British Cromwell hunts Whittman!

British Cromwell hunts Whittman!
A pic from a Fireball game at Fall In 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Japanese Invade Philippines 1941

Yesterday we playtested "A Filipino Welcome" - the first scenario of a series about the fall of the Philippines. What a blast! Here's the historical setup:

Date: December 22, 1941
At dawn the main Japanese invasion forces began hitting the beaches at five separate sites in Lingayen Gulf. Four of these were completely undefended, allowing the Japanese to race inland and cut the coastal road. Only at Bauang were Filipino troops waiting at the beach. Here the Headquarters Battalion, 12th Infantry (Philippine Army, led by American officers), with one .50-caliber and several .30-caliber machine guns, faced the oncoming Japanese. As the Kamijima Detachment approached the shore, the Filipinos opened fire.

And it was effective fire indeed! The Fil-Am forces had gambled and placed their .50 cal in a patch of scrub well forward - right on the beach - and it paid off. Lt. Col. Kamijima's Daihatsu landing barges were hit before they even reached the beach, and when the troops finally began spilling out, the majority were left cowering in the surf... or floating face down.

Only a handful of troops made it off the boats in good order. Unfortunately for the Filipinos, that's all the Japanese needed. Right away, they launched a Banzai charge against the .50 cal. (designer's note: the Banzai rules are VERY lively and a definite high point. A leader initiates Banzai, and he brings along with him all good-order subordinate troops in contact whether these have already moved or not. So it's extremely dangerous, and the feel of it matches the "suddenness" so often mentioned by defenders in written accounts.) This Banzai charge consisted of two squads and one platoon leader, and it suffered withering fire on the way in which killed the leader. However, both squads pressed onward (perhaps inspired by the late platoon leader's example), and they closed into contact with the Filipinos...

Next, by miraculous luck, the Filipinos prevailed in close combat! (thanks to Adrian Reen-Schuler rolling snake-eyes for his Japanese). What a wild fight!

The Filipinos now sensed blood in the water. Defenders from inland converged onto the landing site and pinned down the IJA with small arms, plus two .30 cal Browning machineguns. With losses mounting, the IJA scrambled to get troops off the beach. In ones & twos, their teams began to make it to a blind zone behind some scrub, hidden from Filipino fire. They gathered there and launched another Banzai charge inland toward one of the Brownings...

Despite more withering fire on the way in, this charge carried the position, wiping out both the Browning and another Fil-Am position immediately behind it. The Japanese were finally on the move. The bulk of the troops back in the surf were finally able to rally & get off the beach, and a battle of manuever developed in the dunes. There were 3 or 4 Banzai charges in total (I can't recall), but ultimately, the Japanese controlled only two of the three victory locations they need to establish the beachhead. Honors went to the Filipinos. Everyone had a blast with this one. The "feel" of the engagement seemed just right, and there were loads of tough tactical choices to be made on both sides.

Historically, Lt. Col. Kamijima suffered terrible losses at Bauang, and he might have been thrown back into the gulf entirely, but the Fil-Am defenders ultimately had to withdraw because other Japanese elements were threatening to cut the coast road behind them. In this scenario, that dynamic is represented through initiative chips. The Fil-Am forces have one permanent chip, but it's lost as soon as a good-order Japanese squad exits the board behind them, toward the coastal road.

We kicked around various refinements to the rules which might make the game better, (seemingly an endless process, but the results are worth it). Next time we play this one, we'll see how it goes.

This is the first of eight scenarios covering the Fall of the Philippines. The next represents the very first tank-on-tank fight for US forces in WWII, when M3 Stuarts of the 192nd Tank Rgt. faced Japanese armor at Agoo. This link has that story:

In a later scenario, Lt. Ramsey's famous charge at Morong (the U.S. Army's final horse-cavalry charge ever) will be represented.

Jonathan Tristram Miller.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Banzai! Fireball Forward and the Pacific War

Last night the lead elements of the Ichiki Detachment clashed with a combat patrol from the 1st Marines west of Henderson Field. The Marines, led by Captain Charles Brush (played by Doug Austin), had a report that a Japanese patrol was headed his way and set his command of two under-strengthed rifle platoon and a machine gun section in a cordon defense to prevent Japanese infiltrators from reaching the airfield. The north part of his line covered two trails that led through a coconut grove while one platoon covered the jungle to the south. The Marines hunkered down and waited with fingers on triggers for the Japanese to appear. The platoon guarding the coconut grove (played by Bruce Weigel) decided to move out and either clear the area or make contact. They were making steady progress with no sign of the enemy until suddenly the sound of rifle fire broke out from the jungle to the south. The lead elements (played by Tom Garnett) from the Japanese force had entered the jungle in an attempt to outflank the Marine position. Here they ran into the USMC platoon commanded by Lt. Jacym (played by Latham Fell). Lt Jacym had been moving through the jungle himself and in doing so got his platoon strung out and disorganized in the unfamiliar terrain. But luckily one squad was in position to meet the Japanese. A firefight erupted which drew more Marines towards the action. Just then Capt. Shibuya (played by Tim Tilson) burst into the jungle leading two squads of crack troops. (see photo above) After firing a quick volley, Shibuya screamed BANZAI! and led his men forward into close combat with the Americans. A few BAR men in the jungle opened up on the screaming mass of Japanese but the fury of the charge was not to be stopped. Shibya's men overran the Marine squad giving them the bayonet. Stunned by this assault the Marines were unable to react and the lead elements of Colonel Ichiki's Detachment successfully navigated their way through the jungle and on to Henderson Field. Captain Brush realized that his line had been penetrated and decided to retire back to the Marine perimeter.

So went the first Pacific War scenario using Fireball Forward. Everyone had a great time and agreed that the game 'felt' like it was a Guadalcanal fight. Up until now we have been playing mainly Normandy, Russia and Sicily scenarios. Although they each have unique terrain features they are similar. Normandy had hedgerows, Russia has thick woods and fields and Sicily has cactus hedges....but other than that they are the same. Guadalcanal is totally different. Jungle, Coconut groves, Banyan trees, Kunai Grass and bare slopes all conspire to make the environment of the fighting a completely different experience than Europe and Russia. In fact that was the case during the war...the US was unprepared to fight in the jungle, at least at first.

