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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review: Sabre Squadron's 'Rapid Deployment' Modern Ruleset

Upholding the great Canadian tradition of 'breaking down' next to a Gasthaus for a Schnitzel and Bier! (or so I am told!)
SabreSquadron has a company-level ruleset in the works, and luckily, the 'beta' version if you will, is available by emailing them from this link:  
From their website:

SabreSquadron is a new venture aiming to bring 'Modern' warfare to your tabletop.
Modern warfare is possibly the most exciting and fastest-moving period to wargame. It has the most interesting equipment - familiar to us from the television news or even from first-hand experience - posing a range of threats that require thought and tactical skill to overcome. 

The period also gives us the chance to thrash out those “What ifs?” from potential international confrontations, as well as re-fighting actual conflicts. However, it is also the most difficult period to transfer to the table-top satisfactorily. This is mainly due to the complexity of contemporary weapons systems, and many players have been put off the era due to rules appearing complicated or – conversely - too abstract. At Sabresquadron we aim to represent modern combat by focusing on the five main elements of the period:

Speed - Speed of maneuver, speed of communications and speed of decision-making.

Lethality - If it can be seen it can be killed, but being seen doesn't mean it has to be hit.

Technology - Minor advantages can be significant, but one shouldn’t get bogged down with details.

People - Training and leadership are vital if any weapons are to be used effectively.

Position - Defenders will fire first but a static defense can be found and destroyed.'

Fellow Dice Devil Rob Kelly and I decided to give the 'Rapid Deployment' (aka basic playtest) rules a whirl, using my 15mm Soviet Tanks vs his Canadians (stationed in West Germany).  We played on an 8 foot table to take advantage of the unlimited range of the high caliber guns (which feels right in Moderns) and the large number of models we were using:
My whole force: 25+ tanks and 1 Motor Rifle unit in BTR's
Reserve T-55's (Battlefront)
Motor Rifles (Battlefront UAR Infantry) and BTR-80s (QRF)
T-72's defending the AAA Shilkas and Radar (QRF miniatures)
Second unit of T-72s (QRF)
Rob's Lynx scout vehicle (QRF)
Cdn Infantry (QRF)
Cdn M113 TOW missile carriers (Battlefront M113s, QRF TOW's)
Cdn Leopard 1A4's (QRF)
Canada-ified Centurion (Battlefront)

The only way we could really review this ruleset is to compare to what we know:  Battlefront's system from the Vietnam and Middle East conflicts. So we are going compare the 2 systems directly. Big Thanks to Twinlinked and Diragi from Dice Devils for coming to help/watch/heckle!

First of all, SabreSquadron uses D10s and not D6s. The baseline score for EVERYTHING is 5+, with other factors modifying this roll. I find the larger range of results refreshing, with a +1 to something only affecting 10% chance, rather than +1 modifier in Flames of War is around 17%. Training levels can vary more widely as well with the greater range on a D10, with Elite-grade troops passing Morale on a 3+ all the way to Rabble (one step worse than Conscripts!) passing only on a 7+!

