Monday, January 26, 2009

Fields of Fire Overview, Pt 3 – Sequence of Play

One of the difficult parts of learning this game is that, much like an opera singer's voice, you kind of have to understand a very large part of how the game works in order to operate any specific part of it. For this reason, I feel that this is a good time to introduce the sequence of play, and in fact it probably would have been a good idea to have introduced this before the preparation discussion (part 2). Water under the bridge. 

The underlying theme of this game is not about how hard it is to get people to do what you want them to do as a leader, as in Combat Commander. The underlying theme of this game is actually how effective your chain of command is. As company commander, you have to understand the operational reality of your situation, but you also have to somehow figure out what needs to be done and communicate that to your subordinates, who then have to communicate that to their soldiers. The net effect is very similar to one of the cardinal elements of eurogames - you have many things you want to do but can only do so much.

What might surprise people about the game is that combat is not as directed as you might think. Instead of shooting at a target, you are more or less shooting in the general direction of a target. As such, combat becomes something that happens rather than something you execute. In fact, it's often a bit of a trick to get your men to *stop* shooting at things. You also want to avoid having your men move into situations where there is already lead in the air unless there's a very good reason to. 

Of course, there is also a certain amount of AI that creates and directs your enemy's actions, which adds to your administrative burden but requires no extra decision making on your part. You might think of the sequence of play for a turn as you planning and (except for the shooty shooty part) executing your plan, then finding out what the enemy has been planning and executing, then everyone tries to kill everyone else. There are exceptions, but we'll cover that as we explore the Sequence of Play.

While the rules don't explicitly mention such trivia, each mission does have a set number of turns, and in most cases you must play all of them unless the mission goals explicitly state as much. In other words, just as soon as you start to relax because you don't have to move any more units into areas with PC markers that you'll have to resolve, the enemy might counterattack and stick PC markers of varying lethality into the cards you've already cleared, including your objectives. 

Like most wargames, there are a few exceptions in the first turn of the game, and we'll start right off with one of those. The first phase involves you checking for a Friendly Higher HQ event. This is a pretty simple process - you draw an action card, check the Higher HQ symbol (located, if there is one, just to the left of the AT number and right above the Hit Effect area). If you have a radio icon, you have an event, otherwise you can relax a bit. If you do, generate a random number between 1 and 10 using another action deck draw (discussed in part 1 of this overview) and refer to the Friendly Higher HQ table on your mission briefing. Note that this is the Friendly table, not the Enemy table, which you'll check later on. I found that some of these events were a little on the vague side, such as "You must move forward this turn". What's this "you" shit, Kimosabe? One unit? Every unit? There is no help. My assumption is that it means a unit must move from a row it is in to another card in row X+1, where X is the row it starts in. It's important to note that the penalty for failing to do so is... OK, there is no penalty, just a VP if you perform a starred event. Some are a little more useful, some a little more heinous. Like I said above, you won't worry about this until Turn 2.

Since we're using Mission 1 as our example, we skip the second phase, which has to do with enemy actions if you are in a defensive mission type. This is information given in your mission briefing, and in our mission we are of an Offensive mission type. The idea is that one side or the other will be acting, and the other side reacting, with the acting side doing it's thing first. 

Since we're the actors, we move right on to the third phase, which is where you earn your paycheck. I'll go into much more detail in the next part of this overview, which will focus on the Friendly Command Phase, but here's a general overview. The idea is that you get a certain number of Command Points during a turn, which you can convert into Orders that result in units taking Actions. There are two ways this happens, Activations and Initiative. Activations can be thought of as orders percolating down the chain of command, as discussed in Part 1, from the CO HQ to either Staff HQs or Platoon HQs, and from there potentially to the actual combat units. Initiative does not rely on the chain of command, instead having to do with individuals recognizing the need for immediate and specific action, and it is the only way that units that are out of command can be activated. 

