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Free Fire Zone

Rules for simulating low-level (company- and platoon-level) tactics during the Vietnam War. Command and control is an important part of play. Rules cover the use of helicopters, radio communications, tanks, booby traps, casualty evacuation, snipers, and prisoners. Artillery and air support is simplified. Rulebook includes extensive biblography and filmography.

Barrie Lovell
Firebase Games
Year Published
Out of Print
48-page spiral-bound rulebook, 1 reference card, 1 counter sheet (paper), 1 rules update sheet
As the designer states, "One of the aims of these rules is to escape from the rigid concept of time, activity and distance." One turn represents about 2-5 minutes. 1" = 5 or 10 meters (player's preference). One model equals one man, vehicle, or weapon. Designed for use with 15mm or 20mm figures.

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This entry created by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian on 23 March 1995. Last revised by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian on 27 December 2016.

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©1994-2022 Bill Armintrout
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Free Fire Zone

Wargames Rules for the Vietnam War 1965-1975


Free Fire Zone is designed to allow players to make command decisions and lead their troops realistically, without getting bogged down in unnecessary trivia. In his introduction to these rules, Barrie Lovell says that the rules mechanisms and sequence of play may seem unusual at first. He explains that his goal has been to create a simulation " which an event will provoke a reaction, a period of time may involve lots of activity or none at all..." and "...command and control may influence events, but only if the player works hard to carry out his plans and control the situation."

Barrie says that previous Vietnam War rules sets have overemphasized the technology of the war, ignoring the most important factor: "...the dirty, ill-fed and often tired man behind the gun and his determination to fight."

The Men

Each figure in Free Fire Zone represents an individual fighting man. The player must determine the major weapons of each figure (i.e., AK-47, pistol, M-79 grenade launcher, and so forth). Figures are primarily grouped into Squads, though some figures compose Headquarters groups or crews for heavy weapons. Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) squads can also break down into 3-man Cells. Vehicles (including helicopters) are not formed into groups, but act individually.

All Units – infantry squads, groups and crews, and individual vehicles – must be rated as either Elite, Regular, Conscript, or Militia. This is their Type. In addition, some units may be designated as Veterans.

The Sequence of Play

Each turn is composed of these steps:

Determine Initiative Both players roll dice, with situational modifiers affecting their results. High roller chooses whether to be First or Second Player this turn.
Compulsory Actions Includes such events as Panic, Support Fire, Searches, and Air Strikes.
First Player's Activities First Player attempts actions with his forces.
Second Player's Activities Second Player now attempts actions with his forces.
Morale Tests Units which took fire this turn must test morale.
Helicopter Actions Helicopters conduct any activity not allowed during previous steps.

Activities are the heart of the game system. During each player's Activities Step, they select individual units and attempt to get them to perform various Activities. However, units won't perform the Activity unless the player succeeds at a Motivation Roll.

The Motivation Roll is based upon the unit's Type. Modifiers apply to the roll, depending upon the proximity (or absence) of officers and the status of the unit (i.e., pinned down or panicking).

Players can earn a bonus to their Motivation Rolls if they successfully Communicate with the unit on the previous turn. Rules cover communication by voice, runner, radio, or field telephone. Infantry cannot Communicate while moving. For a headquarters to communicate, the members of that group must be in base-to-base contact (representing the tendency of commanders and their staffs to bunch up while sharing maps and using the radio).

The basic Activities are:

Move Unit can also fire this turn, but such fire will be uncontrolled and thus less effective.
Set Up/Dismantle Heavy Weapon Unit can neither move nor fire this turn.
Watch and Shoot Unit observes, ready to engage the enemy.
Firefight Controlled fire with all available firepower.
Assault Man-to-man, base-to-base combat.
Reorganize A mandatory Activity after an assault, or when recovering from Panic.

Once a unit has begun to Watch and Shoot, it remains in that status for future turns without additional Motivation Rolls. If a unit fails a Motivation Roll, it can still fire (but such fire is less effective than a properly coordinated Firefight Activity).

EXAMPLE: An American player is commanding two units – an infantry squad belonging to the 25th Infantry Division ("Regulars" rating), and a tank ("Conscripts" rating, for this scenario). During his Activities Phase, the American player's plan is for the tank to fire at a bunker, then for the infantry squad to assault that bunker.

