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First Watch

Fast-play rules for all theaters of WWII, including basic and optional rules. Extensive data tables for all combatants. Includes tactical airpower as well as armor, infantry and artillery.

Robert A. Yarr
Armchair Generals
Year Published
Out of Print
28 pages in protective sheetholders within a looseleaf binder, transparent artillery template. (A "pocket size" edition was also available.)
Tactical. Ground scale is 1mm = 1 yard. Each turn represents 1-2 minutes. Each miniature represents an individual vehicle. Four rifle/smg soldiers compose an infantry stand, and may be represented by counters. Special infantry stands (leaders, machineguns, etc.) may represent one or two individuals. Intended for use with 1:285 or 1:300 scale miniatures.
Individual (vehicles and aircraft), unspecified group (infantry).

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This entry created by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian on 30 November 1996. Last revised by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian on 7 December 2016.

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©1994-2022 Bill Armintrout
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First Watch


The designer of First Watch had the goal of making " entertaining and quick game...", as he explains in his designer notes:

This rule set has been designed to make easy and amusing duplication of historical battles in a combined arms concept possible. Individual original engagements or tailor-made scenarios in a historical context may be played both quickly and enjoyably...

Remember, the goal of a game is to have fun. If you are playing a historical game on the losing side, take as many of the enemy with you as possible.

May your terrain boards or sand table run red with the blood of your enemies as you annihilate them using First Watch.

The rules are surprisingly brief – the basic rules take 2 pages, the optional rules another 1.5 pages, and the extremely optional ("hysterical") rules another half page. The brevity of the rules is possible since the combat charts (4 pages) are largely self-explained.

The ruleset does not include unit organization (TO&E) information, nor are there scenarios.

The Sequence of Play

The game is played in turns, each of which is shared by all players. The turn is made up of these steps:

Initiative Phase One dieroll is made per each nationality in play, to determine order of play this turn. Modifiers apply, depending upon nationality and year.
Land Movement Phase Players move their forces in order of nationality, starting with the lowest initiative nationalities. High-initiative players can take their move earlier, if they desire. Stationary units may declare and resolve opportunity fire on moving targets.
Fire Resolution Phase Infantry/Stationary Vehicle Fire Small-arms fire (infantry, vehicle machineguns) and stationary vehicles may now fire. All attacks within the phase are considered simultaneous. Each unit can fire in only one fire phase.
Slow Vehicle Fire Vehicles which moved less than half speed are eligible for simultaneous fire.
Remaining Fire All vehicles which have not fired this turn may now simultaneously fire.
Artillery Indirect Fire Phase Pre-plotted artillery fire is now resolved.
Aircraft Phase Aircraft move, using the same procedure as described for the Land Movement Phase. Aircraft may attack ground or air targets. Anti-aircraft fire occurs.
Artillery Plot/Special Orders Phase Artillery attacks for future turns are plotted. Special actions (such as radio communications) may occur.


Each vehicle is rated with a Max Speed, which is how far it can move (measured in centimeters). Actual speed is determined by multiplying Max Speed by a terrain modifier, using the most difficult terrain to be traversed in the current turn. There are 11 types of terrain:

  • road
  • dirt road
  • railroad tracks
  • open ground
  • downhill
  • uphill
  • rough ground
  • reverse
  • mud
  • snow
  • jungle

Infantry and cavalry ignore most terrain modifiers.


Units may fire upon any target which is in range. There are two firing procedures, one for small arms (infantry and machineguns) and another for main guns (tanks or large guns).

Small Arms. Eligible targets are infantry, guns not mounted in vehicles, and open-topped vehicles. There is a Hit Number based on range. The attack dieroll must be equal to or greater than the Hit Number. Modifiers to the Hit Number apply due to terrain and cover, type of target, and type of weapon firing.

If a hit is scored, one infantry or crew counter is eliminated. If the roll is 4 higher than required, a second counter is eliminated if one is close at hand to the target. (Each towed gun has 1 or 2 crew counters, depending on size of its gun.)

