Impressions: Round Of Fire Universal Skirmish Rules

As someone who reads a lot of rules, I should really starting asking for money every time someone calls their ruleset “revolutionary” – it would probably make me more than my current Adsense performance. In most cases people trying something new end up combining elements seen elsewhere in new combinations which do play in a different way but don’t feel like a brand new game.

Round of Fire from The Lazy Games is something new. It throws the common activation systems you know and love (card based, IGO UGO) to one side, create a new concept and instead makes it the core of the game, requiring a different set of tactics to most other games. It’s also something new for this blog in that’s it’s not an ultramodern ruleset specifically – the subtitle is the “The Universal System for Skirmish Battles”. As you might expect, universal rules are a risky prospect – go too generic and its lacking in character; focus too much on one era and other time periods feel stretched to fit.

Before we start full disclosure: I was provided these rules in PDF format by the author to play and give an impression on.

First up, let’s take a look at the book. It’s currently only in PDF format (available from the Wargames Vault) although there are plans for a physical copy. Starting to flick through it, the first thing that really stands out is how it looks. 98 pages long and each page is in full colour, complete with a background that doesn’t make reading difficult but might make it rather taxing in terms of ink if you decide to print it (EDIT: The author has informed me that the Wargames Vault download includes a printer friendly version). It’s packed full of wonderful pictures and clean, useful diagrams that actually help to understand the rules rather than just act as decoration. One comment is that it is a little bit dense reading which is handy for explaining the rules but it can occasionally be a pain when flicking through to find a specific rule – there is definitely a need for a quick reference sheet. I also think the book could do with two other little elements to help with navigation – the PDF needs bookmarks added for each chapter and an index in the back would be handy.

In terms of main ideas, the game uses only simple D6s – no fancy extra dice. The core idea when rolling is that modifiers reduce or increase the number of dice you roll while successes are on a fixed value (mostly 5+). The game also does a good job being playable across different scales by using distance units for all of its ranges rather than specific inch distances. The table in the introduction chapter covers playing everything from 6mm up to 28mm and also covers both playing with a ruler/tape measure (how wargamers normally play) or using a grid system.

Image from Round of Fire

The biggest new idea has to be The Wheel. This is the core concept, the key foundation that the rest of the game is built on. Rather than IGO-UGO, the game takes place in rounds, represented by a complete rotation of the wheel. Each round is split into 8 steps, with units of both sides activating on different steps. Depending on the action a unit does in its step, its activation counter on the wheel is shifted by a certain number of steps depending on the longest action taken by a unit (more on those later). Apart from the initial location on the wheel for each unit, there is no random chance involved in future activation times – it’s all down to player choices. Because of this, tactics require some careful use of forward planning and the right actions at the right time in order to get the edge. For example, careful smaller movements take fewer steps than mad runs, giving you more time to react to the enemy at the risk that they will move into the best positions before you get there. Several other systems tie into the wheel, with suppression and shock pushing the affected units around the wheel and delaying their activation. Additionally, certain abilities reduce the cost of activations or allow you to move a unit around the wheel, giving you more options depending on your force. (if you are wanting more information on this system, the author of the rules has released the chapter on the Wheel as a free preview on the Wargames Vault)

Each counter you are moving around the wheel representing a unit and this concept is pretty cool. Units are made up from a number of elements. These can small fireteams, single specialists or a vehicle. A cool feature is that each element in a unit can be different so you could combine two fireteams and a squad leader to represent an infantry squad acting together or a vehicle and a fireteam to have some close dismounts. Units move at the same time but don’t have to do the same actions, letting two elements perform fire and maneuver very easily without worrying about not being in close activation steps to each other. On the other hand, because all elements in a unit are tied to the same activation counter, they are also more easily affected by suppression. The way to counter this is to use lots of smaller units made of single elements but that can be more expensive in terms of points and requires a little more careful planning. Each element is designed to be assigned to a card, which is a neat way of keeping track of the actions costs and vital stats.

