Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew...

Fire Brigade logo

ONLY a few occasions in the history of mankind have the massed armies of two nations met head to head in pitched battle, most of them in the last century. One such occasion was the battle for Kiev in 1943.

With the defeat of the German army at Kursk during the summer offensive of 1943, the Soviet forces pressed home the advantage and pursued their enemy all the way to the Dneiper river.
Here the Germans hoped to regroup and re-equip their troops before the inevitable bombardment by the Soviets during the coming winter. Stavka, the Russian high command, had other ideas.

So the scene is set for one of the most desperate and potentially decisive engagements of World War II. Can the ruthless and famed German 42nd Korps, nicknamed Fire-Brigade, turn the tide of the Russian offensive?

Three scenarios are provided, picking up the historical action on progressive dates throughout the winter, effectively deciding how long the game will last. Each turn is a day in game time. Orders are given to your troops via a complicated system of icons along the bottom of the screen, the sort you have to look up in the manual every now and then to make sure you know what they mean.

Orders are given to the korp commanders, who will then organise their troops in the way they think best to achieve their objectives. This means that a great deal of your overall strategy depends on your front line commanders, which might not be such a bad thing - after all, most of them are veterans of several years of campaigns.

On the other hand, some of them are useless. Remember, you can transfer units to other korps, so if you find a really bad commander just leave him with a couple of Baldricks and move the good troops elsewhere.

When you have finished your turn the computer will go into the 24 hour game turn. That's 24 hours in game time, not in real, lunch or Greenwich Mean time, though you may be forgiven your mistake because there doesn't seem to be much difference.

If you decide to go away and make a cup of coffee in this game, you can afford yourself the luxury of grinding the beans, percolating it, savouring every last drop and then have another two or three cups before it's your turn to go up to bat again. There is an option for occasional battle noise to let you know that things are still happening.
Actually the reason it takes so long is because it insists on animating the map window, with all the units matching about and flashing and blowing up. This would not be so bad but for the fact that the window updates are so slow, a condition which seems prevalent on games originally written for the Mac. Balance of Power immediately springs to mind.

This incredibly slow response time becomes unacceptable when it comes to giving orders. Changing the standing order for a unit? Click on its icon, wait up to five seconds while the map is redrawn with the selected unit inverted, then select your target. The scroll bars for seeing the rest of the map are just as annoying. Where can all this wasted time be going? Perhaps this is why the Germans lost.

Fire Brigade needs 1 meg to run but doesn't seem to be doing much wit it because in several areas it is less than strategy games running on vanilla Amiga.
High on realism, excellent documentation, but low on playability.

Fire Brigade logo

PANTHER/MINDSCAPE £29.99 Mouse and/or Keyboard

November 1943, and the Russian army continues to push the German forces back toward the Dneiper river. It's at the Dneiper that the Germans hope to pull themselves together in final preparation for the inevitable fierce Russian winter and the consequent Russian offensive.

That's the state of play at the start of this wargame, running on 1Meg Amigas from Australian software house Panther. It's a one or two player game, so the first thing is to decide whether you'd like to play the computer (in which case you can select a skill level to suit) or a fellow human being. Against a friend you can't alter the skill level, but you can choose to play remote via a modem or cable.

Once you've decided who will command which army and have chosen to play the basic or advanced game (you have more options and greater control over your forces in the advanced game) it's time to select a scenario.

Each scenario will last a set number of turns, and each turn represents one day. The first is the full campaign, lasting 50 turns from November 3rd 1943 until December 23rd, which starts at a point where the Russians have the upper hand and the Germans are struggling to hold ground. The second scenario lasts 38 turns, beginning on November 15th with the Germans in a better position to counter-attack thanks to the arrival of much-needed reinforcements. The third scenario lasts 18 turns, from December 5th, when the Germans are ready to launch yet another counter-attack, now added by the famous 48 Panzer Korps.

For each scenario the game structure is the same. Using menus and icons selected using either the mouse or keyboard, orders are issued to your forces' HQ units who then pass the orders on to their subordinate units. When you've issued orders (telling a unit to head for a certain objective, for example) and assigned supplies or airborne support to the units that need them most, the Movement phase begins.

