Before we start a disclaimer: I have done some writing for Skirmish Sangin and I am listed in the Spectre Operations book as a play tester.
EDIT: Two appendices have been added. These should be read after the main article.
A frequent question on the various wargaming sites is simple – “which rules should I play?”. The aim of this article is designed to assist players with answering this question. To do that, we will take a look at several rulesets, briefly discussing how they work and what they are best at. This isn’t a review – I have no plans of saying “this is best rules”. All the rules I cover are ones I have played, enjoyed and wish to detail for more people to get stuck in. So, let’s get started!
Basic rules – all of these games are playable with 28mm figures at a 1:1 model ratio. They are all about playing games in the post 1945 world, although many of them would work for actions in WW2.
If anything is incorrect below, please drop me a message so I can fix it.
Which rules are we looking at?
Well, who best to ask about the details of each ruleset than the info pages for them on their store? Click on the images to go find them.
Black Ops from Osprey
Black Ops is a skirmish wargame of tactical espionage combat that recreates the tension and excitement of modern action-thrillers such as the Bond and Bourne films. The fast-play rules keep all the players in the thick of the action, while the mission generator provides a wide range of options for scenarios – from stealthy extraction or surveillance missions to more overt raids and assaults. Stealth, combat, and technical expertise all have a role to play, and players may recruit a number of different operative types – spies, mercenaries, criminals, hackers, special forces, and many more – to recruit the best possible team for the job. Players may also choose to join a faction – powerful organisations, intelligence agencies, criminal syndicates, militaries, or rebel groups, each with a stake in international affairs. By doing so, their team may receive certain benefits, but may also find itself limited at a crucial time. With the variety offered by the characters, factions, and scenarios, no two games of Black Ops should ever be the same!
Danger Close from Empress
Tired of over complicated rules that take a degree in maths, physics and psychology to understand?
Tired of trying to find that particular mechanism that you know is there somewhere but cannot find the page?
Tired of setting up an evening’s game and having to pack up three hours later half way through move 4?
The Empress team are! We just wanted to get our toys out and play with terrain that we’ve spent years working on. We wanted a game that felt right but was accessible and smooth.
While searching we found “Some Corner of a Foreign Field” written by Matt Moran. This one sheet (two sides of A4) rule set is aimed at 4 to 15 figures per side. It’s easy to pick up and does everything that we wanted without any problems. We liked the rules so much we obtained the rights to them and have now re-released them under the name “Danger Close”
Force on Force from Ambush Alley Games
Force on Force brings the drama and action of modern warfare to the tabletop using miniature soldiers. The rules cover all aspects of modern warfare from the confidence and supply level of troops to air-strikes and off-board artillery and accommodates scenarios set anywhere from the end of World War II to the conflicts on today’s news without sacrificing either character or playability. Quick to learn and play, the game rewards players who use well-considered modern tactics to try and achieve victory. From infantry and armor to artillery and air support, Force on Force presents everything that players need to recreate post-World War II warfare involving both conventional, combined-arms forces and the irregular guerrilla units that have become the hallmark of 21st century warfare.
Oscar Sierra Charlie: Part 1 from Evil Bear Wargames
Oscar Sierra Charlie puts you straight in the front line of gripping battles. This is combat at the cutting edge; individual and squad-level action, desperate missions to capture key objectives, with victory going to best tactical mind.
OSC’s mechanics are deliberately streamlined for fast-paced tactical play. Straightforward stat lines are augmented by a plethora of skills, options and tactics. At its heart a player-driven rules system, no two games of OSC will be the same. Your troops will stand and fight at your command – their fate and that of the mission is wholly in your hands!
Skirmish Sangin from Radio DishDash
SKIRMISH SANGIN is a tabletop skirmish game where players control opposing forces, either modern western military forces (ISAF) or insurgent militias that do battle everyday in the modern war for Afghanistan. Inside this book you will find:
- Simple, fast combat rules that enable furious tabletop skirmish battles
- Information and rules for creation of professional and insurgent forces
- A full array of modern weapons and armour for both sides
- Rules for off table support ranging from snipers to heavy weapon platoons, fast air and helicopters
- A game that plays as easily with two people as it does for multi-player games.
