Saturday, September 29, 2018

Saturday Night CROSSFIRE: The Assault on Tula!

Alex and Dave were over Friday night for a historical Crossfire match-up straight from the "Hit the Dirt" Crossfire scenario book.  Last night we played the eastern front "Assault on Tula" scenario from the drive on Moscow in October, 1941.  This scenario featured a combined-arms assault by the famed "GrossDeutschland" Regiment against elements of a Soviet NKVD Regiment.

The Germans officers Alex and Dave plotting their next moves.  Note the yellow dice which are our classic "Crossfire Time Clock" dice!

The Germans have 2 x understrength companies (platoons of 2 x squads each) with which to seize all of the buildings around Tula including the Brickworks (we used the Stalingrad Barrikady Foundry from Novus).

They also have 3 fire missions of heavy artillery, and 7 fire missions with battalion mortars.  Lots of firepower!

By the way, I have an under-strength NKVD company sized blocking detachment with some extra HMGs, Anti Tank rifles, and I'm supposed to have snipers and a pair of deadly 85mm AA guns but didn't want to figure out how to model those so I just used the infantry, ATRs, and HMGs.  I have no mortars or artillery.  Per the HtD scenario book, I should also have some fortifications as well as a huge log pile to slow down Fritz.

Using the Hit the Dirt timeclock, the Germans are to step off at 1300 hours and seize the buildings no later than 1700 hours.  The timeclock advances 30 minutes when a "5+" is rolled on a 1D6.  You roll to advance the clock every time the initiative switches to the Soviets.  I think we ended the game somewhere around 1530 hours.

Dave's armor moving out.  We ended up, un-intentionally, using the armor rules from Steven's Balagan which treat armor more like infantry stands.

Alex dealing with the presence of an HMG on his left flank.  That would probably be the Soviet's most successful unit for the entire game.
Germans step up to the line of departure for the attack

Panzer IIIs churning their way towards Moscow
 The Germans start shooting the near side of Tula with a heavy weapons platoon which Alex had as part of his MTOE.  2 HMG sections and their very own Platoon Leader.  It's a great idea and works very well suppressing the Soviets in the worker's cabins.

These men would be suppressed for the rest of the game.
 The Soviets (me) could have made some smarter deployment decisions IE not using your Company Commander to hold a flank down, keeping platoon leaders closer and more centralized so you can mass fires better.  The Soviets suffered from very sporadic and ineffective shooting throughout the game and I dont think ever actually knocked out a German squad. 

It's about as a-historical as could be, but that's because of the commanders decisions, not the rules!  in real life the Germans had to pull back from Tula and wait for the ground to freeze so they could bring in more tanks!

 I also had a SMG platoon attached which I used my scouts for.  These guys are deadly in close combat, provided they get into close combat.  They are terrible for holding ground though, and would have been much better suited to counter-attacking or city fighting with Crossfire's building sector rules.  Dave and Alex knew that I only could use 2 dice at range with them in the open.  So they carefully maneuvered against them and then formed a massive company-sized crossfire against them, systematically eliminating stands one by one. 

It's a good plan and it's also gratifying to see the rules "clicking" with these guys!  This was Alex's second game, and Dave's first after a long hiatus.

 I also experienced the infuriatingly disappointing Soviet Anti Tank rifle which would have needed "boxcars" to hit and kill the Panzer III to its front.  Things arent going well and the Kommissar is glaring at me with his hand on his pistol! 

Germans scrambling up into cover.  this platoon would be something of a reserve unit for the Germans.

I manage an initial suppressing shot against a Geman HMG early on.

Panzers Vorwarts!

Dave moves his company forward to surround and flank the brickworks while my SMG gunners can only watch.  1 die to shoot is too risky for me and they might go "NO FIRE" so I dont even bother, instead hoping they'll close-assault the brickworks outright.  They dont!

The heavy artillery dropped almost 13 inches of smoke to cover the advance!  Plus my HMG is suppressed in the brickworks.

Germans advancing on Tula - note the AT ditch to the right.  

Germans occupying key terrain around the brickworks.  They won't dare enter though.  The SMG's get a whopping 4 shooting dice prior to close combat!
 The Germans take out squads one after the other until the building is clear of SMG stands, they then close assault the suppressed HMG stand and ATR stand.  It's brutal combat!