In terms of actions, there are a few to cover. Alongside the usual movement (at one of three speeds), shooting and close combat actions there are a few other cool moves, many of which are focused on affecting the wheel. Units can choose to wait any number of steps (perfect for choosing your activation step) or go into overwatch. Overwatch is especially useful but can really slow down your units as the total cost of overwatching in terms of steps can be huge if you decide to sit and watch a gap for a long period of times. Certain units can also use a boost action, delaying their activation to speed up others units.

Two teams settle into a firefight, with the Rogue (bottom left) easily able to pick off important enemies

When it comes to engaging fire, there are a few facts to look at. Basic shooting sees you targeting the nearest enemy unit, rolling a number of dice depending on your weapons attack value and then modifying the number of dice based on cover. Target values of dice depend on ranges and once you have found out how many successes you have, your opponent gets to roll defence dice. The defence dice, made up of armour, toughness and the number of successful hits, will nearly always outnumber the attacking dice (although needing a 5 or more to block damage) so it never feels like the defender doesn’t have a chance to keep their units alive. Certain weapons affect this system such as sniper rifles (which remove a number of defence dice from the pool) making them feel more decisive than others. Successful hits also cause shock, which pushes that unit back in the wheel, reducing their effectiveness.

The other shooting options are to assault (moving and shooting in exchange for having less chance of causing damage) or to suppress. This ignores cover and armour but gives up the chance of causing damage. Instead any successful hit will push the suppressed unit back in the wheel, letting you maintain initiative. The is perfect when engaging elite armoured troops or those in cover, while also letting you move up your troops for the killing blow. You can also setup deadly crossfires (which allows for multiple units to shoot) or, if your units are about to be engaged when you are close enough on the wheel, use reaction fire.

Close combat occurs, bogging down both parties as the fire fight goes on over their heads

Finally there is close combat. Like shooting, the attacker rolls a number of dice depending on melee skills and weapons (which also affect the required score to succeed) and then the defenders rolls against them, with extra dice added for melee toughness and From my games, it really doesn’t feel like a focus of the game. It takes up a lot of steps to fight and the defender has a massive advantage so really, unless you’re packing big knives or want to bog down your opponent, the killing blow will be executed through shooting and assault actions. In more melee focused settings, I could see this defender advantage being a bit more dramatic but for ultramodern, its an action of last resort.

The core rules may be universal but you can’t really play a game without detailing some example forces. The book goes for a modern/near future sci-fi setting, giving you access to a range of elements from the regular soldiers and insurgents to combat droids and heroic specialists (including my favourite The Slab). All of these units can be picked by any of the factions (which range from the brown coated militia and regular army up to The Agency and a tech focused team made mostly of droids) but there is a system in place to help make your lists themed correctly.

Most of the element costs are expressed as both points and an icon to represent a token. Each type of token means something different, such as Speed token which is linked to upgrades and troops that give your force an edge in movement or the Tech icon for the more prototype kit. The points values of each token depends on the force – the militia would only pay 10 points for a speed token while the slower regular army pays 20. The creates a nice balance and stops every force being the same. The other thing that helps to theme forces is the rewards charts which detail how much VP you can gain or lose during a battle. As well as the usual actions like killing enemies or taking casualties, there are VP modifiers for faction specific tasks. The Agency, for example, gains lots of additional VP if an enemy specialist is captured but nothing for killing them – after all, their focus is on the intel, not the body count.

The Spearhead operator (just above the black SUV) is taking full advantage of the corner cover

Elements can also take upgrades to add new weapons and new abilities. Some of these also cost tokens (such as the common ability to take a run in your first action rather than being forced to walk) again helping to theme each of the forces. There are multiple pages of abilities for both weapons and troops, giving you plenty of starting points when building your own units for a custom time period. As well as the modern/near future setting, there is also some discussion on gunpowder and medieval weapons which should make creating some forces for less firearm focused time periods easier. I’d expect force lists (including new factions and elements) to be released as the game goes on. There are fillable PDFs available on the Wargames Vault for writing down the details of your force.