EXAMPLE: An Italian light machinegun opens fire on an American infantry unit riding inside a halftrack. The range is 8 cm, which gives a Hit Number of 3. These modifiers apply:

+2 target in open-top armored vehicle
-1 weapon is light machinegun

For a final modifier of +1, changing the Hit Number to 4. The Italian player rolls a "9," which not only eliminates the infantry target, but also (since the roll was 4 higher than needed) eliminates another infantry-type target within 5 cm. The American player agrees to eliminate the crew of the halftrack, as well as the infantry passengers.

Infantry are also capable of using anti-tank weapons (grenades, satchel charges, bazookas and panzerfausts) against armored vehicles. Such attacks are resolved using the Main Gun Fire procedure. Heavy machineguns can also opt to attack using the Main Gun Fire procedure.

Infantry can also attempt a Close Assault Tactic (CAT) attack against an armored vehicle at point-blank range, regardless of their integral weapons. One dieroll is made versus each target attacked this turn, with modifiers due to the number of infantry units attacking. If a "10" is rolled, the tank is destroyed.

Main Gun Fire. The firing procedure is similar to that for infantry small-arms. A gun's basic hit number is called its Hit Class. This is modified by range, type of target, movement, visibility, and whether target is hulldown. If the modified hit number is greater than 10, no shot is possible.

A die is then rolled. A "1" always misses. Otherwise, any result greater than or equal to the hit number scores a hit.

A shot which hits an armored target might not penetrate. To resolve this, determine the target's armor value by multiplying its Armor Class by its Facing Modifier. The Facing Modifier depends on the angle of the incoming shot, and is determined using a transparent overlay. The attacker's Penetration is equal to its Penetration Value minus a range penalty.

If final Penetration is equal or greater than final Armor Value, the target is destroyed.

EXAMPLE: A British 6 pdr. anti-tank gun fires upon a German PzKpfw IVF2 tank during a confused firefight in a village. The gun's Hit Class is 2. The range is 12 cm, which results in a +1 modifier to the hit number. These modifiers also apply:

-1 gun is stationary
+1 tank is moving
+3 disappearing shot (target not continuously in sight during movement)
+1 target is medium tank

The final hit number is 2 + 1 - 1 + 1 + 3 + 1 = 7. Holding his breath, the British player "8." A hit.

The gun's Penetration Value is 5 (pre-1943), modified -1 due to range, for a final Penetration of 4. The tank's Armor Value is 3, but the overlay indicates that a shot from the side reduces armor by 50% (to 1.5). A final Penetration of 4 easily beats a final Armor Value of 1.5, so the German tank is destroyed.

Artillery Fire

Artillery can fire at targets which it can directly see, or it can fire indirectly using landmarks visible to a Forward Observer unit. Direct Fire occurs during the normal fire phase. Indirect attacks are written in the Artillery Plot Phase, to be resolved in the next Artillery Fire Phase. Multiple guns in the same battery can fire together, with a single target point.

During the Artillery Fire Phase, a die is rolled to see if new fire missions are on target. There is a good chance that the bombardment will land near but not on the intended target. On future turns, artillery can continue firing the same mission. The player can move the target point 10 cm from the last impact point, with no chance of it drifting off target, or he can fire at the original target point with less chance of drift (depending on how many turns he has been firing at that target point).

Once the impact point is known, a transparent overlay is used to see how much area is affected by the bombardment. The overlay has a series of oval rings on it, and the type of artillery determines which rings are considered. Unless the firer is light artillery, all targets within or touching the center ring are destroyed. All other targets within the artillery unit's greatest bombardment ring are subject to a bombardment attack.

For the bombardment attack, a Kill Number is determined based on the size of the artillery, modified by terrain, fortification, and target type. One die is rolled per target. (If guns are firing per battery, then one die is rolled per gun per target.) Any result greater than the final Kill Number destroys the target.

EXAMPLE: During the Artillery Plot Phase, a Russian FO calls for artillery fire against German tanks advancing upon his position. He does this by registering the fire with regard to any landmark (in this case, 20 cm due east of a particular clump of woods).

During the Artillery Indirect Fire Phase, the Russians find if their fire is on target. On a roll of "5," the bombardment misses to the south. Since this is only the first turn of fire, the distance missed is 3D10. The player rolls 4, 8, and 3, for a final result of missing to the south of the desired target by 15 cms.

