For a person who spends an outsized amount of time reading about, researching, modelling historic soldiers and playing wars of the past, I have pretty much ignored the wars of my own lifetime from the late 1960s to present. Born during the Vietnam War, I grew up in the last two decades of the Cold War. From there, the protracted engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ever-shifting nation-less “War On Terror” have occupied my adult years. The United States has been at war for most of my life and all that of my two sons. For a whole host of reasons, I prefer to set my wargaming in the comfortable distance of the past.
This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, I took a rare trip to a modern tabletop battlefield with my first play through a couple of scenarios using the Force On Force rules system. Published in 2009 by Ambush Alley Games and distributed by Osprey Publishing since 2011, FOF has become the go-to rule set for miniatures gamers focused on modern conflict. The rules provide elegant gaming mechanics for asymmetric warfare between elite regular units and irregular forces. Using this, the FOF system accounts for the more advanced tactics, leadership, communications and equipment of US and NATO forces against the highly motivated yet less professional and poorly equipped irregular Taliban forces.
The Afghanistan battlefield for our Force On Force scenarios
Our two scenarios presented a generic engagement between US Marines and Taliban forces in and around two typical walled compounds in rural Afghanistan in 2010. Amid the arid trees, hills and fields, the table was set with a hefty collection of 25mm Middle East structures from the Miniature Building Authority. The eight-turn scenario involved two four-man Marine squads attempting to hold a walled compound against the encroaching Taliban forces.
As elite forces in FOF, the US Marines carry initiative and announce two actions at the beginning of the turn. Actions include combinations of such things as shooting, remaining on overwatch, hiding, tactical movement of up to 6″ or rapid movement up to 12″ with a subsequent penalty for firing. The elite nature of American Marine regulars allows the unit to function without a troop quality check. Shooting for the US is achieved with D8s, one for each figure in the squad, with additional dice thrown into the mix for special or heavier weapons. For the Taliban without leaders present, movement must first be determined with a troop quality check with one D12 per each figure in the squad, and shooting is done using D6s. With their local knowledge, Taliban forces can also choose to move anywhere at any distance on the table provided they do not cross line of sight of any US forces.
Thus the differing size of the dice thrown for each squad type — US regulars and Taliban irregulars — is used to determine all the variations in asymmetric troop quality. In FOF, any rolls of 4+ are considered successes, so the relatively easy D12 motivation tests for the Taliban account for their zealous dedication while their weaker D6 combat rolls mimic their relatively untrained fighters and poor weaponry with only a 50/50 chance of hitting anything. In addition, a Taliban figure firing a rocket-propelled grenade RPG gains two extra D6 but hits must be re-rolled with results of a 1 indicating a dud rocket and no effect to the target. On the other hand, US forces hit 2/3rds of the time using their D8s. Hits are applied randomly to figures in the unit, except for successful hits from US snipers which allows for a choice of targets.
Second US Marines squad with sniper advances
In our game, the first US Marine squad began in a field adjacent to the objective compound with a single Taliban unit perched on an adjacent rooftop. The Marines chose to remain in cover on overwatch, allowing the Taliban a first ineffective round of fire. The Marines returned fire killing one of the Taliban fighters. Turn two saw the entry of the second US Marines team, including a sniper, while the first team scooted into the compound at a full 12″ of rapid movement through two open doors. The Taliban’s second unit, including an RPG, entered the table with a lucky roll of 6 which allowed them to deploy at the corner near the second US unit and the compound.
Second US Marine squad takes heavy fire from two Taliban units
Over the next two turns, the first US team remained within the compound guarding the objective while the second US squad crept to a copse of trees just outside the compound’s walls. At the wall, the Taliban fired their RPG to open a hole in the wall to expose the US Marines inside. Another Taliban unit with two RPGs and a leader rolled another 6 to also deploy near the compound, moving close to their nearby allies to give the other unit the benefit of the leader.
Along the way, “fog of war” event cards were drawn on rolls of 1 during reactive fire. These cards add an extra element of randomness to a FOF game. The first card eliminated the Taliban’s ability to move anywhere on the table out of line of sight due to an US drone launching overhead. The second card drawn allowed the Taliban to set an improvised explosive device (IED) between the second US squad and the compound, effectively eliminating a direct path to the objective. The final card was pulled by the Americans an allowed for an “excellent position” to be created to protect the second team at the trees.
In the meantime, combined fire from the Taliban eliminated the US sniper in the trees and injured the other three members of the squad, effectively pinning them for the remainder of the game with no friendly force nearby to attempt a first aid check. With one American squad left and the Taliban poised to close in on the compound from multiple directions, the game went to the Taliban.
We switched sides for the second game with one US Marine unit immediately taking up position within the compound and the second unit moving under cover through the nearby ruins and trees. The Taliban reinforcements were not as lucky with their placement, and all entered at the far end of the table with stalled movement due to a lack of leadership. Again, a fog of war card eliminated the Taliban’s free movement on the table. A RPG shot blew up one building in the target compound, but the Marines survived and pulled back to another building. By turn six, the second US squad most moving to protect the compound and the Taliban forces, while great in number, had failed to advance far enough to prove a threat. A final fog of war card brought in a sandstorm, effectively shutting down shooting and movement for the remainder of the game. The US Marines had done their job and held the objective and the day.
One of the benefits of gaming modern war is the wealth of immediate information available in refighting actual engagements or creating other realistic scenarios. For our battle, some of the excellent coverage from National Geographic’s documentary Inside The Afghanistan War was used, and countless books, articles, photos, videos and websites provide further information and inspiration. The Force On Force rules do a masterful job at representing small engagements between regular and irregular forces, and I look forward to another series of games bringing in additional types of weapons, support and vehicles to the mix. Yes, our modern wars are still unfolding immediately in real-time, but with FOF a better appreciation of the tactics and challenges of today’s soldier is well represented for the interested wargamer.