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Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: Force on Force

by Alex Perez

A contemporary warfare rule set has the daunting task of distinguishing itself from the myriad of other choices available. On the one hand, you have the challenge of how to include the fact that most modern conflicts had a large component of asymmetrical fighting - the inclusion of irregular troops, civilian participation (as by standers or as hostile or friendly mobs), subversion, counter-insurgency, and a great deal of fog of war. On the other, you have the difficulty of meaningfully representing an innumerable and complicated set of combat units originating from as diverse places as Angola and South Africa during their Border wars, to Somalia, modern day Iraq and Afghanistan or the re-imagining of an actual 1986’s cold war conflict between NATO and the Warsaw pact forces.

Much of the book is laid out with photographs mixed in the artwork, rules, and flavor.

Force on Force: Modern Wargaming Rules (FOF), by Ambush Alley Games and published by Osprey Publishing, attempts to do this. FOF goes straight to the core of the problem and uses a rather clever approach - Kinetic Engagements. FOF defines Kinetic Engagements as: “an active engagement in which opposing forces rely on their ability to damage or destroy their opponents in order to accomplish their missions” and explains that these engagements are roughly traditional warfare and symmetrical in nature.

But how do they manage to turn a battle between let’s say, the U.S. Marines and Somali war bands into a symmetrical fight? How they quantify the “ability to damage or destroy their opponents”? FOF's answer is by relying on the quality of the individuals and not in the weapons and equipment themselves. Individuals, according to FOF, are more important than weapons, and all weapons are considered basically analogous (however they do allow bonuses by the type of support that some weapons provide e.g. heavy, medium, etc.), so the emphasis is in the quality of the troops and what they can accomplish as a unit and not the size of the gun.

Another very commendable inclusion on the rules set is that of the asymmetrical nature of certain conflicts in which non-kinetic operations have as their objective political gain rather than actual control of ground. They include rules for insurgency levels, irregular reinforcements and other elements that allow for such encounters, making this rule set a truly modern warfare set.

The addition of "Fog of War" cards keeps the game from getting too predictable

FOF pays a careful attention to the hobby and instructional side of the subject. A wealth of information is available in the book in regards to where miniatures, terrain and information can be acquired to start or enlarge a modern warfare collection.

There is a whole section on Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPS) for the small units leader.

The rules are very well researched and complete, with a progressive approach to their learning - an infantry section first, followed by a mechanized combat section, followed by a section about air mobile operations, air support, and finally artillery. At the end of each section a “putting it all together” scenario is included to show you how these elements are included, which I think it is a great way train you little by little and making you aware of the vast possibilities within the game.

"Putting It All Together" learning scenario

There is an advanced rules section, and I particularly liked the campaign section and the four scenarios included in the book. They do really give you a feel on how the game can be developed further and how it has a high level of replayability. The book closes with a rather large sample of weapons, units, and vehicles attributes, sample organizations (unit lists) for the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Russia, and Australia (besides those provided in the scenarios which include Chechens, Argentinians, NVA, Israel, and Syria).

So, now that you've talked about the book, how about the actual game?

The mechanics of the game are simple. The game is based on operational units, which are basically squads. It is scenario based, with the objectives, set up, and initiative dictated by the scenario. The golden rule is to roll a 4+ for most actions. All combat, morale and other chance elements are determined by the number of dice that you are allowed to roll, adding or subtracting dice according to circumstances like being in cover, in the open at optimum range of fire, having body armor etc. The quality of the troops determines the type of die that you will use - untrained troops use D6’s, Experienced troops D8’s, Veterans D10’s and Elites D12’s, again emphasizing that the quality of the troops is what gives you the advantage, and the weaponry only provides support.

In all, Shawn and Robby Carpenter, the lead authors of the rule set, did a great job in trying to harness the complexity of the theme and indeed succeeding in creating a true modern warfare system that not only feels modern but rather pulls you in and makes you want to play. However, there are a few points that (perhaps) subtract from an otherwise excellent tome that I believe are worth mentioning.

To begin with the system is very much in spirit like Black Powder or Hail Caesar in the sense that there is no point-system measure at all involved in the suggested lists. Because the game is entirely scenario driven, which makes scenario design all-important and army lists almost irrelevant, you play with the troops and weapons that the scenario gives you. This works very well for many people, including myself, but many others, am sure, will feel uneasy about the lack of a system (relevant or not) that would “balance out” two forces. I understand that due to the game design this points system is not really necessary, nevertheless I am sure that there will be some who will see this as a problem.

The next point is that the game is very lax in its approach to its game mechanics. This is no game for inch-bean counters. Movement, as an example, is suggested to be done as moving the leader of the unit the required length and simply moving the rest of the unit’s elements simply within command range of the leader. Most weapons ranges are multiple times the size of the suggested table sizes, so being in range of fire or not is not an issue, and measuring in general seems to be rather relaxed and an afterthought (for example, I re-read the book at least 3 times and I still have not found out if pre-measuring is allowed in the game, which I assume by context that it is). Basing is stated to be irrelevant, although they do not mention if one should measure form the body or the base to find distances. The scale also seems to be irrelevant, although they do mention that the scenarios and the terrain size for these are built with 15mm-20mm figures in mind and that one simply has to “compensate” table sizes and distances if bigger or smaller scales are to be used, as not to take away from those scenarios that have turn limits and in which distances would make a difference in the outcome of the scenario.

All in all I do believe that this is a very good system considering the complexity of the subject and I believe the authors succeeded in writing a true modern warfare set. The mechanics are simple and the gameplay is quick, yet it does not feel hurried and it has a great deal of tactics involved. FOF has also come up with a series of expansions, which in fact are books that contain scenarios for specific conflicts and they also enjoy the support of a great online community through their forums. The combination of all factors; these scenario books, the rules set and the playing community, makes FOF, in my opinion, a good system to try.

Rulebook provided by Osprey.

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