While the speed of infantry was slow compared to Battlefront (3 vs 6 inches) tanks stayed about the same if you were regular tracked and actually get faster on roads.  We also really liked having a lot of speed bands for vehicles, with my T-72s being 'Very Fast Tracked' because they were small and light, while my T-55s were regular tracked speed.  We realized too that this rule set is to be used for 3mm - 20mm so in GHQ scale, 3 inches of infantry movement is pretty brisk!  AFV Main weapons have a regular range of 36 inches, with 'long range' being unlimited! Thus you can see below the tank war we were going to have:
Rob's Cdns defending the town from my dastardly Russians
Another neat concept is 'turret down' which is like 'Hull down' in Flames of War except just the hatch is visible.  In this case (above), the Artillery Observer M113 is declared 'turret down' so he can see over the crest, but not present enough to the enemy to be shot at in return.
I rolled a 9 so I went first!   In SabreQuadron, you can move 1 inch and still fire at full effect, OR move up to half and fire with full effect if you have Stabilizers/Targeters. This allows you to move up behind a hedge and not be shot at, then on your turn, hug the hedge and fire full effect. Very different from Flames of War. You can see above my T-55s are going to do exactly that. Also: no bog roll required for crossing hedges for heavy modern tanks!  HURRAY.
The First kill.. My stationary T-72s on the hill opened up at 42 inch range on Rob's scout elements, needing 5+ to hit, +2 for long range for 7+'s needed. Second interesting tidbit, each armor/weapon has two ratings: Kinetic and Chemical. Main gun round is Kinetic value of 11 vs his Kinetic Armour of 2.  (Missiles use Chemical aka HE warheads.. so different AT and Armour values!)   I only destroyed one Lynx and Neutralized the second (think double-bailed) because I did not beat his armour by more than 1. 
In Flames of War, your shot is completely ineffective if the target passes its armour save, not here.  Bare minimum, if you HIT, the target will be suppressed (think pinned), if your Firepower = Protection roll, on a 5+ Neutralized, or else Suppressed, if Firepwer > Protection +1, target is Neutralised, if double Neutralized is destroyed, if Firepower > Protection +2 Target Destroyed.  Neutralized means you cannot move or shoot at all. Also, you test to recover at the END of your turn.. so unlike Flames of War, where you can get 5 bailed out Panzer IV's all get back in and be fully effective right after you shot them.. they are out for at least a turn!  Very nice mechanics!
My T-72s fired at the Lynx's...
.. but as you can see, I had line of sight to the Centurions all the way at the back, needing 7s to hit on a D10
Rob, being a former Artillery guy, wanted to test out the Artillery rules.  I REALLY like how SabreSquadron did Artillery. First of all, you put down your aiming point on any piece of GROUND in LOS and within 6 inches of an enemy model.   But you don't fire it on your turn... in the ENEMY's turn, they can move, and THEN the rounds come down.  Each gun or tube gets one box, the size of which is dependent on caliber. We were playing that Rob had 4 Paladins (155's) and thus would get 4 boxes 5 inch per side. 

The first box doesn't have to be centered on the aiming point, it just has to contain the aiming point, and then you arrange the other boxes around the first box.  In the picture below, the blue ranged-in marker was his aiming point, I tried to get the infantry and tanks out of there, and then he laid down 4 x 5-inch boxes (marked in white smoke) suppressing both units, killing one tank, Neutralizing the other 2, and killing 4 infantry stands!!  What's hilarious is that there is SCATTER too, something I missed from other games in Flames of War.  In this case he hit dead-on: (see below)
Not content with Artillery, Rob fired a TOW missile at me from 59 inches.  Effective range is 60 inches!!  TOW missiles have a different mechanic, and I love it.. You declare you are firing, but before you roll, the target player can try and Dodge.  This is meant to encompass actual dodging, or firing smoke launchers, or firing a few MG shots at the firer (historical in the Middle East for example vs AT-3 'Saggers')  I opted to dodge, and passed my test, which put in another modifier for Rob, but he rolled a 9 and then we saw that Chemical Firepower was 14!!! vs Armour 5:
TOW missile (foreground) launches over the Leopard 1A4s to hit my tank on the far tree-lined ridge!
At this stage we were getting the mechanics down and tank rounds were whizzing back and forth across the valley, Leopards were dying, and my T-55s were up against the hedges firing back with their 125mm's, until..
Look at the smoke square in the picture above.. Rob was trying to call down another fire mission to finish of some T-72s (middle of board) and he missed, and got the maximum value for scatter.. 12 inches.  While he went upstairs to grab a 40k scatter Die, Twinlinked laughed and said "Imagine if it scattered right onto your 2 units of T-55s?"  Well, he got one full unit as it turns out!! He was going for 2 kills and got 3 kills, one Suppression!!  I want artillery next game for sure!!
The last mechanic to try out: Close Assault.   In SabreSquadron, Tanks cannot close assault.  Since 2 of the 4 people in the room were military, both agreed that yeah, in modern times, you need to make sure there is no infantry where you take your vehicles!   So Rob had a small section with a Carl Gustav RPG test the mechanic and pushed in to try and kill my PT-76s.  This is very similar to Flames of War, but the defending player can move nearby un-Neutralized infantry before combat happens.  This replaces defensive fire because:  Vehicles with friendly un-Neutralized Infantry within 3 inches cannot be assaulted.  This encourages combined arms!  The canny player will have mounted infantry lurking behind the attacking wave of tanks on the advance, and if assaulted, can move in and support to block the Assault.  Superb mechanics!
In my case, Rob had a bonus because his element contained an RPG (the Carl Gustav) and Neutralized both tanks. Since I can't swing back, the remaining tank had to fall back. 
At this point we had to call game, as Rob had been volun-told to look after the young ones, but we really enjoyed the lethality of the game.. so much armour destroyed from a variety of sources!!

