My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Testing Hail of Fire, Part One

After a few false starts I have decided not to review rules until after I get a good test game or two in. It is usually only one test if I think the results are good. If the game itself has some interesting concepts that I am working through I will sometimes post the battle report before post the review. That does not mean that the game has passed muster, but that it has certainly piqued my interest.

Hail of Fire (available in beta on WargameVault) is a:
company-level, WWII themed miniatures war game designed to be both simple and easy to learn while keeping both players engaged in the action! And best of all, the rules are only few pages long! So print out the PDF, throw some models on the table, and jump right into the exciting tabletop combat!

Using a fast, interactive turn sequence, players are always in the fight. The addition of hidden action points, fast and easy deployment, and a delayed combat resolution system ensures that both commanders will be fighting the friction and fog of war as much as they are each other!
After chatting with the author on TMP in various threads I also learned that these rules can easily be used with troops using Flames of War basing, which is why I picked them up. I like Neil Thomas'  Second World War Wargaming, and intend to give them another try, but I am still open to other rules.

I purchased the rules, downloaded and printed them out, and decided to give them a try this weekend. Now blogging the action while gaming always slows the game down tremendously, but it also helps you remember what part of the rules you got stuck on in the moment you got stuck. As I wanted to provide some good feedback to the author, I figured that in the beginning I needed to take this slower approach. Besides, I had already read the author's rules previously, resulting in asked questions, and I discovered that his writing style is a bit ... subtle. So here goes part one of the first test game.

Hail of Fire Test Game 1

Terrain

The battle runs east-west with the Americans attacking from the west and the Germans defending the east side of the board. Note that I am not playing on the long edges, but the short ones.

View from the South
View from the North
By the way, ignore the river that suddenly ends. That was the spot where I was keeping my iPad while blogging.

Forces

Initially I just started pulling out troops and using what looked good and sounded reasonable. At some point I thought I was way out of line in points, so I decided to buy my troops according to my Third Edition Flames of War army books. I used the generic ones, not any unit or battle-specific ones.

The Germans have the following forces:
  • Grenadierkompanie
    • Company Command HQ
      • Two Panzerfaust SMG teams @ 35 + 20 
      • Anti-Tank section of one Panzerschreck team @ 20
      • Mortar section of two 8cm GW43 mortar teams @ 40
      • Sniper section of two Sniper teams @ 100 
    •  Grenadier platoons 3 @ 120 + 10 each
      • Platoon HQ section of one Panzerfaust SMG team
      • Three Grenadier squads totaling six Rifle/MG teams
    • Grenadier Machine Gun platoon (under strength) @ 60 + 5 + 50
      • Platoon HQ section of one Command Panzerknacker SMG team
      • Machine Gun section of two MG42 HMG teams
      • Two HMG nests
    • Grenadier Anti-Tank platoon @ 80
      • Platoon HQ section of one Command SMG team
      • Two 7.5cm PaK 40 gun teams
    • Grenadier Assault Gun platoon @ 220
      • Platoon HQ section of one StuG G
      • Two Assault Gun sections of one StuG G each
Total: 1020 points.

The German forces arrayed
I am allowing all of the Company HQ to be on the board and not count towards the unit totals. Unlike man other rules, one-half of the defender's force must be kept off-board in reserve. That means three units are on the board (the Anti-Tank platoon, the Machine Gun platoon and a single Grenadier platoon) and three are off (two Grenadier platoons and the Assault Gun platoon).