The Tank is "Conscript," so it will motivate on a roll of 3 or better. Modifiers apply to the roll: +1 (bonus when motivating vehicles) and +1 (tank is within 50 meters of, and in sight of, the commanding officer). The American player rolls a "2," modified (2 + 1 + 1) to a 4, beating the required "3." Therefore, the tank can perform its Fire Activity (similar to the Firefight Activity for infantry units).

(Note that the tank could have fired even if it had failed its Motivation Roll, but the fire would have been less effective.)

Now to motivate the infantry. Their rating of "Regulars" means they will Motivate on a roll of 2 or better. However, they are pinned down by fire from the bunker (-2 penalty). Fortunately, their commander Communicated with them on the previous turn by radio (+2 for Communications). The American rolls a "4," the modifiers cancel out, and the "4" beats the required "2" – the infantry performs the Assault Activity.


When a unit is successfully motivated into moving, its movement rating for that turn is determined by dieroll. The result, multiplied by a modifier determined by the type of unit moving and the terrain involved, is the number of inches which the unit can move this turn.

The rules discuss 10 types of terrain, and 3 types of obstacles. Vehicles in poor terrain risk becoming stuck when moving. Helicopters have several special Activities, allowing them to Move, Land/Take Off, Hover, and Attack (which allows limited movement).

Units with Watch and Shoot orders can fire on moving units.


Anti-personnel fire is conducted on a unit vs. unit basis. First, the total number of Fire Points are determined. Each weapon is worth a different Fire Factor, but may fire only if the target is within that figure's arc of fire. (Infantry can fire in a 90-degree arc to the front, but other weapons may be limited to a 45-degree arc.)

The Fire Factor of crew-served weapons (i.e., a belt-fed light machinegun, a 90mm recoilless rifle, and so forth) is boosted when additional men aid in firing the weapons. For instance, a tripod-mounted machinegun has a Fire Factor of 12 when operated by a lone gunner, but with a full crew of 3 assistants plus the gunner, its Fire Factor becomes 21.

The total Fire Points are used on the Fire Effect Chart, correlated against the type of the firing unit, to discover the chance to hit the target. According to circumstances, the attacker then may be forced to shift up or down by rows on the Chart. For instance, firing at a stationary target in the open is a 1-row bonus; firing at a target which is under cover is a 3-row penalty. Row-shift modifiers also apply due to the range of the target.

Fire is allowed at "unspotted" targets, but at a row-shift penalty. (This is the tactic popularly known as "reconaissance by fire.")

The final result on the Fire Effect Table is the percentage chance to score a hit. (In some cases, the result may be an automatic hit plus the chance to score an additional hit.) The attacker then rolls the dice. If he beats the percentage chance, he scores one hit; if he rolls low enough, he may also score additional hits.

When a unit receives hits, the owning player must make Casualty Rolls for the figures in that unit (beginning with those most likely to be hit). Rolls continue to be made until all of the hits have been allocated. If Casualty Rolls have been made for the entire unit and unallocated hits remain, then enemy units to the rear of the target unit must also check for casualties.

Units earn Fire Effect Counters when successfully shot at.

EXAMPLE: A Viet Cong Cell – 3 men armed with AK-47's – opens fire upon an advancing U.S. infantry squad on a jungle trail. Each AK-47 is worth 1 Fire Factor, so the total Fire Points is 3.

The VC are "regular," which correlated against the Fire Point Total on the Fire Effect Chart, gives a hit chance of 15%. However, these modifiers apply: 3 rows down (range 25 meters or less), Firefight orders (2 down), target moving on foot (1 row up), adjusting the result by (3 + 2 - 1 =) 4 rows down, to a 38% chance to hit.

The NVA Player now rolls a "19," beating the needed 38 and scoring a hit. However, he did not roll low enough to score any bonus hits.

Next, the American Player must roll to discover who the casualty is. Starting at the front of the column, he rolls: 6 (not the first man), 5 (not the second man), 1 (the third man takes the hit).