Finally at the back of the book there is a big section on scenarios. With some general guidance on different types of objectives and more details on victory points, the final chapter includes 9 scenarios for you to play. There is a nice mix of symmetrical and asymmetrical setups on offer, with situations such as rushing for extraction or fighting the other team for control of a crashed cargo plane. Each of the scenarios are packed full of detail, and often include additional rules to help make the battle feel a little more unique.

So what are my overall thoughts? I really recommend giving this game a go. The new initiative system and simple core mechanics make it very exciting to play, requiring some careful forward planning. By being a universal system, it also feels like a great sandbox (even more so than usual) just begging for you to dig through it and try out all the various scenarios. When playing with my usual opponent in York, it didn’t take long for us to big up the key ideas and start planning and (more importantly) pull off some really cool maneuvers. It might not match other games for getting the feel of Ultramodern gaming 100% but it is an incredibly fun way of getting the toys on the table and playing something that challenges your tactical brain. I’m also excited to see what the future brings – from talking to him, the author seems very keen to keep adding new scenarios, settings and more.

I’m planning a few more games of Round of Fire, as well as creating some addons to really theme the game to the Ultramodern setting. So keep your eyes on the blog for more details!

Oh you would prefer the impressions in Great Big Ultramodern Wargaming Rules Comparison titles? Okay, I can do that. Click read more to see them!

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Spectre Miniatures: First Games and Rules Thoughts

My latest painted set. CIA station chief in his hawaiian, a local South African fixer and an under cover MI6 agent about to make a run for it. And these are the good guys...
My latest painted set. CIA station chief in his Hawaiian, a local South African fixer and an under cover MI6 agent about to make a run for it. And these are the good guys…

So after months of me painting models I finally managed to find some guys to go up against using the Spectre rules. Thanks to their speed, I managed to play two games pretty quickly. If you want to go straight to my thoughts on the rules, head down and look for the big “The Rules” sign.

In both games saw two professional armies going up against each other. Both were around 500 points and apart from a few tweaked weapons (assault rifles swapped out for compact carbines, an LMG replaced with a DMR) both sides shared similar gear. In addition, both sides also were fully kitted up with gear, carrying pistols, body armour, radio comms and frag/smoke grenades. Both matches were all out brawls until we ran out of turns (around 5 each game).

Game one saw me playing as the Brits up against the SAS. My opponent managed to dig in a sniper team who could over watch most of the approaches and then really took hold of the buildings. Ignoring a poorly thrown smoke grenade, the sniper traded shots with my own marksman and a SAW gunner but the stone bridge they were crouching on were pretty good at stopping round. I managed to get a breaching team to blast through a window and into a large house near the centre, planning to defend it to the last.

However, I failed realise just how horrifying grenades can be. My opponent stacked up, threw in three frags and wiped out two out of the three brits who made it into the building. However, the grizzled sarge managed to hold his own against the attackers beating them down in close combat. Outside, the enemy DMR and sniper picked off my long range guys. However, hero of the match was the LMG gunner of the assault team, who go caught outside, dove into a haystack and then kicked ass. He injured the sniper at long range, downed the lead of an assault team and then forced them back with a frag grenade.

End result: 5 kills on each side, the SAS had gained more ground pushing right across the board.

Game two saw the SAS replaced with a set of Empress’s rather good looking Australians. This time the Brits started in the town, quickly moving to hold the courtyard and take positions in the ruins. The Aussies pushed up into a good set of firing positions in the scrubs and the building corner directly across from dug in Brits. While the last game saw a lot of movement and special tactics, the second game was an intense firefight, with the medics on both sides keeping busy. In fact one of the injured Brits managed to down a Aussie with his pistol. The game ended with a last push by the Anzacs, only just being held back by the remaining Brits.

End result: 4 British Casualties, 5 Australians Casualties.

Overall results – a good time had and some cunning plans laid.

The Rules

So the rules. This was my first set of games with them and so there was a fair bit of learning to do. However, they are simple enough to learn yet still contain a reasonable amount of detail to make cool stuff happen. I do need to make a quick reference sheet for it though as flipping back and forth through the PDF did start to slow things down.

