Operation Crusader is underway!

Last night British tanks poured over the Egyptian/Libyan border to try and relieve the siege of Tobruk. Yes…Tom Garnett ran the first of his Operation Crusader scenarios. He is aiming to create an entire scenario book on the topic. The battle was titled, ‘Trial by Combat’ and has a company of tanks (Crusaders) assaulting a company of dug in Bersaglieri with tank support and (as always) is based directly on an historical engagement.

The Italians were hunkered down in their ‘hedgehog’ fortifications when twelve British tanks drove in over some undulating ground. As this was still pre-El Alamein, the Brit tanks came on in a true cavalry charge without any infantry support…although they did have a forward observer in a scout car to call in some 25lb barrages.


The British (a company from the 22nd Armored Brigade, 7th Armored Division) did not have much time so they needed to move right at the Italians. Exiting six tanks off of the Italian board edge was required for victory. A new rule was used where a Company Leader can move several tank platoons as one unit, there by minimizing the amount of opportunity fire but limiting flexibility of movement. Following on the heels of the artillery barrage the British tank formation dove right into the Italians. Anti-tank guns opened up but the shots went wide and some Close Support Crusaders drove right over a hedgehog.

Armed only with grenades (and from the look of it …faulty ones) the Italian infantry was not able to do much to the charging steel monsters. They were forced to take refuge in their bunkers. It looked like it would be a ‘piece of cake’ for the Desert Rats…but an anti-tank gun got a solid hit and the first British tank was stopped. Then…a platoon of Italian M13/40 moved onto the board to back up the hard-pressed Bersaglieri.

A tank fight broken out and tanks from both sides began to brew up. For the moment the impetus of the British charge was broken. Interestingly, the first thing that happened was the British tank formation broke up and fight became much more of a melee. (That seemed to be a good effect of the formation rule.)

It wasn’t looking great for the Brits and although their permanent initiative chip had given them an advantage the Italian used their one-use chip to try and get an edge in the tank on tank fight. But alas the Dice-Gods were not kind to the Italian tankers (played by Mark Stricker) and all of their shots went wide. (Mark even made one of his fellow player move to the other side of the room to prevent bad dice karma…it did not help.) Although the Italians were putting up a good fight the weight of numbers started to tell and eventually the M13/40 fell one by one. but they did take a hefty toll.

Finally, the last Anti-tank gun was put out of action and the British just managed to exit six tanks claiming victory…but losing 8 tanks in the process. A pyrrhic victory.

Pyrrhic Victory

Overall it was a very fun scenario ..a real tank fest! The new Tank Leader rules worked very well and I think they are going to make the tank combat something unique. We will be doing more… so stay tuned!


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The Tank Show!

Last Sunday (August 21st) a few of us Fireball Forward Fanatics headed down to the Museum of America in Wartime near the Manassas, VA airport for their annual open house. If you have ever seen the show on the History/Military Channel (not sure which one it was on as there is not much history on the History Channel these days) where some guys get old tank hulks and rebuild them from the ground up….well these guys do the same thing. They have a fantastic collection of working tanks and armored vehicles from WW2 to today. I am not sure were they found all of these tanks but we did discover that Switzerland and Bosnia provided a few. If you like WW2 vehicles this event is great. If you have been to the museum up in Aberdeen MD and you thought is was good…then you would love this event because they actually drive the tanks around and raffle off rides in them. I haven’t been in a couple of years but they used to have a program that featured a speaker. I heard ‘Shifty’ Powers (Band of Brothers), Joe Galloway (We Were Soldiers…), Bob Slaughter (Ranger on Omaha Beach) and two Lt. Colonels from Iraqi Freedom all give excellent talks. But this year there was no speakers, instead they had the USMC Historical Team demonstrate how Marines would assault a bunker complex in WW2. (Everyone loved the flamethrower!)

It was and will continue to be a great event! Here are some pictures snapped by Joe Dzikiewicz, a member of our Fireball Forward development group.

Here are the two German vehicles they have.

Hetzer under camoflage


German Halftrack...I think late war.

There are also reinactors all over the place. Here are some soviets camped out with their T34/85.

A Valentine…on the move!

Some American armor…a Lee and an M5 Stuart. (They also have a Grant and an M3 Stuart…not pictured.)

This vehicle had an interesting story. It is the late war upgunned (90mm gun) version of the M10,…I think it is an M36. It last saw service in the Bosnian War of the mid 1990’s! The museum bought it from the Bosnian Government and now it awaited reconditioning.

There were a host of other tanks including Soviet and British armor from 1985. We had a spirited discussion with the Soviet 1985 reinactors about the external fuel tanks on the BMP-1 and T-55…they don’t seem to think they are a bad idea.

