It's Labor Day weekend and many of my friends are off at one of the two local cons running...Celesticon or Pacificon. That's ok. I'm here listening to Depeche Mode and writing about my first impressions of Assault Publishing's PMC 2640!
I ordered the game last week from Pico Armor for $32 USD. I was pleasantly surprised that this price included shipping; it shipped last Saturday and arrived yesterday, Friday.
The book itself appears well done. The cover is nice and shiney, and the pages are high quality. That's not what I'm here to write about. What I was really gambling on by ordering this sight unseen was:
Is the game play going to be engaging?
Will I be able to use the models I have?
Will I want more, or will this sit on my shelf like so many other rulesets I took a risk on?
Let's delve into it.
The game mechanics have been mentioned elsewhere (open the links in Google Chrome and it will translate the pages automatically), but I'll touch on them again here.
The game uses d6 and d10s. Combat is done with a single d10: add your unit's Firepower stat, add a few easy modifiers, and compare the result to the target's Defense. For every Margin of Success you achieve over the Defense, you get a hit. Rolling on a chart with 1d6 per hit gives you the results, most of which are Suppression Points. If a unit suffers enough Suppression, they can be taken out of the fight (eventually, when they reach enough, they will simply disband). It had the flavor of Epic Armageddon's blast points to me - I immediately identified with it.
My gut reaction was that this was too simple, but then I studied the Firepower modifiers, and the more soldiers you have in the firing squad, the more bonus you get. I think it is an elegant solution to the "fistful of dice" syndrome, and I'm looking forward to putting it to play.
Activation alternates between players, with each squad getting one action they can perform.
Move lets you move your Move stat (which seems to average around 4 or 5") plus 2", but you cannot fire.
Fire lets you perform a Firing action, and gives a bonus to combat
Advance is a typical "Move and Fire" with no bonuses to either step
Assault is a close combat charge, but before you do so, the target unit AND all supporting enemy units within 6" of the target get to fire at you. Given the ease of which Suppression Points are given, this will likely end poorly for the attackers in all but the most carefully planned assault. No objections to it yet...
That's the quick gist of the game. I needed to know, however, how many models this game wanted me to put onto the table (in fact, the FIRST thing I opened the book to find was the unit sizes!). About a year ago I purchased some of Khurasan's Federal models, and have been contemplating an OpFor for a few months - what would I need to get? The answer seems to be that each Squad has between 2 and 8 models in it. Most "standard" units are 8 men strong, with some specialized units (like snipers or LMG crews) are much smaller.
The game I had bought my models for was Gruntz, but I just didnt like the dicing mechanic - 2d6 per model got cumbersome, and while I can appreciate the Battletech-esque bell curve, it just didn't flow for me. I did, however, like how Squads were usually around 6 strong, and you could add 2 Specialists to beef up each unit. PMC does it differently. Here, if you want a group of soldiers to have Rifle Grenades, you would buy a squad of Grenadiers out of the Engineers list, taking a Tier II or Tier III slot; the same group of soldiers without Rifle Grenades would likely be a Tier III Regular Rifle Team out of the "Rifle Infantry" list. The difference? The Engineers are 6 strong, while the Riflemen are 8 strong.
Remember that you are only throwing 1d10 per unit as they fire, but 4 men in a group get a much smaller Firepower bonus than 8 men do. You also get to choose which models to remove as casualties, and a unit never really loses its abilities as it gets reduced in size (Morale, Firepower bonus, and Suppression are all a different story, however!).
The one knock I had heard of PMC ("Private Mercenary Company", btw) was that it really was a Human-only game, in a similar vein to Tomorrow's War. This game doesn't have a "Build Your Own" mechanic, which concerned me a bit, but what it DOES have is a reasonably large selection of unit entries for you to pick and choose from. It is a bit simplified, and needs some expanding in a serious way, but for now I think it will suffice.
(The one advantage that this has over "build your owns (BYO)" is that in a given force, you know what the base standard is. Anyone who has ever played Warhammer Fantasy or 40K knows what a human stat line looks like: all 3's, with Ld 7 and 1 wound. In a BYO, you can min-max to your heart's content, making Human-stat troops even cheaper by removing redundant stats, or jacking up one all-important stat at the expense of the others, creating a strangely asymmetric "elite" unit that has no real resemblance to what a "real" elite soldier would look like. This system bypasses that problem at the expense of flexibility).
The Army Building mechanic doesn't use points, per se, but rather Tiers, and I think the way it is implemented is actually pretty clever. You decide what Battle Tier you are going to play; this is a number between 1 and 5, and a chart tells you what you can and/or must take from each Tier of unit (as an aside, he uses "Tier" a lot, and it took me a few reads to fully get what he meant in each case, but I believe I have it now).
Units come in Tiers from 1 to 5 (same as above), with a Tier I unit being the lowest of the low (ie Penal or Irregular troops), Tier III being an "average" unit like Regular Rifle Team or a 6-man Light MG team, and Tier V troops are the best (2-man Sniper team, Commandos/Rangers, or even Advanced Combat Vehicle).
Speaking of vehicles, the designer made a comment in the rules that he wants his vehicles to play like PMC plays, and not be a "game within a game", and for the most part, he appears to have succeeded. You can take APCs and Main Battle Tanks, but in really reduced numbers, and doing so will eat away at the points you have available for other troops.
Each Battle Tier gives you a certain amount of Composition Points (in this example I'll use 18). The
Tier then lists what units you may take, for example maybe you can take
0-4 of Tier I units, 0-3 of Tier II units, 3+ of Tier III units (being mandatory), etc. The Tier of the unit you take is subtracted from the Composition Points, so in the above example, you are spending a minimum of 9 points on 3 Tier III units, leaving 9 points for other Tiers. You could get a Tier V, and 2 Tier IIs, or maybe go with 2 more Tier III and 3 Tier I units...
