Monday, December 7, 2015

A solo review of War Story

War Story is the most recent title from Nordic Weasel Games (NWG). It is a mix of story generator and light, story-oriented rules for miniature games. Due to its nature, it is presented as more adequate for cooperative or solo play. For these reasons, I could not resist the urge to pick it up and give it a try.

When I got the PDF book, I was mostly curious about the narrative rules system. Other titles from NWG have campaign generators that work well, and I assumed that some of that expertise would be applied in this title, too (spoiler: the book does contain a scenario generator.)

The text starts in a very general tone, discussing possibilities and play styles for the game. It sounds like a "meta description" of miniature games, and I suppose the decision to write it this way was to have a core set of rules that may be further expanded. This also means that newcomers to miniature games will probably end up reading through the book more than once or looking for tips elsewhere to figure out what options to use.

The action resolution system reminded me of the task system from Five Core, extended to deal with different situations during the game. Combat is similarly resolved with a single roll, as the level of detail here is that of narrative events, not recreating each moment of a firefight. There is also a system to answer general questions about the scenario, which is like a simplified Enquiry Table.

But how does it play?
Having read through the 27 pages of the book, the next step was to play a game to find out how it feels. There is no set scale for the game; instead, it is one of the things that players must define. I liked the insight that ground scale and time scale are tied together by the standard movement rate of units; while not stated, this is what is going on.

In this scenario, an invading force (on the left) must attack and destroy the defenders' outpost. The invaders have two regular squads, an infiltration team and an assault squad who are in charge of destroying the target. The defenders have three regular squads. One is guarding the outpost, and the other two are on patrol. Each figure represents two soldiers.
Setup for the test game.

I decided that the invaders had the initiative. One squad crossed the first patch of woods, reaching its edge. Then one of the defender patrols moved towards and spotted them! [I used two story rolls: "does the patrol move? yes", and "does the patrol spot the invaders (unlikely)? yes".] Before the patrol could radio the other defenders, the invaders opened fire, taking many soldiers out of action and causing the rest to retreat. However, the sound of gunfire alerted the defenders. [The defenders failed a delay roll trying to raise an alarm. The invaders won a combat roll, with a major consequence, causing heavy losses to the enemy.]
At the bottom of the image: the defender squad that spotted the invaders, got into a firefight and retreated.
The other patrolling squad moved back to the outpost, while the infiltrators advanced to a flanking position. The surprised squad retreated from the battle, as the squad leader lost control over his soldiers [I rolled a mishap on a roll to try to recover the retreating defender squad.]

The second invading squad moved forward, while the defenders took cover around the outpost. The invaders then moved across the woods and fired to suppress the defenders [I rolled a cautious combat between the invaders hidden in the woods and the defenders dug in by the outpost.] This allowed the other invading squad to advance.
The defenders group around the outpost. I assumed that there are defensive works around for them to take cover.
The defenders recovered and tried to flank the invaders, but in the end their squad was hit while maneuvering, and retreated. At least the remaining defender squad managed to suppress the invaders. Eventually the invaders attacked with both squads, causing the defenders to retreat from their defensive position.
Pressed by crossfire, the squad retreats. The other squad, which retreated to the forest, failed to recover.
In a turn of events, the defenders recovered in time to suppress the incoming assault squad, then won a firefight against one of the invader squads [which rolled a 1 on the combat roll and then suffered a major consequence.] The invaders tried to push again, and were suppressed again. However, the defenders were nearly out of supplies and the stress was building up [I rolled the "exhausted" random event for the defenders, when they repelled a charge from the assault squad.]
The last squad held for a while... but the odds didn't look good.
Having lost two squads, running out of supplies and getting encircled by the enemy, the defenders decided to abandon the outpost.

War Story requires that the players think like a game master or referee, as they will need to judge things like what are allowable actions and what are the odds of success. In this regard, it is somewhat like a Mythic RPG system, for miniature games.

This test battle took about 1.5 hours, much of which involved figuring out how to better use the action and combat resolution systems. At the beginning I was playing it quite like an alternate activation game. After a while I figured that the result of one action could be used to determine which side would act next. I think that the trick is in thinking about the narrative flow instead of a rigid turn sequence.


Ivan Sorensen said...

Things like Mythic was a pretty big inspiration.

Originally I had intended to add more elements like the Mythic "story generation", and I may go back to add them later on.

Hope you had a good time!

And you are quite correct, the game works best if you don't treat the turn sequence very strictly.
Sometimes, a success should lead to another action right away, if that seems to be the case, just roll with that :)

Ricardo Nakamura said...

Hey Ivan, thanks for the comment! I had a lot of fun. I think it's just a matter of learning how to better use the system and the game should move much faster than it did on my test.

I also think that War Story may be useful to play combat encounters in RPGs. It is often the case that an RPG session flows smoothly only to bog down on a combat scene, because of very complex combat rules.

Ivan Sorensen said...

One of the goals was actually to help resolve military actions in RPG's. :-)

A lot of role playing games tend to lack "mass combat" rules or if they are included, they become another, complex set of mechanics you have to figure out.