Thursday, 22 May 2014

Spectre: Operations Infantry Rules – A Review

I think we need a new name for very small skirmish games, you know, the ones like Across the Dead Earth, Mordheim or Urban War - the ones with up to a dozen models a side - to help differentiate them from larger, but still decidedly skirmishy skirmish games of around about platoon size. I offer the term ‘Scuffle’ for consideration.

I bring this up because I have recently backed Spectre Miniatures on Kickstarter (goddamnit Xander!) and the ruleset they have created to go with their miniatures just landed in my inbox and the game they are trying to go for, while using a lot of Scuffle mechanics, is of a very skirmish scale, numbers wise.

I would like to make it clear, before we continue, that yes, this is not a finished product, especially with the Kickstarter still running.


I’m sure all the flaws and nit-picks that I mention here will be sorted out.

To be honest, I backed this project purely for the guns, which look really detailed. I know that’s kind of weird… but It would be nice to have a bunch of figures whose guns weren’t bizarrely shaped things the size of their legs!

Look at them. Look at them!
 The rules look pretty swish too. Check out the title graphic.

Fifty thousand people used to live here. Now it’s a ghost town…
Even the layout has been done pretty well. The army lists remind me pleasantly of the last Imperial Guard Codex I bought.

The entire thing reads like they’ve tried to write Call of Duty: The Table Top Wargame, and they’ve done a pretty good job. Unfortunately, like CoD, there are moments where you can’t help but notice the dumb. Not Treyarch levels of dumb, god no, but dumb none the less. (Ok, in all honesty it isn’t really all that dumb, I just wanted to have a go at CoD)

Again, I know, THIS IS A BETA, things will no doubt change.

Spectre: Operations Infantry Rules, aggressively ungrammatical name aside, currently suffers from the kind of vagueness that hurt S3.

Rules like multiple attackers in melee - where the defender only makes one defensive roll against his attacker’s three -, is worded in such a way that it leaves me wondering whether a defender who rolled better than some but not all of his attacker is simply killed, or takes down those who rolled less than him.

My real reservation isn’t, however, with issues that will easily get fixed in the future but rather the core mechanic of the game.

This leads me back to my original point. While it is implied that there should be enough models on the table to play a Skirmish sized game, the rules read like those for a Scuffle.

There are no squad mechanics, meaning that every model moves and acts alone, and you can pick the exact target everyone will shoot at. As there are no squads to hide special weapons in as is normal for skirmish games, a player’s entire force can ‘pick on’ a machine gunner, for example, until he is dead, then move onto the next target.

This odd disjunction between the rules and the implied scale of the game carries over to the central mechanic, which is an opposed role with modifiers. Mechanically the idea seems to work well; an SAS level special operative will always hit a militia standing in the open at close range, where as a untrained militiaman will have a roughly 28% chance of missing the same shot; a small but not insignificant chance of missing. So far so realistic.

The problem is as each model, and each shot is considered individually, this adds up to a lot of opposed dice roles. The mechanic isn’t quite as labour intensive as I found Across the Dead Earth’s to be [review coming soon, promise!], but while ATDE could point out that there were only half a dozen models per side to worry about, S:OIR seems to have forgotten that the Militia faction can have rather a lot of miniatures. A maximum of c.70 if you use the suggested 500pt limit. That’s up to 70 opposed rolls a turn from shooting. And each model tracks suppression and ‘bleed out’ individually as well.

While the concept would work quite well if the forces involved were quite small, at larger levels I can see it quickly becoming a slog. Force on Force got away with the complex rules/large amount of models because of the Caveman Casevac rule. There is no equivalent rule in S:OIR. It’s a Scuffle scale ruleset masquerading as a Skirmish game.

That being said, although I’m not particularly interested in S:OIR (again, it’s all about those guns!) I think it shows a lot of promise, and the ‘vibe’ I get from it is very nice. I can’t wait to see what the end result is. With a little tweaking, or even with just players choosing smaller forces, I think this could prove to be a fun ruleset with lots of customisation and options.

P.S. I’m really enamoured with the Command Assets. PROTIP: If you’re playing a militia faction, take Escalating Engagement for 50pts. Load up your arriving militiamen with GPMG’s as they don’t count as part of your force and give them every other option they can have. Laugh at the look on your opponents face as between 168pts and 378pts of heavily tooled up insurgents appear right behind his carefully placed defensive line.