Crunchies – A Review of Fields of Fire, The FOW Killer!25 Jan 2017 0
There is no doubt that the Flames of War (FOW) armored conflict wargames rules have had a significant impact on the tabletop hobby. That said, not all folks are enamored by the FOW philosophy of simplified, tournament style game mechanics, particularly the hobby’s Grognards. For these stalwarts the name is really Flames of Warhammer, a not so nice sobriquet referring to the lack of . . . well, let’s just say the realism department has left a lot of folks unimpressed. If you are one of these tabletop denizens, read on, because man, have I got a deal for you.
Back in 1995 a set of micro-armor rules was developed for private use, published later in 2001 on a short run for public consumption. In 2013 the game was redone yet again and the very next year won the Origins award for the best historical miniatures rules for 2014. The rules, and the firm that publishes them, have been rebooted yet again, and the results are quite impressive. What is this Pulitzer worthy tome? It’s called Fields of Fire – Miniature Rules for Modern Combat 1975 – Present2d Edition (FOF), the brainchild of author Larry A Yeager and published by Proving Ground Games. So trust me, all you “tread heads” out there who suffered thru Dunnkempf are gonna smile by the time you finish reading. Let’s start.
General Presentation and Scale
FOF comes in two presentation formats, one a digital download from Wargames Vault in PDF, the other in hardcopy paper, perfect bound. Cost is $ 19.95 for the former and $ 40.00 for the latter, though there is a sale on at time of publication. For this review I’ll talk about the paper version exclusively, and this is indeed a well designed and produced product. The book is full color glossy and counts 100 pages between the covers. It’s laid out in larger, well-spaced easy to read text, put on a background that reminds one of Middle Eastern camouflage. It also contains lots of color photos of modern day warfare, as well as colorful charts to highlight whatever point the rules make, and in addition historical snippets to break up any tedium reading the first time might bring. For example on page 16 there is a quote on the AK 47 assault rifle muttered by Clint Eastwood as Gunny Highway from the movie Heartbreak Ridge. This is a very nice touch in my opinion. The book also boasts a set of Quick Play Rules, five scenarios and – thank you Lord! – a detailed Index to support a very comprehensive Table of Contents.
Separate from the book but included is an errata sheet, two fold out sets of tables and charts and a clear template sheet. Moving back to the book, did I mention there are pages of templates, plotting sheets and colorful counters that can be cut out for game support? Yep, that’s all here in full color. Seriously, I have some publishing experience myself, and for $ 40 the quality and quantity of the product makes FOF pretty much a no-brainer steal. I figure this has to be done with off-shore printing from someplace like Hong Kong, because if it’s domestically produced, I do want to talk to their printer.
Finally, I also received for my review an expansion module that allows play thru the early years of World War II, 1939 – 1943. This is my favorite period oddly enough, because for some reason I have always been fascinated with the Russo-Finnish slugfest as well as the battles for France and Poland. I guess it’s because those campaigns are a little unique and French tanks look sexy, but regardless, the book is called Crucible of Force, authored by Mark & Heather Brown along with Chris Brutsch. Pretty much what goes for FOF goes for Crucible and that is a very good thing. There are also some quick play betas and additional modules up on Wargames Vault, all free, so no excuses!
The rules are billed as being simple, or at least simpler, than previous editions, but I still found them relatively detailed and complex, though very comprehensive and complete, easy to understand. Now complexity is not a bad thing as many people prefer such games really don’t consider them complex. This is normally because simplicity is pretty much in the eye of the beholder and after a few games most folks will become so familiar with the rules that complex evolves into simple. I know this for a fact because I cut my teeth on tabletop gaming with a Napoleonic game called EMPIRE, a rules set that needed flow charts to keep track of everything. Yet because I was in love with the little Corsican, it was no time before I could pull data calculations from my head. As a proverbial FOW alternative, by definition folks attracted to this game are going to do just fine and have a great old time. They’ll look at pages 28 – 29, a Direct Fire Chart that calculates die rolls for Hit, Penetration or Kills out to 80 inches in 5 inch increments dependent on target armor class, then shed a tear and happily pronounce, “We’re home!”
The game uses the fire team (half a squad), heavy weapons team or individual vehicle as unit game scale. Each inch is equivalent to 50 meters, each turn is divided into two 30 second phases plus Initiative so a full turn is just a single minute, which if you’re doing this for real can seem like an eternity. This also means, however, it’s not likely you will ever have more than a full battalion on the table for each of the antagonists.
The two phases are interactive, in that there is no phase where one side does all his operations and then after completion his opponent does all of his. Instead, the two sides both perform activities within the same 30 second phase. Specifically, here is the detail for each of the two 30 second phases.
- Attacker/Defender Rally Units
- Attacker/Defender Plot Artillery
- Attacker/Defender Opportunity Fire
- Attacker/Defender Stationary Fire
- Attacker moves and conducts moving fire, Defender fires
- Defender moves and conducts moving fire, Attacker fires
- Smoke Discharge Segment
- Repeat all of the above as the second 30 second phase
While the Initiative Phase determines who is attacker and thus which side gets to go first, otherwise all actions are simultaneous. Thus if you put a TOW ATGM round through that BMP at 1600 meters and destroy it, the Russkie still gets to fire before the Kill result is applied. There will be some exceptions, but generally this is how it works.
The rest of the rules are all about the details needed to make the sequence of play work, and these are generally specific to types of weapons or unique battlefield processes. For example, you have to see a target in order to shoot at it, so there is a process with chart for Spotting. The How to Play chapter discusses terrain and similar, while the remaining instructions are included in chapters appropriately titled Movement, Combat, Close Assault and Artillery. There is also a 12 page chapter for Advanced Rules, and this discusses the use of fixed and rotary winged aircraft, mines, vehicle recovery, troop quality and engineering. It’s all pretty much a complete package, and quite frankly, a nifty little resource for historians as well as gamers.
I don’t do micro-armor much these days, probably because it’s similar to what I did in the Army for 20+ years. Heck, as an intelligence officer (who knew the Soviets upside down and backwards, but not squat about our stuff) I actually helped run the Dunnkempf room for the US Army Forces Command Opposing Forces Training Detachment (Red Thrust) at FT Hood. If I did, however, I would certainly give these rules a shot. OK, detail is not my thing either, but FOW is just too far in the opposite direction for me. I need a reasonably accurate alternative and this seems to be an excellent choice. It is well written in the conversational style I prefer, logically laid out for easy learning and supports this with graphics presentation that is absolutely interplanetary. And for $ 40 US or $ 19.95 US, this is an exceptional value as well.
So if you need prescription drugs to tolerate FOW – or even if you don’t – this is a game very well worth considering. Well done and highly recommended.
NB. Grognards, French for "Grumblers", the nickname of Napoleon’s Old Guard. “Crunchies,” what tankers in my day called infantry due the sound of their helmets when overrun by tanks.
Disclaimer: Bill writes and publishes his own miniature rule-sets such as Age of Eagles & other products that have been mentioned in past articles. Wargamer Ltd. guarantees the impartiality and accuracy of all of Bill's articles and would like to reassure everyone that, apart from some stated personal preferences, no bias enters into our analysis. If anyone has any concerns, please contact the Editor-in-Chief.