Flames of War Competitive – The Human Factor

Hello Readers,

Fred here, wrapping up the serie of Flames of War Competitive – Late War. First of all, I would like to thank many of you for your comments from all over the world (and BtA to let me write by the way…). I had a lot of interesting discussions and feedback since the inception of this serie in late 2022, and I would like to take the opportunity of this last article (of the series !) to speak about the Human Factor. In the series, I have talked a lot about list designing, Formations and Units selection, troops capacities and roles… but none of this is relevant if you don’t fathom the most important thing about a wargame: the players. Buckle up, keep your hands within the vehicle, and enjoy the ride.

« Oh, God [of Flames of War], give me the strenght to roll 6s and the wisdom to do it when it matters »

1. Know what you are in for

No matter how serious you want to play it, FoW remains a game, litterally “a mental or physical activity whose essential goal is the pleasure it procures“.  When you enter the field, you need to know beforehand what is it you seek, what would bring joy and satisfaction to you; from randomly pushing toysoldiers around, to challenging yourself and your friends to determine who is the best, it’s the enjoyment that matters.

Competition is no different. Human beings are never good at what they hate, and they need a purpose in everything they do. So define your expectations prior to the event : What’s the purpose of you being in this event ? What are you spending 2-3 days away from family for? What’s the final outcome of this week-end, one that would procure you pleasure?

If you expect to finish on the podium, you need to plan for it. Planning starts way before list building, and is totally up to you. Set up your target(s), appreciate the needs to reach it/them, and enforce those. Reaching the top is not an easy task, you will hardly ever succeed at the first attempt, and some of us have yet to complete the full satisfaction circle.  What is it you can realistically expect? Who is it you are going to face, and what is your experience compared to them? How can you improve the odds to reach your set goal?

Moreover, you need to be ready to lower your expectations if things don’t go as you planned, without ruining your pleasure. Competition is the search for both parties of the same result: you and the X players attending are all looking at the crown, but only one can succeed ! So if you are not the one, don’t feel sad about it, that’s just the normal course of life. Will you be happy if you spend your week-end losing but facing decent opponents, trying your best and enjoying the experience? Learning why is someone better than you, and what will you do differently next time to have the upperhand?

« Don’t think you are [the best]. Know you are. »

2. You are in control

FoW is quite a straightforward and controllable game:

based on reality : it’s History driven, so you have good means to determine what your toy soldiers are and what they can do, what damage they can inflict and sustain. True, sometimes it feels lika a Hollywood movie, but that’s because it’s not a simulation : see the twists to reality as conventions to make the game enjoyable;

using realistic material : equipment, fighting capacities, tangible elements … behaviour on table top is not written in advance (what would be the fun in that ?) but no, all of the sudden, your small tiny tank is not going to fly around the battlefield defeating hoards of the enemy with a ray of laser beams from its botoom surrounded by dark magic melting bullets – that’s 40K folks;

with simplistics and unsurprissing mechanics : the best your troops are, the more they will survive, the more havoc they will cause for the longer time, and the more you pay for them. And vice versa. It literrally takes 10 minutes for a kid to understand the basics of FoW, motivation/movement/shooting. There is no big surprise at FoW where lists are known, distances can be measures at any time, and you don’t have constraints in toying with your troops (there is no stratagems, nor hidden cards, you don’t roll 2D6 to charge…). For sure the game is wide and rich, that’s one of its interest. Reading the rules carefully (albeit some are not that well written… sorry BF), practicing regularly, you will easily master the game. And if you don’t, just go back to basics ;

with security tools : not only the game is easy access, without major regular updates (just try to follow a GW game if you leave it for 6 months…), but in-game mechanics allow conservative play to prevent a player being overhelmed by the knowledge of rules and tactics (best examples would be Gone To Ground, providing a +1/3 to +2/3 increase in your models survivability and Victory Conditions, where you don’t need to take risk to simply not lose) ;

of risks management : apart in Fighting Withdrawal, you can do pratically nothing and not lose (both as a Defender and as a Attacker). But what would transform a Draw into Victory or Defeat is the risks you will take. FoW is a great game at managing the risks you will take : positionning your troops, moving recklessly or carefully, selecting your axis of attack or defense, deciding to shoot or not, on what target, committing in an assault … Plus it’s quite easy to Maths-of-war your actions ! Pondering the risks, with the tools providing by the game, is the road to success for players ;

I go – You go game meaning each player plays their own turn to a conclusion and, not a We go game where both players play simultaneously : you can develop freely your strategy and tactic for a full turn, without being interrupted by unexpected or not forecastable manœuvres of your opponent. The only interruptions are for Anti-aircraft fire, Defensive Fire or for Counter Attacking which are triggered by the player whose turn it is i.e. you trigger them if you decide to take certain actions

time driven : there is no limit of turns to your FoW game (except one mission). You can play for how long you want, the lenght of the game being only driven by the length of time you and your friends want to spend playing. Even in competition where you have an overall timing to respect, how you run your clock it’s totally up to you.

