Monday, 23 November 2015

Playtesting 'Black Ops' - Vietnam review

A while ago I recognised that Osprey was preparing the publication of a modern / near-future ruleset for smalest scale operations. It promised to cover especially stealth operations with a very limited number of models up to section strength. Namely this was the announcement of Black Ops by wargaming veteran Guy Bowers. Now is modern combat a topic striking a chord in me. Due to my personal experience in service and due to the various reports of contemporary occasions I considered it very interesting to bring such of game onto the table. Now a perfect time came to take a break from the age of muskets and plunge into this new project.

Luckily my friend Holger shared this interest and thus we decided to give Black Ops a chance. Since the few modern Brits I've painted so far are lacking any opponents we decided to take a slightly vintage setting: Vietnam. Holger has a decent collection of American, Vietcong and NVA forces, so it was easy to create to forces of 82 points each. Later we noticed that this was rather too much for a first game but we oriented ourselves by an American infantry section and thus thing went larger then we thought.
Our battlefield. Playing area bounded by the row of trees on the left hand side and the bottom of the hill.


But first for some thoughts about the ruleset itself. First impression is that Guy did a really good job on catching the ideas of modern combat. The system covers more or less all aspects of cautious movement, team tactics and a lot of rules to handle stealth missions. That is really a lot of stuff to learn but actually each and every of the components is easy to handle and to understand. But the complexity of the rules makes Black Ops a game that you can't play strictly competitively. Especially when working with guards both players need a certain amount of common sense to resolve things mutually. It's a game for gentlemen rather than for winners.
'Ride of the Valkyries'
The basic rules for firefights work really smooth. The system is based on D6s but is employing positive numbers as handicap and negative numbers as simplification. That's rather unusual but catchy after a couple of turn. During the game we discovered that moving and firing at the same turn is rather difficult. Even in 'effective range' it's a +2 then (+1 for previous movement and +1 for shooting at effective range) which makes hitting hard especially for untrained milita like the Vietcong I had to direct. That was an unusual experience compared to other rulesets but the more I think of it the more realistic it appears to me. Yours truly remember very well his lousy records when shooting on the move in basic training...
All quiet so far.
For our first test we chose a pretty simple mission. We had a 1,20m x 1,20m (about 4' x 4') battlefield with a small village in the centre. Both fractions started at oposite sites of the table and tried to get hold of the village. Pretty simple but sufficient to try the basic game mechanics.
A group of Vietcong militiamen advancing.
The activation system in Black Ops is card driven using a common set of playing cards. Different types of cards then activate assigned types of soldiers. Aces for leaders, kings for heavies, knaves for common soldiers. Thats a nice alteration to the traditional 'I go you go' system and covers the idea of simultaneous events very well. In my opinion the best way to catch the tension of modern operations.
American soldiers advancing from the other side of the village.
We both impelled our men and made every effort to come into effective shooting range as soon as possible. A pretty forward gaming style but probably unsuitable for modern combar. Thus we discovered rather soon that it's nearly impossible to decide a Black Ops game by simply rushing forward and emptying some magazines.Kind of frustrating for my Vietcong chaps but an interesting experience for me.
The Americans taking on side of the street. Civilians are eloping anxiously.
During the proceeding game my tactical mistakes paired with bad dice. Thos militiamen are really quick at 6s to hit. Not too unrealistic for more or less untrained moving around and instingtively shooting rather than aiming precisely but with dozens of shots nigh on no 6s fell. And the very few hits I scored were safed by the Americans although we removed their body armour for the antiquated setting.
G.I. Joe taking out two of my guys despite civilians runing around.
The Americans on the other side were benefiting from their professional training. Altogether they were one point better in shooting (called ACC for accuracy in Black Ops) but this 16% made a true difference. Although they were outnumbered 1:2 there fire was deadly as hell to my poor Vietcong fellows. Paired with bad dice for my saving throws (equal to both sides) my freedom fighters died like flies. Actually realistic enough for modern combat where a single hit from a 5.56mm bullet should be disturbing enough to disable a soldier for the short sequence of time a wargame actually covers.
One of my fireteams sneaking through dense bushy terrain.
In contrast to my Vietcong the Americans had some sort of heavy support. They were fielding a chap with an M79 grenade launcher as well as a radio operator who was able to range in heavy mortar fire. The rules describing high explosive fire are a bit unclear we discovered. Seamingly you don't roll to hit as usual but make a special HE roll which indicates either a complete miss or a near miss causing supression or a direct hit resulting in potentially devastating damage. Pretty easy so far but even those professional soldiers were more or less unable to score direct hits since a score of two better than the target number was needed. Thus even a well-aimed shot at effective range needs a 6 to score a direct hit for those well-trained Americans. For long-range artillery or mortar support I'm rather fine with that but a soldier firing directly at a visible target should perform better.
The American radio operator ranging in mortar fire.
After we got used to the basic rules we tried at least some advanced mechanisms like suppressive fire. Actually it's nothing else then placing 'potential hits' on the board. Either on a target squad or on an optional though visible point of the battlefield. With their next activation the targets may choose to avoid this suppressive fire (keeping their heads down, staying away from the covered area...) or face it daringly. Depending on the decision the suppression marker are either discarded or worked out as real hits. A pretty simple but really effectiv mechanic covering the modern idea of fireteams giving covering fire and advancing alternatingly. Honestly a thing especially my Vietcong disregarded that too much. Another lesson learned painfully...
Retreat! Retreat!
The only greater problem we faced was the 'line of sight'. Actually that's not a problem of Black Ops but of most - or maybe all - skirmish games with more or less modern firearms. Especially in a bushy terrain like Vietnam it's incredibly difficult to rate the line of sight. Is it sufficient when a figures head stands out above a bush? Wouldn't a modern soldier keep his head down? What a about figures that are prone or kneeling? Do several rows a shrubbery reduce the line of sight?
Actually that was the point we dicussed most. In a very pleasant and friendly manner as well as detached from game decisive situations. Thus I'm completely fine with our discussion but for further games we need a simple or at least explicit way to deal with lines of sight. My idea is to judge every model as visible as long as it isn't behind an obstacle obviously more than head-high. If a player wants his men to keep their heads down then he can order them to 'hide' instead of shooting. Then he is more or less invincible and Black Ops allows suppresive fire only.
How do you deal with lines of sight in such skirmish games?
All quiet again...
Conclusion:
Altogether and most important we had a great time. It was a nice board, an entertaining game and a wonderful day which was crowned by lunch break at the local Chinese restaurant, a nice pint of Altbier and a sip of the delicious Stroma Whisky Liquoer. Black Ops is a game perfectly fitting into such a friendly atmosphere. It's nothing for hard, competative games but for an intense experience of a credible recreation of modern combat. In some points the rulebook could be clearer and here and there seem to be some typos lurking. But altogether I like Black Ops very much and I'm looking forward to our next games. The experience of the defeated Vietcong made me think about my style of playing and I have to rethink for modern combat. That really gives me a push to proceed with my modern Brits and paint some insurgents to face them as well. I'm really looking forward to test the stealth rules of Black Ops since this is one of its outstanding feature.

