Impressions: Spectre Operations Version 2

Disclaimer: I have been involved in the development of Spectre Operations Version 2 along with a group of other playtesters.

It’s finally here. Spectre Operations was released in 2016, the first rulebook the company had released. Now, after hundreds of games (at least) and all the experience that comes from that, Spectre have released a second edition. The plan was improve several areas that have been needing enhancement while still keeping the core mechanics everyone knows and loves in place.

And by god, I think they did it. Wasting no more time, lets dig in.

The Book

Before we go into the mechanics and their changes, let’s talk first about the book itself. Version 1 was the very first rulebook they had produced and, although very good, there were plenty of complaints by people about just finding the rules needed to play the game.

Version 2 is a much thicker book, packing in more stuff as well as some improvements to the rules explanations. There are now plan view diagrams for many sections to help explain the concepts, as well it still being packed full of colour photos of Spectre’s expansive range and lovely scenery (as well as making me jealous). Getting around is much easier too, with a handy index at the back and a well thought out contents page at the front.

As well as the actual rules there are plenty of other additions to help you get ready to play. A big chunk of the appendix is dedicated to a tactics guide, including some military terms to help make your scenarios sound exciting. There are also some other new additions that, as well as adding new rules, also help to really push the feel of doing some special operations shenanigans – things liked picking deployment options and it adjusting how many troops you can get out the door using that method. Additionally, every command level has some pages helping to describe the types of forces represented by each type.

Overall, this is a good book to settle down and read, worth more than just a quick once over.

The Rules

Of course, even if the book looks pretty, the actual rules are really what is important. Version 2 is very much an evolution of Version 1 rather than a total rewrite. The core ideas, things like the opposed dice rolls and fundamental interactions are still here. You’re still gaining the initiative, performing command actions, performing tactical tricks and movements before actually engaging. Weapons concepts are mostly the same, with range intervals providing modifications to hit that can be counteracted by a selection of factors. If you liked Version 1, all of that is still here.

Suppression

The first major change comes with Suppression. Now, this is a core mechanic of the game; I can understand that changing this would be a concern for everyone involved. But I think it was needed. If I may get a little deep, the suppression mechanic was one place where the ‘soul’ of the game felt a little split. Despite being focused on squads and teams, suppression effects were felt on the individuals which would lead to some events that just felt off while also requiring far too much bookkeeping. In addition, the fact Elites and Professionals were limited to only a few points meant they could run rings around their less well-trained opponents. Overall, the core ideas were there but it needed a second look.

So for Version 2, the system has been drastically changed. Rather than the number of suppression points on each individual affecting just them, each suppression point instead pushes the squad down as a whole, representing the rest of the squad reacting to the incoming fire. Once a squad has more points than the command value of the squad, then it’s time to test against the squad leader’s Command value. Pass, and you keep the points but remain in the fight. Fail, and you gain a suppression level. At the end of each turn, all unused suppression points are removed but the suppression levels are maintained.

Suppression levels start off with some pretty nasty effects on your shooting and movement but then gets more adverse as the fire keeps coming in. At the worst level, Routed, the squad must immediately fall back, seriously affecting your plans. In addition, the suppression levels reduce your initiative rolls as the start of each turn by different set amounts rather than totting up some ridiculous value (never forget 22 points of suppression on the lone marksman back in the beta testing days). The game also still gives your elite and professional forces a bonus, as they can’t be routed – if pinned down, they have enough training to weather the storm.

As you can probably tell, this makes the whole game much simpler while still maintaining the key idea that coming under fire is a bad time. The reduction in book keeping also helps to keep the game rolling, speeding up the modifier tests and improving the flow. I’m a big fan of it.

Vehicles

The second major change is vehicles. And as someone who was shouting about how broken the vehicle system was since the original beta, I am glad to see this change being made. The version in 1st Edition combined “to hit” and “to penetrate” into a single roll. Although fast-paced, it did lead to some very strange situations, especially with low-quality fighters engaging armoured vehicles. To be frank, this system really put me off using Spectre for anything vehicle based.

In Version 2, the system has been modified. Rolling to hit is done as with any other shooting action, the defender using their agility stat to represent their driving skill. If it hits, then it’s time to check for penetration. Otherwise, it’s just the usual suppression (depending on the vehicle’s attributes).

