Rules and Organizations for Company-Level WW-II Gaming
Wargame Rules Review
Crossfire introduces variable length turns and area movement to miniature wargaming, two relatively recent game concepts which cut the chaff and allow players to concentrate on tactics. Finally, a game without rulers and protractors, units advance in realistic bounds from one terrain feature to another. Gone is the arbitrary 3″ or 6″ move, units move as far as they want, unless enemy reactive fire stops them. Crossfire looks and feels like a table-top version of Avalon Hill’s Squad Leader card game UP FRONT!, it is probably the most realistic table-top simulation of modern infantry combat on the market today. The rules are short and easy to learn. They can be, because the variable length turn eliminates a lot of complicated rule mechanisms which are normally required to fix the inherent problems of the turn-based move system. Crossfire is quick and decisive, it punishes bad tactics on the spot.
44-Page Rule Book by Arty Conliffe
- Basic Rules, 17 Pages
- Advanced Rules, 1 Page
- Engineers/Obstacles, 1 Page
- Vehicles/AT-Weapons, 2 Pages
- Organizations, 11 Pages
- Scenario Generator, 8 Pages
- Vehicle Data, 2 Pages
- Stalingrad Scenario, 2 Pages
- Quick Play Sheet, 2 Pages
The simple idea behind the move system is that a unit or formation advances until it reaches its objective, unless it is stopped – temporarily or permanently – by enemy fire. Crossfire uses a variable length turn which ends when the active player loses the initiative. As long as the initiative is maintained, the phasing player may pivot, move, rally, and fire his units continuously. Yes, indeed, a single section is allowed to move, fire, and rally many times in the same turn, until it fails in the attempt. In theory, a lucky section or platoon might advance all the way to the opposite table edge unopposed, then turn around and begin eliminating enemy positions from the rear. This may sound strange to a player who has not experienced the variable length turn yet, but it works beautifully.
What is happening here is incredibly realistic. Unopposed attacking units enjoy complete freedom of action, they may infiltrate behind enemy lines, and begin setting up ambushes in the rear. While this is happening, the defending player cannot use his superior vantage point to react to infiltrations in an unrealistic fashion. This is a common problem in turn-based games, where players are always tempted to engage in foul play, and react to activities which their troops on the ground could not possibly be aware of yet. Turn-based games need artificial fog-of-war rules to stop this activity, but Crossfire gives us all the fog we want at no cost to the players.
In the worst case scenario, a faulty deployment may result in a crushing defeat, just like it should. Probing attacks might locate a gap in the enemy defenses, allowing the attacker to push through to the objective unopposed, simply bypassing enemy strongpoints. In the meantime, the unaware defending units would maintain their current positions, expecting a direct attack against them which never materializes. Such a realistic course of action is nearly impossible to recreate in a turn-based game, where the defending player may react to any perceived threat within seconds or minutes, depending on the fixed length of the turn.
Of course, the typical Crossfire game is not a Blitzkrieg breakthrough, even if players may worry frequently about the possibility of one occuring. Proper defensive tactics can be learned, and the initiative can be taken away from the attacker. When this happens, it is the defender’s turn to counter-attack, provided that he has kept a reserve which may be able to take advantage of the change in initiative.
Initiave is lost when a move, fire, patrol, or rally action fails. The relevant rules are easy to understand and administer. The opposing players dialog the action as it unfolds, a simple process which has the added advantage of actively involving the defending player in the game. Turn-based games can be tedious for the non-phasing player, requiring him to wait until his opponent has contemplated and micro-managed every single move, checked and double-checked every possible firing range, target angle, and line of sight. Crossfire is so much more elegant than that, it is the industry standard by which future table-top simulations are to be judged.
Ground and time scales are not clearly defined in the game. While this may be a problem in campaigns, we may be able to extrapolate the scales as follows:
- 1 Initiative equals seconds or minutes of tactical combat.