Well…on to the main attraction! The USMC Historical Team assaulting a bunker complex…with tank support of course!

Laying down fire.

Bring up the tank support!

A great show and lots of inspiration for FIreball Forward. We are currently working on rules for tank commanders which should give the tank rules a unique feel. Next tuesday Tom Garnett is hosting the first of his Operation Crusader scenarios. I’ll let you know how it goes!


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‘The Death of Whitmann’ scenario

On August 8, 1944, Germany’s most celebrated tank ace rode to his death in a desperate attack against British and Canadian armor. As part of his scenario book on the fighting at Villers Bocage, Sean Barnett has decided to add this scenario as a sort of post-script. This fight was after the battle for Villers Bocage had ended and was actually part of OPERATION TOTALIZE. But as Sean depicts Whitmann’s famous ‘ride’ at Villers where he destroyed 20-odd British vehicles he felt that it would be fitting to show Whitmann’s end…in fact he has titled the scenario ‘Das Ende.’ Here is how the scenario played out:

Whitmann led the charge onto the field with seven Tigers, two Mark IVGs, two Jagdpanzers and a platoon of mechanized panzer grenadiers. There was a small hamlet to his left and a large open field to the right with some woods on the far end. The Germans laid down a smoke screen with some off-board artillery and assaulted the hamlet.

The Canadians were defending town with a platoon of Shermans and in the confusion of the smoke screen were quickly overwhelmed after taking out a Mark IVG.

Whitmann's Assault

A Firefly, realizing it was going to get caught in the whirlwind of destruction tried to make a run for it…when a Tiger burst through the smoke and put an 88 round right through its hull. The German assault seemed unstoppable.

Tiger takes out Firefly

Things were looking bad for the Canadians. A second platoon of Shermans was positioned behind the hamlet and when the remaining Mark IVG and the Tiger in the hamlet pushed on they were stopped cold. So, Whitmann decided to swing around with his remaining Tigers and finish the job. If he could finish them off he could lead his tanks into the rear areas and victory. The first Tiger swung around the outside of the town through the large field and engaged the Canadian tanks…but all of the smoke and confusion must have thrown his aim off as his 88 fired and went wide…twice! Angered at this display of poor shooting Whitmann ordered all of the remaining Tigers to swing around and crush the Canadians….and as they did they presented their rear armor to the woods across the field. Just as they were bringing their guns to bear on the Canadians, British armor in the woods opened up and tore into the Tigers.

The Tigers get ambushed

In a matter of minutes three Tigers were ablaze. Whitmann himself was caught between two fires and soon his tank was burning. The Brits began to move out of the woods and the remaining Jagdpanzer and infantry quit the field. A true Viking death for Whitmann.

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‘Morale’ and Leadership in Fireball Forward.

What was more important in WW2 combat; the killing power of your weapon -or- a man’s ability to stand, calm and cool, to use that weapon? I would suggest that both are equally important (obviously.) I would also argue that historically most wargames which trace their development back to the games developed in the 1970s stress the importance of the killing power of weapons. Over the years game designers have come to appreciate the importance of morale; and rules about the combat effectiveness of troops during a battle have been developed. But leadership is still not well modeled. Your basic rules about leaders are; they give you a bonus on your chances to rally and win a melee. There is usually a ‘radius’ over which they can exert this influence. We have thought long and hard about these issue in Fireball Forward and here is were are with it.

First of all we view all troops (squads and teams) across the globe in WW2 as having a morale of (4+) which means on any given morale check this have a 50/50 chance to pass. Finns, Hungarians, SS, Japanese, USMC, Paratroopers, etc,….everyone. In certain unique situations and scenarios some infantry elements might have a (5+) or a (3+)…but this should be the exception not the rule. For example; in scenario #2 in the rulebook, ‘Pouppeville’ the German infantry has a morale of (5+). This is because historically 40 US paratroopers defeated an entire company of Germans to capture the hamlet of Pouppeville on D-Day. The 100 Germans (actually Georgian conscripts) were confused and unmotivated and faced 40 determined foes. Giving the Germans a (5+) morale allows the US paras to attack successfully at 1-2.5 odds. The (5+) morale makes the Germans crumble but it also in effect makes the paras that much better.

So if everyone is basically a (4+) morale how do you model elite troops…or terrible troops. For us the answer lies in leaders and the initiative chips. Elite troops, like Paratroopers on D-Day for example, will have leaders with a morale of (3+). This allows infantry elements to rally quickly, initiate close combat more often, have a leader in the close combat more often, allow elements to pick out the best target to shoot at and have elements pass more morale checks from fire….all this if you use your leaders correctly to lead the critical actions. This requires players to identify where the battle is being decided and then have their leaders intervene at those points to lead his men to victory. You will be amazed at how a leader with a morale value of only one better than his troops will make a big difference in the fighting ability of his men.