The phase has two segments (one for activations, one for initiative), and each of the segments has a series of impulses. You finish one impulse before going on to the next, but within that impulse you have a lot of flexibility to do whatever you consider to be worthwhile. Here's the way it shakes out for Activations:
  1. Battalion HQ Activation – This impulse is where you get the "root" set of commands that you will use for the rest of the activation segment. Most of the time you won't have a higher level HQ on the map with you, so if your CO HQ has communications with the Battalion HQ (usually via the BN TAC network) you will draw an action card and note the big Command number in the upper left corner. Because you're a green commander, you have to subtract one, but there are other mods that will help, at least at first. This is the biggest reason you want to get your HQs bumped up in experience as quickly as possible - Commands are life. You note this number using the tracking chits for the CO HQ on the Command Display, and move on. It's important to note that activations always result in at least one Command, even if the mods reduce it to zero or below. This is not true for Initiative draws.
  2. CO HQ Impulse – Now, we can use the commands the CO got in the previous impulse to give orders, the vast bulk of which will be used to issue Activation orders to other HQs along the chain of command. When you give the order, you draw an action card to give commands to the HQ you activated. As such, you can turn the four or five commands your CO got into more like 20 or 30 for the other HQs. However, you are still at the mercy of the draw, and can end up with one CO command translating into one Platoon HQ command. Those are Bad Turns indeed. You will make all of your activations by your CO in this impulse, along with any other orders the CO might issue, such as ordering the mortar squad to move or fire. I will discuss the communication net in much more detail in a later section of the overview, but for now all you need to know is that the CO can only communicate with units in the immediate area or if there is a comm net in place.
  3. Platoon/Staff HQ Impulse – At this point, we can now use the Commands generated in the previous impulse through the various Platoon and Staff HQs. This is a good time to note that if you don't use all of your orders, you can save some of them depending upon HQ experience level and visibility conditions (day or night). However, if you haven't activated an HQ in a previous impulse this turn, you can't issue orders with it at this time, but will have to wait until the Initiative segment. 
Here's a quick example: My CO draws 3 command, which is modified for his Green experience level down to 2. In the next impulse, the CO activates the 1st Platoon HQ (1PHQ) and also orders the FO to Call For Fire (call in an artillery strike), and that action is executed at this time. He draws Command for 1PHQ of 4, reduced to 3 for it's relative inexperience. Now it is the Platoon/Staff HQ impulse, but only the 1PHQ can issue orders because it was the only HQ activated in the previous impulse, and the other HQs will have to wait for the Initiative Segment. 

Initiative works slightly differently. You won't make any HQ activations, and you'll use the smaller (both in size and in value) number just below and to the right of the Command number, called the Initiative (of course). Here's the Initiative Segment in all it's gory detail:
  1. CO HQ Initiative – You are very unlikely to do anything in this impulse, because you'll have to roll a specific Higher HQ Event that breaks contact with Battalion HQ (or move your CO out of communication, which is about the dumbest thing you can do in the game, but it does sometimes happen to you). If the CO wasn't activated in the previous segment, you'll roll initiative. No need to activate HQs here, in fact it's not allowed. Avoid at all costs.
  2. Platoon HQ Initiative – Any PHQs that weren't activated will now make an Initiative draw, again using any modifiers. In this case, it is entirely possible you will roll a zero, so it's not something you want to count on. You may, however, use saved commands if you are using initiative for a given HQ, and you may bank commands you didn't use assuming you stay within the limits of what can be saved. 
  3. Staff HQ Initiative – Unlike the CO or PHQs, your XO and/or 1SGT will automatically get one Command, no draw necessary. This is why I like to give the Jeep to the XO and a major weapon system to the 1st Sgt - you'll almost always get to use them. Again, you don't get to activate PHQs, but you can bank the Command if you don't need it or use it. 
  4. General Initiative – Now we draw Initiative, ignore *all* of the modifiers, and can use the resulting orders for any and all units on the map, even units that were activated or had initiative previously. You can't bank these orders, however, and again you can't activate HQs to draw Command. The orders are extremely useful to get units that have advanced out of command to look for cover, for example, or to shift fire. Sadly, you are not guaranteed you'll get any Command in this phase.
Continuing our last example, we would ignore the CO in this case (since he was activated), then move on to 2PHQ and 3PHQ, who each draw initiative rather than command (and can issue orders), then give one command to the 1SGT and the XO (who can issue orders), and finally make a single General Initiative draw. 

Again, the orders will convert into Actions, which are specific things that units do such as move, concentrate fire, rally, throw a grenade, cease fire, transport an asset or casualty, get in a Jeep, etc. We'll cover these in greater detail later. What you should know is that for the most part, you actually do all of these things in the Command Phase, but you may not see how the things that put lead in the air turn out for a little while. Congratulations, you've made pretty much all the decisions you're going to make for the turn, and now we see how things turn out. 

