BOFF 2.0 – An Introduction to the new Brigade Fire & Fury02 Aug 2017 3
In 1990, Army graphics artist Rich Hasenauer started a revolution of sorts in the tabletop (historical miniature) wargaming world when he published a set of American Civil War (ACW) rules named Fire & Fury (or F&F). Not only was it full color glossy with scores of professionally designed diagrams and tables, but also loads of images featuring Rebs and Yanks in tabletop battle. In a world of complex, battalion level rules, this game was known for its elegant simplicity and brigade level play, making large engagements like Gettysburg a reality.
Using a unique, but uncertain movement system and a notable lack of detail that made the game even more historical, Fire & Fury sold well over 10,000 copies and spawned dozens of duplications, to include this author’s own Napoleonic series. Now the game many lovingly call BOFF (Basic Original Fire & Fury) is back after 26 years in a new and improved second edition. Bottom line up front, it is a most worthy successor to the original. And just maybe, something much more.
The new BOFF is $39.00 US, 96 pages long and comes in an attractive Union trouser blue hard cover. As with the original, color images of actual F&F battles adorn front and back cover, and the red bordered yellow western style script for the title is unchanged from 1990. Like the original, there are scores of diagrams, and in fact, what looks to be the same diagrams except now in color rather than black and white. In some places, photographs of painted minis actually replace what used to be drawings, a nice improvement IMHO.
Gameplay is meant for 15 mm figures, though larger and smaller scales are possible. In fact many people simply mount 6 or 10 mm figures on the game’s 15 mil stands for a more serried rank of bayonets look. The stands themselves are approximately the same as in the original, and this means figures mounted for the old rules will work without a hitch. In fact the basing is also the same as used in Hasenauer’s Regimental Fire & Fury (RFF) rules, so one set of figures will support all the rules. In fact, many of the images supporting this article (from the friendly folks at the Lonely Gamers Blog Spot) are from an RFF game covering’s Gettysburg’s infamous Wheatfield. No problem, as the basing and the look are exactly the same.
Also as in the original, scales remain the same. Each unit on the board is a brigade (four to six single battalion regiments) of infantry, a brigade of cavalry or a group of six to eight artillery pieces. Each complete turn equals 20 or 30 minutes real time and one inch represents 45 or 60 yards. Unlike other games, casualties are stand losses vice individual figures and here once again, each stand represents either 150 or 200 men.
Sequence of play, and really about 75 % of the book is actually the old F&F, but clarified and in some cases rewritten. Thus, the two game processes that made F&F so unique and so popular remain solidly intact. The first was a die roll system that was far less predictable than with other games. The thought here was veteran gamers played corps commanders and realistically had no knowledge or control over what happened at brigade level or lower. That was the job of the notional brigadier in command who, unlike the player, managed only his small parcel of turf under the most arduous of conditions with no knowledge of anywhere else. More random die results reflected mistakes duly caused, forcing players to react to the unexpected.
The second process randomized movement and fused maneuver and morale into a single function. In F&F all combat brigades were rated for proficiency (Green, Veteran or Crack) and casualty induced battle fatigue (Fresh, Worn and Spent). The latter was based on the number of stands left in a unit, but with lower rated units gaining battle fatigue more quickly, and this degraded movement. For example a Green or Crack eight stand brigade was rated Fresh at eight stands strength regardless. However, the Green unit became Worn with seven stands remaining and Spent with six. The Crack unit became Worn with five stands left and Spent with three. Now consider each brigade rolls a die to see if it moves, using either a Good Order column or a Disordered column, the latter less likely to allow movement. Positive die roll modifiers (DRMs) could be commanders in proximity or attached, etc, but also Fresh, Worn or Spent status, namely a + 2 DRM for Fresh, 0 for Worn and -2 for Spent. Thus Disordered units still might march without penalty, while a Good Order brigade might well move only half or not at all, even retreat. This single function really defines the game, and yes, it’s still there.
