Friday, April 11, 2008

The Problem with Flames of War

I like Flames of War. I like it a lot. I have it listed as my #1 Top Game on Boardgamegeek. I have another blog that's all but dedicated to it. The problem is with the way that Battlefront, the company that makes it, chooses to deal with their customers.

This problem originates in the nature of the game itself. FoW is about WWII combat, but it's not very historically accurate. It was meant to be a fun, easy to learn, fast playing game that gave the feel of WWII combat. The result is more of a game of WWII as presented in movies than it is an accurate representation of tactical combat of the period.

This, in itself, is not a problem. The problem is that they refuse to admit it.

Leaving out the issues with the US National Tournament (and their customer service that took a turn for the worse a couple of years ago and has never fully recovered), almost all the controversy over FoW stems from arguments over the historical accuracy of either weapons, unit stats, or nationality rules. The fact is that very little in FoW is historically accurate in terms of detail, even those parts that they actually try to get right. For example, BF takes great pains to build in accurate TO&Es to their army lists. Yet, in reality, few forces ever went into battle with a by-the-book TO&E.

I'm not sure whether they have made a conscious decision to never discuss this, or whether they actually believe that FoW is historically accurate, but I suspect the former. There are obviously huge abstractions made in many areas of the game, and I have to assume that they haven't blinded themselves to that fact given that they created the game in the first place.

So, why is this a problem? Because the constant bickering and flame wars that develop over the inaccuracies hurts the community of gamers that has developed around the game. If they'd just state that "hey, we know there are a few things that aren't fully accurate, but we felt it was worth it to keep things simple and balanced and fun" they'd nip most of those arguments in the bud, and avoid dividing their customers.

These divisions are magnified by the refusal of the company to put out errata. There are known issues with the books that have been printed. This has been acknowledged in the company forums by company employees. This happens to all game companies. Yet, they refuse to put out official errata in between printings of the books! This leads to conflict between players when it comes to those issues, with some arguing that only the official rules count, and others wanting to play using what the rules as they should be rather than as they are.

This is doubly amazing given their focus on tournament play. What does a tournament organizer do when there is no official errata? Do they use the rules as printed, knowing that there are errors, or do they go with unofficial fan-compiled lists?

It's mind-boggling that they won't go to the simple effort of releasing a .pdf online that lists the mistakes and corrects them, and their excuse of "we want to make sure it's right" is just plain stupid. Maybe twenty years ago that would have been reasonable, but in today's age of instant internet access, if there's an error in the errata, then all they have to do is fix it in the .pdf and post a new version.

Why should they care though? As long as people still play their game, then they make their money, regardless of the problems. The thing is, people aren't playing. At least the people I used to play with aren't. Before I made the move to Arkansas I had played FoW maybe once over a four month period compared to playing at least once a month for the year or so before that. That's largely because the people I played with had become disenchanted with the game, not because of the game itself, but because of the actions of Battlefront.

Now I'm in a new area where no one plays FoW. A year or two ago I would have been evangelizing the heck out of it trying to drum up new players and retailer support. Instead, when I mentioned the game to the local miniatures store owner and he said he had looked at it but decided not to carry it I said "I can't blame you."


Chris said...

I quite enjoy Flames of War but have become a bit disenchanted with it after my last couple of games. It doesn't feel that accurate and doesn't really allow the effective use of fire and manoeuvre tactics. You can see from the last couple of battle reports on my blog that my games have not been very satisfactory.

I like the period and I like the scale but I'm spending my time playing other games at the moment!

Fulminata said...

I'd like to try some other games, but the area I'm living in now is pretty dead for any miniatures game outside of Warhammer. I have BlitzkriegCommander and Command Decision: Test of Battle, but have never been able to give either of them a play.

As a game I still think that FoW is really fun and that it doesn't matter so much that there are problems with it as a simulation. That's the price you sometimes pay in exchange for a quick and fun game.

It's the policies of the company, not the game itself, that put me off.

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