Next is the Enemy Action Phase, assuming that you are on an Offensive or Combat Patrol mission, otherwise you'd have done the next part before the Friendly Command Phase. First, you check for an Enemy Higher HQ event in exactly the same manner as the Friendly HHQ Event. Warning: this could ruin your whole day in many cases, especially if you just made a big push and advanced a bunch of units who now have Exposed markers on them. Trust me, it's a bad thing. 

While this part is involved, at the same time it's very straightforward. In a nutshell, you look at every enemy unit on the board in random order (using random number draws from the Action Deck - if you have six units, assign them numbers and check the 6 column on the draw), run through the appropriate enemy action chart (on one of the player aid sheets), and have them do that action. Simply note the condition of the unit: if it's pinned or an LAT, use that table, otherwise use the Defensive or Offensive table based on the enemy's status. In some cases, you may end up changing what table is used in the course of a mission, like if they get a Counterattack Higher HQ Event. Start at the top of the table, using the relevant column (in mission 1, the Germans start out on the Defensive table and use the Determined column), move down the list until you hit a condition that matches the unit in question, randomize if necessary, and then take that action. On some occasions, the unit will not have an appropriate condition, and in that case the unit takes no action at all. Work through all of the enemy units, and that's all for this phase. 

The next phase is the Mutual Retreat and Capture Phase. Again, pretty simple. Any Paralyzed or Litter teams alone with the enemy on a card (or if all you have are P or L LATs), they are captured (or shot, if the mission/campaign calls for it). This goes both ways, so if you've managed to isolate an enemy P/L LAT then you've captured it and now someone gets to babysit them. After capture, if any unpinned P LATs are in a card that is under Volume of Fire (more later), they get to retreat a space. You can also capture enemy casualties, although you don't need babysitters for these for obvious reasons. 

The next phase is the Vehicle phase. I'm going to skip over this for now, as I think vehicles deserve their own section, and in general all you need to know is that if you activated the Jeep to move earlier during the Friendly Command Phase, this is when it actually moves. If you are using Aircraft, they do their thing now too.

The next part is a little confusing, but I'll flesh it out in greater detail as well in a later section. In essence, you find out in the Mutual Combat Phase what the result of all those bullets flying around is, but you also find out what enemy units might be lurking out there unseen. There are two important concepts that I'll flesh out a bit first; Volume of Fire (VoF) and Primary Direction of Fire (PDF).

VoF refers to the type and amount of bullets, shrapnel, etc are flying around in a given part of the map, to be specific a single card. You may have several different types (Small arms, Automatic fire, Grenades, etc), but only one type will be the most lethal and thus the one that is in effect. For example, if you have both Heavy weapons and Small arms (H and S VoF) in a card, only the H will take effect because the S fire is of no consequence in comparison. Like I said, it's not so much that you're shooting *at* someone, more that you're shooting *near* someone. In a similar fashion, if you have S fire coming in from more than one unit, that doesn't affect the VoF in a card *unless* it's coming from different directions, which results in a Crossfire modifier to the VoF. 

PDF refers to where the fire is coming from. It's important in determining Crossfire mods, grazing fire (in the case of tripod mounted MGs), where units can be placed, and where the units in a given card are firing. In a general sense, it lets you know that bullets are flying in that direction from one place to another. In almost every case, if PDF is pointing at a card, there should be a VoF marker on that card, and vice versa. If you have a strong engineering or math background, think of it as vector math or polar coordinates - you have a direction, and a magnitude. 

In general, both of these markers will adjust as the situation changes throughout the game, although there are a few cases where they change in very specific situations (such as handling artillery strikes and Incoming! VoF markers).

The Combat Phase has two segments, but really there are three as there's no real reason to group the first two. The first is very simple - you update Pending Fire and Airstrike missions to Incoming VoF, and remove Incoming VoF from earlier turns. 

