Thursday, June 1, 2017

My Future with Flames of War

Just over 7 years ago I played my first game of Flames of War after literally years of wanting to try it.  This was towards the end of 2nd edition.  I had tried to get the game going back in the 1st edition days, and I even bought most of an army, but no one locally was very interested so it never got off the ground.  After that first proper game I was hooked and Flames of War soon became my main game pushing out others such as Lord of the Rings and Warhammer 40,000.  Most of my time with Flames of War has been with the 3rd edition rules and for the most part I thought the rules were fine.  There were a few things I would have changed but I felt, and still feel, the core of the system works great.

Along comes Team Yankee and things start to get weird.  I was not really interested in this game, and I still am not very interested, but a few of my friend are and jumped right in.  They all seemed to really enjoy the game and most seems to like the card based unit creation system.  My friend Tom, after getting into TY, was convinced that this would be the model for Flames of War v4.  I wasn't convinced this would be the case and I wasn't even convinced that there would be a v4 any time soon.  Well, I was wrong on both counts and, as we all know, version 4 was released a couple of months ago and it is 99% Team Yankee (I am actually referring to Mid-war version 4). 

Battlefront really made a mess of the new release process and through some bad communication to the customer base really got off on the wrong foot with version 4.  As an example, it was not really clear until just prior to release that this actually entails the release of what is effectively two games that share much of the same rules but have completely different army construction philosophies.  These two games are Mid-war version 4 and EW/LW version 4 (which our group calls v3.5).  A big part of the confusion I have about the release of the new version, for me, centered around what exactly they were giving away for free to existing players.  Battlefront has been really good about version changes in the past and once again they had plans to give free rules to all existing players.  The problem was the rules the game away for free (EW/LW) turned out to NOT be the rules they spent so much time talking about on the web and in publications (MW).

Another area of trouble and the one that I find the most concerning is in the area of army construction with MW v4.  The TY card based model seems to work great for an entirely new game set in a new era where most all of the players will be starting with no existing collections nor preconceived ideas on how things should work.  This worked great for TY and Battlefront was dazzled by its success.  Unfortunately this model is a complete disaster for a new version of a well established game like Flames of War.  When combined with another goal for v4 stated by Battlefront, the reduction of product codes, and you have the making of a dull, flavorless mess of a game setting.  It is now clear that BF intends to severely reduce the number of models they produce and have no intention of including units in the game for models they do not produce.  From a purely business perspective there is a certain amount of sense to this approach but from a customer relation perspective this is a disaster.  You see, there huge well established customer base already has many of these soon to be eliminated models in their collections and they would really like to use them in the game but Battlefront cannot see any value to keeping these people happy as they think these people are already unlikely to spend money anyway so no great loss.

This is EXACTLY the same attitude that Games Workshop had towards their long time customers for many years.  GW steadily convinced themselves that young kids and new hobbyists were where the real money was to be found and that long time gamers already had lots of models and therefore had no desire to by more.  This contempt for their loyal customers eventually brought the company to the verge of irrelevancy.  Huge numbers of middle aged gamers with lots of money to spend were so put off by this attitude they moved on to games that treated them better, like Flames of War.  But now the GW rot seems to have set in with Battlefront and they seem determined to destroy their game in the name of increasing sales.  We are seeing the tip of an epic iceberg that it set to rip the bottom out of Battlefront.

This brings me, finally, to the point of this article - my future with Flames of War.  Needless to say I am not very happy with the new direction of the game as it relates to the army construction in particular.  I really like the EW/LW version of the rules.  These allow you to continue to use the extensive variety of the version 3 army list books and while some of the points are now off due to changes in effectiveness of certain units in the game it all still works fine.  I really believe this should have just been the true version 4 rules.  I have yet to play any of the MW armies and I actually have no plans to buy the books.  The price of the books has actually gone back up with MW v4 as now you have to spend $40 to get a tiny variety of armies for only British and Germans.  The version 3 North Africa book was $30 for dozens of armies for four different countries.  Oh, and now you can buy card decks that give you additional army options that should have just been included in the pathetic army books for even more $$.  It is a disgusting money grab and I just can't bring myself to buy into it. 

