Flames of War 4th Edition – First Impressions

Since the advent of Flames of War 4th Edition, I’ve kind of been slow-rolling my Flames of War spending and hobby time. I wanted to wait a little and see what came out. Over the weekend I finally broke down and bought the 4th Edition rules for Flames of War. I have wanted to play Mid-War in the desert for a long time. I even have an unfinished DAK company that I started based on the old 2nd Edition books. So I ripped off the Band-Aid bought the rules and Monty’s Desert Rats so I would have some units to throw down on the table against my Germans and try it out.Flames of War Rule Book 1942-1943

So that didn’t happen. I really liked the Desert Rat models. I will probably do a post as I finish them up. However, as you will see from the List Building section below, I haven’t yet been able to play an actual game of Flames of War 4th Edition Mid-War (Rrrrgh!) So these are my initial impressions based on having read the rules and trying them out with Late War games. So far 4th edition seems like a mixed bag.

The Book Itself

Ok true first impression. The rule book is even smaller. They left out a lot of the fluff. Its cheaper and easier to produce without it. Battlefront has kept the same overall high quality graphics. The rules seem clear and written as simply as possible.

Terrain

I like the new Tall, Short, Flat terrain categories used for Line of Sight (LoS) and Concealment. This seems to simplify these concepts. However, the types of terrain seem to have multiplied. There is a full page table listing the terrain types along with their terrain dash speed type (replaces double time), if they need a cross test (check to move through difficult terrain), and whether they provide bulletproof cover. Before you play you better have a long talk with your opponent about what each terrain features on the table is classified as. Is that a stream or a creek or a river over there? Yes, it makes a difference. I also recommend you laminate a copy of that page and keep it handy. It’s not part of the Quick Reference Sheets and you’re gonna need it.

Artillery

Observer and any company command team can act as spotters and gun teams can spot for themselves. There is no longer a minus for using a command team as a spotter (thumbs up!). The artillery can now fire at any spot on the board to which a spotter has LoS! No more having to target a specific team. The template is centered on that spot. Much more realistic. I like it a lot. Smoke bombardments can now only be fired by an artillery team once per game. Less realistic but I understand the need for the rule change as some players like to constantly fight in a cloud of haze.

Fewer Observer Teams

I’m ok with this. In a company on company combat it’s unlikely that you would have 4 separate observer teams focused on it, even if it was theoretically the focal point of a larger battle. Company command teams certainly would call in fire, especially to organic artillery support such as attached mortars. The fact that command teams no longer receive a penalty for spotting further negates the need. A mechanism for runners would be cool for historical accuracy, but that’s a definitely step too far from the perspective of complexity.

Hit Allocation

This was definitely one part of the rules that needed a lot help. The new rules are much, much simpler. Each shooting team picks a target, your roll your hits, and apply the hits as targeted. There is a new Mistaken Target rule which the targeting player can use to reassign the hits to a specific team but the intention at least is not for this to be used often. In fact, I didn’t use it at all in my test games. Compared to that crazy flow chart used to apply hits in version 3 this is so much simpler. So far, I love it.

Morale

I like the new Last Stand rules. They make sense to me and seem pretty straight forward. Only core units count towards what is basically a morale save to keep the company on the table.

National Special Rules

Yes they are still there. I was worried because I heard some rumors of them disappearing or becoming optional. In the 4th edition book only rules for the British and Germans are provided. You will have to buy the intel briefings if you want to see the national rules for Americans, Russians, Italians, and Japanese when they come out eventually. The rules that are there though are pretty similar to the third edition rules but seem easier to apply. The one big gap I saw is the Kampfgruppe rule is missing from the German national rules. This is going to be a big blow to German players like myself. That was a great rule for creating an ad hoc platoon under the 2iC and really added the feel of the desperate Germans throwing together whatever they were able to defend themselves. I’m pretty sad about this one.

