FOW V4 Gazing – Force Structure

Health Warning: Whilst we at Breakthrough Assault often have knowledge ahead of time of FOW developments, we genuinely have no knowledge on a V5 timeline (or even if there will be one!)

Background

Flames of War is currently on its 4th edition which is now reaching the ripe old age of 7. As the MW/LW journey is complete (hold fast Pacific Front later this year) talk naturally moves to whether there is a V5 on the horizon.

Now V4 was a step change in both the rules and FOW system. While the first 3 editions evolved the aspects (think a tweak at each one), V4 moved FOW in a different direction with simpler rules (we will discuss whether that was achieved) and streamlined simpler army creation (again debatable) making it easier for new players (equally debatable). This was combined with a re-release of models and move to a plastic orientated manufacturing base.

A V3 list for the 512 Heavy Tank Company. Note the support options limited via historic context.
A V4 equivalent. However support is almost unlimited with options from every other German formation and the large generic support diagram (and Allied options).

Not to pick at old wounds, but the initial role out of V4 MW was not a massive success. Extremely limited lists, combined with a slow rollout of forces, and some balance issues led to an exodus of players. Following an apology from BF we saw positive change with new mission packs, more detailed/flavoured LW books/cards and things settled down. I genuinely enjoy my games of V4 more (ie table top experience) but there are some truly missed opportunities where previous good practice could have been integrated. I see the next iteration as a vessel to bring together success from V3 and V4 to great a truly brilliant experience.

Article Series

This series of articles will look at a few different aspects of the game and where I could see it going/what I would like to see. At the moment I plan to break it into three areas:

  1. Force Structure (this article).
  2. Rules
  3. Points

Force Structure

V4 introduced a massive change in how your force is constructed. Previously points used the thousandths system and a typical game would be ~1750pts with forces drawn from 1 Company (Formation in new money). That Company also drove who was Attacker/Defender in a game depending on what you were matched against i.e. you didn’t get a choice.

In V4 we saw a move to the hundredths system introduced and games are typically 100pts, a meta of multiple Formations alongside the ability to field core units (black box) from other Formations, a generic Support units diagram combined with allied choices for almost every force ghas evolved. Becoming known as the pick and mix approach. This was backed up by Command Cards which which added abilities, or flavour to your forces.

In theory the new system was to be more straight forward and to begin with, it was (eg MW role-out ). You pick your book, pick Formations and Support, add some Command Cards to taste and off you go. However, as the game expanded, especially when the inevitable LW bloat set in, rules for list building became massively complex and we have reached a stage where even veteran players get things wrong and its simply confusing for new players. BF has addressed this with a comprehensive guide to Force construction in LFTF, but this is merely a sticking plaster rather than a solution to the symptoms of the problem.

Change aka V5

V5 could be an opportunity to take the good aspects of the V4 system, learn what didn’t go so well and incorporate those aspects from the previous system to enhance it and combine it with the EW release in 2025.

As a manifesto for Force structure change I would argue for:

  1. Return to a more granular pointing system – ie 1750pt (or make 2k the norm as a nice round number).
  2. Focus the game back to be based on a single Company rather than Task Force/Battalion. ie limit players to a single Formation with appropriate support.
  3. Restrict Allies to appropriate forces – eg US Paras in a Market Garden Brit Armoured force.
  4. Integrate all Companies/Formations into the army book i.e. dont have Command Card Formations.
  5. No book mixing – ie if you take a D-Day Force you can only use Formations/Units from D-Day. ie no more desert Panthers or multiple same Formations.
  6. Link specific Command Cards to companies (special characters, abilities etc) alongside Force wide choices (Lucky etc). Include these in the book. ie Patton can only be taken with a 3AD Tank Company.
  7. Include choice for alternate stats for Companies with the same Force organisation eg In a Bulge Force you could have points for a Cautious Confident Sherman Company and Cautious Reluctant one (3AD).
  8. Forces of War access with all books via code (ala D-Day Compliation).

Lets dig into these ideas.

Points level:

The only pro to the 100pt system is that it is somewhat simpler from a mathematical POV. I would suggest that whether you are a casual or veteran player of a wargame the intelligence requirement to be literate with numbers means we can handle the ‘complexity’ of a 1000pt system (noting the most popular wargames in the world work around 2K pt armies).

Apparently this is what happens if we think above 100!

The issue with 100pts is the sheer lack of granularity. Everything must be rounded to the nearest whole point creating very odd situations and tying the game designers in knots. A point is quite important when you only have 100! It is obvious that some units benefit from this (eg vet Shermans AT 13 costs the same as upgrading a worse aggressive tank). It partly explains the lack of discount for slow firing/overworked (looking at you Soviets) and the fact that a Heer Panzer IV just isn’t as good as a Vet Sherman (granularity doesn’t account well for Stabilisers).

