The Wargamer's Guide to One Page Rules28 Feb 2020 2
The miniature wargaming world is a wide one indeed. Even a brief browse through some of the articles here on Wargamer will reveal a plethora of great and unique games that cover a wide array of settings, scales, and complexities. Sometimes diving deep into an intense rulesets can be a rewarding experience, letting you explore the history or lore of a specific battle and master the intricacies of a well balanced game, but other times you just want to throw some minis on the table and fight some epic battles.
Thanks to Jordan Stapells, Erik and Mitra Cameron, and Sacha Fonseca for volunteering their miniatures and time to test these games with me!
The good folk over at One Page Rules are dedicated to bringing you the latter, and doing it exceptionally well. Each of their games clock in at one (single or double sided) A4 page, with their major games having supplements for army construction or expanded scenarios. All for free. All you need are fantasy or sci fi miniatures, dice, a measuring tape, and a table to game on. It takes remarkably little time to familiarize yourself with an OPR game as they tend to follow similar formatting and design philosophies. Sometimes the brevity of the rules mean that things are left open to common sense, but I’m happy to report that with an active community and the guiding hand of Gaetano ‘onepageanon’ Ferrara himself answering rules queries with lighting speed, my gaming group and I never ran into real trouble working through a game.
So how does one get into OPR games? Take the minis from literally any other game! OPR’s major games, Grimdark Future and Age of Fantasy, aim to fill the same space as Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40k and Age of Sigmar while their one-off games bear resemblances to other popular games like Blood Bowl/Dreadball, Infinity, and Battlefleet Gothic/Dystopian Wars. Recently OPR has partnered with some 3D printer miniature producers to create truly unique new factions for their main games, so if you’ve got access to a 3D printer and buy the files, you can square off against 'Battle Brothers' and the ‘TAO Coalition' with factions tied to Grimdark Future's setting.
Really, if you’ve got fantasy footballers, ships of the sea or space variety, or a handful of fantasy, scifi, or historical minis, you’re good to go.
One of their flagship games, Grimdark Future is OPR’s answer to Warhammer 40k. All the factions that you know and love are present, and each unit has a corresponding entry in the GDF army lists, so there’s no barrier to entry for 40k or even Mantic’s Warpath players. Setup is quick and easy, with a random number of objectives spread out across a 6’ x 4’ gaming space filled with 5-10 pieces of terrain. Once troops are deployed, gameplay lasts 4 turns within which each player will alternatively activate a single unit. This is the biggest departure from 40k’s IGO-UGO gameplay, and I love it. Down time is considerably reduced and there is always a tough decision to make. Do I move that unit into cover before it’s fired upon, or do I get that opening salvo off with my tank?
GDF also reduces the number of dice rolling considerably. Instead of a stat line, each unit has a quality value, a defense value, its weapons, and finally special rules. Attacks and Morale checks require a quality roll. Successful hits then lead to the opponent rolling defensive dice. That’s it. Gone is the hit, wound, save (sometimes save again) that plagued GWs games for a long time. The result is that units tend to die quicker in GDF, but it also means that the physical amount of time playing is reduced as well. Again, I love it. We managed to comfortably fit in three games in the time it would take to play one game of 40k.
There’s a great deal of fluff compressed into GDF’s faction’s special rules. My Imperial Guard, I mean, Human Defence Force, still issued orders under the special rules for the officers. My friend’s TAO, (not Tau), had soldiers of quality 5+ but whose special rule meant they fired at 4+ mimicking the good shooting, poor fighting angle of the Tau while keeping everything easily accessible to us on one double sided page. Gone are the long rulebook flip fests. Unless you want fluff that is.
Most importantly, GDF felt like 40k to us, but with all of the complications stripped away. We were still making tactical decisions, still rolling buckets of dice, still laughing at the single guardsmen that endured a barrage of rockets, and still having fun. And it was done in an hour. If you’ve got the miniatures, I highly recommend giving GDF a go. I don’t think we’ll be going back to 40k, honestly. Life is too short.