I am not going to be playing the full blown v4.  In fact, I expect this game to fail.  I think that Battlefront is about to have their version of Warhammer 40K 6th edition.  I hope they can see the writing on the wall soon enough to turn things around before any lasting damage is done to their brand and their business.  I will continue to play the game using the EW/LW rules along with the old army books.  I have way too many armies collected for this game to just stop playing.  I will also make new model purchases to expand my collections.  I really want to get the new desert British tanks as well as Panzer Grenadiers and 88's.  The new models they are producing for v4 are great!

All of this drama (of which I have barely even talked about) is really souring the game for me right now.  It has been slowly falling in table time and the new version was supposed to spark renewed interested but it seems to have just caused a major split in the player base and created a lot of ill will. Ironically, all this is happen right at a time where GW seems to have righted the ship and is now moving in a very positive direction.  I am already starting to get pulled back into the GW hobby and my Battlefront lifeline seems to no longer be tied to anything.

Don't worry, I still have models to paint and stuff to post...

7 comments:

Tom O said...

I agree about the release model for V4; as a player with an existing collection, it doesn't work for me. I also agree with the army books/cards issue; BF is trying to nickel and dime us. I enjoy the V4 EW/LW rules and have no issue using the V3 books since I rarely play in tournaments. Often I purge when a game "jumps the shark", but I am happy with either V3 or V4 rules so I will keep playing FOW. I just doubt that I will invest in books/new releases under the current release model. I may play less going forward as well as I too have other interests...

Robert Brightwell said...

One of the big reasons I was drawn to Flames of War is how faithful they were to history. You could tell they cared about the history and that they were historical gamers. They got it. I have always been impressed that they could create a game with so many units and army construction options and yet retain some balance. This is truly amazing. Sadly the very things that attracted me to the game seem to be the things they are trying to get rid of.

Tom O said...

Very true. The first 2 books (and cards) are a joke when it comes to history since it's supposed to be El Alamein...

Robert Brightwell said...

Another area of concern for me is that with this rate of release it will take them 2+ years to get through all the MW stuff (even with the thinned out lists). How long will it take for EW? Two more years? LW alone will take them more than 4 years to do and by then they will certainly be looking at version 5. This whole thing is stupid.

Tim Kulinski said...

Great points man, these all echo my feelings as well. I had a feeling this may be the way BF was headed once I saw the free stuff they handed out to us. This may sound funny, but I as not impressed in the quality of the free magazines, I am talking paper quality and look. It felt very cheap to me. When we got the 3 Edition rules for free, the book quality felt sturdy and you knew this was going to be included in the starter boxes. But the new stuff felt as I said, cheap and let's just get something out there. Mind you, it was free, but the quality felt cheap as hell.

Also your right about the release schedule, great, everyone will have Germans and British, when are the Americans going to show up and what sort of time frame can we expect to wait? Also since I do like early war, how long will that be for another German and British book for the Blitzkreig era? I think BF should have just left all there army books alone and just gave out "Here is the new special rules" handouts for the old books for all periods, but hey, what do I know.

All I can say is that BF has shot themselves in the foot on this release. Hopefully they can figure this out before they totally implode!

Tony Stapells said...

Well, don't forget that no one has a Flames of War army. They have a WW2 army that they use for the Flames of War rules. If you don't like the new version because Battlefront are simplifying the number of models, simply play another set of WW2 rules! There are a huge number of equivalent company levels rules out there.

My group has seen a couple of FOW players jump over to Battlegroup for example, and are enjoying it immensely.


Robert Brightwell said...

Thanks for the comment Tony! I have been looking at Battlegroup rules for some time now and I might be taking the plunge soon. I dabbled in the KG:N rules back when they were released and I really enjoyed them.