 Dave and Alex saved their last heavy artillery mission for the house that's hiding my reserve platoon.  It's devastating and they score a kill, meaning up to 3 additional squads in the house are suppressed.  I call the game!
This is the end!

We should really get out of here, huh?

Alex and Dave planning their next moves.  Everyone was fully engaged the entire game and had a great time.  There were no lags or down-time.
Second week in a row of Crossfire and another game that took a little bit more than 2 hours to complete.  Not bad considering there were 3 x infantry companies on the table, a platoon of armor, and artillery in support.  Alex and Dave got the hang of things quickly and while we had to search for some rules, most turns we didn't even have to consult the QRS.  This was a great, albeit costly, game for me and I have to be honest about some lessons I re-learned:

Company / Battalion Commander Placement
Both sides struggled with the placement of company / battalion commanders.  The CO needs to be in a position where he can see things, and coordinate crossfires from multiple platoons.  The key to victory in Crossfire is coordinating Crossfires with support teams and with multiple platoons, giving you the best chance to kill something.

In my case, I needed my CO centrally located to coordinate counter-attacks, and fire into important kill zones.

Coordinated Defense
Units' fire needs to be tied into a larger defensive scheme.  An HMG is a powerful weapon but it's not as effective unless it's tied into a platoon network of linked fires.  (gosh if this doens't sound "real world" I dont know what is).

SMG Units
These powerful units are best kept in reserve where they can be employed in counterattacking, preferably with an HMG to "soften up" defenders prior to going in.  They are very powerful if used correctly and took an entire company to "winkle" them out of position.

All in all a great game with great company, and a great time after a long week at work.  Once again, Crossfire deliver everything it promised and all in less than 3 hours.


  1. Great looking game Steve. Crossfire is simple to pick up, hard to master, but does give an entertaining game. With the tank amendments, maybe it is the obvious successor to Squad Leader on the tabletop that we've been looking for, for so long?

    1. Hi Darren. So, maybe. You definitely get the same level of command as in squad leader but the actions must be much more coordinated for success. I love it.

  2. A ton of action, very good, looks like an absorbing game. Do you think CF will become your WWII game of choice for this scale of game? I have just got Iron Cross from Great Escape Games on the reading table at the moment. There is a lot of choice around.

    1. Hi Norm. Not sure about that. There are many things i love about CF but it's not great as a solo game. Many of my games are solo so im still shopping around.

      Iron Cross is a wonderful game that is much like crossfire and i really enjoy it. Again, not much of a solo game. The seizing initiative feature a d reactions are much more satisfying against another human IMHO. Tigers at Minsk is great for solo games but i have trouble with my terrain using 15mm and 4 inch hexes as well as trouble bringing my attacks home. In fact in almost all of my TAM games, i think the attackers won once!

      When my microarmor project comes to WWII i may try TAM out in 6mm.

      Random question- Have you played Old School Tactical?

  3. Excellent game there, I've been considering Crossfire for some time, never played it but have only heard good things from those that do.....Food for thought as I have a ton of WWII 15s laying about!

    1. Well worth your time Don. Its a great game and lots of fun. Alot of people decry the armor rules but i use the modifications from the Stevens Balagan blog which offer an alternative for them. (Personally i dont think there is anything wrong with the armor rules as they are, but the Balagan mods let you do more stuff with your tanks on the table each turn.)

  4. Thank you for sharing this, I was a huge Crossfire fan 20 years ago. I need to dust it off again and your group has inspired me, thanks!

    1. Cheers Jozi. It's one of my favorites that's for sure. We plan on playing plenty more crossfire so stay tuned!

  5. Good looking game, and looked to be lots of fun. You mentioned having problems with your company fire plan; I’ve played Crossfire many times (and every time I see a cool batrep like this it makes me want to give it another runout) but just can’t seem to get it to work.

    I’m sure what I’m going to say will make no sense, as it can be applied to practically every set of rules, but Crossfire’s unique activation system seems to accentuate it: on the ‘empty battlefield’ it the ‘ambush mentality’ was was hammered into us. What can be seen can be hit and what can be hit can be killed, so the use of cover and concealment, and the ability to go firm, even in an offensive posture (I.e., a hasty ambush on a combat patrol or movement to contact), was paramount and drilled into our heads.

