Fistful of TOWs 3 – a rules review

Introduction

Fistful of TOWs 3 (or short FFT3) is a very powerful rules system and definitely my favorite for modern times. It covers everything from World War 2 to present time at roughly company to brigade size but can also handle more. The rules book is very detailed and brings everything you need plus a lot of extras and optionals. There is no need for any supplements, additional army books or similar you get sold piece by piece with other rules systems. The core rules themselves are quite compact, fun and play out fast. Army lists and equipment data make up a good part of the book and are extensive enough to give access to all major conflicts in the 20th and 21st century.

In this rules review we will cut all this into digestible slices and have a look at it one by one. Once we are done, if you are looking to play out realistic modern battles on a bigger-than-usual level, you are very likely to come home with FFT3. Promised! Let us have a look.

How the Fistful of TOWs 3 rules book is structured

Like said, the rules book is quite impressive. A factor for that is the detail put into the game to create a realistic experience. Especially the army and equipment lists part puts in good weight with some 200+ pages. Due to this fact, contrary to what most of us are used to from other systems, there are no supplements you’d have to buy. Just this rules book and you are settled. Period. The rest of the book is core rules, optional rules and additional content.

Let me first give you a quick overview about the books structure. All together it is 450 pages, consisting of:

  • Introduction: first 30 pages are an introduction to the game, some very helpful info about miniatures, manufacturers, painting, building terrain, a tactical primer and some more.
  • Core rules: about 100 pages about sequence of play, movement system and terrain, spotting and combat system, night fighting, artillery, helicopters and airstrikes, combat engineering and airborne or amphibious landings. Also included are some detailed examples of how the mechanics play out and optional rules. These optional rules include for example the use of formation HQs, artillery command and control, a friction mechanism and more. Not that much anymore, right?
  • Additional rules and content: about 80 pages of very optional rules like chemical and nuclear weapons follow. This section also includes a detailed guide on creating scenarios and campaigns. Finally you find some designer notes and 20 pages on how to design vehicles and ground troops (like post 2015 ones not included) on your own with help of real world stats.
  • Army and equipment lists: starting from page 223, these make up the rest of the book. FFT3 army lists cover most of the relevant factions from World War 2 (Japan is missing here sadly) as well as post-WW2 European Cold War countries, the Vietcong and US Army/Marines. Also included are army lists for the Six Day War and Yom Kippur belligerents Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan and Syria. Countries like China, Argentina, India, Denmark, Brazil, Turkey and many more do not have army lists provided. Their equipment tho is listed in the data charts. So it is quite easy to create army lists on your own along real world information.

The hardware: scales, basing and other materials for Fistful of TOWs 3

Miniature scales that work best with FFT3 are 3mm, 6mm and for smaller games probably 15mm. One stand (base) represents a platoon of vehicles or infantry. There are no special basing requirements in FFT3, so you can just go with what you got already. If you start a new army for Fistful of TOWs 3, you can of course base as you see fit. Ground scale in the game is 1″ equals 100m but also works well with 1cm equals 100m for big battles and/or small tables. I use centimeters for my games. Fistful of TOWs 3 comes with a simple counter sheet to cut out. I printed them on 200g paper and glued them on thick cardboard before cutting. If you want something more fancy, you would have to produce some counters too for play – but it is absolutely optional and the provided ones do a great job.

Quality matters in FFT3. A lot!

Pretty much everything in Fistful of TOWs 3 is influenced by quality: be it rolling to hit, rate of fire, quality checks, command rolls or likelihood of friendly fire, which can happen at night or bad visibility. It really matters in FFT3. Quality of course also influences point cost of units. This gives different factions different flavors without the need for faction-specific special rules as you have with a lot of other systems.