- A set of rules that provides an intense and compelling tabletop game regardless of whether you field four figures per side or forty.
Spectre Operations from Spectre Miniatures
Spectre: Operations is a tabletop skirmish wargame from Spectre Miniatures which takes you to the cutting edge of modern warfare. Spectre: Operations introduces a world of action and intrigue, where special forces, intelligence agents and military contractors are on the front line, carrying out covert operations against a multitude of adversaries; including enemy nations, unstable regimes, ruthless warlords, insurgents, mercenaries and paramilitary groups.
The game mechanics within this book are realistic, fast paced and quick to learn, optimised for 2+ players with 4 – 40+ miniatures each side. It takes into account all modern battlefifi eld factors such as ranged and close combat, infantry and vehicle combat, air support, covert operations and civilians on the battlefield. The game uses mechanics to realistically represent darkness, adverse weather conditions and how alert your troops are, as well as cutting edge equipment such as night vision, suppressed weapons and surveillance drones. Stealth, cunning, and the ruthless will to win is the only way to prevail; you must rely on tactics, cover and careful selection of your forces to plan your action and succeed in Spectre: Operations.
How do I get the rulebook and how many expansions?
Osprey publish the rules so it’s basically available everywhere that their books are sold – so their site, Amazon, etc. In addition, there is a digital version available in Kindle format, ePub and PDF. There are currently no expansions released.
It’s literally two pages, available from Empress as both a PDF and a laminated double-sided sheet of A4. Supplements covering more forces are available on the Empress website.
Force on Force
Finding a physical copy of the original rulebook is like searching for hen’s teeth. However, it is also available in PDF format from the Ambush Alley Games website. As for expansions, Force on Force is king. It has 8 separate books, covering actions such as Vietnam War, African Bush Wars, Somalia, Cold War Gone Hot,The Global War on Terror and one final book covering various Special Operation actions. Each book is pretty thick covering history, multiple scenarios and some details on the forces.
OSC: Part 1
The first book is out and available direct from Evil Bear Wargames in both physical and PDF versions. More books will be coming to expand the rules from skirmish level to multiple squads and from there into the far future.
The rulebook are available from the Radio DishDash site, who have distribution in New Zealand, the UK and the US (through . Studio Miniatures in the UK also sells the rulebook at shows. The physical version includes the PDF as part of the purchase, so you can start reading the rules before the book even appears. There are two dispatches books that expand the core game, a battle book covering the event of Blackhawk Down and a book covering a fictional Afrika setting (with lots of scenarios and forces). In addition, there are free scenarios and additional rules available on the Skirmish Sangin blog and website.
The rulebook is available from the Spectre Miniatures site, being shipped from the UK. There is currently no digital version but there have been many requests so watch this space. As a warning, there is an older beta set of rules that were in PDF and floating around. The rules are out of date and apart from a brief understanding of the core concepts should be ignored. This ruleset is very recent but expansions are already being planned to add commander upgrades and focus on jungle fighting.
What are the core systems I really need to know about?
- Card activation: Troops activates by pulling cards from a deck composed of two suits (or one for each player). Jacks let the standard troops play, Kings activate Heavy Weapon teams, Queens make specialists move, Aces allow for leaders to get to work and 2’s activate civilians. When a card is drawn, it activates all of that type for that player.
- Dice rolling: In Black Ops, a low value is better than a high value. When rolling tests for various actions, the stat value is
- Stealth Missions: As you might expect with the name, Black Ops has a big section focused on sneaking missions. It has some very nice rules for tracking noise and a useful table for running patrolling guards.
- Skills and drills: Each soldier has a Skills & Drills value to represent their level of expertise. Skills and Drills form the core of all tests – higher values cause you to activate first, give you more activations and give you bonuses in certain tests.
- Actions: Actions such as spotting, shooting or close combat are based around a D20 roll, with modifiers affecting the end results.
- Stress and Morale: When soldiers are attacked or subject to other unfortunate incidents, stress markers are added. When they next activate, a test is rolled. In addition, stress also affects other actions, reducing how well a character can fight.