- There is no clear time scale for operational movement, because units would be able to advance for minutes or hours in one initiative if they are unopposed. Campaign gamers may want to use a board game to move operationally, and treat a tactical engagement with Crossfire as one or two hours of actual combat. In fact, players might measure a tactical engagement in actual game time, because Crossfire resolves the action about as quickly as it would unfold in reality. If you do, count the total game time, including the umpire’s set-up time and deployment of miniatures. This accounts for deployment and attack planning which would normally precede a prepared attack. Campaign players would have to agree not to stall the tactical game artificially, by executing pointless and repetitive moves which steal game time without actually resulting in any forward progress.
- Approximately 1:300 ground scale. Crossfire mounts an infantry section on a 31 mm frontage (1.25 inches), compared to 50-100 meters frontage for a German Reichswehr infantry section. The typical – two up and one back – platoon formation has a maximum frontage of 93 mm in Crossfire and 100-200 meters in the Reichswehr. The scenario designer suggests company and battalion attack frontages of 1.2 m (48 inches) and 2.4 m (96 inches) respectively. Reichswehr infantry training manuals set the same frontages at 200-400 and 400-1000 meters. Accordingly, we arrive at the following scale conversions:
- Section attack frontage: 1:1612 to 1:3225 scale
- Platoon attack frontage: 1:1075 to 1:2150 scale
- Company attack frontage: 1:166 to 1:333 scale
- Battalion attack frontage: 1:166 to 1:416 scale
- 1 infantry stand equals a section of 9–12 men or several machine guns.
- 1 model equals one vehicle or gun.
- Six-sided dice are used
Crossfire is a very important game development, it shows how realistic, quick and easy to implement the variable length turn really is. It is high time that game designers pursue this idea further, because turn-based simulations are not nearly as much fun, and they are loaded with unnecessary rule mechanisms designed specifically to patch the many problems resulting from the fixed turn.
The area movement system is an excellent hybrid design, it eliminates measuring, but it still requires proper facing and fire lanes. This system works very well, and the associated spotting rules are easy to implement.
The engineering rules work well. Terrain features may be mined, and troops entering or traversing them will be attacked. Engineers may detect mines in time to avoid an attack. Friendly infantry is allowed to occupy a mined feature during the deployment phase, but they would be subject to attack if moved or pivoted later. A more realistic approach would be to expand the "retreat move" rule (section 4.5) and allow these defenders to exit a mined feature without stepping on their own mines. Of course, if other friendly infantry entered the feature later, they would be attacked normally.
Crossfire uses a simple combat resolution system, but the results are in line with more complicated mechanisms found in other rules. Infantry sections fire with three dice against units in the open, or two dice against units in cover. HMG sections have four and three dice respectively. A result of 5 or 6 on one die is a hit, regardless of range. One hit pins, two hits suppress, and three or more hits eliminate the target. There is no need to keep track of hits. Units are marked with the current status – pinned or suppressed – And they recover fully if rallied. HMG sections can achieve an immediate elimination result against enemy in cover, using three dice per fire action. Rifle sections may only suppress a unit in cover. Suppressed units may attempt to rally in their own initiative turn. If the rally attempt fails, initiative is lost immediately, and the suppressed unit risks being fired at again. Suppressed units which are suppressed again are eliminated.
Sniper fire is very similar to the way Up Front! handles it, the sniper fires once and is removed from play. Snipers fire with three dice, just like infantry sections, and the fire effect is judged in the same way. However, if the sniper fires at a commander, a suppression result is enough to eliminate the element.
The key to Crossfire is Crossfire, of course. Widely dispersed infantry sections and attached HMG from the same platoon may Crossfire at a single target, provided that each element has LOS to the platoon commander and to the target. Without the platoon commander, sections from the same platoon may use group fire, but they must be within one stand of the designated fire group leader to participate. One important feature of the game is that a fallen platoon commander may be replaced by eliminating a section from that platoon. Commanders may be rated 0, +1 or +2, reflecting their varying ability to rally troops and lead them in close combat.
