Sunday, 28 August 2011

Everything today is thoroughly modern.

As a break from all the VSF of the last couple of months, this weekend was dedicated to ultra-modern wargaming with the popular Force on Force rules. Jonesy, mi hermano del instigador, dragged me along with him to visit an old, old wargaming friend of his who I'll name only as the other-other-Chris. The two go way, way back and OOChris is lucky enough to have a dedicated wargaming room with a 8'x6' wargames table, although we weren't going to be using more than a fraction of it.

I'd originally picked up Force On Force with a view to using it with 15mm figures for more military-style games in the Axis Of Naughtiness imaginations (Chain Reaction being my preferred game for smaller scale skirmishes). Jonesy got the idea of "trying out" the game with a few packs of soft plastic 1/72 figures, although this weekend he admitted that between multiple figure packs and plastic vehicle kits, his investment in 1/72 is almost as much as mine in 15mm!

So Saturday came around and off we went to OOChris's house. On the way we called in at Transport Models of Preston. It's every bit as impressive inside as their webstore, with stocks from pretty much every plastic figure manufacturer in the business, including some I've never heard of. Jonesy picked up a couple more Dragon HMMV kits, while I stumbled into their die-cast collectibles section and found some absolute bargains. They had a number of Lledo Days Gone die-cast vehicles for silly-money prices (£1 /£1.50 each) including a couple of horse drawn and steam vehicles. I scored a brewers dray and a removal van, both horse drawn for $1.50 each, and an "emergency services" set for £4 with vintage police car and ambulance but.. and this is the prize.. a horse drawn fire engine. The horses on all the Lledo vehicles tend to be comparable in size to the smaller "old-fashioned" cavalry figures, like those I use from Irregular. The driver figures on the dray and fire engine are roughly 25mm, while the removal van driver looks closer to 20mm. But with a new driver for the removal van and a little bit of paintwork all three should be fine for populating the Victorian-era streets with some civilian traffic.

Anyway flush with our respective purchases, we proceded on to OOChris's house. Arriving towards the early evening, we started sociably with a cuppa and a catch-up, before settling into the serious business of learning Force on Force. Sadly I managed to forget my camera, so there are no pictures of any of the games, which is probably just as well, because we quickly moved on to proxying vehicles with OOChris's World War II collection, which gave us the bizarre image of USMC infantry supported by a Tiger Tank.

Over the course of a day and a half we managed to get in four full games, albeit one very short one. We started with a straightforward kinetic infantry engagement, then moved on to an asymetric battle, then a pure tank action to learn the vehicle rules and finally OOChris and Jonesy faced off in a combined arms "Cold War Hot" battle with half-tracks pretending to be BMPs and insurgents pretending to be Soviet Motor Rifle troops.

I have to say it, but Force on Force is not the best-written ruleset on the market. Oh the rules themselves are OK. I personally love the way the unit activation/reaction system interlaces the move sequence so that both sides need to be actively engaged in the game at all times... it's never "not your go". But the rules themselves are so badly organised, and we found multiple instances of contradictory rules, sometimes within the same block of text. We found some sections that just did not make sense... in an English language sense, that is, and a couple that were major "Huh?" moments. Take morale checks. You basically roll a morale dice for each trooper left in the unit, looking for 4s or better. If you get more successes than failures, then you pass, otherwise you fail and are pinned (for regulars) or shaken (for irregulars). If you do the statistical math as we did (or rather Jonesy and OOChris did, while I looked on making tutting noises) you see that the probability of success plotted against the number of men left in a unit gives a bumpy graph line with no real rhyme or reason, which suddenly becomes twice as difficult to succeed when a unit only has two men, then becomes a lot easier when there's only one man left.

The activation/reaction/overwatch interruption sequence also caused us some headaches. If I fire at a unit that hasn't been activated yet, it gets the option of reacting and returning fire, and we dice to see whose fire takes effect first. If I fire at a unit that's on Overwatch, it gets a bonus to return fire and automatically fires first, but at one stage it was posited that Overwatch fire is a completely separate phase and the Overwatching unit would get an additional round of return fire after the original firing unit had gone.

One other point I'm still a little dubious on - Overwatch is described in the rules as allowing a unit of the initiative-holding player to interrupt the reaction of a non-iniative unit to an activation by another initiative holding unit...... getting dizzy just trying to describe it... let's start with an example.

Red player has the initiative. He puts one of his units on Overwatch and Activates another one moving it forward. Blue player is watching and sees the moving unit come into view of one of his units and declares a Reaction, firing on the moving unit. The Red Overwatch unit can then Interrupt the Reaction, and provided it passes a troop quality test, will be able to act before the Blue unit fires. If the Blue unit survives, then the Reaction between it and the moving Red unit is resolved normally.

Fine as far as it goes, although it took us long enough to reach that understanding. But once Red has activated all the units he has on his side, play passes to the non-initiative player who can move and fire any of his units that haven't already reacted to any of Red's activations. The rules explicitly state that Red troops on Overwatch may React to Blue's Activations, but my question is, do they still get the "Overwatch always goes first" bonus, or is it resolved as a normal action. Overwatch is explicitly described in the rules as being a function of interrupting Reactions, but if the non-initiative player isn't reacting....

I suspect if we put that question to one of the authors they'd say something like "Well obviously what we meant was..."... which is all very well, but that's not what you ruddy well wrote down, sunshine. Which when you consider that the Osprey edition of Force on Force is the third incarnation of the rules (original Ambush Alley, Ambush Z and 1st ed Force on Force) is pretty much unforgivably sloppy work.

I have a feeling that I'd quite like the ruleset that the authors obviously meant to write. Through trial and error over the last two days I think we've gotten closer to reaching that game and I can think of several cases where I could rephrase the rules to say what we think the authors meant but much clearer and with half the text. As it stands, the domination of Overwatch stops the game being one of fire and manoeuvre and makes it largely a question of "get to defensive positions then micromanage the sequencing of fire exchanges to optimise your outgoing fire versus return fire". It also means that the best tactic for the Initiative player seemed to be to put everything on Overwatch and just respond to actions by the non-Initiative player. Which as OOChris pointed out, is rather the opposite of what "having the initiative" ought to be.

Despite the qualms over the rules, we had a great weekend of gaming and I think we'll be persevering with Force on Force. Jonesy, I think it's fair to say, will also be persevering with the 1/72 scale, which put me in a bit of a quandary. 1/72 is a great scale for figures (cheap soft plastics) and scenery (OO scale model railway scenary) and some vehicles (selected Hot Wheels/Matchbox die-cast cars) As soon as you start looking at military vehicles however, the price starts to skyrocket. You won't get a BMP kit in 1/72 for much less than £10, whereas in 15mm from QRF or Old Glory you'll be looking at around £6 each.

The problem is, I'm finding myself drifting away from 15mm on all fronts. I've already abandoned 15mm for VSF gaming with GASLIGHT. When I kicked off my return to gaming with a large order of 15mm from Rebel Miniatures at the start of the year, a sizeable chunk of that order were zombies, with a view to doing All Things Zombie in 15mm. Since then I've somehow picked up more 28mm zombies than I have 15mm, and have a much better selection of vehicles in that scale. 15mm modern also meshes nicely with my 15mm sci-fi figures... except that Jonesy has already pre-ordered Tomorrow's War with a view to using it with his old GZG 25mm Stargrunt army, and I've got a box full of 25mm lead and resin that could be used for that.

So I'm weighing up - Is there a case to be made for uncluttering the wargaming collection by getting completely out of 15mm, despite the scale's obvious advantages and my existing investment in it?

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