Thursday, July 9, 2020

Mad About "Men Against Fire"

It's not every day that you try something you'd wanted to try for a long time and actually have it work.  Usually, whatever motivated you to want to do the thing in the first place fades into memory and your left with bits and pieces of hope and lost promise.

I bought my first copy of Dr. Paddy Griffith's Book of Sandhurst Wargames a long while ago at a Half Price Books.  The reason I did so is that I had heard so much about the "Men Against Fire" game he had created which was billed as a hybrid RPG wargame set in the South Pacific in World War II.  As was so often the case with this book, though, it was missing the inserts meaning the pieces and, most critically, the ruler and character character cards were missing.  It took years to finally lay hands on one that had both in them.  It was more years still until, last night, I finally got the game to a virtual tabletop.

I'm grateful to the crew from the Armchair Dragoons who were willing to give it a try.  I moved the setting to the ETO -- I've never been one much for the PTO -- but otherwise played the rules largely as given.


*There's nothing "new" here.  It's a bit of RPG, a bit of tabletop miniature wargame, and a fair amount of Kriegsspiel, although, as I've often argued, there are no RPGs without the KS.  It also takes from a variety of places the idea of hidden objectives.  Interesting to see this latter bit, now quite common in mainstream boardgames, come up so early in a wargame.

*The premise is that the players are a squad of soldiers -- sergeant, corporal, and a bunch of privates -- sent out to do a very small mission.  Each player is given a card -- those cards I was initially missing -- identifying them by name and then indicating whether the player is a "fighter" or a "non-fighter".  This simple binary is at the heart of the game.  It derives from S.L.A. Marshall's premise in his seminal Men Against Fire that most combat is done by the minority of men.  Most fellows, whatever their reputation, either muddle along or engage in outright acts of cowardice in the interest of self-preservation.  This notion is further evolved by each player having separate, secret victory conditions.  Some win by killing the enemy.  Some win by never firing a shot. And some win just by surviving and giving aid to their comrades.

*The game is played entirely blindly from the players' perspective.  Their surroundings and all actions are described to them in simple terms -- again an RPG -- and they have a limited lexicon of responses.  Movement, combat, weapon systems, &c., are all greatly simplified to keep things moving.

*It's a tremendous amount of fun.  It played very quickly -- well less than an hour -- and everyone indicated they enjoyed it and would try it again.  The one call we've had is for a "full squad" mission involving 12 men.  That would be a bit mad.

The video of the event, where you get to see what the players could not, is below.


  1. Glad to hear that it was all you hoped it would be!

  2. Indeed. Now to get MORE folks in to play the full squad version.