I’ve been taking to solitary wanderings through 1940’s France recently, with much hiding behind hedges and desperate avoidance of the ever feared Deadingness from German crossfire.
Press play for your ambient rural French countryside with added WW2-ness
It’s funny how things pan out. One minute you find yourself luxuriating in opulently rendered fantasy landscapes, the next minute you find yourself stood in the middle of a playing card masquerading as part of Western France…or is that just me?
I have visited France many times in the past but never more so than in the late 1940’s. My most recent visit saw me joining 2nd platoon as they pushed forward through the orchard to take the church that overlooked the 2nd Objective marker.
Scary stuff because artillery was dropping left, right and, to a lesser degree, centre. Foxholes full of foxes armed with automatic weapons, trenches full of badgers and heavy machine guns. To the left of me 1st platoon were pinned down in a local café, to the right of me 3rd platoon were helping locals harvest this years grape crop and to the rear my own damned artillery were trying to blow me to hell! It was madness I tell you. Madness! MADNESS!
What is all the fuss about?
Until fairly recently I have not been much of a war-game fan. They appeared stuffy, complex affairs requiring at least two protagonists and, although I have always had an interest in WWII mechanised machines of war, the topic never really held any fascination for me. Then I found a print and play game from GMT games Unconditional Surrender Case Blue…and then No Retreat Russian Front with a card driven solo variant…and then Labyrinth The Awakening…and…oh dear! Hooked. Patton’s Best was discovered and Crete 41 Operation Mercury by Decision Games in World at War magazine. Suddenly war-games were available and in copious, solo-able amounts…spectacular.
Now this brings me on to Fields of Fire. I had seen a couple of brief Youtube videos and thought meeeehhhhhh! Little tokens on a handful of playing cards. Not quite Conflict of Heroes. I thought little more of it until Dec 4th 2017 when Mrs P bought me Fields of Fire for my birthday…quite out of the blue (she had seen I had left it my Amazon watch list).
And so began the absorption of a rather hefty rule book. I was impressed by just how much was in the box. 800+ tokens, charts, mission book, rule book…and a snazzy fictitious tin hat with imaginary foliage tied into its netting. But notwithstanding, would this prove to be on a par with some of the other memorable titles in this genre?
Immersion or Subversion?
Now that I have finally got a game or two under my belt, I can definitely say this really does immerses the solo player into a world of platoon level warfare (not only in France but also in Vietnam and Korea) There are numerous difficult military type decisions to make and the way unit activation works, really slams home that system of military hierarchy, that chain of command and the logistical nightmare of moving troops through hostile terrain without clean toilets and soft toilet paper.
There is a massive…no, spectacularly colossal number of really interesting small mechanical attributes nicely packed in to the squady kit bag of FoF. It has an ever so slight feel of traditional chit and hex war-games with the more recent card driven/assisted – mechanic, but still manages to retain its very own identity.
Movement, units and situational markers work in a similar way to most war-games but, for me, the cherry on top of this camouflaged cream cake is the Action deck. These little chaps are pretty special. They are all singing, all dancing all…everything. They make decisions on what enemy units will appear, where they are going to appear, what they will do, how they will shoot at us (and boy do they shoot back)…these cards tell us how many command points we have to boss our subordinates about with, they tell us if we are successful at hitting a target, or even if we are spilling wine as we run across an open field…everything. This is a very cleaver use of minimal component vs maximum use mechanics. It is a very cleaver, succinct system…and NO DICE
The system of unit control., the way orders are filtered down through the chain of command separates this from so many other titles and adds to the realism of combat.
I must also point out the location deck which is a nice feature that allows for a unique and ever expanding battlefield each game.
An inconsequential feature that particularly appeals to me is that of tracking limited ammunition. A tedious task to some, perhaps, but there are numerous counters to place with, for example a heavy machine gun, to track its ammunition usage. As many units will continue to fire at spotted targets until otherwise ordered, keeping tabs on resources is a crucial aspect of achieving success…and staying alive. Being in cover of a town but purposely drawing enemy fire until they run out…what a dangerous but spectacular strategy. Just one of the many little touches (like having to lay phone cables from location to location to stay in contact) that make this such a realistic war simulation.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
I’ll keep it short here…which is always a good trait when trying to scootch down behind a hedge to avoid sniper fire and machine gun nests…fortunately these nests do not appear in the branches of the surrounding woodland.
All the components have that high GMT quality from art, graphic layout, token quality, well presented rule book, player aids.
There is a double-fronted shed full of tokens and counters to help keep track of all event/situations. There is a large deck of location cards for each game (WWII, Korea & Vietnam) and a large pile of all singing, all dancing action deck cards.
The only thing I would like to have seen is a play-through section/booklet, not unlike those in Liberty or Death, just to help shoehorn me into the action.
Meeples and Standees:
- Game Design: Ben Hull
- Artist: Donal Hegarty, Charles Kibler, Mark Simonich
- Box Art Roger McGowan
- Game Publisher: GMT Games
- Playtime : 45-60 mins
- Gangs of one: 1 player
- Age of Consent: 14+
- DOB: 2017
As a solo title, a game is obviously accessible to the soloist. That having been said, a solo game doesn’t necessarily guarantee it will be a fun experience or even remotely entertaining. Well fear not, and in the immortal words of Corporal Jones “don’t panic! Don’t panic!”…do not lose hope and spiral into despair…with Fields of Fire you are guaranteed an amazing, engaging, challenging, fulfilling, hole digging experience!!!!