Fortunately for the Russians, there are German targets in the area of the actual bombardment. To see if any are within range, the artillery template is used. The Russians are firing a battery of 76mm guns (medium artillery). The Germans have three Tiger I's within the medium artillery oval (6 cm diameter), two of which are also within (or touching) the light artillery oval (4 cm diameter). The two inner targets are immediately destroyed. The remaining Tiger is subject to a Bombardment Attack.

The Kill Number for medium artillery is 10. The German tank is "charging in the open," so a -3 modifier brings the Kill Number down to 7. One dieroll is now made for each gun in the Russian battery (in this case, 3). The Russian rolls 2, 1, and 6. The tank survives.


Aircraft normally remain in play for only 6 turns, and must be at one of three altitudes (low, medium or high). They enter from a friendly end of the tabletop, and move 100 cm per turn or half the distance of the shortest table edge. Aircraft may change one altitude level per turn.

Air-to-Air Combat. Any plane classified as a Fighter can fire on any aircraft within 25 cms. Both planes must be at the same altitude. If there are any enemy fighters near to the "line of sight" between the attacker and target, the enemy plane may "intercept" by initiating an attack on the attacker. The attacker must then decide whether to press his original attack, or to switch targets to the interceptor.

Aircraft size determines how many attacks it may make, and also how many hits it can withstand. All fighters are 1's, but some bombers are 2's or 3's. Damaged bombers may be forced to abort their missions.

Combat is resolved by rolling a die for each plane. Each aircraft type has a Combat Modifier which acts as a modifier to the dieroll. In addition, fighter-bombers with a payload suffer a penalty. The plane which scores lowest takes a number of hits equal to the difference in the modified dierolls.

EXAMPLE: A Japanese Zero declares fire on a P-38 Lighting (acting as a fighter-bomber). Checking the line of sight, the American player discovers he has a fighter (an F4F Wildcat) near enough to the line to declare an interception, which he does.

The Japanese player decides to press on against the Lightning. The interception combat is resolved, but the Japanese dieroll will be defensive only – the Wildcat cannot be injured, even if the American loses the roll. Both planes have Combat Modifiers of 5, which cancel out.

The Japanese player rolls a "2," but the American player rolls a "1." The Japanese player wins the interception, and can now proceed to attack the American fighter-bomber. The Wildcat suffers no damage, since the Japanese player was making a defensive-only dieroll.

The Lightning also has a Combat Modifier of 5, but it suffers a -3 penalty for carrying a bomb load. The Japanese player rolls a 4 + 5 = 9. The American rolls a 6 + 5 - 3 = 8. The Lightning suffers 9 - 8 = 1 damage point, which is enough to shoot it down. (If it had been a medium or heavy bomber, it would have been damaged but survived.)

Anti-Aircraft Fire. Designated anti-aircraft weapons can fire at aircraft during the Air Phase if they have not fired previously this turn. Certain small arms may also conduct anti-air fire, though at marginal effectiveness. Range is based on weapon type. Weapon type and aircraft altitude determine the kill number. Modifiers apply due to type of aircraft (for instance, gliders or jets), visibility, and whether the firing unit is being attacked by the target. An attack roll which equals but not not exceed the kill number does not shoot down the target, but does force the plane to abort.

Bombing and Strafing Bombing is resolved using a similar procedure to artillery indirect fire, except that drifting off target is modified by the plane's altitude (less accurate from higher up).

Any aircraft at low altitude and armed with appropriate weapons may make a strafing attack. The attack area is 3 cm x 15 cm, anywhere along the plane's flight path this turn. Certain weapons can make a limited number of attacks, regardless of the number of targets caught within the strafing zone. A kill number is determined based on the plane's weapon type and the type of target. Modifiers apply due to terrain.

Bombing and strafing occur only after all air-to-air and anti-air fire has been resolved.

EXAMPLE: A pair of Stukas are assigned to take out a dangerous British 40mm Bofors gun site. One Stuka is at low-level with no bomb load, and makes a strafing attack by moving past the enemy gun emplacement. The other Stuka is at medium-level and intends to make a bomb run. Since it is at medium altitude, it must end its movement within "medium altitude" range using the transparent template (about 8 cm).

