Wally Simon takes a look at CROSSFIRE
A squad-level WWII game by Arty Conliffe
Originally published in Wargames Illustrated no.123 – December 1997
I first saw Crossfire (CF) at the July, 1997, HISTORICON convention in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. CF’s 44-page booklet states that the game is “designed for two opposing players.” The demonstration game used 20mm figures, had some three players per side, and under the tutelage of the gaming host, ran quite smoothly.
Conliffe’s previous publications, Tactica and Armati, both focused on the ancients era, and both contained some very clever, unique, gaming ploys and procedures to replicate the goings-on of the ancients battlefield. CF carries on with Conliffe’s novel and playable approach to wargaming.
The CF rules booklet carefully avoids all mention of scale… whether of time or distance. A squad, it says, is represented by a base of about 1-inch by 1-inch. That’s as close to a distance analysis as you’ll see. All weapons can fire line-of-sight (LOS) across the entire gaming table, and if my squad can “see” your squad way across the table, you’re fair game.
There are no fixed bounds as such. The scope of the bounds change as the initiative shifts from one side to the other. In effect, Conliffe has successfully combined two system concepts which fell by the wayside years and years ago:
a. The Jack Scruby Liberal Move. In the sixties, Jack Scruby came up with the idea that, once or twice a game, each side could pick up a unit and march it across the field as far as desired. You’d move the unit, say, 12 inches, and if it passed through an opposing unit’s zone of fire, infantry or artillery, your opponent would fire at your unit, it would take casualties, and move on. Another 12 inches, more opposing fire, more casualties, and the unit would move on again. In this manner, you could march your unit from one end of the field to the other and it would arrive somewhat the worse for wear, but it would arrive.
b. In the early eighties, George Jeffrey arrived on the scene with his “variable bound” mechanisms. Units would advance, change formation, change face, retreat, etc., until a “change of situation” occurred. Jeffrey’s “change of situation” was defined as an event which might cause a commander to reassess the situation before him and, perhaps, to issue new orders to take into account new developments. At this point, all units on the field would freeze, casualties be updated, morale tests made, ammunition supply assessed, units be redirected by a change of orders, and so on.
Conliffe has very neatly amalgamated the above two gaming procedures to produce his own “endless bound” game of small unit action in WW II.
Before writing this article, I played over a dozen CF games, and after each one, I asked those present how much “battlefield time” they thought had elapsed during the action. All the games were at the same level, essentially company-versus-company, yet the answers ranged from Five minutes to five hours.
When your side has the initiative, you may select a stand (squad) and move it until the opponent reacts by announcing that one, or more, of his own units can see yours, and is firing on it.
The results of his fire will be either to miss, to pin your unit, to suppress it, or to kill it. There are no specific casualties to be noted on the squad-token, i.e. no casualty caps, no ‘V-rings’… the squad reacts as a single entity… it’s either functioning or non-functioning. In my own 20mm games, I use 1-inch by 1-inch stands, each holding a 20mm casualty figure, placed beside a stand to indicate its status… one marker for pinned, two for suppressed.
I also use a 3-foot long, 1/4 inch dowel for a LOS stick. CF is a game wherein both sides constantly cry out “I can see you” and BANG!, blast away. We’ve tried “eyeballing” along a given LOS… it’s no use, the only true way to avoid argument is to actually lay down the LOS stick and determine if a straight, uninterrupted line exists between firer and target.
CF uses 6-sided dice. When firing at a target in the open, a rifle squad tosses 3 dice, a HMG squad tosses 4 dice. Hits are always inflicted on tosses of “5” or “6”. Modifiers are not applied to the required die roll numbers, i.e. the “5’s” and “6’s” never change. Instead, modifiers are applied in terms of whole dice.
For example, when firing at a unit in cover, a rifle squad receives 2 firing dice instead of 3, and the HMG receives 3 instead of 4. Nothing could be simpler, nothing more rapid. Note that about 80 percent of the tokens on the field will be rifle squads, and this method of assessing hits is mandatory to keep the game flowing.
