Crossfire is a 44-page book, roughly A4 in size, printed in black and white. It is printed in a large clear fount (yes, that is the correct way to spell "fount" in British English), and written in an unpretentious way, although the Unnecessary Capitalisation gets a bit tiring after a while.
Half the book deals with scenarios, statistics for vehicles, and troop organisations for various nationalities, and the first half of the book is the rules of the game itself. These rules cover command, movement, terrain, buildings, shooting, recon by fire, snipers, indirect fire, smoke, close combat, rallying, engineers, minefields, barbed wire, trenches, vehicle and anti-vehicle fire, half-tracks.
The rules were written by Arty Conliffe, with help from Rob Wolsky, and are published by Quantum Printing of 460 West 34th Street, New York NY 10001.
Like all good sets of rules, Crossfire sets out to capture the particular feel of the type of warfare it simulates. Whereas some sets of rules could be used for any period, and so capture the feel of none, Crossfire is quite specific to mid Twentieth Century warfare. The scale it is intended for is battles involving one to three companies of troops per side. A platoon of troops is represented typically by a single figure on a base, for the platoon commander, with three stands of troops, each representing one section. It is suggested that for 15mm scale games, a stand have three figures on it, representing the ten or so men of the section. I play the game differently, with a stand of three figures representing three men, and a section being made up of three bases: commander, light machine gun team, rifle or SMG team. Either way works fine. While ideally you would base troops just for this system, there is no need to do so, and troops based for this system could be used for most other systems, so this aspect should not put you off. The main emphasis is on infantry. Though there are rules for fighting vehicles, these are very simple, and tanks do not get to do much in the game as the rules are written. Tanks move and fire very slowly, and are quite out-paced by infantry. No rules for organising AFVs into units which act with co-ordination are offered. The intention is for players to field infantry, perhaps supported by one or two vehicles, rather than for tank battles supported by infantry.
The game only really works when lots of terrain is used. A table for a Crossfire game will be festooned in terrain. In such densely-covered areas, infantry reigns. Tanks do not like to go down narrow streets, through woods, across rivers. The battles simulated are ones where infantry manoeuvres for advantage, using every available tree and dip in the land for cover.
On the front cover, are the words "No Rulers Required. No Fixed Game Turns". These two claims are true, and are two of the main features of the rules, which make them enjoyable, quick, and true to the period. There are only two ranges in Crossfire: point blank, and everything else. Point blank represents that range at which submachine guns are deadly, grenades get thrown, and flame-throwers used. Beyond this range, line of sight is the key. In World War Two, the vast majority of infantry fights took place at ranges less than four hundred yards. Crossfire represents fights taking place in dense terrain, where the troops will first get to see each other within this range. Rifles of the period were accurate and effective at double this range, and so it is not necessary to have range bands and to use rulers to measure distances to targets. Instead, if the target can be seen, then with very few exceptions, it can be shot at. Many of the terrain types block line-of-sight, such as woods and buildings. Once troops come into sight, however, the enemy is free to blaze away at them.
No great distinction is made between one weapon and another. Troops with rifles use the statistics and rules for "rifles", without all the fuss and bother of what kind of rifle or LMG the troops used. In reality, the fire-power of an American section, with Garand rifles and a B.A.R. light machine gun, was about the same as a British section with a bren gun and Lee Enfields. A "rifle section" rolls three dice when shooting. All the dice used in the system are six-sided. There is something oddly satisfying about that. Submachine guns firing at long distance roll two dice, and machine guns roll four. At point-blank range, submachine guns roll four.
The movement, initiative, and firing systems are all related. When a player takes his turn, or his "initiative", he may order his troops to do whatever he wants them to do, in any order. There is no turn sequence, unlike most wargames. He keeps ordering his men to do what he wants until he fails at something, at which point he loses his initiative, and his opponent takes his turn. In an initiative, indirect fire might be called in, if the forward observers can see any targets; sections or whole platoons of troops can be ordered to fire at the enemy, but if they fail to effect the enemy much, then again the initiative is lost; troops cowering from enemy fire can be rallied, or again the commander might lose the initiative by failing to rally his men. Troops move only in their own "initiative". A player simply declares which troops are going to move where, by what path, and then he moves them there, unless his opponent does something to stop him. To stop troops moving as they want, a player can use "reactive fire", that is, may shoot with his forces at the enemy which is moving, in the hope of pinning him, suppressing him, or even destroying him. Troops receiving a "hit" result on one die get pinned, and may not move, two hits and they are suppressed, and may not move or fire, and three hits kills them. Suppressed troops, which get suppressed again, also die.
So, in a game, I take my turn, and call in some smoke from my mortars, I then move some troops up behind a wood where you can't see them. On the other side of the board, I move forward more troops, behind cover. Other troops I "retreat move" from a wood which you can see, but these receive no reactive fire from you as they melt back into the trees. Next I try to suppress your machine-gun nest with fire from the whole of a platoon. The platoon commander can see the target and all of his sections from where I've put him, and so he can order all three sections to concentrate fire on the one target. I roll for each section. The first misses, the second suppresses the MG, and the third pins it (which is not worse than a suppress result, so is ignored). I then send two sections forward to kill the MG crewmen in close combat with grenades, but as they advance, you declare that you can see the advance of these sections from the other side of a wall, where a section of your riflemen lurks. You roll three dice for your riflemen, and get two hits on one of my sections. The men from that section dive for cover and stop obeying orders. I have lost the initiative. Cursing, I now await what you can do in reply. Your first decision is whether to try and rally that MG, or else leave it suppressed and try and do something with your other troops. You know that if I break through with some troops on that flank, I'll be able to pour another platoon through and close assault my objective.
The last paragraph sounds more exciting than an ordinary wargame, doesn't it? The decisions a player has to make are much like the decisions a real officer would have to make in a battle. In most wargames, each side shoots with everything it has every turn, and moves up to a set maximum amount. Not so in Crossfire. In Crossfire, a player might in his turn ignore all his forces on one flank, and concentrate on breaking through on the other. Once through, his men can move as far as they like, unless the enemy stops them. Suddenly, a game can go from an even match to a hopeless situation for one side. Players have many difficult decisions to make, but they are at least having to think about the right thing: tactics. The rules are so simple that one doesn't spend much time thinking about statistics or turn sequences, instead one just looks at the table and thinks, "What should my next order be?"
Simple, flowing, realistic, fairly fast, unpredictable, fun. What more could you want?
To be fair, there are some down-sides to the game. Some players find that their brain hurts because they have to make such awkward decisions, and take so many risks. They'd prefer just to fire all their guns every turn. Some rules are rather difficult to interpret. I have been on an e-mail list concerning these rules for some while, and there is no consensus on how to play certain key rules, though each person seems happy with his own interpretation. You do need to represent a lot of terrain, but this does lead to good-looking tables.