Close Assaults. When a unit takes an Assault Activity, combat is resolved in a slightly different manner. Assuming that the unit succeeds at its Motivation Roll, it rolls to determine its movement rate, and (if it receives enough movement) advances into contact with the enemy. Hostile units with Watch and Shoot orders can fire at the advancing unit, but the target enemy cannot fire.

The target unit (the defender) now makes a Reaction Test. These men will either Stand and Fight, Fire and Withdraw, Withdraw, or Panic Run. Only in the first two cases is the defender allowed to make a fire attack on the enemy.

If the defenders Stand and Fight, then the attackers must now try the Reaction Test. If both sides Stand and Fight, hand-to-hand combat must be resolved.

Each side rolls one die, modified due to circumstances, and multiplied by the Assault Value of that side's troops. The side with the highest result takes fewer casualties, while the troops with the lower result must make a Determination Roll to see if they continue to fight.

EXAMPLE: In a desperate battle, the only way to take out a VC machinegun nest is for a Marine squad to launch an assault. Succeeding at the Motivation Roll, the Marines go forward. In this case, no enemy units are eligible to fire at the moving unit.

Now the VC gun crew must try a Reaction Roll. The modifiers are: +2 (veteran), +3 (in trench), -1 (no officers present), for a final modifier of (2 + 3 - 1 =) +4. The VC player rolls a 6, modified to a 10 – the gun crew Stands and Fights.

Because they Stand and Fire, the gun crew can now make a fire attack on the advancing Marines. The gun, with 1 gunner and 3 crew, has a Fire Factor of 21. The firing units are Regulars, leading to a hit chance of 54%. However, these modifiers apply: 3 down (point-blank range), 1 down (veterans), 1 up (target is moving on foot), changing the hit chance to 80%.

The VC player rolls: 74. That's enough for one hit. The Marine player rolls for his men, and discovers that the 5th man has become a casualty. The Marines also gain two Fire Effect counters.

Now the Marines must try the Reaction Test. Their modifiers are: +2 (veterans), +1 (senior officer with them), -2 (received two Fire Effect counters), for a final modifier of (2 + 1 - 2 =) +1. On a dieroll of 4, modified to 5, the Marines too Stand and Fight.

Each side now make its Assault Roll. For the VC, their Assault Value is 4 (4 men), and their modifiers are +1 (veteran) and +3 (in a trench). Their dieroll is a "2," modified to 6, and multiplied against the Assault Value of 4, gives a final result of 24.

The Marines have an Assault Value of 7.5 (five men left, all have assault rifles), with a modifier of +1 (veterans). Their dieroll is a "3," modified to 4, multiplied by 7.5, for a final result of 30.

The Marine's 30 beats the VC's 24, so the Marines only take a half-dieroll of casualties (rolling a 3, they take 1 casualty). The VC take a full dieroll of casualties (they also roll a 3, eliminating three of the four men of the gun crew).

Now the losing side makes a Determination Roll. The modifiers are: +1 (veteran), -1 (heavy casualties), -1 (no officers), for a final result of -1. On a dieroll of 5, modified to a 4, the lone gun crew member chooses to Withdraw in the upcoming Compulsory Actions step.

The Marines have captured the VC machinegun nest. They must attempt to Reorganize on their next turn.

Anti-Tank Fire. Certain weapons have special Fire Factors for use when attacking armored vehicles. When they attack a tank, one die is rolled and the result added to that weapon's Fire Factor. Modifiers may also apply. If the result is 8 or more, the tank is knocked out.

EXAMPLE: An NVA soldier fires an RPG at an American M-48 tank. The RPG has a Fire Factor of 3 versus tanks. Modifiers which apply: +1 (attacking tank's flank), +1 (less than 50 meters distance), -1 (heavy armored vehicle), for a final result of (3 + 1 + 1 - 1) = 4.

The player rolls the dice – "3." Modified (3 + 4) to a 7, this is not quite enough to knock out the tank (an "8" is required). The tank lives on.

Anti-Helicopter Fire. Substantial penalties often apply to the Total Fire Points of units attacking a helicopter (especially if the helicopter is also attacking them). If the chopper is hit, there is a slight chance that it will crash or that it must immediately return to base; otherwise, the helicopter has "minor damage" and must roll each turn to see if it must return to base.

