A couple months ago I looked at the free miniature wargames that were available from OnePageRules. I didn’t know what to expect going in, having not really played miniature games for several years, but in short order I found myself enjoying them more than I thought I ever would. Not only were these simple and well-balanced wargames easy to play, they were incredibly fun, managing to pick out all the bits of classic Warhammer and Warhammer 40k that I had loved in my youth, and presenting them in a tight, convenient, and free package. Now OPR are releasing two full rulebooks for their skirmish systems: Age of Fantasy: Skirmish and Grimdark Future: Firefight. These are all available to their Patrons for $3. I took to Tabletop Simulator to give these skirmish games a whirl (distantly) with my gaming group.
To lay it all out, all my fantasy and sci-fi miniature wargaming since that first review has been with the OPR systems: Age of Fantasy: Regiments and Grimdark Future, so that tells you how I feel heading into this review. That being said, I’m not a skirmish guy. My group tends to stick to the big battle games. It’s what drew us, in simpler days, to Games Workshop. Hordes of Orcs, disciplined Elves, whatever the Skaven were doing, it was all that and the clash of huge formations, banners waving and drums rumbling, that kept us invested. For skirmish gaming, when I do play, I’ve stuck with another indie gem, A Song of Blades and Heroes, so far, but only because the push the luck activation system felt so continuously engaging. Lets see how AoF:S and GF:F hold up against my pre-held conceptions about skirmish games, shall we?
My Havoc Warrior contemplates the distance between him and that squishy Tao rifleman.
Both of OPR’s new full rulebooks take the core concept that does so well in larger games and scales it down for the skirmish level. After building “armies” (3-10 figures, usually) using the lists found on the website, players set up a terrain-filled 4′ by 4′ playing area, place objectives, and then deploy their forces. Rounds consist of alternating activations decide whether a selected unit will hold, advance, rush, or charge, carry out the action, shooting if it held or advanced and has the appropriate weapon, fighting in melee if it made contact during a charge, or jumping if it attempts to rush over any gaps. After the unit’s activation is finished, the opposing player will activate a unit, and so on until every unit has activated. After four full rounds, the side with the most secured objectives wins. The core game is simple, fitting on one page, as advertised, but it also hides some depth.
As with most miniature games like this, army construction is crucial. Certain combinations are more effective than others, but I’m happy to say after playing a few games it seems that having a balanced force of fighters is the best option. I’m not finding the intricate 6-layered combos that require intimate knowledge of every army’s possibilities that drove me away from Warhammer 40k. My favourite component of the core game is the alternating activation system and how it interacts with combat resolution.
When a unit takes damage, it rolls a die, adding the wounds sustained. If the total is 6 or more, the unit is knocked out and removed from the game. Less than 6 and the unit is simply stunned and placed on its side. If they are damaged again, stunned units are knocked out instantly. The next time a stunned unit activates, it simply stands up, losing the status. In practice, games come down to the difficult decisions surrounding when to activate which unit. Should I begin my turn activating a stunned warrior, so he can stand up and participate in the next fight? Or believing that my opponent will activate a unit that can knock out my downed warrior on his turn, should I instead take the opportunity to have my wizard fire a spell at his unit moving towards an objective? Tough calls during activation are the meat of AoF:S and GF:F.
Objective 3 is secured, but there are a lot of skeletons beyond those rocks.
But that is all the core game, which is free online. What do you get in the advanced rulebook and is it worth your money? If you like the base game, of course it is! The full rulebooks clock in at 32 pages each, expanding the base game rules with explanations and diagrams, but also offering a host of expanded rules. Some are simple, like expanded terrain placement rules and special army deployment setups. But the ones that kept me interested were the extra missions that change the game objective from ‘capture objective markers’ to ones with a little more style, like ‘Relic Hunt’ and ‘Sabotage’. These are accompanied by side missions that can be pursued by both players alongside the main objective. The side missions add a dimension of complexity that compliments the tension already established by the alternating activation. There are also several more actions that units can make on their turn.
It’s a lot more to remember but you end up with some interesting standoffs and tactical decisions when overwatch and covering fire enter into decision making. The last ‘main’ rule I’d advise including are the random events. Each round there’s a small chance something thematic and sometimes crazy can happen that might alter the game state significantly. But while fun additions, I’d recommend going through and choosing a few of these options to keep it from being too crazy.
The last section is filled with rules that dramatically change the flow and play of the game. I wasn’t in love with all of them, but they are interesting options should players want to dig into them. I feel they will be much more valuable to the crowd that likes to play long campaigns with multiple games using the same armies. A tactical phase that replaces deployment and feels a little like Chain of Command, Critical Hits, Fatigue, and City Fighting rules all feel like they’d make campaigns more playable over a long period. I wasn’t entirely sold on the Command Points optional rules, which act like the stratagems in 40k, but I can see why some would enjoy having new tactical options.
In range for a devastating rocket barrage. If only hiding was ever acceptable for Havoc Warriors.
Overall, The full rulebooks for AoF:S and GF:F offer a lot of content over the base, free game, but retain the core system that I’ve grown to love. Having played a few games of each with different levels of advanced rules packed on, I feel that the advanced game has more endurance. The base mechanics that work so well for large armies feel a little light for games with 3-10 figures a side. Adding in extra action, more detailed objectives, random events, and some more granularity to the combat fits well within such a small-scale engagement.The battles are more interesting and the narratives that flow from them are more memorable.
If you were on the fence about throwing a few dollars at OPR for four good quality wargame rulebooks, let me assuage your fears. If you’ve had any fun with their systems at all, the single coffee you’ll be skipping for these books seems hardly a question at all. And while we’re all isolating, the OPR community has even started a couple campaigns over discord and some of the different online gaming platforms. Check them out, and stay safe.
This article was kindly donated to Wargamer.com by the author.