All this means, in FoW, the players are in control. Regardless of the choices they made in army selection, the outcome of the game is on their shoulders. You may have the best Build around, you still need to pilot it. Even the most “put the battery on” forces need stirring to perform. Even the most helpless situation on paper can be overthrown by good skills.

And it’s a two-way street. The best thing I like about wargaming is you can’t properly play alone : you need someone else to play it, and that means social interactions. Just from the human aspect, this is already rewarding. From a pure gaming experience, what you do has an impact, and how you react to what your opponent is doing will also have an impact.

The more control you put in your game, the closer you are to achieve a good result. The less control you have, the closer your opponent will be beating you.

This guy has a poor hat and a tiny pistol, is suffering from asthma, malnourishment and conjuctivitis, but he is cool – why ? because he is IN CONTROL…

3. Commit or not commit, that is the question

Per se, at the start of a FoW game, the situation is a stalemate. Pretty much like in Real Life, if you don’t give the opposing side a reason and an opportunity to hurt you, you will be safe. But here we are talking about a war – game, meaning you will wage conflict with the opponent. War is dirty, war is grim, and a lot of good people don’t come back from war. Fortunately, we are dealing with a war – game, meaning our toy soldiers will take the blows for us, and losing them doesn’t imply writting letters to their beloved.

Every FoW battle is an engagement : each player’s Force will try to manœuvre seeking to inflict more damage than their counterpart can in retaliation. In effect, this mean committing your forces in the cauldron of battle, and expecting them to emerge victorious, when the dust settles. Commit means taking risks. Engage your forces to achieve a goal, and ponder the expectancies of success. When and how to commit is not a mystery : it’s simply a key player factor in the outcome of the game.

It is primarily driven by what you bring to the party : both your toy soldiers and you. What they and you can effectively do. Know your Force, and know yourself. This is part list building, part experience. The best thing here is you are in total control of this aspect : you are the one choosing your toy soldiers, and having the best view on what you are capable of or not. Advice here : it’s better to bring a weaker Build you master than a stronger one you don’t. Be cumfortable with your force, it will be far easier to react if things don’t go as you planned.

It is then conditioned to the scenario, the board, and the opponent. This, you don’t really master, but you can anticipate, or at least mitigate. Either you play in an event where scenarios will be fixed by the organizers, known or not, and then you can limit the risk in bringing a flexible Force (e.g : a one that don’t fear to Defend with Deep Reserves). Either you play in an event with Battle Plans (which is the most common way to play V4), and then you build your Force according to the Battle Plans you would like to take and to avoid. In both cases, commitment will be dictated by the victory conditions : if you have to seize an objective, then your troops will eventually end up being engaged in a firefight or brawling ; when, it’s up to you as the offender. If you have to defend an objective, then your troops are expected to suffer pressure and blows early ; be sure to have yourself prepare for it.

Table layout is perhaps the more complex to forecast, especially in smaller communities with limited terrain options : in case of doubt, limit the number of your Units that are terrain dependant (such as Recce, TDs, GER Mad-Tracks…). If you know you are coming to an environment with good terrain quantity and quality, then you can allow yourself more flexibility.

Finally, the opponent : depending on where and at what level you play, you may know all your opponents, none of them, or a mix in between. You should love to meet new opponents, it’s always a good learning experience. Preparation revolve around your knowledge of the adversaries, observing how they play or what signs they are giving you during the round (is the person tense when doing its actions ? how does it react to above/under average rolls ? what are its own goals/targets at the event ? what’s the ranking of both of you before this round ?). Here we are clearly intuitu personnae. Opinion : I always play with the idea my opponent is either better than me or totally unpredictable. Prepare for the worst, and the good will be easier to achieve.

Considering all factors, there will be one or several moment(s) in the game where you will face the decision to commit. You may not have the choice if the opponent has seized the initiative, so the sooner you can determine when it will happen, the better prepared you will be. It’s false to believe only the Attacker in FoW is the one committing first : a good Defender knows quite precisely when committing will happen, and the best Defenders are the ones at the origin of the commitment, casting the fate of the battle when they are ready to make the gamble.

