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.


  1. Interesting review. Skirmish I've always thought of as being 1 man = 1 Unit. I've never seen a skirmish game that has handled squads. It sounds to me you want something like force on force or other games such as 40k, Bolt Action etc which are aimed at reinforced platoons and bigger if that's what your intending to play.

    Out of interest what games do you play normally? You mention that you find shooting in ATDE is labour intensive is there a game you play that is less if so which one? In AtDE you roll one set of dice to hit your opponent then rolls a set of dice to save. two rolls and that's it?

    As a comparison with older but stll played game such as Necromunda for example you roll to hit, Roll to wound, Roll to save (if armoured), then you roll for the type of wound. So thats what 3-4 separate rolls?

  2. The number of rolls required isn't what makes it labour intensive. This review wasn't about ATDE, I'll get to it another time.

  3. Explain it then how is it labour intensive? If were talking about the modifiers to hit and to save rolls? What game doesn't do that? Do you want a game that you just to need to roll a 4 or more to succeed for everything?

    It seems like it would be a shallow set of mechanics that wouldn't take into account the skill level and equipment that the troops are carrying?

  4. This review is focusing on S:OIR, I'll bring up any issues I have with ATDE in the ATDE review, not in the comments for this one, although, given that you're getting this defensive over a passing reference to your game I don't know if its worth the drama.

  5. I'm actually talking about the spectre rules and the fact your writing a review and don't explain your opinion about why you think something is. Its like saying something is brill but not saying why. I'm not being defensive just asking questions as to what your thinking which is why I gave examples.

    If your going to write a review and publish it on the Internet for the world to see at least be bothered to do it properly.

    1. I think it is pointed out in the review.

      It's not the mechanic itself, it's the environment where it is applied. Separate opposed rolls cannot be rolled in bulk and therefore do not suit situations where a lot of rolls are required.

      E.g. you have the 50 militia shooting. You can't just pick up 50 dice and roll them. You need to roll for the first shooter, match it against the opposed roll, then go to next shooter and so on.

      Quite frankly in my opinion, individual model choices do not suit a game where you can have 50 models per side. It just bogs down. It seems to me the game mechanics are built for much smaller games than the army lists actually bring onto the table.

      Given the subject, the game would probably benefit from asymmetric rules.

      Caveat emptor: This is based entirely on this review. I haven't read the rules.

  6. Oh right, that makes sense. No, in the case of S:OIR its the number of roles required that makes it labour intensive.

  7. It's been enjoyable watching you collect disgruntled gamers so I've nominated you for a Liebster award. Now get writing!

    Lead Rising - Liebster Questions