The only real point of criticism is the D6. Although it works I would have loved another ruleset working with D10s. In my opinion it gives more variety for tests and allows subtler gradation of different qualities of combatants. Especially for troops below professional quality it's too easy to reach 7s to hit which makes their fire nearly useless.

So feel free to share your experience with Black Ops here or feel encouraged to give it a try in case that you're interested in modern warfare. Since the figure cunt is very low it's an excellent start into this theatre of war.

By the way there are some other blogger fellows share my interest in Black Ops. If you like then have a look there too. Some posted review already and some might do later:
Pijlie: Here.
Nathan Russel: Here.
Dalauppror: Here.
Legatus Hedlius: Here.

32 comments:

  1. Excellent post Monty. Great pics.

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  2. What a wonderful table Monty - full of sensational figures and terrain. Will certainly keep an eye out for some more games.

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    1. Many, many thanks, Carlo. Most of the terrain and all the figures are from Holger's decent collection. I'll gladly pass your feedback to him.

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  3. Looked great, how many figures did you both deploy?

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    1. Thanks a lot, Fran.

      The Americans fielded about 12 men and the Vietcong had around 20.

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  4. Now that was cool. Great board and figs. I do like D10s for actions such as this though

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    1. Many thanks, Martin. D10 seems to be the unloved child of rules authors somehow... ;-)

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  5. That's a lovely looking battlefield and very nice AAR! Force on Force uses a variety of dice so maybe that's something you should try if you haven't already.

    Christopher

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    1. Thanks, Christopher. I'll keep FoF in mind.

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  6. Atmospheric and beautiful pictures, love the terrain and figures!

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  7. Great looking game and thanks for the review.

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  8. Some interesting observations, especially the idea that you need to work through the rules collaboratively to get a fair outcome, very gentlemanly. It must help been able to play on such a fabulous looking table too!

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    1. Many thanks, Michael. It was indeed a great day with a wonderful table as icing on the cake.

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  9. Wonderful looking game and post. In the past I've stayed away from more modern wargames since they were a bit too close to my day job in the Army. It's been long enough and it seem like there's a number of quality rulesets out there now.

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    1. Many thanks, Jason.
      During my active duty I was deeper into historical topics as well. But after a couple of years I'm ready for modern warfare now.

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  10. That is a fine looking table Stefan and your pics are just perfect. Those choppers are fantastic!

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    1. Thanks a lot Anne. The choppers are 1/48 model kits but I don't remember the company.

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    2. The Hueys are plastic model kits from MONOGRAM.

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  11. Great post Stefan. I like Vietnam gaming too and that table setup is lovely!
    Very nice photography you've done too - not easy to do on a tabletop but you've captured it perfectly

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    1. Many thanks, Paul. Holger perfomed a great job with decorating this table and it was really great to take those pictures from the game. Fortunately our camera gets along with sparse light rather well.

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  12. Very nice work Stefan. I'm resisting any new projects but am surely tempted.

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    1. Thanks a lot, Paul.
      Actually this Vietnam game tempted me as well although this conflicts hasn't been my cup of tea until now. But nevertheless I'll stick too my (more) modern Brits for Black Ops.

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  13. If you want, then you can watch here more pictures:
    http://www.lead-adventure.de/index.php?topic=84765.0

    ... and many many thanks to you all for the nice comments about my/our Vietnam table.

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  14. Very interesting. I haven't checked in with the blog in awhile, but it looks like you've been busy. Great pictures of the table top.

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    1. Many thanks Sean. Indeed a couple of projects keeping me busy... As always. ;-)

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  15. Must have been a hell of a game, judging by your impressive table. Reads like Black Ops could be a nice set of rules. Will probably stick with Force on Force though. But one never knows.

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    1. FoF has been tempting me for a while no. But it needs some more figures, doesn't it?

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  16. Potential hits. I like that, it's a simple and intuitive way to wrap your head around what's really going on. Our big stumbling block on suppressive fire was this: why would you fire at a single figure to suppress it, when you can fire at a point one inch away and not only suppress that figure but all figures within 3" of the marker?

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