Command Units

The HQ unit is just stand a standalone unit now. There are no rules for warrior teams at all in the basic rule book. The company commander seems to only be able to join another unit during assaults. Any unit in the HQ unit can be designated the company commander. They seem to have done away with the second in command (2iC). There is a new rule that if the company commander is killed he has a 3+ save to survive and you replace another unit of the same type in the HQ with him, so maybe they figured you wouldn’t need him. It would have been nice to have him as an independent team for spotting. I still haven’t played enough to know if I like this or hate this. Probably neither. It’s just different.

Battlefront has reduced the focus on warrior teams as I mentioned above. Rules for warrior teams are in the Special Rule Book which you can download from Battlefront. I’m ok with this. I always thought the warriors were fun and could add flavor to a game so I’m glad they are still an option but let’s be honest, historically speaking there is very little chance of Monty, or Patton, or Von Sauken, or Rommel taking command of a single company on the battlefield (ok, maybe Rommel J).

Support Command Teams

The loss of command teams I don’t fully understand in game terms. At the end of the day they did add a little bit to the game, but losing them doesn’t affect it that much especially since company (and yes I will always refer to it as a company instead of a formation) morale is based only on core troops. However, I always enjoyed modeling and painting the command and staff teams more than the regular gun teams so I will miss them. Realistically, my guess is this was as much a business decision as a rules decision. It’s just that many fewer miniatures and bases Battlefront needs to design and put in a package that they will still charge the same price for.

Minefields

Now instead of a 2×8 inch mine field you place a token at the center of the field and it exists in a 4 inch diameter circle around the token. The shape is different but the effect is the same. The only big difference for me is now I can’t use all of the minefield terrain pieces I built from scratch, which sucks.

Victory Points

The changed the number of victory points you get for winning and losing by making the gap between the two bigger (e.g., 8-1 instead of 6-1). It’s still based on how many units you lost. Not there size or quality. So a single tank unit like a captured panzer platoon is still worth the same as a 12 stand strelkovy company. It’s different, I don’t know if it’s better or not since I don’t really play tournaments. When I typically play, it’s a binary system, 1-0, either you won or you lost.

Missing Rules

I’m all for streamlining when possible, but for me historical accuracy and completeness is more important. I’m concerned that in an effort to make the game simpler that they sacrificed too much. For example I don’t see any rules for flame throwers any more. While the DAK had them they were not that prevalent during the North African campaign. However as Mid-War rules these will also apply to the Eastern Front where flamethrowers were prolific. The rules for the trains are also absent. Which in theory is fine if they add these back in the books which contain lists that include flamethrowers and trains. It will be annoying because now you have to track multiple books for the rules. I’d rather see all the rules including the national rules in a single book so all I need to have is a rule book and my army list print out. The more upsetting possibility is that they are dropping the rules for flamethrowers and trains all together from 4th edition. Considering the historically common use of flamethrowers especially on the eastern front and the amount of time and money I have spent on train models, I would be very unhappy about this. It also makes me wonder if there is anything else just missing. It’s always harder to figure out what’s not there than what is.

Recovery Vehicles

No more recovery vehicles. I always thought these were a little odd any way. If you read the personal accounts of WWII tankers the recovery vehicles were not often seen in the middle of heated combat. They were more likely to show up after the fighting was over (and usually not until it was dark) to recover damaged vehicles and haul them to the rear or unstick stuck ones. This is probably the only missing rule I’ve found that I won’t miss (except for the fact that my recovery vehicle models are now a total waste). This change makes sense to me and hey that’s that many less SKUs Battlefront had to keep on the books which were not big sellers anyway. (Wow that sounded cynical even to me).

List building

So instead of a company you now make a formation. Yeh, whatever. I’m still going to call it a company. I’d like to put some more detail in here but I after I bought the rule book the first thing I did was flip to the back and guess what? There are NO company (formation) diagrams in the book. Only a single example on how to build a company. So after you buy the book you can’t even play unless you also buy one of the intel briefings. I plan on getting them both but the local hobby shop where I bought the rules was sold out. I currently have both the DAK and Desert Rats books ordered, but until I get them, I’m stuck. I thought I could go to Forces of War but… no (see below). In theory you can use the cards that came with the units, but they seem to be more confusing than helpful. This was a huge disappointment for me.

