Goonhammer Historicals: Flames of War Kursk Starter Set Review

Howdy everyone and welcome to the tiny tank game. Flames of War has always fascinated me and Battlefront Miniatures kindly provided a review copy of one of their starter boxes for me to take a look at. I don’t have a ton of knowledge about WWII tanks or WWII combat, so I feel that I represent the lay person pretty well here. I have a vague interest in the period and experience with wargames, but I am not a historical nut with 4000 hours of Hearts of Iron 4.

The Kursk box is centered around an infamous tank battle, so it makes sense that it is an entirely tank-centric box, containing 21 tiny tanks, 14 for the Soviets and 7 for the Facists. The Soviet half has 7 T-34s, 3 Valentines, and 4 SU-85s. The German half has 2 Panzer IIIs, 2 Panzer IVs, 2 Panthers, and the contractually obligated single Tiger. It also contains a pocket sized rulebook that, near as I can tell, is the full rulebook for this game, a quick reference rulebook, and some really nice unit cards. There is a lot of value here for 65 dollars, though I do have a few complaints and nitpicks about a few things, mostly on the hobby end of things.

Gameplay

Flames of War is with no exaggeration some of the most fun I have ever had playing a wargame. BattleTech is my main love but this game gave it a very serious run for it’s money. The game has a very easy to understand rulebook and a simple turn structure, and due to how well formatted the unit cards are any information you need about your units is always in front of you and easy to figure out.

T-34 Unit Card. Credit: Battlefront Miniatures

I adore these unit cards. The front gives the full statline for the unit, and the rear side gives you the points, unit sizes, force construction guff, and a brief explanation of any special rules the unit has. Putting the to-hit number on the defender instead of the attacker is weird, but it works very well in game. Both sides in the starter set come out to about 100 points, so this is a pretty fair 2 faction starter set, unlike, say, the Star Wars Armada starter set that is heavily balanced in favor of the Rebel Alliance. It really felt like our game could have gone either way. After the first turn, me and my opponent only had to go digging through the rules once or twice, which is very impressive for learning an entirely new game system. While I have put together and painted a bunch of stuff for Team Yankee, I haven’t had the chance to play it, and man I am mad at myself about that now because the games are apparently quite similar and this game rocks.

The first big thing that I noticed is that your tanks are incredibly fast in Flames of War. 12 inches for a move and shoot is quite a lot on a standard 6×4 table, and T-34s can fling themselves 24 inches on open ground. We both ended up doing a lot of maneuvering and movement, with the center of the battle gradually moving fully 4 feet across the table from a chokepoint between two hills to a stand of trees where a Tiger had taken up residence. I am accustomed to standard units in tabletop wargames moving 4-6 inches per action/movement, so this level of speed was a great change. Units do generally shoot better when stationary, but we still found plenty of use for moving to get flanking shots or to dodge behind terrain to break up line of sight.

We ended up with a pretty chaotic furball of tanks, with tanks backing up, lining up shots, getting flanked, and generally just moving very dynamically. The attack sequence was very intuitive after the first turn, and the fact that larger tanks with heavier armor, like the Tiger, are straight up immune to lower end anti-tank guns feels appropriate and fun. In general I just didn’t encounter any significant pain points or slowdowns while learning the rules, and that is a very difficult thing for a wargame to accomplish. The moment I finished the game I wanted to play another one, and if I hadn’t’ve had other time sensitive obligations I probably would have played it for 12 straight hours. I intend to play it for 12 straight hours later this week. I am going to buy so many tiny Soviet tanks and no one can stop me.

Hobby

To start out with the hobby end of things, I hated building these T-34s.

As you can tell, I was not having a good time putting these together

They are a very, very annoying model to put together. Which is a shame, because a third of this box is T-34. Nothing else in the set was even remotely difficult or annoying, with the SU-85s, Valentines, Panzers, Panthers, and Tiger all going together very easily and intuitively, even to me, a person without much knowledge of WWII tanks. The T-34 was an outlier, an annoying outlier. The first thing to mention is that all of these tanks do not appear to be starter box variants or simplified models, they are full kits. This means that some of them come with parts to build variants that the instructions will not tell you how to build. This is nice if you know what you are doing, because it means you can build whatever version you want. I do not know what I am doing with WWII tanks, and the sprues are not numbered and the instructions are not labelled. I spent a lot of time squinting at the sprues and instructions and trying to figure out which gun barrel or little piece of metal I was supposed to use, and I am pretty confident that I picked incorrectly a few times throughout building them.

