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REVIEWS

"When TAC:WWII came out I decided 6mm was the scale for me. Now I've found ARC of FIRE and I'm sure glad I didn't sell my 20mm collection. Fast and effective - these rules do for twentieth centry skirmish game what the machinegun did for firepower!"
-Richard Crawley (Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers)
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"I recommend taking a look at these rules.  I picked up my copy at Historicon. These are fine rules. Their production value is high with good quality paper and printing, and 4 quick reference sheets, only two of which are required for a game because they are seperated by scale(that is, two for smaller scales and two for larger scales).  I hope the publishers will sell these sheets seperately, and they might already be up on the website for download.  Any game goes quicker when everyone has a reference sheet. They are on A4 size paper, so if you are in the US and you cut the backs off your rulesets to put them in binders so they lay flat, that is a slight drawback. Of course they play very well, which is something everyone would expect from Mr. Fisher and Mr. Pringle. Fights are quick and lethal. Activation uses a card system which keeps the suspense high. Lots of fun for skirmish game players. Any scale is usable, and the rules cover 1900-2000, but other periods could easily be played with a little work.In short, good game, worth your attention."
-Michael Lursa
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For anyone who has played TAC-WW2, this new set of rules from TAC Publications will seem like a natural progression. TAC-Skirmish: Arc of Fire (AoF) is a set of skirmish rules for the entire 20th Century and is based around the original TAC-WW2 rules, with modifications to suit the smaller scale battle. Suitable for squad to company-level games, the rules are aimed at 10-28mm miniatures.

Production quality has improved immensely when compared to TAC:WW2 - the booklet is well laid out with good clear text, charts, diagrams and black & white pictures. The full-colour cover is protected by a clear plastic sheet and there are four double-sided quick-reference sheets, two for regular scale and two for large scale games. The rule book contains 77 pages, 50 detailing the rules themselves, with another 25 providing a selection of six scenarios in the style of the popular Skirmish Campaigns scenario booklets. The scenarios cover the Boxer Rebellion, World War One, World War Two, Vietnam and Angola.

The core elements of the rules are TAC Modes and TAC Rolls. Modes reflect the commanders ability to strike the right balance between firepower and manoeuvre, with three modes available - Advance, Defence and Confused. TAC rolls must be made to change units from one mode to another, failure to do so results in the units going into confused mode. This doesn't mean the unit does nothing for the turn, rather that the unit will carry out its orders less effectively. As you may have guessed, TAC rolls are made by unit commanders and values range from 4 up to 8, the lower the better as you have to roll over this value on a ten-sided dice to succeed.

The turn sequence is interesting in that it uses playing cards, one colour for each side, with units being allocated two cards each. Every turn, the card deck is shuffled then cards are revealed one at a time. When a units' card is turned, its commander can attempt to change its mode, then the unit can carry out an activity such as move or fire.

There are the usual rules for movement, spotting, direct fire, artillery and morale that you would expect with a 20th Century set of rules. Additional rules include weather, engineering, and airborne and amphibious operations. A feature of interest is a random events table listing 100 possible events. This is an optional rule and is triggered by the playing of a wild card in the normal card sequence. One wild card is allocated per side. Actually, there are many other small optional rules dotted throughout the booklet that players can use as they see fit - anything from using special camouflage to close-combat weapons such as swords, knives etc.

Other points to note - there are plenty of designers notes, always useful to read when trying to understand why the rules are the way they are, plus quotes from history books about the period that provide insights into combat at the skirmish level.

I know the rules are aimed at the entire 20th century but I suspect many WW2 gamers will find out about them and will probably be thinking 'oh no - not another set of rules, why should we buy these when there are already many sets available?' Well, it's a valid point and I can't say these rules are any better or any worse than other sets available. I can, however, say that they offer a different slant on a popular period of warfare with some interesting features, although they are part of the current trend to favour command, control and troop quality over technical details, complex penetration charts and so on that was all the rage back in the 70s and 80s - I know, I used to play those sets and loathed them! I'll certainly give Arc of Fire a go as I like the idea behind TAC Modes and TAC Rolls.

Available at a cost of $20 in the US or 12.50 in the UK.

Rated 'Very Good' by Pete on 10 October 2002.
-Pete (from wargamesdirectory.com) http://www.wargamesdirectory.com/html/reviews/review62.asp
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Review 8
Arc of Fire by Scott Fisher and Chris Pringle, Tac Publications

Like many middle-aged wargamers I spent my formative teenage years away from historical gaming in the murky dungeon filled world of role-playing games. For a while building up characters and seeing them prosper and fall took on a worryingly real perspective that certainly kept me distracted from the joys of ‘O’ level homework.

