Sunday, 12 February 2012

Bad Workmen...

I managed to get to the club this week.

I got in a couple of games the first was a Force on Force game set in Bosnia.

Now, I don't want to get too grumpy about this game. And certainly at the time I did get a bit of the face on. But I really didn't get the rule system. To put that statement into some sort of context, I hadn't read the rules and therefore didn't cotton on to a couple of things that perhaps expose my prejudices.

The first is that Force on Force is so obviously an American ruleset. Which I define as being overly complicated, non intuative, and requiring of playing in a defined playstyle.

And I accept this is harsh, and I am sure that it is a fun game - I have seen and heard many people say that it is. But...

Let's put it this way...

I get the iniative, drive onto the table, take a position in cover behind a hedge and declare that I am going to shoot at some Croats hidden in a nearby wood. A dice gets rolled. For some reason they get to shoot first. Ok I can live with that. They shoot, three of my guys get wounded. Ok I can live with that. So I drive onto the table with an APC, take up a position near to the first truck, declare I am going to shoot the guys int he wood with a heavy machine gun. They decide they are going to run away. They roll a dice. And they get to run away, I don't get to shoot at them or anyone else.

At which point I am thinking... eh?

I mean I get that things have different reaction times, and it is perfectly possible for those guys to take a shot at the first truck, and then at the sight of the APC they leg it. But it seems a little strange to me the APC can't then target something else.

And it go even more bizarre when in the second turn some guys started blowing things up with what appeared to be a belt fed RPG. Everything of mine that so much as blinked an eye in their direction granted them a reaction, and every reaction shot they took involved firing a rocket at my troops.

But like I said I haven't read the rules so I don't know what the time scale in a turn it is.

Perhaps the intention is that each action of the player with the iniative is abstracted to represent a period twenty or thirty seconds after the previous action - or howver long it takes for the non-active player to spot, be int he perfect position, and have a reloaded piece of anti-tank ordinance ready for action (although to be fair, the attacks were made with one less dice for each subsequent attack ;))

And seemingly the player with the iniative can't even turn the tables on the seemingly super human non-active player by trying to give the iniative away. I tried this by going on overwatch, but even then it turned out the non-active got the advantage and just blew stuff up before I even got to fire.

Add to this the rather weird notion - given the super human ability of the defending player to spot everything and react according - that when the attacking player had finished their turn, the defender was then allowed to run around and redeploy without interferance.

It was at this point that I got a bit of the game face on, and went for a fag, thinking this was the silliest game I have played in a long while and wondering why this abstract nonsense was so popular.

When I returned, calmed by nicoteine, I declared my intention to retreat of the board, had a bit of cross purpose conversation with Dean who was umpiring and we agree to move onto a game of General Quarters.

Dean played the Japanese, Rich (I'm terrible with names, so my apologies if I get your name wrong) played the Americans and I umpired.

There wasn't really a scenario, I ran through the SDS cards, a few of the basic rules, advised both players to make smoke and away we went.

It is a long time since I played General Quarters, and I wondered if I had got the balance of the forces a little wrong when in the first turn the US heavy cruiser, Quincy, crippled the Japanese light cruiser, Kino, with a single salvo. But I needed have worried as the game progressed rather nicely, with the usual torpedo fuelled mayhem amid the trails of smoke.

It was pretty much a draw, with Japanese losing 2 light cruisers, and a couple of destroyers, and the US losing the heavy cruiser Helena, and a couple of destroyers, with the Quincy managing to limp off the table to safety with it's bridge and rudder destroyed, having only recently managed ot put out a serious fire.

Afterwards I sort of managed to arrange a RCW game with Rich (sorry if I got your name wrong) and then it was off to catch the bus, and grab a latte (with a northern flat 'a') and a couple of sausage rolls from Greggs.

On the way home after reading through the 8 pages of rules for General Quarters and noticing a few rules that had been played wrongly - such as forgetting to apply the minimal range - my mind turned to the substantially thicker set of rules that is Force on Force.

One obvious note to make is that no one involved with the game today was entirely conversant with the rules, but leaving that aside.

I get that the intention of the rules to cut out the early turns of the game, and plunge the player into the action. And if we were looking at today's game from a narrative perspective it was a good simulation of modern warfare - I as the Serb commander who had very little idea of what he was doing, turned up at a village, got ambushed and killed in very short order.

But as I mulled over my perception of the mechanics I found myself wondering about some of the game design choices.

For instance I didn't understand why troops could get badly wounded. In terms of the game they served no further purpose, yet for some reason they remained on the table. Perhaps it offered scenarios for evacution. And ok it did have a psychological effect on me, in that as soon as one of the squads took such casualties I had a distinct disincentive to move the rest of the squad - but then the rather odd reaction mechanic did this any way.

I am not saying that the reaction mechanic was bad - well actually I am sort of.

For instance I lost the APC because I declared that I was going to fire a .50cal machine gun at a house that had a squad with an RPG. The got the jump on me fired first and blew up the APC. Fine, if I was in a house with an RPG and their was an APC in the vacinity, that would probably be my No 1 target. But my problem with the mechanic in the game is that keeping that 'truism' in mind had the APC declared against another target, and another unit had targetted the squad with the RPG, then the RPG would have targetted them. Add to this that it wasn't even the fire of the .50cal machine gun that prompted the response but the controlling players intention.

Which to me brings it back to this being a matter of 'modern' American game design, imo. That the mechanics of the game are played rather than the situation - which is one of the reasons games like Warmachine and Malifaux have no interest for me. In the situation with the APC I had three squads and the APC. Had I played the mechanics, and fired the three squads before the APC, and drawn the fire of the RPG with the accompanying diminishing number of dice, by the time the APC fired it would have been less likely that the APC would have been destroyed. Which just seems wrong - and tantamount to combo play.

It may seem that I am simply moaning, however I am willing to give the game another go - more than one if I can. And I am quite happy to adopt the playstyle in order to enter into the enjoyment. It's just, and allowing for the truthful nature of the narrative created by the game it just isn't my idea of what a modern battle should feel like.

I found myself comparing Force on Force with Through the Mud and the Blood. True I haven't played the latter - which will hopefully be rectified, either next Sunday or in the near future - and I found myself wishing that Force on Force had more friction. For instance, instead of a unit getting a reaction to every threat, and the test being whether it got the jump or had to take the punishment before the reaction, that there was a chance that it just didn't react at all - which in game turns is solved by the simple expedient of only being able to fire once per turn. Or that instead of wounds, the figure is either dead or alive and the wounds are implied by the suppression counters.

Still very few plans in war stand up to the first contact with the enemy, so it may well be that Through the Mud and the Blood won't stand up to my expectations.

And Force on Force certainly gave me plenty to think about on the way home.

Still it was nice to see Dean and Rich (sorry if that's not your name) having fun playing General Quarters.


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