Movement, cohesion and spotting rules

Movement and terrain rules in FFT3 are straight forward and solid with no experiments. Foot soldiers can move without restrictions on most terrain, tracked vehicles will have better performance cross country than wheeled ones. Some terrain like swamps can bog down vehicles (and give engineer vehicles opportunity to free them). Due to the scale of the game, troops can also use strategic movement and double their possible range, but they can not fire and get penalties if shot at.

Cohesion again is influenced by troop quality. While you can choose to leave parts of a unit behind and out of cohesion, they will receive negative modifiers on dice rolls. To counter this, some units get categorized as “base” in the army lists. These are mostly units like weapon teams or mortars, which are usually behind the line and ignore cohesion.

Spotting is done quite well in Fistful of TOWs 3 as there is no lengthy dice rolls needed. Each category (foot soldiers, towed weapons, vehicles) has a fixed range at which it can be detected when either being stationary, moving or shooting. Infrared and thermal vision negate the view distance limit during night or bad weather. Thermal vision also will ignore smoke for spotting purpose as it does in real life. Shooting through smoke tho still gives a penalty, since heat can be seen through smoke but a tanks rangefinder laser for example will be affected by smoke.

Combat

Anti-Vehicle

High-noon: a Soviet T-80 battalion assaulting West German positions.
High-noon: a Soviet T-80 battalion assaulting West German positions.

Fistful of TOWs 3 has a great way to resolve anti-vehicle fire in a realistic manner. It might sound counter-intuitive and complicated at first, but becomes second-hand after a couple of runs. Promised!

First off, you roll a dice for each ROF of your weapon and apply modifiers for troop quality, suppression, when firing overwatch and some other factors. A hit is achieved on a 3+ (short range), 4+ (effective range) and 5+ (long range). After this, resolve any terrain saves if eligible. Now take the guns penetration and substract the targets armour value. This is the amount of dice you roll for each hit that was left after terrain saves. A 6 kills, a 4 or 5 results in a quality check marker (which is resolved at the end of the current phase). Mostly used for ATGM fire, there also is a h-class modifier that gets added to the armor value. This way, the rules can easily separate hits made with kinetic penetrators, high explosive rounds or tandem warheads on vehicles with or without slat or reactive armour.

ATGM fire is resolved very similar but does not use range bands. Instead they hit based on their generation (first, second and third generation missiles) and the amount of ammunition carried (limited and unlimited). Generation of missiles also dictate if they can be shot after moving or be used in a ‘shoot and scoot’ attack (see below).

Anti-infantry fire and close combat

Soviet infantry assaults under support fire by their BMP-2.
Soviet infantry assaults under support fire by their BMP-2.

Anti-infantry fire works similar to anti-vehicle fire, with the difference that there are not direct kills. Instead the first hit results in a quality check. Each additional hit gives a -1 to the quality check roll. These checks are rolled at the end of the phase and when failed, the unit bails.

Close combat in FFT3 is deadly. Very deadly. The procedure is similar to firing anti-infantry fire. But instead of stretching the resolution over several turns, within the same phase the troops shoot each other until no more troops are in direct contact. So if you assault, the results will be ready within the same game turn instead of stretching it over several. Given a turn in FFT3 represents roughly 12 minutes, this has been solved quite well i think.

Hold fire, overwatch and ‘shoot and scoot’

Soviet anti-tank guided-missile vehicles on overwatch in an ambush position.
Soviet anti-tank guided-missile vehicles on overwatch in an ambush position.

For units that did not move and/or fire in their phase, the game let’s you place ‘hold fire’ or overwatch markers. These enable your units to fire in the enemies turn, with overwatch even during the enemies movement phase. This mechanism results in great tactical play where tanks and long range ATGM can cover lanes of approach or infantry can shoot at advancing troops that seek to initiate close combat.

‘Shoot and scoot’ is available for some unit/weapon types and enables moving after firing. Retreating into cover, they can avoid receiving reaction fire after their shot gave away their position. A great choice for light and fast vehicles to set up ambush positions or outnumbered tanks trying to delay the enemy.