A return to 1000pts would immediately enhance the options and granularity whether you return to the 5pt increments of previous versions or stick with single points. My preference would be to go with 2K game size (even 1000 would help!) as this keeps things simpler for reserve calculation (ie 800pt in reserve). It also allows a full re-point of all units as new books are released for V5 (separate article to follow).

Single Company

This is part of the whole ‘pick and mix’ attitude of V4 which perhaps while somewhat sensible in the early days of V4 has now jumped the shark allowing swarms of armoured cars, no space to move bloodbag panzerfaust packing inf and most importantly a lack of hard choices in list creation. We thrived for over a decade with a single Company and it drove variety of forces and experimentation. Now you have a meta of 2 (or more if allowed) formations to spam the best units and gain extra command re-rolls (plus basically a never breaking army).

Alongside this it has moved the game from a company (+) sized game to a Battalion (-). The game rewards you for doing this. Of course this does sell more models, but it also puts off a lot of players who see a board and game that doesn’t resemble WW2 (rather often a car park).

Moving back to a single formation would need to come with further restrictions. I propose

1. A minimum of 60% of your force must be from your company (Formation) assets. No name only companies. If you want to field a Infantry company then field it, not just 2 small platoons, mortars, a load of Support and a second Formation so you don’t break. Companies fought as companies its the backbone of the military structure in the land component.

2. The remaining points can be spent on Support, ie current support diagram, although I would advocate that Companies could each have a list other units they may add (once). So like formation support but targeted. Eg If if that company was supported by these units in reality they could take a suitable platoon. Eg 7AD Sherman support to the 101st Airborne in the Bulge book but not Pershings!

3. If a company cant make 60% of the allotted points then they must take all available platoons (at full strength and additional options) before taking Support. Note that a later article will look at points cost and how this would mitigate recce formation spam. You might find these is a non issue with new points and a tweak to Company composition.

Allies

First off (linking to point above) no allied formation/companies (as you can only have 1 Company). Allied options would be available based on Company chosen in the same way as expanded support. Ie did that formation actually fight with allies. A good example is that a Market Guard British tank formation could take a unit of US Paras as support.

So no more Romanians fighting in Theatre books they didn’t support and alongside units that were no-where near them.

Integrate all options into the book.

Command Cards on paper look like a good idea. Flavour and easy to reference. In reality command cards have become so complicated you need a PhD in FOW just to check lists for a tournament. LFTF has become a weighty tomb partly due to them. Also, the reality is that you cant keep them in stock and Forces of War now provides them anyway. Plus most of them have a handful that actually see the table (they suffer massively from 100pts rounding issues).

Instead bring everything into the books (even if that means you lose some fluff to keep them to a reasonable size). I use the example of the American Bulge book. After special rules, you then list a set of options all US forces from this book can take. For example lucky, 57mm HE, Total Air Superiority etc.

Next you have the Companies these would be laid out broadly the same as the current books but also include points for alternative stats. Again you would have one force diagram for a Chaffee Company with points for Cautious and Aggressive. Above the company would show the generic stats of each option (eg Cautious has a better tactics and aggressive has better last stand). When you build your army on forces it would generate unit cards accurate to the company you chose that you can hold on your portable devise or print out.

Companies would then have a choice of specific options which historically match them. Eg 7AD could take Patton, Sherman Companies and Tank Destroyers could take 76mm HVAP. An Engineer company could take the Roadblock and booby trap card. Infantry Companies could take outpost gun and machine gun positions etc.

Again we now have a real flavour and reason to take a company as each will allow access to very specific capabilities and characters. Plus it it super easy to build a force like this and understand it.

One book to rule them all

This is super simple. If you take a Bulge book then thats the only book you need or have access to. No taking Eastern Front Panthers in a Africa Corp force!

In reality this was tricky for V4. BF had to convert models to plastics (new revenue stream) and therefore didn’t want to include access in earlier books to models not yet released. Plus they needed surprises and new shiny things for each book. With plastics rolled out BF can be more flexible with V5. A perfect example is that Hellcats should have been in D-Day US from the start (they are now in the compilation) but they weren’t, as their plastic kit was a feature of the US Bulge release. This forced a complex situation of forces sharing books and while in theory this mitigated missing models needed for historic context it opened the door for the greatest a-historic pic and mix since an Ancient Egyptian set up a sweet stand in the Bovington Tank museum.

Forces of War access

The new D-Day compilation provides a code you can input into the online FOW army builder, Forces of War. This unlocks all the D-Day lists. With Forces of War now able to print your army including all command cards and unit cards this means that your book purchase immediately gives you the ‘complete package’. Previously, beyond the historic background and nice pics there was really no reason to buy the books rather than just the lists on Forces of War. This idea needs to continue for new books allowing seamless integration of Forces of War as the core platform for army list creation. It also mans all players will have access to Forces of War which is the vessel for updated ‘Dynamic points’ which we will look at in another article.

Army Creation Diagram

Based on the idea above a much simplified army creation process would be as follows.

