Budget Wargaming - One Page Rules & The Power of Less

By Paul Devlin 22 Dec 2016 0

If there is one thing this world steals from you it’s time. Whether you are stuck cleaning the house, doing your taxes (reminder: do taxes) or fending off an angry bear after foolishly spilling honey outside its cave, life seems determined to stop you from playing new wargames. Then, if you do get some space in the calendar away from financial finagling and furious animals, you will realise that hefty rulebook is not going to read, learn and teach others itself.

It can be a cruel world indeed, so it’s a good thing Wargamer.com has taken the time out of its own battle-packed schedule to see if it is possible to find a ruleset so honed, streamlined and tweaked it can fit on a single side of A4 paper, and still be visible without an electron microscope. Plus, it would be pretty remiss of us not to put it through a gruelling field test too, using the cheapest miniatures and scenery we can muster.

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Oh, and this miracle game has to be free too because it’s Christmas and all of our money has been sent via PayPal to Santa. The question is: can it be done?                                                                                         

Beyond All Recognition

Why, yes, it can – with FUBAR. For those not familiar with the military acronym (How have you not seen Saving Private Ryan?), it refers to a situation that is poorly managed, deadly dangerous or absurdly messed up. Only with more colourful language. For those not familiar with the game, it is the brainchild of amateur rule writer turned pro designer, Craig Cartmell, who is now blazing Steampunk trails co-authoring the inspired In Her Majesty’s Name series for Osprey. The blog FUBAR Wargames showcases his collaborations with the Forge of War Development Group, a collective “dedicated to publishing free, simple, brief and clear rules for wargames”. It boasts versions of the game suitable for almost all types of warfare, ranging from Medieval to World War II, Dark Fantasy and Sci-Fi. There are even specific editions made for heavyweights 40K, which Cartmell cut his writing teeth on with In The Emperor’s Name, and copyright flaunting spins on the likes of Stargate, Starship Troopers and even Aliens – although that’s just another bug hunt.

It seems impossible that one ruleset could be so adaptable as to straddle so many genres without being bloated to the point of instructional obesity, yet FUBAR manages it without resorting to dumbing down or the removal of all tactical subtlety. It’s also a blast to play and perfect for a night off of your regular gaming tipple. 

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To test it out, we chose to play the Modern/SF (Sci-Fi) Small Unit rules in a WWII setting as not only is it one of the most popular incarnations but also one of my compatriots happened to be preparing a cheap, glossily painted army of literal toy soldiers for just such an occasion. With a total cost of under 30 notes (Pounds. I think he means pounds -ED) for Allied and German squads, along with some kitsch painted scenery, this was budget wargaming at its most eye-catching and wallet efficient. On the table, it still looked rather grand and definitely less intimidating than shuffling more costly miniatures about, so it was down to the rules to stop us from just yelling “Pew-pew” at one another and giggling like 10-year-olds. Although this did also happen. 

Went The Day Well

Although you might think that only a page of rules would make FUBAR a light aperitif to bring potential new wargamers into the fold, your first glance at your pdf printout will sink those hopes like a poorly made paper battleship. Not a word, digit or punctuation mark is wasted here and, while such brevity means the normally puff heavy ‘Playing the Game’ section is reduced to “This game is played in ‘Turns’”; it remains a rather intimidating sight. Of course, concepts such as Initiative, unit Activation and Suppression are familiar to table-top scrappers, mind, so picking up FUBAR if you have played the likes of Flames of War will feel familiar. Plus, having almost all of your stats just a glance away means it only takes a second to recall that stone or brick buildings give a +2 to cover.

Relying on an initiative based system, whereby each unit has to be activated individually by rolling against number based on the experience level of the squad, also keeps the play brisk. One dice stumble and your enemy takes over, often nixing your plans in the process, until all units have moved, fired or both and the game turn ends – normally with you grimacing or grinning at how foolhardy you had been. Plus, being unit focused means you are moving squads of soldiers as one and at least half of the models have to be in cover to protect them from being mowed down. Vehicles are also activated as separate units and there is nothing tenser than rolling to see whether a tank will get to run over an enemy squad, or be forced to helplessly watch them run past and leap behind a wall for cover, based on a solitary roll.

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With an Aimed Fire bonus for standing still to fire and an On Guard (read: Overwatch) action meaning you get to fire first if an enemy crosses your path, there are advantages to being cautious in FUBAR. This was a problem in our first match, in which armies inched across our slightly elongated battlefield, so a second hand-created scenario (based on the film Went The Day Well, in which a German force lands in Britain and has to be fended off by a ragtag group of plucky English troops) was designed to build a skirmish feel to the action. Understandably, the pace picked up and – in a move designed to test FUBAR’s robustness – one squad’s bold/incredibly stupid attempt to catch the opposition off guard by jumping over cover and running straight at them was mercilessly punished. In a game where suppression can easily see your troops pinned and helpless if you are not careful, finding a balance between holding your ground and choosing the right moment to launch into action is the pathway to FUBAR glory.

Veteran Views

Of course, the above can be said of almost all war games. Yet, this also makes the case for just how eloquently FUBAR translates the complexities of combat simulation and concentrates into a distilled experience that feels more familiar than fresh. There is little that breaks new ground here, but that was never the point. This system succeeds because anyone with miniatures which have not seen table action for a while can dust them off for a couple of hours of enjoyable action, with precious need for preparation. In fact, for our first FUBAR experience earlier this year, we just turned up on the night, were given our copy of the rules to scan over, scribbled our squad stats on note cards and were playing in 10 minutes.

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The game also gives you the chance to quickly design your own scenarios, such as our film-based one, and get playing without worrying too excessively about points and balancing. It is a game for telling stories, not rehashing those printed in a manual, and playing fast and loose with some rules for the sake of narrative, pace or tension only adds to the flavour. 

By a long mile, FUBAR may not be the only free system out there that aims to trim some of the fat of the big name competitor’s rulesets – with the One Page Rules blog being a good place to explore – but the collaborative, “dead simple” spirit and thriving community behind this 4th edition of the game make it an easy recommendation for us.

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