Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Fire and Movement

One book that I'm positive would be of interest to wargamers of all stripes is Phil Sabin's Simulating War. As well as outlining the theory and practice behind wargaming, Prof. Sabin takes the time to illustrate his axioms with numerous practical examples from designs of his own. As usual with Sabin's games, they cut fairly directly to the chase, ignore extra complications, and are often good for the solitaire gamer to mess about with.

A game from Simulating War that I've been wanting to try out for some time is (one of) Phil Sabin's take(s) on WWII infantry combat, Fire and Movement. The situation involves two under-strength German infantry companies (one mortar and six rifle platoons) being attacked by a British battalion (one machine gun, one mortar and twelve rifle platoons) across a battlefield 8 hexes wide and 6 deep.

The rules are simple: move a platoon and it is spent; shoot with a platoon and it is spent; hit an enemy platoon with fire and the enemy is spent. Spent units can do nothing until they are able to recover.

The trick then is, on your turn, to use fire to suppress as many enemy platoons as you effectively can so that those platoons cannot move or shoot on their own turn.

As the turn order is move, shoot, recover, it neatly forces players to think carefully about where and when to move or shoot - and whom to target - without recourse to complicated activation rules.

In addition to the suppression aspect of fire, there is a casualty track, and every time an enemy platoon is hit successfully, that unit takes a casualty. When the total number of casualties reaches seven, one platoon is removed from the field and the count starts again at one. The British have another problem to contend with: ammunition depletion. Every time a British platoon fires, one 'unit' of ammunition is used up. Once the total number of ammunition units used reaches seven, the last platoon to fire is out of ammunition and removed from the field, and, as with casualties, the ammunition count is reset to one.

The Germans do not have to worry about ammunition depletion (lucky them!).

There are a couple of other things I should mention. Firstly, if a platoon is fresh and adjacent to an enemy, it can perform an assault attack. Assault attacks cause three casualties rather than one, and so are dramatically more effective if you can manage them. Secondly, the Germans start the game dug in, and if they remain dug in, said platoons can ignore one casualty per fire attack, meaning that they can really only be damaged by assault. Some terrain (farms) has the same 'ignore one casualty' effect.

Thirdly, firing units can target units in two hexes that are adjacent to each other if the firing platoon has line of sight to both hexes. This provides a significant incentive to spread platoons out in an effort to lessen the effects of enemy fire.

Fourthly, both sides have a mortar crew off table to call on, and the British have a machine gun team on table. Both mortars and machine guns are rather more effective at hitting the enemy than your standard rifle units, but mortars must have a fresh platoon on table to spot on their behalf.

Lastly, platoons can stack up to two deep in a hex, but if the hex is hit, both platoons are affected, so it's better to spread out if you can, unless in dead ground or, perhaps, when gearing up for an assault.

So there we are with the rules. Fairly short, fairly direct, and quite clear in what they want players to do. The difficulty for the combatants of course is to combine all of these simple rules (and ideally some favourable dice rolls) so as to get your chaps into a winning position. When determining the victor, the Germans get one victory point for every British platoon broken by fire and one point for every friendly platoon still on board after twelve turns are up. The British get one point for every German platoon destroyed, plus one for each friendly platoon on an enemy baseline hex at game end.

The Germans always move first each turn.

Interestingly, the board terrain is diced for before the game. Having a copy of the old Avalon Hill classic Battle Cry to hand, I decided I would use this for the board, as it has most of the terrain features readymade.

Here is my battlefield. Unfortunately for the Brits (I'm actually using Americans, but hopefully you can't tell in 6mm!), the field is very open and there is absolutely no cover for them on the advance.

After deployment, the Germans will dig in in these positions as shown (though using foxholes rather than abatis, one presumes!).

The British start with only two companies and the machine gunners on table. A preliminary bombardment is marginally effective, so they advance as quickly as they can, and bring on more troops.

This is the table after turn two.

On turn three the British deploy more reinforcements as they push forward on the left and and the right, leaving a clear lane of fire for the machine gun platoon in the centre to assist in suppressing targets.

After turn three.

The British are able to advance on the right by suppressing the German squad in the trees with the machine gunners, but the attack is stalling on the left due to deadly accurate fire which pins down the bulk of the British platoons.