One hit on the target, i.e. either a “5” or “6”, is defined as a pin… the target can no longer move, but can fire. Two hits, and the target is suppressed… it can neither move nor fire. A total of 3 hits is required for a kill. Pinned and suppressed stands must be rallied before they can fully function again. Most of the time, targets will be in cover, and a single rifle squad’s 2 fire dice are highly unlikely to produce more than a pin. The tactic, therefore, is to coordinate the fire of several squads, and, perhaps, an HMG or two, and accumulate a handful of dice to produce a definitive ‘blast’. Coordination is effected in one of two ways:
First, one firing squad can be designated as a fire-group-leader (FGL). Other stands within one stand width of the FGL may add their dice to the volley. Note that here, no specific distance from the FGL is given. Instead, the distance is specified in terms of “one stand width”… hence the use of stand sizes other than the recommended 1-inch by 1 inch may be used. In my games, my squad stands measure 2-inches by 2-inches.
Second, coordinative fire is produced by use of the platoon commander (PC). The PC is mounted on his own stand… he doesn’t fire, but his presence helps in rallying pinned and suppressed units, and in the case at interest, on concentrating fire on a single target. The PC’s requirement is twofold: (a) the PC, and the squads in his platoon, must all have a direct LOS to the target, and (b) the PC must have a LOS to each of his squads. If this occurs, the squads within the platoon may then issue cross fire on the target (hence the name of the rules). Note that the PC may coordinate fire from the squads in his platoon even though they may be quite far apart. If he can see ’em, he can coordinate ’em. The CF booklet recommends that, when setting up a scenario, at least one-third of the gaming area should be covered by terrain features,.. woods, hills, buildings, etc. A terrain feature blocks LOS, and enough of these must be present to permit a modicum of troop movement without the enemy continually blasting away. An interesting note in the book states that players “…must be careful when setting up terrain not to allow a clear fire lane from edge to edge across the table… check before play begins, and if necessary, shift terrain slightly to block LOS…”
In the first games I set up, I ignored the above warning, and discovered that the author meant what he said . . . I had way too many clear fire lanes, and squads (if you’ll pardon my use of a metaphor) were dropping like flies. Too many casualties, too soon, produced a non-game. In effect, we really weren’t playing CF properly and had no one but ourselves to blame.
Experimenting with the proper amount of terrain took a game or two… we discovered that the author’s recommendation, using one-third of the gaming area as terrain features, could be increased to almost one-half. Terrain-blocking features are as necessary a part of CF as the infantry stands themselves.
In many rules sets, when entering a wood within sight of the enemy, the moving player’s unit is protected in one of two ways: first, his unit may be out of the enemy’s weapon range. Second, he may declare whether or not his unit is on the edge of the woods, and thus may fire, and be fired at. If he’s “deep in the woods”, he’s not an eligible target. Not so with CF. Since all weapons fire along the complete LOS, you’re never out of enemy range. Secondly, the “deep in the woods” theory is not applicable.
If my squad is in woods #1, and your unit is in woods #3, and in between woods #1 and woods #3 is woods #2, then neither of us can see the other… woods #2 blocks our LOS. But as soon as either of us exits our woods, and enters woods #2, we are fair game as a target. Units in CF can “see” into adjacent terrain features. And this includes both woods and houses. Bear in mind that in CF, due to the scale, or lack of it, a “house” is a “house”, and not a village… entering a house from a point opposite to that on which an enemy squad is located makes the moving squad immediately subject to being fired upon.
Terrain features are also important when the sides move. The active player (the side with initiative) designates the path along which his squad will move. Anywhere along this path, the non-active player can shout “I can see you!” and claim what is termed reactive fire. In the fire phase that follows, if the non-active player scores only a pin on the target, the moving side continues to hold the initiative, and continues to move. If, however, the reacting player scores a suppression or a kill, he wins the initiative, and can commence to move his own troops.
The active side can also fire… if, however, he fails to score a suppression or kill, he will lose the initiative. This firing procedure, and its emphasis on suppressions and kills, is what makes the coordinative firing efforts, as previously described, so important. The objective is to amass a quantity of firing dice and blast away.