The inverse is also true. Italians as a rule have leaders of (5+) while the troops are (4+). This plays out that the Italian infantry fights without much decisive leadership. When the troops start to break they don’t rally very quickly and the attack peters out. It really gives you the feel of inferior troops and the only difference is that the leader’s morale is one number lower. Simple and elegant yet with profound implication.

The other element in troop/leadership quality is the initiative chips. Elite troops always get some form of initiative chips. Even if they only get one single use chip they always have some ability to make a decisive action at a critical time if the player uses the chip well. Inferior troops are unlikely to get an initiative chip or less chips than the enemy. But even inferior troops, if they can destroy enemy vehicles, get to make ‘glory rolls’ and possibly gain initiative chips. This allows them to get inspired by their success and perhaps rise above their inferior status.

All in all, we feel that with troop morale, leader morale, leader rules and initiative chips we have a lot of levers to pull to model different troop types in WW2. All this can be done with minimal rules changes, special rules and die roll modifiers. To us if feels simple and elegant …without bogging players down with pages of rules, charts and modifiers.

I am taking time to point this out because as more and more people play the game and download the playtest kit I am hearing feed back that they are playing such and such a battle and certain troops must be morale (5+) and others are certainly (3+). Trust me…all troops should be (4+)…it the leader’s morale that needs to be tweaked. Just look at scenario #1 “Easy Company”….Winters is a (3+) but the troops (Malarkey, Garniere, Popeye, etc) are all (4+)…and the scenario works just fine.


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Moving Forward with Fireball Forward

Now that Historicon 2011is over and the playtest kit is out, its time to complete the full rules set in time for Historicon 2012. Jonathan and I have created our plan to finish crafting and playtesting the rules. After years of developing this is it amazing to see if finally approaching roll out. Although the rules will be out next summer I don’t see development of them ending. We have always seen the development of this game as a creative outlet for all involved and I am sure that will not stop.

In planning out the scenarios that will be in the rule book we have come up with: four US paratrooper on D-Day scenarios, 3 US paratroopers on D-Day Sicily, two Russian Front, one Philippines ’41, one North Africa ’40, one France ’40 and one Berlin ’45. This is subject to change but it will allow you to learn all of the rules as you go along and gives a nice overview of the different aspects and theaters of WW2.

Over the next eleven months we will be playtesting, writing, rewriting, revising and getting everything put together. Besides the rulebook I will also be finalizing my scenario book, ‘Panzer Lehr at St. Lo’ and Jonathan will be finishing his ‘Philippines, 1941’ scenario book. All due for release at Historicon 2012.

We are also going to produce some videos for the website that demonstrate the rules. Stay tuned for those!


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More Historicon game AARS

There were so many games at Histroicon that in my last post I neglected to mention the Normandy games ran by Curt Daniels. First off he ran ‘Poupeville’ that highlights Col. Julian Ewell’s assault on the small Norman hamlet that held the key to Causeway One from Utah Beach. (FYI – Julian Ewell was played by Robert Redford in ‘A Bridge Too Far.’) The paratroopers moved in towards the hamlet when a 37mm AA gun opened up on them cutting down the lead elements. The troopers were never able to knock out the gun and the Germans held the town.

The players then decided they wanted to switch sides and play again. This time a sniper held up the paratroopers but they did make more progress than the previous game. The key to the US assault is to move fast and leader with your leaders. In both games the players were new to the system and a little tentative which gave the Germans the edge. The best part was in the second game the players barely need the gamemaster as they had a good grasp of the rules.

Curt’s second game was the fight for Vierville just off of Omaha Beach. Here a platoon of dogfaces takes on a German pioneer company with assault gun support until a Ranger platoon arrives to help out. The Germans were pushing on to victory driving back the GIs when the Rangers hit them with a flank attack. This drew a decidedly violent reaction from the Germans who doubled back to crush the Rangers. With that threat taken care of the Pioneers pressed on once again to the heart of Vierville but in a nail-biter the GIs held on by the skin of their teeth winning by the slimmest of margins. The beachhead at Omaha Beach was safe.

Two great games to add to the great Fireball Forward games…and everyone loves Normandy. Thanks Curt for great games and beautiful terrain.


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FIreball Forward Yahoo Group

In case you aren’t aware there is a yahoo group for Fireball Forward at:


Good way to ask questions and chat with other players.


