Fire Brigade


Title		Fire Brigade
Publisher	Mindscape (1989)
Developers      Mindscape
Game Type	Strategy
Players		1
HD Installable	Yes
Compatibility	All (1 Meg min)
Submission	John Burns (john@jgb.abelgratis.co.uk) Profiled Reviewer

Review
Despite the name this isn't a game about the characters Cuthbert, Dibble,
Grubb, etc. from Trumpton (BBC childrens TV prog) but rather a military
simulation of the WW2 Battle of Kiev. Operation Barbarossa, the German
offensive in Russia proved an ill-fated exercise mirroring Napoleon
Bonaparte's "invasion" and subsequent retreat. Whilst not as famous as the
Battle of Stalingrad, the battle of Kiev proved one of the most climatic
with the Germans this time being on the defensive. The strategic
implications of the city and surrounding area far outweighed everything
else to that date on the Eastern Front with the Soviet objective being to
split the German mechanised forces and prevent capture of the city. To
this end the Soviet forces, in the form of 3rd Guards Tank Army (3 GTA)
began a massive push from Moscow in the North to Rostov in the South,
which culminated in this, the largest tank battle of all time.

The start of the Soviet attack and German defensive stance is the material
for Fire Brigade. The commander of Army Group South, Marshal von Manstein
sends the Fire Brigade of the title, 48th Panzer Korps, into the fray.
Fire Brigade covers the conflict at three points in time, initial attacks
on the 3rd November, mid-conflict on all fronts around 15th November and
the final counterattack circa 5th December. A tutorial based around 15th
November is provided for novices. You can command as either the German
commander, Hoth, or as the Russian, General Vatutin. The German option
being generally tougher, what with crumbling defensive positions and the
mass of Soviet armour arrayed against them.

Different Panzer and Infantry Korps have their own command HQs controlling
their own type of forces and it's through these HQs and their Lines of
Communication (LoC) that orders are transmitted to Panzers, Panzer
Grenadiers (mech inf), airborne units, arty, etc.- the Russians have
similarly equipped forces although they come with large numbers of
reserves and reinforcements to back up their continued attacks.

At the start of each turn you, as commander, can opt to Review your
staff's orders and plans (i.e. take it easy and let them get on with it)
or Update the plans and really get involved. This distinction right from
the start provides further levels of difficulty within the three skill
levels themselves. The control system is based around pull-down menus
activated via the mouse. A status panel occupies the left side of the
screen with the tactical map of the area taking centre stage. It is
through the menus that the control commands are executed whilst a row of
icons along the bottom gives access to direct commands. Using these, units
can be scanned (both enemy and allied), objectives set for forces (through
LoC), units transferred and reserves utilised. Units can be ordered to
assault, hold, defend, etc. Furthermore units can be force marched to
destinations, though when done fatigue can be such a factor that as in
real life this option should be used with caution. It's also possible (if
not essential) to supply units through a pretty decent 3 tier supply
system.

Once all moves are set up the programme conducts the battle, accompanied
by reasonable (if nothing outstanding) sound effects. Capturing bridges
establishes a strong position aiding logistics and reinforcements, sadly
often overlooked in many other games which just ignore terrain and its
effects on logistic supply and therefore overall strategy. The old saying
that an Army marches on its stomach bears testament to the importance
which logistics have always played. Why such oversights are made I know
not as they completely change any significance such terrain had. Heck,
games such as Fields of Glory even allowed you to position and use your
field artillery from the middle of rivers and woods, yuck. Air units are
available in the form of both fighters and bombers to provide ground
attack/support.

The options available to the wargamer are extremely comprehensive in this
simulation. The best aspect is the detail which has been compressed into
the game. Fire Brigade may seem to play down some of the actual complexity
of Brigade level command and combat but it is there. My biggest moan is
that it could have dealt a little more with individual units. That aside
it's a great game covering a rather important but overlooked fight with an
incredible wealth of detail and complexity. The manual is well
illustrated though it does assume the player has some experience of
wargaming. This means that beginners may well have trouble but given that
the game is aimed at experienced rather than novice wargamers I don't feel
that the manual is either out of sync or truly detrimental. That proviso
aside it functions well with a clean and logical layout aiding rather than
hindering.

Once you overcome the initial confusion of a mass of icons and options
you'll find that Fire Brigade is a relatively simple game to control.
Advanced play is catered for with three skill levels to test your skill
together with three scenarios recreating different points in the battle.
Overall, I'd say that this is one of the best true wargames available on
the Amiga and though by no means perfect it certainly should be a must
have for any serious wargamer or strategy fan. It may be a bit much for
the casual fan but if they give it time it may well grow on them.
Unfortunately it has become a somewhat rare game to get hold of, testament
no doubt to owners being unwilling to part with their copy.



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