Wednesday 9 October 2013

Stealing the Device!

Here it is then, as promised, a battle report from our game on Sunday night.

A little background to start with. I've droned on at some length in this blog already about Flashbang, a set of rules I've written for modern close quarters combat. As the rules have come closer and closer to feeling finished, I've been thinking more and more about ways to get them to a wider audience. So when I saw a note in Wargames Illustrated from Osprey Publishing asking for new rulesets for them to publish, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get some feedback if nothing else.

So, I emailed Phil Smith at Osprey and showed in the Flashbang rules. He said that he liked the idea and the basic mechanics (hooray!), but that as the rules are only about 7000 words at the moment, they're not in a format that Osprey could publish (boo!). He did also give me a few pointers in terms of areas of the game that still needed a little polish, in particular balancing out points costs for the factions, and it was definitely useful to get the opinions of someone who's only read what I've written, rather than having me on hand to explain what I meant. 

Phil also said something in passing that I found really interesting:

Generic scenarios are one of those issues which keeps me on the fence... Sometimes they’re great, but that’s generally when you have a very flavour-heavy game (e.g. Necromunda, In Her Majesty’s Name), where you’ve got a band of personalities whose adventures are entertaining, no matter what they’re doing. However, for less character-driven games, the more specific scenarios add a lot of the flavour to a game, through special rules, unique occurrences etc. That’s my two pence, anyway.

This made me rethink the issue of scenarios for Flashbang. What I already had was a series of six deliberately very generic scenarios - the idea being that they could work for any mix of factions that I decided to include. But Phil's comment made me realise that better scenarios, where the players' actions in a game might affect other things down the line, would make things more interesting. I certainly prefer that effect in the other games I play - our Firestorm campaign for Flames of War, for example. Also, Flashbang very deliberately keeps individual models generic (they only have one stat, a "professionalism" score), so what was saying about "less character-driven games" certainly applies there.

So I tried to write a short set of scenarios that would be specific to the two most fleshed-out factions I already had for Flashbang - SWAT and professional criminals. What I came up with was a three stage mini-tree campaign. Two games would set the scene, and then the scenario for the third game would be different depending on the outcome of the first two.

On Sunday, we managed to play the first two of these games, with Pete taking command of the SWAT team and Kieron running the criminal gang.

In the first scenario, the criminals have taken control of the offices of a high-tech lab (represented by the Grand Stone Hotel), and have taken hostages while they try to break into a safe and steal control codes for a mysterious device. The SWAT team is ordered to go in and rescue the hostages.

The offices before the arrival of SWAT

The criminals deployed first, within the office building, and Kieron also deployed the hostages. The SWAT team was then able to deploy anywhere at least 12" from criminals that could see them, or 4" from criminals they were hidden from. I also gave Pete a SWAT van that he could place to provide some extra cover for the SWAT team moving up.

The SWAT team prepares to go in, as criminals guard the entrances
The criminals took the first turn, so were able to prepare themselves for an imminent breach by the SWAT team. Pete chose to have two officers tackle the back of the building, while the rest emerged from behind the SWAT van to assault the front doors. This proved dangerous, as a SWAT officer was picked off by reactive fire as he moved up to the door.

I'm not sure if Pete is happy here because he's just taken down a criminal, or because I gave him a biscuit.
One of the officers at the back had more luck. By throwing a flashbang into the room before he went in, he was able to take out one of the criminals and gain entry to the building. Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse at the front as one of the officers threw a flashbang which rolled back down the stairs to detonate at his feet, blinding him and his teammate and leaving them both open to fire from the criminals.

Things didn't really pick up for Pete, and the SWAT team was wiped out before any of the hostages could be rescued, allowing the criminals to crack the safe and make off with the codes relatively unmolested.

The table set up for the second game

This led into the second game of the night. With the codes in their possession, the criminals now turned their attention to the Device itself, stored in a warehouse.

The Device is in a large crate and needs to be moved carefully, so moving it required two models to work together. They were able to move it at full speed as they had the codes (otherwise it would only have been possible to move the Device at half speed).

A SWAT officer advances on the warehouse
The criminals had the aim of moving the Device off the board while out of sight of the SWAT team, while SWAT just had to stop them!

Things in the warehouse are a bit crowded
Here again, the SWAT team attempted an assault on the main building, although this time Pete had held some officers back to cover his advance, so the criminals were largely hemmed into the building.

This meant that some of the special abilities I've given to the criminals in the rules became useful - they're able to move some models to other locations on the board, to represent their having fooled the police about their real location and set ambushes.

Some sleight of hand by Kieron allows a criminal to come out to play!

This meant that Kieron was able to move some of his men out of the building to attack the SWAT team, and as they were spread thinly to surround the building, this eventually lead to the loss of the whole team once again.

This means that the third game will be an arms deal, as the Device is sold to another set of criminals and the SWAT team will attempt to stop them from making off with it.

All in all, this was a partial success for my rules changes I think. The different weapons seem to have an appropriate relative level of lethality, and things like moving and shooting work simply.

Where I definitely need to make changes is in the area of balance. To come up with the current points costs, I had created a vast spreadsheet of different levels of troops armed with different weapons and worked out their relative chances of hurting each other. That's obviously an oversimplification based on what happened in these games though, as it led to a hugely outnumbered SWAT team trying to make progress against large numbers of disposable criminals. For the third game, I'll tone that down by making the criminals more expensive, and go from there.

I also found that some of the abilities of the SWAT team weren't getting used, so I'm going to make some pretty big changes there to try to encourage more "SWAT-like" behaviour - like stacking up to enter rooms, for example.

I also think I need to slightly tweak how the scenarios work to provide victory points rather than yes/no objectives as I have now. That might be a way to also encourage more engagement with the objectives (as both games were eventually decided just as gunfights more than anything else).

Finally, and unfortunately, I'm going to have to rebase - the big bases the models are on now might look nice, but they make it a real pain to fight real close quarters stuff, which is what I've designed Flashbang for.

All that said though, I think it's definitely moving in the right direction, so I just need to keep up the momentum and try to keep Pete and Kieron interested so I have a ready supply of playtesters!


  1. Sounds like an interesting set of rules.

  2. Does look like a fun game. Like the centrepiece Hotel/headquarters there and the interior. Very cool.

  3. Looking like a nice setup, I see you let Pete out of the highchair to play ;)

    1. He wouldn't let me in it at all! I couldn't be held responsible for any spills...

  4. Looks like a fabulous evening's entertainment.