Finally, like a majority of part time druids and space-farers this activity slowly ground to a halt after the sweaty confines of the university gaming club disappeared and the reality of working for a living hit home.

However somewhere in the back of my psyche there continued a desire to revisit the dizzy heights of those character filled games. I started thinking that it would be nice to play games where you actually cared about the figures on the table, could rejoice when a feared enemy was beaten or cringe when you were on your last legs.

Even after leaving fantasy gaming to return to the historical fold I yearned for a mixture of role-play feeling and historical action. This thirst was not slated by many of the skirmish level games, which failed to give any real feeling for the tabletop figures.

A chance sequence of events has however fulfilled my quest. First a plethora of what can only be described as superb 28mm historical figures has appeared from a number of manufacturers. I then discovered a set of rules on CD-Rom called ‘Battleground WW2’ from Easy Eight publications. The seed was planted as the rules based on 1:1 had very close role-playing links.

Grabbing a few gaming friends and forcing them to try the rules I thought that Christmas had basically arrived early and furthermore Santa couldn’t be bothered to travel and dumped all the goodies with me! However disaster struck on both flanks; Easy Eight went into hiatus leaving its future support uncertain and we found that when we added multiple squads or any form of armour the game bogged down very quickly. It was impossible to play a game in a club night and like most Christmas presents it lost some of the ‘magic’ when left for a few days.

The seed finally flowered when a friend recommended I acquire a copy of a new set of rules called ‘Arc of Fire’, claiming that they were Battleground without the ‘pain’. The rules were already attracting attention at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/WorldWarIISkirmish.

For 12.50 I took the plunge. What I found was a game that even with the optional detail rules (which give a personal feel to the figures) are fast moving, highly enjoyable and satisfy my role-playing requirements. Although I use them for WWII games they are actually designed to cover the period 1900-2000, a very broad sweep of history indeed.
What follows is an overview of the rules while trying to explain how the game mechanisms give a role-play feel and yet remain flowing:

Editor's Note: This review within the subscription part of the magazine also includes an introductory WWII Arc of Fire scenario.

The initiative system is card based. As in a few of the better skirmish games cards represent each unit or group. These cards are collected together and shuffled to make a pack with each card being turned over in sequence to determine the order that the units take their actions in each turn.

When a group’s card is turned it gets to act. Games that use such a system include Battleground WWII, which has each group represented by one card, and Face of Battle, which has every figure, represented by a card. A particularly elite squad could have 3 cards, ensuring that they act in a more flexible way and get more done per turn. In this way the uncertainty of battle and the fog of war is represented and the game usually runs at fever pitch. You can’t be sure that your troops will act before it’s too late!

In Arc of Fire a unit can be composed of a number of figures. In smaller games you may have each fire team (a third to half a squad, approximately 3-5 figures) represented by a unit. In larger games one card may represent each squad, or even platoon.

This is the first example of how the simple game concepts have a deep ‘philosophical’ effect on game play. Different national doctrine can easily be represented on the table. The more cards a force has the more flexible its tactics can be. Veteran Paratroops may be represented with cards for each fire team allowing half a squad to be in a defensive mode providing covering fire while the other half are in advance mode. However a squad that is only represented by a single initiative card has to be careful about elements straying out of command range (12” if using 28mm figures), is easier to disrupt and can perform less effectively when activated.

Many players use customised cards but a normal pack of playing cards can be used. One side uses red cards the other black. An example would be a sniper group with two cards being represented by a two of Diamonds and a two of Hearts.

The author of the rules, Scott Fischer, makes an important assumption in the design notes for the game that has a huge effect on how quickly the game flows. This being:

“We assume that infantry are always using the best cover and are prone when practicable but are in a position to fire their weapons.”

What this means is that the players are unconcerned with marking the figures as standing, prone or kneeling. This saves huge amounts of time over the course of a game. However in actual game terms you don’t lose any realism but you certainly save on markers cluttering the board! I consider this an excellent decision by the designers that not only works well, but also saves lots of time over the course of a 3-hour game.

In the game units can be in one of the following three modes; advance, confused or defence or the one compulsory mode; broken. The optional modes apply to all figures in a unit or group. The compulsory mode, broken, is an individual result and applies to specific figures within the unit or group.

Advance mode lets all the different individuals in the group do whatever they like, some may shoot while others fire. However it assumes that the entire group are moving around in some way. Thus even if in cover you only get the smallest modifier to being hit. I often term this as normal mode to beginners to stop them thinking you have to advance!