I will list some pro's and con's of this ruleset, but you have to understand that this is a playtest ruleset:

Scale:  From Micro-Armour to 20mm.. one set of rules and ranges.

Mechanics:  The ranges feel right, the AT Missiles feel right, the 2 different            weapon/armour types, promotes combined arms, etc

More Ratings:  More movement types, 6 training types, etc = more variety

Ease:  While it took US a while, we got the hang of it very quickly, having just tried Napoleonics and a Civil War ruleset at Historicon, this was on par or easier to pick up

Familiarity: Infantry based like Flames of War, so you can play Arab Israeli war or Vietnam and go straight to this, no problem.  It is still I go, you Go like Flames of War.

Random Number Range:  The use of a D10 provides more scope for what can happen in one die roll.  This means once you figure out the modifiers on your shot, you roll and apply results quickly.

Cons: (and these are mostly because its a test ruleset right now)

Rules: The rules weren't 100% clear on some situations.. example.. does he capture my Neutralised tanks in close assault? The Artillery Scatter, does it always scatter (hard to tell with the wording)

Lack of 'Lists':  We just 'run what we brung' with no points, so we had no idea if it was even fair fight.  No objectives, no missions.   Understand its a playtest ruleset, but no idea if something is too powerful or weak if we can't quantify and compare "Artillery is awesome, and my side didn't have any.. how many extra tanks should I have had?  What types?"
For the 15mm/20mm scale company level, this will be a great ruleset, from what we have seen so far.  It had the right 'feel' in terms of it wasn't hyper detailed or really abstract.  It did a tonne of things 'right' and the only place I feel it is lacking is in force organization, and it was my same beef with Force on Force.. What can I take/not take?  

As of this writing, there is a bare-bones organization on the Sabre Squadron site, but it just shows how your tank platoons are divided up.. no points. It shows a bunch of Artillery.. is its own list? If not, how many units can I take for my Tank force?  What, no T-72's in the eighties, despite them having stats in the cheatsheets?  Little things like this that I hope can be fixed will make this a nice ruleset to do what we did: A what-if near the Fulda Gap, in the late 1970s.

I rate this ruleset in its current state 7 out of 10, and assuming lists and organizations come out, boosting it to 8.5 out of ten or more.  Well done.
Head over to the site and drop them an email, they will get you the latest 'build' of the rules and you can try it out yourselves:
Last pic, I swear!
Comparison in scale: top, BF Centurion, middle BF Tiger 1E, bottom QRF Leopard.   QRF models are made of bendy, brittle metal (sounds contradictory but it isn't.. worst of both worlds) but they have some models no one else has, though the detail is lacking.  Battlefront is the clear leader in models (though I haven't seen a Khurasan in real life I have heard good things)  Battlefront:  Make T-72s and BMP's and I will fork over a paycheck's worth to you to replace everything I have QRF!!
Matt Varnish and Rob Kelly are part of the Dice Devils


Keith Armstrong said...

Really enjoyed that and Its got me thinking on a game of sabre squadron asap!

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