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Monday, September 24, 2012

The Image of Flames of War

Back from the Caribbean this was largely written before my trip but I did not wish to post until I got back.  More on the historic sights and fun of my vacation latter this week.

I posted some battle reports on the games played last Sunday at the Whiz and the link on my Facebook page received the following comment:

 ‎"...nice blog article. You are someone I think I'd like learning FoW with and playing FoW with. Some of the FoW players I've spoken to are rules lawyers and power-gamers, they exist everywhere I know, or tourney-centric. You're not that way."
While I will take praise anytime this characterization of Flames of War players struck me because 1) it not true in my experience and 2) I too held this sort of view of the game at one point especially were tournaments were concerned.

A little Personal history here.  I got introduced to FOW at the Whiz several years ago and got the open fire box set. I then played fairly regularly at 3Trolls on Saturdays and occasionally made the trip to the Whiz for open gaming on Sundays. I didn't really get in many FOW games at the Whiz but when I did I enjoyed the game but, I did occasionally over hear some people having conversation that went like this

Player 1:"You said you were trying to get ready for a Tournament I can't let you do that."
Player 2: "Grumble, Grumble" OK sorry!
I have no Idea what they were talking about I was busy playing Volley and Bayonet with Luke at the time.  Still not exactly encouraging.
Later I had a similar experience at 3Trolls when Dick (the store owner) lent out our normal Saturday gaming space(they have a single table for gaming) to a group of people who were preparing for Nationals. I watched the battle, it pitted Soviet and German infantry against each other.  The Germans had a trench line and basically mowed down the Soviets as they came on. There was no subtly, no maneuver, and no tactics involved. The game also looked like "no fun" the players didn't seem to enjoy the game either... after I talked to the soviet player and asked why he attacked with out softening up the position with Artillery? His answer was some thing like "you don't have time you just have to attack in a tournament."

So that was early experience with Flames of War and its tournament scene. In June of 2011 I found Adler Hobby and met Gordon.  This introduced me to whole bunch of new players, several of whom were tournament players and I really enjoyed playing with them. Gordon was also very much a booster of tournaments and I got involved in the FOW tournament at Huzzah.  I also discovered the Flames of War Forum this reinforced my reluctance but I went ahead anyway and I am glad I did.

My experience at Huzzah was tremendous I got in three great games in the FOW Tournament  with three really great players.  There was a slightly more "business like" approach to the game but that was only because of the time pressure. I had a similar experience at a regional tournament held at the Whiz.

I may have gotten a bit off track here and into my FOW biography but I hope it will serve as an example to those who may be reluctant to try the game itself or the tournament scene.

Back to the question: Does Flames of War have an Image Problem?  Sadly I have to say yes.

A very unscientific reading of comments the Flames of War New England Yahoo group and the Battle Front forums has convinced me of this.
My StuG IV takes aim at the 2nd Infantry one of the lists many consider a manifestation of "Codex Creep"
There are two sides to this problem The First is the image of BattleFront the game's write and the manufacturer of the supporting line of miniatures. The move to limit Tournaments to BF figures sparked huge out cry and though they did back track on the issue I believe that serious damage to their brand was done.

There has also been a growing number of comparison between Battle Front and Games Workshop on their forums.  This comparison spans many topics from pricing to game design.  The idea that some new army lists in the late war line of books suffer from "codex creep" is pervasive.

While I do not think these issues are as big as some people will make them but they are real perceptions that I encounter frequently.  Smoke doesn't necessarily indicate fire but most people will assume it does and respond accordingly.  

Battle Front's reputation has taken a few hits of late but by and large they are still an excellent gaming company as I see it.

In the Gaming community Flames of War players may also have their own image issue.  The statement made by my acquaintance(at the top of this entry) and my own feelings as I ventured into this particular brand of war gaming point to the problem.

Having posed the question of this image problem on two separate forums I have reached three conclusion 1) Flames of war players do have an image problem 2) its largely self inflicted 3) its largely untrue.

I hope I have made my case for conclusion 1. with the description of my own reluctant entry into Flames of Wars larger gaming community.

As to conclusion 2. I think the image of the games tournament based is a large part of the issue. A lost of gamers are competitive but see competition as only one aspect of the wider hobby.  Tournaments bring the competitive part of the game to the for front and are a turn off to people who are more interested in other aspects of the game (art, history, fun etc).  Competition brings out the worst in some people and when it does it usually does so in very visible ways.

Also the competitive side of the game tends to highlight those points were the rules are less then perfect, those spots that most gamers use a "house rule" to solve the issue to their satisfaction. Tournaments don't have this luxury, every one has to have the same set in stone rules or the games are unfair.  Debates on these subjects can rage for days, weeks or even years in forums on the web and often make the community look a lot more contentious and just plane bitchy then they really are.

3. My own experience with Flames of War tells me the image of FOW players as  "rules lawyers and power-gamers" is just plane false.  True I have had my share of arguments over rules, but probably less so than in other games. Every one I have ever played using this rule set has been looking for a fun game and that includes the tournament games.  Still players with limited experience could easily get the wrong impression if they just examine the on line forums. I feel the Flames of War has a great community or players yes we have our bad personalities but no more so then any other segment of the war-gaming community.

My message to new players, jump in the waters is fine!   My Message to established players, remember the what we do and say at the game table and on line directly affects the image of the games we play.