    So my problem was always the aspect of stepping out of cover/concealment and drawing fire, or remaining in cover to take a shot at enemy troops in cover, with the likelihood of suppressing or knocking out the enemy being extraordinarily small, thus thus ceding the initiative. When you’re taught to seize and hold the initiative at all costs. Well, at least in the Corps, don’t know about you doggies ;)

    So it was always so difficult for me, and my opponent, to push something you know is going to cost you the initiative, and so stalemate ensued. We both figured that smoke and establishing a ‘crossfire’ was the answer, but a sound defensive structure and willingness to commit reserves (since they can do so quickly and easily, and even go economy of force and pull units from other areas of the line, even pull back, deny the flank, and shorten the line) always seemed to beat us to the punch. For me, Crossfire always seemed to really get ‘company in the defense correct, both structurally (2 up 1 back, positioning/emphasis on MGs, supporting fires) and “I occupy the ground I stand on AND that which can cover by fire.” Another nod to the defense are the spotting/hidden units rules.

    Further regarding the offensive building up of the firing line/establishing a crossfire, we further hampered ourselves by using tanks as written in the rules (so not particularly/overly effective), and we didn’t tend to use much in the way of artillery, which seemed very powerful, to the point of overpowering the game, though we may been playing the arty rules incorrectly, we always had a hard time with them.

    So I’m fully prepared for a barrage of ‘you were screwing it up!’ We probably were; I’m going to look at the Balagan site regarding tanks, and id love to hear your procedures for arty, hoping you’ve simplified/streamlined them. This makes me want to pull out some large forces and give it another shot. I think the only ones I can still put a battalion on the table for both sides (1 stand is 1 squad) is WWII Eastern Front in 10mm.


    1. Hey Jack,
      So this was "deja vu all over again" and I went back and read your Mediterranean post from the last CF game you played with your son. I also read all of the other comments folks wrote on your post. Honestly, from the look of that post, you played it right.

      If the game isn't for you then it isn't for you and there's nothing wrong with that.

      I would say that playing with a time clock really breaks the impasse and the hesitancy with breaking from cover. The game's more about coordinating all of those elements in order to enable you to keep the initiative longer (multiple, large crossfires with movement enabled by smoke). If you're playing with a fixed amount of time through initiative swaps, then it becomes about getting the unit moving, under fire.

      Also, I wouldn't fixate on the desired effects from a single (or bout of) shooting event(s), even if it is from a big Crossfire. The time-span is elastic and sh*t happens. It may take way longer to suppress the enemy than the initial bursts of fire from the team/squad in contact. I think CF models that relationship and friction rather nicely, but again, it's not everyone's cup of tea and that's perfectly OK.

      Personally, I've felt the artillery rules are "just right" considering how much smoke you will need for a battalion attack. We played with "heavy artillery" the other night and the big 150mm guns were able to successfully screen a company's advance. That's about right I think for WWII. Dave and Alex really only used an HE mission from the big guns once and to good effect (that is, it killed or KO"d one squad, and suppressed the other ones close to it). I dont see that as too overwhelming but rather right in line with the "commander's guidance" we had in our FDCs. So many guns used to suppress so many troops / vehicles /etc. A kill resulted on a single squad from a BATTERY of 150mm guns and rendered squads close to it temporarily combat ineffective.

      The goal is to keep the initiative, but CF recognizes that "sh*t happens" and this I absolutely love. You're making decisions constantly about fire and movement, cover, concealed routes, and integrating supporting fires but there is an elegant element of friction woven into the whole thing.

      In regards to Armor, the Balagan site treats tanks more like infantry squads, enabling them to perform fire groups, use group movement and essentially do all the things their infantry counterparts can do. It worked well.

    2. Steve,

      Dammit man, am I starting to repeat myself already? ;)
      Please forgive me; regarding that CF in the Mediterranean fight, I've been kinda aggravated with myself that I played with such small forces on such a small table, I don't think it scales well down.

      Still don't know that the game isn't for me, I certainly want it to be for me! ;)

      Regarding arty, it may be 'just right,' I really don't recall any more, and I sold my book last year. What you had happen certainly sounds perfect, I just have a vague recollection that it was a bit confusing to us and so we didn't really use it, just on-table mortars.