Force on Force
- Troop Quality and tests: Core concepts behind Force on Force are simple – every test is based on a dice roll of 4. Troop quality helps to change how likely this is to occur. Forces are assigned a dice type (from D6 to D12) to be used when testing, with more experienced troops having a higher chance to succeed. Forces also are assigned a morale rating which is independent from skill level.
- Fog Of War: Every time a reaction test is failed with a roll of 1, a fog of war card is played. These cards can do all sorts of things to ruin a forces day, from units running out of ammo or being needed elsewhere to aircraft performing an emergency attack run.
- Rules: There are a lot of rules in the main rulebook. They cover everything from tiny SOF engagements to huge massed battles with air assets and fire support being called in. Rules also allow for engagements between different types of forces (regulars or insurgents).
OSC: Part 1
- One stat system: All tests are based around a single stat value, ranging from 1 (a civilian) up to 7 (elite SOF). When using actions, this stat is added to a 1D10 to generate a final value.
- Deployment and Objectives: On the first turn, players place a deployment zone from which their armies start the battle. Keep it clear is important, to allow more forces to arrive on the scene. The commander can also move the deployment zone by using their actions. In addition, the game is heavily focused on objectives. One objective is the main one while other secondary objectives provide more opportunities to win. In many cases, these objectives must be collected and stashed on the deployment point.
- Actions and Skill tests: There is a long list of actions that can be played using your 2 activation points. These actions (from hip shooting to challenging an enemy to surrender) are either Action tests (where how far over 10 your final result is important) or skill tests (as long as the final result is over 10, its successful). Once you know the actions, it’s a very quick system to play. Players activate based on who gains initiative on a 1D10 dice roll. Additionally actions can cause
- Card play:As the game progress, players will gain cards (either through losing the initiative or via the commander spending activation points). These cards can be played at during time and help to swing battles, removing counters or adding additional actions. Or just forcing an opponent out of an annoying building.
- Stat lines: As you can see below, soldiers in Skirmish Sangin are more like RPG characters than simple soldiers. The body rating is used as the basis for all skills, with experience levels determining how effective they are. In addition, character packages (such as sniper or NCO) can be bought to improve skills This adds a boat load of character to each fighter.
- Combat phases and Activation: Rather than IGO-UGO, all characters of a certain body rating activate at the same time. Body armour affects this activation time. Each turn, every soldier will activate a total of four times, able to use 3AP an activation to perform their actions.
- Actions and Modifiers: Spotting, Shooting and Close Combat all test using the D100 against their skill rating with modifiers added. When you first start playing, the list of modifiers seems overwhelming but after a few games it starts to sink in. Worse, coming under fire will add more modifiers and reduce a character’s effectiveness.
- Suppression: A core system of the rules, suppression is gained from coming under fire and drops a characters stats and movement speed, potentially locking them in place. Suppression is a nightmare incarnate, reducing a player’s battle plan to tatters. More well-trained troops have limitations on how suppression they can take but it is still a major issue.
- Command Actions: The second phase of each turn allows a commander to (after they pass a test) use command actions. These actions can do many things, from rallying off suppression, going into overwatch or scanning for hidden enemies.
- Tactical Actions: The movement phase is not just for closing with the enemy. This phase also allows more “cool” actions such as Tactical Movement (reduce speed, increase defence and stealth), Combat Sprint (increase speed but prevent combat) or breaching through an obstacle. Players can also deploy tactical grenades such as smoke or stun to reduce enemy effectiveness before the combat phase. Tactical actions can take place before or after movement, letting players setup room clearing actions with ease.
- Stealthy stuff: Spectre can be used for all out battles but it is particularly good for stealthy operations. Teams of SOF operators with silenced weapons and using the night can sneak around much larger forces, avoiding patrols. I really like how effortless the play can move from creeping around to all out warfare.
What does a unit profile look like?