Our goal in Fireball is to get at that 'feel' of a totally different environment without having to create alot of new or special rules. We are trying to tackle this as we develop the main rules and not do the Pacific as an afterthought in a supplement created later. The rules should work across the board for all types of terrain. (Which is why I am preparing to do North Africa scenarios next...North Africa being another place with totally different terrain challenges.) I think the way we are approaching Guadalcanal terrain is working and in the end we will have a great set of rules for jungle and a fun Guadalcanal scenario book. I also plan to try out some later Pacific stuff (Tarawa or Iwo) to make sure that works. And Jonathan Miller is creating a scenario book of the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, 1941. Can't wait!

Happy Thanksgiving!


PS - We do have rules of Banzai charges which everyone loved...even as I was explaining them the gamers could hardly wait to try them. (Eyes widened and I swear I saw the Japanese players starting to drool.) Congrats to Tim Tilson for launching the first successful Banzai charge of Fireball Forward!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fireball Forward at Fall In

Fall In will be at the Lancaster Host Resort next weekend (Oct 30) and there will be eight Fireball Forward games being run by a variety of people. Curt Daniels will be running three Russia '41 games that feature man vs tank actions from one of the Skirmish Campaigns books, Joe Seliga will do a Sicily '43 game featuring US paras and the Herman Goering Division, Sean Barnett will be running two Normandy games...including Michael Whittman's famous assault on the 7th Armoured Division at Villers Bocage and I will run a Normandy game featuring 10 Panthers and a Sicily game about Capt. Sayers attack on a fortified Italian HQ.

My Sicily game will have a dedicated terrain board that came out quite nice. Here are a few pics! Looking forward to seeing everyone at Fall In!

Monday, September 20, 2010

France 1940 - Fireball Game

Well the armor rules are finally set! It took alot of back and forth, testing, experimenting and input from alot of great people...but we are there! The rules are first of Everyone seems to agree that what we came up with is fun to play giving the game a nice level of excitement. On top of that the results basically match the results you would get from Squad Leader, so we know we should not get any funky outcomes. The mechanics are fairly simple: a shooting tank rolls 1d6 and two range dice. The range dice depend on the gun type that is shooting. Shooter needs a 4+ on the d6 modified by the range dice and a list of the other modifiers. (which everyone will remember after the first game). If a hit is scored the target rolls d6s equal to its armor to save against the penetration value of the gun. It is fairly simple and after the first game everyone has it down pat.

The main issue we discovered while developing this set of WW2 rules is that there is a big difference between developing infantry rules and armor rules. Infantry forces across the globe in WW2 all used the same basic tactics and the same basic weapons: fire & manuever with machine gun, mortars and small arms. Countries had different organizations, slightly different weapons and different doctrines but these can all be accounted for easily in a comprehensive set of rules. Armor rules are radically different because you are actually modeling an arms race. This arms race at times has combatants on an even playing field and at other time with one side having a huge advantage in equipment. We found that modeling that correctly and having it work with the infantry rules to be the biggest challenge ...also keeping the rules simple and fun added to the challenge. But I feel we have succeeded.

To give these rules a real test we felt that gaming armor combat in France 1940 would be a supreme test. In that theater of war the French had tanks that were slow, moderately well armed and heavily armored while the German armor was lightly armored, fast and under-gunned. We played the scenario 'Road to Beaumont' from the Skirmish Campaigns book France 40 - The Ghost Division. It features Pzkfz 38t and PzIIs vs. H39s.

The game started with French Infantry moving through a woods to scout out the road ahead.

German infantry engaged the French and although they managed to keep most of them at bay one squad managed to find the Pz38ts and the H39s burst over the hill they were hiding behind and engaged them.. A group of a local farmer's sheep scurried out of way of the action!

The French destroyed a Pz38t and feeling that the way was clear a second, much larger group of H39s appeared and decided to barrel down the road and try to exit the board (thus achieving their victory condition...which was to escape Rommel's closing trap.) But to their surprise two PzIIs hit them in the flank and after a spirited fight took out an H39.

The French decided to make a run for it. Although they outnumbered the Germans they felt that their superior armor would protect them and their best chance for victory lay in advancing past the ambush. They pushed on with the PZIIs right behind them.

Although the French managed to take out a PZII they were overwhelmed and the last H39 was destroyed just as it was about to exit. It was tough for the Germans but superior tactics led them to victory.

The game worked very well and a good time was had by all. The armor rules played out great as the French tanks seemed tough to kill but not as effective as the Germans especially if they were moving. It could have gone either way and the results seemed to fit the historical narrative. We will be doing more France 40 and soon...Guadalcanal...not to mention North Africa.


Friday, August 20, 2010

A few good Fireball pics...

Jerry Frazee and his band of gamers in Charlotte, NC have been having fun playtesting Fireball Normandy scenarios from the Panzer Lehr book. Their observations and comments on the evolving rules have been invaluable! Jerry's figs are fantastic and his games always look nice. Here are a few pics that he shared with me. They show the dogfaces of the 30th and 9th divisions fighting off the Panthers of Panzer Lehr. Ben Gazzara would be proud!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Early War Soviets...

Recently, we have begun to play some early war Russian Front scenarios. (Converting scenarios from the Skirmish Campaigns Ukraine book.) The big reason we have jumped into this was to test out the new armor rules with early war tanks. We are tinkering with the 'low end' guns, ie. 37mm AT guns vs. heavy tanks like the Char-B and the T-34. But it has turned out that we actually found this to be a great opportunity to work on modeling the command and control structure of the early Red Army. The German Army and Red Army were quite different and we found that by just changing the 'morale' values of the the forces that that alone did not give players the feel of the two opponents. The Germans were more tactically flexible and had better command...which made up for the fact that some of their weapons, like the 37mm or 50mm, had a hard time dealing with the Soviet heavy tanks. The Soviets on the other hand were rigid in their operations and often found their tactical choices dictated by incompetent Political Commissars.