The Americans have the following forces:
  • Medium Tank company
    • Company Command HQ
      • Two M4A1 Shermans @ 140
    • Medium Tank platoons 2 @ 205 each
      • Platoon HQ section of one M4A1 Sherman
      • Two Tank sections of one M4A1 Sherman each
    • Armored Reconnaissance platoon @ 110 + 5
      • Platoon Command M8 armored car team
      • M8 armored car team
      • Mortar Jeep team with Hull MG
      • Recon Jeep team with AA MG
    • Armored Infantry platoon @ 225 + 20
      • Platoon HQ section
        • One Command Rifle team
        • One Rifle team
        • One Bazooka team
        • One M3 half-track with .50 cal AA MG
      • Two Armored Infantry squads each of
        • Two Rifle teams
        • One Bazooka team
        • One M3 half-track with .50 cal AA MG
      • 60mm Mortar squad
        • One M2 60mm mortar squad
        • One Bazooka team
        • One M3 half-track with .50 cal AA MG
      • LMG squad
        • Two M1919 LMG teams
        • One Bazooka team
        • One M3 half-track with .50 cal AA MG
    • Field Artillery Battery (155mm) @ 110
      • One Gun section of two M1 155mm howitzer teams (off board)
      • One Observer Carbine team with Jeep
Total: 1020 points.

The American forces, all fuzzy
Any American units can start up to 14" on the board from the western baseline.

Pre-Game

I did change the pre-game rules a bit, but it should have no real affect on game play.
  • My playing area is 50" by 60", not 48" by 72".
  • My baselines were the short edges, not the long edges. I did that so I could have more range and because the terrain "felt better" going east-west than it did north-south. Plus, I did not want to rotate all of the terrain after I spent so much time setting it up.
All defending forces on the board are considered hidden and dug-in (in hard cover, until they move). All attacking forces are considered hidden1, but not dug in. The interesting part is that hidden troops do not need to pre-plot their positions and are revealed later in the game. This reminds me of the Flames of War ambush rules. When a hidden infantry or gun team is revealed it must be in the player's deployment zone – although it may possibly be deployed even farther forward (but not farther than their forwardmost unit) – and must be either outside of line of sight of the enemy or in concealing terrain at least 12" away from enemy infantry and gun teams or 4" away from enemy vehicle teams. Hidden, defending, vehicle teams that are concealed are spotted at twice the above distances. Reconnaissance units can spot enemy teams further still.

Turn 0

Hail of Fire uses a command system to determine how many orders each side gets each turn. At the start of the game each player secretly rolls a D6 and that is the number of "Hero" points that they have. These are essentially command points that can be used at any time. Once used they are gone. However, there is a luck-based system for replenishing Hero points.

The Americans roll a '4' for their Hero die while the Germans roll a '3'.

The Germans place their objective, a communications bunker to the east of the village, west of the river.

Objective for the Americans to capture
The Americans indicate that their objective is the farm house south of road.

Objective for the Germans to capture
It wasn't really clear to me on how to start. Technically both sides are hidden1, which means you cannot check line of sight to see who is revealed. So I decided to allow the Americans to deploy all of the units that they wanted to deploy onto the board, revealed. The rest would remain hidden and thus have to follow the rules of hidden units revealing themselves. After the Americans deployed all of the revealed units, the Germans would then reveal any of the units they wanted to and deploy those forces to the board.

If no units were in line of sight, it would still be "Turn 0" and the Americans could then move, unit by unit without regard to the number of Order (as described in the rules) until something did come into line of sight of the Germans. At that point Turn 1 would start. Of course, if after deployment by the Americans and Germans enemy units were in sight of each other, Turn 1 would immediately start.

The Americans decided to deploy their reconnaissance platoon and nothing else. As they are reconnaissance teams in vehicles, they can spot enemy infantry and gun teams out to 10" (to 20" for enemy vehicle teams). Because there are linear instances everywhere (hedges, but not hedgerows), the reconnaissance team is 16" from the centerline (which is the German's deployment zone) and they can only see 10" (there are no vehicles hidden on the board), the Germans can decide to deploy nothing. However, because they want the Americans to go to Turn 1 as soon as possible, they decide to deploy a sniper.

American recon moves in from the west while a German sniper is revealed as being deployed in a house

Turn 1

The Americans roll a '6' and the Germans a '5' for their orders. This means the Americans get one order while the Germans will get five and can act first. Ambush!

The Germans start by trying to bring one Grenadier platoon on (south of the road, east of the field complex) and the Assault Gun platoon on (via the east road) by using three orders. Only two infantry teams appear on the edge of the table. (No picture, because it is right where the iPad sits.)

