Sunday, February 14, 2021

F28 War Always Changes: Impressions

F28 War Always Changes, core rulebook and Player’s Guide.


We at Between the Bolter and Me do not often get the opportunity to play miniature wargames, and tend to focus our energies on creating unique miniatures and defining our own niche of the Warhammer 40,000 setting. When we do get to play, however, our focus is not on careful rules analysis and list-building. Afterall, since we sometimes go years between games, the particulars of a rules system fade away. Instead, we focus on conveying narratives and creating interesting gameplay choices. When we participated in Iron Sleet’s Pilgrym event, no one was particularly concerned with the ruleset being used, with all of us using an amalgamation of different editions of Warhammer 40k and Necromunda, falling back on the foundation that a 4+ roll on a die is a good starting place for anything. Because of this, we are always excited to find new, intuitive rule systems that facilitate this style of gameplay, and ones that do not get in the way of narrative immersion. After reading a great article about incorporating a Games Master into Inq28 games in volume 3 of the digital magazine 28, we learned about a rule system developed by Karl BergstrÓ§m that facilitates this sort of gameplay called F28. To our surprise, he contacted us asking if we would be interested in reading over the ruleset and sharing our thoughts. We jumped at this opportunity, and having had the chance to go over the rules a few times, wanted to give our thoughts.

Design:

The F28 core rulebook.


F28 is a miniature wargame designed to allow for both large scale and skirmish games, with the later also incorporating light roleplaying elements to promote narrative-style play. Currently, the rule book, as well as a Player’s Guide supplement, are only available in a physical form from Wargame Vault, with no pdf or other digital form available. The rules are presented in a soft cover book containing 125 pages. Speaking to the game’s streamlined simplicity, only about 20 of these pages are the core rules, with the remaining pages being dedicated to scenarios, campaign settings, factions, and weapon and model statlines/templates. The book is presented and organized clearly, with a very simple and understated graphic design, eschewing things like border designs or other flourishes. This minimalistic design generally looks nice, and makes sense for a system that is designed to fit within any setting. Unfortunately, the diagrams and artwork spread throughout the book look rather amateurish and out of place next to the evocative cover artwork. The diagrams in particular look as though they were quickly sketched on a napkin and scanned and inserted into the book. And while they clearly present the relevant information, when first flipping through the book, they do not convey confidence in the quality of the book as a whole, which is unfortunate, because the system is compelling, which I want to touch on now.


A selection of diagrams from the F28 core rulebook.


Basic Rules:

As I suggested earlier, F28 uses a very simple set of rules that allows it to easily work for large and small scale games, one that will be easy for anyone with some miniature wargaming experience to pick up. The streamlined simplicity is captured by looking at the statline of a basic human model:

Standard model: Wounds (1), Defense (4), Move (6)

This standard model has a single wound to lose before they are removed from the battlefield. The Defense (4) means that they take a wound if a 4 or greater is rolled on a D6 after being hit by an attack. This Defense roll incorporates the model’s armor, requiring no additional rolls for armor saves (unlike Warhammer 40k). The last stat is Move, which just tells you the amount of inches a model can transverse in a turn. You might notice that there is no stat to incorporate the model’s weapon or ballistic skill. This is because all attacks hit on a 4+, unless modified by other effects (if a target model is concealed, for example there is a -1 modifier to hit). Although some might find this overly simplified, I think it is refreshing not having to memorize innumerable unit statlines, when in many cases (like in Warhammer 40k), a 4+ is the most common die roll needed for a success anyway.

Having seen the statline for a model, you might wonder about weapon profiles. Like those for models, they are also very condensed:

Rifle: 24” (1)
Shotgun: 12” (2), wound (+1)
Sword: CC (2), hit (+1)


A rifle, for example, has an effective range of 24” and you roll 1 die when firing it (always hitting on a 4+ and wounding based on the target model’s Defense, as stated above). Other weapons, like the shotgun rolls additional dice when being fired, and to represent it being a more deadly weapon, it modifies the Defense/wound roll by +1 (so a standard model with Defense (4) would be wounded on a 3+). Other weapons, like a basic sword, modify the to hit roll. The sword improves the roll from the standard 4+ to a 3+. Models and weapons can also have Traits, which can add additional rules, as well. For some reason, the rulebook does not present any of these statlines when explaining the rules, forcing you to flip through the book until you find them listed in the back, after a warning that the following content is for “GM Only.” This makes picking up the system a little more challenging when first reading through it, something that would be resolved if a few basic statlines (for models and weapons) were listed right away, when the core rules are explained.


A representative view of the layout of the F28 rulebook.


While all of these rules seem pretty comparable to miniature games like Warhammer 40k, F28 stands out due to a semi-simultaneous activation system. Although one player will get initiative first each turn (allowing them to activate their models first), after each model takes an action, the opponent has the opportunity to react. This is either by attacking the initiative player’s models (if they are in line of sight), or trying to move their models out of harm's way. Both actions and reactions give the models activation tokens (usually 2 tokens, counting as a Full Action). This system gives the players a huge amount of flexibility and keeps both engaged all of the time. It presents you with many tactical decisions to make, because if you react to every action the opponent makes, when it is your initiative phase, you may have already activated all of your models. Likewise, the player starting with initiative could decide not to activate some of their models so that they could instead react to the opponent in their initiative phase. Additionally, if your models get hit by attacks, but are not wounded, those models become suppressed and are given activation tokens, which can prevent them from activating later.

