Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A solo review of Black Ops

Following a tip from Aleksandar, I picked up Black Ops: Tactical Espionage Wargaming, by Guy Bowers, published by Osprey. I completely agree with Aleksandar: this is a game with a lot of solo potential.

About the book: I purchased the 68-page PDF which, like other Osprey books, has a very professional and clear layout. There are also some nice and fitting illustrations, as well as inspiring pictures of miniatures and terrain. There are no quick reference sheets but those can be found at the Osprey website.
My test board to try the Black Ops rules.
The rules make the distinction between two types of scenario: the standard mission and the stealth mission. The standard mission is a confrontation where opposing forces know of each others' presence (but blinds may be used; more on that later.) The stealth mission has an asymmetric structure until the alarm is raised, after which it becomes the same as the standard mission. This is great for solo play because enemy movement and reaction is mostly automated while in stealth.

Units are individually based and belong to a class (leaders, heavies, specialists and soldiers.) They also have a stat line describing fighting ability (ranged fire and close combat), morale, defensive ability and equipment.

Activation is card-based by unit type, e.g. all soldiers, or all specialists of one force. Obviously this can turn into IGO-UGO if both forces are made of all grunts, but this game was really meant to be played with small groups of mixed character types. Reaction is possible by having a unit reserve one of its actions, to be triggered by another figure's movement.

Ranged attacks are resolved by rolling a die against the character's ability, with modifiers due to distance, smoke etc. while close combat involves an opposed roll. In both cases, a character who is hit makes a saving roll based on defensive ability and modified by circumstances (e.g. cover, armor.)
Hoping that an ace card comes up before the guard is activated... and that my leader succeeds in close combat.
Besides the stealth mission rules, there are three things that make this game interesting for solo play: activation, blinds (and hidden movement), and neutrals. Card-based activation is usually helpful for solo play, as it makes the sequence of actions unpredictable.

Blinds are cards placed on the table representing units that have not been contacted yet (as suggested in Featherstone's books.) The game also adds an "observation test" to verify if the enemy can spot blinds and hidden units.

Neutrals are other parties that may be on the board during the mission (e.g. police) along with civilians, and the book includes rules to determine their actions. It is a good starting point to create other behavior tables for the enemy and thus a handy resource for solo play.

After playing a few test games to get the rules (especially observation and the structure of stealth missions), I can state the following:

  1. The stealth rules are very nice for solo play. To me, they feel more like stealth in movies than video games. An operative may fail a "stealth kill," keeping engaged in combat for a while but that does not cause all enemies to instantly go full alert. On the other hand, if you start running and shooting, you will be discovered soon.
  2. That said, the rules for guard reactions require a bit of interpretation and I am still trying to find the "sweet spot." The book does give examples on how to adapt a nonsensical result (e.g. a guard walking into a wall) but I think the rules are a bit strict to avoid abuse by players. When playing solo, I think that they could be allowed to move more freely. For instance, considering the location of noise tokens, instead of just the direction they are facing.
  3. Saving rolls in melee combat can be frustrating, especially when trying to perform silent kills. I am thinking of house-ruling that armor does not improve the save of an unaware opponent in close combat.
This is all for now. I still have to try the mission generator included in the book, so expect more detailed battle reports later.

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