Version Four Book Review: Flames of War 1942 – 1943

Hello everyone, Jersey James here with our first review of the new Mid War rule book for Version Four! Planning this article was difficult but rewarding as I didn’t want to write some sort of critical analysis of every rule and how it works; what I wanted to do was tell you about the product and discuss with you some of the very interesting and exciting features of the book and content that has provoked discussion within our review group. We may as a team write more articles about the book as we discover more about the new game for all three World War Two periods but we have to start somewhere and that first somewhere is going to be what’s in the new book and it’s quality:

  • Good, accurate content page at the front and an alphabetical reference index and play sheet a the back
  • For experienced and new player alike a quick start guide that summarizes the the game and unit cards
  •  A short history of key events and turning points in World War Two focusing on Mid War as expected
  • How it Works, Teams and Units, Unit Cards, Terrain and Turn Sequence: Necessary and well written sections on what Flames of War war gaming is how the game is intended to be played before
  • Following the fundamentals onto the main core of the book are well laid out main phase rules:
    1. Movement, 2. Shooting, 3. Artillery (in shooting), 4. Assaults, 5. Unit and Formation Last Stand
  • Descriptions of each major participant in World War Two and how they translate into Flames of War armies
  • British and German special rules are included in the previous section but next follows an universal special rules section which covers all of the main rules applied to teams within the game for quick reference
  • Next and very exciting are rules for Force Selection in Version Four
  • Following force selection are rules for rules for Missions, Mission Special Rules and of course all the actual mission descriptions and table layouts, rules for minefields and night fighting
  • Finally before the index and quick play reference; the author Phil Yates shares some design notes explaining context for why and how the rules work

The book itself is high quality, full colour, well bound and A4 sized. A smaller, softback version will be available in some of the larger box sets that Battlefront are producing but unlike the tome that was Version Three’s hard back book this is sleek and doesn’t weigh a lot; I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable carrying it to games and using it.

With it’s new orange banner and no nonsense front cover up front and a wealth of gorgeous photos of models, maps and (continued from Team Yankee) context setting short stories to make you feel part of the action the book oozes style… but not style over substance. These rules are good, fresh and definitely not just Team Yankee rules forced into World War Two form. Yes if you played Team Yankee the style, layout and content will be familiar to you but it should be, this is an evolution of Flames of War gaming theory.

Sticking my neck on the line I am prepared to argue that Team Yankee and thus the developments through it in Version Four are not a new and different game, written in isolation (or with Version Four planned) it was an offshoot of Version Three and the games all bare so many similarities you’ll be able to pick up the books and trace that evolution making it easy to play for the Flames of War Veteran.

I never played Version 2, but I have read a copy of the rules and can see how that was improved by Version Three. Version Three in turn led to Vietnam books, Arab-Israeli War books, Great War Books, Team Yankee and Pacific Books. I played each of those sub games and collected armies from them as they were brought out and I can see the paradigm change over time, through the evolution of thought that has gone into each rule-set and force diagram. This is why two short free books can convert Version Three to Version Four so easily and why I shall probably collect US Marine Corps from Gung-Ho as a Late War Version Four list. Last to be produced in World War Two as an original book and not a compilation or follow on it’s force structure fits Version Four very well and working backwards you can see trends from the sub-genres like Napalm on the Corsair. It doesn’t stop there; it is clear how the thought put into Team Yankee which evolved from Version Three was used but not just copied for Version Four.

Summarized what I mean though is that this fantastic book is not a bolt out of the blue or change in direction, it is still very recognizably Flames of War and in my opinion very well thought through over the last five years and if this book is the benchmark for the quality of rule releases then we have a lot to look forward to.

There’s so much to see and read in this new book, yes the free Early and Late War covers the same, if not more material because it has to cover everything in early and late war where as this book has been distilled to be what it needs to be. Smoke rules, moral, missions? Where do you start first even movement contains interesting changes because now tanks and guns cannot move through tanks and guns!

 

Next I’d like to look at some of the sections in the book which specifically interested me and generated some excited discussion at Breakthrough Assault… and if not at Breakthrough Assault in the back of my mind whilst I read the book:

No radios and command.