We thought about this and decided to try two simple changes for 1941-42 Soviets. First: Their activation cards are assigned to particular units before play starts. Those units can only activate when their card is pulled. The Germans activate as normal; meaning any German unit can activate on any back card that is pulled. This severly hampers the Soviet flexibility while comparatively giving the Germans better flexibility. It forces the Soviet players to be more straight forward in their offensive actions.

Second: The Soviets in 1941-42 do not get initiative chips. Instead the can get a Commissar. He is a leader who can attach to a unit and try to motivate it. He does this by rolling on a Commissar Table (created by Jerry Frazee and Tom Poston from Fireball South in Charlotte, NC...thanks!) The table tells you what happens...everything form the troops mutiny (don't roll snake-eyes!) - to forcing the troops to assault - to overwhelming inspiration where the sons of Mother Russia surge forward. Everyone has really loved this Commissar rules as it adds great chrome and a real feel for early Soviets.

Overall we are really happy with these rules. They are simple and don't add any new die roll modifiers are overly complex rules...but really give the feel of early Soviets. The rules also make Germans feel that much better in comparison...and we did not have to add one extra rule about the Germans to achieve that!

For Fall In I am going to be running a Sicily scenario from CB Stevens 'Combat Jump Sicily' Skirmish Campaigns Scenario book. It has I will be thinking how to model the Italian army!


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Historicon Report

Historicon 2010 proved to be a great testing ground for Fireball Forward. Overall, eight games were run over the course of the weekend; seven Normandy scenarios and one Hue City. Everyone seemed to have fun, the games were close and some rules got hashed out in the process. I am really pleased as the goal of creating a game that is fast paced and fun seemed to play out. Most people had not played before but were able to learn the rules fairly quickly...and several of them returned to play multiple games.

There were two rules that got worked out that players universally thought did not 'feel' right. The first was the diameter of artillery barrages. I had it at 24-inches, which was way too big. A diameter of 12-inches should work just fine. That was my fault as I was thinking 12-inches all along but I kept saying radius instead of diameter. Other than that everyone loved the arty rules. During one game the Americans squeezed 2+ infantry platoons into a field when it got hit by 81mm mortars. They all broke and fled back to cover. It felt right and no one...including the US players thought it an unreasonable result.

The second rule that we worked on was how tanks conduct opportunity fire. The way we had been doing it was that tanks could rotate their turrets a certain number of degrees and if the gun pointed at the target then they could fire. This just didn't work as it kept leading to situations that didn't seem right...mainly because players felt that in many situations a tank could not see the target, ie. infantry creeping up to assault the tank. After alot of discussion we came up with a solution that we are trying that not only works better but is more in line with the general feel of the rules. Basically a tank with a tree-man turret (US and German) can take opportunity fire at a target that is either in the front 180-degrees of the front of the tank or within 180-degrees of the front of where the turret is pointed. A tank with a one or two man turret can only take opportunity fire a target in the front 180 of the turret. The idea is that these are the areas were the crew is focused. Seems simple, easy and addresses a host of issues.

Other than those two issues people mainly commented on what kind of variations they would use. The main rules...especially the armor rules seemed solid and well liked.

We'll be doing more games soon and I will let you know how things go. My wife and I have just moved to a new house and once we dig ourselves out I will be painting up figs to try out Guadalcanal...and see how the differences in terrain and tactics will change the rules! I want to tackle the Pacific BEFORE we release the rules. It has been my experience that most WW2 rules make everything work for Europe and Russia but not the Pacific.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fireball Forward at Historicon 2010

If you're headed to Historicon this year there will be plenty of 'official' and 'un-official' Fireball games being run. I am running all three scenarios covering the 2nd SS Engineer's counterattack on July 9 and Jerry Frazee is running a couple of the Panther Battalion's counterattack. All of very fun and exciting games.

I will also be running a scenario of the American final assault on the ridge at Haut Vent using Tom Ballou's custom built terrain board...should be a nice piece of eye-candy. This game is not listed in the program and I am not sure when we will run it but if you're interested drop me a note at:

Besides these games I am sure will will run other pick up games. Maybe Jonathan will even bring his gorgeous Hue City terrain. Stop in, play and let me know what you think of the rules.

See you there!


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Artillery Rules...and the Hurtgen Forest difficult as it has been to nail down the armor combat rules, which it looks like we finally did, the artillery rules have come together very quickly. We tried them out in two playtests of the second scenario in the Hurtgen Forest: Kall Trail scenario book.

Basically, there are a few types of artillery missions: interdiction, on-call fire, registration and prep fire. Except for interdiction they are all more or less played the same way with slight variations. Interdiction represents artillery fire being used behind the enemy's front lines to impede his progress, resupply, hinder reinforcements, etc. This is represented by a player using his interdiction artillery mission to prevent the opposing player from using 'initiative chips.' It works well...basically to slow down the enemy's advance. The other missions have an FO or company commander pick a target point and make a morale check...if they pass then they roll on the artillery chart. The artillery chart is the key. You roll 2d6 and the chart tells you what happens.

The idea behind this is we do not want (or feel we need) to model the entire procedure for calling in off board artillery. Basically you order that fire be placed on a target and there is a dramatic event...or not. The chart gives a storyline as well as a result so you know what happened. For example if you roll a 5 the result is:

5 Hello??? Hello??? - Armor moving through the area has run over telephone lines interrupting communications. The FO struggles to get is his request through.

No effect – the fire mission is NOT expended and may be used on a following turn.

Our feeling is that the game is about tactics and simple rules...not complex procedures for very technical operations. Artillery is dramatic and possibly decisive on the battlefield. American Artillery which is the best in WW2...imho...has a success on a 7+ with a 6 being possibly good. 4-5 are nothing and 2-3 are bad results.

After a few playtests everyone loves it.

We played a scenario from the Hurtgen book with lots of US artillery. The game was the German assault on Kommerscheidt, which is also an old GI Anvil of Victory scenario. The German armor commander wrote that he attacked the town but kept waiting for the infantry to follow him...they never did. He finally reached his objective and still the infantry never showed up so he retreated. As the American account of the fight mentions the liberal use of artillery it was decided that we would give the Germans infantry but also give the US plenty of artillery. The result was what we had expected. The US artillery compounded with alot of open ground allowed the US player to chew-up the German infantry. Although they made progress it was slow and costly. seems like the big three elements of the rules are finally shaking out! Infantry, Armor and Artillery all seem to be very close to working!