When the active player moves, then, just as in the firing procedures, there is a provision for coordinating multi-unit (multi-stand) movement. This mechanism closely parallels that used in the firing system. One squad, or, perhaps, the PC, can be designated as the moving group leader (GL). All stands within one stand width of the GL may also move. As each stand is moved, it is subject to enemy fire, and may be appropriately pinned, suppressed, or killed.
But here, although one or two stands may be hit and halted, the remaining stands in the group move up. This provides the moving side the opportunity to move an entire platoon, instead of simply declaring movement on an individual stand-by-stand basis.
CF has 9 pages devoted to orders of battle for the Axis and Allied units of WW II. Most of the OOB’s define a company as containing 3 rifle platoons, and each platoon as containing 3 rifle squads. There are exceptions: the Russian infantry set-up indicates 4 rifle squads per platoon. Belgian platoons also have 4 rifle squads in them. The US Ranger company is composed of 2 platoons, each of 2 rifle squads.
What all the above produces is a challenging game. The majority of the encounters I set up were company-versus-company affairs. With 3 rifle squads per platoon, 3 platoons per company . . . this produces a total of 9 stands (9 tokens) for the player to move. Our largest game pitted two Russian companies against two German companies. Even adding in the platoon commander stands, the company commander stands, and a tank or two, this was still a low-level game.
In this game, on a 5-foot by 5 foot table, we placed a house midfield… i.e. the “objective”… and the victory conditions stated that a side would win if either (a) it held the objective for 5 consecutive friendly initiatives, or (b) it destroyed about half of the opponent’s squads. The Germans finally emerged victorious by eliminating the requisite number of Russian stands. Occupying and holding the objective was too costly a procedure… anyone in the house immediately drew fire.
Note that CF doesn’t contain a provision for a unit morale-test. When a squad in the house was fired upon, it was up to the player to decide whether or not to keep the squad there… most rules would have had the squad take a morale test and have the squad itself decide to either stay or bolt. Indeed, CF takes the opposite tack… if a squad is hit, it’s either pinned or suppressed, and in either case, it can’t move at all.
There are provisions in CF for armored vehicles, but they look like they were grafted on the basic outline to keep the historically-minded gamer happy (“How can you play a WW II skirmish action without both infantry AND tanks?”).
For example, if a tank moves, or if it fires, it may not move or fire again during that initiative… despite the fact that accompanying infantry may be repeatedly dashing all over the place, and firing, during that initiative. Hence tank usage is rather restricted… one move, or one fire. The one exception to this occurs if the tank is armed ONLY with a MG. then it may fire more than once, since, in effect, it’s merely acting as a machine-gun platform.
Out of curiosity, I tried to compare the offensive and defensive firing capabilities of a German Pzkpfw IVG and a Russian T-34/85 in CF as contrasted with the capabilities of the same tanks as given in Conliffe’s WW II division level game, Spearhead (SH).
In CF, a tank model represents a single tank, in SH it represents a platoon of 5 vehicles. CF requires two dice tosses… the first to determine if the target is hit, the second to determine if the target is destroyed.
There’s no middle ground in CF; targeted armored vehicles are neither pinned nor suppressed, either the target is fine or it’s destroyed. Taking into account the required totals for both dice tosses, i.e. first you hit it, then you blow it up, the chance of the IVG destroying the T-34/85 is 33 percent. The chance of the T-34/85 destroying the IVG is 44 percent. SH requires only one 6 sided die toss . . . but here, the target can be either suppressed or destroyed. Looking at the percentages, the chance of the IVG hitting the T-34/85 is 50 percent (33 percent chance of suppressing it, 16 percent chance of killing it). In SH, when the T-34/ 85 fires at the IVG, the chance of hitting it is 66 percent (33 percent chance to suppress, 33 percent to kill).
Perhaps a better understanding of the CF system can be obtained by looking at the procedures involved in a very simple, short battle, This battle description was originally published in the PW Review (Potomac Wargamer’s Review). This battle was a re-creation in 15mm of the famous 999th Marine Battalion’s landing, in July 1944, on the Japanese-held island of Wallio, in the South Pacific. For our purposes, Wallio Island was laid out on an east-to-west axis, about 3-feet long, and 4.5-feet wide, and was located on the gaming table of Dave Waxtel’s basement.
