Flames of Cards Part 1

Twas the night before Christmas…

Or the weekend before to be truthful, but me and my friends have an annual tradition where gather at the club and play Flames of War. This year I had the great honor of creating a fun event. I took the opportunity to write up some interesting rules that I now want to share with fellow FoW enthusiasts. I will split this over two blog posts to make it digestible, first one is a presentation about the rules system I wanted to create, how the rules fared under the play test and what can be improved. The second post will be a traditional Battle Report of the 3 Flames of War games I played.

For our event, I decided to make a team based rule set that uses a standard french card deck. Players score points as teams and use these points to draw two different cards, one type of cards introduces effects that buff players and the other type of cards are used for Victory Points. The team with most Victory Points wins. If you are looking for a new way to play Flames of War and find this interesting then let’s get into the details. The rules can be downloaded here.

flames of cards
It’s more fun that it looks.

 

Why Flames of Cards?

Before I explain what it is, I’ve been feeling Flames of War is growing a bit stale. So why not spice it up with some homebrewed rules? The first thing I wanted to do was to get rid of victory points. Only wins and losses should count. Hopefully, this rewards balls to the walls aggression. But this can sometimes encourage people to forfeit games they feel can’t be won. To counter this, it was important to add a team element to the game. This can open up for cooperation between games but also for peer pressure to ensure games are played to conclusion.

The card idea was inspired my ardent gaming of Fantasy Flights, Lord of The Rings Card Game.  I really like the tension where players draw something unexpected from a deck that affects their game. Flames of War has a lot of rules that aren’t used in normal games like river assaults, night fights, extreme weather, fortifications and so on, a good way to include those is by a deck mechanic. I also made some card effects up that buff the players army. Instead of making my own cards, I picked a regular french deck because of historicity and availability, WW2 soldiers used those to gamble and gamers should have one within reach.

Luftwaffe_pilots_playing_cards_in_an_airfield_somewhere_in_Germany %28Small%29
The Luftwaffe were pioneers of card driven miniature war gaming.

So what is Flames of Cards?

It is a teambased way of playing Flames of War with where players cash in won games into two types of cards. The way I chose to implement all this was to have two standard decks, one red and one blue. The blue one for introducing special effects on a table, and a red ones which are worth Victory Points. The team with most Victory Points after a set number of games wins the campaign. To draw any of the cards, a players in a team must win games (except for the first game where every team is handed 2 cards per player). Each of the Blue Cards has a special effect based on its number, that is supposed to help the player who plays it. The number of Victory Points a Red Cards gives is dependent on the suit (heart, cub, diamonds and spades) and they are mixed into the Victory Points Deck in different numbers. Players cannot turn the face up on Victory Points Cards until the last game is finished. These two aspects mean players have incentives to keep playing when things look dark.

flames of card recon
Drawing a 3 means an artillery strike and your opponent is in for some rough beats.

The Good

This can be run without a dedicated organizer as administration and book keeping is minimal. It is unusually fast paced for a war gaming campaign. The players will pick up the relevant cards, carry them around and do the scoring by themselves in the end, no need to record anything. This is excellent where the organizer wants to play himself and it doesn’t create any bottle necks where the players wait for some key thing to be done (like moving crap on a map – I hate maps). The teams have Generals on each side who can help with mundane things and offer an easy way to dispatch information.

The system also makes everyone invested in each others games, as the team tries to figure out the best way to use their cards. It introduces a fun team based moment to the game that doesn’t exist otherwise. The incentives to keep playing worked well too, as a lucky Victory Point card mechanics meant that a team with less victory cards could still take the lead.

flames of card
SS Panzergrenadier preparing to unleash an hilariously broken combo on unsuspecting American tanks. Picture shamelessly stolen from  this very nice blog.

The Bad

Team building becomes an important factor. Having the motivated and skilled players of the group, who use the right companies will impact on results and teams where the players are too casual to bother, will get significantly penalized as the campaign system goes on. During our play test the allied team (which had a larger portion of casual gamers) lost about 7 of 9 games. Another weakness of the system is the need to bring a lot of extra platoons along, something that easily forgotten and that impacts the coming games.