Artillery and Air Support

Troops may call for assistance from artillery or air units not present on the tabletop.

Artillery Support. American and Allied forces call for artillery support by making a Communications attempt. There is a basic 50% chance of the request being denied, though the request can be repeated on the next turn (with a bonus for being a repeat). The chance is modified, depending upon the person making the request (i.e., forward observer vs. panicking Militia private). If the request is approved, the support will either arrive in the current or the subsequent turn (unless the player specifically requests a delay).

The Communists are much more limited in their ability to call down artillery fire. They may only call for fire against preregistered targets (i.e. selected prior to play). There is usually a delay of several turns before the fire mission occurs.

When the artillery support arrives, a die is rolled to see if the fire is on target. If the fire is off target, dice are rolled to determine where the rounds have landed.

Artillery affects an area 10" x 15" around the target point. A Casualty Roll must be made for all figures within that area.

EXAMPLE: The NVA commander registered fire on an ARVN (South Vietnamese) bunker prior to the start of play. He now sends a runner to instruct his battery to open fire. Three turns later, the runner reaches the edge of the table. A die is rolled to see how long it will be until the fire mission occurs: "5" more turns.

Many turns later, the NVA commander gets his artillery support. Since this is pre-registered fire, he receives a +2 bonus on his Accuracy Roll. Unfortunately, he rolls a "1" – the mission deviates. Rolling one die, he learns that the mission is "under"; rolling three more dice, he finds the artillery landing 6" closer to his own lines than he desired. (Fortunately, the deviation distance was halved since this was pre-registered fire… otherwise, it would have hit 12" closer.)

The players now check an area 10" x 15" around the impact point. Two ARVN squads have been caught, as have three members of an unlucky NVA squad.

The ARVN soldiers receive a -2 modifier on the Casualty Roll, due to being in field defenses with overhead protection. Ordinarily, this would be enough to guarantee safety from the barrage, but there is a +1 modifier (NVA firing heavy mortars). Rolling for every soldier caught in the impact zone, the ARVN player finds that he has lost four soldiers.

The NVA player also rolls for his three unfortunates, with the +1 modifier (heavy mortar) counting against him. One soldier becomes a casualty.

Air Support. Only the U.S. forces (and Allies) may receive air support. A Communications attempt is made as described for calling in artillery support, though different modifiers apply. If the air support is denied, the player must wait a half hour before making another air support request (no aircraft are in the area). Otherwise, the mission arrives in a random number of turns.

When the aircraft arrives, it attempts to Communicate with the stand which originally requested it. It will loiter until contact is established. When Communication is made, the player sets the target to be attacked on the following turn.

The effects of air support are similar to those from artillery support, though air support tends to be less inaccurate.

EXAMPLE: An infantry squad of the 82nd Airborne is surrounded by NVA forces and requests air support. The modifiers to the dieroll are: +1 (request is made by a Veteran officer), +2 (unit is Elite), -1 (the requesting stand is pinned down), for a final modifier of (1 + 2 - 1 =) +2.

The U.S. player must roll a "5" or better to gain air support. He rolls a 4, which is modified to a 6 – he gets what he wants! He rolls 3 averaging dice to find the time delay: 10 turns.

When the aircraft arrives, the Veteran officer is (fortunately) still alive and able to Communicate. The tactical situation is dire, so he directs the plane to attack a point 8" south of his own men – and hopes that the pilot is highly skilled…

On the following turn, the attack is made. On the Accuracy Roll, the player scores a "6" – on target! Fifteen NVA soldiers are caught in the impact zone, and most are "in the open and not in cover" (+2 penalty). Ten fail their rolls, and become casualties.

Casualties, Morale & Casevac

Casualties may be either wounded (WIA) or killed (KIA). A die is rolled whenever a casualty is caused, to determine the casualty's status. Weapons may be taken from casualties.

Both sides have reason for removing casualties from the field of battle. The U.S. force gains points for each enemy body recovered, and loses points for each friendly casualty left on the field. Uninjured men can carry casualties to collection points, and (U.S. only) helicopters can be used to evacuate the wounded. The NVA can attempt to hide their casualties, so that the U.S. force cannot find them.