The first major change from my previous games (mainly 40k and a bit of Flames of War) was the fact the turns take place at the same time. The player with initiative does their moves, then the other player moves and so on and so forth. This gives it a much faster pace and also makes getting initiative a lot more important than I have found previously (for example you can only assault someone who hasn’t moved so the first player gets to pick and choose who gets into the speedy death of CQB). I also like the addition of the command phase, where cool and unique orders (such as going into Overwatch or choosing to move tactically in order to be super operator) can be deployed. The command test was kind of simple for both sides (probably because everyone was wired up with radios) so I would like to see how it is with less professional teams. Overwatch played a pretty key part but wasn’t too overwhelming – stopping the character from shooting in their own phase really makes it a risk to use rather than a guarantee of success.

Movement is simple and easy to learn (6″ move or 6″ + agility sprint), with a nice set of rules for the use of buildings and gear. It was odd to be throwing smoke grenades in a movement phase but it makes sense seeing as it directly affects what happens next. Breaching is also cool – I look forward to making my own terrain so I can have alternative walls with breaching points already made up. It’s also cool how the game lets you drag and move casualties and captives, letting you have that movie moment of a teammate dragging a colleague to cover while the rest of the team put down some fire.

Shooting is a barrel of very violent laughs. First up, it makes little sense not to shoot (unless you are sprinting or the mission demands it) as it adds to the number of suppression points the target is currently dealing with. This initially sounds slightly silly but it does make sense – on a 4×4 board, the ranges would be close quarters firefight rather than pot shots so constant suppression would be vital. Suppression didn’t turn the tide of either of the battles but it still made some encounters interesting. I think this might be down to both sides using professionals as militia might be a little more undone by suppressive fire. The roll off with modifiers used for shooting (shooters skill + modifiers vs defenders defence + modifiers) takes a little while to get used to but once you get the gist of it, it is pretty damn slick. We were able to chew through shooting actions very rapidly once the important numbers were in place.

Weapons also are not limited by range (apart from thrown ones) which is cool, letting you trade accurate fire for at least a slim chance of getting a guy. Shotguns suffer especially badly with the range intervals but I was constantly shooting LMGs at just over their 1st interval and simply suffering the penalty loss. I was also suffering from the use of automatic fire which lets you shoot multiple times (and at multiple targets) but with a modifier. The special rules for guns were many but were easy to learn with crew served being especially well used thanks to its +1 to hit. They do help to make different guns interesting and useful – seeing the compact weapons at close range was certainly an exciting setup.

As mentioned above, grenades are incredibly deadly. Their +1 to kill in buildings cost me most of a fire team. I do need to get some clarification on the scatter rules. Primarily, what happens when they are thrown inside a building and scatter to a position outside? Do they stop at the wall or are they assumed to bounce through a window. Similarly, what happens when they scatter into a building? Do I get a chance to roll my defence against a scattered grenade or am I just dead? I can see them being overused on very terrain dense maps which could be interesting.

Once the rounds start hitting then people start dropping – every hit is probably going to be a kill or at least a serious wound. Only on a roll of 1 does the target get away scot free. This makes shooting less of a chore than it could be. It does however include bleedout and this is another point I think I need some clarification on. You calculate how long it will take a soldier to bleed out by rolling a dice. It’s possible to get a one, meaning you have a turn to get someone who can stop the bleeding or a medic to heal them. However, the rules also say to iterate the countdown at the start of the turn. So its possible for someone to be downed with a one and then immediately die when the turn counter ticks over. In the end, we simply gave a turns grace on the bleedout and started it going the following turn but it would be interesting to hear what the designers intended.

