Tabletop Review: Force on Force

Force on Force
Publisher: Ambush Alley Games
Page Count: 224
Release Date: 04/09/2011
Cover Price: $35.00 hardcover, $25.00 PDF
Get it here: Ambush Alley Games

When I attended the Fall 2011 Recruits convention, there was one table amongst the dozens that I paid special attention to. There was a few Afghani buildings on one edge and a group of Humvees on the other, with a swath of trenches in the space between and a smattering of trees. The setting was evocative and I knew something exciting was going to happen on that table. When the Force on Force demonstration was held, my hunch paid off. Even with rookie players on both sides of the game, supported by veterans and refereed by the unflappable Jim, the action was fast and brutal. Things came to a head when two Marine fireteams charged a Taliban held trench, the real guts of Force on Force were on full display. The Marines had a higher Troop Quality (TQ) and rolled better dice, d8s if my memory serves. The Taliban were more numerous but had lower troop quality, rolling d6s, I think. In Force on Force, close combat is fought to conclusion, so the two sides alternated attacking and defending, removing casualties with startling frequency. The whole melee only took a couple of minutes, but a small crowd gathered to watch. The Marines’ superior TQ came through in the end, but the casualties were great. When the game was done, I realized something profound. Everything I thought I knew about wargames did not apply to Force on Force, and that was a good thing.

While I have played Battletech and Warhammer 40k for a long time, I have never really considered myself a wargamer. Wargamers are old guys with beards and dubious taste in hats who obsess over dusty old Avalon Hill boxed sets, reminiscing about the Crimean War. Sure, I sport a pretty fierce beard and favor baseball caps to going bare-headed, but moving tiny Napoleonic miniatures around a green felt table sounds like an abominable way to spend an evening. I never imagined that a wargame could be as vital and modern as Force on Force, nor as dynamic and fast-paced. My curiosity was piqued.

The first thing I noticed upon holding the Force on Force book in my hand is how solid it is. The binding is beautifully sown and the book stays open to your page without any break-in period. The cover is thick, with a matte finish. The cover image is a tasteful painting of a soldier in desert camouflage crying “ËœHavoc!’ as battle is joined. That the book was printed by Osprey Publishing comes as no surprise, as the fit and finish is remarkable, a hallmark of Osprey’s books of military history. The pages are thick and have a pleasant texture. The graphic design of the book is fantastic, with art supplied by Osprey, photographs of actual soldiers in the field, and scenes from tabletop games. For a book priced $35, the print quality feels much higher. The Table of Contents is more thorough than most, as is the index. There are References for the Artwork and Photos, another sign of the polish this book radiates. The Glossary of Military Terms might even make you into an acronym spouting old grognard, if you dally with it long enough.

Of course, what really matters is how it plays. Eschewing the traditional “ËœYou go, I go’ turn sequence that wargames normally bring to mind, Force on Force is based on the Action/Reaction system. Each turn, players roll for Initiative, but having the Initiative does not mean a player acts with impunity. Instead, the player with the Initiative activates his units, one at a time, and declares their Action. The other player’s units can React to this Action or let it slide. The interplay of Actions and Reactions is the engine that runs Force on Force and it really is what makes it special. Everything flows and moves, with very few elements staying static. Since the scale is, generally, small, it does not take too many casualties to swing a battle one way or the other.

The Troop Quality (TQ) attribute I talked about earlier is one of Force on Force‘s signature mechanics. TQ represents the training and experience of the unit in question. Irregulars might only get to roll a d6 for their attack and defense rolls, representing a lack of discipline and training, while a team of Navy SEALs might roll d10s or even d12s, reflecting the higher level of training they have attained. Since firefights and melees usually revolve around both players rolling as many as 10 dice each, simultaneously, there is a certain raucousness that I did not previously ascribe to wargames. Dropping ten d10s on a table and then removing a startling number of the failures (1s,2s, and 3s) while the other player comes up with a miraculous number of 5s and 6s creates a tension I had never encountered before in a tabletop game.

