April 20, 2024

#UnboxingDay! ~ Comparing Second Fallujah (Compass Games) and Fallujah 2004 (S&T Press)

Aaron Danis, 15 February 2024 ~ #UnboxingDay

Urban Combat Against Al-Qa’ida in Iraq in 2004 with Second Fallujah by Compass Games (2023) and Fallujah 2004 by S&T Press (2016)

BLUF: Two urban combat wargames for liberating Fallujah in 2004 that each simulate the fighting in their own ways. The systems are not applicable to the ongoing fighting in Gaza.

click images to enlarge

Second Fallujah (CG) Fallujah 2004 (DG)
Game counters (# and size) 194 counters, ½ inch 176 counters, 5/8 inch
Map size 22” x 34” 22” x 34”
Game scale 1 inch=570 feet with area movement
(7) 1-day turns
Not stated
point-to-point nodal movement
time is undefined
Units Mostly companies, some battalions Mostly battalions, some companies
Pages of rules 14 of actual rules 14
Accompanying article Yes, with sources Yes, with sources
Solitaire Designed as 2 player
Includes separate solitaire rules
Designed as solitaire
Team play possible

This is my 4th (and final…I need to do something else with my gaming life) consecutive unboxing/review of urban combat wargames. I had purchased Fallujah 2004 in Modern War #23 first, over a year ago, and it languished on my burgeoning unplayed games shelf. Then at Compass Expo this past November I bought (at half-price) Paper Wars #103, Second Fallujah, so I could play Maurice Fitzgerald of Moe’s Game Table fame (that’s another story, mainly about my wonky 40-year-old dice). These are not the only two games on the topic but are the two published by major companies. Second Fallujah is designed by first-time designer Steve Lieske and developed by Robert “Smitty” Smith, a former Marine. Fallujah 2004 was designed by prolific game designer Joe Miranda and developed by DG in-house maestro Eric Harvey. As could be expected, the games are very different, although they both use victory point totals to determine levels of victory.


Figure 2
The Compass game has 128 combat units; the rest are either area control markers (55 with the stars), game markers (12), or variants for other games (33 counters). In the Decision Games version, all the counters are used in the game, with 101 being combat units, and the rest are markers. Note: All photo scans are courtesy of Compass Games, Decision Games, or BGG.


Both games portray the November 2004 Second Battle of Fallujah that resulted in the Coalition retaking the city. The DG version also has a scenario for the aborted first battle in April 2004 that was cut short when it started going sideways in the world opinion space. The game mechanics for doing this are different, however. Second Fallujah uses area movement to allow the Coalition player to fight in whatever direction he/she wants to, although the starting forces and areas provided based on the historical start forces. The insurgents can start their forces anywhere with some restrictions (e.g. no more than two of the better Fedayeen units in any one area). Fallujah 2004 uses north-south Routes of Advance that approximate the routes through the city that allows the Coalition player used in the actual battle and have east-west phase lines to shift forces. The Coalition player “recruits” his/her starting forces from a force pool, but if you want to use the historical order of battle the rules encourage you to use the ones in the excellent accompanying article. Insurgent (“OPFOR”) forces are placed in the “reaction bin” (aka a “Dunnigan Ceramaceous Randomizer” per Brian Train) and drawn as encountered.


Figure 3
Area movement on the left; Routes of Advance on the right. All Coalition forces start on the north edge of the city (the top of both maps) and work south, although in Second Fallujah forces can move in any direction, and in Fallujah 2004 forces can move east-west on the phase lines and Main Supply Route (MSR) that bisects the map (highlighted yellow).


unbox mwpw fallujah 5

Figure 4
Map closeups. Second Fallujah numbers each area (top number) and gives it a Terrain Effects Modifier for insurgent defense (bott number; highest is 4). Green squares mean a mosque is present (15 areas), an orange triangle is an objective area (14 areas, 12 along the MSR), and a white circle is an area with no special value. Players measure area control with two-side markers. Fallujah 2004 uses nodes, and a green circle is open terrain, grey block shapes are urban terrain, a red triangle is an objective (11 nodes, half on the MSR), and a dark green 4-clover shape is a mosque (5 nodes).


Steve Lieske’s design is simple, effective, and fast-playing in the two-person game (I have not played it solitaire, but there are some rules differences). As expected (read the history of the actual battle), there is little the Insurgent player can do to stop the Coalition player, but Coalition forces can be slowed down, and the more they fight, the better the chance they take casualties and incur collateral damage which add Political Backlash points (bad!). A game turn, which has up to 13 phases, can end early on a bad combat die roll, denying the Coalition more time to kill insurgents. The game has minimal chrome, but does account for limited riverine support, dug-in insurgents, insurgent infiltration into Coalition captured areas, insurgent ambushes (hard to do), and Coalition armored medevac and fire missions (which can increase Political Backlash).

Since I have not played Fallujah 2004 yet, I cannot comment on its playability, but there is plenty of chrome and charts, tracks, and holding boxes to go with it (see the map photo). It appears to have an open-ended game structure in that as long as the Coalition has Operations Points (OPs), which are used to recruit reinforcements, use Netwar markers (a Joe Miranda favorite present in many of his games), conduct offensive actions, logistics (refitting units), and rolling for more OPs points. The Coaltion player can use airmobile and amphibious movement. The player is cautioned to keep some OPs in reserve the game continues should game events reduce the total to zero or below, ending the game. The sequence of play is very detailed, and as in other Miranda games like this, I would follow it carefully. It appears that the OPFOR in this game, although played by the system, can do more “stuff” like blow bridges, down helicopters, and conduct rear area raids, along with ambushes and using civilians as collateral damage. Tracking OPFOR morale plays an important role in determining their ability to react.

There is minimal errata in the form of some questions for Second Fallujah, and a helpful how to play video done by Moe’s Game Table with a printed example of play. Fallujah 2004 had several early questions which Joe answered on the game’s CONSIM Forum Page. Of note, urban warfare guru Brian Train produced a 2016 scenario for Joe’s game where the Iraqi government retook the city from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Yes, even after 2004 the Iraqis had to retake the city again.

Based on my previous reviews, as currently designed neither game is suitable for recreating the recent urban fighting in Gaza. They lack rules on tunnels and hostages that make the Gaza situation more challenging. Based on my review of the We Are Coming, Nineveh! game last month, adding such rules is possible.

In addition to the bibliographies included with both magazine articles, there are a few good sources they don’t cite on this well-documented battle:


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2 thoughts on “#UnboxingDay! ~ Comparing Second Fallujah (Compass Games) and Fallujah 2004 (S&T Press)

  1. I tested Steve Lieske’s game at a long-ago Consimworld Expo, it was my belated introduction to the Storm over Arnhem area-activation system as she is goodly spocken now.

    I don’t know if anyone ever played that Third Battle of Fallujah scenario but me; me and my game-based journalism again, designing wargames while they are still happening.
    But then again I am sure many newspapers were read only for the sports section.

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