Thursday, January 12, 2012

Two New Rule Sets

Once again, I indulged in my addiction to rules. My latest two purchases are Harpoon 4 modern naval rules and Combat Cards. This isn't meant to be in depth reviews of these two, but just some quick thoughts on them. Of course, I have yet to play either of them, so my comments are based on several reads.

Harpoon 4 by Clash of Arms:
These are probably the most complex and detailed rules I now own. I have read a lot about them, both pro and con. The price was a little high for what I like to pay for rules, so I was hesitant to get them. I do not regret buying them.

As many have commented on before, Harpoon more of a simulation than a game, but I was not as overwhelmed as I expected. What makes them complex is that there is very little abstraction. To change course, ships turn they way they do in reality. To launch or land aircraft, your carrier must be oriented in the right direction and moving at the right speed. To detect an opponent, you need to take into account variables such as sea state, and the horizon. Despite all of this, they are pretty well written and are pretty well organized.

The game is what I would call time based, rather than turn based. Unlike most rules where time is to various degrees an abstraction, events in Harpoon occur pretty much in real time, down to the minute. Players write down their orders. Everything is then resolved in terms of time. Ships, planes, and all weapons except for gunfire are moved at a particular distance per period of time. Therefore, it seems like timing is everything in this game. Detection is also critical to this game. Having a referee would be a big plus. In fact, the authors highly recommend one. Not only could the ref prepare all of the pre-game setup, but can handle such things as hidden movement and reconnaissance.

There are a few areas in the mechanics that seem a little vague. For example they talk about plotting a series of firing solutions for a submarine torpedo attack, but its unclear, at least to me, if the number you get is the actual percent chance to hit. What I would change, or rather add too, is more examples. They have an example of a battle between US and Iranian surface ships at the beginning of the rules, but I would like more examples to illustrate specific aspects of the game, like submarine warfare or air combat. They provide some training scenarios, but I would prefer examples.

Information on ships, aircraft, radar, and weapon systems are all found in a separate data annex. It seems very complete, EXCEPT; there are no stats for Chinese ships! It’s weird because they have the stats for PRC weapons and electronics, just no ships. However, they do provide info on how to calculate damage ratings for any ship. One of the nice things about any naval wargame rules is that if you can find data on a ship, you can add that ship to a particular rule set. You can't do that so easily with air combat rules where performance of a jet cannot be necessarily derived from stats.

In terms of solo playability, it does have its advantages. If you think about it, you have all the time you want to calculate everything necessary to complete a turn. Not so if you have an actual opponent, especially one who is either a casual wargamer, or is rather impatient and the idea of writing out orders bothers him. The game is even set up to play as a log of events. You need to write down your orders for each turn. You can document each battle and keep a detailed account of what happened. This is nice if you want to write up an after action report.

Combat Cards by Tactical Assault Games:
Another blog had an after action report using these rules and highly recommended them. The impression I got was that they seemed to have some similarities to I Ain't Been Shot Mum! (IABSM). Combat Cards (CC) are card driven and the game they played was at the company level. I am more interested games above the company level. Looking at TAG’s web site, they made the claim that Combat Cards were scalable. You could use them at the platoon level up to the divisional level. That really peaked my interest. They also focused on modern warfare. The rules are free, but you have to buy the cards. To be fair, I have not read these rules as much as I have Harpoon. So my comments and opinions about them need to be taken with a grain of salt.

This game is different from IABSM. In IABSM, you turn a card to activate a specific unit. In CC, you can active any unit you want, but you must have a card to do a particular activity. For example, in order to perform any action for a given squad in IABSM, that squad’s card must show up. Once you activate that unit, you can have it perform any particular action you deem necessary. In CC, in order to perform an action like moving any particular unit, you must have a card that states that you can move (found on a card under the heading of ACTIONS). You are allowed to hold six cards in your hand, but if none of them allow you to move, you can’t move! There is another heading on each card called SITUATIONS. These allow you to respond to your opponent’s actions or allow you to do extra things that don’t fall under the category of actions.

Each unit is classified as one of several general categories. For example, the ARMORED category includes all tanks, mechas, or even massive armored creatures. These rules BTW, can be used for modern and sci-fi games. The general categories remind me a little of AK-47. Each category is rated as Light, Moderate, Heavy, and Very Heavy for purposes of attack and defense.

To resolve combat, you pull a card from your desk and read the combat results. The outcomes are ranked in order of increasing seriousness, from no effect to eliminated with several steps in between. The randomness of this outcome is modified by differences in attack and defense ratings as well as other factors, like range and cover. These modifications raise or lower the outcome level. There isn’t much related to morale, except the intermediate effects of combat include shaken and falling back. To recover from these effects, just like other things, you must have the right card in your hand.

The game has a length of 90 minutes. This would be a big plus when running a campaign. Overall, I think CC would work well for a solo game. It gives a solo player some flexibility to decide what to do with the various units, but still maintains a fair amount of unpredictability.

So, in the course of a week, I’ve read rules on both sides of the spectrum as far as complexity. I am still leaning toward IABSM but I think Combat Cards might be a contender for the rules to use for the land-based portion of my campaign. I am still pretty undecided about naval rules. I might have a post on that later.


  1. I've enjoyed the little bit of experience I've had with the Naval Thunder rules. They're by steel dreadnought games. But they definitely tend toward the simpler side of things.

    1. I used to be a big WWII naval gamer and was part of a very informal club that played a lot naval battles. We started off using General Quarters and tried Seekrieg, but ended up using Fletcher Pratt rules with some modifications related to areal bombing. We had a lot of fun battle played in school parking lots on weekends.

  2. If you intend to play IABSM solo, check out Platoon Forward, also from TFL.

    It's not really a game per se, but a bolt-on Solo campaign system, complete with scenario generator. It's aimed towards platoon sized or company sized WW2 normandy games, but it's easily adaptable. In fact it's not a complete game in it's own, it relies on you using some other rules for the actual fight!

  3. Thanks Laffe! I have read about it on TMP website. I might consider it.