Sadly, we are yet to see the result of the Lardies work, but I haven't lost my interest in playing the period. The painted figures have sat unused and unloved while other projects not least WWII Chain of Command, have dominated my game time.
I have only played a few introductory scenarios for Force on Force and that was a while ago, but I was attracted to two particular features - the whole action/reaction sequence of play and the use of variable sided dice to reflect the differences in troop quality and morale.
|British land from a helicopter into a hot LZ|
The action/reaction sequence offered an interesting twist on the eternal issue of how to sequence player's turn and actions in a way that was flexible and unpredictable. It offers a way to keep both players totally engaged in what's happening at all times. When you add to that the way that the different sided dice allow troops of different calibre to respond, it has the potential for a really dynamic turn sequence. This was all the more apparent when applied to asymmetric engagements.
The rules themselves get mixed reviews, not for the design of the mechanics themselves so much as for the way they are presented. I think any rules system that tries to innovate requires the rules writers to go to extra lengths to ensure they help gamers understand what they are introducing. The Force on Force rules are beautifully presented with very high production values. However, the style of the rules writing doesn't work nearly as well and their presentation is not intuitive. This is a real shame, because once grasped these are easy rules to play and I imagine they flow very well.
Using the Force on Force supplement for Afghanistan, Enduring Freedom, we picked a scenario that pitted British Paras against the Taliban.
We put together a rough table with the scenery we had and began to play through the scenario, which has two sections of Paras land in a very hot LZ and try to battle their way across a village to link up with the rest of their unit.
We made a few mistakes, both in rules interpretation and in tactical play, and we spent a lot of time flicking through the rule book and the supplement. It's hard not to agree with others that the rules suffer from a major presentation issue. I think the core rules could probably be condensed down to twelve or so pages if the rules writers focussed purely on the game mechanics in a logical sequenced fashion. There are a lot of examples and these do help but my opponent Dave and I couldn't help discuss how things could be improved.
Firstly, an opening paragraph to give a summary of the core rule concept would set the scene, particularly for the more innovative rules. Follow this with the key rule mechanics and then finally complete it by illustrating it with a few examples. It would make a big difference. Quite often there's a discursive piece to explain the theory behind a rule before we actually get to the rule itself and often the core rule mechanic is buried amidst these descriptive pieces, which can make trying to find the answer to a rules question in the midst of play a tedious exercise.
To take an example. The concept that units can move and fire, in some case firing several times, is a key concept of the system, but it would help to state this clearly up front in the movement and fire combat sections. It is after all quite a departure from many other rule sets. Then explain the pure game mechanics of movement, firing and reaction. Finally, give a few lengthy examples of the rules in action.
So having said what we didn't like, what did we like? We really liked the way the quality of units varies according to the the dice they use and this determines certain abilities and responses. The Taliban troop quality is 6, in other words they roll a D6 to determine a number of factors with only a 4+ having an effect. Basically the Taliban succeed 50% of the time in most of their actions. The British troop quality is 8, so they succeed on a 4+ on an eight sided dice, a big shift in their chance of succeeding. However both sides had morale of D10, so despite the Taliban's inferior training and weapon skills, their will to stay in the fight was strong.
This is a clever mechanic that allows for many variations - just because a unit is well trained, it doesn't follow their morale is high. The fact that your quality can decline due to factors on the battlefield is a good reflection of the impact of combat on performance. The different sided dice is a simple solution that keeps play flowing, yet offers subtle variations without the need for record keeping.
As you would expect the Taliban cannot stand toe to toe in a firefight with well trained regular troops. Not only will the regulars respond faster in the majority of cases, the Taliban will also suffer more hits and casualties. This means each player must play to their strengths and this feels right. The Taliban needed to rely on their numbers and their ability to hide and move hidden around the table. The British needed to make sure fire teams supported each other and brought maximum fire to bear. When they did, the Taliban melted away before the firepower.
We really liked the action/reaction sequencing of play. At no stage does it feel like it is anyone's turn, both turns feel as though they are happening simultaneously, which is an admirable achievement. It's a dynamic that we need to really explore further, I felt we only skimmed the surface of how this can play, yet we both liked what we saw.
While we laboured through this game it was only because of the rule book. We like the system and the way the game flows and so we will spend a bit of time with the rule book and get our heads around how things work before returning for more in a couple of weeks. I suspect things will move considerably faster now that we have a better grasp of the mechanics. Heck, it might even be worthy of a proper AAR.