Fireball Forward – Pacific Theater
A while back I got the opportunity to go for a day of games doing more tests on the forthcoming company level WWII rules, Fireball Forward. I’ve gotten a chance to play a few games at the HMGS cons and have liked what I’ve seen so far. I knew Mark and the guys had been working on PTO a lot, so jumped at the chance to drive to “the city” and take in a couple of PTO games.
The first game I played in was part of a series of games covering the assault by the Ichiki Detachment against the Marine positions along the Tenaru River/Alligator Creek/Ilu River south of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal . This scenario depicted the initial hasty attack by the Japanese and was conducted with minimal support or preparation, so we knew we were in for a tough slog.
I was on the Japanese side and the other Japanese player and I (my apologies to anyone present – I’m awful with names even in the short term, so totally hopeless here 3 weeks after the fact) devised a plan to send half our force to try and force a crossing upstream while the other half (my half) pinned down what we expected to be the bulk of the Marines positioned near the sandbar at the river’s mouth. As our forces moved up through the coconut groves and jungle along the river the opposite bank exploded with Marine fire, driving many of our squads back into deeper cover. It soon became clear that the Marine defense was extended much further upstream than we originally anticipated. We quickly decided to reverse our roles (a possibility we had considered), with the guys upstream providing pinning fire as much as possible while I tried to work my way across the sand bar. HQ had sent one single supporting asset with us – a flamethrower team. If I could work that weapon up to the marine positions, I could perhaps turn their line.
A couple of my rifle squads moved out to try and reconnoiter the Marine positions across the sand bar. The initial attempts were driven back, but eventually my troops reached the Marine barbed wire and destroyed it with bangalore torpedoes. Our rifle squads moved up and poured as much fire as possible on the Marine positions, killing few, but suppressing enough to allow the flamethrower team to move out. The unit sprinted across the sand bar and let loose with the flamethrower. The targeted marine MG team survived the blast, but the sight of the flamethrower sent an panic through the Marine lines and marine squads all along the lower end of the river retreated in panic into the coconut grove. However, only a single squad of Japanese infantry was available to follow up the attack. The platoon commander pulled his katana and led the squad forward in a banzai charge. However the sprint across the sand bar must have taken too much out of the troops as they were unable to press the advantage. Soon the marines rallied and pushed back few Japanese on the Marine side of the sand bar.
With my attack defeated and my company mostly shattered, the last desperate hope fell to the other Japanese company who made a valiant effort to ford the creek upstream and reach the Marine side of the river. My remaining squads moved up to provide as much covering fire as possible. We were able to get a couple of teams over the river, but the marines had reserves in the deeper jungle (reinforced by Marine teams previously forced back) and counterattacked to drive back the IJA.
We had not managed to get a foothold on the opposite bank of the river, but we gave the marines a good scare.
The second game I played was a very interesting scenario depicting the first U.S. tank battle of the war during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in late December of 1941. Elements of the US 192nd Tank Battalion encountered Japanese while attempting to break through to counterattack the Japanese landings. I switched over to the US side for this game and had command of a section of 2 M3 Stuarts. Our side also had a second section of three Stuarts as well as some US and Philippine infantry units. The infantry was already engaged with the Japanese in confused fighting, so the US and Japanese were randomly scattered around the table. However tanks were known to be in the area and each side could score victory points primarily by killing enemy tanks. There were some huts in the village that could be captured for VP, but they could also be crushed by tanks and rendered valueless, making them a dangerous gamble.
The game opened with some infantry movements by both sides. Some advancing Japanese infantry was caught by fire from the Philippine MG team. The Japanese responded with a charge against the Philippine troops, driving them out of their initial cover and across a dry rice field. A pair of concealed Japanese Type 89 medium tanks opened up on them as well, and although they were forced to retreat further, we Americans considered that a huge win in exchange for identifying the positions of some of the Japanese armor.
Soon additional Japanese armor was arriving in the form of some Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks. The first US Stuarts arrived on table and went zooming up the road to engage one of the Ha-Go platoons – only to run right into an ambush by a Japanese AT gun. The gun was concealed in some terrain right near the US edge of the table and in typical wargamer fashion, I had overlooked the possibility that the enemy was not politely “on their side”. The gun knocked out two Stuarts before my tanks arrived and rolled over the gun from behind, driving away the crew and crushing the gun under my tracks. However, the AT gun had done it’s job and we were down a couple of VP early.
The Japanese infantry pushed all of the Americans back and occupied the village building closest to them. Then a Ha-Go made a death run down the road and right through the two remaining buildings, collapsing both but getting trapped in the rubble of the second. We were denied the possibility of VP from those, but did pick one up from trapped Ha-Go.
However, the Stuarts were now outnumbered 7:3 and spread out a bit too much. That allowed the Japanese to maneuver pretty freely as we had limited opportunity fire coverage of any given area. On the plus side, the Stuart was really quite a good tank for 1941 and was both better armed and better armored than the Japanese tanks. For a turn they were content to sit tight, hold onto their VP lead and try to pick off another Stuart, but the poor guns of the Japanese tanks made it hard for them to make any impact on the Stuarts. For our part, the rules put a very heavy penalty on a moving tank (not unreasonable at all), which with out reduced number of tubes, severely limited out ability to move forward and score any kills. We did get set up and kill off another Ha-Go.
The Japanese charged some Ha-Gos forward to try and get within short range where their low-velocity 37mm guns might penetrate the armor of a Stuart. We had one chance to tie the game before the end and one of our Stuarts went rampaging across the table to get a shot at one of the Ha-Gos. Virtually every Japanese tank was able to rip off an opportunity fire shot and shot after shot bounced off the armor before the Stuart finally suffered a morale failure and stopped moving, giving the Japanese a narrow win.
I like a lot of what I’ve seen of Fireball Forward so far. Mark and the other lead authors are taking a lot of time to develop a game that is very playable and has a great cinematic feel with dramatic swings of initiative, plenty of maneuver, bold actions, and a focus on leadership. At the same time, they are paying a lot of attention to getting the math right so that they produce realistic results. Much of the early playtesting was done with the familiar equipment and forces of NW Europe, and that’s where a lot of WWII rules seem to just stop and assume everything else will work as well, but Mark has stated that before the rules go to print he wants to make sure they work as well in the jungles and deserts as in the fields of France.