The artillery system

The artillery system has a great balance of being easy to understand and resolve and producing a variety of results that feel realistic (telling from a perspective of someone who never commanded real artillery). The basic measurement unit for artillery resolution in FFT3 are fire units. These are rolled for at the start of the phase for each artillery group using modifiers. This way, FFT3 simulates how artillery groups on higher levels (brigade or divisional) are less likely to be available. They got to serve the whole brigade/division and might simply be busy. After allocating these fire units to the barrages, a couple tables gives information about size of the fire zones and, using dice rolls, if the target was missed, suppressed or destroyed. There are also rules for cluster ammunition fired by either gun artillery or MRLS as well as mine fields and smoke delivered by such weapon systems.

When rolling for accuracy, there is also chance for bad things to happen. These can result in simple scattering of the barrage or fire being canceled. Worse it could be receiving counter-battery fire. It is also possible the observer gave his own coordinates accidentally or those of nearby friendly units and other fun things.

Admittedly a bit more complex than in other systems, but one is getting used to it quite fast and the results feel way more real.

Helicopters and air strikes

A group of West German Bo-105 anti-tank helicopters on the hunt.
A group of West German Bo-105 anti-tank helicopters on the hunt.

In FFT3, helicopters work like other vehicles for the most part. They too got stats like movement factor, armor value, transport capacity. They usually move close to the ground so they can make use of cover. But the player can also choose to fly in high-mode, which comes with unlimited movement and unrestricted view. On the downside, unrestricted view works both ways. The helicopter can be targeted from anywhere on- as well as off-table (in form of a dice roll for off-map long range SAM).
For armament, helicopters can be fitted with a variety of pods including machine guns, cannons, rockets, guided missiles and bombs as well as air-to-air missiles to attack other helicopters. There is a wide range of helicopters in the book with all stats you need. This includes attack helicopters like the AH-64 Apache or Mi-24 Hind as well as transports like the CH-47 Chinook or Mi-8 Hip. You will also find reconnaissance helicopters like the OH-58D Kiowa or Mi-2 Hoplite.
Some special rules like pop-up attacks make attack helicopters fun and effective tools on the battlefield. Transport helicopters can be held in reserve to bring in reinforcements quickly at the right time and place.

Unlike helicopters, airstrikes are way more abstact in Fistful of TOWs 3. It needs an forward observer (FO) to spot for and call an airstrike in the area fire phase by placing a barrage marker. Same as you would do for artillery. Once placed, you roll for arrival and designate the flight path. Hitting the target now incorporates troop quality of the pilots again and also if there is AAA or SAM in range of the flight path, which gives a modifier on the roll. Air strikes can be gun runs, general purpose, napalm, guided or cluster bombs. Rockets or missiles are also available. All these work similar to the artillery system and are easily resolved.

Combat engineering

East of Wolfsburg, a West German engineer company sets up a mobile bridge in preparation of a counter-attack.
East of Wolfsburg, a West German engineer company sets up a mobile bridge in preparation of a counter-attack.

Of course, a game on such a scale needs engineers! Be it crossing small rivers or canals by mobile bridges, pushing destroyed vehicles off roads or pulling them from a swamp, laying or clearing mine fields or creating entrenchments. For all of these FFT3 provides not only the rules but also lists all needed vehicles in the equipment lists. There are also rules to buy entrenchments, mine fields, bunkers and obstacles before game start when playing certain scenarios like defense, breakthrough or river crossing.

Modern tech in Fistful of TOWs 3

There is also a short chapter about high-tech equipment. This includes rules for laser- or GPS-guided artillery rounds, remote controlled ATGM systems or vehicle based anti-rocket lasers lately tested by the US (this rule could also be used to simulate CIWS/C-RAM systems as you roll a dice to intercept artillery barrages in range) and some more.

