Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Flames of War

I  think it would be fair to say that I am not the worlds biggest historical wargamer, in fact you might say it doesn't interest me in the foggiest... and you'd not be too far from the truth. While for my parents generation I think historical wargaming was ever so slightly more important or prevalent in the hobby, it has taken somewhat of a back seat, certainly for me and my peers to sci-fi and fantasy inspired games, why? Well Elves and Jedi's are just way cooler than Red Coats and Yankees!!! Well they are to me. There's also something that I always found a little unnerving about the whole 'battle re-enactment' thing as well. Maybe others don't have an issue with it but I have to admit to being ever so slightly uneasy about say reliving the Alamo or the landings on Omaha beach. Actual people died in those fights and while I have no problem obliterating fantasy Orcs or space ninjas... dropping a mortar shell on an actual unit that had real people in it... well it just cuts a little too close for me.

I need to make it clear that I have not yet played any 'proper' games of Flames of War, I had an abortive intro game at a hobby store I happened to stumble across while trying to find a train station and... well the guy running the game had some interesting 'beliefs' and it kind of put me off the whole thing for a while. However people kept saying give it a go, have a try, its good fun etc. etc. etc... so I got the starter set, Open Fire, which gives me 2 German tanks and 3 American tanks, a mini rulebook some dice; you get the picture. Now I've actually played 2 games using this starter set and while I'm certain there's way more to the game, I do like the mechanics of it all. It seems fast and fluid and well structured. So I went out and got a load of the source books and I have to say they are exceptionally well produced and are of an extremely high quality and treat the source material with an incredible amount of reverence and dignity... unlike the strange guy who gave me the intro game, who I still to this day regret not punching!

Now while I still find it uneasy using say a Panzer Mk III tank to blow up a British Matilda II, I know I know I'm sure that makes me sound pathetic, but even I must admit that the core mechanics behind the Flames of War game are actually quite fun. It would also seem that there is a huge population of gamers out there who seem to feel the same way. While it'd be fair to say that Flames of War is far from the first 15mm WWII game, it has popularised them way beyond what they've achieved before. I remember 15mm Sherman V's being painted from my very early youth and I think there must be a market for these sorts of product, but where Battlefront Games have really excelled is in the execution of their product. Now some have unfairly said they've 'Games Workhopised' (or rationalised) WWII and while I can see the argument for some form of George Ritzer type 'McDonaldization' of the product range, I'm not too sure that's a bad thing. Let me explain...

They've done a great job on the rules and in making the often quite complex array of choices and historical options seem easy with the simple Early, Middle and Late (EML) war marking of products, from miniatures to source books. Because to the none historically minded all of the different tank variants and choices can seem quite bewildering, and while some people have bemoaned what they perceive as the 'dumbing down' of the historical detail into EML there can be no question it has made the miniature range and WWII historic wargames in general far more accessible to a far wider audience. The next thing they get right is the miniatures, and its this reason this article is going into my resin month, why? Well because the tanks and vehicles are cast out of resin, and given the popularity of the game, the quantities they have to produce them at is very, very impressive and I'm sure those who have had experience working with the stuff will admire the amount they produce and the consistency and quality.

You see while there are other companies like Studion McVey, kingdom Death and Bane Legions that show that incredibly detailed and fine miniatures can be produced in resin and done as well to a far superior standard than many companies can produce metal models, it is Battlefront and their Flames of War range that show resin can also be used to produce miniatures on a mass scale. Maybe you could also say that of Spartan Games who have had to impressively ramp up production of their miniatures to meet ever increasing demand. What Games Workshop is attempting is to do both at the same time; and while I can admire their ambition I think currently their execution is a little off, but the success of these companies should give them some small comfort. However there is a caveat here; although the Flames of War miniatures are indeed mass produced and yes damn fine replications of their real world counterparts the reality is they are neither as detailed nor as complex as many of the former metal models Games Workshop is currently trying to produce in resin... But back to Flames of War.

