Like many others, I have been playing war games on and off for many decades. My childhood was filled with heavy metal and playing D6 with a variety of soldiers at my local store.
Although not all old stuff is worth keeping, there have been many times when I tried to relive the joy of flipping through army books and rolling sustained fire dice. I also attempted to use my psychic powers to help me. But times have changed and the older skirmish-sized games systems are no longer up to the challenge.
Modern gaming seems to blur the line between mass battle and skirmish. Either game has such a narrow focus that they are able to add layers upon layers of rules, counter-rules, and reactions. Or games that started with only a small force on one side have become gargantuan travesties that include models that are 1′ wide and are shoe-horned into their rule-set.
I was an avid Kings of War player and had achieved my childhood goal of being able affordably to play a mass-ranked battle game. However, I never gave much thought to Mantic’s sci-fi line. I was turned off by the rumors of squad multi bases and what seemed to be a fairly generic background, long before I even started looking at KoW.
The fireFight was recommended by someone in a forum thread. After seeing the free “Operation Heracles” PDF, and playing a demo, I was hooked.
The game sizes are determined by points values. 500 is the smallest skirmish, and 1,250pts is the average small game. This represents either a few squads or a full platoon. The mechanics have a great balance of speed and complexity. I have never needed to refer back to the rules book since my first game.
For example, many historical games lack statistics and heavily rely on modifiers (All warpath codes) to show the differences between units. However, RPG-lines based early fantasy war games had raft statistics and tables. Firefight (and Kings of War) tread a careful line between them with a low stat line and a few modifiable. Units are distinguished primarily by using a selection of universal special rules. There are very few unique ‘dangling’ rules or abilities.
Firefight’s best feature is its handling of turnarounds. Many modern games are focused on a single point, the apex or culmination at which the battle is won. This could be an unstoppable combination, such as a roll of the dice that seems out of nowhere or exploiting one mistake. These mechanics are available in Firefight too. However, there is no one game-winning action. As an executor, you must be able not only to capitalize tactically but also strategically. You almost always have the chance of recovering, and you don’t feel the inevitable loss of your mega-combo.
Suppression is a great example. Suppression is a game mechanic that allows you to choose whether or not to suppress a unit. This will determine the point at which it is destroyed. Firefight allows you to gain and remove suppression from units. However, when a unit reaches a critical mass of suppression it has two options: it can either stay and fight (possibly losing more soldiers to battle fatigue) or it can retreat back. At that point, most of its suppression is lost. This is something that must be managed. It can cause squads’ failures and make them fall apart.
The game’s name is tactical decision-making, combined with strategic genius. You won’t win the game based only on your army list or its combinations. You won’t be distracted by the rules, and you will not need to refer back to the rules after your first few games. This is a vast improvement on other games in this space.