Summary: Modern skirmish rules based on Savage Worlds. Written by James Houlahan; for two-player (or two-team) competitive tabletop play using 28mm figures.
Although this was released in 2005, I couldn’t find a review which covered it in enough detail to decide whether to buy it or not. So I took the plunge, read the book a couple of times, and now I’ll write one. Now, I haven’t actually played it, but I have played the base rules engine (Savage Worlds) quite a bit, so I’m confident in what I write.
This is an 82 page book, at least in the PDF version, and weighs in at about 18 MB for the colour version and 6 MB for the printer-friendly one. It is stand-alone, in that you don’t need the Savage Worlds rulebook to play it, of which I approve. You do need a table or other playing surface, figures, a deck of cards and polyhedral dice – at least one each 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 20-sided, more is better.
The book is divided into four chapters and six appendices. Illustrations are a mixture of real-world photos and snaps of games in play, using Devil Dog miniatures (and that manufacturer gets several plugs which imply it makes preselected troop packs aimed at this game).
Chapter 1, Basic Training: This is essentially the Showdown rules, which you can get online at Pinnacle Entertainment (part of Great White Games, or is it the other way around?) free of charge. (Note that Modern Ops uses an earlier version of these, predating the Explorer’s Edition of Savage Worlds; it’s easy enough to convert, the only thing that leaps out as different is melee weapon damage.) Each unit draws a card to determine when it acts during a turn; in a turn the unit can essentially move and make an attack. Drawing a joker gives the unit some advantages, but also triggers a random event. When a unit tries to do something (e.g. shoot at the enemy), it rolls the die it has been assigned for the relevant skill (most often a d6), and if it scores 4 or more, it succeeds. Heroic figures (“Wild Cards”) roll an extra d6, as in Savage Worlds, and can choose which die to use; they also get “Bennies”, tokens which allow them to reroll tests. Movement is fairly normal for a miniatures game. Combat is based on tests against various skills and attributes using the above mechanic. Damage can cause a figure to be Shaken (“miss a turn”) or Wounded; Wild Cards can survive multiple wounds, but ordinary grunts lose interest and consciousness after the first. Although the game is aimed primarily at infantry skirmishes, there are rules for area effect attacks (off-map artillery) and vehicles (including aircraft). Victory is determined by who collects the most Victory Points, which you can get for achieving mission objectives or destroying enemy units.
This is all standard Savage Worlds and Showdown fare, which will be familiar to you if you have played either before; if not, download the test drive rules at the Pinnacle website and you’ll soon get it.
Chapter 2, Deployment: Here are the setting-specific rules which modify the basic Savage Worlds engine. Their overall effect is to make Modern Ops more gritty and deadlier than the RPG version; the key rules change as I see it is that even a Wild Card must make a Vigour roll to avoid Incapacitation if Wounded, and Wound penalties apply to that roll. The chapter also includes expanded rules for armoured vehicles, helicopters, and troop insertion by parachute, fast-roping or SCUBA. Finally, the different mission or scenario types are described, with objectives, setup notes, and any special rules or NPCs. There is a basic but effective campaign mechanism, which essentially selects a scenario at random from either the seven basic types or more unique missions called “Savage Tales”; six tales are provided, with the promise of more at the publisher’s website. They are easy enough to invent, also; just watch the news. Some of the special rules refer the players to Appendix 2 under certain conditions, wherein lurk surprise twists to the scenarios.
The clever part here is that a player who is outnumbered (say, because he has fewer suitable figures than his opponent) is allowed to make the game evenly balanced by using the points not spent on troops to buy defensive works, or choose some of the scenario conditions.
Finally, in a nod to the system’s roleplaying roots, successful troopers gain experience, and can use that to buy extra abilities.
Chapter 3, The Coalition: Army lists for the Western powers. We have basic troop types, vehicles and aircraft for the USA, Russian Federation, UK, Germany, mercenary units, and law enforcement. I’m no expert, but I couldn’t pick out anything appropriate to a pre-1980s game, so I guess these are suitable for any conflict from Grenada onwards. This is the only chapter that grated, and it did so because the designers refer to the British Army as the “Royal Army” throughout; we don’t call it that over here, chaps. They say nice things about it though, so I shan’t be too harsh.
Chapter 4, The Opposition: Army lists for the Taliban, Al Quaeda, Somalia, and prewar Iraq. The thrust of the rules is thus clearly towards a tabletop simulation of the War on Terror, although there’s no reason not to pit, say, law enforcers guarding a bank against mercenaries bent on robbing it, or SAS against Spetznatz in a South American forest.
All units are intended to be transferred to Unit Cards for quick reference during a game; blank ones are provided, and prefilled ones used to be available on the Pinnacle website, but seem to have been taken down at the moment, possibly because the Showdown rules are being rewritten.
Appendix 1, The Armoury: What it says on the tin. Quick reference sheets for the vehicles and weapons in the game.
Appendix 2, Events: One-off twists triggered by conditions in specific scenarios. These are meant to be a surprise to both sides, so the rules recommend not reading them in advance.
Appendix 3, Freak Events: As above, but more so. Some of these can make permanent changes to your unit’s attributes.
Appendix 4, Vehicle Notes: Again, what it says on the tin. I tend to glaze over at vehicle rules, because my collection of toy soldiers and my interest are focussed on infantry actions.
Appendix 5, Fieldworks, Mines and Artillery Support: Special rules and game statistics for these items, plus off-map artillery and air support.
Appendix 6, Abilities: These are the special attributes each troop type has; they are a subset of Savage Worlds Edges and Hindrances, eliminating the ones with subjective effects, which are appropriate for RPGs but not for miniatures games. Loyal and Bloodthirsty have special effects in Modern Ops; Loyal troops will stay with, and care for, their wounded, while Bloodthirsty ones will not. (If a unit is neither, the player can pick what it does.) Loyal troops tend to be better trained and motivated in the game, as reflected in their other attributes; but if you inflict enough casualties, their advance stalls as unwounded troopers drop out of the fight to protect wounded comrades.
The rules briefly mention possibilities of solo or co-operative play, but I couldn’t see any rules that covered either, so I’ve mentally tagged it as two-player competitive only, and for that reason I’m unlikely to play it as written; if workload permits my return to the friendly local games club, opponents there are wedded to Warhammer and Flames of War.
Where I think it will see some use is as a sourcebook for Savage Worlds roleplaying. I could mine it for ideas for the SG-13 campaign, use it to run Call of Duty 4 as a short roleplaying campaign, that sort of thing.