Saturday, March 17, 2012

West End Games Fire Team Comprehensive Review, Part 1

Modern combat at the tactical squad level. I have always been fascinated by a modern version of Advanced Squad Leader (ASL). I hear the comments that it can't be done, that ASL is made for World War II. But I just don't believe them. I am fully convinced that ASL can be pulled into the contemporary era and be used to game actions in Korea, Vietnam, Arab-Israeli wars, and other conflicts across the globe.

Until then, we have a few alternatives to squad-level combat in the modern era. One of those alternatives is West End Games' Fire Team. Fire Team was designed by Jon Southard and released in 1987, a few years before the trial by fire of the West's and East's doctrine and equipment in Operation Desert Storm. In Fire Team, the player is the company or battalion commander and coordinates his forces to accomplish missions against a determined enemy. Units include individual talks like the T-80 or the M1, BMPs and Bradleys, infantry squads, weapons teams, and support weapons like the LAW or Dragon. Remember, this game was released in 1987.

In this installment, I want to do a comprehensive overview of the game. Over the next few days, I will add additional parts of the review, including components, rules, and game play.


Fire Team is a game of squad-level tactical combat between the US forces and Soviet forces int he 1980's. The setting is somewhere in Germany, but the town names on the maps are generic. The counters represent infantry squads, weapon teams, leaders, individual vehicles, and supplemental support weapons. Infantry units possess an "infantry firepower" (for use against infantry) and operate supplemental support weapons. Vehicles possess a "gun/missile firepower" (for use against vehicles) and an infantry firepower. Individual machine guns or the main gun of vehicles are not differentiated as in ASL. Time scale is 10 minutes per game turn.

To move or fire with men and equipment, players expend "command points" (CPs). The sequence of play is governed by "command point chits" (CP chits). Each player has a number of CP chits of various values which are tossed into a cup at the beginning of play. The players then draw them out one by one. For each chit drawn, one player receives an "impulse" during which he may expend CPs.

Players expend CPs to “activate” units. When a player activates a unit, he may either move it, fire with it, or combine the two into "moving fire." A player may also save CPs with his units to expend them in a later impulse. The other player may conduct "opportunity fire" at moving units during their activation.

There are two fire tables: one for fire against infantry the other for fire against vehicles. Fire against infantry (resolved on the Infantry Fire Table) may cause “step losses” or “fear.” Activating a unit suffering from fear costs more CPs than normal, until the unit “rallies.” To rally, you must have a leader stacked with the unit, expend CPs, and roll against the leader's “rally rating,” printed on his counter.

The table for fire against vehicles (Gun/Missile Fire Table) incorporates modifiers for range, target armor, and ammunition. The result is either kill or miss.

What's in the box?

The game includes:

  • Four geomorphic unmounted maps
  • 320 5/8” counters, back-printed
  • 200 1/2” counters, back-printed
  • Rules booklet
  • 6 Scenario Cards (12 scenarios)
  • Two US and two Soviet Charts and Tables Cards
  • Two CP displays containing US and Soviet CP information
  • Two Terrain Keys
  • One decimal die
  • One counter tray


The maps are unmounted sheets 10.5” x 15”. A weird size, but they are nice and functional. Typical of the 1980's style. They include various elevations depicted by colors (as shown at the left), roads, buildings of wood, stone, and multi-story (in black), woods, and cover (rough terrain).

The maps are geomorphic, so they can make a number of different variations.

The paper is pretty thick, but not cardstock, and they are folded in half in the box. The section at the left is only half of map B.

Each hex represents 80 meters across. This is twice the scale of ASL, which is 40 meters per hex. While typically modern units spread out much more than their WWII counterparts, that creates a lot of space between units and in the hex itself.


The countes are nothing to write home about, but are functional and probably typical of the 1980's. All unit counters are 5/8 inch. CP chits, smoke, and other markers are ½ inch counters.

You can see the Fire Team squad above with the firepower, range, and movement allowance designations, as well as the rudimentary sillouette of the squad.

Below are the counters for the leaders. They are very similar to those in ASL, and include a rally rating, leadership rating, and a movement allowance. They also include a name and figurehead.

Below is also a sample of the vehicle counters. As you can see, there is a lot of info packed onto the counter, but not nearly as much as on an ASL vehicle counter.

Each vehicle counter represents one individual vehicle. The counter contains the main gun info, the vehicle's infantry firepower, movement points, and one the back its armor against certain types of weapons.

That's it for part 1. In subsequent installments, I will explore the rulebook, game mechanics, and the scenarios. I will also document a quick game from scenario 1, just to show how the game works.

Happy hunting!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What is Tactics?

Tactics?  Strategy?  What about the operational level of military maneuver?  What is the difference?  And why does it matter?  I thought this was a gaming blog...  well, it is.  But a little understanding of the context surrounding the games is helpful.  Definitions, concepts, and histories are all helpful in creating a greater enjoyment of the game.  At least in my opinion.  

The U.S. Army FM 100-5 Operations defines the levels of warfare in this way:  
Strategy is concerned with national or, in specific cases, alliance or coalition objectives.  The operational level provides the vital link between strategic objectives and tactical employment of forces.  At the operational level, military forces attain strategic objectives through the design, organization, and conduct of campaigns and major operations. Tactical battles and engagements are fought to achieve operational results.

Tactics involves the arrangement and employment of troops and equipment to attain a military objective.  The word "tactics" comes from Greek words ta taktika, meaning the matters of arrangement. It is also from the neuter plural of taktikos, concerning arrangement or order, and from taktos arranged (for battle). The verb form is tassein, to arrange.  Way more detail than you need, but it is interesting to note that the concept is the arrangement of stuff for battle.  Getting men and weapons in the right place at the right time for successful execution of battle.  

More from FM 100-5:  

At the tactical level of war, battles and engagements are planned and executed to accomplish military objectives assigned to tactical units or task forces. These victories, put together, achieve operational results. Activities at this level focus on the ordered arrangement and maneuver of combat elements in relation to one another and to the enemy to achieve combat objectives directed by the operational commander.  Tactics is the art and science of employing available means to win battles and engagements.  Tactics is  battlefield problem-solving—usually rapid and dynamic in nature.

Tactics in wargaming is the same as tactics in the real world.  I like the last line from the FM above: tactics is battlefield problem solving.  The considerations are the same.  Where do I best utilize my best squads?  What are the likely avenues of approach, and how do I position my units to defend each of those?  Do I need to?  Where can I place my heavy machine gun to take best advantage of its high rate of fire and longer range?  Tanks?  AT guns?  Mines? Obstacles? Special infantry such as engineers or sappers?  All of these factors make tactical considerations so much fun.