A couple of days ago, I had a sudden struck of inspiration. Maybe I should just write my own sci-fi wargaming rules… No sooner said than done! I sat down and scribbled a set of simple rules that hopefully would depict sci-fi combat as I envisioned it. I’ve already written about my difficulties with Tomorrow’s War, which basically stem from me not being at all interested in modern weapons and tactics. Some concepts are just not intuitive for me and I can’t be bothered to research them. This, of course, is because my knowledge of how future combat works comes from movies like Star Wars or Serenity. So why not make up my own rules that depict the simplistic and cinematic action I want to see on the tabletop?
The rules are aimed at fast play, that is a game featuring four to five units per side should take about an hour. The core mechanics is an order system I took from a game I played as a teenager, namely Games Workshop’s Space Marine, the first edition of their Epic system. An order chit is placed face down besides each unit and the units are activated according to which order they have. The other important feature are rules for interacting with objectives. I was inspired by Pulp Alley to make the game about achieving objectives and to have units test against their stats to see if they succeed in their interaction.
A possibly provocative thing I did is to deliberately shorten weapons distances. Now I have followed the discussions about this and for historical games I would agree with Richard Clarke and others that modern fire weapons have ranges that, even if reduced in scale, should easily cover the whole of the table. However, I don’t like to envision my sci-fi heroes huddling behind a wall, knowing that one small mistake will cost their lives. I want them to run and do things while the enemy’s blaster shots buzz around them!
That’s it, basically. The rules take up four pages and can be explained in as many minutes. There are some special rules for heavy weapons and vehicles, but most of it is very generic – e.g. there is only one type of heavy support weapon. I just wanted to capture what I feel is the essence of such a thing: It is cumbersome and should be set up to fire and that it has anti-tank capabilities. That’s all I need to know.
With the rules written I was of course keen to play a test game. K. indulged me and we had a short fight between my Quar Expeditionary Force and her TCO. The background story was that both teams were sent to investigate the disappearance of a lone miner somewhere on the fringes of a colony planet.
There were three objectives and whoever first achieved any two of them had won. I decided to go for the left ones and hope that my sniper team would cover the other objective and hinder any interaction on K.’s side. K. rushed forward with her guys, her Sharkmen heading towards the mine, the Brunt approaching the pile of scrap and the Pasiphaeans covering the advance with their heavy weapon. Climbing into the mine, the Sharkmen soon discovered an important clue: It seems the missing miner found some ancient artefact!
The Brunt, however, couldn’t for the life of them figure out what all the scrap meant. It didn’t help that my snipers harassed them from their position on the hill.
My first AAA team meanwhile advanced towards the radio equipment and, prying open the case, got hold of a data disc with the miner’s last messages.
Now it was down to the last objective: Who would be the first? Our forces were beginning to get decimated: With some lucky shots the angry Brunt had dispatched the snipers, while I had managed to take out the Sharkmen. K. decided that her Brunt, who don’t know an isotopic relay from a gyrocoupling, where better suited to fight than to figure out clues and retreated them while she sent some Pasiphaeans over to the scrapheap.
However, my second AAA team, which had been lurking around the mine for a while, finally entered it – after the sharks had been dealt with, of course: who want’s to meet a shark in a dark mine? At first, they couldn’t figure out what had happened, but at the second attempt, they found out what K.’s guys already knew. Having this clue as well as the other from the radio, my teams were ready to pull out. Victory for the Quar!
This game was a very pleasant surprise. Everything worked very smooth. At first, we were a bit slow as we had to get accustomed to the sequence of the different phases, but we quickly got the hang of it. We felt that the firefights were neither too brutal nor too hurtless. The special weapon teams could deal serious damage but were quite brittle, which means that it will be important to figure out how to best use them. We both liked the whole objective mechanics, as it generates a real story – something we missed with Tomorrow’s War.
We are both looking forward to playing more games with those rules. We will try out vehicles next and will also have a go at other scenarios. It already looks as if this may rekindle our love for sci-fi gaming! Our only regret is that we never solved the riddle of the scrapheap…