Breakthrough Assault has no insider knowledge about a V5 or even if it is under development. The discussion below is just food for thought on how I think the game could develop to meet sone of the points of view in the recent FoW Survey and on our ‘Eyes and Ears’ YouTube panel discussion. Mark.
Flames of War is currently in its 4th rules iteration, with V4 now approaching its 6th birthday (yup that’s right MW arrived in 2017). As we I write this we have reached the end of the MW V4 journey and are wrapping up the war with the second Berlin book in LW. While some talk of Late War Leviathans has come out of BF in their video chats, if it is anything like MW Monsters it’s somewhat niche and a little controversial to some players who see it beyond the scope of WW2 and the game as a whole. Therefore based on the BF year ahead video by Apr 23 we, the Flames of War player base, have little new to look forward to! (Although BF could surprise us). So where could we go next and how could the game evolve?
Back to the Future
V4 was a systemic shift in FOW, streamlining the game, focusing the range of models on products and moving the extensive historic army list system to a more generic formation structure backed by command cards. At the same time, it changed the game’s point system from base 1000 to 100 and the typical size of a game from ~1500-1750 to 100pts.
Personally, I find the actual V4 gameplay much more fun and straightforward than V3 (fewer GOTCHA moments), but wrapped in a more complex and yet somewhat shallower list structure/selection which has diluted the ‘flavour’ and variety of many previous lists.
V4 had an arguably had a troubled start to life. Starting with MW it arrived with a very limited German and British book alongside a conversion book to tide over Early War and Late War players (often referred to as V3.5). V4 did land with a shock and with hindsight, BF did apologise for the way some things were handled. Tempers frayed on the Battlefront forums, Facebook and in games clubs and garages the length and breadth of this blue dot that we call Earth. However time calmed the waters.
There has always been a strong perception that V4 was shepherded into existence accompanied by a mass exodus of players. However arguably it doesn’t differ from any major paradigm shift in the tabletop wargaming world. We saw players and friends who had been in FOW for years up and leaving, the UK event scene was slashed from regular events of 80-120 to the now upper bound of ~35 (UK nationals). The same is reflected around the world and things looked worrying. However, the loyalty to the game remained and as more books arrived for MW, and LW dropped, lessons were learnt and V4 started to bed in.
While many players left, and many strong FOW gaming groups ceased to exist (e.g. Reluctant Conscripts) the new launch and beginner-friendly approach did lead to much-needed new blood and we still see this at events now. From a perspective beyond the list building/army books I rarely find myself missing V3.
Where are we now
The last 5 1/2 years or so have seen a huge number of releases/re-releases. 9 MW books along with small supplements for paras and axis allies alongside 13 LW books (and the German 21st Pz Div supplement). With this, we now have an extensive range of plastic vehicles and BF seems to have finally settled on a suitable material for their plastic infantry since moving away from hard plastic.
This is a lot of content for any games company, and despite what some people think BF isn’t that big and doesn’t have a huge design studio (I am constantly surprised that some people think they have GW-level resources). BF have driven V4 and delivered constant content.
That said as players I think we are in a frustrating situation where what was meant to be a slimmed-down range has morphed into something bigger and access to models can be challenging. For instance, some MW items are very hard to come by (if at all), as is some of the earlier LW stuff. Many of the command card items are direct orders (without a stock tracking system) and come with a very high delivery cost (~£8 in the UK) that can make smaller items prohibitively expensive.
Speaking to a few stockists they all get frustrated that some units have multiple boxes. For instance, you can buy PZIVs across various codes/boxes with the only difference being decals and unit cards (removed from newer boxes, so perhaps some streamlining is coming?) Perhaps going forward we just need a Sherman box and a Panzer IV box which contains all relevant decals?
At the time of writing, we were preparing articles for the Berlin Book embargo and some discussions at the recent Corrivarly event sparked my inspiration for this article. Over a curry one evening people started commenting that they were concerned about the medium term for FOW. The 2023 BF video highlighted the Berlin books but with Berlin: Germany dropping in Apr 2023, we are now left with an unclear future. The fact that LW Leviathans has been mentioned by BF implies something more is coming but we are moving into the world of ‘what if’ akin to MW monsters and Ram tanks. In fact, since starting to write this article, at Adepticon we saw the Maus on the show so we are definitely going into the what if/unhistorical WW2 area.
