that will add a cool new unit and modelling opportunity to an existing army.
I think Flames of War has been through a tough eighteen months, however it has come out of it into calmer waters. Mid War is now running on full steam with the rules having bedded in and some brilliant new plastics and scenery released. I’ll be interested to see how they tackle Late War, which is arguably the most popular period and one they need to get right as soon as its released. However Battlefront seem to have learnt some tough lessons from the roll out of MW and come out stronger as a result. These lessons can now be applied to Late War.
Exciting times beckon…