I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better – Georg C Litchenburg
Pull up a sandbag…
I first attended a FOW event about five years ago.
It wasn’t the biggest of events but it had about twelve players and we played five games over the weekend. Back then we were playing version 3 of Flames of War.
Just like the vast majority of events it followed the same pattern. We played two defensive battles, and three mobile/fair fights. A popular mix was Hold the Line, Counter Attack, Dust Up, No Retreat and Encounter. In these days working out attacker and defender was never really anything but the standard ‘Armour > Mech > Infantry’ along with the usual auto defend and auto attack nuisances. For the most part this worked.
Of course version three was widely regarded as a defenders advantage (ie its easier for the defender due to the defender winning if there is a time out). Also towards the end of the late war meta, auto attack for tanks had almost become a must have if you were competitive minded. However the key point to my rambling and reminiscing is that there was a standard and with very few exceptions (campaign events mainly) all events ran this way perhaps with a different mission mix (or rolled for at some).
As Version 4 makes its 18 month point I do not feel there is yet a standard for events, certainly in the UK. I am going to look at why and also explain how Breakthrough Assault will be doing it and hope that as time goes on, as different event organizers, we can find a common approach.
Version 4 match ups
The current Flames of War rulebook offers a variety of ways to choose attacker and defender, based on either agreeing with your opponent your preferred roles or rolling off.
However Battlefront released an add-on to the rulebook in the ‘More Missions‘ pack soon after launch of Version 4. Not only did this do as it says and add more missions, it also added a table allowing battleplans to be used to determine mission and who the attacker and defender is.
The key thing here is that before the battle you can think as a commander of your force and choose how best to approach your enemy.
For example, an armoured force would rarely want to attack head on into a infantry gun line so might choose maneuver, equally an infantry force with lots of guns would not want to go rushing around so chooses to defend. Of course war rarely works out how you want so you end up with chance of a defensive nature game favoring the gun line or a mobile battle like Counter-Attack just as the tank commander wanted.
The key thing about this system is that it stops what I call ‘silly’ situations. For instance, if you are going to play Hold the Line and both your armies are tanks then someone has to be the defender and therefore have deep reserves. That can cripple an armoured focused force and some expensive armies like Germans (especially below 100pts) would massively struggle to field guns and infantry to hold the line when rushed by a tankovy. The great thing about battleplans is that unless a tank army chooses a defense stance it wont have to face this odd situation.
So whats the issue?
At first glance you would be forgiven for asking ‘why hasn’t this just been adopted as standard?’ After all, I have yet to see an event in recent months that doesn’t use the actual missions and victory conditions (which were updated to prevent draws) from the more missions booklet. Well two reasons are put forward
- Some TOs like to have everyone playing the same mission. Some would say it makes things easier and also ensures everyone has the same experience.
Now, the former argument I do not agree with; after a match-up it’s down to players to sort the battleplans so the TO doesn’t need to be involved. However, the second one has some solid basis, being rooted in fairness from a competitive point of view. Now if you are playing in the Masters and everyone is taking things very seriously this ensures the playing field is level however I just don’t feel its that big a deal for 99% of events. At the end of the day you are picking what type of mission your force wants to play and that is being balanced against the opponents stance. You will not get exactly what you want all the time, just like everything in the game luck and the roll of the dice plays its part. Equally I would suggest not penalizing armoured players by forcing them into the wrong side of defensive battle is also fairer for everyone involved.
- The second and perhaps stronger reason is repetition of missions. Under battleplans there is the risk that you will play the same mission more than once.
Now, to be fair, this was hugely reduced by the new version of battleplans which added more variety to the dice off to decide the mission after stance selection. Also, if you take a one dimensional army. say a defensive British rifle formation with loads of 6pdrs and 17pdrs. and always choose defend. you are far more likely to play the same missions, even if facing a maneuver or attack stance. So in that case can you really be surprised that you have to be prepared to play the same mission more than once?
For me its just expectation management, even if you do have different dimensions to your army and change stance, you could still play the same mission. Fundamentally every battle is different, its against a different army, and normally on a different table. The fact that it might still be counterattack for the second time, doesn’t really concern me as the whole game will feel and play differently.
That being said, this is a real and legitimate concern and when I speak to other TOs its one of the key reasons they choose to not use the battleplan system.
So can we have our cake and eat it?
I think as a TO I can use battleplans and, whilst not eliminating the repetition of missions, certainly reduce them and, most importantly, keep the event fun.
Basically players should be left to carry out the process of arranging mission/attacker as normal using the table above and apply the following:
- If BOTH players have played the mission then if BOTH players agree then the mission can be re-rolled until a mission is rolled which ONE player hasnt played. The reason I say both is so that one player isn’t disadvantaged, perhaps they have been choosing this stance all weekend and waiting for this mission to come up.
- If ONE play has played the selected mission more than once already and doesn’t not wish to play it again then the TO/Umpire may select a similar mission to be played. As an example, say player 1 has played Hold the Line twice and the stances were maneuver and defend. If the player doesn’t want to play this again then he/she can ask the TO/umpire to re-select (unless both players can agree between them). In this case Hold the Line is a defensive mission style mission and therefore looking at the table a similar mission would be Rearguard or Bridgehead.
Basically I see this as a pragmatic way to mitigate some repetition of missions while staying true to the principle of V4 mission selection using more missions.
Breakthrough Assault Events
We view battleplans as a fundamental part of the current version of Flames of War. Embracing it and the changes it will bring to the format of an event is just a step into something different, and that to hang onto older styles designed for a different version will not allow the game to grow to its full potential. The game was designed and tested around battleplans and we feel it therefore provides the most balanced and fair experience allowing you to field the army you want rather than the army that satisfies what a TO has chosen as that events attack/defend decider. Therefore with the exception of campaign driven events like Ben’s upcoming Stalingrad campaign next year we will use battleplans at our events and also encourage opponents to discuss if they are having a duplication of missions and use the 2 points above if needed.
I hope that as MW is has now gained a lot more variety of forces and therefore tactics and choices we will see a greater variety of stances and playing styles, thus naturally reducing repetition.