An example of how Version Four is not just Team Yankee and is it’s own well presented and well thought through rules are the command distance rules for World War Two games. Yes, just like in Team Yankee command chains are gone meaning you must be within command distance of your unit leader if you want all the benefits of being in command. With the lack of modern radios that units in Team Yankee would be equipped with, larger units cannot advance line abreast outside of eight inches and still be in command… so you’re ether in, or your not… but is being out of command the end of the world?

Against cautious opponents you’re hitting on a base of 4+ being in command may be a difference maker because you don’t want the penalties to hit and flank around their smaller units but against conscripts, is +1 to hit so terrible if you leave command? It may not be. A platoon can now, in theory scatter to the four winds but then moves slowly and will find it more difficult to tag their targets. Now you can roll up to 8 by re rolling 6+ dice and aiming for 6(5) for a 7 and 6(6) for an 8 the tactical benefits of spreading out could reap benefits for the cunning player.

With units in Desert Rats and Afrika Corps smaller than in Version Three Equivalents, some mission that require the screening of an area (such as the breakthrough mission) may be harder if your platoons must all be within 6 or 8 inches of the unit leaders. Remaining stationary out of command means no stat penalties or movement penalties but there is one drawback. Only teams in command distance count towards unit last stands and if the wrong teams fail their saves and the unit leader ends up isolated a “spreader” may find their holding units disintegrating. We’ll have to balance area coverage, how much we’re willing to bunch under artillery and how many teams we expect to lose before the team leader jumps or we can move teams back to command after casualties.

Re-rolls and Stat Adjustments and Attacking

Many rules in Version Three involved rerolls. Protected ammo and wide tracts are two good examples of this that meant and this meant that quite frequently there were lots of rerolls that needed to be taken. Most of these rules and bonuses are now included directly in a units stats. Wide tracks means a unit has a better cross rating that a similar unit without wide tracks. This does eliminate a lot of re-rolls from the game saving time.

However, with every player now having access to multiple formation commanders in their force fighting alongside their formations there are a lot more re-rolls that could be made because of the commander. In Version Three a commander could shout once at one of his units… in Version Four as long as the commander is in command distance they may ask multiple tanks to try remounting again or demand a unit unpins.

Rather than just having a unit that’s special with re-rolls that nearly guarantee success, now the presence of the formation commander means more, especially when that result of a one pops up when you don’t want it to. For lower skill or moral rated units the presence of the commander in the right place at the right time makes a lot more difference than it did before. Added to that the commander’s new ability to create super units for assault “leading from the front” killing that formation commander that’s leading the attack and holding the advance together will drastically affect your opponents abilities!

Playing to the Mission and Objectives

A lot of discussion I have had, heard and seen has been about the changes to the mission structure and scoring. Winning has a greater emphasis within the rules with nine points shared instead of seven and the maximum a losing player can get being three there has also been a lot of hobby chatter about not playing to break your opponents company any more but to go for the objectives…

The first (but only one of the) missions though has no objectives and sets up both armies twenty four inches apart with the win requirement of breaking all your opponents formations! This is good though, not because I’m a rebel who doesn’t like taking objectives and just likes killing opponents units but it means that in a five game tournament there’s a significant chance you’ll have to set up in a fair fight and actually kill stuff. You’ll have to be able to kill as well as survive and take objectives and that just adds diversity to force selection. A strelkovy company may survive, an elite tank company may be able to force someone off an objective for one turn and a hoard of nasty support units that can kill your opponent may all have advantages, but mission draw may put unbalanced armies that don’t consider combined arms approaches at a disadvantage.

Revamped Death from Above

Aircraft are now far more reliable in the game. If you start with them on table as part of your force you get them 50% of the time until they are shot down. Careful placement and choosing when to roll and or keeping them in reserve till you can kill your opponents AA mean’s they’ll be effective.

Added to this a reduced distance for danger close missions meaning as long as you’re not within 8” of your ground units you can attack with your aircraft to your heart’s content. This adds value as well as reliability and I want aircraft in my lists now and am prepared to pay more than I would have for the sporadic sweat spot!

