Monday, 1 July 2013

Three things in Flames of War that GW should learn from... but could never do.

 " watching Marneus Calgar dump a turd on the Codex Astartes."

 World War 2, that's not really interesting ... is it?  Well, yes it is.  Its a conflict where technology advanced of a level we only now see in silicon valley.  Put simply, the tactics, technologies and capabilities of war were refined, devised and created in this fulcrum of change.

So why the defence ... well compared to 15+ variant armies of space bugs, little blue men, alien elves, corrupted monstrosities and EPIC HEROES, world war two seems a little drab.

That is until you play a game like Flames of War.  The devil is always in the detail, but flames do some things very very very cleverly.

The One to Watch

Well yes it is, despite GW being inhabited by a soulless horde of nefarious profiteers, laughing manically while ensuring that we all switch from autowin unit A to autowin unit Z, there are a few gamers still in there.  GW had overwatch in second edition, during the hey day of Space Hulk and Advanced Space Crusade... but it took a little Kiwi firm to make them think how to use it properly.

The Snap Fire or Overwatch rules which now pepper the oncoming horde with 6's to hit is a core skill in Flames of War.  As is the ability (say Tau) to combine fire and fire on charging units that are attacking troops near you.  It makes charging Heavy Machine guns completely pointless.

Unlike 40k you fire your weapons at full rates of fire and normal to hit ratings ... which makes things very deadly.  Also you only need five hits to deter a charge and send them skulking back.

Close Combat is VERY effective in FoW, but getting into combat is really risky.  Solution - suppression.  Putting 5 hits on an enemy unit means their RoF drops to (normally) 1 shot.  This turns suicide into easy peasy, and forces you to play suppression and combined arms ... its like tactics stupid.

Option One: I hit you!

The first thing that Flames does better than 40k is that the 'to hit' roll is based on the shootee's competence, not the shooters.  This is based on the assumption that despite an individuals ability, it is the ability to use cover, situational awareness and competence that dictates whether you are shot.  In flames shooting recruits or conscripts is easy, shooting veterans is an almighty pain in the arse. 

Despite there only being three variants - crap, average and stellar (actually conscript, trained and veteran) the ability feeds across all sections.  This means that a veteran unit is as hard to shoot out of cover (and even impossible to hit, unlike 40k a 6 doesn't ALWAYS HIT) with a conscript unit as a veteran unit.  This enduring durability gives you confidence in the unit, but also means you need a different set of tactics than the 'stone, scissors, paper' of 40k unit statistics.

Elite units are expensive and cannot afford losses, this actually limits their tactical freedom while increasing their capabilities, oooo balance - who'd have thought.

Option Two: No heroes.

Action Heroes are great, Action movies are awesome.  Action movies are also the biggest pile of shite going.  Rewatch 'Commando', 'Predator' or Rambo movies with a tactical head on and realise that the 'hero' is actually going to die within half a minute in the real world.  The sort of monsters and heroes available in 40k is like watching Marneus Calgar dump a turd on the Codex Astartes.  Super units, super tanks, super monsters, spaceships and wound sinks.  How often do real dependable tactics get bent over and rogered by the 'half painted Mephiston in a  hat' card.  Nob biker hordes, Eldar Deathstar units etc etc.  They all gather tricks and gizmo's into a single Avengers unit and then stomp all over the enemy.

Tactically its a bit shit.  It's a one trick pony of autowin.  It doesn't require any sopisticated tactics, it dictates the battlefield and the response of your opponent.  It automatically puts them on the back foot.  It's a really cruddy way to win and a shitty way to lose.  I have exploited it tenaciously in the past.  Most WAAC players would, and even those would admit its cheese.  But when the whole gaming world doesn't take 2/3 of all codex entries - lay on the gorgonzola!

Flames snuffs that out.  The closest thing to a super unit is the Tiger tank - and that's because it really really was.  Suddenly, real tactics play a much bigger part and they are far more sophisticated.  Try taking two GW matching armies - without OP units and then see the 40k tactics blossom.

If you are looking for a heroes game, get good at infinity or Warmachine/Hordes/Malifaux.  These games better reflect to 'individual skirmish' aspect of the original Rogue Trader (infinity), or pumped up superpowers on a WAAC clash of micromanagement (t'others). 

Option Three: Army lists with purpose.

Put simply, the codex is a broken format.  There will always be good and bad units in any codex.  WW2 has plenty of examples of broken units, and often you are looking at an outdated piece of technology.  However, what they do is force particular 'formats' of army list on you.  This means you can choose an armoured company, or a recon unit, or a infantry company, etc etc.  Choosing one sacrifices another option.  Some are over powered is some fashions (the russians can field a penal legion full of flamethrowers, it actually existed...), but the more specialised, the more vulnerable you are.

You rarely get first choice in any structure.  And importantly, you sometimes are forced to field sub-par units as the 'best' option isn't available.  You have to make sacrifices.

This means that unit spam, cloning and redundancy are all nice to haves but actually you have to make 'real' sacrifices (not just leave behind some commander toy that may have been useful, maybe).

The other advantage is that an infantry company automatically defends against a tank company (because the opposite is absurd)... which brings me to some final few thoughts.


There are some other incidental problems with 40k.  For example:
  1. Why are dug in troops so easy to kill?  In Flames, dug in troops are harder to kill than tanks - which is kinda the point?  You can charge them, or flamethrower them, use antitank weapons or assault them with tanks - but regardless of the infantry type - rifles and machineguns should be of marginal effectiveness (dirt equally fucks up laser, bolts, pulses or spines, its amazing, direct fire weaponry is completely shit at going around corners).
  2. Why are tanks often slower than troops?  This makes no sense at all.  Even the best vehicles are a 'little bit' faster than running troops, unless they are driving at 30mph (turbo boost) and then they can't do anything else ... hang on a minute?
  3. Why is there no downside to running?  Moving at the double has a serious downside in Flames.  If you are running about enemy units can roll DOUBLE their dice at you.  This neatly demonstrates how FUCKING STUPID it is to run into the line of sight of the enemy.  Moving at the double is something you only do in Flames if you REALLY need to be there, or can end the move behind something really solid.  Genestealers running at me with abandon, really hard to shoot - not.
So that's my round up, to each their own and there are lots of positives in 40k.  But some of the issues above continue to irritate me and positively disbalance the game, to the advantage of the share price and the WAAC player with deep pockets.
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