I know that around here, we’ve always been primarily a video game group. From our humble origins in 1997 and Total Annihilation to today’s MMO ‘enriched’ world, we’ve always been a video game centric group. This tabletop ‘revolution’ as I like to think of it, is a relatively recent addition to our cadre of gaming bromigos. For the most part, and not unfairly, the few of us that do play tabletop war games have been monogamous with Warhammer 40k, or at the very least exclusive to Games Workshop.
I will fully admit that I love their product. Their 28mm sculpts are arguably the best in the biz, they have the most visible presence corporately, online and are one of the other war games to have a “true” brick and mortar operation. The great thing, and sometimes not so great thing, is that they have their own stores with their own staff and getting a game in or hobby advice is never too far away except for those of us who are not so blessed as to have a Gee Dub near by. However. The evolution of the game and the Friendly Local Game Store (or FLGS from here on out), has lead to a renaissance of gaming and a buffet of choices. For as much as it can be a blessing to have a GW near by, they do have a reputation as “The Evil Empire”.
And much like the Empire, they have some very good employees – the kind who question when a transport is using an older clearance code for passage through the Death Star’s deflector shield. And the kind who don’t, and accept substandard building practices that inevitably end in the horrific deaths of countless employees. More troubling is their love of the almighty buck. While I don’t fault anyone for wanting to make a living and for-profit organizations are definitely clutch, I’d prefer to not have to pay $17 for a can of paint, or more-over, I’d rather not pay $55 for a tank. The biggest boon, as well as the biggest downside to 40k, as much as I love its setting, atmosphere and the world they’ve systematically built over the last 25 or so years, is that they own it’s rights. They can tell you what a Space Marine looks like and you have to accept that, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it creates a situation where you are bound to buy their models lest you not be permitted to play on their lush fields of flock.
As a consequence I began to explore alternative games. I’ve always been a bit of a WW2 ‘enthusiast’. I hate that word… but I can’t think of a better one. There are a variety of games out there that feature the time period, but perhaps none so popular as Flames of War. It’s a totally different scale than 40k, being only 15mm models, which I don’t mind, as it can let you field a lot more grandiose force on the field getting as large as several companies in a megabattle scenario. Usually it’s Company vs Company. While People will notice the difference in the models I want to talk about a few things that really set FoW apart from the empire.
When you buy a 40k army you will be forced to buy a “codex”. Basically the listing of the troop choices that are available to your army. There is all kinds of neat fluff inside as well and cool pictures, and the books are kind of awesome, but at 40 bucks a pop – each it is the first sign that Gee Dub wants your cashmonies. Battlefront, the makers of FoW have designed a system that is very different. Rather than having to buy a book for each army, you need your core rulebook, like 40k, but then all you need is a “theatre book”. Flames of War is divided into 3 time periods. Early War, Mid War, and Late War. Representing both the changing face of the fronts and technology during those memorable years. In my gaming group we’ve chosen Mid War, and specifically we are playing out of the Africa & Mediterranean book. Now if someone wanted to play say, the Soviets, who aren’t in this book, they could still do so from the Mid War Eastern Front book, but included in the African book are all the army lists from the Germans, British (including many colonies – Go Canada), The Italians and the Americans.
Where they differ again, is that in 40k you have HQ choices, Troop choices, Elite choices, etc. etc.. and a Force Org. Chart that dictates how many of each you can take, which often, unfortunately, ends in very predictable army lists for many – as there are only so many “good” choices. In Flames of War, each Nation is represented by a number of army lists. Here is an example of a German Panzerkompanie – the force I’m playing, taken from the Italy & Tunisia part of the book.
Black boxes represent things you have to take, grey are optional choices. The pages that follow detail what each box contains, how many of something you can take, the points cost, and any available upgrades. For Germany alone there are literally 15 choices of possible companies. Ranging from Panzer divisions, to Fallschirmjäger, to Half-track mounted Heer. Additionally, within each list, there are a plethora of good choices to take. Do you spend the extra to upgrade your Panzer IIIs to Panzer IVs, and risk not having infantry to support them? Do you take the PaK38s with your Paratroopers or settle for shorter range, but more deadly recoilless anti tank guns?
The joy of it all is that things really are pretty balanced. Because so many armies are contained within one book, there is far far less ‘codex creep’.
Now it’s not all fun in the sun, but this really is just the intro into Flames of War. Next time we’re going to go deeper into what the models look like. How they feel, and how easily – or maybe not – they go together.