Monday, 13 February 2012

As I went home on Monday night...

Before I get on with the second day of testing, I want to mention another possible contender I might be adding to the test, along with addressing some of the suggestions.

I remember seeing Afriboria years ago, but sadly when I google for it now, the web page it comes up with is no longer active, so it looks like Rudi has taken the rules down.  Besides, wasn't Afriboria more of a small-scale, Darkest Africa game?

Regarding Sharp Practice - I've heard lots of good things about this and other rules from Two Fat Lardies, and would like to try some of them sometime.  But right now  I'm having to be a little careful with my gaming budget, and can't really afford to spend on rules that I may or may not  use.  Incidentally this is the same reason why I'm not considering Valor Steel and Flesh - with postage from the states the game comes to $40.  Now while that's pretty steep, in my opinion, if it winds up giving me many, many hours of fun I can live with it (I had the same reservations about GASLIGHT originally, being quite a lot of money for a fairly thin booklet, but amortising the cost over the years-of-fun made it one of the best value games I've ever bought) but if it's going to be bought, played once or twice then forgotten... well that's a couple of units of infantry that I won't be able to buy.  So I'm limiting this to free rules, rules I already own and rules that are cheaply available as PDFs.

I'd also looked at When The Navy Walked as a possible candidate, but like Battles By GASLIGHT. it's designed for a much bigger scale game using smaller scale figures (with multi-figure bases).  With a quick glance, the vehicles in there seemed rather generic types too - It's basically not designed to give the sort of game I'm looking for.

A new candidate that I might add to the testing list is a free set called Edwardian Splendour.  It's designed for honest-to-god Toy Soldiers in the Little Wars mold rather than the conventional wargames figures I'm using.  But it's free, and it might be worth a look.

Now onto the testing....

British Lancers discover you don't bring your horse to a gun fight in FUBAR.

Today I gave FUBAR and its VSF supplement a run out.  FUBAR was designed as a quick-play Sci-Fi modern game, largely aimed at giving the Warhammer 40K crowd an alternative set of rules.  Supplements have been written for various specific settings (40K, Star Wars) including Victorian Science Fiction.  Several  people on the Lead Adventure Forums seemed to be very keen on these rules, so I thought I'd give them a go.  The troops were all reset to their original starting points and the Second Battle of Little Grantling-on-the-Test.

The first thing that hits you playing FUBAR is how brutal the activation system is.  Basically you need to roll to activate each unit, which needs a roll of 4-6 on a six-sided dice.  If you fail, then initiative passes over to the other side.  On the plus side, this does mean that play flip-flops between players quite often, but it does mean that on average half of your troops will do nothing every turn.  Realistic for representing the chaos of the battlefield but... Doing Stuff in a game tends to be more fun than Not Doing Stuff. FUBAR involves a lot of Not Doing Stuff.  If you've ever torn your hair out because of a streak of failed Sustain rolls in GASLIGHT, FUBAR is not for you.

I did also have some trouble remember which units had activated already in the turn, with the constant flip-flopping from one side to the other.  In the end I brought out some Stealth Counters which, though too dark for the table top, were able to blend in nicely with any flocked terrain.  After I started using them, I had no problem keeping track of activations.

The next thing you notice is how bare-bones basic the rules are.  There are no terrain bonuses or penalties for movement and very few modifiers of any kind.  But turning over to the VSF supplement page, it has one glaring omission THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY NO RULES FOR CAVALRY OR OTHERWISE MOUNTED TROOPS!  None at all.  Zip.  Nada.  I'm sorry, but although cavalry was on the decline towards the end of the Victorian era, cavalry have been a  part of most VSF games I've played.