If you thought the shooting phase was bad in terms of body count, the close combat phase is even more deadly. Close quarters combat is a little lightweight but to be honest I’m not that fussed – changing it to a simple roll off rather than 40k’s third edition table of combat resolution based horror makes it vital but not overwhelming in comparison to shooting phase. I was initially confused why suppression didn’t affect close combat but let’s be fair, a guy trying to club you to death with an AK is probably more worrying than the burst of fire flying over your head. Being able to choose between killing your opponents or taking them captive is a cool touch, as is the ability to stealth takedown guys if you use the tactical move mode. Its great if you want to try to do a stealthy HVT grab with your SAS guys before dragging him off past his buddies.

Gear and weapons are packed full of cool toys and useful things – its hard to think of items they have missed. Weapons range from the surprisingly deadly pistols up to thermobaric RPG rounds and vehicle mounted cannons. Gear includes climbing sets, body armour and more good stuff (and by more good stuff I mean RIOT SHIELDS). There are also vehicle rules but sadly we didn’t get to use them in this game – they seem interesting but a limited as they only include three types (technicals, motorbikes and a BMP1). Finally, the army lists are pretty good – I found it super easy to make up lists using other brand models without having to proxy which is always a good way to test out a ruleset. The gear remains constant in price across lists but its availability changes (only elite operators can take AA12 shotguns for example), which makes sense but does make the Elite list effectively a giant toybox. Commander Assets and warlord rules help to throw in some little perks – I could have really used the UAV’s ability to swap who has initiative and some of the warlord’s options lets you block off roads or bring in more guys to help level the metaphorical playing field (rather than the AC130 that literally levels the playing field).

Now there are a few things I find odd. First up, the current book is missing some of the advanced rules such as the air support rules and nightfighting which is a little unusual seeing as they are referenced elsewhere. There are also currently no scenarios so its down to players to make them up or adapt them from other rules sets. In terms of gameplay, I find it a little odd that suppression only affects one target in a group. I can see the balance reason but I’m pretty sure MG rounds flicking over your buddies head would give you pause for thought. Finally, it really needs a quick reference sheet. I’m more than happy to go off and make one but one styled up like the rules would be nice.

I did read up on Tiny Terain’s points and although I disagree a little, I do think his point about spotting is an important one (and you should go and read up on his views as he wrote them better than I could). Skirmish Sangin relies heavily on it and I think it does make for a much more tense battle. Part of me wonders if they are keeping the spotting rules back to be part of the night fighting set (where it obviously plays a bigger part) but I would like to hear their opinions on it.

So to wrap up, bullet points:

  • The rules are awesome – fast paced, feels realistic yet also cinematic.
  • Machine guns are great bases of fire and superb to suppress everyone. (I bet a .50 cal would be fun..)
  • Grenades are terrifying and their rules need a little clarification when it comes to scatter
  • Characters die super fast – if you are hit, good chance you are dead. However, they need a little more clarification when it comes to the bleedout counter.
  • The book needs the advanced rules and scenarios and a quick reference sheet. I would also buy a nice paper version as well.
  • They are really good and really free.

Overall I had a great time with these rules. They are perfect for a pickup game and I look forward to play some more, especially with all these VIPs and objectives I have in my army box. I look forward to playing against my dad at Easter seeing as a long time back he also tried to understand the 3rd edition combat resolution table and this should be a little more up his street.

So what’s next? Well, I did decide to get two more UKSF sets to round out my collection – the low profile and assault team were just too tempting. I also grabbed the tokens (something I am VERY glad about after today’s games) and a random chance box – really excited what cool models could be in it. I’ll also be going to Salute at the end of April for the first time to see if I can avoid the temptation of more Empress Brits and also to say hi to the Spectre team and see what’s coming next at their stall.

In current model news, I’ve got more painting to do. I’ve got some VIPs done and now I’m looking at doing the masses of mercs I have. I also am going to try doing some conversion work to turn my second dual purpose dog into everyone’s favourite helicopter killing pooch. It’s not a huge amount of work but I’ve never done anything so precise. Hopefully the SAS team will appreciated the heavily armoured friend. I’m also going to look at making some modular buildings for some CQB shenanigans, looking at a style seen in Somalia or East Africa.

Overall, tabletop wargaming is super fun and I am so glad I decided to get involved with it again.