The game system has a high level of abstractness, it is detached from an actual military campaign and some nice graphics in the ruleset for flavor couldn’t hurt. However this is all very early stages of development. Another thing is the lack of maps. The players in my gaming group love maps but I resent them. The main reason is that map mechanics need to be very thought out and impact the games in a meaningful way, because administrating maps takes a lot of time. I haven’t seen a map based campaign that is more then a tedious book keeping exercise for the game organizer.

What the players thought

I got mixed signals from talking to the players, some thought the cards didn’t matter and some thought they were too important. In my opinion the players usually obsess with briefings, unit stats and how to make each single game as perfectly balanced as possible. This balancing I believe is something impossible, it comes with the freedom of picking any Late War Breifing, depends on individual table layouts and on players who don’t know how to build and play their armies face players who do.

A quick word about the special rules

There are 3 special rules for the system. I will go through my ideas about each one. First up is Reinforced Company. I feel a restriction is in place to encourage players to field companies that look like companies. That is focus should be company and battalion level assets (combat and weapons platoons). The second restriction is American Tank Destroyers. In the type of tables we play, this unit with proper upgrades, kicks far and beyond its weight. I sense that outright banning certain units pisses people off so I tried to implement a simple penalty, if a Company contains one or a multiple of these units, that team loses one Victory Points Card during the scoring phase. The penalty is per offending army and not per unit. If your group find these units fine but other bothersome, feel free to mix things up.

The second one, Armored assault, is about mobile armies attacking less mobile ones. This has to do with my interpretation of warfare, that vehicles are offensive weapons. Even in Flames of War terms, a company with a lot of vehicles attached to it is  better suited for it attacking. But I don’t want to encourage players to build static and boring armies.

The third rule, Reconnaissance in Force is about making team games more inclusive. The goal is to prevent Kingmakers and Pro Players from destroying the game. In each gaming group there is maybe one player who really sucks at Flames of War but wants to participate. With this rule, you can avoid having the other team milking points from him. Same thing where one player is very skilled and plays extremely competitive armies. The rule is simple, one player per team may forfeit using his player card to make the winner of the game draw one card less. The idea behind this rule is to prevent  Those Guys™ from deciding the campaign on their own. Most people used this rule against me… make of that what you will.

Room for improvement

Two things come to mind, first is a balance of power between the two card types and second, a way to link games together. Some tweaking is needed to the balance between the two types of cards. Both must seem equally valuable for players. Each team must face difficult choices between improving chances to win individual games and to actually score points. Worst case scenario is players going for scoring cards only, making effect cards unnecessary. That would mean in spite of 7 pages of extra rules, people are playing standard games of Flames of War.

Perhaps a good idea would be to redo the effect cards and make drawing them mandatory in the beginning of each game. The effect cards should in that case offer challenges and/or benefits to both players. So instead of being a way to buff one of te players, the cards would become an obstacle that has to be handled by each player. That would of course mean dropping or redoing the team based factor.

The other thing is a way to link games to form a campaign. I unfortunately ran out of time (and space) for this but how about something like the Boast system in Lion Rampant? The basic idea I had in mind, is that players select from a number pregame secret objective such as:

  1. Having your HQ destroy opposing HQ.
  2. Take out the most expensive platoon.
  3. Ending the game with a platoon closer to your opponents table edge than his closest platoon.

If this secret objective is passed, the player gets a ability for the next games such as Outflanker (one platoon gets the Early War Polish Bypassed rule if accomplishing objective 3) or the HQ getting re rolling misses in assault (if accomplishing objective 1).  The objectives could have some inclusive ones, like failing 3 pinning tests in a row, completing 3 Company Morale rolls in a row. The idea is to enable players to spice up their games by having a story unfold.

I am going to look for ways to improve this and I hope any of my readers find it interesting and fun.

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