The second phase, along with the earlier Enemy Higher HQ draw, is where you will have to change your underwear at times, as this is where you resolve PC markers in cards where you have units. Usually, this is done the first time you move units into a card, and an excellent reason why you use your platoon squads, one at a time, to do this. However, in a counterattack situation, you may find that PC markers are placed in cards where you already have units, and things sometimes get exciting. To resolve the PC marker, simply look at what type it is (A, B, or C) - if you have more than one marker, toss the rest and keep the one with the highest value, with A being highest - and then draw action cards (based on contact level and other mods) to see if you get a "Contact" result on one or more of them. If so, roll on the appropriate table in the mission briefing to see what Force Package shows up. 

Once you know the number and name of the force package, look in the campaign information to get the basic info on it. You'll find out what sort of unit(s) are involved, if they are on the same card or not, what cards you will place them on, whether or not they are generating VoF/PDF, and whether or not your units know where they are (whether they are spotted or not). In many cases, the units will have a default cover value, defined by the mission (in the first, it's trenches). Often there is additional information on the cover of the Briefing Booklet, so don't forget to look there if you're confused by a particular piece of information. 

Important things to know include - new enemy units will fire at your units on the card that generated said enemy units. If the enemy units are spotted, then *any* friendly unit within LOS and range of said new enemy unit will start firing on it whether you want them to or not, and generate VoF/PDF on the enemy card. If not, you'll have to spot them, and *that's* a lot of fun if you don't have an HQ under cover with the spotting unit. Since PC markers are resolved in alphabetical order (randomly within each letter), you can end up with some really wacky situations, just like real combat. Your units will continue to fire at the enemy until you either tell them to stop with a Cease Fire order, or tell them to fire at something else with a Shift Fire order. Like I said, combat is not something you have as much control over as you might like, and certainly less control than in other squad-level games. 

Once you've resolved the PC markers in question, now it's time to resolve the actual combat. This is time-consuming but pretty simple. You just add up the mods in a given card (you can do this in any order - the VoF/PDF won't change until after this segment is complete), roll on the appropriate line of the Combat Resolution chart along the left side of an action card draw, and get one of three results for each unit. If the result is a Miss, then the unit stays as is *unless* it had a Pinned marker, in which case you can now remove it. If the result is Pin, then the unit in question now becomes Pinned. If the result is Hit, then the unit becomes Pinned *and* you get to draw another action card and check the Hit Effect area cross-referenced with the experience level of the target unit. You'll get one or two letter codes, which correspond to replacing one or more steps with particular types of LATs. Note that in some cases, you might *improve* the morale of a LAT (a Paralyzed LAT getting an F result would become a Fire Team LAT). Casualties, however, are casualties for the remainder of the mission, and won't be fired on again. If the unit has more than one step, you apply both results, otherwise you just apply the first. If you have a three-step squad that has it's second step converted to a LAT, the squad itself is replaced with a Fire Team LAT. 

Here's an example: A three-step squad takes a Hit and gets a LP result. That means the squad counter flips to it's two-step side, and you put a Litter Team in the card/cover with the squad. Now we have to convert the next step to a Paralyzed team, so we place that LAT in the space as well, and replace the two-step squad with a Fire Team. All are given Pinned markers. As you can see, it's pretty easy to see a squad get more or less wiped out in a single turn if things don't go well. As I mentioned in an earlier section, LATs have limited orders they can be given or initiate, but it's still important to get them out of harms way. They are no longer considered part of a given platoon, so any HQ can command them, but they are all considered to be Green units (impairing their ability to perform actions) and they will also require XP points to improve their experience level as well. 

Lather, rinse, repeat for every unit on every card containing VoF on the map. Note that in some cases, units of both sides will be on the same card. In this case, you *don't* generate PDF (it's within the card), but you *do* generate VoF, and in fact you generate two sets of VoF for each side on the card. Unlike many games at this level, there is no differentiation for hand-to-hand combat, or "assault". 

Once you've completed this phase, all that's left is Clean Up, which mostly consists of adjusting VoF/PDF, removing a bunch of markers, and prepping for next turn. 

At this point you should have enough information to try to take on a mission if you like. However, I will go into greater detail about the communications net, the specific Actions that you can order units to perform, how to use the Jeep, details on the various LATs, and some details about VoF/PDF in future installments. 

1 comment:

Brian E. Knoll said...

Dug, these are great and very helpful overviews. I've read the Rulebook, played through 4 or so turns, and read much on the BGG site. Despite all of this "research" being done before finding your site, I've still found much value in your write-ups. Thanks for taking the time. Look forward to finding and/or your creating others.