Some buildings may be classified as hardpoints or bunkers, in which case they provide additional cover benefits. This is a clever way of handling prepared defenses in built-up areas, and it is an easy rule to implement. Regular building models may be used to represent hardpoints, and they do not reveal their special properties until an enemy sections discovers them the hard way.
The rules don’t mention it, but there seems to be no problem with placing one terrain feature inside another. The move and combat system can handle buildings and hills inside woods or rough ground very well. Natural features should be large enough to accomodate at least four to six infantry sections. Buildings may contain two sections per level.
Command control is an important element of the game, it is realistic, and very easy to judge. Platoon and company commanders rally their troops just like they do in other games. However, their most important function is to manœuvre the troops and to coordinate their fire. There are three levels of tactical expertise. German and other elite infantry sections are the most articulated in the game, they may move independently of their platoon commander, although they still need to be in LOS of the platoon commander to "Crossfire" at a target. Most infantry sections need the platoon commander to start moving, but they may end their move out of LOS. Italian, French, and Russian sections must have LOS to the PC throughout the move, they are the least articulated in combat.
Buildings are normally treated as wooden structures, one story tall. A simple rule for multiple stories seems to have been added as an afterthought, but it may actually work quite well to treat every level as a separate feature under these rules. Observers in buildings do not have better lines of sight than their comrades on level ground, although it would be a simple affair to treat a church tower or similarly tall building the same as a hill for the purpose of LOS determination.
Figures should be based to give the impression of infantry sections instead of individual men. Any basing system will work, and the terrain features can be scaled to fit the base sizes currently in use.
Crossfire does not simulate advanced infantry tactics correctly, the game assumes that rifles and light machine guns serve in the same section together. In some armies they did, but German infantry sections deployed a rifle squad and a light machine gun squad which operated as two separate manœuvre elements in combat. The German rifle squad had relatively low firepower, and it was not expected to engage enemy in cover. If strong opposition was met, the platoon commander had the option of converging his three light machine gun squads to suppress the target, allowing one or two rifle squads to close with the enemy when it was relatively safe to do so. US Marines, British Commandos, and other elite forces split their sections into 3-5 man fire, scout and assault squads. Most platoons formed adhoc 3-5 man patrols and tank-hunter teams when the need arose, but the minimum troop committment in Crossfire is an entire section of 9–12 men. The rules would have been more realistic if the elite infantry sections had been fully articulated.
Crossfire treats armoured vehicles only as a sideline, and the resulting coverage is relatively superficial. The basic rules do not permit a tank to fire its machine guns, presumably because doing so might disturb the balance of the infantry game. Tanks fire or move only once in an initiative turn, compared to infantry sections and heavy machine guns which move and fire as often as they want in the same turn. Tanks are obviously put at an unfair disadvantage here which has little to do with realism. Combined arms combat worked historically, because there is a certain balance between armour, infantry, artillery and air power. Not the game designer decides when infantry is better than tanks, the terrain does. Tanks fighting in built-up areas, woods and other dense terrain are automatically at a disadvantage if the terrain rules have been designed correctly, and infantry will suffer proportionally more if they meet armoured vehicles in ideal tank country. If Crossfire rates the Bazooka, Panzerfaust, and other anti-tank weapons correctly, tanks should not be more dangerous a threat in this game than they were historically. Crossfire is a great game system, but simulation gamers may need a combined arms version of it to be truly happy. The way the move system is designed, there is even scope for easy to implement vehicle breakdown and recovery rules. Variable length turns could be real fun for armour and infantry fans alike, so why exclude the former from the action.
