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February 16, 2012

Review: FoW v3

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Greetings, Comrades! They call me Frost here, and I have big news for all of you. Flames of War Version 3 is here, and it looks like a lot went into its creation. Let’s dig into the new mini-rulebook and see what we find.



The first thing you will notice about the version 3 FoW mini-rulebook is its size. In all, the book is a hefty 297 pages, thicker than the previous mini-rulebook and Das Book combined. As with other mini-books from Battlefront, a few pages tend to fall out within a week, and will probably need a trip to Kinko’s or a similar place before long. I can’t really complain, since free is free, and their hardbacks are some of the best in the business, but they may want to just cut out the middleman and just spiral bind their mini-books themselves in the future.

The next thing you might notice is how well-arranged this rulebook is when compared to the version 2 book. The layout is excellent, with rules arranged to maximize their relevance to the section of the book where they are found. Despite its massive size, the version 3 rulebook is exceptionally easy to navigate and any rule you seek can be found in moments. One of the biggest complaints about version 2 was how the rulebook was poorly arranged and how scattered the rules seemed to be. Battlefront definitely listened and got this one right, despite the relatively large quantity of rules FoW has compared to other miniatures games.

The book and its layout weren’t the only things that changed, of course. Many rules have been changed completely, and a lot of rough edges have been smoothed over. For example, terrain has become clearly defined and categorized with full explanation for how each type of terrain affects the game, and all in one location within the book. Unit movement speeds have been improved and clarified, with slow tank and very slow tank now movement categories all their own. Cavalry has been changed significantly, with a base move of 10” and a skill test in the shooting phase to gain another 4” if you forgo shooting. In addition, cavalry now assault at the standard 4” distance. Just how much this will change the game for Cossacks is yet to be seen, but I know plenty of players eager to find out.

Smoke screens are significantly weaker now, with units in smoke now able to see units up to 16” away, as well as now having to be entirely within the smoke template to be affected by it, rather than simply touched by it. So if smoke was important for your close-in game, you may have to make some adjustments.

Another really big change is gun team survivability, where Battlefront really has really come through with an elegant solution to making gun teams worth taking. Now, when a gun team is Gone to Ground, they benefit from a 3+ save, rather than their normal 5+. This better reflects the difficulty of locating and taking out gun teams before they fire, and their high vulnerability once they have exposed themselves by firing. Now that gun teams have a fighting chance, I expect that we will see a lot more of them in the future.

Transports and towed artillery got a few nice changes, with transports getting an opportunity to remount and carry on after taking fire, as well as being able to now call their transports back from the rear. Limbered guns can now unlimber and not count as moving, which is a solid boost, especially since they can immediately go to ground for a better save if they don’t have any good targets. This will be one to watch, as I think it will be interesting to see how people use this rule in their overall game plan.

Assaults have become a bit less confusing; gone are the days of daisy-chaining several platoons for miles around for one big defensive fire thanks to clever use of independent teams. Now defensive fire is very simple: If you are within 8” of an assaulting team, you can throw your shots into the defensive fire. If you are a tank, only machine guns and turret-mounted guns can engage assaulting infantry; those assault guns just can’t keep up with the little buggers! In all, assaulting still isn’t easy if your opponent has a wall of steel waiting for you, but at least you won’t feel like you were cheated, and you will probably see it coming. Also, Breakthrough Assaults have been removed from the game.

Another change that players have long asked for is how flamethrowers affect tanks. Rather than suffering an auto-bail, as in the past, tanks are only bailed by a flamethrower hit if the firer passes a firepower test. Don’t bench your flamethrower teams just yet, though. Regardless of whether you bail the tank or not, any tank hit by a flamethrower now loses any shots it would have in defensive fire for that turn, ensuring that flamethrowers will continue to be a valuable tool for assault-oriented forces.

Perhaps one of the most welcome changes in version 3 is the increased predictability of aircraft performance. In version 2, aircraft had a big potential payoff, but miniscule odds of success. Now aircraft range in automatically on targets in the open, but only get one chance to range in on targets in concealment. This is a clever and fairly realistic change that may yet redeem air power in FoW. Not only will this make aircraft more useful, but it could also make AA a staple in FoW armies. This is yet another change that I think will significantly affect the meta-game.