For this test, we will be using the profile for a British Army squadie (so a professional soldier) with body armour, Assault Rifle, a Frag grenade and a Smoke grenade.
|Professional Soldier||4||4||4||4||Jack||Assault Rifle, Body Armour, Smoke grenades, Frag grenades||-|
Grenades in Black Ops are purchased as a squad upgrade to outfit an entire force. The system works that lower stats are better.
|Name||S&D||A||M||P. Wpn||S. Wpn||Grenade|
|Squadie 1||4||H||R||L85A2||None||1 Frag, 1 Smoke|
Soldiers are either regulars or insurgents which affects their morale.
Force on Force
Initiative Level: D8
Confidence Level: Confident
Supply Level: Normal
Body Armour: 1D
Troop Quality/Morale: D8/D10
1x Rifleman w/L85A2
Stats are usually applied for an entire force.
OSC: Part 1
|Soldier||5||B||Assault Rifle | Frag Grenade | Smoke Grenade|
|13 (15)||1D10+4||55%||3||L85A2||2, 4, 6, 8|
Pistol (BODY x3) 45% | Rifle (BODY x3 +10%) 55% | Heavy Weapon (BODY x2) 30% | Spot (100%) | First Aid (40%) | Throw (BODY x3) 45%| Forward Observer (BODY x2) 30%
|7||Professional Soldier||3||3||5||2||3||10||Assault Rifle, Body Armour, Frag Grenade, Smoke Grenade|
What is the squad system like?
There is no squad system but there is a morale (DED) benefit to remaining in a group when under fire. Grouped figures provide protection to leaders, heavy weapon teams and specialists, forcing hits off them and onto the poor Jacks protecting them.
No specific squad system but a benefit to remaining close to other soldiers when suffering stress (it increases the dice roll).
Force on Force
Squads is how this game is normally played, although the elements can be of any size from 1 up to 10ish. Size of the squad is normally set by the scenario writer. Squads can split and merge easily
OSC: Part 1
At the moment, there is no team system (it’s coming in part 2). However, a force’s commander can spend their activation on other soldiers nearby.
There are no rules for teams or squads in the main rulebook except for heavy weapons (which just means that the various soldiers that form the team activate together). However, soldiers close by can provide assistance during morale tests and enemy troop positions can be shared amongst characters. In addition, Dispatches 1 adds the concept of acting as a fireteam. It requires action to form, everyone must stay close to each other and it causes the team to activate using the phases of the lowest body rating in the team. But, it does let you activate all of the team at the same time which can be vital.
Squads form a key part of the final release for Spectre. Squads let soldiers use their commander’s command rating but requires them to stay within cohesion distance. Militia units gain even more command There is also rules for breaking and reforming squads when you need to separate a larger team. Finally, squad leaders can perform actions such as Fire control orders which lets you bring a lot of fire down on a particular target.
Do the rules include vehicles?
Yes. Vehicle rules are simple but good enough for a vehicle to join the fight.
No – It’s literally 2 sides of A4 already filled with information for the infantry battle
Force on Force
Force on Force is a ruleset designed to have vehicles operating on a battlefield. It works very well and can model anything from civilian vehicles up to helicopters and fast air.
OSC: Part 1
No. The vehicle rules will be coming in Part 2.
There is a complete section detailing various additions to cover AFVs. Vehicles are based around a few key types (such as IFVs or MBTs) but with varying weapons, armour and IED protection. They are incredibly powerful and the rules writers felt it fit to caution against using them (especially the MBTs) in such a small-scale game. Day of the Rangers and Dispatches 2 also adds helicopters as onboard vehicles.
The is also another full section of the rulebook. The rules support vehicles in their full range of actions (include ramming enemy troops or colliding with terrain) and also feature a vast arsenal of additional upgrades for them, to make modelling different types more easily. The vehicles feel very different, with armoured vehicles causing issues to opponents especially.
Do the rules include off map support?
Yes. Various supports can be purchased as Faction Specialities.
Mortars, helicopter support and off-map weapon teams can all be called in via squad leaders.
Force on Force
Artillery batteries, helicopters and air units are modelled. All of these are well modeled, with air units even showing different styles such as strafing runs, pylon turns or dive bombing.
