So, Fields of fire. A game that gets both high praise and scathing criticism. The high praise comes from it’s great immersive gameplay, crushing decision making for the player, a feeling that someone got platoon level game play right, and of course good fun. The criticism stems from a rulebook that many find somewhat incomplete, difficult to navigate and frustrating to say the least.
This is my third try at FoF. I played a couple of practice games a few months ago, but then wanted to get some play of the many other solo war-games that I own, so put it away for a bit. The trouble with this particular game is that after you put it away, you keep wanting to go back to it. I left it to play D-Day at Omaha Beach. But while that is a fine game in it’s own right, it didn’t leave me with a NEED to try it again. This one did.
So, the game. I’ll try to keep the general description brief.
I control a Company of the 9th Infantry in Europe. It is broken down into 3 Platoons, which is further broken down into 3 squads, and then into such things as assault teams, fire teams and litter teams. The map is a setup of rows and columns of terrain cards. I choose my two objectives and an attack point. Points are given for taking objectives, clearing cards, rows, or columns, enemy casualties, prisoners etc. It is conducted through a rigid command structure. The Battalion CO gives commands to the Company CO, who distributes commands to the Platoon CO’s, the Company XO and the Company First Sargent. These are then turned into commands for the various squads and teams. A player has assets assigned that can be distributed to his hearts desire within his platoon. These are things like Machine guns, Bazookas, Mortar teams, vehicles (and in the Vietnam section of the game, Helicopters).
The game is totally run by cards; the action deck and the terrain deck. There is no set map, you draw terrain cards to fit the mission description of rows and columns. Open ground, gullys, bocage, hills, buildings are all included. You are ensured that you will NEVER get the same game twice. The action cards are used to determine every single aspect of random events, and a seperate card is drawn for every single thing that happens.
Ok, that’s enough.
I intend to play a practice game before embarking on the Normandy Campaign, and that is what this report is. Unfortunately for my Company, the first two turns have been exceptionally unlucky in determining what we have to deal with. I also intend to play the Korean campaign, and while I generally don’t play any games set after the Korean war (up through Dien Bien Phu specifically), the Vietnam campaign is certainly calling me too. We’ll see. Volume 2 of FoF is about the Pacific campaign in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, but center around the Marines. I will be playing that also.
Without further ado, let’s get started with a couple of pre-game pictures:
This picture shows the Playing pieces and the Command display, which provides a place to keep track of commands and each unit’s assets. Will I use all of those pieces? Not a chance. But dad-nab-it I paid for them, they’re going on my table.
My first bit of mis-fortune is with the map itself. The card draw was not kind to me. Generally, you would like to make your objectives the best terrain available because you may have to protect it from counter attack, and you want to keep them together so they can both be accessed by the attack position chosen. On my map, the two best terrain features are on the left, with the multi-story building being the best of all possible terrain. unfortunately, the direct rout there has an open field between it and my troops, giving an enemy unit that pops up there complete control of that row of cards as it can see the first card I would enter on that row.
Even knowing that, those two terrain cards must be my two objectives, as the other two cards are not good cover. My other problem right out of the gate is in row 3, as there is another open field card to the right of my two objectives, meaning that an enemy unit that pops up in column 4 could have an unobstructed shot when I enter the objective card. My attack position is from row 2, second card from the left, which gives me access to both objective cards (I am not required to attack the objectives through the attack position, but I get more experience points for my company if I do)
So, I have my work cut out for me.
I have my three platoons set up to enter the map from the left. I have given 2nd Platoon the job of point. They will move up column 2 to approach the attack position. 3rd Platoon will be the right flank cover, and HOPEFULLY, 1st Platoon will make an attempt up the left flank through the open field after the 2nd and 3rd have the enemies attention.
Yeah, that’s the plan……but we all know what happens to plans……
The Company CO only received 1 command, so we used it to activate 2nd Platoon. He drew three commands, so formed an assault team and moved them out to the bocage in front of them. I have ten turns to get this accomplished, so we’re going to go slow at the beginning, this will be my only move. The other Platoons received no orders and the XO and 1st Sargent get 1 each automatically, so we’ll bank those (you can save commands up to a limit). The enemy check for the potential enemy counter reveals that I have blundered into a minefield. Great. My point Platoon has a minefield directly in it’s path of advance, and minefields can’t be removed. Thankfully, the assault team was not hurt, but became pinned. They managed to find cover as they advanced but as you can see, this is the card I placed my casualty collection point in. I had debated whether to determine it pre-game or after we got started. Lesson learned. Glad this is a practice game.
So as we begin turn 2, I have my point / recon assault team in a minefield, directly in front of the rest of his platoon, yay.
Well, we are going to have to find another way. This time the Company CO has enough commands to activate all three Platoons. 1st Platoon sends an assault team into the gully in front of the open fields and 3rd Platoon does likewise into the hedgerows. My pinned assault team in the minefield rallies to lose the pinned marker in the general initiative segment where units can use their own initiative to help themselves.
The potential enemy counter check reveals pure disaster for my troops. Both of the new Potential Enemy contact counters reveal contact with the enemy. As I feared, the 1st Platoon Assault team has triggered an enemy artillery observer in the two story building directly in front, and the rounds will be dropping in. Naturally we were unable to find cover. This is going to be ugly. It’s not much better for 3rd Platoon as it’s unit also blunders into a minefield with the added bonus that it was being covered by an enemy Heavy Machine gun.
Now I’ve got problems.
The ensuing combat resolution phase kills 1st Platoon’s Assault team, reducing them to a casualty marker and does enough damage to the 3rd Platoon’s Assault team to reduce them to a litter team, pinned to boot.
So, now what am I going to do?
This is the first time I have ever had three straight enemy activations to start a game. Generally you will get an activation but clear a card or two without any more trouble. Now I have to make an assault into the teeth of the enemy who was apparently waiting on us.
This will be good practice.