From what I can tell from the example in the book, the rules for list building are much looser. This is the opposite of what I want. Even the 3rd edition company diagrams gave options for anything theoretically possible instead of historically likely. I liked the lists to be a specific as possible preferable only giving historically accurate options. This seems to be a case of you fixed it even though it wasn’t broken. Hopefully they didn’t break it but to be honest I have my doubts. Fingers crossed.

Unit Costs

They also changed the unit point values for list building. I haven’t been able to confirm this but it seems like they took the point costs in 3rd edition and divided by ten. Not sure why they bothered with this. The old system worked just fine and in fact gave you more flexibility because now an option that cost 5 points before isn’t going to cost .5 points now. More likely there will be fewer options. I’m sure this was an effort to simplify list building and maybe is closer to what a lot of other systems in the industry use but again this seems like you fixed something that wasn’t broke or was changed for the sake of change (boo!)

Forces of War

I was very disappointed that there is zero, zilch, none, nadda, 100% no support for v4 lists on Forces of War. That was seriously poor planning on their part. How did Battlefront not have a Forces of War update timed for release with the books? Especially as they seem to be releasing a lot of content only available there and the rather steep prices they are charging for it. Battlefront definitely does not have a good handle on the digital age.

Cards

Meh. Ok, I know, that’s the direction the miniatures industry is going. All miniature games have cards now so Battlefront feels like they need cards too. They are definitely not helpful for list building. . The problem with using the cards to build a list is that you only have cards for units you’ve purchased. Not to mention that any pre-4th edition models don’t have cards. I need the company diagram to plan a list so that I know what I need to buy. I also found the layout of the cards and locations of the info awkward. I will end up either having to flip through them constantly or need room on the table to lay them out. I understand cards for skirmish games like Malifaux where each miniature or unit has a set of unique rules. Flames of War though has a fairly limited and consistent set of rules for each unit type (minus warriors). That’s one of the awesome things that I love about this game. I’d much rather have a simple table printed out with my list and its stats. So I don’t think I’ll get much out of the cards or even use them.

Pricing

They rule book was nicely priced at $25. Cool. The Intel books seem a little thin but they’re only $20. I can live with that. So previously, the normal price for a package of vehicles worked out to about $13 US per model. They are now selling the plastics for $9 US per model. While I appreciate the reduction in cost and the quality of the plastic sculpts (infantry not included), I suspect that Battlefront has still increased there per model profit margin. $9 still seems a bit high, especially now that the amount of time I have to spend assembling the models has drastically increased. I’d rather pay $13 for metal, resin, and less assembly.

Overall Impressions

I like most of the changes they made to the mechanics of the game. Hit Allocation and Assaults both needed help. Hit Allocation is way better, assaults have improved. I do not like that they just dropped some rules such as trains, flamethrowers, and kampfgruppes. I was very disappointed that the basic company diagrams (or formation equivalent) for at least DAK and the British were absent from the book. From what I can tell the formation building mechanism is not improved and may in fact be worse than before, too broad at the company level but with fewer options at the individual unit or vehicle level. They had a good list building system that worked well, they shouldn’t have mucked with it.

Time will eventually judge this edition. Online I haven’t seen anyone totally pan 4th edition yet. I’ve seen talk in the forums of some people just sticking with 3rd edition which is fine for independent clubs or people like me who just play in their basement. I’ve seen others who are at least considering other game systems such as Battlegroup which they hadn’t before. I’m willing to give it a good shot. As I finish writing this I just got the email that my DAK and Desert Rat books are waiting for my down at Huzzah Hobbies. So hopefully I can build some Mid-War desert lists, get them on the table, and really kick the treads so to speak.

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One thought on “Flames of War 4th Edition – First Impressions

  1. Pingback: Afrika Korps and Desert Rats Review, Flames of War Mid-War 4th Edition – Flames of Walt

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