There are quite a few other changes that warrant attention, and I have simply talked about the most important ones that came to mind. To see them all, get your hands on a book. If you liked version 2, I think you will be pleased with the direction version 3 has taken.

Cheer up, buddy. Now all those French tanks with one-man turret can fire their guns on the move!

With that said, there are certainly things that I would have liked to see in the book that didn’t make it. These are things that I think the game needed, but didn’t get or are still problems:

1. Some way to incorporate weight of fire. Warmachine gets it done with Combined Ranged attacks, and FoW could do with a toned-down version of this rule. The fact that a Panther is invincible to an entire battery of ZiS-3 guns with PTRD support is neither realistic nor fun. This could be fixed by narrowing the range of armor and AP values, but that has to be done at the army book level over a considerable amount of time. Weight of fire would be a more elegant and easily implemented solution, so long as care is taken to make sure it isn’t too powerful.

2. RoF 1 Guns still suck. Making IS-2s cheaper has not made them even a shadow of what they were in actual combat. I know this game is far from a simulator, but the ‘feel’ is just not right. This one needed a better solution.

3. Make 6’s always hit. If it is in range and LoS, you can hit it. No matter how well you hide, if the enemy knows you are there, they can effectively engage you. This rule has almost exclusively benefited Veteran-rated armies in an unrealistic and un-fun manner. If you can see your enemy (or at least know where he is) and he is in your effective range, you can kill him.

4. Missions can still go on for eternity. Games, even long ones, need some end in sight that pressures a player into getting the job done despite the risks. Spending turns 10-18 trying to kill one stand of dug-in infantry isn’t fun for either player.

5. The scoring system is still irrelevant. All that changed was the penalty on companies that brought 9+ platoons, which addresses the problem for only a very small number of players, and even then very ineffectively. Tournaments simply don’t use the old scoring system anymore, and I don’t anticipate that they will use the new one.

6. Missions changed a bit, but not enough. While missions got a decent revision, with some interesting new missions and rules aimed at making lists adhere more to their archetype, there was much more that could have been done in my opinion. I would have liked to see a more modular approach to missions, i.e. where a recon company on the attack would not have the same goal a tank or mechanized company would have in the same mission.

7. Lastly, and don’t think I’m just hating on Germans, because my Gepanzerte Panzergrenadierkompanie is one of my favorite armies, but I have to say that Stormtroopers needed changing, and it didn’t happen. To get to the point, it should have at least been changed to not affect vehicles. In general, the rule could really use a lot of work. It represents extraordinary initiative, something the Germans commonly displayed time and time again. Yet it has devolved into a technique that simply mitigates most forms of risk in the game. Choosing when to take a risk is important, and anything that mitigates risk, even if it sometimes fails, is a huge force multiplier. In its current form, the Stormtroopers rule has been and will continue to be the crutch of German army lists. Will Germans need to be point-costed less if Stormtroopers changes? Definitely. Should the current point costs continue to be used as an excuse not to change a rule that is clearly broken? No. At some point, this one has got to change, and version 3 (or Grey Wolf, as it included all late war German point values) was a missed opportunity to get it done.

Overall, I think Battlefront did a good job with Flames of War Version 3. They fixed a lot of major issues, simplified/clarified many rules, and did it all without changing the game so much that veteran players would have difficulty adjusting. There were very few changes that I did not think would have a positive change on the gamer, and none that I thought would have a negative effect. If you liked FoW v2 and played it up until now, you will really like FoW v3. That being said, if you despised FoW v2, v3 is not likely to bring you back to the table. It is still fundamentally the same game with the same mechanics. FoW Version 3 is a badly needed and worthy revision, but it is not a new game. For my part, despite a few reservations, I expect to play FoW v3 and enjoy it far more than I did its predecessor.

And that’s it! Feel free to comment on any changes in V3 you liked/disliked, as well as what you think the meta-game will look like in FoW v3.
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