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.
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.
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.
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.
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!