Thursday, February 18, 2016

40K Friday on Thursday: Bolt Action and Flames of War

I've been a student of World War 2 since I was a kid and got interested in the airplanes from the war. I got into board wargames like Squad Leader fairly early on but given my interest in RPG's and miniatures it seems like I would have spent more time with WW2 in those as well ... but I haven't.

There aren't many WW2 - era RPGs. Other than various superhero games and Weird Wars the list is short, probably because a) it's a war and b) there's no healing magic so characters tend to be short-lived.

There have been WW2 miniatures games around probably since the war itself and that seems like a better way to explore the conflict in a game sense. Weirdly though, I have never really jumped into WW2 miniatures in a big way. I suppose the boardgames scratched the itch for a long time while the miniatures were a wizards/robots spaceships thing. I've been ready to move on from this for a while now - I just haven't committed to anything yet.

Flames of War has been around since 2002 - that seems like a really long time, especially considering I picked up a rule book and some mini's for it and played maybe one tryout game at a store then never touched it again. It's a great looking game and it's very well supported but for some reason it has never grabbed me. Why?

  • One, after reading the latest rules it is very much a product of it's origins in older 40K: lots of exceptions and special cases and little modifiers for this and that. Reading those rules did not thrill me with anticipation in the "this would be a blast to play" sense.
  • Two, it's a 15mm scale game and that's one I have dodged for my entire gaming career. I have the expected glut of 25mm/28mm figures from decades of D&D and Warhammer. I have a bunch of 6mm from Epic Space Marine, and a pile of 10mm from Battletech and Warmaster. Other than a Thracian army pack from a a failed attempt at getting into Ancients gaming, I have zero 15mm figs. The main impact from this is terrain - I have very little terrain that's going to look right with this scale. There's a not-inconsiderable effort needed to fix that situation.
  • Finally, there is the expense, both in time and prep. Flames of War armies are not small and because I mainly play at home with friends and family I need to build two of them at least to be able to play a game. I have nothing to cannibalize so I am looking at building up forces from zero. 
Now they do have a really nice starter set that comes with a bunch of infantry and around ten tanks and a rulebook etc but we all know that's not going to be enough. Once you start down that road etc. I'm thinking about using some Epic or Dropzone Commander figures as proxies to play a test game with the Apprentices before I jump into it.

Flames of War's other advantage is that it's part of a system that covers more then just WW2 - there are supplements for WW1, Vietnam, and the Arab-Israeli conflicts as well. They've also just come out with a Cold War  version based on Team Yankee which is supposed to be a faster playing set of rules. That is an attractive feature to the game.

Subject-wise FOW does seem to be a tank-heavy game so if we do get into it I'd like to focus on the North African campaign as I've never played that theater much in any game and it's full of some of the weirdest early to mid war vehicles from Britain, Germany, and Italy. 

The other popular option in WW2 miniatures these days is Bolt Action. I have had the rulebook for a while and we've played with it a little bit - enough that  I picked up some 1/72 plastics for us to use. I was going to stick with those to keep it cheap but I am coming around on the 28mm thing because it's not that much more expensive and it's much easier to tell who is carrying what weapon than on a lot of 1/72 figures. Exaggerated scale does have its upside sometimes.

It is a smaller scale game than Flames of War in the sense that you're playing with a few squads and a few vehicles - platoon level rather than company/battalion level. For comparison it's more like what a 40K battle used to be with under 50 infantry and maybe 3 vehicles total. A Panther platoon in this scale is going to flatten everything on the table so in general it's less tank-intensive though I notice that has become enough of a thing that they have a separate "Tank War" book out for it now. 

There's a really nice starter set for this game too - 40 infantry, terrain, rules, dice etc. Again, that's not going to be enough so once I pick it up I'll be adding to it for years. I do have terrain so it's mainly a question of building and painting the armies. My only other issue here is the subject. While it is Americans vs. Germans which is a perfectly fine starting point for a WW2 game, that's not the first campaign I was wanting to dig in to. Given the emphasis on small formations of infantry and lower focus on tanks I was looking to explore some Pacific battles - say USMC vs. Japanese on Guadalcanal. I've spent a lot of time pushing cardboard Germans around, and Americans and Russians as well. I'd really like to spend time looking at the Pacific and this seems like the perfect game to do so on a tactical level. 

There's been a progression through this week's posts, from "have it, played it, liked it" to "have it, like it, haven't played it" to now "have it, not sure where I am going next".  It's been interesting. If last year was the year of catching up on Pathfinder then i suspect this year is the year of catching up on miniatures games.

More to come.

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