      I love the concept of fluidity, and I keep wondering if I just need to get it on a bigger table with (relatively) smaller forces. Might have to give it a run out, though not sure when as I've got quite a full plate right now.


    3. It's not going anywhere :)

      bigger table, and more terrain. battalion mortars with 12 x fire missions and a company + per side ought to give you a great game. The historical scenarios from HtD are good - be sure to try Mac's Missions with a time clock (can't stress the time clock piece enough - makes you get out of cover and onto the objective).

      I hope it is for you - I sure love it!

  6. Hey, who's that ugly bald guy in the pics!? oh wait...that's me.

    So I am definitely not an expert in Crossfire, but I like the way it forces me to think. We have played two games that were very "cooperative" and have been encouraging each other in "re-dos" and such b/c it's a learning experience. While Dave and I thought our way thru to a successful attack on part of the board, I can't honestly say Steve did everything he could to thwart us - he did do everything he could to help us think our way into the game. So that's a good teacher / host.

    I can see competitive players having some problems with the game. It can certainly be more random than some other games. If you successfully Suppress or stay out of LoS of the opponent's squads, you can move freely [as in just pick everything up and move it where you like] all over the board. This is where setting up the terrain is key, and setting up your squads is key - you cannot let your opponent have total freedom, so you may have to [shudder] restrain from firing squads that don't have good shots and will get a "no fire" result.

    I think Arty Conliffe is living out a dare with this rules design, but that doesn't mean they can't work for most people. For example, he himself suggests that you can have multi-player games by allowing there to be - for a side of 3 players - THREE unsuccessful actions for a side instead of just one. So couldn't we limit a sides actions with a fixed "Action Clock" instead of a random turn progression? Say, increments of up to 10 total Actions, even if one has lost the Initiative? Might work, might need to be 6 instead. I don't know yet.

    There's lots of simple things one can do to fix the game's few extremes. The bottom line is that Arty C has done us all a service by giving us a set of rules that makes us think a lot more about being Soldiers than about being chart-readers, rules-manipulators and scenario-breakers. And that says a lot.

    I think with a cooperative spirit, mature gamers can play a lot of games of crossfire that read like a memoir - way more than most games.

    As for squad leader, I went thru all my old stuff, and ya know, it's very dated. Very chart and mechanics driven. My goal in SL is to work the mechanics to my advantage as often as possible. Frankly, there are too many mechanics and too much false differentiation for contemporary game theory. It's not that we are better, but I think we have "moved on" in what we expect from games. Not that I will stop playing toy Soldier Donald Featherstone type games, but they probably won't be my go-to, just a beer'n pretzel change of pace.

    OK, so I suspect that Steve "let the wookies win" this time [altho wookies may be incorrect...they've more hair]. But we did have him under a lot of pressure and we succeeded in working a plan that made complete sense and seemed realistic. If we played again with his heavy AA guns and snipers, maybe we would've struggled to take as much ground as we did.

    But no doubt that we had a lot of fun AND we felt like Soldiers while we were doing it.

    Say...anyone want to sell their copy of the rules??

    1. Haha thank you for commenting, Alex. In all honesty, I was mentally exhausted on Friday night but you guys had a very solid plan and you executed it well, and you're seeing the merits of what I believe are a very solid and well thought out (heck...genius) set of rules that are unlike most others.

      There are a few variants that have CF broken down into solid "turns" and those are frankly very neat systems in their own right. (Stephen Phenow's "Gepanzerte Faust" comes to mind which is Crossfire with a turn sequence). The increments thing would be fun. I had thought about rolling for actions with progressively higher dice based on troop quality (so veterans can roll a D12, regulars a D10, etc) and this would give you your actions for your "turn." That might be fun.

      I think you hit the nail on the head, Alex. I think Darren and I were "chasing a dream" in that we're looking for a set of rules at the "company level" to emulate the feelings and decision making that we go through when we played squad leader.

      I've probably given up on that quest, and have instead tried searching for a rules set where I can maneuver squads around the battlefield. It would seem Crossfire is that set of rules for me.

      What CF gets absolutely right is, as you stated, the decision making is more about fire and maneuver, cover and concealment, and solving tactical problems than anything else. In my humble opinion, that's the gold standard. I'm thrilled that you and Dave enjoy it so much and Im always happy to host more games! I am looking forward to many more.

      OMM has reprints of CF but not sure about the price.