Before these attacks can be resolved, air-to-air and anti-air fire must be taken care of. In this case, the 40mm Bofors gun wants to fire. The British player has an equal chance of shooting down either plane (the advantage of firing at the lower altitude plane is offset by the disadvantage of shooting at a low-level plane which is attacking the firer). He decides to attack the bombing Stuka, and as a Light A.A. weapon versus a medium altitude target, the kill number is 8. No modifiers apply.

Rolling a "1," the British player fails to score. Now the Germans can have their fun.

First, the German player decides to resolve the bombing attack. The Stuka designates a bombing target anywhere within the "bombing from medium altitude" template. He rolls to see if he is on target, and scores a "3" – off to the east! Bombing from medium altitude means that the bomb drifts 2D10 cms, or in this case, 5 + 2 = 7 cms. However, the Stuka is carrying an 1,100 lb. bomb, which affects an oval roughly 14cm in diameter.

Everything caught within the inner circle is destroyed, and everything caught within the "1,000 lb bomb" circle suffers a Bombardment Attack. In this case, there is only the Bofors gun, and it isn't within the inner circle so it suffers the attack roll. For this size of bomb, the Kill Number is 4, modified +1 to 5 (Bofors gun is in a fortified position). The German player rolls a "2," and the gun survives.

Now, the German player officially declares his strafing attack, centering his attack area around the Bofors gun (but no other targets are in range). This Stuka is equipped with 2 37mm cannon. On the combat table, this situation counts as "up to 2 German 37mm cannon" firing against a "field piece," which gives a kill number of 8. The fortified position does not have high walls, so counts as soft cover (-2 to the dieroll).

The German rolls a 5, modified to a 3. He fails to beat his kill number of 8, and the Bofors gun lives to fight another turn.

Optional Rules

The following rules are considered optional:

Hit Location Adds a new dieroll to the Main Gun Fire procedure, before Penetration. Shots might bounce, hit a track, hit the turret, or hit the lower hull (which is a bounce against a hulldown target).
Minefields Minefields are hidden, and are of two varieties (anti-armor and anti-personnel). Engineers can clear mines.
Assault/Crawl Infantry can move further if they "assault," but cannot fire in the same turn. Infantry can also "crawl," moving slowly but making them impervious to fire beyond point-blank range.
Crew Ratings Allows combat modifiers due to the proficiency of a crew or pilot.
Overrun A vehicle may attempt to "crash through" any unit (including other vehicles) or obstacles. (Similarly, aircraft may conduct ramming attacks against air or ground targets.)
Surrender Units can attempt to force enemies to surrender, but sacrifice their attack for that turn.
Dive Bombers Allows certain planes to "dive bomb" from high to low altitude.
Jettisoning Ordnance Bombers forced to abort have the option of dropping their bomb load at the point of abortion.
Parachute Drops Rules to allow planes to drop infantry.
Bombardment and Terrain Sand, snow, water, or dense buildings reduces the area of effect for bombardment. Buildings might collapse if bombed.
Aircraft Target Acquisition Air-to-ground attacks must now be plotted in the Artillery Plot Phase. Exception: Targets in the open, or which move during the turn.
Smoke Certain vehicles can now fire smoke. Wind strength and direction determines how fast smoke moves.
Weather A pre-game dieroll determines which altitudes are available for play.
Fortunes of War Each side can make one Fortune of War roll at the end of a turn. If successful, they can ask the referee for a special action, or petition for a change in ruling. A very bad roll means they cannot roll for FoW for D6 turns.

There is also a section of "Extremely Optional Rules," covering such things as attacks versus ships, super-high altitude planes, external fuel tank, and add-on armor.

The Data Tables

There are 7 pages of vehicle data, covering more than 300 armored vehicles from the U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Belgium, Hungary, Poland, Finland, and China. An additional 4 data pages cover "miscellaneous weapons" such as artillery, anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns, mortars, and infantry anti-tank weapons. This is followed by 6 pages of aircraft data tables.