Orders and Special Rules

I like how the new orders make moving around the battlefield more flexible for everyone. In the past extra movement was the domain of the Axis forces most of the time but now everyone can take advantage of these little boosts when you need them. National character has been included in different ways; yes Tiger Aces is a little more generic, yes stat bonuses as discussed above replace some national and special rules but these are just ways in which the rules writers have interpreted the national character; both are valid and both work. I like the changes because it adds to the game now whether you have Germans with their storm trooping too and frow, potentially moving three times in a turn or humble Honeys forming a seven tank super unit for assault gaining an extra four inches movement before they charge.

What’s next for Version Four?

This rule book gives some hints as to what’s around the corner for Version Four in the text and the pictures used as game examples. Many comments online have been that the companies in the first few books released for Desert Rats and Afrika Corps are limited “where are the shermans?” is a question I must have read on discussion boards over the last few months as people looked at pre-order info. Well, in the line of sight through tall terrain section there is a picture of some shermans with Desert Rats markings. This clearly means Battlefront isn’t done with the desert yet and there will be more books for the British and Germans for Mid War in this theater.

(This isn’t a money spinner, the army books are not expensive for what they are and the content they have, they lay out several good formations that can be supported and mixed in many different way to create more distinct lists than similarly priced Version Three books.)

Of course, if it wasn’t obvious the European Eastern Front features heavily in the rule book art, pictures and scenery rules meaning we can expect content from that theater too sooner rather than later!

Next, in the Nations Section, Japan is figured alongside Italy and the big four nations. We haven’t seen Mid War Japanese at all yet as Rising Sun was very Early War and Banzai was Early and Late War. A Pacific / Asia book could be on the cards. Now this is pure speculation from one page in the rules which is in a section covering the major forces of World War Two. The Japanese should be included… but will they be “included?” Time will tell!

I go overboard with Italians sometimes, they’re my favorite… so keeping the next bit short… what looks like plastic Bersaglieri are in the book… they might be new painted metal ones but plastic would be awesome!

Last in this section, under the example force construction section where a Grant Company is built there is a description of Wildcard support boxes! It says these are for odd units and special units and specifically sites LRDG or SAS units that could fit into this box alongside the Grants! What else could go in the box? Warriors, is one possibility; we will need to wait for new books and or individual releases because now models come with unit cards and all the rules for them Battlefront can put out single wildcard releases in self contained boxes!

In summary, yes unlike the conversion rules for Early and Late War we do currently have limited formation tools to play with in the Mid War sandbox but it has only just arrived and there is much more to follow to make this even better. The rulebook is of great quality and will freshen up our hobby for everyone, whilst these are only our opinions I am looking forward to new content and hope will Mid War will be embraced by the community as much as the positive changes Version Four will have on Early and Late War in the short and longer term.

I have ordered and paid for my own copy of Version Four Flames of War 1942 -1943… what higher praise can I put on it that I enjoyed it and purchased it without a second thought. If there had been no Flames of War before this, I would still have brought it and started playing.

I hope you enjoyed the article,

Jersey

Category: Flames of WarMid WarReviewsV4

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6 comments

  1. I never had a desert army, that’s on the mid war list as an Italian project so never saw the old scultps up close, we’ll have to see what happens over the next year!

  2. Geez. I’m sure that article took time to put together and the effort is appreciated but I sure hope the writing and proofreading of the Battlefront book is better or I’m stuffed trying to understand it.

  3. Being the proud owner of just about every army conceived by Battlefront for Flames of War (Hungarians, Italians, Rumanians and Soviets excluded) at 2.000 points + (old value) and also a player of Team Yankee (Americans, West Germans and British) I’m looking forward to this fourth edition of the rules.
    I just hope Battlefront will be so kind as to make the cards available seperately, as I’m not planning on buying the stuff I already own. I’m already having trouble storing my huge collection as it is.
    Great job at the review none-the-less.
    Collegial greetings from the Iron Warriors Gaming Club.

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Article by: Mark Goddard