Friday, March 16, 2012


Recently I bought two "oldies" from Skirmisher Publishing: Skirmish! and Quactica. I thought I'd write about Skirmish! since I found no reviews while searching for information before buying. As an aside, searching for reviews of a game called Skirmish! is far from pleasant (try searching "skirmish!," "skirmish game," "skirmish game skirmisher" and you'll get results from pretty much all skirmish games to be found.)

Skirmish! falls into the category of "beer and pretzels" games; the author clearly states he created the rules to play with his collection of toy soldiers. Still, it is pretty versatile (if simple) and might work as a first system to new players, or for quick games.

It uses the IGO-UGO turn structure with one very important twist (that I hadn't seen before in other games.) Each player's turn is split into three phases. On the first phase, the active player's (called the aggressor on that turn) units may either attack or move. On the third phase, the active player's units that didn't attack get a chance to do so. The magic happens in the second phase, where the inactive player's (the defender on that turn) units may attack (without moving.) This rule, which maintains an overall simple turn sequence with no interruptions, reactions or anything else, allows for the implementation of things like overwatch or standing against a charge. This insight alone was worth buying the game. In this small test battle, the green forces (at the bottom) win initiative, so they are the agressors in the first turn.
The green forces move out of cover carefully, trying to set up some good firing lanes against the enemy.
[On the first phase of the turn, the aggressors move from behind cover. As none of them are in sight of the defenders, they don't get to shoot in the second phase. Likewise, the attackers have no targets and thus nothing to do on the third phase.]
In the second turn, two blue soldiers rush from the ruins to the rocks, firing as they move; the green soldiers shoot back and one soldier from each force is hit. Meanwhile the other blue soldiers move out of cover and exchange fire with the other green soldiers, with no casualties.
[Now, for a detailed view of the turn: the blue forces are now the aggressors. On the first phase, two of them move from the ruins to the rocks on the right. The other two move to have a line of sight of the topmost two green soldiers.]
[On the second phase of the turn, the defenders (green soldiers) may attack any targets in sight or those who passed through their line of sight during the first phase. Thus, the two green soldiers at the bottom fire at the two blue soldiers at the top and one of them is killed (marked by the green arrow.) The two green soldiers near the right edge fire at the blue soldiers near the left edge but miss. On the third phase, the blue soldiers shoot back (suffering a penalty for having moved.) They also may target anyone in sight at the moment, or which were visible while they moved. Only one green soldier is hit by a shot fired while the blue soldier moved.]
In the third turn, the green soldiers shoot down the two remaining blue soldiers, finishing the game. The basic rules are really straightforward but the book also presents several optional rules for things like wounds, firing beyond nominal range of weapons, explosives, vehicles and troop quality, among others. If all of them are used, you get a rather comprehensive skirmish game system. It might be possible to incorporate one (or a few) at a time as players learn the game, which is also nice. For instance, in this small test I only used the rule that allows firing at extended ranges (at a penalty.)

I liked this little system and I think it's most useful for quick pick-up games between two people. The rule about shooting at a target that was in sight during movement makes me put it strictly in the realm of "fun" matches. Otherwise I can imagine all kinds of arguments about trajectories or even keeping track of the exact movement of each figure. On the other hand, this rule and turn structure enable quick play and varied tactics.

Playing Skirmish! solo effectively might require adding some unpredictability to the standard turn sequence. Maybe some kind of activation check for units, or an awareness check to enable a defender to shoot at a moving target. The PEF and NP movement rules from Chain Reaction might also work well.

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