Friday, May 28, 2010

Hue City, 1968

A few weeks ago Jonathan ran a Hue City game using FIreball Forward. Actually, the game was first developed for his Hue City scenarios.The game was a blast and his terrain was a usual outstanding. One of his original ideas was if the game looks great it only enhances the experience of the players...and he is right.

The only rules change we tried was ranged infantry fire. Basically Squads/teams have an effective range of 12-inches and a long range of 24-inches. MGs have 24 and 48 respectively. Fire at short range is a normal and at long range the 'white' die suffers a -1 penalty. It seemed to work fine and everyone playing liked it. Since this game we have used it in several others and it seems to work fine.

The hue City scenario models an action later in the fight where the marines are trying to move up to Phase Line Green and secure the Dong Ba Gate. Simultaneously the NVA are trying to hold the gate and push into the American deployment area. As the game went eh NVA were able to siege a US held building complex in effect bottling up their advance on the right flank but the US left supported by an M48 managed to fight its way to the Gate. But a stalwart group of NVA diehards managed to hold on and the US never got full possession of the Gate. It was a narrow NVA victory. Here are some great pics.

One other nice element the rules provided was the ability to model command and resilience (or lack of) for different troops. Jonathan felt the NVA leadership was distracted during this fight and they did not do good job of controlling their men. To simulate this we gave the NVA infantry a morale of 4+ but the leaders were 5+. Meaning the troops would break morale on a 3 or less but only rally on a 5 or 6. It worked great. The NVA got in one really good coordinated attack but when it broke down it was difficult for them to reform quickly and assault again.

More on the latest armor rules soon.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

The verdict on the new ranged fire rules

Well, last tuesday night we played a Hurtgen Forest scenario that was full of infantry and tanks. The new armor and infantry fire rules were used and we had a very interesting playtest experience. We had players that were very familiar with the new rules and players that were brand new to them. There was some unease as the game went on for two main reasons. 1. Players had no concept of the chances of a kill with the new rules. 2. The new rules meant we would have to totally rewrite the spotting rules.

The first point means that players had no idea how to implement proper tactics. The US armor commander (Tom Garnett) had no clue as to what range he should engage the German armor. He was right to feel that way. The older system used a handful of d6s needing 6s to cause damage. A player rolling 8d6 basically would know he would probably get at least one damage result. This simpler handful of d6 mechanic means that players know the effectiveness of their weapons without having to take a course in calculus. That is more in keeping with the philosophy of the rules.

The second point about changing the spotting really drove home that the new firing rules were basically changing the entire concept of the game. It was becoming one more reliant on exacting measurements and parceling out particular situations. This is a major point as we basically would be creating an entirely new game.

We all came to the conclusion that the original system was how we want the game to play. Simple rules that allow players to focus on tactics. So....when Jonathan returns from out of town we will sit down and figure out how to work his excellent data into our original handful of dice armor system...and the infantry fire will stay as it has been played since the beginning.

Thanks so much to all the playtesters. Not only did this help me understand how the game is helped me understand how gamers approach their hobby.

These new rules looked promising but in the end they were taking the game in an entirely new direction. Ultimately I hope to create a miniatures game that has the feel of the old Avalon HIll games 'Napoleon', 'Victory in the Pacific' or 'War at Sea.'


Monday, May 3, 2010

Ranged Infantry FIre Rules

On Saturday evening Sean, Adrian, Tom Ballou and myself played the second scenario in the Mark IV battalion mini-campaign and we tried a new take on infantry fire. Basically Jonathan reworked the firing system used for armor combat. Players resolve fire combat by rolling a certain number of 'damage' dice and a 'range' die. The range die can be modified by certain factors (a short list) and if the target is in whatever final range is determined, then the damage dice may have an effect. Everyone thought it played well although perhaps a bit more deadly...more playtesting will be needed to see if that is the case.

The jury is still out on all this. The advantage of the new take on infantry fire combat is that it matches the way we resolve armor combat so the system is the same across the rules. The disadvantage is it is a slightly more complex system. The complexity issue has not been a problem after players go through a couple of turns. But the original system was simple and elegant. A good test is always running the games at the big conventions. There I can see how players who have never played it before react to the feel of the game. So we will see what players at Historicon think about it.

If we do ultimately decide to not use this new system we will have to revamp the armor rules because I do feel that having one system across the rules is the way to go.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Latest game and new thoughts on Machine Guns

On Wednesday I had the opportunity to run Fireball for a great group of guys that unfortunately I can only game with on rare occasions. Rick Wynn and his crew are a very creative bunch that play a wide spectrum of periods and are always open to new and interesting rules. We played the scenario 'Holding On' from the Panther mini-campaign of the St Lo book. It features two platoons of GIs with some M10s trying to hold off a full company of Panzer Grenadiers supported by a Panther. I am not going to give a blow-by-blow account and suffice to say that everyone had fun and the Germans were not able to breakdown the American defense. One of the primary reasons for this was a flank attack by the M10s. Steve Wynn (Rick's brother) maneuvered them through hedgerows on the flank of the German assault and although he lost one tank destroyer he essentially caused the general German attack to bog-down.

There was one big issue that he raised during his battle with the German infantry. His remaining M10 was alone in the middle of a field that was bordered by hedgerows. Since the Germans had an entire platoon of infantry facing him they decided to charge the entire platoon into the field to bombard the tank destroyer with panzerfausts. Since the M10 can only take one opportunity fire that means that two squads could move in a frontal assault against the M10 with impunity. This does not seem right. The vehicle has machine guns and a frontal assault is not the correct tactic and in fact seems like a 'gamey' move. Since the rules philosophy is to encourage correct tactics we need to address this.

Steve has a good suggestion that I am going to try. Tanks, AFVs and machine gun teams can fire multiple opportunity shots if the infantry target ends its move in the open. Simple, elegant and I think right on. This encourages infantry to move from cover to cover while making machine guns significantly different from regular small arms. Machine gun teams will have the option of either doing the 'grazing fire' rule -OR- take multiple opportunity shots at targets that finish their move in the open.