So as soon as my first cavalry unit was activated I had to sit down and come up with rules to handle them.  I wound up going with the traditional double-the-infantry moves for them, which meant they would normally move 12"

In the first turn, virtually no British units activated successfully.The one exception was the Lancers, who deciding that someone from the British side really ought to turn up to the battle, gave up their reserve position and rode forward to threaten the advancing German infantry.  Who promptly shot them to pieces.  After taking fire from the artillery as well, the cavalrymen retired with four of their number dead and nothing to show for it.

The firefight along main street. Neither side
would gain the upper hand until supported by other units.

 Firing in FUBAR is a variation on the tried and trusted "buckets of dice and roll a six" method.  The best thing about FUBAR is the casualty Supression option.  When your unit takes casualties, you have the option of taking some of them as Suppressions instead, the number of which depends on your troop quality.  These are like temporary casualties, recovered the next time you attempt Activate the unit.  But the number of suppressed figures also becomes a modifier to your Activation roll, so taking suppressions means your unit is going to last longer in combat, but be less able to actually do anything while suppressed.

It also adds an interesting tactical choice.. If I have a unit with suppressions on it, do I try to activate it early in the turn, knowing that there's a greater chance their Activation will fail, but recovering the suppressions sooner.  Or do I activate other, unsuppressed units first to get as many of my own sides' actions in before the initiative flip-flops.  Managing suppressions is the key to inflicting and avoiding casualties - two units can trade fire without much effect, but better to bring in a third supporting unit to tip the balance.

Men of Harlech, stop your dreaming
Can't you see their speapoints gleaming?
Neath the warrior pennants streaming
To this battlefield.
In this game, both sides cavalry managed to get a successful charge in.  As an ad-hoc rules patch I gave charging cavalry double close-combat dice to represent the shock of impact., which seemed to work well.  It meant that the initial turn's combat tended to go heavily in the cavalry's favour, but after that they were on even terms with Infantry.  Charged units also had the possibility of firing at their attackers before melee, but there's no mechanism for having this repel the charge.  Nor is there any mechanism for winning or losing the combat as a unit.  Once close combat is initiated it's generally man-to-man until one side is completely destroyed.

The Uhlans made it into contact this game, and fought several turns of back-and-forth combat with half a unit of British infantry before being wiped out.  The British Lancers repeated their charge up the main road to wipe out a German half unit that had been weakened by fire.  History repeated itself however, and the following turn the remaining Lancers were wiped out by fire from the Zeptruppen in the same position as yesterday.

Didn't I see you here last night?
Play generally followed similar lines to yesterdays game.  The grenadiers again failed to make it to the farm and wound up trading fire with the German unit who got there first.  But this time their ability to take more suppressions than the enemy, combined with their better marksmanship, their casualties weren't so extreme.  With support from the Light Infantry on the hill behind them, they were able to whittle down the Germans' numbers till their position was untenable.

There aren't many... or really any... morale rules in FUBAR.  The one thing hidden there that I didn't spot until late in the game was that units down to 50% strength that fail to successfully activate are forced to retire 6".  Until I found that I'd had fragments of units doggedly hanging on until the last man, but even with this rule intact expect your table to be a lot emptier towards the end of the game.

I came to the conclusion about halfway through the game that FUBAR is not the game I'm looking for.  I think it would work well in the style of game it was originally designed for.. sci-fi armed mobs clashing with no real sense of modern small-unit tactics.  I think it would also work rather well for A Very British Civil War, as having units constantly failing to activate  (presumably stopping for tea) seems to suit a war of untrained amateurs.

But even with the VSF supplement, there's absolutely nothing Victorian about it.  No formations, no Victorian era weaponry (I used the generic Infantry Rifle stats) and as mentioned earlier, no horses.  The VSF supplement focuses on individual characters (like GASLIGHT's Main Characters), steampunk equipment, a revised Vehicle section and a section on Automata, both the last mainly being concerned with a malfunction table for each.

