Flames of War

Michelle Lyons asked me for my impressions of Flames of War, which is a World War II miniatures game published by a New Zealand company called Battlefront. I’ve been collecting a German Afrika Korps army based on the historic Ramcke Brigade of paratroopers, though it has been going slowly due to a distinct lack of free time on my part. My friend Rick is doing a British Desert Rats army, so we can (eventually) clash in the deserts of North Africa.

The game is probably the biggest thing to hit historical miniatures since Warhammer Ancients and the two share some features. This is likely no coincidence, since I believe several of the Battlefront staff are ex-GW folk. In any case, what Flames of War does is take the Warhammer approach and apply it to historical gaming. To whit:

· There is one core book and a series of army books. Some of these are specific to unit types (like the Diving Eagles book on German paratroopers), some of them are broader national treatments (like the Yanks book on the US Army), and some of them cover specific battles (like the Stalingrad book). The core book has a variety of army lists from the mid-war period so you can play with just that, while the army books present many other army list options.
· All the books have a very high level of visual appeal and excellent graphic design. In the historical minis industry, this is more rare than a Bush administration hawk that actually went to Vietnam. Most companies in that business either don’t see it as important or can’t afford it. The Flames of War books are beautifully put together, with full color pictures of painted miniatures, archival photos, and a small amount of original art.
· The hobby side of miniatures is played up, with sections on painting and modeling. These often include color schemes for the uniforms that tell you what paint from a variety of lines is most appropriate, which is a nice touch.
· Then of course there are the minis. Although there are many 15mm WWII minis to choose from, of course Battlefront has its own extensive range. They do both unit and army boxed sets in addition to blisters, and the army sets in particular make it easy to jump into the game. The sculpting is generally of high quality and done in pewter. The tanks and vehicles are usually a mix of resin and pewter.
· Flames of War also has an excellent website, with constant updates. These include previews and battle reports, but they also have a nice series of historical articles as well. These include army lists for more obscure forces (Greeks, for example).
· The game runs off the familiar six-sided die. The rules are fairly straight forward, particularly if you’ve played other minis games before.

All that said, I have one big caveat: I haven’t actually played the game yet. My army is halfway done but I need some free time to finish gluing my tanks together and to fill out my infantry with some specialized squads. The rules read just fine. Players alternate turns and there’s the typical Move-Shoot-Assault breakdown. Perhaps the most unusual feature is that hitting the enemy is based on his experience, not your skill. It’s much easier to hit poorly trained Red Army conscripts, for example, than veteran German grenadiers. I’ve only run across a couple of rules that made me scratch my head (the biggest one being that flame thrower units get to shoot once and then are removed from the game), but I’d have to see how those worked in play before getting too critical.

Flames of War is a company scale game, so the core of your army is either an infantry of tank company. Tactical units are platoons. The 15mm scale means you can field a real combined arms force, which is much more difficult in 28mm skirmish-style games. A typical army features infantry, tanks, and artillery. You can also add varying levels of air support. While it’d be unusually to see more than a couple of planes on the tabletop at any one time, it’s good to see air power represented in the game. And what’s a German army with a screaming Stuka or two?

That’s my brief overview. Hopefully, I can actually play a game soon and then maybe I’ll have more to say. If you are interested, I’d recommend taking a look at http://www.flamesofwar.com.

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