Yet there are some significant changes to the original rules, with some welcome additions due to player comments across many years. For example, there is now a Double Quick movement result, Cavalry Countercharge and one and a half pages on how to garrison a town or other structure where none existed before. The quick reference sheet, with all required charts and tables, has now been reformatted with detailed explanations right on the page, vice having to go to the rule book to look them up. There is also a Fictional Army Generator detailed enough to develop armies for pickup games by eastern and western theaters, and by early, mid or late war. But, if that doesn’t prime your powder, there are scenarios included, namely Gettysburg day one, 1st Manassas and Reams Station.
Many of the old brigade game workings have now been redesigned to mimic Regimental Fire & Fury. The result is not any more complex, nor does it produce any different results from what I can see. It simply provides a more consistent, and thus familiar, way to perform a game action across two sets of rules. Thus, learn the procedure in one; you learn the procedure in the other. This is a smart move in my opinion and probably the most noticeable example are the Musketry and Cannonade (or fire) Tables. It’s all good stuff and welcome.
However, there is one major philosophical change in this second edition that will surely raise an eyebrow or two. Now please note this section is not sacrosanct, just my personal observation, so you might well draw a different conclusion. Further, coming from a chap who is listed as a consultant in the book (he was desperate that day) this might be just a little surprising, but here it is. I agreed to disagree with the Maison du Rich.
This new version of the old classic has dropped a lot of the so-called “elegant simplicity” of the original pub in favor of importing a lot of the battalion and battery level detail from RFF. It’s a bit difficult to explain to someone who has not played the original, so I thought an example might be a better way to go. Bear with me here.
On the fire tables for the old F&F you had the following listed as options as regards shooting rounds down range – infantry stands, cavalry stands (Union/Confederate) and artillery stands (Union/Confederate). That was it, and not only did it make things simpler, but it also made sense historically. Corps commanders aren’t really interested in whether the 33d Pennsylvania had breechloaders or rifled muskets. And though the warring parties used a variety of weapons, because it was the same general mixture on both sides (the Yanks with a slight Fire Point edge in cavalry and artillery due to greater numbers of repeaters and rifled guns), doing it this way gave an advantage to nobody. It also made the play damn quick.
The new fire tables, however, now have the following listings for small arms – Rifled Muskets, Mixed Muskets/Rifle and Carbine, Repeater, Breechloader, Smoothbore Musket, Shotgun and Hunting Rifle. Artillery now includes Fortress/Naval/Siege Guns, Heavy Rifles, Light Rifles, Rifle with Napoleons mix, Rifles with Smoothbore mix, Smoothbore and finally, Napoleons. There are now also modifiers for Confederate faulty fuses, as well as a new artillery ammunition resupply process, neither of which existed before.
So far reaction has been mixed. Personal opinion only, I be agin’ it, but I know of many others who have exclaimed “it’s about time!” The latter love the old brigade game, but simply felt that it was a bit too vanilla. Others cringe, so It will be interesting to see how all this plays out in the future.
In conclusion Brigade Fire & Fury 2nd Edition is a top notch game in every respect and mandates a place on every ACW gamer’s shelf. What it is not is a 'second edition'. By fusing the battalion level detail from the regimental version, Hasenauer and company have created an entirely new game, a hybrid that theoretically combines the best of the old system with the best from the new regimental system. As such it should have wide appeal, not only to those old brigadiers who thought the original game too generic, but also to those junior majors who feel the regimental version’s complexity is just a bit too much. Overall I predict strong success.
But now we need to finish the trilogy. Huh? By this I mean to take the original brigade game and simply update and clarify it so as to make it consistent with the other books in the series. Leave out the battalion detail this new version includes, and then all markets will be covered like butter on grits (or something southern like that). That’s three games, each consistent in basing and style of play, appealing to almost every combination of gamer known. And a name is even available to distinguish it from everything else – BOFF, Basic Original Fire & Fury. Three games, three levels of detail, same basing and flow, it couldn’t get any better.