There are a couple of nice tactical choices, one is suppression management as mentioned earlier.  You have a choice of actions you can take.  Do you move your unit to a better position and fire, or do you stand still and take a positive modifier on your firing dice?  Or do you hold fire and move faster and evasively, gaining the equivalent of a cover bonus (this is obviously more suited to small squad games)

That said, I did enjoy the game.  Play ripped along at a fair old pace, largely due to units failing to activate.  There were several significant beats or phases to the battle and I was entertained.  But towards the end I started to find things a little monotonous. 
"Boom, boom, boom, boom,boom,boom,boom."
from The German Guns by R Balderick.
If I wanted to dig out my bucket 'o Space Marines (which I bought cheaply second hand, and with entirely ironic intent) and wanted to have a lighthearted no-brainer game with several 5-10 man squads, FUBAR would be one of the better choices available.  If your idea of VSF is a bunch of armed mobs running around without any horses, then it might do for you too.

But it's not for me.

On to the next candidate.


  1. Dr Vesuvius,

    The old link to the Afriboria rules has gone ... but they are now available (with a VSF supplement) at . They might be slightly lower level rules than you are after, but might also have some ideas that you would like to use.

    All the best,


    1. Thanks Bob, downloading now. Card driven and hex based, while interesting ideas, kick it out of scope for these test games since I'm looking for something more traditional, but it might be something to use with my old 15mm colonials and Heroscape terrain along with/instead of the Portable Wargame or another Morschauser derivative (Just got his book BTW - lots of ideas there that must have seemed like crazy moon talk back in the Featherstone days.)

  2. Period flavor is important . . . otherwise we'd just have one set of rules for all periods.

    -- Jeff

    1. Period flavor is one thing. Not having any rules for one of the major combat arms of the period is quite another.

  3. I'm all for random activation, but the above sounded ridiculous.

    BTW, your pics are really getting quite good!

    1. At times it did seem rather absurd. One unit failed to activate for the first 2/3 of the game. Later on we had two opposing units in a close range firefight, face to face with eachother, who would go two or three turns without firing at eachother.

      The problem is that with the game only using six sided dice, your range of required activation scores is limited. FUBAR has four grades of troops - Green, Seasoned, Veteran and Elite, with progressively better Activation scores. If you give Elite's 2+ Activation (so there's still a slight chance they'll fail), then Veterans get 3+, Seasoned 4+ and Green 5+. So your "regular" troops wind up with only a 50% chance of activating. If you switched to a different die type, D10 or 2D6, and set the odds so that Seasoned had about a 75% chance of activating, things would have been better.

      That said, the problem is mainly one of player frustration rather than the effect on the game. Having units rendered ineffective a lot of the time makes a lot more sense in a chaotic modern/sci-fi battlefield. But even in the Victorian setting, once you grit your teeth and accept it as part of the game it becomes part of the tactical challenge. You know that one unit going up against the enemy is likely to stall through failed activation, so you're encouraged to bring another unit up in support, increasing your chances of getting at least some fire on the enemy and keeping up those suppressions, which are likely to keep them from activating in turn.

      There's a good game in FUBAR, it's just going to take so much tweaking to get it to deliver what I want that I might as well be writing my own rules from scratch.

  4. I am the author of the Fubar VSF supplement, and I am in the process of revising it for Fubar 5th edition. I am taking your comments to heart, having already added cavalry, formations, and a new set of morale rules.

    In my games, most of the extra flavor has come from the unit rosters, where I have added special equipment and made up special rules to fit the unit.

    If you have any other suggestions, I would love to hear them.

    Thank you for your disinterested perspective on my rules.

    1. Thanks for taking time to comment, Lanse.

      In a way I feel a little guilty, since the scenario I used for these playtests meant that the game didn't showcase the aspects your supplement focussed on - vehicles and characters.

      I agree, special rules go a long way towards adding flavour to a game. What I like to see though is some sort of framework within the rules to support that. I know that's difficult to achieve within FUBAR's one-page restriction.

      I look forward to seeing the new version, and if you are looking for playtesters I'd be happy to help.