Weapon statlines now include a penetration value, showing you how effective they are at going through vehicle armour. Some weapons, like the RPG HEAT rounds, have variable penetration which makes them an interesting throw of the dice with every shot. No matter how the value is gained, penetration determines if the shot actually does anything interesting. Too low and it bounces off. Otherwise, it’s time to roll on the penetration table and then add extra to the roll depending on just how much overkill the shot was – an ATGM hitting a civilian car adds 11+D6 to the roll, almost guaranteeing the local saloon car is being turned into scrap metal. One element I do like is the fact that a weapon can’t roll higher on the table than it’s penetration value – a battle rifle isn’t going to cause a K-kill on any vehicle, despite what Hollywood may have told you.

The rest of the system remains the same – vehicles can have a selection of attributes that affect how they are used (including the addition of Remote Weapon Stations) and what incoming fire effects them. The examples list has been extended, including different eras of tanks and IFVs, letting T34s feel different to the latest Challenger 2.

So what does this do? Well, it makes vehicles actually interesting to fight with, rather than just almost invulnerable boxes. As you say in the last battle report, vehicles need to be very careful when coming under fire. Instead, they need to play to their strengths, using speed. I now have no real problems with getting my collection of vehicles on the board with Spectre.

New Stuff

In addition, there are a pile of new elements to the rules. Rather than going through exact details, here is a quick list of the new things.

  • More guns! – Spectre has added a pile of new guns. As an example, the SCAR-H can be used in a variety of roles, from CQB (a lower RI, perfect for suppressing) all the way up to dedicated DMR platform (coming in with a scope). There are also additional rules for some of these guns, including a rather interesting change to sniper weapons to increase their utility.
  • UAV rules – covering both Unmanned Ground Vehicles and Aerial vehicles, these rules let you add this brand new tech to the battlefield.
  • CBRNE Rules – Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive rules add a new edge to operations, forcing you to deal with having to wear specialist kit and adverse conditions. The EOD rules I can see being used a lot with counter-IED operations.
  • ECM Rules – Multiple Electronic Countermeasures now have rules, letting you model anything from backpack devices to vehicle-mounted systems and even an off-table asset. There are some really interesting ideas in this mechanic.
  • Campaign Rules – A whole section is devoted to the basics of a campaign system, including rough scenario generation and even details for mid-campaign advancement.
  • Insertation Methods – I really like this. There are now a few options about picking how your force has reached the battlefield. Many of these limit numbers or mean light vehicles start having to set up the weapon systems, letting you focus on the narrative behind this mission.
  • Specialists – A really small section but adding in a few example specialists (like hackers or NBC scientists) will help to add some more themed elements to certain scenarios. Now it’s even easier to reenact a few famous missions by having some lower overall skill guys coming along to do a specific task.

Points

Okay, let’s talk about a pretty major change which some may find controversial. The Version 2 rulebook does not contain any points values. From having talked to the team at Spectre and from posts the group, this is intended to really focus the game on the narrative play. Now I can see this is an issue for people wanting to do simple pickup games and new players trying to balance but there are plenty of starting scenarios to work from in the book. That said, the points values will be available on the Spectre website, letting them quickly update them if something is found to be unbalanced.

On a personal note, I think this is fine. Spectre has never been designed to a competitive game – it’s all about the scenario. Balance is something we strive too hard for in such a game focused on realism, as life just isn’t fair. Forcing players to have to deal with real-world situations (including many which are bull crap) and making them adapt to it is something I enjoy as a scenario writer as it breaks people out of trying to game the system rather than thinking tactically.

Minor changes

Finally, there are some minor changes. Little things like the removal of personal medkits help to speed up the game and reduce paperwork while the addition of Rapid Fire to the standard pistol will help to make small scale, low firepower games (like cops vs robbers) much more exciting. Weather and Night Fighting have both been extended, taking the core ideas and adding more detail to both.

There are so many of these tweaks that i’m sure I’ll spot more as I keep playing.


Overall, I really like what the Spectre team have done with Version 2. It’s taken the core that I loved, fixed my major issues and helped to expand the system out with new possibilities. I can’t wait to get this ruleset on the table even more, getting to grips with some of the interesting systems that Spectre includes.

If you didn’t like Version 1, there are just enough changes to make it worth a look again. If you loved Version 1, this is just more of what you love. Either way, I’d reccomend taking a look!


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