The crude toys: an optional story of nukes and chemical agents

Here comes the big knifes! When we talk about modern warfare from the 20th century on, there is two devastating weapons that come to mind: nuclear and chemical weapons. While the first category has, luckily, not seen common use, the danger has always been present and would have been a likely happening in World War 3. The latter tho, chemical weapons, have seen wide spread use throughout the 20th and also 21st century. Be it World War 1 trench warfare and its gas attacks, Vietnam with Agent Orange, the First Gulf War (mustard gas during Iran vs. Iraq in the 1980s) or the late Syria conflict (chlorine and mustard gas), these are just some prominent examples. Fistful of TOWs 3 dedicates a full chapter to these weapons to use as optional rules.

Nukes in case of FFT3 does not mean the big, strategical nukes. These would just obliterate half the table and end the game real quick. We are talking tactical nuclear weapons from 0.1 ton to 500 kiloton warheads. On the table these would translate to blast radii from 1.5″ to 55″. While the upper end of this range is still quite big, the low- to mid part offers great opportunities. Examples of these are the US artillery fielded Davy Crockett with a 20 ton warhead (roughly 1.5″ blast radius) or the Soviet R-17 (SCUD) with a variable 5-70 kiloton yield (12″ to roughly 30″ blast radius). Using small to medium size warheads, these are a formidable way to punch holes in the enemies line to exploit later. While this is a feature for sure not used in every game, it would be a great option for campaigns where each side has a fixed amount at hand for the whole campaign.

Chemical weapons are split into three categories: nerve agents, non-nerve agents and irritants. Delivery can happen by wind (pre-placed gas canisters that have the agent carried by wind), artillery or missile strikes and by airstrikes.

Each vehicle has a note if it is NBC protected in the vehicle stats. And while sealed vehicles are not affected by chemical weapons at all, non-protected vehicles and foot soldiers are in great danger. To counter the effects of a chemical attack, troops can equip limited protective gear. This comes with no extra point cost or penalty, but might not be available or just in limited numbers depending on scenario design. Another downside is that nerve-agents and also some non-nerve agents do not care at all about a gas mask, they act through contact with the skin. To give full protection to troops, full protective gear can be bought at a point cost before the game. As a downside, full gear limits vision and movement. So protected troops will also suffer from penalties in these categories (but survive an attack unharmed on the upside).

Army lists and equipment in the Fistful of TOWs 3 rules book

To make it short: over 200 pages of army lists and equipment listed in the FFT3 rules book. No expensive extra supplements needed. Period.

There is pretty much everything in the book most people will be looking for. World War 2 British, French, German, Polish, Soviet and US. For post-WW2 you will even find Belgian or Iraqi Lists. Vietnam (1964-1974) and US Army and Marines for this era are also included. What i personally find missing tho are the Japanese Forces of World War 2. But on the other hand, the rules give you a full chapter of how to create missing equipment by yourself. Building army lists on your own then is quite easy as you just tag along real organisation.

What is missing?

A review should not only list the good aspects i think. So here is my, completely subjective and quite short, list of things i am missing or not fully happy with in Fistful of TOWs 3:

  • Command and Control rules: i really think the player has too much control over his troops. There is the optional “friction” rule, which stops troops from leaving protective terrain when they miss a dice roll. Troops also can get suppressed and get negative roll modifiers. I wish there was more depth to this. Like troops having a chance to receive a “retreat” marker and pull back on their next move – after a survived quality check roll for example. Another entry on my wish list would be the danger of losing (radio) contact with the units and as a consequence, losing opportunity to move the unit in this round. This all can be solved by creating some house rules, which is what i will probably do over time.
  • World War 2 Japanese forces: reckoning from what i found on the internet, this is something a lot of people are missing. Can not blame Ty and Paul tho looking at how there are over 200 massive pages of lists and equipment already – you just can’t get it all in. I’ll have an eye out and see if someone did custom lists for this and let you know.
  • Updates to the rules book: the rules are out since 2011 and the most recent errata is from 2013. From browsing through the rules i did not find anything big would have to be corrected anymore and i assume the rules are fine as is. What bugs me a bit here is that these changes have not been incorporated into the book over all the years. So buying the rules today, you still have to deal with the (two pages for the current book) errata to fix almost a decade old errors. Annoying but far from being a deal breaker. Customer care in general is great: telling from own experience on the mailing list and Facebook groups, the authors are quick to answer rules questions in detail and always happy to discuss the game.

