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Subject: Modern Warfare Small Unit Tactics rss

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Ian Engleback
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Croydon
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This review covers the original edition from SPI in the “flat box” format c. 1976.

As far as I know, Firefight was intended as a learning tool for mechanised combat for the US Army, it was designed to show the lethality of modern weaponry (both gun and missile) and importance of organisation and basic tactics.

The content is 400 counters, 2 large maps, 2 dice, and 2 data sheets (CRTs, etc).

The rules are split into three sections; “Firefight I” covers about 90% of the basic rules, “Firefight II” introduces concepts such as terrain height, “fog of war” hidden units, smoke and fire on move, all of which are really essential to learn to complete the game. “Firefight III” is mainly optional rules. All three sections, with nine scenarios, are contained in 20 pages.

The game is primarily small unit tactics, in the same vein as Squad Leader, unit level is either a single vehicle or an infantry squad (normally four men, but could be two men with an ATG/MG/Missile), turns are 40 seconds and hex size is 50m. Counters show unit type only, no numbers, and additional counters show damage or effects, smoke and artillery targets.

Reflecting the improved range of modern era weaponry, the maps are quite large (22” x 34”) covering a 39 x 54 hex grid (approximately 3km represented). One map is quite sparse and the other has a lot more intervening terrain. The maps can be joined together either side by side or lengthways to make a huge playing area. The design is made to resemble “ordinance survey” style maps with contour lines (which are used in the height rules of Firefight II).

The main difference from WW2 small unit games is that the reduced complexity is more or less defined by the era. Modern (by 1970s standard) armies use relatively limited variations of weapon type; in the mid 1970s the MBT was the M60 or T62, APC/IFV was M113 or BMP, infantry AT were LAW or RPG-7, long-range missiles were TOW and Sagger. Weapon capability, armour strength and anti-personal weapons are more or less the same all round.

From 1970, main battle tanks and missiles operated on a philosophy of “if you can see it you can hit it” and “if you can hit it you can kill it”. Consequently there is very little variance between weapon and target strengths, tank guns are powerful up to 1km and missiles from 500m to 3km+, which is the whole map.

The emphasis therefore is on placement and diversionary tactics, remaining hidden for as long as possible, forcing the enemy into “kill zones” to bring maximum firepower to bear. The tactical use of terrain and smoke (both artillery and tank delivered) is the key to winning a battle, rather than pitching relative unit “strengths”.

Overall the gameplay is relatively simple; each turn there is a fire phase and a move phase, the players take turns to fire/move, either player may “pass”, but if both players pass the phase ends immediately, so introducing a stratagem to force the opponent to fire at or move critical units before yours.

There are rules for opportunity fire (firing at a moving unit in the move phase) and certain units can fire whilst moving with a penalty, and also “overwatch fire” which is firing on a unit that fired on your unit during the move phase (!).

Resolving attacks are quick and easy, it involves using range to calculate an attack value, and then rolling two dice on a CRT to get a result. Most results are a “kill”, although “suppression” and partial kills (mobility and firepower) can occur. The usual rules of line of sight and terrain effects on movement and defence apply, LOS is complicated slightly if using the height rules.

Indirect fire is from off map units, both mortars and larger cannon. It is area effect, has its own attack resolution CRT which is more suppressive fire, and is plotted in advance a number of turns. You can reduce artillery delay by using the same map reference offset by a short amount and “walk” the artillery across the map, artillery can also deliver smoke (and mines in the advanced rules).

The game is fast moving, and can easily be completed in under an hour including set up. There is always the feeling of a “turkey shoot” once one player falls into the “kill zone”, but this can be an extremely tactical game once all the different weaponry is brought to bear; infantry, guns, missiles, artillery, smoke and mines by experienced players.

One complaint is the game has always been that the game is geared to the US winning, but the different units available mean varying strategies for each side. The US has better weapons, but the Soviets have the versatile BMP and lots more long-range missiles.

One interesting facet is the “future units” speculated in to game and available as advanced rules; the XM1 (which became the M1 Abrams), the XMBT (T64, T72 or T80), and the MICV (Bradley)

I’ve always felt the potential of Firefight as a game system is overlooked, the essential element of simple combat (one roll and result) and the alternate unit activation makes it a elaborate yet elementary game. Firefight could certainly be brought up to date with 1980s/1990s era weapons but it would need concepts such as night fighting or air power (helicopters and A10s), for a full modern warfare experience, although this may challenge the reduced complexity that makes the game so attractive.
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Magister Ludi
Australia
Fremantle
Western Australia
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Nice review!

The basic game system was ported across and used in City Fight by SPI a couple of years later. Still one of my favorite games.

It's a pity the promised link up between the two games never saw the light of day.
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Fraser
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Melbourne
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Back in the days when there were less maps we played every map back to back
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Ooh a little higher, now a bit to the left, a little more, a little more, just a bit more. Oooh yes, that's the spot!
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ian54 wrote:
As far as I know, Firefight was intended as a learning tool for mechanised combat for the US Army
I read an article some years ago which quoted Jim Dunnigan as saying it was designed for the DoD and that that was why the terrain was so open, i.e. no bushes etc. because that was they wanted it. I believe he felt that was a bit unrealistic. I used to play this a lot and really liked it. I remember the organic fire support that was available in some scenarios where you pre=plotted a few hexes that had guns trained on them so if you called in for artillery on those hexes it would arrive almost immediately.
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Russell Gifford
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South Sioux City
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I read a artial statement by CityFight's designer outlining the point of the corssover, which essentially came down to take the macro units that are converging on the town (and he outlined which town, which is the OLD town in CityFight) and play it out. Seriously, I tried it, and it is interesting in the fact that there are SOOOO MANY units in the CityFight game at that point that it becomes a HUGE cluster of attacks. His point was at that ratio, troops are close enough to tie up armor, and slow things down - but good tactics will win.

I am here to say bad tactics with burn both sides badly. Doing this, you can inflict MUCH more damage on the opponent AND on your self than the you end of with in the macro-game!

--Russ
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Barry Kendall
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Lebanon
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For an interesting diversion, substitute tactical maps from another game--ASL, the "Assault" series, even a couple of Napoleonic ACW battle-level game maps such as those from "Wellington's Victory" or the Clash of Arms games--and play the very same "Firefight" game.

New terrain, lots more obstructions to LOS, and a better setting for players to experiment with tactics.
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