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Posted on Nov 22, 2011 in Boardgames

Flames of War at the Local Game Store

By Jim Zabek

Flames of War is one of those games that I’ve always heard a lot about but never taken the time to really dig into. Last weekend I had an opportunity too good to pass up and I jumped at it. My local game store was hosting a “Tanksgiving” celebration and several of the veteran Flames of War guys broke out their caches of tanks to field an impressive amount of armor. In the spirit of the name, this would be an armor-only affair, with only a minor amount of artillery to make the points balance out. The scenario was entirely fictional – French Canadians, Brits, and Soviets would be lining up against the Germans in a late war meeting engagement.

The map was sprinkled with four objectives, and victory points were awarded for holding the objectives for a turn as well as a point for every platoon destroyed. A couple of items of note were immediately obvious – the Soviets had a shocking amount of armor available to them, and the other Allied forces didn’t want for numbers, either.

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On the German side the majority of our armor were Panzer IVs, but even the occasional Panzer III was represented. The good news is that we also had a couple of Tigers, some Stug IVs, and I even enjoyed the presence of a King Tiger as part of my force. Five of us divvied up the forces, as one of us couldn’t make it at the last minute. Two players took on the role of the Allies while three of us took command of the Axis.

Most of the starting forces.

My force consisted of a company of four Panzer IV (ausf H) and a Panzer III (ausf N), three Stug IV (ausf G), two commanders in Panzer IVs, two 88mm Flak/AT guns and a command stand, prime movers for the 88s (which immediately fled the field to avoid becoming free points), and one King Tiger.

On balance this was a force I was comfortable with. I expected the Panzer IIIs and IVs to get clobbered by the Cromwell and Shermans of my opponents, but Stugs are good tanks and a King Tiger is a terror to behold. Additionally I managed to roll extremely well for my abilities, and I ended up with a King Tiger that had three shots (rather than two as is normal) and with the Every Shot Counts on top of it, I could re-roll misses. This made my King Tiger the top priority for the Allies, and I knew it.

Deploying 12 inches in from the board edge our German forces tried to evenly cover the avenues of approach. The terrain afforded both cover and good fields of fire. Some bocage broke the line of sight across the middle of most of the board, which meant that we were sheltered from fire until one side or the other moved into proximity with it. Overall, I really liked the set up. We had limited lines of fire which allowed us to concentrate fire on just a couple of approaching platoons. I was pleased and so were my teammates, and so the game began.

Turn 1 unfolds.

Turn 1 opened swimmingly. We gained the initiative, and my Panzers immediately started poking holes in British Cromwells. At the end of my turn I had destroyed two Cromwells and a universal transport, and another crew bailed out. They failed their morale check and the entire platoon routed off the board. On my opponent’s turn he fired on me without result.

In the middle of the map my teammate fired without success while losing several Panzer IVs of his own, but at the far right a line of Panzer Vs and Tigers dished out some hurt on the Soviets.

Turn 2 I took another squad under fire and destroyed a Cromwell and a Cromwell CS while forcing the crew of another Cromwell to bail out. The Brits had advanced halfway across the map by now, however, and had captured a victory location. This didn’t worry me too much as I was happy with my ability to destroy his tanks, but now the Brits’ luck began to change. Their fire this turn managed to take out two Panzer IVs and force the crew out of the Panzer III. This much I expected – Panzer IVs and most medium Allied tanks are on about equal footing. So long as my King Tiger holds out I can afford to lose the remaining Panzer IVs; I still have a platoon of Stugs in reserve which I was happy to bring to bear when my opponent rounds the bocage.

The German right flank.

Turn 3, however, saw a sea change. The British Cromwells have been moving at 16 inches each turn rather than 12, and too late I realize that they have sprinted to flank my King Tiger! Suddenly my brilliant tactic of hold and fire no longer appears so brilliant. The Brits destroy the other half of my Panzer IV company and force the crew of the King Tiger to bail out. A successive attempt to rally the crew fails and I am now in serious trouble. The two 88s I have held in cover for their moment never have a chance – between fire from the main gun of a Cromwell and its MG fire, the two 88s and the command staff are annihilated.

The left flank of our team has crumbled (the right and middle have taken a severe beating, too). As a last-ditch effort (Germans making last-ditch efforts is starting to sound hauntingly familiar to me) I rush my Stugs and command tanks to the rear of Cromwells in an attempt to stem their advance. My crews’ shooting is atrocious and we hit nothing. The writing is on the wall. I attempt to move my Stugs back to a more defensible position where their rear armor isn’t exposed to the bocage (the Canadians are advancing to it and will be able to shoot through it next turn), but this fails. My weakest armor is exposed to the approaching Canadian armor, and even Shermans should be able to handle this task.

Turn 4 is the end. The right flank has been virtually wiped out. The center is folding with two Tigers and a command tank remaining. On my side the exposed rear armor of my Stugs is now clearly going to be an easy target for the Shermans at the bocage. Before we even start rolling dice both sides agree the game is over. Finally tally: Germans 4, Allies 14. We have been crushed. I cannot help but think of the historic parallel: What was initially a brilliant start by the Germans has been ground to nothing by the superior weight of numbers.

As my teammates and I discuss the lessons learned (two of us were new to the game and the other had only played two or three times) we all agreed that we probably should have deployed more tightly. Perhaps we should have abandoned the left flank, and concentrated on the middle and right, making it more likely that we could achieve an annihilation victory rather than one on points.

My King Tiger is overrun.

Despite being trounced I have to say I enjoyed the game. As a veteran wargamer two lessons stand out. First, the game is fast. Flames of War allowed us to break out and fill a large table with the finest armor of the Second World War, move it around the board, and resolve the battle in about two and a half hours. There aren’t too many dice rolling and yet there was plenty of action. The second lesson is that while the tactics aren’t perfect they work well enough to be enjoyable. The game feels like a wargame. It’s a good tactical level game that gets a lot of varied equipment on the board and allows players to push it around, blow stuff up, and get satisfactory results in a streamlined manner.

Recently the number of guys playing Flames of War has grown from two to five, and I’m about won over. Although I don’t need (yet another) minis game to fill up my time on the weekends, I have to say I am a sucker for World War II games. I never seem to find my shelves are so full that they cannot make room for another Tiger. So with some reluctance I have to say that I’ll probably be buying some minis and a new rulebook in the near future. My first in-depth experience with Flames of War was enjoyable, and sparked some great historical discussion while the game unfolded. That’s why I game and Flames of War is giving me yet another great reason to enjoy wargaming.
 

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