From experience, under commiting is worse than over commiting. When you commit, you need to insure it is the moment when you have the the highest probability it will pay off ; if you are too cautious and you don’t engage enough, you increase the risk of failure, and thus the possibilities of your commitment being a losing bet. On the other hand, if you go all in, sure the risk of it not working is still there (after all it is a game played with dice), but the probability of failure is reduced. Giving you a couple of very concrete examples :

if I am the Attacker, I will probably commit 80% to 100% of my Force focused on a single Objective no later than Turn 2, expecting every single team of my committed force but one to die for it. It doesn’t mean I deprive myself from turning to the other Objective (either because my push failed or because I diverted enough man power from my opponent line to sneak in), nor that I’m stupidly steam rolling my guys in a gauntlet of fire. It just means I’m focusing my effort rapidly into a single limited battlefield area where I can use time, mobility and number, to maximize my firepower and assaulting capacities, as well as providing my opponent too many targets to swallow at once.

if I am the Defender, I will probably wait for one of my mobile reserve to arrive to launch a counter offensive, involving losing GtG and shooting with all my troops facing the Attacker, but also part or all of them engaging in Assault to push them back from my Objective. Chainlinking my damage on multiple key targets to stop them cold, and having my Assaulting troops creating a new line of defense to protect the asset (models or space – Martin) I need not to lose.

Commit is not exact science, but it’s not rocket science either. Preparing well and staying alert to battle developments will help you make your decision at the appropriate moment. Bear in mind that the human factor is by far more important than list building in this process.

A Flames of War general pondering the decision to commit or not commit

The psychological state of mind

We can’t go deep into the human factor without speaking about psychology. Players are humans and not machines. We talked about them making choices, taking decisions, rolling dice … let’s discuss what’s in their head. Word of cautious : I am not giving you tips to be a total tabletop psycho, simply pointing complementary elements to better understand why this game isn’t just all about “the list”.

Apart from the state of mind a player is entering a competition with, you can also ponder its exhaustion level in your game. Playing after a crappy Real Life week, or after several rounds in a boiling hot venue, is the worst way to keep the mind focused. Same for the level of stress. Someone aiming for the top will have a significant burden on its shoulder, thus be more scared to make mistakes, more so in a team tournament. Also, if your opponent had a bad start and is far from their original expectations, they will surely go for a riskier game plan and tactics than if they sit cumfortably in the pole position. One that is hard to master is the scariness level, mainly because it’s a double edge sword : some players are terrified to face a well-known excellent player, or a specific list, or somebody steam-rolling its opponents since the beginning of the event, others are absolutely thrilled about it and get additionnal motivation to try and best it. Opinion : it’s better to enter the field with a scary tag on your back, don’t be overconfident about it.

A good tip in competition to influence the outcome of your games is getting into your opponent’s head : what is it your opponent like/dislike ? what is it sensitive to ? how can it be surprised ? how unerved will it be if you delete its most favourite unit ? If you are good enough to feel your opponent, you can take a significant psychological advantage over them, without being rude or doing anything illegal of course. For example : deploying at the same time as the Defender when you are the Attacker (can suggest a confidence in the outcome which you may not have), playing aggressively while facing a cautious opponent (can be quite distracting to some players), playing on the same side of the table as your opponent when you Attack (can again imply confidence in what you are going that may not be there) , threatening their Supporting assets when you are the Defender, tempt them to do things they are reluctant to risk, gently taunt them, using a clock when facing a slow playing opponent …

Knowing your opponent (or learning to know it during the game) is great to go beyond the fight between both forces. If you manage to pass over the simple duel of toy soldiers and play the person you have in front of you, itself, not their army, you will actually be surprised by the outcome. From the positive side, it can lead to a better enjoyable moment, even in competition (I love to speak about my kid with opponents who are also fathers).
On the other hand, somebody playing you and not your army is a very dangerous opponent. It can be as innocent as baiting you, or forcing your hand because they know your nature and gamestyle. But it can also be nefarious, when getting dragged into arguments about rules, possibility to do/not to actions, contest of small things without big impact … all this can lead to you or your opponent to tilt (and watch out : some around here are good at making you tilt on purpose). When that happen, good luck getting back in the game to finnish it to your advantage. Advice : before it happens, get out an grab a cuppa or call your loved ones, have a neutral party or at worst a referee oversee your game, but take it easy.

