Sunday, June 1, 2014

Trying some Future War Commander solo battles

I have been interested in trying Future War Commander (FWC), after reading reviews such as this one in Dropship Horizon and this in Life vs. Gaming. In gaming forums, it is also often recommended as a system for solo gaming. Currently I use 5150 Battalion Commander and Strike Legion for large-scale sci-fi battles. In my opinion both are great games, each with a different gameplay experience. Both also include rules for solo play. Still, I like to read and try other games, so I finally bought the PDF.

The rulebook for FWC is 142 pages long but the rules for large-scale battles actually take about 40 pages. The rest are scenarios, army lists and a system to play skirmish battles with a few changes to the rules. It does not include specific rules for solo play, but the game has some mechanics that work well for that purpose. These include the command system and the risk of "command blunders" that may ruin the best plans, and the possibility of hidden deployment and ambushes.

I have started playing some test games on a small dry-erase board, using forces of about 1000 points each, with tokens that I use for other large sci-fi battles and halving all distances. So far, I have tried a few simple encounters with different area terrain and obstacles on the field.

In my opinion, FWC is a bit more abstract than the other games I mentioned before. For instance, many units (including infantry) can attack infantry and armored vehicles equally well. This can be accepted if one considers that those units actually have different weapons systems or munitions for each target, that just are not explicitly modeled by the unit's profile. Likewise, reconnaissance and command units have simplified rules that model their roles, not necessarily simulate them.

There is little bookkeeping in FWC but some markers for suppressed units, as well as units that used opportunity fire can be very handy. The rules for movement, ranged fire (direct and indirect) and close assault are simple and consistent. The turn structure is essentially IGO-UGO but with the possibility of opportunity fire by the enemy. Given these features, the game moves at a good pace and I can imagine that good friendly games can be played with it.

For solo play, the command mechanics do add some welcome uncertainty. Other than that, one must define scenario and force objectives to help playing a "non-player enemy." An auxiliary decision system, such as the Enquiry Table or Mythic Game Master Emulator might be needed to help deciding when the enemy will call an air strike or artillery barrage, however, the command system is also helpful there.

Future War Commander seems to be a simple and consistent game. The command mechanics make the battles unpredictable and suitable for solo play. Although my test games have been fun with smallish 1000-point forces, I think that its abstractions will really pay when playing very large battles, where each battleforce has multiple battalions or even regiments.

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