Thanks to all the guys at 'Wednesday Night at the Fights.'


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

'Hold on, boys!' After Action Report

Last night we played a second playtest of 'Hold on, Boys' the first scenario in a 3 or 4 scenario mini-campaign covering the counterattack of Panzer Lehr's 901st Panzergrenadier Regiment north of Haut Vents on July 10th. Overall this is part of my scenario book about Panzer Lehr's counterattack during that period.

This scenario depicts the 901's attempt to breakthrough the American front lines and penetrate into the US rear areas with Mark IVs. The Americans have a company of infantry and a battalion HQ group while the Germans have two platoons of Panzergrenadiers, five Mark IVs, one Mark III Flammpanzer and a Puma Armored car with a 20mm Autocannon. The Americans were played by Sean Barnett and the Germans by Curt Daniels. The Germans have one permanent initiative chip while the US has two one-time use chips that can only be used on the Battalion HQ. The game is played a night with 12-inch maximum visibility.

The game started with a short German artillery barrage that hit one of the forward deployed US platoons. The dogfaces hunkered down and managed to avoid taking many casualties but the fire did keep their heads down. The Germans then came at them out of the darkness and hit the GIs, quickly overwhelming 2nd Squad. The platoon commander decided that the best defense was good offense and ordered 1st squad to manuever in an adjacent hedgerow and hit the Germans in the flank. Sgt. Riley had is men crawl along the base of the hedgerow and popping his head over saw the an entire German platoon. They opened fire and several Germans fell back screaming and hollering. Just as Riley was about to give his squad the order to fall back another German platoon appeared on his flank and ripped into him. He fell dead instantly and his men ran for their lives. They were caught in a deathtrap and several men were killed with the rest wounded. The war was over for 1st squad.

Hearing the firing Major Barnett ordered every available man towards the front as he personally led his battalion HQ group forward. The Major was concerned that the Germans would push through the lead platoon and infiltrate an orchard that screened the front of the battalion HQ. Meanwhile Hauptmann Daniels was determined to push through the orchard helping to clear that way for the Panzer to roll on. Setting up an MG42 he laid down a base of fire on a group of farm houses on the edge of the orchard. A fierce firefight erupted and the Germans made a rush for the houses only to be turned back by Browning MachineGun fire. The German Luetnant leading the platoon rallied his men, directed more covering fire and had them try again. This time they knocked out the US machine gun and cleared the buildings.

Just as the farm was falling German tanks and armoured cars began to appear and engage the GIs. 75mm shells began to hammer 1st Platoon holding the orchard and 20mm fire from a Puma raked their left flank. Across the road on the US extreme left 3rd platoon held their part of the line nervously listening to the increasing volume of fire to their right. Then out of the darkness they spotted movement in the field to their front. The Lt. ordered his MGs to open up and the mysterious figures disappeared. A few minutes later the opposite hedgerow erupted in rifle and machine gun fire and more Germans made a rush. Lt. Smith hollered above the din of battle to 'Let 'em have it!' and the entire platoon opened up. Germans fell in droves and the attack was stopped cold. The German platoon was in disarray with the platoon Lt. dead and the field littered with dead and wounded grenadiers.

Meanwhile, Major Barnett and his men were taking an awful beating in the orchard. 2nd Platoon was holding but just barely and 1st had fallen back. Hauptmann Daniels sensed that the orchard was ready to fall and fearing that he was losing valuable time until daylight, ordered his tanks to roll through the orchard and up the main road. As a Mark IV lumbered between two hedgerows a bazooka rocket screamed out and punched a hole in the side skirt armor but failed to stop the tank. Desperately trying to reload the bazooka T/5 Balkowski was horrified as another German tank rolled over the hedgerow to his right and headed straight at him firing its machine-guns. His loader was already running away when he realized he was in a bad spot. The orchard was now in German hands and the tanks on the road began to move out. No sooner had they moved another 15 yards then bazooka rockets flew at them from both sides of the road. The lead Mark IV blew up in a fireball that lit up the night.

In an attempt to drive the US back 3rd platoons bazooka team a Flammpanzer broke into the field and hosed down the GIs with burning gasoline jelly. They quickly hightailed it back to their foxholes.

3rd Platoon which had stopped the Germans to their front now moved to try and flank the German column. Although German infantry kept them at bay the bazooka teams took out the Puma further blocking the road. With the orchard cleared Hauptman Daniels tried top make one last armored push through the orchard and breakout. Mark IVs crashed through the farside of the hedgerow and made a run for the rear areas. But T/5 Balkowski was ready for them. He had grabbed his loader and steadied the boy. Taking up a position between two farmhouses he waited patiently for a Mark IV to roll by.

Balkowski heard and saw the giant tank roll into view and after saying a quick Hail Mary he squeezed the trigger of his bazooka. The explosion nearly knocked him off of his feet as the German panzer exploded and came to a halt. With the road blocked the German attack subsided. Clearly they would need to find another way through the lines. Company K was just too tough.

This second playtest was a clear US victory. The first playtest was a clear German victory.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Scenario Specific rulebooks or not?

Hi All,

I have had a couple of people express disappointment with the approach we have been considering regarding scenario specific rulebooks. The idea is that we will not publish a rule book and then seperate scenario books. The scenario books will come with rules and charts tailored for those specific scenarios.

As we have been developeing the rules it looks like that idea will probably fall by the wayside. As more scenarios are written and developed we seem to be encountering most situations that will need to be covered by the rules. (Having said that I don't think any rules are fully complete when first published. We had to wait years for Squad Leader to come out with Japanese and Marines. And there are a whole slew of planes missing from Check Your 6!)

We are currently developing artillery rules to cover all situations and the armor rules have been revamped. In last night's game we tinkered with the mortar rules after playtesting the first Hurtgen Forest scenario and we all think they 'feel' right.

The question remains as to wether we will publish the rules as a seperate book or just include the rules in each scenario book. I'll chat with the publisher about that.