Dave Waxtel is the publisher of CF, and, to my surprise, announced that he had never played the rules before publication . . . this would be a first for him.
To recap: CF is a squad-level game of WW II, wherein one token represents a squad, and the status of the squad is categorized in one of four states: good, pinned, suppressed, or destroyed. Individual casualties are not tracked, and the squad reacts in battle as a single entity.
I was the defending Japanese commander, and under me, to defend all of Wallio Island, I had one company, 3 platoons, of Highly Imperial Japanese Marines, cream of the Emperor’s crop. Each platoon consisted of 3 squads, and each squad was a stand measuring about 1 inch by 1-inch. Thus my basic company-size force was composed of 9 stands, 9 tokens.
Facing me were 3 Marine company commanders, each with a force equal in size to my own. Captain Andy Waxtel, lean and mean, landed his men on the east of the island, Captain Dave Waxtel, rough and tough, landed his men on the north shore, and Captain Fred Haub, big and brawny, set out his men on the western part of the island. The southern shore was free of the invaders.
Cap’n Dave’s men landed first. A landing craft was placed on North Beach, and the men of Platoon A jumped out and ran up the sands. As soon as they did so, I yelled: “I can see you” and the men in my Highly Imperial Kawasaki Platoon commenced firing.
Under CF, the side having the initiative, i.e. the active side, moves his forces until the men of his non-active opponent “sees” them. At this point, the non-active side gets reactive fire. Kawasaki Platoon’s 3 squads had been placed in 2 small houses on North Beach, and they could easily see the oncoming Marines. By having the platoon commander coordinate fire, they were able to amass a quantity of 6 sided firing dice.
Each rifle squad, firing at the Marines in the open, received 3 dice, thus giving me 9 dice(1). Looking for “5’s” and “6’s”, I got only one hit on the target, pinning one Marine squad. Remember that:1 hit … squad is pinned, can fire, but cannot move until rallied2 hits … squad is suppressed, can neither fire nor move until rallied3 hits … squad is destroyed.
Cap’n Dave’s men having completed their initial action, we moved to East Beach, where Cap’n Andy’s men landed. As soon as his men disembarked from the landing craft, I shouted: “I can see you…” for I had placed my second, Mitsubishi, Platoon at that location. Again I tossed 9 dice(1) and this time achieved 2 hits, suppressing one squad.
This proved fortunate for me, for if the reacting, non-moving side, can score a suppression or a kill, he wins the initiative, and can commence firing and moving his own men. In this case, however, instead of the initiative instantly reverting to me, I waited a moment for Cap’n Fred, landing his men on West Beach, to complete his action(2).
The sequence ensures, therefore, that even though I had won the initiative, all the players on a side receive at least one action before the initiative is transferred.
When Cap’n Fred’s men landed, I did not shout: “I can see you”, for the simple reason that my remaining men, those of Yokohama Platoon, didn’t have a clear view of West Beach. I had held them inland as a reserve. Thus Fred’s platoon got a “freebee”, unopposed landing.
Now that all three of the invading players had received their action, the initiative finally reverted to my side.
On North Beach, Kawasaki Platoon fired… 9 dice for “targets in the open”. Of the 9 dice(1), 2 were hits, suppressing one squad, and so I retained the initiative.
My second action was to have Mitsubishi Platoon fire again on East Beach at Cap’n Andy’s men… again 9 dice(1), again 2 hits, and I moved on.
This time my reserve, Yokohama Platoon, moved forward, advancing to West Beach where Cap’n Fred’s men had landed. As the Highly Imperial Marines of Yokohama Platoon moved forward through the rough, Fred shouted: “I can see you”… and BANG! . . . he scored 2 hits on my men, suppressing one stand. Since my men were in cover, each of Cap’n Fred’s 3 squads received only 2 dice, giving him 6 in all for his 3-squad platoon. But he had won back the initiative for the Marines.
And so it went. In time, other Marine platoons of 3-squads-each landed (the Marines had a total of 9 platoons), and with each wave, the attacking firepower increased in intensity.
One of the key landings was made by Cap’n Andy at South Beach, thereby completing the encirclement of my defending troops. The Highly Imperial Marines fought on, however, in accordance with their Highly Imperial Military Code… to the last man.
