Review Of Factory In Flames

Review by Pablonius

Quick disclaimer: I actually saw a pre-production version of Factories-in-Flames and despite some reservations that I was unable to articulate, I failed to give any meaningful feedback to the designers. In other words, I deserve as much criticism for FactiF's flaws as anyone else.

Factories-in-Flames is the new expansion that was released in the 2008 Annual. At the center of Factories-in-Flames, is a massive overhaul of WIF's production system. Units are now built at individual locations and the cost of units is spread-out over several turns. Although this extra detail may be fascinating to some, it has some nasty down-sides and significant flaws:

  • the time factor. WIF is a long game and FactiF adds significantly to the time spent in the production step. This has to be measured against whatever value the new kit brings to the table.
  • the space factor. FactiF requires a bunch more table-space for all the new production tracks. Like the time factor, increased space is acceptable if there is new value derived.
  • the balance factor. Unfortunately, this is where FactiF starts to fall off the rails. Despite claims to the contrary, FactiF is unbalancing in several ways:
    • by forcing units to arrive at specific locations, this severely hampers strategic defense. In particular, Russia will have a very hard time as units have to be built far back from the front lines (or you risk losing them if their production locations get overrun). The Russians lose critical time moving their new units to the front lines. If a city with unfinished production does get overrun (a distinct possibility if the Soviet front lines collapse), you suffer a nasty double-whammy as all the units in its pipeline are lost. Like the Russian RAW city bonuses, it's a cliff that punishes you for losing (not fun).
    • the new Flak units allow Germany, in particular, to easily protect their production from strategic bombardment. Especially in the early game, the production is low enough that Germany can focus all of its production in a few key locations, well defended with Flak. To make matters worse, because Flak units are "guns", if the French are unlucky enough to pick it as one of its starting "guns", expect France to fall over a lot more easily.
    • because Germany can focus its production in key locations, it can dedicate a lot fewer fighters to the defense of the Reich. Far-flung factories like the Lille & Paris factories become invincible producers of build points that cannot be affected by strategic bombardment! Bizarre.
  • the realism factor. FactiF is not realistic. At the core of its assumptions is that an army or corp-sized unit is fully assembled in one location. Furthermore, it assumes that if that location is lost then all of the effort that went into organizing and assembling that unit is lost. The reality is the complete opposite. A typical unit will have its personnel come from all over. Its (many types of ) tanks may be built in a completely different location from its trucks. Its guns and ammunition and mess kits and clothing and bayonets and helmets and grenades and artillery and on and on will all be assembled in different locations. Finally, it's final deployment location will almost certainly be different from its final assembly area (not to mention that the basic unit of organization is a division— not a corps or army). WIF's current abstract system of build points and unit build times does a much better job of representing the complexity of assembling and deploying a modern unit. The same criticisms apply for air units and even naval units. Even a naval unit in WIF includes a number of destroyers and supporting vessels as well as the capital ship(s).

Factories-in-Flames fails to provide any meaningful new choices (in fact, you are more constrained as you must now predict in advance where a unit is needed) and simply adds complexity for complexity's sake. The problem with FactiF is that it set out to fix a problem that didn't really exist. There was no need to tie a unit's production to a particular location (with the possible exception of repairing naval units) and it's unrealistic anyway. The play balance is upset in an obviously pro-Axis, anti-Russian tilt.

If the designers wanted to provide a more interesting production system they should have focused on the inputs. New resource types could have been introduced, specialized factories could have been dedicated to building new types of production points, unit costs could have been modified, etc. In other words, give us a production system that allows us to make strategic choices with our economies in new and interesting ways. When the Allies bombed the ball-bearing plants, they affected the production of a strategic resource (only briefly, mind you). They did not annihilate the 12th SS division. In that sense, Factories in Flames was a wasted opportunity that could have provided a much richer, more detailed, and more engaging production system.


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