Perhaps its because I'm getting older, perhaps its because I have a greater appreciation for the history of WWII, although I always felt that I had a good appreciation because of my Grandparents, but the idea of actually re-enacting actual historical battles with little toy soldiers doesn't seem as weird, or dare I say it as distasteful as it did too me a few years back. There is also the fact that as a hobbyist and painter the idea of attempting to say paint an accurate colour scheme for the British North African army my grandfather was part of, or the subsequent Italian campaign is starting to seem like a worthy hobby challenge. The fact that its also backed up with an intuitive and fun little game system is a further boon for Flames of War... its not however enough, just yet to tip me over the edge into getting some forces. Now I know some of you will be pleased because I've managed to broaden some of your gaming horizons a little wider than perhaps your wallets can stretch.

So yeah sure I've got a load of the rules and source books and a damn fine product they are too and the starter set, but plumping for an entire force, no matter how tempting a desert rats force would be, just isn't on the cards right now for me. It might however be for you, so do pop over to the Flames of War website and check the game for yourselves. For my part there are a few people I know who actually play Flames of War, and I might try to rope one of them into doing me a proper intro game to fling on these here pages for your viewing pleasure... in the meantime this gamer is going to get back to his Elves, Orcs and space ninjas. Peace out!


  1. I have been tempted by Flames of War myself, so it was great to get a review of the game. Thanks.

  2. Yeah, if you like the WWII setting I think Flames of War isn't a bad product at all... just don't think its quite for this geek, just yet. I'm going to be having a few games with a friend who'll run me through it and I'll do a battle report then and give you my final thoughts.

  3. "There's also something that I always found a little unnerving about the whole 'battle re-enactment' thing as well. Maybe others don't have an issue with it but I have to admit to being ever so slightly uneasy about say reliving the Alamo or the landings on Omaha beach. Actual people died in those fights and while I have no problem obliterating fantasy orcs or space ninjas"

    THIS! I've been unable to get myself into Flames of War despite the fact that the rules are good and it's affordable. I just can't get myself to have fun re-enacting something where a huge bunch of people died horribly, while fighting for the rights of our pasty butts to sit around playing a game of toy soldiers in freedom.

    I have the same problem with modern wargames depicting more recent conflicts too. Honestly though, I think I'll rather stick to my space ninjas.

  4. @Beltayn I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels a little uneasy about it!!! lol. I was starting to think its was just me with this weird psychological block. I can tell you now that even as a Brit playing as the Germans with the starter set and obliterating the American tanks felt a bit weird for me.

    However I know for many people I know they have no such problem. I also like the idea of having to paint up military vehicles etc as close to the real life thing as possible, the challenge of that does excite the painter in me for instance. The product is of a good quality and if you think of the game in abstract the mechanic aren't at all bad. It'd still feel weird commanding, tbh any force in an actual reenactment of a battle where brave soldiers tragically lost their lives, no matter how sensitively the subject is treated by the manufacturers of FoW, Battlefront and its fans.

  5. What other wargame gives you the chance to field a bear? Lots. What other wargame gives you the chance to field a bear you can visit statues of in London? Not many.

    1. I take it we're talking 'Private Wojtek' here... aren't we? Or have I secretly crossed over into a weird alternate universe? lol.

  6. Bwa ha ha! I'm posting on an article over a year old! It's nefarious...somehow.

    I just got the new Open Fire! starter set (not the one in this article, but the newest one, with all kinds of plastic goodness in it) and had my very first game on Sunday. I had an enjoyable time, and have already bought some additions to my starter forces. The Battlefront minis are darn expensive though. I may have a look at Plastic Soldier Company, or wait to see if Battlefront switches some of their stuff over to plastic. Another option is to just use the 15mm stuff for smaller battles, and drop down to 6mm for the big battles. I'd just have to halve the movement and ranges. Or maybe just movement?

    Man, just played my first game, and I'm already thinking about changing things up. XD