Crossfire 1914 – An experiment in large scale Crossfire for WW1

Roland Davis sent through his ideas for Crossfire in 1914 (i.e. early WW1). He outlines the general concept of large scale CF, includes a short battle report and concludes with some commentary on how it worked. Everything following is Roland’s …

Crossfire 1914 Concept

I had another game of Crossfire today but tried something a bit different.

I have a bunch of unpainted 15mm French for 1914 but I don’t have any rules for them. I am thinking I might try the latest edition of Command Decision, but it costs a bit, and so in the meanwhile I thought I would give Crossfire a go for 1914. If it works well then I will get on and paint my own figures, but for now I used my friend’s figures.

Clearly standard CF does not work for 1914 because squads and platoons in 1914 just did not work like the way CF has them working. This is no criticism of CF as they were clearly not intended for 1914 so it is no surprise they are not suitable as they stand. The figures we (my friend and I) have are based for the old version of Command Decision, which is 8 figures per company (4 stands with 2 figures per stand, about 80mm wide and 10mm deep). So I thought I would use a company (8 figures) to be a ‘stand’ (ie squad) from standard Crossfire. So a 1914 battalion would work the same as a CF platoon. This could work because, a) that is how the figures are already arranged, and b) in 1914 companies worked more like WW2 squads.

Everything would scale up easily enough, and each 1914 battalion usually had 2 MGs which I counted as standard CF MGs. Most sources say that a pair of MGs had about the same fire power as a rifle company in 1914 so it was close enough for me.

The tricky part was the artillery. I could not just have them shooting direct-fire (LOS) because anytime they tried to move they would be shot to pieces, which happened a bit in reality but I felt it would happen all the time in the game if I did not think of something better. I could not just have them shoot indirectly (from off table) as that was not standard in 1914 and FOs did not work like that in 1914.

So I decided to use the a variation on the limited small arms range rules, where range is not unrestricted but is limited to a couple of terrain features. This way I could have the infantry shoot a range of 3 features and the artillery shoot 6. In this way the artillery is firing direct or ‘semi-direct’ but is out of range of small arms fire unless the enemy infantry can get close enough. That all sounded right to me.

This all started to make sense, because I had made the figure scale go up I had also made the terrain scale go up. The force I was fielding was a Brigade (equating to a standard CF company) which would cover a frontage of up to 2000m, instead of a few hundred meters from standard CF.

I should point out that my terrain features are usually about 8cm across, which might be a bit smaller than what you use. From your Crossfire in the Desert page solution 3 you have limited ranges, which is what I did, but you have gaps between the features. I don’t like gaps so all my features join one another with no gaps.

Crossfire 1914 Battle Report

So I went to the club and set up the table, which looked good but perhaps a bit too cluttered. I have attached a picture.

Table for Crossfire 1914

Table for Crossfire 1914

Unfortunately the person I had arranged the play (my usual opponent and the guy supplying all the figures) thought he would have time for a game of AK47 while I was getting ready. But the AK47 game was dragging on, as they do, so I accosted a young chap (about 14) who had played Crossfire once or twice before and got him to play the part of the Germans.

We had 4 battalions of Germans versus 3 battalions of British and an artillery battery each. The British had some good defensive terrain such as stone walls and a sunken road but there were also woods that lead close to the British position. I had also made a railway embankment the day before but it was not long enough to cross the whole table. Instead in ‘chopped off’ a fairly big corner and I had one ‘stand’ (company) on the other side all by itself. So the British had a good position but with some serious flaws.

As you know, attacking in a CF game is not easy and not for the feint hearted. Unfortunately my opponent was feint hearted and totally lacking in tactical skill (which came from a lack of CF experience and playing Games Workshop games which require no tactical ability at all).

He started with his very first roll, with 2 dice, by suppressing my right most company. He tried to reinforce this modest success by piling troops in, only to be mowed down by the company and MG in the next feature (the red roof in the picture). Things went down hill from there for him, despite having some amazing luck with his artillery. He fired his battery at my battery with 3 dice and scored 3 hits. I had been thinking of making rules for trying to recover batteries under fire (ie suppressed) since this seemed to happen quite a bit and were a notable feature of 1914 battles. But with a straight 3 hits it became immaterial and I just took the battery off. He spent the rest of the game firing his battery every initiative, and it accounted for a company behind a stone wall, a company and a MG sent to silence it, who were in a wood.

After about 2 hours I had wiped out half of his force and was all lined up ready to attack his battery from behind so we called it quits. The other half of his force had remained quite static despite me pointing out various options for attack. He failed to attack the lone British company on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ which would have made an easy target and would have given a covered approach round the British flank as the railway blocked LOS.

The game was really a ‘test of concept’ and in that it succeed. The idea of ‘Brigade level’ Crossfire in 1914 has some merit but just needs a bit of tweaking. The execution was let down by my opponents lack of CF experience. If I had been able to play against my intended opponent things would have gone quite differently, for one thing he spotted the vulnerability of the company across the tracks straight away. Since attacking requires skill perhaps I should have played the German side.

We finished our game and the AK47 game was only half way through.


Small arms range limited to 3 features worked but there was a slight problem with LOS just clipping the corner of a feature and whether or not to count that feature towards the range. I can fix this by having a rule such as, ‘LOS must pass through at least 1 inch (or base width) of a feature for it to count towards range’.

The game was a success and I will try it again because;

  • it was cheap (John gave me his rules so they were free)
  • my friends and I already know the rules (I was only able to play at all because I found a kid who knew CF)
  • it only took a few hours to play the game (if my friend had not mucked about with AK47 I could have run the game twice)
  • I don’t have any other ‘usable’ rules for this period (CF 1914 is not perfect but it is a lot better than anything else I have tried and I have about 5 other sets of rules for this period)

I also have Indians and Turks for WW1 Middle East, so now the challenge to try and adapt CF to 1915 Mesopotamia. The trouble will be more to do with modelling than the rules. 1915, even in the Middle East, means trenches and they are a pain to make.