More and more of my stands were being suppressed (2 hits) and on occasion, when my rally attempts on these suppressed squads failed, I would lose the initiative, and the invading Marines would pour it on.
I should note that the two key ways to have the initiative transfer from one side to the other were (a) to attempt to rally a pinned or suppressed squad and fail, or (b) to have the opponent’s fire either suppress or kill one of your squads. Note that in (a), it might be said that you “lost” the initiative, in contrast to (b), wherein your opponent “earned” it.
If a target is already pinned – via a previous hit – another single hit on the target does not add to the existing hit to suppress it… the target remains pinned. Similarly, one hit on an already suppressed target does not add to the previous 2 hits to kill it… it simply remains suppressed. What this means is that a side’s hits on the target during a given volley must exceed the number of hits previously received by the target to have any additional impact on it. But I should mention the one exception to this… two consecutive suppressions will destroy a squad.
Back to the battle. Eventually, my Highly Imperial Japanese Marines were no more; and Wallio Island had fallen. I had lost a full company (9 stands), and the American Marine losses were slightly larger. After the battle, I asked the participants how much battle-time they thought had passed in capturing the island. The answers ranged from 3 to 4 hours to a full day of battle.
I should note that, on the beaches, I had initially placed a series of machine-gun bunkers, which were targeted by the Marine invaders’ pre-landing off-shore artillery.
We gave the Marines a total of 12 artillery barrages, each barrage consisting of 4 dice. For each barrage, the procedure was the following… first, a roll of a “1” or “2” on a single die indicated that that particular barrage never came in. If, however, the barrage was successfully called in, 4 dice were tossed after the artillery commander designated a particular target (token).
Most of the machine-gun emplacements were knocked out prior to the battle. The firing commander, for each barrage, has the choice of high explosive or of laying down a smoke screen to permit his men to move without the opposition shouting: “I can see you”. I also had one tank armed with a machine gun, whose 4 dice proved totally ineffective.
I’ve played about a dozen games of CF, and I find it fascinating. The procedure of having one side react to the opponent’s movement reminds me, in part, of a system we toyed with years ago. Side A would point to an enemy unit and state: “my unit will fire on yours.” or “My cavalry unit will charge your infantry.” or the like.
Then the opponent, Side B, got a chance to react by stating “if your unit will fire at mine, my unit will run for the nearest cover.” Side A then tossed percentage dice… he had 70 percent chance of targeting Side B’s unit before it moved. If, however, Side A was unsuccessful, Side B’s unit ran to cover, and received A’s volley protected by a cover modifier.
Similarly, if Side A’s cavalry were to charge, Side B could state: “My infantry will form square and fire.” Again, Side A tossed percentage dice, looking for his basic 70 percent chance of success. If successful, his cavalry had caught Side B’s infantry still in line; if unsuccessful, Side A’s cavalry were fired upon, and he found his horsemen attempting to impact upon a square.
Conliffe has, in very clever fashion, simplified this procedure… there’s no percentage dice throw required to react, and units of the non-active side react quite logically according to the dictates of the situation.
I’m curious to see if the procedures employed in CF will be accepted by the WW II gamer, so different are they from the standard fare being fed the wargaming public.
The text itself is well written and easily understood… unlike several current rules sets, which often require a transatlantic telephone call to the author: “What did you mean by that?’ I’ve noted that all of Conliffe’s published rules books are quite well written. Evidently, as the result of a long play-testing period and an attention to the problems that arise during the play-testing games, his rules books are extremely thorough and cover just about every situation you can encounter. At least it was so during my CF battles.
(1) Note that although 9 Dice were thrown, they were thrown in 3 groups of 3 Dice, 1 group for each firing Squad, not as one big group of 9.
(2) This was a local ‘house-rule’ used by Wally to facilitate a multi-player game.
Wally Simon passed away in May 2005, may he rest in peace. Wally was a famous, veteran personality in the United States and well known for his dislike of most “high profile” game designers and their products. He lampooned many in his ‘Potomac Wargamer’s Review’, but Crossfire was one of the few spared his wrath. Wally is one of those personalities who will always be missed. Read More >>