As the first wave of tracked landing craft (LVT) enter the surf, the heavy weapons and artillery from the dug in Imperial Japanese Army open up. They immediately begin to take their toll, forcing home once more the old adage of no plan surviving first contact with the enemy. The task ahead, already tough, looks bordering impossible as an LVT on the left explodes. Nevertheless, the other LVTs make shore and marines disembark. “Get off the beaches”, rings out and the marines press ahead because to stay put is not a choice. By the end of the day, the US 5th Marines have achieved their objectives but at a terrible price.
This narrative emerged from the first mission of Fields of Fire Volume 2 “With the Old Breed” by Ben Hull as I began a journey with a company of the US 5th Marines in their assault on Peleliu. Ahead lies a hard campaign digging out a determined enemy from a coral island in the pacific. From there I will follow the company to Korea and the Chosin Reservoir, and then onto Hue in Vietnam, at each step taking on the challenges they faced.
How it Plays
Fields of Fire is a solo game played at the company level—HQs, squads, fire teams, and weapon group scale—and is at its heart a command and control game. All that flows comes from a command structure and the orders it gives, whether that be to pass commands on, move, rally, or fight. Communications between ordering units and those being ordered is controlled by radio and phone assets, and maintaining these lines is important for command efficiency.
Mission types can vary between offensive and defensive, including patrols, with the enemy taking on a variety of stances which determine how they will react to contact. From beach assaults to facing wave attacks, helicopter assaults, or intense street fighting, there are a large range of tactical situations to face which add up to many, many hours of content.
Missions can be strung together to form campaigns which allows a satisfying sense of progression as the company gains in experience, turning from green to veteran troops. It can also lead to heartbreak when losses are taken.
Each mission details the terrain, objectives, and enemies which could be faced. Thanks to the randomised nature of how contact with the enemy is dealt with, it is impossible to tell exactly what lies ahead, so planning and flexibility is essential. The mission turn scale represents anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes or so, depending on the situation.
As units are ordered and moved potential contacts are resolved. This results in the placement of enemy forces from that mission’s enemy forces package. Dealing with these contacts while trying to achieve the mission goals is the crux of the game.
Terrain is abstracted through a deck of terrain cards which are laid out in a grid as specified by the mission. Units will occupy these cards, moving and fighting as they go, dealing with the contacts the mission throws at them. Line of sight is handled by the borders of the cards, which allows a glance to determine visibility between cards. Each terrain type will also afford different levels of inherent cover, additional discoverable cover, modify vehicle movement, and provide elevation. Volume 2 also introduces urban warfare terrain, which allows city environments to be fought through.
Resolution of all activities, combat included, is moderated by an action deck, though some actions are automatically successful when ordered. A single reshuffle card is used to remake the deck when it is drawn, and the current action has been resolved.
The action cards are used for everything, from determining available commands (top left), to combat results (left side and HIT EFFECT), to various potential combat outcomes and other events (top right quadrant). Along the bottom is a random number generator. For example, if a number from 1-10 is required a card is drawn and the 10 column is consulted to give in this case a four.
Forces and Play Area
Counters are used to represent the forces at your disposal and to maintain the state of the game. While it is advised and possible to consolidate markers, the cards can get busy with units in and out of cover, volume of fire markers, and so on. A considered storage and organisation system for the wealth of counters is highly recommended.
A side card, the command display, is used to track company assets and track available commands. Another card is used when managing the complexities of a rotating air assault and the helicopters involved in the process.
Combat is treated quite differently to many other games, with no combat values to be seen. Instead, units are rated as to the volume of fire they can put out, which encapsulates both quantity, quality, and range. For example, a rifle squad may put out small arms fire up to two cards away, visibility permitting, while a tripod machine gun can put out heavier fire to a greater range and graze units along the way.
Combat resolution is performed by starting with the volume of fire a unit is taking and then adding or subtracting pertinent modifiers. A card from the action deck is then drawn and the final total matched on the card. It will result in either a MISS, PIN, or HIT. A MISS results in no effect other than removing any PINNED marker the unit may have been under. It means the fire they are receiving is ineffectual in disrupting the unit’s actions or inflicting casualties. A PIN forces the unit to be placed under PINNED marker and severely inhibits the range of activities they can perform as they seek to avoid getting hit. Finally, HIT can result in a range of outcomes, from taking a casualty, to the breakdown of the unit into disorganised, even paralysed, parts, as well as being PINNED.
This system abstracts combat into the effect it has on being able to maintain cohesiveness, command, and control. As units are hit, take casualties, and lose their coherence, so they become harder to control as each separate part needs a command. With limited command available, it’s the units which retain their cohesion which are the most useful. In this way, a player is forced into a loop—for reference, the OODA loop of observe, orient, decide and act is pertinent—of decision making.
Off board resources, such as artillery, battalion level mortar assets, air strikes, and even naval gun fire, can be called in using the pertinent command authority and observers.
The rules for Fields of Fire Volume 2 are an iteration on the volume 1 rules and are intended to be used for both games. The living rules are maintained on the GMT web site.
When it comes to the rules, you’ll see the greatest divide amongst those who play the game. Without doubt, they are complex, far more so than the five rating on the game box.
The designer comes from a military background and military terminology is pervasive. If you’re an ex-Marine, or served in the US army, you’ll have a head start. There is a list of acronyms but until you learn them some parts will feel a little alien. Overall though, the rules feel like an operational manual in keeping with the game, even if they are tricky in their wording in places.
While the central tenet of top down command is simple in concept, and is well executed, the variable space of warfare is so large it gets complex fast. This can lead to edge cases which are not directly addressed.
Many bemoan the lack of an index but the cross referencing within sections is good.
The rules have undergone revision from Volume 1 and include streamlining a couple of systems on the periphery, for example prisoners. There are also recommendations for new players which will lessen the administrative burden, such as tracking ammunition.
To conclude, these are not the most digestible rules, and in your first few games you will be going back to them frequently. However, once you have them down the game plays fairly quickly and the effort will have paid off.
The paper stock for the rulebook is good, and the print quality likewise. The card stock for the two decks is weighty enough without being too heavy for the shuffling the action deck will receive. Given the frequency of shuffling, it’s recommended to sleeve the standard sized cards.
There is a mission log pad which allows you to keep track of the company on a per mission basis, as well as track enemy forces.
The counters are, by modern standards, good, though perhaps not the very high quality some games have, but given the number of them, this is not surprising nor a problem. If you are a corner clipper, you’ll be at it for some time.
There are a small number of errors on some of the counters, but none of them game breaking, rather faults in unit identification between two sides of a unit. There are also a small number of errors in the mission booklet regarding mission layouts or things which were removed during play testing but not from the mission booklet.
The GMT Facebook forum is active and the best place to resolve any issues prior to official errata on the GMT site.
Final Thoughts on Fields of Fire Volume 2
Fields of Fire Volume 2 is a game which can divide war gamers. For me, it is without doubt a gem. It is unlike any other game I’ve played and is deeply satisfying, That said, it is not without some problems, largely around the sheer range of possibilities that can emerge during a mission.
This is a complex game which does take an amount of work to get the best out of it, but for me completely worth it.