Saturday, November 7, 2015

Need to know basis: Black Ops reviewed

The best thing that can happen to a wargaming fanboy is to get hold of a new ruleset prior to publication. This happened to me with Black Ops, the coming new release by Osprey Publishing. Unfortunately it took me several weeks to find the time to play it, as I eventually did at Crisis in Antwerp. So I completely blew my scoop! Despite of that, the game is defintely worth a review.

Black Ops is, as its name implies, about military commando actions and has its roots firmly in historical background. The Iranian Embassy in London and the attack on bin Laden's mansion; this set can handle it. It could even extend to the near future, because the latest technologies have been included.
There are also rules for Morale, hidden units (duh), all kinds of terrain and a multitude of weapons, troops and vehicles.

Ruleswriter Guy Bowers demonstrating his rules at Crisis 2015
Osprey used to be known mainly for its historic pocket books but over the last few years has released some impressive little gamesets. All published in the well known Osprey rules format: slightly larger than A5, full color and 65 pages long with beautiful photos and ditto illustrations. And always a complete game: the book will get you everything you need ruleswise. 

Cards on the table ...
The basic rules have a card driven turn system, using ordinary playing cards, in which the Ace figures have more options than common soldiers (a minor nod to Hollywood). These Aces move on (you guessed it) the Aces, heavy weapons on Kings, soldiers on Jacks and so on. On top of that Aces get an additional action on a Joker. Each character has an individual stat line ​​for skills and such. Players  handle units of 4-10 figures.

One thing that stands out is the use of militaresque abbreviations. For someone abbreviationally challenged like me this can be tough, but it does add athmosphere. So man-to-man combat skill is not called Combat, but CQC (Close Quarter Combat). 
The system uses D6 and employs the usual method for shooting and fighting by throwing against a minimum value (the skill) plus or minus modifiers for things like cover, darkness, distance et cetera. Once hit by a bullet the target may roll a Save. CQC (heh) uses opposed die rolls and a result table to determine the outcome.

Combat is often about waiting and reacting to your opponent. The Reserve rule enables figures to occasionally act in their opponents Action phase in response to something they see like shooting or moving. The game has a unique Suppressing rule (at least I have never seen it before) in that Suppressing counters accumulate around the target but only cause damage if the target decides to do something aggressive. Unlike most games you don't roll for Suppression effects; you are allowed to take your chances and face the consequences ....

What you don't see...
The best part of the rules are the Stealth rules. Because let's face it: Black Ops is supposed to be about elite commandos sneaking into heavily guarded bases to do something bloodcurdingly difficult. And that requires a lot of crawling around among unsuspecting sentries who are there to say "arrgh" at the right time when you stab them in the back or -failing that- are there to raise the alarm at an inconvenient moment.

As a major selling point of Black Ops these rules are well fleshed out. Sentries have a (very) limited freedom of movement which increases as the attackers get more visibility and/or make more noise. Which ultimately will always be necessary of course.
Tables and a D6 regulate what a unsuspecting sentry can do. At worst, they can only move randomly. But as the defender gets luckier with his die rolls and/or the attacker needs to take more actions (he needs to make noise and make himself visible), the defender gets the opportunity to move with more purpose ("Did you hear that?").

Being the attacker you know that despite all your sneaking at some point bullets will go flying. That's often when the defender's Aces wake up, sound the alarm and all hell breaks loose. The defender then gets complete control over his figures and can even call up reinforcements. The game will turn into a "normal" wargame and for the attacker life will get very interesting very fast from then on!

While this may sound a bit passive from the defender's point of view, trying to discover the attackers and sounding the alarm is actually very tense! Aside from the fact that this is an inspiring ruleset on its own, for me the Stealth rules alone make it worthwhile, even for use alongside other rulesets.

The book contains three ordinary and six Stealth missions. It also gives suggestions for a six tabletops which can be used for missions and also serve as a basis for a campaign. The system is written for 28mm scale, but is easily adaptable to different scales. Especially in 1/72, there is an abundance of figures, vehicles and terrain which is a very cost-effective alternative.

How did I get hold of this so early? I can tell you, old chap. But then I'd have to kill you.....

By the way, I played this game for the first time at Crisis Antwerp. After the game I set out to buy a copy. And damned if it wasn't sold out EVERYWHERE!

It's a sign....