Game-wise it should work because I can have ‘trench features’ rather than specific trench lines, and players can defend and attack the feature rather than worrying about how many figures in a bit of trench can do this or that. Ordinarily CF has rifle stands with 360 degree LOS and LOF, but this might not be appropriate when attacking a trench (or trench feature) from a flank.

So plenty more to think about.

If you have got this far, thanks for reading.

Conclusions Part II

[In reply to Roland’s original email Steven asked “what worked about the simulation?”]

By ‘simulation’ I assume you are asking about how the game reflected reality…

Nothing ridiculous happened. If it had been an engineering test they would have said it was ‘all within acceptable parameters’. The game had 3 main parts from a simulation point of view:

  • First, the German player did not use half his force and did not attack in the right place.
  • Players (just like real commanders) can do dumb things but that is not the rules fault, but it is important that they have the opportunity to do dumb things and if they do something dumb they pay for it.
  • Secondly, the German battery in the centre was very effective. It used 4 dice but was always shooting at targets in cover so always used 3 dice, and it eliminated 4 targets and suppressed another. This was entirely due to good luck. We could try the same game again and it might hit nothing. As a simulation this was not implausible, perhaps the battery had an observer who was very good at judging ranges. If the battery had eliminated a target every turn it would have been but he missed often enough to keep it realistic (though bloody annoying for me).
  • Thirdly, I (the British player) wiped out two battalions (CF platoons) using two companies and a MG. I was in cover and he was attacking across the open. He did not attack all in one go but in a half hearted manner. So the result again was not unrealistic. In effect, he attacked with 6 CF squads, I eliminated 4 by shooting, I close assaulted the fifth while it was supressed and then did an ‘everybody gather round’ with the last one when it was ‘no fire’.

So it was all perfectly plausible from a simulation point of view. It was never a foregone conclusion one way or the other. If he had made some different decisions the game would easily have gone the other way. I mean, the German player could not say that his task was impossible or ‘unrealistic’. You could not say, that because of the rules, the Germans would always win or always fail. The rules made either possible and it came down to decisions and luck, just as it should be.

Now that I have pondered it a bit more I think I will do things differently next time. I got the amount of artillery wrong in the first game. I only had one battery per side when I probably should have had three batteries. I also got the number of German MGs wrong and it seems they should have three times as many MGs as the British and French. The other thing that did not seem right was that the terrain was too dense and I was hoping for a more ‘expansive’ look. The terrain I did was probably accurate enough for somewhere in France but was not the look I was hoping for.

I think I can solve all three of these problems by lowering the figure scale down to ‘8 figures = a platoon = 1 CF squad’. So smaller than last time but still bigger than standard CF. This will mean I can field the same number of figures as before but call it a battalion instead of a brigade. Then I can have one battery and it be in proportion to the size of the force. I will still be able to have one MG stand equal 2 actual MGs. The British will have one and the Germans three, but if I kept the old scale the Germans would have 9.

I will arrange the terrain differently, such as putting 4 of the wheat fields together to make one big field rather than 4 little ones.

I try it with standard CF LOS and ranges and see how it goes without using the limited ranges. The artillery can just take its chances.

Steven’s Observations

It has never occurred to me to use Crossfire for large scale combat so I found Roland’s experiment fascinating. I think I’ll try this for WW2 … I’ve got plans for a large scale game for the 2nd Battle of Kharkov and this might give me a viable set of rules. Roland field a brigade a side but for Kharkov 2 I need, more or less, a Russian Army versus a German Corps so I’d have to increase the figure scale another few notches.

Roland’s brigades – 4 battalions of Germans versus 3 battalions of British – were very economical of figures. Each battalion had only 24 figures with each company having 8 figures on four stands (ignoring command stands as Roland doesn’t mention those). If I did the same thing then I’d use my normal Crossfire basing with 3 figures per stand. This would make, at Roland’s scale, 10 figures per battalion (including command figures). Which is even more economical but wouldn’t look as good.

Roland was right that his terrain layout is different to mine. My typical layout has gaps between features. In contrast Roland has effectively created a 8x8cm grid on the table using his various terrain features. Although I don’t do this for my normal Crossfire games but I do a 3″ urban grid for my Crossfire in densely built up areas, e.g. 2 Foot City. By coincidence, and inspired by The Portable Wargame, I’ve been exploring how a 3″ grid might work for open warfare. Roland’s experiment suggests I should try bringing those two threads of thought together.

Of course I, like Roland, would need the limited small arms range rule for a large scale game. He borrowed this concept from my ideas on desert warfare but I’ve never actually used it myself. However with a grid it is an obvious addition. Roland was concerned about a line of fire that only clips the corner of a feature – should it count against the range limit? So he considered a house rule where ‘LOS must pass through at least 1 inch (or base width) of a feature for it to count towards range’. I wouldn’t bother. A grid cell is a grid cell; a feature is a feature; so if the line of fire cross any part then feature/cell should count. The proposed house rule would just complicate the game.

I was surprised by Roland’s observation that “most sources say that a pair of MGs had about the same fire power as a rifle company in 1914”. I wonder what the relative firepower was in WW2 – certainly this isn’t true in Crossfire as it stands.

I like Roland’s ideas about ‘trench features’ versus a specific trench line. I’ve been thinking about trench, tunnel and bunker systems for the Portuguese Colonial War and a ‘tunnel feature’ would make gaming those rather simple. Simple is good.

I look forward to hearing an update from Roland on his W1 experiment.

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