The rules are well written but as they have so much information to deliver, they can be quite confusing at times. There is a lot crammed in to what is fundamentally a simple card and chit game.
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: My goodness this is a tricky customer to beat. I have yet to do so (which does not necessarily mean a lot). I am not disheartened, however, as the game is so engaging that I always want to come back for more punishment. I learn from my mistakes and adapt to the new terrors thrown at me. I think as it does replicate the complexities of war at this level, one would be foolish to expect a casual walk in the park. There are some very ‘real life situation’ decisions to be made as well as the constant unfamiliarity with the landscape and encamped enemy…as would most likely be the case in real combat situations. So, yes this is an increadible difficult game to win, its realism makes for a really engaging gaming experience.
- Rules is Rules is Rules: The rule book, all sixty one pages of it, along with the thirty six page Briefing book and numerous charts make for a seriously large amount of information to digest. The language, for the most part, is user friendly and there are not many instances of ambiguity…so a job well done there. But applying the ruleset in one reading to a game is no pick nick. It is in some ways a victim of its own realism. To create such a game for the soloist, it is inevitable the rules are going to require substantial involvement.
- Lucky Buggers: Those pesky dotted cubes do not feature in combat so that element of random luck is not present but the drawing of Action deck cards will still throw up unexpected situations…we might feel we have a certainty on our hands, having stacked the odds in our favour but that pesky branch must’ve nicked the bullet and the enemy is only shaken…that randomness generated by the action cards does re-enforce the unpredictable nature of combat in the field.
- Highs and Lows: Ultimately the subject matter is a rather potent one and this game does not make light of the situation. It has a high level of realism, which draws us in (and potentially brings home the futility and loss that can accrue during any conflict) It does not make light of the situation but in actual game play, there is not the depressive realism found in some war related games. As it is counter and card based (without personalised narrative) the stories can be built in the player’s mind but in game terms, it is more of an abstracted puzzle to solve, and as such we will leave the table beaten but not down.
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: Scenarios differ from game to game but there will usually be a grid of some four by four playing cards laid out in a grid formation with space for additional cards around the perimeter (dependant on how enemies turn up and troops explore new surroundings) The remainder of the components depends upon how untidy a player you are. I find that I can accommodate all the necessary components and necessary books and charts comfortably with in a 1m x 1m space…but we must be mindful the numerous charts and various parts of the rulebook and briefing book require regular consultation so need to be on hand at all times.
Me, Myself and I:
Admittedly my brain went in to melt down several times during the early stages of rule absorption. I read the rule book but not playing the game at the same time, which was a somewhat abstracted concept. Setting up and playing with the rule book was a little better but, with so much to reference (and not enough links from order of play to detailed explanations) confusion continued to melt my brain.
I sought online assistance and found it in the form of Counter Attack play-through https://youtu.be/sxsSc688AeM
This helped clear up some of the pieces that wouldn’t lodge into my tiny noggin. Suddenly every action I was taking started to make sense…….and…CLICK!
I found it so entertaining me having to bellow orders to the rest of my-selves, the me’s that make up my platoon. I was armed with a really, really heavy, heavy-machine gun whilst I also had to carry an assault rifle …whilst the other I had a shiny new mortar…*turns to camera, tilting tin hat at a jaunty angle and delivers the line* “nice!”
This is such an engaging solo war-game. Once the gameplay is down and a player becomes familiar with the unavoidable tables necessary for solo war-games, this really plants the player right in the heart of the action. There are so many nice touches from the way damage to units is handled, to the communication/orders mechanic, to the way new locations are explored and potential enemies are encountered…but probably the best feature is the deck of cards that handle all decisions from damage to random location, to unit damage, to …well to every element of gameplay…all on one card. Brilliant…and still not a die in sight..except my scoring die.
This gets a hedgey, French BSoMT 1d8 die roll of (7)… The game is incredibly enjoyable for me but as there was an initial struggle to get the rule set to stick in I can’t go higher…but can spend a whole week working through various missions. It can become very addictive so beware.
Yay or Nay?
Without a doubt this is a resounding Yay! With its ramshackled farm buildings and its barrage of heavy mortar fire, Fields of Fire fights its way to a BSoMT 1d8 die roll of (7.5) for a resounding solo wargame experience…it is a very special eight sided dice! The rule book, although perfectly well constructed, does take a certain amount of time to digest (unavoidable for the nature of the game, I suspect) but it would not be fair to award a full (8) as players must be prepared to battle this document before battling the enemy in France, Korea or Vietnam.
This title does take a bit of getting used to…not the “Fields of Fire” but, but rather the game itself….and I have read some who describe it as a heavy wargame…Admittedly it does have a steep learning curve and there can be some pretty in-depth exchanges between units from location to location but really, when the gameplay clicks in to place, it does manifest into a monstrously enjoyable solo wargame…so much so that it is rapidly rising to becoming my top solo war title? If you are prepared to soldier through the early teething stages of rule learning (and seriously check out the numerous run-throughs as they really help give perspective), you will discover a brilliant solo war game. I’d suggest you watch all the play-through vids if you are unsure, but…definately GO AND GET IT!
…damn! Now I have to pop back over to France and work my way through the campaign again…curse you GMT! It is a resounding Yay for gameplay, quality and experience!
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Something For The Weekend?
Chris Hobbs excellent play-through video
Callasmar (lonesome gamer) has another run-through video here
GMT Games Twitter https://twitter.com/gmtgames
GMT Games website http://www.gmtgames.com/p-322-fields-of-fire-2nd-edition.aspx