Additional content:

In addition to the basic rules that I summarized above, the book contains a wide assortment of additional rules that can be used in your games at will. This includes vehicle rules and terrain rules, but also more skirmish/narrative-based things like rules of triage and lasting injuries, as well as skills and traits. More significantly, there is also a host of scenarios available for large games, skirmishes, and narrative games, many with asymmetric win conditions and special rules for additional flavor. There is a campaign setting based around a dystopian future with mega-cities, fanatical cults, and Lovecraftian horrors from the Stygian depths of the ocean. This includes a wide assortment of Faction lists to accompany this setting (mostly human factions, but also mutants, and other monstrosities), complete with traits, statlines, point values, and weapon profiles. There is an additional Player’s Guide that you can purchase that doubles all of this content, if you are invested in the system. All of this additional content is great, as it can serve as a model for creating your own scenarios or factions, based on your preferred setting.


F28 contains a wide array of scenarios, missions, and campaign settings.


Although F28 has a huge amount of useful content, between the two available books, I think its main strength is the simplicity of the system, which allows you to easily pick out a few models and almost immediately start playing some skirmish level games. You wouldn’t even need to come up with formal lists, just devise them as you play, knowing that everything is centered around the 4+ success on a D6. As you get more familiar with the system, you can start to incorporate some of the system’s additional elements, including more of the available Full and Partial Actions, as well as traits, skills, and their extensive list of weapons and gear. I think it would be an ideal system to use for Inq28 events, where people are getting together from all over to play a few narrative games. It easily allows the integration of a Games Master or narrative elements, without getting caught up in bloated rules that some participants may never read. Instead, it focuses on the experience, promoting flexibility over rigidity.

Future:

F28 seems poised for success due to the strong and flexible rule system. This potential is marred by its limited availability, requiring you to buy a physical copy of the rulebook, with very little knowledge of its content. This could be alleviated if a digital version was made available. The game also seems like a perfect candidate to release a free PDF, no more than 5-10 pages, that contains only the core rules. This would allow people to learn and get invested into the system, and start designing their own faction rules to fit within any setting they desire. After testing and enjoying these abbreviated rules, I think people would be more inclined to purchase the physical books, to get access to all of the scenarios, factions, campaign settings, and weapon lists. Additionally, the game seems like an ideal candidate for a Kickstater. The rules are compelling and already written. The aforementioned core rules pdf could be given out for free to show potential backers what they will be supporting. The funds could then be put towards getting more professional artwork, photographs, and graphic design, improving an already strong product. It is certainly something I would be excited to back.


A skirmish unfolding in the bowels of a hive city.


F28 is a great rule system that allows you to adapt it to any scale of miniature game you desire. It is simple to learn, yet provides a lot of depth, due to its semi-simultaneous activation system. It also has elements like lasting injuries and skills/traits that encourages campaign play, harkening back to classics like Necromunda. The book is also filled with scenarios, campaign settings, and detailed factions lists, ready for immediate use or for modification to your preferred setting. If you are looking for a simple yet flexible system to play Inq28 style games, and are willing to look past the lackluster diagrams and bare bones graphic design, F28 is something you should seriously consider!

- Eric Wier



5 comments:

  1. Very interesting, I have been on the look-out for some simple rulesets so I can try some gaming with my 7 yo son (2nd ed 40K has too much going on I think!). I assume you can easily create more elite characters by giving them a +1 to damage rolls (and perhaps a -1 to enemy damage rolls if they wearing power armour perhaps) and so on.
    I might pick this up at some point.

    It's a shame about the graphics but you really cannot compete in this day and age without top graphic design - the days of a photocopied set of rules made on an electric-typewriter and sent to you by fax (after you posted a cheque) are long gone.

    Some other rules I have purchased but not played yet are Galactic Heroes and Fistful of Lead by Wiley Games - which seems pretty straightforward and easy to make lists and have a game.

    Iron Cross by Great Escape Games has some really interesting mechanisms designed to make big WWII games playable fast and easy. I haven't played it, but the simple rule mechanism seems like it is easy to get your head around by would make for some interesting tactical choices - which is the key to a good streamlined rule set - keeping the simplicity but not making the game boring. Review here: https://tinyhordes.com/iron-cross-rules-review/

    The other thing that has always really annoyed about GW rules is that aside from Necromunda there have never really been any proper rules for pinning enemy units. In real life combat (afaik, I have never been in the army or anything) your fire support elements pin the enemy with covering fire while the maneuver elements and assault parties move up into close combat. As long as there is no real break between the covering fire and the start of the assault you should be assaulting an enemy who cannot respond. It requires careful coordination of units to support each other and in GW rules this has never really been necessary - units just fight and die almost in a vacuum. I'm really interested in future in modifying the 40K rules to include something more like real tactics. Slowly collecting other rulesets that do this well is something I have been doing with a vague idea to making better 40K games in future.

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    1. Iron Cross sounds neat! It is always cool to find new WWII games. I agree it is odd that other than Necromunda, they have never really had a suppression system. It is an odd oversight that makes games less interesting.

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    2. I think you will like F28. Not only does it contain plenty of customisation options for characters, it is also made specifically with the fire-move-cover trinity in mind (something which I discuss more in depth in our newsletter).
      //The Designer

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    3. TheDr: Thanks! I'll take a look.

      Eric: Yeah Iron Cross is elegant because it's so simple yet you face such difficult choices about how to allocate your resources. 40K has always suffered in game play because it doesn't have suppression and you never lose control of your units (except when the fail a break test; whereas a real military commander cannot expect his troops to be able to carry out their orders if they're being hammered by a mortar bombardment or similar)--it's not realistic nor is it challenging. Which is probably why 40K tactics discussions invariably turn to list-building discussions.

      The Iron Cross mechanic might be too simple for the small scale Inq28 games you play, but good ideas can always translate across somehow.

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    4. Yeah, without having a limited ability to react to things or make difficult decisions, games are not that interesting. I do not want to spend most of the time building lists, ha ha.

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