Casualties are starting to mount, and ammunition shortages are forcing careful conservation of attacking resources.

After turn four.

A failed assault on the British right leaves the advanced German platoon intact but under severe pressure. With no one able to support it, it seems like it's just a matter of time before the British have their first success.

In the centre, the British gunners and mortars are able to suppress key support units in the centre, but the German right is causing steady casualties to the British left. All the British reserves are now on table, so from here on they must make do with what they have.

After turn five.

It takes two more turns before the British on the right can work the Germans out of their position. The tactics now are set: suppress with the gunners or mortars, advance two platoons into assault position, and then assault with both to inflict six casualties, break a unit, and force the position.

But in the time it is taking to do this the British left is being cut to pieces, and those platoons that can still move are now moving backwards, not forwards.

After turn seven.

(Showing some of the targeting as each side look to cut down the other's options)

With only five turns left the British need a miracle. They are able to hop forward on the right and take another defended position, but time and casualties are against them. The German mortar crews buy valuable breathing space by suppressing the British Vickers gunners, who are thus unable to help cover the advance on the right.

Attacking and defending lines.

Assault, advance, suppress - and advance again.

On the final turn the British make a desperate attempt to assault the central strongpoint, but they are repulsed by determined defensive fire. Exhausted by casualties and ammunition depletion, only three British platoons are left on table, and so the British lose by ten points to three. 

Final position.

Well, I thought it was a cracking little game to play solitaire. There are some lessons for me to digest and some tactics to go over, so I think I'll be playing this one again. It's not one that you'd take down to club night week in and week out, but the simple rules reveal a clever little game of - to coin a phrase - fire and movement (thank you, I'll be here all week!).

And if you've got this far, thanks for reading.


  1. Great report! I didn't have the time to play most of the games he instroduced in that book when I read it, or perhaps, to be more accurate. I didn't think I had the time... How long did it take to play out?

    1. Cheers, Luke. It probably took about two hours including rules checking, taking photos and refills of gin and soda. I did stuff up a test game the day before, so if you include that probably about three hours. It'd be about an hour now though, I'd say, depending on whether you want to sit down and savour the moves or just go quickly.

  2. Sabin's Simulating War and Lost Battles are two important books. When I read SW years ago, I found it fascinating but never tried any of the games within. Your explanation and replay of Fire and Movement is very well done and provides both a good understanding of the rules and how it plays.

    Great job!

    1. Thanks, Jonathan. Phil Sabin's a great designer. Innovative in ways that make you think 'how did he come up with that?' and so good at paring things down to essentials but setting you up to face the dilemmas that he wants you to face. I wouldn't play his Simulating War games many times each, but you can get a lot out of playing once or twice. He has a couple of print and play WWII games online that are worth trying as well.

  3. A clever system. Because players want to inflict casualties on the enemy to both spend them and add to their casualty track, does the British side become more tempted to fire rather than move?

    1. Not so much when the enemy are entrenched, as the best you can do is suppress them and it gets quite costly with ammunition. If you are a few hexes away and only suppressing the enemy on a 5 or 6 and each shot brings you closer to an ammunition withdrawal, you start to get leery of wasting shots. This is where the mortars and MGs are so effective - they hit on 2s or 3s so are a much more consistent bet.

      In the open here the British left ended up being sitting ducks. I would have been better attacking on the right, keeping the troops off table on the left and only bringing them on if / when the German right moved out of their entrenched positions.

      So quite a lot to think about for such a simple set of rules.


  4. It would be interesting to play that scenario with the attacking forces composed of Japanese or Russians, both of whom were willing to trade horrendous casualties for battlefield gains.


    1. With this terrain you'd probably need double the number of troops to win with a rush attack, and even then it would be hard going!


  5. Thanks for the report Aaron! i have been wanting to get this out and play for several years (there are a few other reports out on the internet). I am really interested in battalion sized actions and I have read great things about Fire and Movement. You are now another one that thinks it is great! Now all I have to do is make time to play it :-(

    Oh, and glad to see another gin and soda fan exists :-)

    1. Hey Shaun, thanks for dropping by! F & M is pretty easy to play and the rejigging of the board each game means that no situation will ever be quite the same.

      Not sure if you'd want to use if every week, but once in a while it'll be a nice little exercise, I think - and, of course, an excellent reason to pour one of those drinks!



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