Friday, March 19, 2010

Paw of the Tiger - Fireball on the Russian Front

Jonathan Miller ran our first Fireball game set in the Russian Front at Cold Wars last weekend. It was great test of how range affects are modelled in the new armor rules. The scenario is based on the old Cross of Iron scenario, Paw of the Tiger. Two Tiger Is and three Mark IVF2s take on a mixture of T-34s, SU-76s and SU-122s...about twenty-two tanks in all. The Germans are defending the siege lines around Leningrad in February of 1943. They are all hull down on a series of hills overlooking a fairly open plain. The Russians enter the plain through a bottleneck and must navigate their way towards the Germans...taking fire the entire time. The goal - destroy all the Nazi tanks and exit four Soviets off the table to try and lift the siege.

Turn one - the motley collection of Russian tanks rumble onto the board along a single road. Using a covered way through a woods they try to fan out across the width of the board. They manuver to advance in line and hopefully overwhelm the Germans. As they rolled forward the Tigers began to take aim and fire at long range. One T-34 went up in flames. The distance was too great for the Mark IVs whose shots were ineffective. Undaunted the Soviets continued on singing great patriotic songs. The following turn another T-34 was knocked out. As the range closed the MarkIVs began to hit and more Russian tanks were wrecked.

After suffering heavy losses the Russians finally got to a range where they could possibly take out the Germans. A few of the T-34s stopped and engaged the Germans while the majority continued their mad rush. They headed for some woods at the base of the hills the Germans were defending. From there they could launch a final rush. Two of the Mark IVs were put out of action and things began to look better for the comrades. One T-34 made it up onto the hill and took out a Tiger! The Russians were really feeling good now. But as the remaining tanks rolled up to the woods they were hit by a fusilade of Panzerfausts from German infantry. That took the wind out of the Russian attack. They found that they had only four tanks left...just enough to exit the board and claim victory. Fortunatley one of the T-34s had manuevered up right behind the final Tiger.

The T-34 missed and the Tiger (Crewed by an elite crew) was able to destroy one of the remaining Soviets and thus claim victory.

It was a great game and I felt the armor rules were right on. The results mirrored the results of Cross of Iron. Jonathan really seems to have the numbers right...and it was all played on a 4x6 table. No need for a 10 foot table to do battles on the steps or the desert of North Africa. Ed Stewart, who played, was inspired enough to start thinking about doing Fireball Norht Africa.

I think the armor rules are good to go except from tweaking certain weapons.

In my next post I will address whether we will have a standard set of rules or sceanrio specific rule books.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cold Wars

I ran three 'official' and three 'pick-up' games of Fireball Forward at Cold Wars last week. All of them were received very well and a good time was had by all. It was great to see a group of ten people who had never played before sit down at the largest scenario I have written and within five minutes they were all playing and totally hooked.

All of the games I ran are from my Panzer Lehr at St. Lo scenario book.

The first official game I ran was 'Darkness Before the Dawn' which sees ten Panthers and a Panzer Grenadier Company trying to take a farm and/or exit the board. They are opposed by six M10s and two and half platoons of infantry. The Germans plowed straight up the main road and the tank-riding Grenadiers assaulted a barn near the road. A huge close combat erupted at the barn which eventually drew in an entire platoon from each side. When the smoke finally cleared the Americans held the barn and twenty Germans were dead. The Panthers were then able to bring fire on the barn and drive out the GIs. They then pushed through the hedgerows in an attempt to by-pass the US defense and exit the board...only to run into some M10 Tank Destroyers. The lead Panther was destroyed and the Germans realized they should try a different tactic. They shifted their advance to the other side of the board and moved tanks and infantry to assault the farm area. The US was caught with most of their anti-tank units out of position. It looked like Panzer Lehr was rolling to victory but the Americans were able to hold on by the skin of their teeth and claim victory. The new armor rules seemed to work great. No complaints by the gamers.

The second game was 'Holding On' which features an German asault on a town. This scenario was great as the Germans looked to have it sown up by they got so focused on a firefight that they neglected to complete their brilliant flanking move. This allowed the US player to react and block the Germans on the last turn. A great game in which everyone had fun. Again the new armor rules were liked by all.

The third game was 'Watch the Flank' which is a meeting engagement. The US has numbers but the Germans have the edge in heavy weapons. It started out looking like the US would roll to victory...that is until they tried to cross an orchard to occupy the farm area. The Germans had a 20mm auto-cannon covering the orchard and it just hammered the dogfaces. The GIs kept trying to cross and kept getting turned back...and then 81mm mortars started falling on them. That's when one of the US players said, "Wait...the 20mm is killing us and now we are getting pummeled by mortars in this hedgerow...we need to change tactics." They did and should have won except for a team of German infantry that won the Iron Cross for heroics on the final turn. It was a draw. The best part about the game for me was that the US players felt their tactics were not working and came up with new ones to get them moving in the right direction. They had never played the rules before but just used basic infantry tactics to solve the problem. As a game designer I was very happy to see that.

Basically, all of the Fireball games went well and I am very pleased with the new armor rules. Jonathan even ran a Russian Front scenario based on the old Cross of Iron scenario 'Paw of the TIger'. It went great and played just like the scenario should. More on that later.

I also am working the artillery rules so that we can have them modelled in all possible siuations.

More later.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hurtgen Forest Scenario book under way!

A quick note before I dash off to Cold Wars. Doug "Captain Fresh" Austin and I have start work on a new scenario book and rules for fighting in the Hurtgen Forest. So far the first 10 scenarios focus on the Kall Trail. Although this was ultimatley an American defeat it has some unique actions and gives us a chance to examine this overlooked battle.

Already under way is my book on Pannzer Lehr at Saint Lo. Sean Barnett is going to start work on Villers Bocage and Michael Whittman shortly after Cold Wars. Also - Jonathan Miller is going to run a pick up game of the old Cross of Iron scenario "Paw of the Tiger" at Cold Wars using Fireball Forward...does that mean a Russian Front book is in the making? He also has scenarios created for The Battle of HUe CIty, 1968. Hopefully those will make it into a book.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fireball at Cold Wars

I am off to Cold Wars in Lancaster PA this week and will be running three scenarios: "Darkness Before the Dawn," "Holding On," and "Watch the Flank." All three games are from Panzer Lehr's counterattack on July 10-11th north of St Lo. We have played them all a few times each but now that we are experimenting with new armor rules it will be good to see how that changes the play-balance. Hopefully it won't matter and the scearnios will see play fine...but we will see. Stop by and check them out if you will be at the con.