The sniper wants to fire on the lead (recon) jeep so we can see how that works. Now there are no Sniper team rules in Hail of Fire so here is what I am doing.
Sniper: 24" range, Rate of Fire 1, Armored Vehicle Assault -, Infantry, -1 Firing modifier
In hindsight, the range should probably be 16" as the firing modifier allows the sniper to fire at double range and still obtain a hit fairly easily (4+).
The sniper uses the fourth order to fire and scores a Received Fire Point (RFP) on the recon jeep. The recon jeep will have to resolve the effect of the RFP once the unit receives an order.
The concept that you don't know the effect of your fire until the target unit receives an order is an interesting one. A player can completely avoid the effects of fire until he needs to unit to do something (like move or fire). This allows a unit to survive on an objective, for example, until it acts. Unfortunately, you have to take that Received Fire Check right at the time you need the unit to do something, so waiting too long increases the chance that the unit is destroyed from accumulated fire.
Now I reach a questionable part of the rules: can a unit fire more than once? It specifically states that "a Unit may be given several orders over a single turn" and does not put any qualifiers on that statement. Elsewhere in the rules it indicates a gun team may not use a fire order after having used a move order in that turn. But that is it. I am going to allow it, until I get an answer from the author on TMP.2

So, does the reconnaissance platoon want to use its order to return fire, move to cover in reaction, or does it want to wait until it is the acting player to move or fire?  There really is no reason to wait so the Americans decide to use its single order to make a reaction move.

First, the Americans have to resolve the RFP on the recon jeep team. This is passing a Received Fire Check (RFC). All small arms fire at soft-skinned vehicles resolve as if firing at infantry in hard cover. The sniper gets a suppressed result against the recon jeep indicating it must be rallied before it can move or fire. Rallying can be attempted each time the unit receives an order and it has no RFPs (so not this time). Rallying is basically passing a Quality Check, which is rolling a 4+ for this team.

The reconnaissance platoon rolls a '7' on 2D6 for a movement of 7". The command M8 can add 12" to that move if it stays on the road. Everyone moves to a position of cover (as best as possible).

The American recon platoon reacts to the sniper fire
However, the lead M8 has moved forward enough that it is within 10" of a hedge line that I was considering for placing my German grenadier platoon. If I don't place it now – allowing the recon unit to spot them – I will lose my chance to place them there.
There is a rule that states: "If revealed during enemy movement, subtract the distance moved from the listed ranges." So, the M8 moved 7", reducing their spotting distance from 10" to 3". That rule allows the Germans to reveal an infantry or gun team in concealing terrain as close as 3" away if done in reaction to the M8 unit's move. Once its move is over, that rule would no longer apply, so the unit would need to be outside of 10" range.
I decide to reveal the Grenadier unit and place it behind the hedge. It is just too good a position, and I need to put forces on the board to stop the drive on the communications bunker.

The German grenadiers are revealed
I need to keep RFPs on the recon jeep so that it cannot rally, so I fire the sniper at it again as my last German order for the turn. Unfortunately, the sniper did not like the idea of sticking his head out when staring at six machine guns and two 37mm cannons, and he missed the shot.

Turn 2

The Americans get two order and can act first while the Germans get one order.

The American give a fire order to the reconnaissance platoon. This allows the recon jeep to attempt to rally, but it doesn't succeed, so it does not get to fire with the rest of the teams.

The grenadier platoon – actually one specific team – is declared the target and any other team within 6" (and apparently, whether in the same unit or not3) can also be an eligible target if enough RFPs are scored.

There are, of course, no M8 armored cars defined in the game this early in the development cycle, so I use the M3 Stuart for the main gun stats and note that the M8 has two Vehicle MG entries.
M8 AC: armor off the scale at the low end
Main Gun: 16" range, ROF 2, AT 2
Vehicle MG x 2: 16" range, ROF 2, AVA -, AT -, May not fire if Main Gun is firing
It looks like it makes more sense to fire the MGs, given that main guns and vehicle machines guns – whether hull, co-axial, or the commander's AA MG – may not both fire. With the two M8s I would get eight dice @ -1 (concealment) as opposed to four dice @ 0 (no concealment when firing HE from main guns). The mortar jeep adds two more dice @ -1 for a total of ten dice @ -1. There are a total of five teams that can be hit and an astonishing five hits are scored!