There is a skirmish spinoff called Firefight that brings down the number of fighters and introduces campaign rules so players can take a single squad on a multi-game journey. We didn’t get a chance to try this out, but it looks as tight as the base game, with most rules the same as GDF with a few twists to keep soldiers alive longer.
Age of Fantasy/ Regiments
I grew up on Warhammer Fantasy. It was my first miniatures game, my first exposure to a crazy deep fantasy world, and my first crack at modelling and painting. So it’s near and dear to my heart. I did play Age of Sigmar when they made the dramatic shift from regiments to skirmishers, although we still set our games of AoS within the Old World of Warhammer Fantasy (What? I’m not going to unlearn the entire history of every faction). Games were never as frequent though. My gaming group had a hard time shelving our regimental movement trays, but nothing else really seemed to scratch the same itch. Not until Age of Fantasy: Regiments.
Age of Fantasy itself is very similar to GDF, and that is not a bad thing. Games still revolve around difficult activation decisions, Quality and Defence are the major things to remember, and special rules keep things flavourful and interesting. The focus here is more on hand to hand fighting rather than shooting, but the morale rules work to keep the action bloody and brief.
My favourite aspect of morale is the ‘wavering’ system. If a unit takes half or more casualties it must test its quality. If it passes, fine, but if not it is 'wavering'. Wavering units only hit in combat on a 6+ and must spend their entire activation rallying. If units waver while in hand-to-hand, and they’re under half strength, they’re eliminated. If they’re shot at, the worst that can happen is the unit wavers, they can’t break solely from shooting. This is an elegant way of encouraging players to whittle down enemies before moving in for the kill. There have been agonizing activations where I had to decide between rallying a unit before it was charged or else pushing my own advantage elsewhere. The simplicity of the rules do nothing to detract from the game’s tension.
Regiments, a spin-off that tries to evoke the feeling of Warhammer Fantasy, is by far my group’s favourite. It does all it can to eliminate the gamey things that made end-of-life Warhammer Fantasy feel unrealistic and unfair. Unit sizes are limited, most game breaking advantages are toned down, magic is important but not game defining. Really every problem we had with the old Warhammer has been poofed away by a single A4 page. I can’t stress how much we’ve been enjoying breaking out the old miniatures again for a game that doesn’t require 100 hours of study.
Covering Fire is a strange game. Meant to simulate modern-ish infantry actions, it is by far OPR’s most experimental game. No measuring is necessary as each unit can activate and move in a straight line as far as it wants without turning until it hits terrain. Units can also activate as often as a player likes as long as they don’t fail to cause enough hits while shooting, fail a morale check, or take damage from reactionary fire. Shooting as well requires no measurement. Units can target the closet enemy unit and roll dice to try and suppress them. 3 suppression markers and a unit is eliminated.
There is something interesting tucked away here. Moving units freely feels intuitive, and terrain and reactionary fire keep the most egregious movements from breaking reality. Not measuring for shooting is liberating and, given the common complaint that mini games severely reduce weapon ranges, it is not surprising that a game would try to do away with it. It’s not perfect though. We had a game shift dramatically when a single rifle squad managed to take out a machine gun nest, a rifle squad, and an officer in turn and zip across half the map before finally taking a reaction hit and ending the turn. Endless activations until stopped can be a little too liberating.
Covering Fire is the only game that we tried that made us want to play a different ruleset. It didn’t grip the way some of the more traditional OPR games did. I think some refinements in the activation system and some more chrome across the rules to better make the game feel like an actual historical engagement would help. That said, we used WWII historical miniatures for it and found it lacking, but there is no reason that one couldn’t use sci fi miniatures. Some further development might take it from curiosity to revolution.
