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Fire Brigade logo  Zzap! Sizzler

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

Fire Brigade 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.

Zzap! Issue 53, September 1989, p.39

Presentation 86%
The excellent and well illustrated manual assumes the player is a little higher than novice level in experience but otherwise Fire Brigade functions well with a clean layout to match.

Challenge 88%
Complex enough to have strategists drooling at the mouth. Three scenarios may not seem many but each can be played at many levels.

Authenticity 89%
As authentic as they come in terms of recreating the scenarios with both high and low levels of command combined well.

OVERALL 90%
A very realistically and gritty rematch of the Battle of Kiev with one of the most formidable challenges around.