Defence mode lets you make the most of your cover and any firing. No member of the group may move. It is in defence mode that automatic weapons can use opportunity fire and covering fire. If hidden spotting ranges will be halved if you are in defence mode.

Confused mode means your troops don’t know what they are supposed to be doing. This usually happens as a result of trying to change mode and failing, or by failing a unit morale test. Represented in game terms by all the troops having to move OR fire.

Broken mode happens as a result of getting wounded or failing a personal morale test (e.g. when your buddy sharing your foxhole explodes all over your face – a gory death result on the wounding table!) In this mode you do nothing but find cover and make yourself as small as possible.

At the heart of the rule system is the TAC (Tactical Ability) value and role. Troops are assigned a TAC value which reflects their training and to an extent experience. The TAC number must be equalled or beaten on a D10 roll. The best elite troops are a 4, while shoddy troops are an 8.

This value effects everything a figure does. Its major game use is when you try and change modes, failing your TAC role plummets the troops into confused mode. This could be that the leader didn’t get across the instructions clearly, maybe an explosion muffled him, and so instead of half the squad laying down fire while the others move they all do the same thing.

The TAC value also affects a myriad of other things. Fail your TAC and you don’t spot the troops about to open up on you from the hedgerow. Calling in artillery needs a build-up of TAC roles. Tankers need to pass a TAC role to quickly get rid of the results of being severely shaken by a non-penetrating round. Moving through an obstacle such as wire, or to stop a vehicle from getting bogged all need a TAC role.

Other miscellaneous task can be attempted by making a TAC role. In our games such actions as jumping a wall while on the run can be achieved on a TAC role, a medic can make a successful TAC role and negate the effects of a wound etc. Obviously, modifiers can be applied as seen fit.
Morale is also dealt with by a D10 roll but is separate from TAC ability.

A group of fanatic religious attackers (remember the rules cover from 1900-2000) can be poorly trained with a high TAC value (making it hard to do much tactically with them) but have a good morale rating (they are fanatic!) which means they will be very determined to rush up to you and kill you even if they can’t quite figure out how.

On the other hand the best-trained Paratrooper that has fought through Normandy, Holland and the Rhine may be very reluctant to stick their neck out as the war comes to a close. Thus they would have a low morale rating but a high TAC value. German SS troops defending their homeland would fight to the last and have a high TAC and morale. By mixing and tweaking the two values you can recreate the ‘character’ of the troops at a specific point in time.

Spotting is often seen as a painful part of any rule system. In larger level games, or in Company games you can often disregard it by having high saving throws. In skirmish level games, figures need to be hidden; it’s fun to sneak up on troops. So they are a necessary part of the game. In Arc of Fire spotting is done when the units initiative card is turned over or if something moves in your possible line of sight.

Different groups in different modes are potentially spotted at various distances. If you fail a TAC role these distances are halved. Performing certain actions such as firing increases the distance at which you can be spotted, being in a camouflaged position halves the distance etc.

Again, simple mechanics give a good, realistic result. Try spotting from an enclosed tank and you’ll see very little in the way of infantry. The commanders have to expose themselves to potential opportunity fire to see properly.

Hidden troops can be represented in the game by markers with each initiative card allowing 2 dummy markers to be positioned. In games without a referee this works well and saves any mapping drudgery.

Firing in the rules is simple; if you spot a target you can fire at it with a certain number of D10 (depending on the weapons rate of fire) and you need to roll a specific number to hit depending on the weapons range. The effects of any firing depend on how successful the hit roll was. If you only just make the required roll the hit may only be a close shave and only inflict a morale check.

In the optional rules the wound table is consulted when the normal table shows a Wound or Killed result. The results range from a flesh wound with no effect to a very gory death, which may affect the morale of troops around the figure. The firing system is easy to get used to and we very often don’t look at the charts to determine results.

Only snipers can pick targets so you generally roll all the dice fired at a target group in one go with any hits being distributed randomly. This can result in all hits being on the one enemy figure, very Hollywood!
Although Arc of Fire has no specific suppression or pinning rules suppressive fire and pinning, which are so important to any modern skirmish game, occur naturally in Arc of Fire.

Groups are pinned when enough figures suffer a failed morale roll and are broken. The other figures in the group can’t risk moving. The group will be below strength and leaving figures outside of command radius is not advisable.

To pin a group will require laying down lots of lead, therefore laying down suppressive fire is a natural process. Groups in defence mode can lay covering fire. This lasts until their next action card is turned over and allows a number of fire dice to be used as targets move in or fire from the zone you are covering.