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There was tons of fun with Fireball Forward at Historicon 2011. All told there were about 20 games run covering a wide range of theaters…Guadalcanal, Stalingrad, the Philippines, Normandy, Hurtgen Forest and Tunisia. Everyone seems to have fun…even when they were losing. The best comment that I heard was when someone came up to me and said he was getting creamed but having the best time. I think that is due to a combination of elegant rules and well crafted, well play-tested scenarios. Everyone scenario run at the convention had been play-tested at least 2-3 times. We did get a chance to hear from a few folks about some things they would like to see….particularly tank platoon commanders. More on that later in the blog…

First up , Jerry Frazee ran a new scenario entitled Panzer Attack on his beautiful Stalingrad terrain board. This battle preceded his previous scenario (Guards CounterAttack) and sees a Panzer platoon accompanying a German infantry assault towards the Tractor Factory. It was great to see that if tanks move forward unescorted by the infantry they get smoked.

Panzer Attack Stalingrad

Kim Allman , (from Fireball South in Charlotte along with Jerry) ran ‘The Battle of St, Joseph’s Farm”, Tunisia 1942. Here a German armored thrust was ambushed by an American tank company of M3 Stuarts. It was fun and faced paced…with everyone having a great time. It turned out to be a great learning scenario for the tank rules so Kim ran it about 5 times over the weekend! The big issue that came out of this game was people wanted the tank platoons to have platoon leaders like the infantry. We bandied about some ideas and came up with rules that keep with the philosophy of Fireball Forward but added some nice tactical flexibility. We are still play-testing them but so far so good. For running a great game, terrific miniatures and helping to break new ground Kim was awarded the Historicon 2011 Fireball Forward Award and will receive a book about the Tunisian Campaign to help further his research and scenario design. (Jerry Frazee won the Cold Wars 2001 Fireball Forward Award for Stalingrad.)

The Battle of St Joseph's Farm

Sean Barnett ran the latest scenario from his upcoming Villers Bocage scenario book, which will feature Michael Whitmann and his Tigers. This scenario sees a force of Tigers trying to clear a British Tank company off of Hill 213 overlooking Villers Bocage. The Brits appeared to have it well in hand until a Tiger went on a tear and ripped the heart out of the British defense towards the end of the game. Gotta love Tigers…unless your the Brits!

Sean Barnett's Hill 213 board.

Jonathan Miller, my fellow game designer, ran ‘Philippino Welcome’ 1941. Here a company of Japanese infantry execute an amphibious landing against a beach defended by Philippinos and American machine gunners. This is great scenario which really features the Banzi rules. (Jonathan’s great terrain doesn’t hurt also!) The Allies decided to use an inland defense and the Japanese had an easier time landing than in previous playtests. But they got hung up pushing inland. In the end they were able to achieve victory on a razor thin margin. This is the first scenario in Jonathan’s upcoming scenario book on the Philippines 1941.

Philippino Welcome

Jonathan also ran ‘Baptism of Armor’ which was the first US armor engagement of WW2. M3 Sturats take on a host of Japanese armor.

I ran two different Guadalcanal scenario…both of which I ran at Cold Wars. “Hell’s Point’ and ‘Kokumbona Vagabonds.’ They both went great even though I gave the US players bad info during Kokumbona causing the to make a bad plan…but they still almost pulled it out and had a great time. That scenario has a USMC company moving through jungle to attack the village of Matanikau. Everyone seems to love the jungle rules which I feel is the big key to doing Guadalcanal.

“Hell’s Point” recreates the first assault on Alligator Creek by the Ichiki Detachment. It is a tough road to hoe for the Japanese…but then again it should be. The Japanese decided to throw all four rifle platoons in a huge push on the beach ..with one platoon wading through the surf. They pushed on in many waves, cleared the barbed wire and got a tenuous hold on the far bank. But USMC firepower proved too much and on the last turn as Japanese infantry charged out of the surf they were cut down. But an exciting and fun time was had by all.

The author (in white shirt) running Kokumbona Vagabonds.

Finally Doug Austin ran ‘Fleig Saves the Day’ set in the Hurtgen Forest. Here a small force of US armor and infantry try to hold off a full German infantry company and 1/2 an armor company…including a Panther. This scenario is interesting because the US gets alot of artillery and air support. Historically a P-47 dove in during the fight and knocked out a Panzer…and that is exactly what happened in the scenario. Other P-47s circled above the cloud cover until their fuel ran low and headed home. The Germans still managed to make significant progress until they felt they had a chance to will by using a ‘bum rush’ with their panzers…but Lt. Fleig was too much for them and his Sherman (76) stopped them cold. But the Germans were still close to victory so they soldiered on…only to fall short at the end. A great game and a good use of the artillery and air rules.