I believe that two players who come to the game, each with a human-style
merc force, will likely end up having similar armies if they just play a
pick-up game. However, if you did this, you would lose the real flavor of the game: the Campaign. The author makes no bones about his campaign - this isnt a Flow Chart or set of Linked Scenarios. This is a straight up Mordheim-style campaign, where your units get Experience Points that they can use to develop Battle Honors (making each unit individual and lethal in the ways you want them to be). You can also add doctrines to your own Force, however, which allow you to bend some of the army construction rules (one gives you 2 extra Tier I units for free, while one reduces the number of required units, freeing up your points to spend on more exotic units).
As I said, the author needs to come up with more troop entries soon, but within this limitation of the game, the Battle Honors system lets you really individualize your force in an acceptable and satisfying way. There is no way to model:
Grav bikes or tanks*
Teleporting / Tunneling
Aliens-style melee-only units
(*note, this is not entirely true, as different forms of propulsion are mentioned in the Optional rules, but this works for vehicles and not grav bikes, etc...)
This last bit concerns me a teeny bit, because I'm about to buy some of Khurasan's Space Demons, and also really wanted some of the Felid jetbikes...but Im pretty sure I can tweak the existing Alien entries to make faster, less shooty melee brutes and have it come out ok. Still, more is needed if this game wants to compete in the marketplace.
A few last things to mention. The writing is actually decent - I had no problem understanding the gist of things, and even though it was written by a non-native English speaker, it wasnt really that hard to comprehend. Reading outloud in a mock-Soviet Bad Guy accent actually got me to chuckle a few times (under "Alternate Activation" on p.22, one paragraph starts, "For remembrance, it is good idea..." - how can you NOT read that in a Soviet accent and keep a straight face?).
*Fire combat is measured closest model to closest model.
*If one of your models can reach base-to-base with the enemy in an assault, all of them can.
*When crossing a linear terrain piece, either all of your models must be able to cross it, or no one can.
*When your models are half in one terrain piece and half in another, they get the least beneficial result depending on the circumstance (so a half-open, half-wooded unit would get no cover versus incoming fire, but would suffer a movement penalty when moving out).
I'm really looking forward to putting this on the table. Like you, I have read enough rulebooks to find the niggling points pretty quickly as I go through them, and this one doesn't have many for me. I appreciated the streamlining I saw, and think it will work out, and with the campaign system, I can even imagine that I will get quite some play out of this one. I recommend you check it out. For those of us in the US, $32 isnt a massive amount of money for something to be shipped to you.
Lastly, I am going to walk myself (and you, if you're still here) through a quick firefight and see how it goes. Oh, and I don't tend to spend time creating Cheat Sheets for a game unless I think I'm going to play it, and last night I sunk about 2 hours into making mine. I am still seeking permission to post it up to Board Game Geek however, since they seem to have changed their posting requirements...
You just moved a unit of 8 riflemen into some woods that are 20" across an open field from my LMG team that is in a courtyard. It is now my activation and I choose the Fire action with my machine guns.
I measure the range from closest to closest, and it is indeed 20". My team has a range of 24" so I am in LOS and range. I roll my d10, adding 5 for my Firepower Stat, +2 for 6 soldiers firing, +1 for the Fire action, for a total of 1d10+8.
The Regular Rifle Team has a Defense of 10. Being in Woods gives them a +2 Defense bonus, so my roll needs to exceed 12 to be effective.
I roll a 5, getting a total of 13. I exceed the Defense by 1, so roll 1d6 on the chart. I get a 3, resulting in the target unit receiving one Suppression Point (SP). Their Morale stat of 5 allows them to act with no penalties until their Suppression Points exceed their Morale - so they can take 4 more with no problems. At the beginning of the next turn, they will have an opportunity to clear those SP automatically. I will need to pour more firepower into that same unit this turn if I want to cause any lasting harm.
Note that had my 1d6 for the hit resulted in a 6, I would have killed a man, and the target unit would have received 2 SP's. Their Morale would be reduced by the 1 casualty, meaning that only 3 more SP would be needed to Suppress the unit.
I will also build a quick Priority level 1, Battle Tier III force:
Field Command 3rd Grade - 2 man Commander unit
6-man Grenadiers team with rifle grenades
8-man Regular Rifle Team
8-man Regular Rifle Team
3-man HMG section
Light Support Vehicle (like a SPG on light tank chassis)
4-man Sharpshooter team
I have NO IDEA if this is an effective force or not. I do know that a Priority 1, Battle Tier III battle is what the author recommends newcomers start with. If I increased this to a Priority 2 game, I could double the entries in my army and keep the game on a 4'x4' table. My collection could easily accommodate this, but that would start to be its limit. The force above has 7 activations, which I think isnt too bad, and has Command, decent anti-infantry and anti-vehicle stopping power.
My wife just walked by and asked what I was typing so furiously about.
"My new game", I told her. "I'm putting a review of it up on my blog."
"Did you like it?" she asked.
"Sure did. I'm pretty happy with what I've read."
"Wait," she asked. "You read the whole thing already? Didn't you just get it yesterday?"
"Yup," I assured her. "I skipped the fluff and went straight to the rules section, but yea, I've read it all already."
She just looked at me. "I do that too", she said after a moment. "Skip the fluff, go straight to the rules..." She gave me a cute smile and moved on.
It's true. The sexes will never really understand each other...which is perhaps why we love them so much!