Units in Defence mode may also engage in opportunity fire if they pass a TAC role and have an initiative card remaining this turn.

Firing at suspected targets is also allowed. Thus even though you can’t see the machine gun nest that may be in the hedge opposite, you can ask your supporting tank to machine gun the area and you may break its morale.

Vehicle combat is also very simple although. The same basic mechanics are used; just a different results table for hard targets is consulted.
Guns and some small arms have a figure for soft and hard targets. The targets armour value comes of your dice roll as a negative modifier. So do other modifiers like target movement etc. Vehicles can be neutralized (while the crew recover from the ordeal of being hit), immobilized or destroyed. Optional rules allow the radio to be knocked out, limit firing etc.

The basic core rules do not require you stipulating what shell you have loaded; obviously house rules would suffice if you needed more detail. The armour rules are a lot simpler than other systems with all the various range, penetration and armour factors being built into the ‘hit’ and ‘effect’ tables, which are easy to remember.

I tested different types of armour shots with the Arc of Fire, Battleground WW2 and Face of Battle rules. Surprisingly after working out about 35 different types of shots with each set of rules it panned out that the overall results were the same.

A Sherman (76mm) had about as much chance of taking a Panther out at short to mid range in all the rule sets. I did omit the fire stabilisation rules for the Sherman as hardly any of the crews apparently used it anyway, although they figured in all of the rules as ‘options’.

The major difference between the rules was the time each took. Arc of Fire required one roll, plus the crew check if needed and a possible optional damage roll. The other systems needed up to 5 rolls followed by crew checks and required access to at least 3 charts and tables (sometimes more). Such simple rules for armour allows for the deployment of more on the table.

No game concentrating on forming individual characters would be complete without a way to get some characters to become heroes and others cowards. In Arc of Fire this occurs as a result of certain individual morale rolls. In this way a figure may become a heroic figure to the squad, someone they will follow, someone who ignores their first wound etc. These can of course be carried into other games.

I believe that I have found a game that finally slakes my thirst for providing a role-playing feel to a historical period. Squad sheets can be kept from game to game; linking the game into a campaign is also relatively easy. My US Paratrooper platoon based on Band of Brothers has a field history, charting wounds and replacements. As a result you tend to look after your named figures in games but being a replacement in this platoon is akin to wearing a red vest and beaming down to an unknown planet with captain Kirk!

I would encourage anyone with an interest in 20th Century Skirmish games to give the rules a go. At only 12.50 they are well worth a look. For any club night or event it would be my only choice above squad level because of the speed of play.

The authors encourage house rules. In fact a rule set covering such a large time scale needs house rules for specific period quirks. There are more detailed sets of rules available, especially when dealing with armoured combat but as described it is debatable if the increased detail actually ends in a more believable result anyway.

The rules provide statistics for all of the major vehicles and weapons and there is active support on the web on the Arc of Fire Home Page at http://fisherts.home.mindspring.com/aof

The rules provide scenarios for several conflicts including a good Boxer Rebellion one. These have resulted in our group gaming eras that we would not have touched otherwise. As the core rules are the same it is very easy to pick up a new period. The down side of the generic feel is that if you are interested in a specific period outside of the ones covered in more detail then you will have to do more research and devise house rules yourself. I don’t feel this is a big issue as most gamers do this type of research anyway.

The authors also produce excellent WWII campaign/scenario booklets, which are ideal for Arc of Fire. These booklets add a lot of detail on the various units and orders of battle, which is lacking in the rules.
The rules work well for figures from 10mm upwards, although I find even 15mm lacks the individual feel I like. We have played some company level actions in 15mm however and if you use the core rules without the detailed options the games are very free flowing.

Using 28mm figures with the optional rules the game has a great feel. Club players are often seen hooting and groaning at events, cheering on heroes and giving running commentaries on the action. This is especially prevalent when the unexpected occurs due to a failed TAC role!

That's the end of a long review, which I hope was of some help to you in terms of understanding what AoF is all about. Subscribers to Wargames Journal can get hold of a complete Normandy scenario for AoF in this issue.