EXAMPLE: In the previous assault example, the Marine took 3 casualties, and the VC took 3.

For the men killed by machinegun fire, that weapon counts as a "heavy weapon," so the Marine casualties are dead on a roll of 2 or less. The Marine player rolls for each man, scoring a pair of 2's – both men are dead.

The remaining casualties – one Marine, and two Viet Cong – were taken in the Close Assault. Victims in a Close Assault die on a roll of 3 or less. The Marine player rolls a 5 – his man is only wounded. The VC player rolls 5, 5, and 3 – one is dead, two are wounded.

POWs. Casualties may be captured by the opposing side. In addition, any unit which Panic Runs during a Close Assault may have some of its soldiers surrender to the enemy. Prisoners are worth victory points, but they are also potential trouble – players must roll dice to see if the prisoners are shot by their captors.

EXAMPLE: In the example assault, the Marines have captured not only the VC machinegun nest, but also two wounded men. The Marine player rolls the dice, to learn that one prisoner is shot, but the other remains in custody.

Morale. During the Morale Step, any unit which has been fired at in the current turn must test Morale. A variety of modifiers apply to this roll. If the test is failed, the unit suffers one of these results:

Take Cover On the next turn, the unit must move toward the nearest perceived cover during the Compulsory Activities step. It may fire, but no other Activities may be conducted until the following turn.
Pinned Down The unit can perform no Activity besides Firefight. It cannot move.
Panic The unit will either run, freeze, or panic fire, and it will continue to do one of these three options every turn.

Units recover from being Pinned or Panicking by succeeding at a special Activity, known as Rally. A unit which successfully Rallies can conduct normal Activities on the following turn (after it Reorganizes).

EXAMPLE: Let's check the Morale of both victims of the example assault, given above. The lone VC gun crew member has these penalties to his roll: +2 (still in the trench, as Withdraw doesn't occur until the Compulsory phase of the next turn), +2 (Regulars, but no longer Veteran due to casualties), -2 (all leaders eliminated), -2 (heavy casualties), for a final modifier of (2 + 2 - 2 - 2 =) 0.

On two dice, the VC player scores a 7 – passing the Morale Test.

As for the Marines, their modifiers are: +2 (now in the trench), +1 (Veteran), +2 (Regulars), +3 (successful Assault), -2 (Fire Effect counters), for a final result of (2 + 1 + 2 + 3 - 2 =) +6.

The Marine player scores "3" – modified to a 9. The Marines too pass the Test.

Additional Rules

Free Fire Zone also provides these rules for special situations:

Search Operations A new Activity, Search, allows troops to look for concealed items (i.e., a buried cache of weapons, a hidden bunker, or bodies hastily concealed in the undergrowth).
Snipers Allows players to add trained marksmen to their scenarios.
Booby Traps The Vietnamese Player can place Booby Traps prior to play. Traps are either Explosive (in three sizes) or Non- Explosive (Pungi Traps, crossbow traps, and so forth).
Civilians Civilians can be added to a scenario to make it more difficult to know which figures are the enemy. Civilians can be interrogated for information.
Bunker Busting Hits from heavy weapons can now cause bunkers to collapse.
Village Dogs Dogs can alert troops to the presence of prowling enemies.
Hush Puppies Having trouble with Village Dogs? Perhaps a silenced pistol (a Hush Puppy) can deal with your problem…

Scenario Design

The rulebook provides guidelines for scenario design, including suggestions for determining the Rules of Engagement for the forces involved. No organization tables are provided – for instance, there is no information on the organization of a U.S. infantry squad. However, an extensive bibliography allows players to research these questions themselves.

A Victory Point system adds considerable flavor to the game. The U.S. Player gains points for:

  • Finding enemy bodies
  • Gaining prisoners (especially officers)
  • Capturing or destroying enemy heavy weapons
  • Finding/capturing/destroying arms or supply caches

And loses points for:

  • Killing civilians
  • Using artillery or air support (to discourage the American player from simply bulldozing his opponent)
  • abandoning friendly casualties

The VC/NVA Player, on the other hand, simply receives points for causing casualties, capturing prisoners, and destroying vehicles and helicopters.


Second edition published 1996.

Rights acquired by Brookhurst Hobbies.