With all this you still need to be respectful of other peoples social boundaries, if you are concerned you may offend them then simply don’t do it, its just a gsame afterall – Martin

Some things are even harder to explain. For instance, tempo of the tournament can play its part : some players tend to be less concentrated, or can even be freaked out, even with decades of play under their belts, in the first round(s) of a tournament. On the flip side, they can be fully focused and at their maximum level while in the final round(s). Grudges are also factors which can influence the game : someone you beat heavily on a previous event, or somebody with whom you debate over the internet, or your padawan wanting to prove you it can best you … good or bad are reasons to change the phylosophy of the match.

The human mind is quite an amazing piece of engineery : we use our brain to play FoW, so anything you can do to predict your opponent behaviour or influence it can help you achieve success.

How good THIS GUY would have been at playing toy soldiers?

5. Who is the best player of the world and why you are not it ?

In essence, a competitions ultimate goal is to determine who is the best at something. Let’s face it : even if you are an absolute believer of Pierre de Coubertin “participation is what matters”, it’s in our human nature to compete with each other. Again, here we are talking about FoW, a wargame with toy soldiers : we are not dealing with survival, or levelling the size of our wallet, or winning a beauty contest, etc There is nothing to win but respect.

At the end of a tournament, you win a gold chocolate medal that worth far less than what it costs you to be there (transportation, hospitality, the time and money spent on your models…). If you expect a big cheque, go play poker. Winning a FoW event is about being the most respectable of the attendees. Being the best is about being the most respectable of all. You achieve that by playing fair, have an inclusive attitude and being respectful. Don’t try to win by greediness or malice. Be welcomefull to new comers in your Community : they are the ones who will fuel your success or challenge your throne, forcing you to be better. If your opponent failed to roll for Reserves, remind them. If they missed an Unpinning point it out and let them roll for it. If they want to be in a place where you can’t shoot its toy, make the effort to check together. I once attended a major event where the winners where booed : that was the worst result, Ever!

More often than not, we see players entering a competition believing they are the best, with the most unbreakable list and strategy. Hint : they are seldom to never the ones emerging victorious. Why ? Simply because to better yourself you need to acknowledge there is always something to learn, always somebody to teach you, always a way to improve. Improvement is a never ending road.

It’s even more true in FoW, a wargame. Gaming material are updated on a regular basis : new Books, new Missions, new Rules… something true at the beginning of 2022 is not necessarily ture anymore as we hed towards mid 2023. Staying alert on the metagame, openminded, ready to challenge and discuss… Be humble.

Nonethless, if you still think you are the best :
1. Prove it win multiple tournaments
2. When proven long enough, take a break from the game
3. Come back after a good break months/years and revert to step 1.

It’s sane to challenge yourself, and never forget FoW is a social experience above all else : interact with other players prior and during the event, spend time in your Club or a Local Game Store, search the internet for ideas and opinions, practice, be open to advice, interrogate what is working and what is not, listen to everything that will make you, a better player. And you will also be a better person on top of that.

Besides, FoW is worldwide, with thousands of players globally : you may be the king of the hill, but can you be the best player of the world? Go expand your horizons! Compete in regional, national, and even international events. The ETC is notably a great place, being a annual global event.

Don’t overthink your failures. Mistakes happen, bad days happen, and it’s just a game. If you are convinced you playedd perfectly and lost, ask your opponents their opinion. As John McEnroe once said : “it is not the ball you missed that matters, it is s the ball coming next.” There is always room for improvement. And that’s fortunate, because what would be the fun if you are perfect ?

Soon to be the best. Well, if he learns to be humble. And I’m not saying both because he is French…


I hope this article convinces you of the importance of the human factor in Flames of War, including in competition. I stand by my statement about players being far more important than the rest.
Not, it’s not all about the list, which, per se, is already a matter of people (who is redacting this super-uber Build after all?). Winning at FoW is a combinaison of list building, gaming skills, and luck. I used to believe it was 1/3 each. As I grow older (and a tiny bit wiser), I’m convinced the human aspect of this equation is not limited to skills, but engulfs a far greater portion of being the determing factor. Not only because it influences the enjoyable (or not) moment you will spend with other human beings, but also the determination of the outcome of your games.

Now I wish you well, I’ve given you all the keys to properly appreciate Flames of War – Competitive, I can’t wait to see you around a gaming board, here in France, somewhere in Europe, or even elsewhere!

Knowledge is power : share it widely !