Fistful of TOWs 3 mailing lists, groups and resources

How to get Fistful of TOWS 3: PDF or print version?

There are two ways to get your hands on the Fistful of TOWS 3 rules book: digital in form of a PDF file or printed as spiral bound or hardcover book. I really recommend getting the PDF version and have, if desired, the printing and binding done at your local copy shop. Here is why:

My locally printed hardcover book of the FFT3 rules.
My locally printed hardcover book of the FFT3 rules.
  • Copy shops nowadays can do durable spiral bindings as well as glued softcover and hardcover bindings in high quality. Ask for a sample beforehand to check it out.
  • The price difference for printing the whole thing compared to just buying the printed version should be marginal in most placed. Printing just the rules part you can even safe money.
  • You can lower the local-printing cost as well as improve mobility by choosing what to print. The book is pretty much split 50-50 with rules/optional rules and army/equipment lists. Latter in my opinion is not really needed to have printed. You write the army list (scenario sheet) for a game beforehand usually and can easily do so on your PC from the PDF. Once done with the scenario sheet, all values you need are on it. No need for the lists part of the book during play.
  • Can still print and bind the army lists and equipment as a separate book if you really want these physical (even at a later date). Can bring both books to a game or leave the lists book at home if desired.
  • The big advantages of the printed books: it is easy to add notes with a pencil, mark pages with adhesive labels and glue in errata or house rules. I personally also find printed books still way easier and more comfortable to read than digital ones. I love the feel of a physical book, its smell and the sound of flipping pages.
  • The big advantage of the PDF is being super mobile compared to 200 or 400 pages of paper, because it’s digital on your mobile. Also the PDF is offering a search function. Makes looking up things during play way more convenient than skipping back and forth through the book. The PDF also has a clickable table of contents to easily jump to chapters.
  • Getting the PDF version and printing locally, you can have best of both worlds combined.
  • Free bonus: you also support your local shop. Being local is harder-than-usual business in the 2020s. If you want them to stay, please show your support.

You can easily get the PDF version of Fistful of TOWs 3 via Wargames Vault.

Conclusion

I hope i could give you a deep insight into what Fistful of TOWs 3 is capable of and how play feels. It is a very versatile system for running games on company to brigade size, if desired even bigger. I am just in the process of building a whole division (well, two actually) in 3mm. From play i could not see anything stopping me from bringing it all at once! (apart from available table space of course). Play in my opinion is way more accurate to real life than other systems while still being easy on rules complexity. Mechanics resolve quite fast and, once used a couple times, are easy to understand and become second-hand quickly. The lack of dozens of special rules for each faction also makes it a great and easy system for tournament play. Last but not least also pricing is done well and fair with FFT3: instead of selling you books and supplements that eventually end up in the hundreds, Fistful of TOWs 3 offers you a all-in-one solution to play battles from about 100 years of warfare. With the provided equipment list, you can put together a World War 1 battle with cavalry and armored cars or try on ultra-modern conflicts from the 21st century.

For me personally these rules are hard to replace by any other system in its category. Hope i could light that spark in you too. Please let me know below your thoughts, questions and, when you got a copy yourself, how you feel about.

The featured image of this article is the cover art of the Fistful of TOWs 3 rules book. Paul and Ty were so kind to give me permission to use it for my article, which is much appreciated.

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x
Cookie Consent with Real Cookie Banner