Conclusion

V4 provided a solid way to represent Formations (Companies) with clear compulsory choices. The intent to produce a simpler and streamlined army creation process was noble one and partially succeeded. However, as the books have expanded the system has creaked and become complex and unwieldy. Even the most experienced players are confused by Command Card interactions and the fine balance between history and a fun game has been lost with forces no longer resembling any semblance of reality. Instead its a pick and mix of WW2 units to make the best list with minimal limitations.

V5 provides the chance to deliver a truly simple yet detailed way to produce a list, integrating the principles of V4 with the best aspects of earlier versions based around the greater granularity provided by a 2K pt system.

11 thoughts on “FOW V4 Gazing – Force Structure

  1. Dear Mark,
    Very good article, I duly agree with most of the points and definitely taking all the good aspects of the previous versions for a V5 will be a great improvement. However and taking the initiative from your article, I would like to share some of my concerns and thoughts.
    Points level: Being an old player since V2, used in 1000 point system, then to the V4 100 point system, going back to the 1000 point, will require all books/lists MW and LW to be reprinted or changed with a factor. Actually, none of the old V3 books has been easy to use in V4 doing maths in points and the formations have been quiet different.
    Single company: Yes, the 60% single formation force is a very good idea. In that case allies could be brought down to a single platoon instead of formation.
    For One book to rule them and to stop fielding “desert panthers or Hornises” I would add that a split of books in Fronts, even as compilations, might help. Eastern Front-Western Front & Med – North Africa. Thus players will have to decide which Front books will be allowed for each game.
    No mixing of fronts may give a little more historical flavour.
    Forces of war access with the D-DAY was a very good idea from BF. A player that has paid the book, why to don’t have free access to the force building diagram for the specific formations of the book. I have purchased all books and never used the web to build a formation (why to pay again for something that I have in hard copy?) .
    Thank you once again for your website and forum offering the opportunity to post comments and share thoughts.

    1. Hi John,

      I think regardless of points change the books will get redone at V5. Firstly the points need updating and secondly a change to force structure, support options etc would also require a change. BF also have to release new books to continue to drive sales.

      I think Bf are at a cross roads now. They either double down on 100pts and the pick and mix armies are find a way to drag the game back to more of a points and historic balance.

      1. Hi Mark

        Thanks your feedback comments. Taking into consideration an upcoming V5 and potential re-printing of the books, it would be great for BF to assess and enhance gamers’ comments or suggestions.
        Thinking of the upcoming EW that has been announced to be released next year, it will be very interesting to see whether a V5 will become a priority and before the EW release and also the big question of points and capabilities of national armies design. Always do hope that many of the V3 EW adverse arsenals will be corrected to result a, let’s say, more historical and equal for the game aspect.

        1. EW will be start of 2025 so unless they are hiding a big surprise I would not expect V5 for it.

  2. Merci pour votre article qui est une réalité (du moins aussi à mes yeux).
    En effet, si la V5 pouvait tenir compte de toutes vos remarques, ça serait super.
    Allez BF, faites le ! Vous ne pouvez être que gagnant en reconciliant tous les joueurs.

  3. I’d like to point out that the old system wasn’t really base-1000 – a 1500pt list was actually really a 300pt list with a fancy hat on, because the smallest points increment ever available was +5pts. The numbers only looked big.

  4. Good article and wide discussion !
    I think it will be unfair to compare V4 to V3 briefings and totally regret those. They did have flaws and non-interesting Builds were also something we saw (like UK or US Artillery Parks).
    For sure, V4 went too far into “you can create almost everything you want” which, even from a competitive standpoint, isn’t that great. Even if FoW is an “Historical game in name only”, I guess even competitors don’t mind for a little bit more accuracy.
    I like several Formations for the sake of diversity and obviously how the game is designed.
    I would however agree on reducing the possibilities of combining, and surely dividing by “Fronts” (like Eastern Front / North Africa in MW, or D-Day / Bulge / Bagration / Berlin / Italy in LW) would make more sense to avoid some twisting combos… providing the books are actually made to represent what was available locally.
    For what it worths : making list building a challenge again would be good for the sake of the game.
    PS : please bring back free Briefings on Thursday news BF !

  5. Hi,

    I understand and agree with most of the points raised, and none of them seem to me to require more than an agreement between players, not a new version of the rules.

    However, in the chapter on point values, what is stated is incorrect: 1500pts in 5pt increments is far less precise than 100pts in 1pt increments. You could say that the previous increment was 1/30th, and that it has now been refined to 1/100th…

    1. Hey, afraid you aren’t correct there. The old way has 3 x the fidelity. See Alex’s comment below who also states it.

      1. Oh sorry ! You’re right, I’d better get some sleep !

        For a new V4 player, I have to say that:
        a) counting in 100 pts is pleasant, although not very common in miniature wargames, and
        b) figuring out which book to buy to create your army list is quite complicated, requiring you to spend a lot of time looking for information.
        c) the freedom of choice of units is unexpected for a historical game, but this probably also explains its success in tournament format.

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