Rich Jones
Wargames Journal (http://www.wargamesjournal.com/reviews_free.htm#Arc)


AFTER ACTION REPORTS

Somalia Skirmish Action
-Andy Maloney


Here is a very interesting action using US Marines and Somalians

http://home.attbi.com/~comaloney/ 


Capture the Commissar! [..scenario comming soon to downloads...]
-Chris Pringle


This was a scenario that I ran at my local club on a Monday night with no preparation, for two players who had never used the Arc of Fire rules before. It took me half an hour to plan it and to set up the terrain and sort out the troops. We played the game in just over an hour and a half. The scenario could readily be adapted for almost any skirmish setting. The basic scenario was simple: a wounded Russian commissar and his loyal bugler were stranded somewhere in a farm complex in the middle of the table; Russians wanted to retrieve the commissar; Germans wanted to stop them.

The farm comprised one farmhouse, three outhouses, a cattle mire (heavy going), some unfenced cornfields and small haystacks, with a couple of small woods by it. The rest of the table had scattered cover such as woods and small hills, a stream, a marsh. For games of this size it is a good idea to put some terrain items within 8" of each other so that a unit can cross the gaps between them with just two cards (though you still want some longer more open spaces as well).

A 9-man rifle squad, 6-man SMG squad and a GAZ jeep with 2 crew came on the southern table edge to rescue the commissar and take him off the opposite, northern edge. Meanwhile a German 8-man rifle squad with one LMG, a 6-man MG squad and a 6-man HQ team with 2 50mm mortars was arriving from the west to interfere.

The Russians were mostly Tac 7 and Good morale, with the exception of the Commissar who was Tac 6 and Excellent morale (but wounded, so could only act on his unit's first card). The commissar, the bugler, and the jeep were treated as one unit; only the two Russians in the jeep were capable of driving it. The Germans were a mixture: competent and motivated HQ (T5, M Good); rather raw but enthusiastic riflemen (T6, M Good); and some cautious veterans in the MG squad (T5, M Average). The German mortars had 6 HE and 6 smoke rounds each.

Everyone arrived on Turn 1 except the commissar and his bugler, who the Russian player was allowed to deploy concealed anywhere within the farm complex (in our game he opted for the outhouse next to the cattle mire - must have been a tight squeeze in there for the two of them ...). I made the Russian decide where his commissar was, then let the German player establish which table edges were north etc. The Germans could arrive anywhere on their (west) table edge, the Russians anywhere on the southern edge at least 12" from the western edge.

For a 5-point victory the Russians had to get the Commissar off the table; a decisive victory would have got him off in the jeep. The Germans won if the Commissar was killed; they got a decisive victory if he was captured (either defeated in hand to hand combat, or getting a unit morale result of Destroyed or individual morale result of Craven Coward).

All went disastrously wrong for the Russians in the first two turns as the turn of the cards and good German dice meant the two rifle squads got in a firefight which the Germans won unscathed, while they managed to blow up the jeep and wound both its crew with a mortar direct hit. The next few turns saw Germans mopping up Russian stragglers and wounded from the rifle squad and the jeep crew, while the Commissar bolted from his privy, and he and the SMG squad fled from one end of the farm to the farmhouse at the other end. The German MG teams had meanwhile moved up to block the exit.

A farcical firefight with almost no actual casualties but lots of Broken troops taking cover ensued. The last few mortar bombs wrecked the farmhouse and scared the Russian SMGs, who for their part had disrupted the German MGs, while catching crabs (as rolled on the random events table - we figured the farmhouse must be vermin-ridden!). Next turn the Russian luck turned as the bugler got a near miss on a cowering MG34 gunner, causing a unit test. No doubt influenced by the supporting one-man charge being carried out against them by the Russian rifle squad leader - the sole survivor from his squad and by now a Hero immune to morale tests and armed only with a pistol - the Germans failed their test disastrously and were destroyed.

Germans lost two wounded, Russians lost 11 dead but the commissar escaped for 5 points, and it was a pretty riotous game. The reactions from first-time players were interesting. Early on the German player said he "had issues with the morale system", as two or three Soviet riflemen fought on after most of their comrades in the rifle squad were killed, indeed one of them became a Hero. Meanwhile the Russian player got pretty depressed by his riflemens' deaths and just ran away for about 3 turns. All this changed when the game was turned on its head by the German machinegunners losing their nerve. It gave the German player a new perspective on the vagaries of the morale rules - and after all, even the Russians who passed their test still voluntarily withdrew - and the Russian player cheered up considerably!

This scenario was very loosely based on situations arising during the vast encirclement operations of 1941 and 1942, when the Soviets lost millions of men but were often able to extract their key headquarters staff from the pockets. It would be easy to run this scenario again in almost any theatre of war you like just by changing the VIP: a general, a special agent, a political figure, a downed pilot, someone's girlfriend, etc. I'm sure I will!

 



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