War Fleets covers both space battles and steampunk naval actions. We play tested using our Dystopian War minis which stuck us firmly in the steampunk naval world. This game stays closer to the OPR core. Alternative activation, straightforward unit construction, and objective based victory conditions. Ships are divided into 4 classes, from scout to battleship, and have stats that reflect their roles. As class and size increases, accuracy and evasion reduce but toughness and components (Special rule giving additions) increase. It is simple but elegant.
In our games, scouts dueled and battleships traded blows while tooled up fighters and destroyers sailed around using their special components to try and sway the outcome of larger fights. Alternate activation works here, but I feel that it could benefit from some fluffier rule inclusions. After our first game, for example, we house-ruled a minimum movement for ships, altered some terrain rules, redid torpedoes to better reflect ships and not spacecraft, and toyed with the idea of dividing ships into squadrons that could all activate at once. It may sound like a lot but these OPR games seem to respond well to player tweaking. After our adjustments we had a great time and really felt like we had a fun quickplay alternative to Dystopian Wars.
Right out of the box War Fleets seems better suited to space combat, but I was happy to see that a fan made alteration turned War Fleet into a mech combat game that people on the OPR forums were enjoying. I suppose there is nothing keeping players from using any group of vehicles to play War Fleet, with small scale sci fi tanks working as well as mechs or ships, with some creative house rules at least. My advice is to go nuts with it. OPR games definitely create an excellent foundation.
Wasteland Racing tries to evoke a Mad Max feeling, though there are several rules that emulate the classic video game vibes of Mario Kart. Players choose a type of vehicle ranging from skimmers, standard racers, bikes, flyers, and heavy trucks, and a personality for their driver. The board is set up with terrain and a series of waypoint markers that define the course. Players must pass within 3” of each marker in order before finishing a lap. There’s no need for a dedicated racetrack, or cars for that matter. We used fantasy ‘vehicles’ and a map full of forests and ruins. When a racer passes a marker, they roll for a weapon pickup, with the chart they roll on based on their position in the race. Very Mario Kart.
I had my doubts, but Wasteland Racing was quite a lot of fun. We each built a different racer/vehicle, each with different speeds, toughness, and turning capability, but found that we were always fairly close to each other. Whenever someone got ahead, weapons and good distance rolls quickly closed the gap. It was a little absurd to see the flyer simply jump over the terrain that the rest of us had to navigate, but using a tractor beam to pull them back and into the building they dodged, damaging them and closing the gap was certainly satisfying. The game suggests two laps, but we found that a single lap was enough to keep us entertained. Give this one a shot, and don’t feel limited if you don’t have any appropriate minis.
The Rest of the Bunch!
We didn’t get a chance to play everything OPR has to offer, but I think we will give a few more a try. War Stuff, OPR’s answer to A Song of Blades and Heroes (a personal favourite) is definitely up next. A fantasy skirmish game that stands out with its unique unit construction rules, I’m impressed by how simple it actually is. ASoBaH’s construction can get quite complicated, but it benefits from a more involved activation system. War Stuff follows the OPR alternative activation system but innovates with its slow building wound system. Double Tap does for Infinity what GDF does for 40k, and Deathball does the classic ‘fantasy’ sportsball game, though it does include an excellent system of activation gambling, where a player can try to activate with more dice, but risks failing and ending their turn. An excellent choice for a sports game. Finally, if you have no miniatures at all, OPR’s Army Men Combat lets you break out your green plastic soldiers and fight for control of the kitchen table. A trip to the dollar store will set you up for that one.
All in all, OPR has a great collection of rules, freely available, for use with almost any miniatures, all in one convenient place. It would be an understatement to say that OPR is a revolution, and I’m sorry I didn’t know about them sooner. My group and I will continue to play Age of Fantasy and Grimdark Future regularly, and already I’ve seen paint and glue out on a friend’s table. We’re all actually excited to get back to it. They’re simple games, with some great tactical depth, and open enough to tinker with if that’s your thing. Definitely check them out!