Games of Force on Force are based on a scenario. For someone coming from a point based game, such as Warhammer 40k, this is a pretty significant change. Where a point based game is centered on building an army from an army list and fighting in tournaments and pick up games, Force on Force is built on recreating real, or at least plausible, battles. Since the majority of scenarios are asymmetrical, victory is decided by Victory Points. For example, in an Alamo style encounter, the defending side may get Victory Points for turns that the Alamo is held, attackers killed in action, and defenders still alive at the end of the game. This means that a player can still claim victory even in a doomed scenario. Because of this, Force on Force requires a different mindset than you may be used to, but it can feel liberating after years of the army building grind.

By swapping sides and attempting alternative strategies, the four included scenarios are nigh infinitely replayable. Even if you somehow get tired of playing Chechens vs. Russians, the sample TO&Es (Table of Organization and Equipment) for 6 countries make putting modern encounters together easily. Even better, TO&Es are system neutral, so finding useful data to work from on the internet is shockingly easy. With a bit of creativity, a group of players could put together a chain of scenarios with little effort.

There are two optional Force on Force purchases that don’t quite warrant individual reviews that I am going to roll into this one. The first is Special Operators Group membership. At $15, S.O.G. membership grants the purchaser access to all of the exclusive campaign packs (currently 8), 15% off of Ambush Alley products, and discounts with several miniatures manufacturers, as well as a special message board. One word of warning, the membership year runs Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, so I would consider holding off until 2012 to join. The other item is the Fog of War deck. Fog of War decks are a purely optional purchase, since they are included in the book and are available in PDF format for convenient printing. That said, I cannot imagine not buying a deck. They are nicely printed on thick stock, with a nice semi-gloss finish.

Ambush Alley also publishes several books of additional Force on Force content. Enduring Freedom covers the American war in Afghanistan, Road to Baghdad covers the war in Iraq, and the forthcoming Day of the Rangers covers Somalia in 1993. Each book has additional scenarios and background material, plus much more extensive TO&Es. For a player looking to play in specific eras or with specific armies, these books are useful, but optional, tools.

Force on Force is not scale or line dependent, a rarity these days. The default scale is 15mm or 20mm, but it does not take much adaption to play 28mm or 6mm. If one was so inclined, and had enough space, Force on Force would be the perfect rules system for playing GI Joes vs. Cobra. When I spoke to the game’s designer, Shawn Carpenter, he said that fans had adapted Force on Force for Napoleonic and Wild West games. It is not too big a stretch to imagine using it for Cops and Robbers. If you want to fight zombies, the fine folks at Ambush Alley have already produced a Force on Force compatible zombie killing game, Ambush Z.

It is not easy to admit I was wrong, which is why I seldom do. For almost two decades, I operated under the false assumption that a wargame needed walking tanks or wizards or Orks on motorcycles to be entertaining. Force on Force proved me wrong. What a wargame really needs to hold my attention is a pace that is as exciting as a war movie and logical enough that it does not get bogged down in arguments. I am happy to admit that I was wrong, in this case. Just be warned, Force on Force might be habit forming.



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3 responses to “Tabletop Review: Force on Force”

  1. […] other reason that I felt the need to start Life During War Games was because of Force on Force and Tomorrow’s War. The move to these two compatible rule systems gave me the perfect chance to […]

  2. […] U.S. troops. By varying the transport options, I could realistically use them for a wide range of Force on Force scenarios. Humvees are still widely deployed, instantly recognizable, and are available from […]

  3. […] Force on Force is the other Ambush Alley Games book I reviewed this year and it is a very good war game. For my money, it is second only to Tomorrow’s War. If you know someone who only plays one or the other, giving them the second book is a very good idea. Modern era war gaming was something I avoided before I tried Force on Force. It seemed like less interesting and less varied than a science fiction or fantasy setting. After spending several months playing Force on Force, I am a full-on convert. If you the gamer or gamers on your list already have Force on Force, Ambush Alley publish a variety of sourcebooks exploring specific conflicts and theaters. I know I can’t wait to try out Cold War Gone Hot. […]

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