HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDThe game, FIREFIGHT, was the commercial offspring of an SPI contract with the US Army to develop training (simulation) materials for American ground troops assigned to the European Theater during the middle of the Cold War. Since this program was implemented during the mid 1970's, the enemy du jour was the Soviet-led Warsaw pact, and the expected battle area was West Germany. The emphasis of this simulation training program was at the lowest maneuver level for ground troops: the individual AFV and its crew; the two to four man weapons team; and the individual four man fire team. It was in these compact tactical sets that, Army commanders believed, combat operations either succeeded or failed based on training, leadership, unit cohesion, and morale. Thus, it was hoped that the SPI simulation would accelerate new soldiers' training in US ARMY small-unit combat doctrine. At the same time, it was also hoped that the simulation experience would help the individual soldier visualize the utterly lethal and unforgiving nature of the modern battlefield. SPI ultimately produced two versions of the game: one, under the strict guidance of the US Army, was intended to be used exclusively for military training purposes; the other, FIREFIGHT, was supposed to be the sexier, more exciting civilian version of the game design. Unfortunately, the doctrinal limitations and biases injected into the original design adversely affected the civilian game, and the overall reaction (in terms of customer enthusiasm) of the gaming public to FIREFIGHT was, to use the words of Borat, "not so much!" This was a little surprising, because the graphics were clear and eye-pleasing, the counters were colorful, and the rules were exceptionally well presented; nonetheless, something was missing - somehow, the game just seemed crushingly dull. And because of this almost universal first impression amongst the gaming public, several of the game's play testers, as well as a number of other interested and creative players, would spend years working to rescue FIREFIGHT from this single, widely-perceived, design failure.
FIREFIGHT, whatever its other failings, does not lack for operational detail. Any game that focuses on the micro-tactical level of the fire team and individual vehicle must, of necessity, incorporate a great deal of information about the dynamics of the modern mechanized battlefield, if the simulation is to work at all. In this case, the basic game is organized into turns, each of which follows a rigid sequence of phases. One feature that makes this design somewhat different should be noted right at the outset: at the beginning of the turn, players roll a die to see who will be the first player during each game turn. Once this order has been established, the turn proceeds as follows: Direct Fire Phase; Movement Phase; Suppression Marker Removal Phase; Indirect Fire Phase. An individual unit may either move or it may fire, but it typically may not do both in the same game turn. In many ways, FIREFIGHT is very reminiscent of TANK! But the newer design is significantly more sophisticated than the older game. The integration of different weapons systems, target types, range attenuation, and fire effects is quite detailed and really well done. The "Soviet Doctrine" rules, on the other hand, are not so well done. And in fact, these particular rules - widely perceived among gamers as being overly restrictive - are one of the few truly off-putting aspects of the game's otherwise innovative design platform.
Not surprisingly, FIREFIGHT uses SPI's modular instructional system to incorporate more detail into the game system. Thus, players begin with FIREFIGHT I;they then move to II, and finally progress to the most challenging module, FIREFIGHT III. Needless to say, tactical nuance and effective use of all available combat assets really dominates the game when players finally progress to module III in the game system. Unfortunately, once a player gets there, there really isn't very much more for him to do. The reason for this has to do with how the designer chose to present the game's different scenarios.
FIREFIGHT offers five scenarios for FIREFIGHTRules Modules I & II and four scenarios for the advanced FIREFIGHT module III. Each of these scenarios is representative of the type of small-unit engagements that logically could be expected to result from a Warsaw Pact Mechanized advance into the Fulda Gap, Wurzburg, or Frankfort am Main areas. However, the limited number of scenarios offered by the game, and the implausible, poorly-constructed nature of many of those actually presented, probably goes a long way towards explaining the early player disappointment in the title when it first appeared. I can recall one module III scenario, for example, in which the two opposing sides' mission profiles were so vague that there actually was no compelling military reason for either player to even move into contact with the enemy force! I am not the first critic to point out that if SPI had spent as much time developing interesting, challenging combat situations, as they apparently spent on the detailed line of sight rules for the game, then FIREFIGHT might have been much better received when it first came out.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
In a way, the events following the publication of FIREFIGHT are somewhat reminiscent of what happened when SPI published DRIVE ON STALINGRAD . In the case of that poorly-received game, as in this one, the design just didn't work the way the designer and developer expected it to.
It took almost two years, but SPI and a number of interested players, often working independently, were finally able to pull together enough patches and rules changes to salvage DRIVE ON STALINGRAD. The biggest problem with FIREFIGHT: the lack of interesting game situations was the first thing corrected; there are now lots of excellent, very challenging scenarios, particularly for use with the module III rules system. Also, thanks to independent contributors like Alan Arvold there are also more vehicles and weapons systems to choose from, in addition to more combat environments. Personally, I like Gary Morgan's approach of borrowing a number of rules from the far better-received CITYFIGHT. His solution to game problems is very much in keeping with my own: if an idea works, use it. In the case of FIREFIGHT, a number of committed, creative people put a lot of thought and effort into rescuing this title; in the end, I think that they finally succeeded. For those players who are interested, a large number of these post-publication fixes can still be found both in old MOVES magazine articles, and at: http://www.grognard.com/titlef.html.
- Time Scale: 40 seconds per game turn
- Map Scale: 50 meters per hex
- Unit Size: individual vehicle with crew, two to four man infantry and machine gun teams
- US Unit Types: four man fire team w/M60 Machine Gun, two man MG team w/M60, three man MG team w/M60, M113 Armored Personnel Carrier and crew, M150 w/ TOW ATGM and crew, M113Z w/TOW and cherry picker lift, MICV (hypothetical replacement vehicle for M113 APC), Vehicle X (General purpose vehicle counter), M60A1 Main Battle Tank, M60A2 Variant of MBT with unique gun/missile system, M60A3 Improved version of current MBT, XM1 (Future replacement for M60 series MBT), One 81mm mortar and crew, Two 4.2 mortar section and crew, Three 155mm gun-howitzer platoon and crew, and common information markers
- Soviet unit Types: four man fire team, four man fire team w/RPG, two man MG team w/PKM, three man fire team w/PKM, SAGGER team, SPG Recoilless Rifle and crew, BMP (Soviet APC) w/SAGGER or Gun and crew, BRDM Scout Car w/multiple SAGGERS, Vehicle X (Same as American counterpart), T62 MBT, XMBT (Future replacement for T62 series MBT), Two 120 mm mortars, Three 122mm gun-howitzers, Three 152mm gun-howitzers, and common information markers
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average/high (depending on rules module being used)
- Solitaire Suitability: low
- Average Playing Time: 2+ hours
- Two 22" x 34" hexagonal grid Map Sheets
- 400 ½" cardboard Counters (some with back-printing)
- One 8½" x 11" Rules Booklet (with Fire Charts and Tables, Scenario Instructions, and Terrain Effects Chartincorporated)
- One 8½" x 11" Reference Data Booklet for FIREFIGHT
- One 3¾" x 8½" SPI Customer Complaint Card
- Two small six-sided Dice
- One SPI 12" x 15" x 1" flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic game cover with Title Sheet