Well….the con was great and we got tons of valuable feedback. The play-test kit is out and I am thinking of writing some more scenarios that can be used with it. I have gotten a few requests already for other rules people want to use but everyone will have to wait until Historicon 2012. That is when we will be releasing the entire rules set and two scenario books…”Panzer Lehr at St. Lo, 1944′ and ‘Philippines, 1941’

Over the next few months we will be completing the rules and scenario that will accompany the rulebook…there will probably be a dozen or so. We need to do some serious playtesting of Africa so that is on the docket.

Thanks for all of your input and stay tuned….more videos coming to the website shortly.


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Playtest Kit and Historicon

Hi All,

Sorry for the long hiatus from posting. Good news tho’…the playtest kit is about 90% ready to be sprung on the world! Just needs some more editing. The rules are being built as ‘programmed’ rules meaning you read a certain amount and are then ready to play a specific scenario. Read a little more and you can play the next scenario. Eventually you will have worked your way through the entire rules set and can do anything.
This is how the original Squad Leader rules were created and laid out. As a 13 year old I was able to teach myself Squad Leader so they must have been doing something right! We are also including copious examples to help people visualize the rules. The examples are in side bars that line up with the rules they are illustrating. I took this idea from Julia Child as that is how she laid out “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.’ As a 43 year old I was able to teach myself how to cook delicious French dinners for my wife so Julia must have been doing something right!
The playtest kit will include the first rules section (infantry combat), the accompanying scenario (Easy Company’s assault on the guns at Brecourt Manor), a quick reference sheet and markers. It will be available for free download from our up and coming website. The website will also have other goodies like troop labels, one-off scenarios and videos that demonstrate the rules.
Historicon is approaching and according to the event organizers Fireball Forward is going to be the 5th most run game at the Con! I am running two Guadalcanal scenarios. There is also going to be a few Normandy games (US and Brits), some Philippines ’41 and a Tunisia ’42 tank battle. So there will be a good cross section of games to choose from. Nothing from Russia this con as Curt Daniels has run at least three Russia ’41 games at the last few conventions. If you like SS Tigers then get into Sean Barnett’s Villers Bocage scenarios…good stuff.
Look for us at Historicon…we will be in the same place for the entire Con. I would love to meet you all and answer any questions you have. Stop by and have some fun with Fireball Forward.
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I’m happy to report that Mark has begun a new draft of the rules and it’s damn good! It’s a re-write of the draft I did a while back, which was overly-lawyerly & hard to read. The new draft is set up in stages with scenarios inserted, so you can play as you go. There are lots of pictures & examples in the margins – always great. The first stage covers basic infantry, and we’re thinking of making it available as PDF so folks can check it out and give feedback.

That said, Mark and I are committed to ironing out all the details before releasing the full thing, so it’ll be several months yet, at least, before the rules booklet is available. We’re planning to have all major theaters of WWII worked out, and to really capture the differences, based on historical written accounts – which we’re constantly reading anyway. The rules are aimed at re-creating for the players, the same kind of tension & story lines described by combatants who were there.

We began with late-war Western front Europe, worked out armor rules, artillery, flamethrowers, moved on to Pacific jungle fighting (VERY different), and recently began work on desert fighting. Mark came up with new rules for long-range visibility which was a huge factor in the desert. I just finished reading “Brazen Chariots” by Robert Crisp and then played Mark’s first desert scenario. Definitely feels right, although it was purely an infantry fight. Can’t wait to do armor. I’ve been developing rules for bicycle troops and cavalry (Philippines saw both in spades). Jerry Frazee and his crew in North Carolina worked out rules for Eastern front, including a Commissar table which is a total blast – always injects a huge dose of Communism into the story line. Good, bad & ugly as it should be.

To answer some recent questions from Jan in Copenhagen, labels are not mandatory, but they’re cool to look at, and help narrate the story. You can download PDFs for labels, if you want them, from the “files” folder here:


For bases, you can’t beat Gale Force 9. They’re inexpensive and super accurate laser-cut:


FbF is intentionally relaxed about basing dimensions. Anything roughly the size of Flames of War units work just fine. You can always use FoW units if you want – easy to get on ebay. Or make your own. The bases in the photos above are 3/4 inch x 1 inch (squads) and 3/4 x 3/4 (leaders & teams). Anything about 15mm x 25mm will work with the labels on those PDF’s.

Lastly, your table is certainly big enough. Several scenarios are very small – just 2 x 3 feet (approx 0.66m x 1m).

Thanks for all the interest and encouragement,


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