Monday, May 23, 2011

Force on Force

This is an interesting set of skirmish level rules for modern warfare. I'm not sure how accurate my information is on the history of this game, but from what I've seen it appears to have its origins as Ambush Alley. Ambush Alley is apparently a game designed to model the kind of modern asymmetrical conflicts typified by recent US conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, where conventional forces find themselves fighting against irregular insurgents. Force on Force takes those rules and expands them to allow for more conventional conflicts between two regular forces, or conflicts with a mix of regular and irregular forces on either or both sides. The new Force on Force book from Osprey appears to be the second edition of this game, with the first published by Ambush Alley games.

The new book is the same kind of high quality production that Osprey became known for with Field of Glory, at least in terms of materials. Sturdy hardcover binding, full color printing, and lavish illustrations. Although I haven't playtested them, the rules seem just as solid as the physical book. Keep in mind that the game is purely scenario driven, and not point based. The rules are meant to reflect the realities of combat in a playable manner, not provide balanced matchups for tournament play. They appear to have accomplished that goal.

Unfortunately, the book is marred by poor editing. Numerous minor typos can be found scattered throughout the book. There's also a handful of more serious errors that will require errata. Most notably two missing charts which have already been posted on Ambush Alley's site in an errata document. Fortunately, both charts are related to special rules unlikely to come up in the average game.

There are three editors listed, but two of them appear to be one of the author and his wife. I hope that in the future Osprey will consider bringing in a professional game editor to do at least one pass though their core rules, if not every supplement they publish. Such an editor would have caught most of the problems with this book before it went to press.

Still, I'm happy with my purchase. A solid set of rules with all the data you need to play scenarios set in the "modern" era, basically from the first Gulf War forward. Supplements should push this back to WWII. There's already a Vietnam supplement planned for later in the year.

It uses a unique initiative system where one side controls the initiative throughout a turn, while the other side can only react to the actions of the first player. Whether or not the non-initiative side can gain the initiative in the next turn depends on the scenario being played, and the results of the current turn. This appears to result in a game that is much more interactive than the typical igo/ugo, or even that found in alternating unit activations.

The overall design is focused on affects rather than causes. Much of the hardware is abstracted. There are no lists of small arms. What counts is the skill and morale of the soldiers fighting, not their gear. If there is a true disparity in gear (such as a unit with bolt action rifles facing one with assault rifles) that will be reflected in die modifiers, either to the number of dice rolled, or the type of dice rolled.

Speaking of dice, the game does not limit itself to the d6. It uses d6s, d8s, d10s and d12s; and recommends you have at least ten of each. The "nearly universal" mechanic for using these dice is 4+ for success, with the type and number of dice being used the main differentiator in quality, rather than a host of + or - modifiers (although they occasionally creep in).

The core rules are for infantry, but the game also covers vehicles, airmobile operations, air support, artillery, and a host of special situations. These latter include such things as cavalry, IEDs, civilians on the battlefield, and much more.

Admittedly, I'm not sure I'm fully comfortable playing games set in most of this time period. A lot of people have issues with wargames that cover recent conflicts, and my own comfort zone begins roughly a decade in the past. For example, I'm more or less OK with playing out scenarios set in the first Gulf War, but scenarios set during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (covered by the first scenario book for the game) are still a little iffy for me, while the current conflict in Afghanistan is pretty much right out (covered by the second scenario book out for the game).

As a result, I probably won't get a chance to give this rules set any actual play until they start covering some of the less recent conflicts.

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