When I return I will try to post after action reports of the games we play here in Northern VA. One of my playtesters was disappointed that I did not post a write up of our last he was hoping to be 'mentioned in dispatches.'

See you at Cold Wars!


Thursday, March 4, 2010

New armor combat rules

Before I talk about our experience with the new armor rules I would suggest that you read CB's comments about close in armor fighitng on the previous post. He makes a good point. In my research the Germans talk about how the Panther was not suited for hedgerow fighting for exactly the reasons CB has outlined. To address this we changed one small rule which appears after one playtest to have dealt with this problem. Shermans which had a quicker turret traverse can rotate their turrets 180 degrees instead of the usual 90 degrees. This means that up close they can manuver to were the German tanks will have trouble positioning their guns. This keeps with our philosophy of simple rules that have profound tactical implications.

On tuesday we tried out Jonathan Miller's new take on the armor v. armor combat rules. As with most first attempts there were some good elements and some not so good. But overall it ended up as a positive experience. The rules used to go: each tank rolls a number of d6s based on range, gun type, armor of target, cover and moving penalties. Each 6 rolled caused a morale check. This seems to work fine but it was not deadly enough a very close range. Tanks could blaze away at each other at 6-inches and miss for multiple turns. Jonathan's idea was to fix this problem (basing the hit probabilities on Cross of Iron) and eliminate or greatly reduce the need to measure shots. He achieved this by incorporating a 'range die.' You roll this die along with your normal shooting dice. Any shooting dice that are equal to or less than the range die are potential hits. You then multiply the range die by the gun's range value (modified for movement) and if the target is in that range then the hits apply.

The beauty of this is that is is obvious if the target is in range or not, so no measuring is needed. For example a MkIV has a range value of 16. If you roll a 2 anything within 32-inches is in range. That will almost always be the case in the hedgerows. If you are firing from a moving tank you subtract 3 from the range die meaning you need a 4 or better just to have a possibility of hitting. It seems pretty good. The Fireball playtesters in Charlottle, NC tried it out yesterday and they seemed to like it.

What didn't work out on our playtest was how you accounted for armor. It required more die rolling after the fact and this just seemed to go against the game's philosophy...we want less complexity and less die rolling in favor of tactical thinking. Jonathan agreed and has since revamped how armor works and it seems much more stream-lined.

The jury is still out but it looks pretty good so far. I will be running a few games at Cold Wars with the new armor rules so stop in and check them out.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

New armor combat rules to be tested...and more thoughts on arty.

After playtesting the armor rules for about a year everyone seemd to feel they were right except for one item: tanks v. tank combat did not seem deadly enough at close range. My intrepid playtesters in Charlotte, NC pointed this out and all of the games at the cons illicited the same response. I have to agree. The question is how to fix it. That is where Jonathan Miller and his big math/science brain come in. He ran some number comparing our numbers to Cross of Iron and came up with a simple system that is not much different from what we have now. His initial calculations seem to point to results very close to COI. We are going to try them out on Tuesday...I will let you know how they turn out.

Creating rules with Jonathan is quite interesting beacause we create rules with a mix of artistry and science. I am a television/film producer and he is a genius scientist (not the evil kind.) I think this collboration leads to rules that appeal to a broad range of people.

Also - had a good conversation yesterday with Mark Tabbert about artillery (he was a former infantry man) and I think I can develop rules for calling in artillery. It will have to be scenario specific and mainly used in a prepared defense or as prep fire in an attack. The US used prep fire in the their attack on Haut Vents which I will be modelling in my next scenarios. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Artillery - the raging debate

Last night we replayed the scenario titled "Steel Curtain" which is the first time we see artillery in the rules. Everything played very well and people had a great time. The Germans lost on teh final turn because the interdiction effect of the off-board artillery caused their tanks to lose initiative. (In the game this is the ability for a unit to have two activations in one turn. Usually units only have one activation.) We are currenly playing that off-board heavy artillery can try to prevent an opposing player from using his initiative. So far so good on that one.

The on-board 60mm mortars were directed to fire indirect by the company commander which caused the German's attack to be a bit broken up....that was until the company commander was killed. The mortars had to redeploy to fire direct fire which they were able to do and held the German infantry (actually SS Combat Engineers) at bay. So far so good on that one.

But it seems that gamers (other than the ones that playtest with me and participate in the rational discussions) want the ability to drop 81mm and higher on the table. I have two big reasons not to model heavy artillery hitting the gaming board:

1. In the scenarios I am crafting it just didn't seem to be done. I have read broad histories, the official US Army history, the US debrief of General Bayerlein, commander of Panzer Lehr, and memiors (the best being 'Clay Pidgeons of St. Lo' by a US battalion commander.) They all talk about isolating the battlefield or firing before or after the battle. So it seems to me that if it happened it was the exception not the rule and/or gamers want to do it because they come from a gaming tradition that allows it. (ie. squad leader)

2. How do you model the effects? I have played many games where you are having a great time and then BOOM!...the artillery lands, wipes out everything and the game is over...not very satisfying.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear them as I am crafting this game for all of you guys.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Scenario specific rules

Tom Poston commented on my posting titled "Incoming" where he expressed that there are certain specific instances were heavy artillery would inpact the tactical situation...he mentions Omaha Beach. That makes perfect sense and when/if a Fireball book is done on Omaha Beach there will undoubtly be rules for that.

The philosophy of the Fireball Forward is that each book will contain rules that will allow you to play the sceanrios in that particular book. So the artillery rules I am writing for the fight for St. Lo are based on the conditions at that battle. When a new book comes out (my friend is going to do one on Villers Bocage)the rules will be tweaked to fit that situation.

I am sure somewhere down the road the rules will allow for a barrage of 122mm howitzers to rain down and smash some poor bloody infantry.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Designing Rules: Engineers and Artists

In between playtest reportss and rules development I'll give some ideas behind the philosophy of the Fireball forward rules.

