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!

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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