Combat is resolved instantaneously during the Movement phase, which continues until 6am the next day when the Orders phase starts again. Victory is awarded to the player who has acquired the most victory points during the game. These are awarded for capturing various strategic and tactical objectives such as railway junctions and towns.

Fire Brigade is blessed with an extremely user-friendly game system which, combined with the helpful manual, allows even a complete novice to get into the game easily. If you enjoy wargames you'll find Fire Brigade very satisfying, but even if you don't already, it's a good place to start.


Not much you can say about a wargame's graphics: the icons are fine and everything is clear and well detailed. Don't get to excited about the sound either: there is none. It may not be terrific-looking, but it plays extremely well.

Fire Brigade logo Zzap! Sizzler

Panther Games/Mindscape
Amiga (1 Mb only!) £29.99

Operation Barbarossa, the German offensive in Russia proved an ill-fated exercise mirroring Napoleon Bonaparte's 'invasion' and following retreat. Along with the Battle of Stalingrad, the battle of Kiev proved one of the most climatic but this time round the Germans were on the defensive. The Soviet forces in the form of the 3rd Guards Tank Army began a massive push from Moscow in the North to Rostov in the South, the objective being to split the German mechanised forces and cut off any forward units present while aiming to stop the Germans from capturing the city of Kiev. The strategic implications of the city far outweighed everything else to date in the Eastern Front war.

The start of the Soviet attack and hard pressed German defensive stance is the material for Fire Brigade. Faced with the onslaught, the commander of Army Group South, Marshall von Manstein sends the fire-brigade of the title, the 48th Panzer Korps into the fray. Fire Brigade covers the conflict at three points in time, from the initial headlong attacks on the 3rd of November to the mid-conflict commitment on all fronts at the 15th of November stage and then on to the final counterattack around 5th December. A tutorial based around the 15th November is provided for novices.

The players in the Eastern Front arena are the German commander Hoth facing the Russian General Vatutin. Either side can be taken but the Germans have a generally tougher time of it all with crumbling defensive positions to face up to a Soviet tidal wave of armour.

The different Panzer Korps and Infantry korps have their own command HQs controlling their own type of forces and it's through the HQs that orders are handed down to Panzers, Panzer Grenadiers (troop carriers), infantry, airborne units, cavalry and artillery - the Russians have similarly equipped forces although they are attacking across all fronts with large numbers of Stavka reserves and reinforcements, backing up the continued attacks.

At the start of each turn you as commander can opt to Review your staff's orders and plans (effectively taking 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 but it's the row of thirteen icons along the bottom that allow for direct command. Using these, units can be scanned (both enemy and allied), objectives set for forces (via their HQs), units transferred, reserve forces utilised.

Units can also be ordered to assault, hold, defend, delay attacks from enemy units and be force-marched to destinations if need be (fatigue proving a vicious factor unless units are kept intact). It's also possible to supply units through a technically impressive three-tier system of supply - from the army dump the supplies wend their way down through the HQs to individual units based around a clever bid priority system.

Overcome the initial confusion of a mass of icons and options and you'll find underneath that Fire Brigade is a relatively simple game to control. More advanced play is extremely well catered for with three skill levels to really test your mettle along with three scenarios recreating different points in the battle.

Once all moves are set up the program conducts the battle, which is accompanied by entertaining sound effects. Combat features include artillery, infantry overruns, and combat support. Capturing bridges establishes strong footholds for helping logistics and reinforcements. Aircraft support can be brought in with both fighters and bombers providing interdiction and bombing capabilities.

The list of factors and options available to the war-gamer is extremely comprehensive, indeed few stones are left unturned in the attempt to recreate brigade-scale command and combat. The best aspect is the detail which has been compressed in the game (the fact that the game runs on a 1 Meg Amiga only is testament to that).

The execution of the game is well crafted; Fire Brigade plays down the actual complexity of it all but it's all in three. My only gripe is that it could have dealt a little more with the individual units. Other than that it's a great game covering a particularly vicious ground fight recreated in fine style with an incredible wealth of detail and complexity.