Germans undergoing heavy fire from the American reconnaissance platoon

The Germans decide not to react, so play stays with the Americans, who think it is time to order a tank platoon. It is at this point that I realize only defending vehicle units can be hidden on board, and as there are no positions on the board for American vehicles to be out of line of sight, so that means they have to come on from off board.

Actually, I am good with that as the action so far has represented the reconnaissance platoon revealing the potential ambushes and now the cavalry is riding to the rescue. The Americans order a platoon of Shermans to move up the road. With their roll and the road bonus they move 14".

American Sherman platoon advances on the board

The Germans have one more order and the sniper again attempts to continue the recon jeep's suppression, this time succeeding to put an RFP on it.

With American tanks coming on the Germans need armor reinforcements. The Germans decide to use all three Hero points to obtain reinforcements and they succeed. The assault gun platoon can now be ordered onto the board next turn!

German StuG platoon ready to clank on the board

Thoughts So Far

Quite simply, I like the almost episodic style of the combat. Something occurs in one area until some event triggers, forcing focus to shift to another area. It feels like the battle is unfolding.

Note that there are only two turns played. To be honest, it took me two days to get this far, but it was really my fault. I did not clean up from my last game. (I can leave games setup without fear of it being disturbed.) I spent a lot of time digging up and laying out the terrain. I organized my units in order to find certain elements I wanted to try, etc., etc., etc. It took me two tries to get a final army list for both sides. (I finally succumbed to using the Flames of War army lists and points system.)

I also have a habit of skimming the rules and deep reading a section when it finally comes up in play. That did not work very well here because the sections on setup and hidden units deeply affect play. These rules are like Peter Pig's PBI in that the defender's purchased force is not the force that you are going to have available at the start of the game. That alone caused me to reboot the game once.

I absolutely love the simple, yet effective way the author has made hidden unit deployment so accessible to the gamer. When I started the game I sat there for a few minutes thinking "Now what?" I was staring at a terrain-filled board with no enemy units showing. You had to start thinking about lines of sight and avenues of approach ... just like they taught you in the US Marine Corps manuals! If there is any negative to this approach it is that many casual gamers simply react to the situation whenever it is their turn to move. They would likely be stymied by this approach.

So far this has been very accessible playing solo. The "unfolding" aspect of it is what I think does it. Although the Hero die is supposed to be hidden information, it escapes me why it is. Who cares if you have six points? I as the opposing player am not going to change how I play one bit knowing that you have six points and I have two. Maybe I missed some bidding aspect of the rules in a section I skimmed over?

To Be Continued in Part Two…

Footnotes

1 As it turns out, this was incorrect. Vehicle teams on the attacker's side are not considered hidden. This is a case where one general rules says all attackers are hidden and then a later rule specifies that only the defender's vehicle teams are hidden. This is what I mean about the author's sometimes subtle style of rules writing.

2 Asked and answered. Yes, a unit can fire more than once per turn if given multiple orders. If it has enough orders it can fire multiple times in both the active and reactive phases.

3 Asked and answered. Yes, fire designated as being at a team with one unit can hit a team in a different unit as long as that second team is within 6" of the first team and within range and line of sight of the firers.

3 comments:

  1. Awesome article and gorgeous table ;) Looking forward to more notes and insight!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great analysis Dale. Ive played a few games of HOF and i like it very much. I have not, however, used the hidden rules and reading your post makes it seem like a completely different game.

    The delayed RFP concept took a little getting used to but turned out to be a hidden gem with the rules. Cant wait to read more!

    ReplyDelete
  3. very good. I like that the system can handle a respectable sized force in a relatively compact area.

    ReplyDelete

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").