OSC: Part 1
None at the moment.
Both regulars and insurgents can take off-map support as part of the Advanced rules section. Due to the small-scale of the battlefield, supports also include snipers, HMG teams, mortars, anti-tank missile teams, attack helicopters and fast air (although only in a show of force role).
The off-map assets start with heliborne snipers and go up to artillery barrages, fast air units and even ISTAR drones. The list is massive and can be used by all the types of forces.
What is the optimum size of force for a single player?
Squad size is between 6 and 13 figures, platoon size is 30ish figures (normally split into sections)
Squad although grouping units could allow for platoon games
Squad – There is a huge amount of detail in each soldier’s action.
Force on Force
Squad up to platoon level with depending on the size of each element (single figures for a squad game, teams for platoon level).
OSC: Part 1
Squad size – much like Danger Close, I really would not fancy playing larger than a squad (especially the 13 man squad for the USMC) due to the level of detail each man has in their actions.
Squad and Platoon both work equally well.
What is the points cost of a British Infantry Section in this ruleset?
In modern wargaming especially, points systems should be treated more as a guideline in most systems – history is after all unfair. However guidelines are still useful things, especially when building a force
Points are calculated using a squad of 8 men in body armour with both frag and smoke grenades. The weapon loadout is 2x L85A2, 2x L85A2 w/ UGL, 2x L110A2 LMG, 1x L7 GPMG, 1x L129A1 DMR.
71 points – Two aces for the fireteam leaders, a heavy with the GPMG and the rest Jacks. Frag and Smoke upgrades taken
Danger Close doesn’t include a points system. It’s up to the players to balance their scenario. There are guidelines on the Danger Close FAQ.
Force on Force
Ah. Force on Force doesn’t use a points system, instead relying on pre-written scenarios or players to devise their own scenarios. As such, no points cost can be provided.
OSC: Part 1
245 points – 1 Level 5 commander, 7 Level 5 soldiers
880 points – 1 Veteran with Corporal/Lance Corporal package, 1 Average with Corporal/Lance Corporal package, 6 Average soldiers
374 points – Professional Squad Leader, 7 Professional Soldiers. In addition to the gear listed at the top, each man also carries a Personal Medical Kit and radio.
How easy is it to make your own force for scenarios?
IT USES HALF POINTS, RUN FOR THE HILLS! Seriously, the main book includes a wide selection of forces from criminals to intelligence agents (and ninjas). There is also a big list of weapons, squad abilities, faction abilities and specialities from which to build your force. It’s a great and characterful selection from which to make a force suitable for any situation.
No points to guide (although the FAQ provides some guidelines), so its best to take standard squad arrangements. However, it does not take very long to get all the details together due to the simple statlines. It’s more a case of selecting their guts level and then weapons.
Force on Force
There is no points to guide but the forces are not hugely detailed making it easier to work out. All it really requires is a few force stats and then determining which squads have support weapons. The tricky bit is balancing if you are wanting that to be correct.
OSC: Part 1
The system works well – Pick a level, pick body armour level and then pick a gun or two. Values are simple and easy to calculate. The weapon list is massive from the simple bow up to multiple barrel rocket launchers. In addition. the ruleset includes a selection of close combat weapons.
All figures are either Novices, Averages, Veterans or Elite. Each figure can also take a Speciality package, to theme them into a particular role. Players can also select weapon teams, vehicles, off-map supports and additional bonuses (such as IEDs or ratlines to move around the board). The main time-consuming section of making a force is rolling out the stats from them, generating a body value and then working out the stats from there.
This game makes you feel like a kid in a candy store. There is a huge selection, lots of options for both guns and gear, 13 soldier levels from Civilian up to Elite commander. Overall, its easy to make a varied and enjoyable force to use.
What style of game is the ruleset best at?
This is my own personal feeling about when the rulesets play best.
Small scale, sneaky stealth missions inspired by cinema.
Section on Section violence
Force on Force
probably platoon vs platoon fights using sections/squads as the element
OSC: Part 1
Fast paced section vs section fight
Section vs section fights with an immense level of detail. Multiple players could do a platoon on platoon battle with ease.
