Thursday, January 6, 2011
Flames of War: A Primer for the Conscript Pt 2
So, now you have an idea on what goes into a list. By now, you've either supported Battlefront directly by buying their awesome miniatures, by far the greatest out there, or you went a cheaper route like ordering your tanks from this guy:
Whichever way you did it, Battlefront doesn't mind too much. They know they have the best sculpts, and that keeps them happy. So, let's get into actually playing the game...
It takes some getting used to; playing on a Flames of War board. The scale is a bit smaller if you are used to games like Warhammer 40k, or if you are used to video games doing all the work for you. Trees are only an inch or two tall, single family homes are rarely over a few inches wide, and roads seem especially diminutive. Don't let this daunt you, however. The game actually moves pretty readily over the terrain.
For natives of 40k, you will enjoy Flames of War for at least one reason: the models actually stand up. The infantry bases are low and wide, and the vehicles are made from heavy resin. This means that inclines in the game board can be used with little danger of the models tipping over. That means actual hills! Not the goofy-looking plateau hills, but actual sloping gradients.
I like to adhere to a general rule: If the board isn't covered by at least %25 of terrain, then it's not enough. That means all the terrain for the board should at least fill up one table quarter. The terrain can be woods, rivers, tall grass, large hills, farmhouses or what-have-you, but you gotta have it (unless you are trying to simulate a fight in the open desert or something). Since the standard size game board is 6' by 4', that means at least 3' by 2' should be filled with terrain of some kind.
Here's what I would Dream of playing a game on:
Beautiful board by Duellist on Flames of War Forum, photography by his wife!
But for your first games, you'll more likely be playing on something like this:
It's ok, just throw a green sheet or piece of felt over it. Stack up books underneath the felt, or roll up towels underneath it, to get hills. Throw on some of the green Scotch pads (scouring pads, brillo pads, whatever you want to call them) with the corners ripped off for areas of rough terrain. Make cardboard houses that measure only a few inches wide or tall. Building really pretty boards takes a lot of time, money, and experience that will come later. For now, you just want to get to playing!
Ok, so now you have a board, and you have your army. What now?
Instead of always playing the same boring "Let's just kill each other" mission, the guys at Battlefront have already stocked you with a collage of well-written and thoroughly-playtested missions to try, as well as a table to roll on if you want to leave the mission you play up to chance!
BEFORE YOU START THE MISSION, ALWAYS READ THE MISSION'S SPECIAL RULES!!! Many times, games will get off to a bad start because the players didn't read ALL the special rules before sitting down to play the game. These rules will set the tone for the rest of the game, and they have been carefully playtested to create a balanced scenario for the players. Omitting or adding special rules is a surefire way to unbalance the scenario. That being said...
For your first game, it is advised to stick with the basics. There are the time-honored traditional missions, Firefight and Encounter, which are pretty basic as far as scenarios go. They are basically variants of the same thing. In these missions, each player gets one of the long edges of the board. For a set distance away from this edge, it is what is called their "Deployment Zone". It is the zone that you have space to put your miniatures at the start of the game.
Each player then puts a pair of objectives in his OPPONENT'S deployment zone. Objectives measure 2 inches by 2.5 inches, and usually are modeled to represent something strategically important to your force. It is your mission to take either of the objectives, by destroying all enemies near it. At the same time, the enemy is trying to capture his own objectives. This creates a very "Capture the Flag" kind of mentality, and the question is: "How can I take my objective while keeping him from his?"
After objectives are set, players take turns deploying their units, starting with their Platoons. A Platoon is one of the smallest operational units that can act independently. Generally a handful of vehicles, or a few squads (2-3 stands) of infantry, the platoon must stick together wherever they are going. This is called "Command Distance". Depending on the unit's Skill Rating (see Part 1 of the primer), this distance that the teams must remain within from each other varies from a couple inches to as much as 8 inches! This ensures that units operate as a group to achieve their goals. In Flames of War, all actions usually are performed by whole platoons, rather than by individuals. There are a few exceptions to this however, such as Independent Teams. But for now, just focus on the Platoons.
Once all platoons are placed, its time to begin. The player who gets the first turn now has a chance to act.
PLAYING THE GAME (Finally!)