The T-34s had some other, more practical problems though. On most of these models, the front and back mud flaps were molded onto the same piece as the rest of the upper hull, because that makes sense, but on the T-34s the front mud flaps are a completely different piece that you have to glue on separately.

Hell is real

Words cannot express how miserable getting the mud flaps to fit was. As you can see in the picture, there are no tabs, locking surfaces, pegs, or anything. You have to line up the pieces, flat unmarked surface on flat unmarked surface, and they constantly feel like they are not fitting correctly or are going to break off. I still have no idea what the trick is to getting them to fit, and I hate it.

The second major issue with the T-34s is the fuel tanks. I neglected to take any pictures of this process, but the round fuel tanks had a very small amount of contact with the tank and were very annoying to glue on. I only ended up using the round ones on one of the tanks, and decided to use the square ones that also came in the kit on the rest of them out of sheer annoyance. This bit me in the ass though, because the reference image I pulled up was from a model that someone else had built incorrectly, and I ended up gluing them to the rear mud flaps instead of the hulls, which is a pretty serious skill issue on my part and I have no real way of fixing it other than just living with it for the rest of my life.

T-34 and Panther tanks. I now know that those fuel tanks are wrong and it is going to drive me nuts

The third and final major issue with assembly is the way that one of the turret pieces comes off of the sprue. I decided that I wanted to build T-34/85s, despite the instructions being for earlier T-34s and the rules in the box being for earlier T-34s. After building one with a 76mm gun on accident because I have a brain the size of an unbaked tomato, the rest ended up as T-34/85s. Normally sprue gates are well placed to not obliterate details or require repair work, but on the lower piece on the T-34/85 turret has two sprue gates placed in a horrible place that ends up needing significant cleanup with a knife and file.

That inner section there is supposed to be a 90 degree angle. I ended up having to do a lot of work with a knife to get them back to 90 degrees, and several times I tried to glue the gun on and ended up having to pull it off and go back to filing and scraping because it wasn’t sitting right.

Literally none of the other tanks in this box had anywhere close to the amount of issues that the T-34s had. I really specifically enjoyed putting together the Valentines and will probably be getting a few more in the future, they are really nice little tanks. Fun to use in game too, dirt cheap and with a pretty solid gun if you take as many 6 pounder variants as you can. I should have read more closely before building them though, because you can only have half of the unit equipped with the bigger gun. Watch out for that!

The SUs were incredibly easy to build, and I ended up building one Su-85 and 3 Su-100s, just because I liked how the gun looked better on the 100. The Panzers are intended to be built as late war tanks, but the Panzer IIIs can also be built as earlier war variants and I did one of each. The side skirts fit on a little strangely but once you find the right place they lock in pretty well. The Tiger was a weirdly complicated build for what is basically just a box with a turret on top, and probably could have been a few less pieces. One thing that I noticed while building was that the Panthers are fucking huge compared to how big I thought they were, dwarfing all of the Soviet tanks and being very nearly bigger than the Tiger.

This picture is underselling it, it is really hard to get across how enormous the Panther feels compared to everything else in this box.

Due to a massively busy schedule this month, I haven’t had the opportunity to paint any of the tanks from this box yet. I have painted a full starter set for Flames of War’s sister game, Team Yankee, and these tiny tanks are very fun to paint. The T-34’s have some details that look a bit soft and like they would be annoying to paint, particularly on and around the turret, but everything else has pretty well defined edges and nice details. Pictures of all of them are in a gallery below.

Conclusion

I cannot recommend Flames of War enough, and the Kursk set in particular is fantastic. 65 god fearing American dollars for two full armies, a rulebook, and dice is a screaming deal. The only thing it is really missing is some Alpha Strike Starter Box style cardboard standee trees and buildings for me to call it the best wargame starter box I have ever had, even with the annoying to build T-34s. I had a giant, stupid smile on my face as I realized that Flames of War had made me finally complete my transformation into a proper grognard as I planned out a list with an IS-2 and some more Valentines, and maybe even an Italian army at some point. Play this game and get this starter box, it is fantastic. Huge thanks to Battlefront Miniatures for providing the starter box and writing this game.

Could have done without the random guy in the game store going on a clean Wehrmacht rant while I was trying to play, but that is not the fault of this game and is entirely on him.

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