Section to platoon level fights, often starting with one force utilising stealth.
What do I need to know/need to have for my first game?
Assume for all games that a tape measure, playing surface with terrain and models are required. All the rules work on a 6’x4′ table although some are better on a small one.
Modern battlefields are a lot more cluttered than those of ancient war. I personally recommend lots of scatter terrain to provide plenty of cover and concealment for the forces involved.
- Pack of playing cards for activation. You’ll need at least two suits (1 red and 1 black).
- Counters for suppression and noise.
- Keep control of noise counters in night games! Causing a ruckus is a bad idea.
- Markers for stress
- Not much else to be honest – 2 pages makes checking rules very easy. It would work well as a participation game.
Force on Force
- Dice of every number of sides under the sun for different sizes
- Hit markers
- There are lots of rules in the book so I recommend starting out small and working up. The scenarios in the rulebook are very good at illustrating the different rules as they are introduced.
OSC: Part 1
- D10s and D6s
- Templates and Counters – both are available from the website for free
- Event, Action and Resource cards. Physical cards are available from the Evil Bear site. Alternatively, play using the table in the back of the book. The downside is that you can’t look over the top of your cards at your opponent.
- Objective Markers for the table. You’ll need 5 markers – 1 main and 4 standard markers.
- D100s, D10s and D6s
- Markers – they are handy to keep track of a soldier’s state at any time. Multiple sheets of markers are in the back of the rulebook.
- Quick Reference sheets – especially the modifiers
- Character sheets – Vital
- It’s good to have someway to know which figure is which at a glance. There are lots of ways from markers to making your character sheets cards with a giant picture of the model.
- Play the two scenarios in the rulebook. Street Fight is a nice small game while Compound 17 is perfect for getting four players round the table. If you’re demoing, Route Clearance from Dispatches 2 is great fun with only a few figures.
- The key concept I have worked out for Sangin is easy to spot, hard to hit, easy to kill. If you position poorly, not even body armour will save you.
- D6’s and lots of them
- Spectre is fast paced and bloody – you’ll want to stick to cover and practise all the small unit tactics you know.
- Beware the Compact, Laser, Red Dot combo. BEWARE!
I like ruleset X. Where can I go to learn more and talk to other wargamers about it?
Take a look at the Black Ops facebook page
Force on Force
OSC: Part 1
Spectre are literally everywhere. Official website, official page and instagram. Well worth following all of them to keep an eye on the frequent new releases. The community has also set up a facebook group.
None of these rulesets are really working for me. What else is coming up?
I’m not sure how you’ve managed to not find a rule system you like out of that lot but sure. This is what I know is coming up in terms of modern military rules
Radio DishDash’s next set of rules. Designed to be easily scalable, so by using different elements you can play much larger sized games. A post on their blog lays down some basic ideas. Keep an eye on their blog for more details.
The Empress-Queeg Project
Empress and the House of Queeg are working on a companion set of rules to go with Danger Close. Expanding from the squad action up to large-scale combined arms operations/Company Battlegroup. Their blog at https://houseofqueeg.wordpress.com has some fantastic looking tables and gameplay.
Too Fat Lardies make some great rules for other historical periods. Each ruleset is great at making you play in the style of the period. In fact, their motto is play the period, not the rules. Fighting Season, written in partnership with Leigh Neville, will update Chain of Command to the modern-day and seek to model both the battlefield and tie them into a wider campaign of counter insurgency in Afghanistan.
Ambush Alley: Boots on the Ground
The makers of Force on Force are going back to their roots with Ambush Alley: Boots on the Ground, a much more infantry focus game. Low figure count, small table size and quick play according to the announcement post. In addition, it will include a points system!
OSC Book 2
Evil Bear has been hard at work adding new playtest rules to their forum as a preview for whats coming next. The book’s name is War and plans to add Vehicles, fireteams, weapon teams and more specialists to the base game.
Well that’s the comparison done. I hope the page is useful to you and helps you answer that tricky questions – “which rules should I play?”
If anything is missing or incorrect, please drop me a message and I’ll update it.