In happier news, BF has mentioned MW Pacific coming and that should be interesting. This has always been somewhat intriguing from a product POV. There was a lot of noise in V3 about people wanting the Pacific theatre but then the impression is that beyond the initial release, it didn’t do very well. The thing is Pacific is more niche than ETO however I hope it gets expanded to include British and Commonwealth troops and it is designed and balanced to work with the wider MW range in open play. I must admit I am excited to get the Japanese out again though!
Of course, the elephant in the room is no apparent schedule about EW. 6yrs into V4 and we still don’t have the first few years of WW2, an area ripe for BF to expand into and rich with history and flavour. Below is how I think EW could become something great and lead to a new evolution of FOW for an update to the next iteration, let’s call it V5 for the purpose of this article.
We have discussed where we are and now I want to lay down a few thoughts on where FOW could go especially in regard to a V5. This is a personal opinion, however, one that considers the results of last year’s big FOW player survey (ie what do people want) as well lots of talks and in-depth discussions with players from around the world.
V5 General: I would suggest that V5 doesn’t need to be the revolution that was V3-V4 but rather an evolution as BF takes the best of V4 and learns from the experience of their over 20 years of FOW. Broadly keep the gameplay of V4, that faster, streamlined game that was the antidote to the ‘sit-in-grad’ of V3 and tweaks in a few areas to enhance depth and balance attack and defend:
Add a downside to dashing. Make it a real choice to get somewhere fast. While in V3 units that dashed saw anything shot at them double their ROF, I would suggest any unit that dashes gets a -1 to its hit value (ie cautious becomes 3+). This is because a dashing unit isn’t being cautious and hugging the ground, carefully advancing and an aggressive unit dashing is pretty reckless. Perhaps reckless (2+ to hit) allows the enemy to re-roll misses? Perhaps they are already reckless so remain 2+?
Bring back ‘eyes and ears’. This allowed the recce to lift ‘gone to ground’ on a skill check. I would suggest that a recce unit can have 1 attempt on a skill check but that means the whole unit can do nothing else. Only a unit with ‘Scout’ could carry out this order. The spotted unit would not be gone to ground for the remainder of its opponent’s turn.
Fix night attack. At the moment a few forces have the night attack rule (and soon to be Berlin IR panthers) and notably the British Infantry. However, let’s be honest, you don’t see night attack used. This is because only your core units can move out of their deployment zone. That means broadly, you get no tanks, no AT and normally just a couple of infantry platoons to go forward. It just doesn’t work out well and that’s why you don’t see it utilised (beyond beer and pretzel play). In V3 night attacks happened all the time, British infantry and night attack was something to be feared and it was always tense as to when the sun would come up. Would you be caught with your pants down in no-mans land? The key reason it was used was that all units could move out of the deployment zone. Bring that back in V5 and just stop units dashing at night. Equally if an opponent thinks they will be night attacked and don’t want to be , they just choose attack and the missions matrix means you won’t need to worry about it.
Quantity over quality: Large units in V4 are able to take 8 instead of 5 hits in the defensive fire before their assault fails. Similar to V3 however much harder to achieve. The key difference is that in V3 it was based on unit size whereas in V4 it’s based on how many teams you assault with. Sorry, but you just don’t see 12 units making contact in an assault! Drop it to 10 and make it 10 stands within command distance.
V4 allows stands of infantry and single tanks to go swanning off on their own, just suffering a -1 to hit when out of command. Let’s remove that. If you don’t start the turn-in command then you can’t move unless it’s towards your unit leader.
V5 Army Construction: V4 was meant to make army construction simple. Pick a formation(s) and a supporting diagram then pick from that book’s Command Cards. Easy eh? Well no because it’s become chaotic. It’s like a WW2 and friends love in with historic aspect often thrown out of the window and no hard choices. For example, in V3 you could take the Brigade Reluctant Confident Panthers. The downside was that it had very limited support. In V4 you can take a whole herd of Finnish T26s to give you cheap anti-spam and assault tanks.
