Mantic community member William Ayerst explains why he’s entering the Firefight… and why you should too! If you would like to write an article for the Mantic Blog, get in touch – [email protected]
Like many of us, I’ve been playing war-games on and off for many years – the halcyon days of my childhood were spent listening to heavy metal and chucking D6 around with a motley assortment of soldiers at my local shop.
While not everything old is worth keeping, I have tried several times to recapture the enjoyment I had at flipping through army books, rolling sustained fire dice and handling psychic powers – but times have indeed changed, and those older skirmish-sized game systems just weren’t up to the task.
The divide in modern gaming between skirmish and mass battle appears to be very blurred, either there are games with such a narrow focus they feel free to include layers upon layers of rules, conditions, counter-rules and reactions that much time is spent pawing through books and referring to one of seven statistics, or games that obviously started with a small force on either side have ballooned into gargantuan travesties with models 1′ wide and shoe-horned into the rule-set.
Despite being an avid Kings of War gamer (and finding my childhood goal of actually being able to collect affordably and play a mass-ranked-battle game), much to my chagrin, I’d never given much thought to Mantic’s sci-fi line. Rumours of squad multi-bases and, what at first seemed a rather generic background turned me off, way before I’d even looked at KoW.
While searching for alternatives to the currently available future-skirmish games however, someone recommended FireFight in a forum thread and after seeing the free ‘Operation Heracles’ PDF and playing a solo demo game, I was instantly hooked.
Game sizes are based on points values, around 500 being the smallest skirmish and 1,250pts being the the average ‘small’ game, representing a couple of squads at one end of the scale or full platoon at the other. The mechanics are a great balance between speed and complexity – After my first game, I have not needed to refer to the rule book since!
Many historical games for example, have few statistics and rely heavily on modifiers (both innate and situational) to present the difference between units. On the contrary, early fantasy war-games based on RPG-lines have rafts statistics and tables. Firefight (and Kings of War) tread a very careful line between the two with a small stat line, and a few modifiers, and where units are differentiated primarily by having a selection from the standard library of universal special rules, with very few unique ‘dangling’ rules or abilities.
My favourite aspect of Firefight is how it handles turnarounds – many modern games are oriented towards a single crucial point: the apex and culmination where the battle is won or lost. This can be a particular unstoppable combination of abilities, a buffed dice roll out of nowhere or exploiting a single mistake. Firefight definitely provides these mechanics too – but there’s no single game-winning action, as a executor you must be able to capitalise strategically, not just tactically – and as the recipient you almost always have a chance of recovering and you never feel the inevitability of guaranteed loss when someone winds up their mega-combo.
A fantastic example of this is Suppression. In many games, suppression or lack of cohesion represents a discrete count at which point the unit is destroyed. Firefight provides mechanics for both gaining and removing suppression from units – but when that unit reaches a critical mass of suppression it can choose to stay and fight (possibly losing more men to battle fatigue), or retreat back, at which point it loses most of its suppression. It’s something to be managed and can cause squads to falter and fail, but won’t win the game alone.
The name of the game is tactical decision making, matched with strategic genius – not winning the game based on your army list and it’s combinations. The rules never get in the way, and there’s very little page-turning and referencing after you have your first few games: quite a worlds apart from other games in the same space.