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A Grognard's Guide to Version Phwoar A Grognard's1 Guide to Version Phwoar: Part One
with Andrew Duncan

The new rules are refreshing. They provide an entirely new style and feel for the game I’ve played for the last 14 years. The core statistics seem familiar but the subtle changes to the rule mechanics mean the key elements of force projection interact differently. It still feels like World War Two, but the games have a faster flow and sweep majestically over the dining table battlefield.

A lot has changed from Version Three. This isn’t a refinement but a move to make games that move faster. The changes also tackle some of the elements of the original Flames Of War that, although developed over the years, could be improved as reflections of how the armies of World War Two actually operated. I’m relishing the prospect of figuring out how my forces can deliver a combined-arms answer to the tactical tabletop problems my opponents and the missions present under a new set of rules — the same foes but a new challenge.

In this article, I’ll cover the key changes I’ve noted in force building, morale and command. Next week I go over the changes that most appeal to me, which are the movement rules and the relationship between infantry, armour and artillery. In a later article I’ll talk about how the missions have changed, the new Spearhead rule and how Reserves work under the new rules. Before I look in detail at the elements I like the most, I want to talk about some of the general changes.

Below: The Flames Of War 4th Edition rulebook.
A Grognard's Guide to Version Phwoar

Force building, formations and units
Force building now allows you to take one or more formations. A formation is effectively a company-level force based around an HQ and core combat platoons with some intrinsic support. You can take more than one formation, allowing for battle groups to fight as separate units supporting each other on the battlefield, giving a more combined-arms feel to your command. You can also add higher-echelon support in the form artillery, anti-tank guns and armour. This means you can plan an attack with an armoured formation supported by an infantry company with backup from some divisional assets. I like the balance options this gives. An extra HQ to provide leadership bonuses is great too.

The best news is that if one of your formations collapses under pressure from the enemy, your other formations will keep on fighting. However, your support units don’t bolster the morale of the core formations. Formation morale is now dependent on the state of your core force. As long as your formation has two units, including the HQ, surviving, they’ll keep on fighting. If a formation is reduced to a single unit, though, the survivors will realise they can no longer achieve their mission and retreat or surrender.

Below: An example of a formation diagram, from Desert Rats.
A Grognard's Guide to Version Phwoar
There are also some major changes to gun units. You now only field the guns themselves, one of whom will be the unit leader. There are no more separate command and staff stands or integral transport options. This means you’ll need an observer, although all formation commanders can call in artillery or mortar bombardments. You can also buy specialist observers. You’ll need these or else your guns will have to have a line of sight to spot for themselves, meaning they will risk-return fire. More importantly, it means I won’t have to see my hits on an artillery battery soaked up by some spurious infantry team. In reality, these supporting troops were fielded to serve the guns and lived or died with them. Integrating them into the gun unit is a better simulation of overall combat effectiveness and of their resilience to enemy fire.
Below: An example of a British 25 pdr artillery battery.
A Grognard's Guide to Version Phwoar

Morale and keeping your men in Good Spirits
A formation is in Good Spirits if it still has at least two units, one of which can be the HQ. A unit is in Good Spirits if it has two guns or two operational vehicles, not bailed out (or three infantry teams). You now make all morale tests at the start of a turn: remount any bailed-out tanks first, then test for any units, not in Good Spirits, then ensure all formations are in Good Spirits. The roll for units which are not in Good Spirits is now called a Unit Last Stand test — a nice bit of added colour! Your formation commander can boost the morale of the units at his disposal, allowing a re-roll if they are within 6”/15cm. And more importantly, these stern words of encouragement from the old man don’t risk the HQ running off along with those of weaker spirit, should the re-roll also fail. If your force breaks at this point, you may find yourself wanting to imbibe some good spirits.

I like every unit having the same base point for tests, irrespective of unit size. This means I’m no longer so concerned about unit size being an even number. Larger units aren’t better value — one unit of six tanks is no more resilient than two units of three. Both situations require four non-operational vehicles to force a test. The two smaller units offer more manoeuvre opportunities, can be more dispersed to avoid artillery and have an extra leader. However, I will have to take care of scarce and powerful assets that come in small numbers. The general staff will be pleased I’m not being careless with the 88s and Churchills that it took the navy so much effort to get across the Mediterranean.

A Grognard's Guide to Version Phwoar

Command and leadership
I think unit leadership and command and control are more realistic. They now also have a more significant morale impact. While equipped with radios, most World War Two units nevertheless had to stay in proximity to effectively maintain control and cohesion, especially infantry and guns.

This means for units under eight teams a 6”/15cm bubble and for those over eight teams an 8”/20cm bubble. Make sure your leader is centrally placed. That means if they become a casualty they can be replaced by an adjacent team, within 6”/15cm. Also when checking for unit Good Spirits, its only teams in command that count. If I spot an opponent with spread-out anti-tank guns, I’ll try to take out the centre gun to break their command and control and force a Last Stand test.

I like how units can maintain control more easily with leadership being taken over by another team in command range. You will have to keep a good record of which team is leading at any point in time, though. This is much better than the anomaly I took advantage of in Version Three when my Shermans flanked a couple of ISU 122s and destroyed the unit leader. This left the remaining ISU 122 facing the wrong way and unable to move to fire to its rear. It did take a couple of turns to blow him up but it just seemed odd that he couldn’t turn to face the enemy. Gosh, even my Napoleonic infantry regiments can turn to face a threat to the rear, or at least form square. However, as he was out of command and a new leader hadn’t been appointed by the CO he was stuck.

A Grognard's Guide to Version Phwoar

Shooting hasn’t changed too much and the key thing I’ve taken on board is that I now decide what teams I’ve hit, rather than my opponent. After all, it’s my men taking aim! I’ll be aiming for your HQ, so make sure you have support nearby. If I’m more than 8”/20cm away you can roll for Mistaken Target and on a 3+ swap the hit to another team in the unit with 6”/15cm. Of course, if all teams already have a hit you are out of luck. It’s still better to stay in cover to reduce incoming fire.

The real changes to the balance of shooting and assault come with how tanks, infantry and artillery now manoeuvre, save and assault. More on this next week.

~ Andrew.

A Grognard's Guide to Version Phwoar: Part Two here...

1. Wiktionary
1. An old soldier.
2. (games, slang) Someone who enjoys playing older wargames or role playing games, or older versions of such games, when newer ones are available.

Miriam Webster Dictionary
A soldier of the original imperial guard that was created by Napoleon I in 1804 and that made the final French charge at Waterloo.

French, from grogner to grunt, grumble (from Old French gronir, grogner, from Latin grunnire to grunt) + -ard

Last Updated On Wednesday, March 1, 2017 by Blake at Battlefront