It is said here in Northern Virginia that wargame rules are like art. Some people like the Impressionists and some people like 18th Century Dutch Still Life. In gaming some Napoleonics players might like 'Carnage and Glory' and other might prefer 'Shako.' Both types of art and both sets of rules are valid and fine examples of their genre but people naturally gravitate to one or the other.

I have found that many wargamers tend to be quite partisan when it comes to rules. They expect certain game mechanisms, sequences of play and level of detail. This tends to cause most rules to follow a model that was created in the 1970s. I think of 'Combat Commander,' (remember that one!) 'Panzer Tactics' and 'Tac Force.' These rules were created (I would argue) from the point of view of an engineer. They focus on elements that can be quantified: range effects on weapons, penetration of warheads, armor thickness, etc. They steer away from combat situations that can not be measured: fear, heroics, training, etc. In recent years this has started to change with most rules have 'morale.' But I would still argue that 'leadership' is very much negelected. Caught in the 1970's model leaders exist to confer either a morale modifer or a combat modifier. They float around the battlefield and bestow their ability like Merlin. Good leaders do so much more than that. But how do you measure good leadership?

I am not an enginner, I am a television producer. What does not interested me about a battle is the penetration of an American 75mm gun against the front armor of a Tiger I at a range of 250 yards. I am interested in the tactics and the drama of a battle. When you read a memior of a soldier in Normandy he talks about laying down fire and then moving out. They worry about snipers and the opening in the hedgerow were the executive officer took a bullet in his head. For them the battle is a series of dramatic events. ie. 'We new the Germans were holding the farmhouse so we laid down some fire with the machine guns and dashed towards the hedgerow on the left flank.' That is the feeling we are trying to achieve in Fireball Forward.

We see the game as highlighting story-lines and dramatic events. This allows for some significant differances from 'traditional'-style (read 1970s) rules. Ultimately, these rules stand on the shoulders of all of the those 'traditional'-style rules but they are moving things in a different direction. I will address those in later posts. Next week I will blog about the infantry rules. I think in tuesday we will be playtesting a sceanrio with artillery rules I'll let you know how those are developing.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Incoming...initial artillery rules.

Ok...we started trying on the artillery rules last night. The scenario is titled 'Steel Curtain' and models a fight between elements of the 2nd SS Engineer Battlion and the US 1st Battalion, 120th Regiment. Historically, the dogfaces stopped an attack by the SS Engineers partly through the liberal application of heavy artillery. But according to the historical record (the US Army official history of the action) the artillery mainly pounded the road network that the Germans were using to support the main assault. Interestingly, the Germans were doing the same to the Americans. Both sides were trying to isolate the fight so reinforcements, supply and general movement would be hindered. Basically it seemed to be interdiction fire. The heavy stuff did not appear to be used in direct support...the US artillery even makes mention of how proud they were not to have killed any/many of their thier own troops. Mortars seems to have been the artillery weapon of choice for the tactical environment.

Based on that we break the artillery into two types: light mortars and off-board heavy artillery. Light mortars are placed on the table and can fire either directly at a target or indirectly if directed by a leader. This seemed to work fine although the numbers need to be scrutinized. The greatest thing about using them was the German player had the elements of a platoon all huddled up together against a hedgerow when a battery of 3 60mm mortars fell on them. After they all routed and were rallied by their intreped leader they returned to the hedgrow with sufficient spacing to avoid getting clobbered again. I love it when rules force players to adopt proper tactics!

Off-board artillery is used to affect the opponents 'initiative.' I'll do a write up about 'initiative' tomorrow as it is at the heart of the game. Suffice to say for now that it allows a player to move a unit (platoon) an extra move during a turn. Usually a player will use 'initiative' on a key unit on a turn for a key move. Heavy off-board artillery can be used to prevent an enemy player from using initiative. If a player has a leader that can observe the enemy unit trying to use initiative they can call for artillery. If successful the enemy can not use initiative. This is an abstract way to model the 'interdicting fire' effect of heavy artillery. Attacks would start to bog down and by preventing 'initiative' that it what tends to happen in Fireball Forward. I think we are on the right track here but it needs a few more playtests.

It occurs to me that if anyone is reading this you might want a little more about the design philosophy. I will blog about that later in the week.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Welcome to Fireball Forward!

Hi All!

If you love World War Two wargaming, you will love Fireball Forward. We are about a year from publishing our first Fireball Forward game which should be out at Historicon 2011. Each Fireball Forward book will have the rules and about 18 scenarios specific to the historical topic. The first book in the pipeline is 'Panzer Lehr at Saint Lo' which primarily follows the counterattack that elite Panzer Lehr launched north of St. Lo, Normandy in July 1944. Panthers vs M10 Tank Destroyers and Mark IVs vs Shermans. Small actions and large battles...we have it all. Games last from 1 hour to 3 hours...perfect for a evening game. (...and if you have figures for Flames of War...they are perfect for the game. You don;t even have to re-base them!)

I am so excited by these rules that I hardly know where to start. It all began a few years ago with the design philosophy of 'simple rules but comlex tactics.' Let's have a game where players are spending their precious time planning attacks and thinking tactically and NOT spending time digging through endless charts, rules and modifiers. My friend Jonathan Miller took up the challenge and developed the basic infantry rules for a group of scenarios based on the Battle for Hue, Vietnam 1968. He kept trying to pull me into the creative process but I was reluctant as I did not want to step on his creative toes. But the beauty and power of the game were seductive and gradually I was pulled in. We decided that he would focus on Vietnam and I would develop a Normandy version. After fits and starts the Normandy version has really matured and I feel that we are close to giving the gaming community a new game and a new vision of historical wargaming.

I will post new entries after each game and talk about the current state of the rules and what we are struggling with in development. The infantry rules are pretty well set and the armor rules are about 90% there. Artillery is the last big question. Tomorrow we are going to play a scenario with artillery. Here is the issue:

In the scale of our game heavy off-baord artillery (105mm and higher) would very rarely enter into the tactical situation. It would either be used as preperatory to the fight, used to interdict access to the fight or be called in after an attack had failed. It was not really used to bomb the 'next hedgerow' in the middle of a firefight. Mortars could do that. But gamers want to drop arty.... I will let you know what we are thinking after tomorrow's playtest. We have soem uniquie ideas.