Bren Carriers and Half-Tracks are allowed to transport up to four sections, the equivalent of a platoon of 36 to 48 men, plus attached platoon commanders and forward observers. If each model represents a single vehicle, this carrying capacity must be in error. Loaded half-tracks count each passenger section as a positive modifier in close combat, a cumulative bonus of +4 on a single D6 roll to decide the combat. Apparently, this is a loophole which can be exploited to launch a close combat attack of four mounted sections against a single infantry or HMG section. The outcome of that fight is almost never in doubt.
Vehicles are physically unable to keep up with infantry in this game. The movement rule defines a single move action as a pivot plus one move in a straight line. The move action ends, if the moving element enters a terrain feature. Infantry sections may execute multiple move actions in a single initiative turn, they end one move action in the terrain feature and immediately start another move action to exit it. Vehicles are only allowed one fire or move action in the same initiative turn. Roads have no effect in Crossfire, so there is not even a road move for vehicles. Depending on the density of the terrain, it will take several initiative turns to move a vehicle to the front, without firing the main gun at all. Apparently, this is a bug in the system. Infantry normally requires more time to reach its jump-off positions, tanks and personnel carriers are able to keep up and pass their own foot troops if necessary, particularly in the European theater of operations. One way to fix this problem is to give vehicles the same movement capabilities as infantry, but require a "bog check" each time a vehicle enters a difficult terrain feature. If a vehicle bogs down, initiative is lost. If infantry is too vulnerable under the new system, maybe the terrain is not dense enough yet.
The suggested terrain densite in the 2’ × 2’ table layout (page 31) may not be adequate to simulate infantry country. None of the terrain features are touching, and movement from one to the other will involve a rush across open ground. Infantry moving in the open are easily caught in a Crossfire which has a minimum 100 % chance of pinning the entire formation. As long as the enemy Crossfire or fire group exists, the pinned section or platoon cannot move, it would be pinned again immediately if it tried. Even a pivot in place will draw immediate reactive fire. The rules do not specify how far the unit gets to move or pivot at all if it is pinned again in the process. Presumably, the defending player would only have to allow the attacker to move or pivot 1 mm before pinning him again. At this rate, it is virtually impossible to move a unit which has been pinned in the open. This effect is quite realistic, but the terrain should be dense enough to provide a few covered approaches. If terrain features are touching, the moving player may be able to avoid a few of the most obvious killing grounds, but he can still be fired at and ambushed along the way.
Hedges are dealt with inconsistently. Section 4.4 explains that "Bocage and Hedges block LOS. Walls do not", whereas section 6.6 regulates that "Hedges and Walls" do not block fire through or across them. The rules require LOS to fire at a target. If Hedges block LOS, fire through them or across them is blocked as well, and Section 6.6 is in error. Otherwise, Section 4.4 is in error.
Troops inside depressions are immune to "all fire" from troops on level ground, even including indirect fire. According to the drawing on page 7, the same is true in reverse. The rules do not explain what kind of depression this is which prevents the occupying troops from using the edge of the feature as a natural trench. Board games like Avalon Hill’s Squad Leader let the player decide if his troops are actually hiding in a depression or gully, or if they are partially exposed to fire out of it. One way to add this feature to Crossfire is to treat a depression as a trenchline at the defending player’s discretion. The status would change if troops hidden in the depression decide to line the edge of the feature and expose themselves to fire. If a depression is used as a trench, defending sections would be subject to the "recon by fire" rule.
Crew-served weapons are not permitted to hit the dirt (ground hugging) to reduce the enemy fire effect against them. Obviously, if HMG crews are sitting up or kneeling to fire their tripod-mounted weapons, they will be more vulnerable than prone infantry. However, when the HMG section is pinned in the open, one would expect the unit to fire its weapons from bipod mounts, or to stop firing and hit the ground like everyone else. It would be easy to simulate the reduced fire effect of a ground hugging HMG section by treating them like a regular infantry section instead.
