Friday, 11 April 2014

Flames of War - The Warhammer 40K of Historic Games

Last post until the Astra Militarum Codex arrives... 

Contrary to the suggestion of the title this is not in any way a GW rant etc or a suggestion that FoW is anything similar etc. But more about trying to get players to branch out a bit in their wargames. So with that in mind I shall explain.

Games Workshop's games, for many of us, is what got us into table top gaming. Especially newer players. As a result its generally considered an entry game that leads many players onto other game systems or model manufacturers. Almost any table top gamer (or those who dont even play wargames) knows about GW. This is really evident today with the hit video game series, Dawn of War. For example my step mother knew about GW long before I did and when she found out I was playing it with my friends took me to a GW store to get started. I had never even heard of a shop like it, yet she knew it had been there for years!

In my opinion GW is great like that. They bring in new generations of table top generals, who then over decades of time start to include other game systems under their belt. So when you see the new guy who knows nothing about anything but GW models and rules, just remember a lot of us were like that too. Its one of the early stages of gaming. I personally would still be making model kits that had no purpose but to be displayed if it weren't for GW. 

Of course not everybody follows the trend exactly, but generally, if I see a wargamer, I feel its safe to assume the person has had or has a GW army. 

Where does Flames of War come into this? 

Well its frequently said that Flames of War is the 40k of Historic wargaming, and the saying is pretty bang on. Its a game that sacrifices some realism for the sake of variety and game play. A short list of similarities between 40K  (in my opinion):
  • Aircraft, artillery, tanks, special characters and infantry are all present on the field. 
  • 1 HQ 2 troops minimum
  • Huge freedom on what type of list you choose and what goes in it
  • Simple I go, you go system
  • Special rules that help the nations feel unique. 
A short but simple list. There are many, many differences of course. But compared to most historic games Flames of war is simple and accessible. Its also a company level game (i.e 40K style battle sizes) over the usual skirmish style many historic games tend to be. Its almost as if it was designed with the goal of getting would be historic players to branch out from GW games. 

In saying that though there are many things about the FoW game that really make it stand out against GW. Such as:
  • Clear cut rules
  • Balanced for the most part
  • Books contain more than the bare minimum rules and proper painting guides. 
  • Stater set is amazing, it actually gets players to play the game. Rather than a set used by vets to grow their force. 
  • They communicate with players and change the rules if they need to. They also have people who playtest openly the rules. Resulting in a product that changes for the better. One of the playtesters happens to go to our club! 
There are plenty more, but these stick out a lot more to me personally. As someone who is naturally competitive I find 40k to be a little underwhelming at times. Simply put, its easy to win just by taking the right list. However I can play flames of war with my friends who are far less competitive and it feel like a close game every game. Nobody gets tabled. Nobody has rubbish units. Its all about strategy. 

I want to touch on the rules themselves a lot right here, because when I first purchased my set of rules I was amazed. The rulebook is huge, but has nearly no fluff. There is a rule for every situation. Most of the rules may never be used, but if we ever have a dispute, we look it up and bam there is an answer. No roll offs to see who is right, no interpenetration, no conflict. Its clear, simple and well formatted. Then you get the books with lists in them. You choose a time period, a nation and then a theater. Each book has 3+ nations. Each nation has a few "mini armies" to choose from and you make your list from there. Its not a tomb of stories you have to lug around to each game, its a set of rules you carry to a game. 

Their website has everything else hobby and history related on there. Including free rules, insight into the ideas behind rules and playtesting, a forum, instructions, painting guides, themes, terrain and anything else wargaming related. They support tournaments as well and at these tournaments they allow 3rd party models as well. 

Unlike 40k they are clearly far more hobby focused rather than money focused. 

So whats the point of all this? 

Well im not saying 40K sucks and we should all play other games. Not by a long shot. But if you have an interest in historic gaming or history, yet have not branched out to any games set as such. Give FoW a try. I got 2 players at the club with armies by simply buying a starter set. One got another starter set and we split the factions between us. I then sold the spare faction to another player. The starter set is that great. You get more than a full army for 2 from just 2 sets. Cheap sets too. 

The hardest part is deciding where to start. Like 40k there is a heap of books and sets. So if you are looking into the game, check out Easy Army. Its supported by Battlefront too. The site is pretty much an army builder. Its free to join and membership comes with a heap of free lists and all the rules for those lists. There are more lists that cost 2 NZD if you want to use a particular list that doesnt come free. Every single army book is on there, updated and supported. You dont actually have to by the book at all. Simply choose and make the list, print it and you are away. 

Its just a nice change of air over GW games. So I urge people to try it. Its made to be accessible and its very quick to pick up. If you love tanks, infantry, cavalry, artillery, paratroopers or if your great granddad was in a regiment or anything else, there is a list for you. 

I will suggest that you talk to someone else who is interested and find out what they are into. My club found its taste in early war infantry. But you and your friend may settle on mid war or late war or even vietnam. 

The game, like all, certainly isnt perfect. And GW certainly has many features in their games Flames of War does not. But its pretty easy to collect and play these two systems and not feel over whelmed. They go hand in hand very well. 

So if you have any interest in history, and want to branch out a little. I suggest Flames of War. Its an easy transition and whilst similar to GW, it certainly has far less flaws 9nearly non in my opinion). 

So give it a try! 


  1. I would say that the games made by Warlord games could be the Warhammer 40k of historical gaming, especially since Priestly used to work for Games Workshop, but whatev's

    1. Well that could very well be the case in your area, however from experience its Flames of war that gets 40k players into historical gaming. Warlord games is similar model scale but there are very few similarities from what I have seen.

      Personally if I wanted to show a 40K player historic games at an entry level, id choose Battlefront over Warlord games.

  2. I haven't personally seen any historicals being played except for FoW, myself. It wouldn't surprise me if they copied what works from 40k to make an accessible historical, and that's why it's so popular. From what I've been told, most other historicals tend to bog down VERY quickly as rules are extremely nit-picky, convoluted and cumbersome - a sign that playability has been sacrificed for historical accuracy.

    I'd note, though, that 40k isn't a strategy game, nor is it trying that hard to be one. People who want a game that pits player skill against player skill will always grow to dislike 40k over time. Given that FoW seems so similar to 40k (dice rolling, UgoIgo, etc.), the extra feeling of it being strategic is probably a veneer. If someone wants to play a strategy game, then just go play Chess or Go like everybody else.

    1. Bang on point one. Flames of war is a simple basic system thats more focused on game play than accuracy.

      As to 40k not being a strategy game, I agree. Flames of war however is a bit different in a way as it feels like chess with a 40k twist. With minor differences, my guy infantry is pretty similar to the one across the table. Same with aircraft and so on. There is just enough variety that it feels like your army is different, but enough samness that feels like you are playing a balanced roughly competitive game.

      The reason I play Flames of War (aside from the history setting) is because i can be competitive and strategical without ruining out breaking the game as designed. Its not perfect, but its better.