Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Running from the Bugs!

Last year I got a copy of the BUGS! game released by Two Hour Wargames in 2002 (at the time of this writing it is still available for free at WargameDownloads.) I planned to play a game with it back in June but forgot about it until now. So instead of building my 5150 platoons I ran this game as I was more in the mood for a quick battle than making papercraft.

Anyway, BUGS! is a compact and focused game of humans fighting (or running away from) primitive but dangerous aliens -- the types with sharp teeth and claws. The reason to play it nowadays is mostly to gain perspective on the origins and evolution of the Reaction System. The core ideas are already present but yet to be refined. The whole set of rules fits in four pages of text and two pages of tables. The cost of this is that some definitions and clarifications are not included. When playing, I had to make some assumptions about things like front facing arc, group movement, requirements for charging, melee combat etc.

Battle Report

Based on information from the book I ran a simple scenario where a group of mercenaries and civilians must reach a shuttle to escape a facility infested with bug-like aliens. Every turn there's the risk that the aliens will burrow a hole to ambush them. Here is a picture of the setup. The green patches (woods) and gray squares (buildings) are impassable terrain. Some comments about the game system are given in square brackets.

Here's a closer look of the group, from left to right: Adrian with a grenade launcher (heavy weapon), Barret with an assault rifle, Claudia (the leader) also with a rifle, and the civilians Daisy and Edna, unarmed. [Characters have six attributes. I believe that two of them, weapon skill and willpower, later turned into Rep.]
As the game began, the group moved towards the east. No sign of the aliens for the first two turns. The plan was to run between the buildings to get to the ship as soon as possible. [There is no option for "fast move," and this adds to the tension.]
On the third turn, the group started feeling tremors on the ground... the bugs might be nearby. On the following turn the ground near the small patch of woods gave in revealing a tunnel or "bug hole." A small alien crept out of it but none of the humans had line of sight to it to react. On the fifth turn, Claudia activated first (since she had a higher Willpower than the bug) and led the group to move between the buildings. The mercenaries formed a "wall" to hide the civilians. Meanwhile another small bug appeared. [On each turn, characters activate in descending order of Willpower.]
The sixth turn began with Claudia activating the human group again, moving towards the ship. The first small alien entered the line of sight of the mercenaries, who reacted. Adrian caused 11 points of damage and Barret scored a critical hit, causing 26 points of damage and a wound, knocking it down. Claudia missed. The second alien also moved forward and Barret shot it causing 20 points of damage. At the end of the turn, five bugs appeared: four small and one big. [Reaction checks use a cascading system: succeed on the first roll for the best result, otherwise roll again to try to avoid total failure. Also note that damage is tracked through the reduction of the Stamina attribute -- another point which would be streamlined.]
The big alien activated first on the next turn (it had the highest Willpower rating.) I used the Enquiry Table to ask if the aliens would try to surround the humans but got a "no" for an answer, so the rest of the aliens kept moving to join the first two. The mercenaries activated, moved backwards and fired at the visible aliens. The rest of the small aliens moved forward, causing several reactions. Adrian got a critical hit with his heavy weapon, killing two of the small bugs and wounding three others. The last two bugs emerged from the hole. [There is no system for enemy movement so I have the aliens mindlessly charge ahead, which seems logical in this scenario.]
After this, the aliens continued to advance, and the mercenaries stepped back and kept firing at them. Adrian and Barret got critical hits on the big alien and things seemed to be going well. Meanwhile, the civilians reached the ship.

Small aliens charged Adrian and Claudia, entering melee and causing some damage. Since there was no mention about leaving melee voluntarily, I assumed it was not possible, so the mercenaries would have to defeat their opponents. The last two small aliens entered line of sight of Barret (who was not in melee.) He missed one of them but critically hit and killed the other. [Since I can't find information about the soldiers' melee attacks, I assume they would use half of their weapon skill, half of the power and a single die of damage. That gives a definite edge to the aliens if they reach melee but I think it would be in the spirit of the game.]
What followed after this were several turns of Barret shooting the aliens from a distance while the other two mercenaries tried to kill the aliens with whom they were locked in melee. Eventually, Adrian was killed and only the big alien was left, with Claudia heavily wounded and Barret also engaged in melee with it. At one point, Claudia suffered another wound and tried to run away, having failed the "Received Wound" check. The big alien attacked her as she left and cut her in half. Two turns later, the big alien defeated Barret too.
At that point, the big alien had ONE point of Stamina left. A single point before it would run for its life... Having seen the mercenaries fall, the two civilians activated the shuttle and fled so the objective of escaping was at least partially completed.


I had fun playing this little scenario and I could get a feeling of how the reaction system played at its beginning. BUGS! ran more smoothly than I expected, considering it was a much earlier version of the reaction system. The to-hit table in particular isn't as streamlined as more recent games from Two Hour Wargames (THW,) requiring more lookups. On the other hand, the rules are quite simple. Part of that comes from the fact that the core rules are stated but there gaps to be filled (for instance, the issues I had with melee.) I think that this trend for customization and for "just playing the game" is still present in the concept and subtext of current THW games but the rules are much more complete and thorough.

Despite this, I could not recommend playing BUGS! nowadays except for curiosity or game design reasons, when there are alternatives like 5150, Chain Reaction and Raptorz. However, the mechanics for the spawning of the "bug holes" might be useful in other scenarios or games.

That's it for now...

1 comment:

Sean said...

Nice report and thanks for the link to the enquiry table. I had forgotten about that blog. I am now following it again.