The rule that move actions need to be executed in a straight line is unrealistic, and the infantry game works well without it. Move actions and pivots elicit reactive fire every time. An infantry unit moving along the outside edge of a terrain feature might have to pivot and alternate move actions three or four times to conform to the feature. Reactive fire is bloody enough as it is, without taking the move action sequence to such extremes. Afterall, we are not dealing with a linear or Napoleonic army here, we are concerned with perfectly articulated infantry sections which may follow virtually any route they want. In playtesting, we ignored the straight line move requirement completely, and the game worked just fine. The most serious problem with the straight line move is that it cuts vehicle movement rates unrealistically. Infantry and vehicles are permitted to join in a group move, but vehicles move only once per initiative turn whereas infantry can move as long as the initiative is maintained.
Infantry sections are not permitted to claim cover if they are advancing immediately behind a friendly vehicle.
There is no rule permitting Soviet »tankoviy desant« motorized infantry to ride their tanks into battle. Of course, the way the vehicle movement rule is set up, infantry is much faster without their vehicles. Crossfire is a company-level game, and one would expect to see a platoon of vehicles operating in close support of the infantry, not counting prime movers and light trucks which may also be found in the company sector.
There is no provision for armed soft vehicles, like jeeps, light trucks and motorcycles mounting a light machine gun. German and Soviet motorcycle infantry is covered in the rules, but these troops fight entirely on foot here.
Infantry sections are not permitted to fire from their half-track, even if the vehicle is stationary.
The vehicle and anti-tank gun data is of questionable value, there are many inconsistencies:
- The German 8.8 cm L.71 FlaK had the same penetration as the Tiger II and the PaK 43, but Crossfire rates the FlaK lower than the other two weapons which were identical to it. The 5 cm L.60 PaK 38 is rated too low, it had 141 mm of armour penetration compared to 154 mm for the 7.5 cm L.43 of the Pz.Kpfw. IV Ausf. F2 which is rated 16 % better in Crossfire. The Panzerfaust (early) which penetrated 153 mm at 0-100 meters is rated 33 % better than the PaK 38, and 16 % better than the Pz.Kpfw. F2.
- The short 47 mm gun of the French Char B is overrated, it penetrated only 62 mm compared to 95 mm for the French 47 mm L.53 anti-tank gun which is rated the same in Crossfire. The German Pz.Kpfw. III with the short 50 mm gun had marginally better penetration than the Char B, but it is rated 33 % lower.
- Soviet KV.II heavy tanks had much better armour protection than KV.IC, but Crossfire rates the KV.IC better.
- The British 17-pdr anti-tank gun had the same armour penetration capability as the 17-pdr tank gun mounted in the Firefly, but Crossfire rates the tank 16 % better.
Panzerschreck (tank terror), Kübelwagen (literally "bucket car"), and Brummbär (growler) are spelled incorrectly.
The page layout is substandard, making the manual a real pain to read. The margins are too small, headlines, subheads and section numbers do not stand out from the body text enough, and the text is slow to read, because it is not in the normal 10 point typeface found in books and newspapers. The play sheet refers to section numbers, but the section numbers are not easy to find in the body text. Instead, the practically meaningless page numbers are prominently displayed on the outside margin of each page, and they conflict with section numbers. Fortunately, these rules are short, and the rule book is not needed once the game has been understood. The play sheet is very good, it answers most questions which would otherwise have to be looked up in the manual.
- Company-level combat, 1939–1945
- World War One, 1914–1918
- Japanese Invasion of China, 1937–1939
- Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939
- Israeli War of Independence, 1948
- Korean War, 1950–1953
Crossfire is a great game system, it beats many other modern miniatures rules in terms of realism and playability. The variable length turn is a step in the right direction, and other game designers are sure to adopt it now. Unlike what we have been led to believe, the variable length turn is easier to understand, faster, more dynamic, and much more fun to play than the old turn-based game. Crossfire succeeds where turn-based games fail dismally, it marks the beginning of a new era in table-top simulation gaming.