In Flames of War, the game is broken down into player turns, and then further broken down into "Steps" (or phases) of a player turn. 40k players will be familiar with this, as that game system operates similarly. It is sometimes called the "I-go-you-go" style of play.
So the first player starts his turn with a Starting Step. Not much will go on here his first turn, but later in the game this is a step you don't want to skip. First, you check your victory conditions. This means you check to see if you have won the game in this step (usually by controlling an objective, meaning you wiped out all the enemies around one and you have teams nearby it). You also can Rally platoons if they are pinned down by enemy fire, or remount tanks that the crew have Bailed Out of. You can also use this step to attempt to free vehicles bogged down by the terrain. This stuff may seem unimportant at first, but remember to always do this step! Make a mental checklist:
1) Check my Company Morale (if half or more of your platoons have been destroyed)
2) Check my victory conditions?
3) Roll for reinforcements? (if applicable)
4) Request Air Support? (if applicable)
5) Rally pinned platoons, Remount Bailed Out vehicles, and free Bogged Down vehicles?
6) Remove Smoke markers?
You also sometimes can deploy ambushes in this phase, depending on the rules of the scenario you are playing. Again, make sure you read all the scenario's special rules BEFORE playing, to make sure both you and your opponent are on equal footing.
Once all this has been done, the player can then move into the Movement Step. This is the step where you get teams from Point A to Point B.
Not all teams are created equal. You have some teams that are comprised of Infantry, who are quite rugged and can move through most difficult terrain. You also have Gun Teams, which have nearly no manueverability unless they are light enough to be Man-packed (move like infantry) or have a vehicle to tow them. There are also several classifications of vehicles: Fully Tracked, Halftracks and Jeeps, and Wheeled. A vehicle will have its type listed in its section of the Arsenal (the large summary of units and weapons at the back of an army's Intelligence Briefing). Basically, Fully Tracked rigs are more capable off-road, but have little benefit from a road. Half-tracks and Jeeps combine a little of the rugged durability of Full Tracked, but maintain a small speed increase while on roads. They aren't quite as good off-road as Fully Tracked, but it is a good compromise between Fully tracked and the last vehicle type: Wheeled. These vehicles have the least off-road capability, but they get the most speed on open roads.
Most teams have the ability to move "At the Double." If you plan to forgo shooting for a unit in the following Shooting Step, you can move your team up to twice its standard movement distance. Unfortunately, moving so fast in the open sets up that unit for nasty return fire, but we'll cover that later.
You CANNOT "Double Time" it if you plan on going through any rough terrain. Troops can't run as fast through a thick wood or rubble-strewn city block as they could through an open field.
Vehicles and Gun Teams that are not man-packed can sometimes get stuck in the mud, or on other rough terrain. This is called getting "Bogged Down" and it usually requires the crew having to get out and try to un-stick the vehicle from whatever obstacle it got lodged in/on, but you can only make that roll during your next starting step. There are two classifications of terrain that could bog you down: Difficult Going and Very Difficult Going. The more difficult the going, the easier it is to get stuck (duh). Difficult going also reduces the speed of the unit moving through it (depending on the type of unit). The more difficult the terrain, the more it slows the unit down (duh again). The exception to this is Infantry, which are not slowed by anything short of Impassable terrain such as sheer cliff-faces or rushing rivers.
If you don't feel like moving a unit, it might be a good decision to "Dig them in". Digging them in requires them to stay in place, and makes them count as moving during the Shooting Step (more on that later). Upon a successful skill test, the unit prepares itself a defensive position (by digging foxholes, stacking rubble or sandbags, etc). Once dug in, they are more resistant to enemy shooting. Be warned, however: if you decide to leave your position after you've dug the unit it, they will not be dug in even if you return to the same spot. You have to make another skill test to do so, as the foxholes do not become a permanent part of the board.
Some more advanced actions for the moving phase include disembarking from transports, entering buildings, and the like, but they are a bit outside the scope of this primer. You'll just have to read the rules to get all the info!
Most of the information presented here can be seen by downloading the "Quickplay Sheet" from the download section at www.flamesofwar.com , which has tables and references to many of the game's concepts.
Stay tuned for part 3, in which I'll go over Shooting and Assaults!
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