Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Monday, 17 January 2022

Firepower - First Playthroughs Review

Firepower was a game which, although I didn't own it, fascinated me as a bairn.  I think there was a review in a copy of Fire & Movement magazine that my friend's dad had bought and it sounded excellent.  As was typical of me at the time, having pretty much no hope of ever having the money to buy a copy even if I could find one, I actually made my own version.  It wasn't very good but even worse, it wasn't very pretty (there was a limit to my artistic skills at 10 and everything had to be hand made/drawn).

 A little while ago, I saw a copy at a very reasonable price on Boardgamegeek and I bought myself a copy.  I have played it a few times now and...I am a bit torn!

I think the essence of the game is really good.  The basic premise is pure SLA Marshall: most troops in combat do not very much and it is up to a few key soldiers, generally officers, NCOs and those with support weapons to get most of the stuff done.  The basic mechanic is activation points: each side can activate 2-3 hexes worth of soldiers a turn to do 'stuff' (the number of activations being a function of troop quality), the amount of which is determined by a number of action points (like in Squad Leader or some such).  Bunching together soldiers in the same hex allows you to do more, but puts them at much greater risk from automatic weapons and grenades.  The firing tables make hitting anything quite difficult but suppressing things with automatic weapons especially is quite easy.  And, more or less, that is all there is to the basic game which I enjoyed immensely.  For the basic game, the terrain rules are kept simple, weapons are all the same by type (i.e. they don't differentiate by individual models all quite easy to keep up with.  It does expect the posture of every soldier to be tracked (standing, crouching, prone) but given the low number of soldiers per side, this is not too much of an issue.

The advanced game on the other hand is very complicated, not because any individual mechanic is tricky, but just because there are a lot of them.  These are mainly focused on the terrain side it seems - the game wants you to keep track of exact positioning to a fairly micro-level (rules for how high you have climbed in the tree, which side of the fence or tree trunk you are on, internal floor plans for each story of a building, different heights for each contour and depression etc.), so the mapboard isn't as in other designs doing all the work for you at the cost of a more 'distorted' reality.  On top of that, the weapons are broken down into individual models, vehicle rules are added (although the low number of vehicles in the counter mix and the fact that an MBT takes up two hexes by itself indicate that ranges are short and action localized in this game: hexes are only 5yards, timescale is 30 seconds/turn, although that could have easily been 10 in terms of the amount of action allowed).

There is a lot of useful information that allows you to feel more or less accurate squads or sections from a large number of the countries and insurgent forces of the world (from the early 80s) although the system would cope with most C20 action pretty easily.  There are a number of scenarios each with a few different settings, so it shows how you can play the same situation with US vs Vietnam or UNITA vs MPLA and so on.

The basic game is pretty easy to learn, the advanced game much more so (and that has optional rules on top of that).  I am not going to say much about the advanced game, since I only played a couple of learning games of that, except to say there is a lot to master to play it, and it looks like there is more to play it well.  The basic game is simple, although the way it is presented won't give it that much replay value.  On the other hand, although Firepower doesn't explicitly support this, I don't see any reason why some of the rules from the advanced game couldn't be ported across to the basic game, if you wanted more differentiated weapons and squad quality but not the advanced terrain rules, for example.

Here are a few shots of the Basic Game being played: tan are going from left-to-right, green the reverse (the posture counters are green, but you can see the 'tan' counters underneath).

I think that every physical game in the modern world has to answer a basic question of why play this game rather than a computer game?  Assuming that The Campaign for North Africa wasn't a highly ironical piece of installation art and it was an actual game, then if you wanted that gaming experience, why not play Gary Grigsby's War in the Pacific, which is actually doable?  Squad Leader has to justify itself against the possibility of playing Steel Panthers instead? Now, there are many video games which have 'something' of Firepower in them but I don't think there are any focused on the squad level in this way exactly, so if you are looking for a tactical game of C20 squad level infantry combat - gusting towards platoon, although I guess that might take a while and have a lot of things to track - it still maintains an important place; and assuming you wouldn't really rather play a WW2-themed first person shooter.  From my limited collection of video games, the one that it seems nearest to is actually the Shadowrun games, but obviously the theme of those games is very different and they aren't focused on leadership mechanics in the same way.  However, the learning curve for the advanced game is probably a bit beyond me at the moment.

What is clear to me now is how similar in mechanics the Tabletop Games rules Fire Fight! are.


They aren't a straight lift, but many of the concepts are pretty similar in terms of the way activation and firing work, although in some ways it is actually simpler to make work on the tabletop, because the terrain - figure interaction is more intuitive.



  1. I bought Firefight when it came out, but never really got on with it. There was some extreme silliness in the advanced game - I can remember using rifle grenades to blow holes in buildings to let my MG fire through the holes (!). I much preferred Up Front as a squad level game.

    1. Yes - always a potential problem as you add more detail, that you increase the chance of accidentally creating weirdness. Would you recommend Up Front? Vaguely remember that being card based...?

  2. I have heard of the game but never got interested in individual soldier based games. Did play a fair bit of Squad Leader though! The advanced game sounds a nightmare, but when I was 20 I probably would have loved the detail and thinking it was representing reality so well due to its complexity.

    1. I was going to say I would have loved the detail too - but on reflection, maybe that isn't the case. I could never get on with ASL, for example, it crossed into the 'just too complicated to be fun' territory. I