Do your Soviets lack smoke, no worries take a Romanian Formation. Feel the need for French Resistance no problem just call it a name in only DDay force and fill it with Comets and then have the French fight as partisans. The list is endless. The FOW Army building in V3 was a perfect blend of history and choice. Armies had their own special rules baked in, often to mitigate the lack of certain units/choices. You didn’t need multiple formations and didn’t see the same flying circuses of recce and light tank spam. So what should we do?
Firstly go back to 1500pts as a standard game. Based on 5pt increments this gives 3x the fidelity of points in list construction. This overcomes a lot of rounding issues that have created odd situations on 100pts (especially on upgrades). For instance, the fact that it costs the same to upgrade an aggressive Sherman to a 76mm AT13 E8 as a cautious one just isn’t right. It’s a symptom of 100pts. The idea that historic gamers will be put off by counting to 1500pts rather than 100pts (especially when Forces of War is the go-to tool) is just not creditable. I mean 40K players manage it and just look at those guys (and gals) 🙂
I suggest going back to the V3 style of list construction. Ie set formations with their own unique support choices and where needed special rules. Just like on V3, you can have multiple divisions represented with different ratings. Remove multiple formations, they just aren’t needed.
Also consider getting rid of command cards. Let’s face it the majority of cards are never fairly useless and never get seen on the table. Bring the formations and units into the book (or add them as digital forces of war formations), and roll formation special rules into the formations themselves. Eg have the Damned Engineers as an actual formation in Bulge (just like V3). As for equipment like RPGs for Soviets just have them as an upgrade in the book and have a special rules section. What we don’t need is a load of overpriced abilities that are never seen on the table that allow you to re-roll a firepower test from your HQ tank on the second Sunday of lent when your opponent is wearing beige trousers.
V5 Match-Ups: As V4 has developed the expanded mission matrix and stances have become the default way to play games. However, this isn’t actually written anywhere. We have different ways to select missions (dice off, mission matrix, expanded mission matrix). Let’s make it clear the way the game is to be played and have that clearly presented in the V5 book (regardless of what it is).
While the Stance system is quite interesting, empirical data shows that if you want to attack, it gives you the most chance of winning in V4. There is very little reason to go to Manoeuvre. There I propose you just drop it. If you go back to the V3 system and if limited to a single formation (worked for almost 15 years of FOW!) you can define an army as infantry, mech or tank. This can then be used to decide who is attacking. Eg. a Tank force attacks infantry (unless your inf force has the option to opt for night attack in which case it is a dice off).
V3 had auto-attack and auto-defend forces. Ie an auto-attack tank company would always attack another tank company. I would bring this back but their use would be much rarer and thematic. Eg Damned Engineers with all their expensive mines, barbed wire and booby traps would be auto defend. The whole point of them (and the 10pts they pay) is to defend. Therefore let them defend! At the moment if you pair against damned engineers you just pick defend so that you have the same stance on the mission matrix negating their special abilities.
Rolling out a V5, especially with the fundamental change to army structure and points is tricky. You need to bring players with you, but, at the end of the day, you are invalidating books. Well I have a cunning plan for that….EW
EW has not been updated in V4 so there are no books to invalidate. Therefore roll out V5 with EW, and new 1500pts lists, attack and defend tweaks and new core rule changes. MW and LW continue with the 100pt system with existing books but with the new core rules only. Then when EW is settled you go to MW and re-release the books (or even easier go with Theatre compilations) with the new points and structures. Same with LW. By doing it in this order you acknowledge that the BF studio has a finite capacity, bring back EW and by the time you get to MW the books have been out for approx 7-8 years so it’s hard to complain that they are being invalidated.
Also as you release the new books for MW you re-attack the stock situation consolidating multiple codes into single boxes/blisters. Ie 1 x Sherman box to rule them all.
V4 was a massive revolution for FOW and arguably achieved its main objective of making the game fast, simpler and more accessible on the table. While the handling of the change drove off large portions of the FOW community we have seen some new blood, although I think it’s fair to say the event and club scene never fully recovered. BF now have the opportunity to build on the rule successes of V4 while integrating the best aspects of V3 and undoing where V4 has arguably failed (lists and match-ups). EW is a fine vessel to roll these changes out on before revisiting MW and LW with a new direction and historic focus.
Time will tell, but without change, MW and LW are going to very rapidly ‘stale’ now that they are done (outside of MW Pacific and maybe some LW fantasy units).