Sunday, 26 May 2013

Quadrant 13 - Company-sized 6-15mm sci-fi rules by Too Fat Lardies - Review

By Trojan Points

  1. This review is based on a couple of reading of the rulebook but I haven't had a chance to play the game yet...
  2. As with all my reviews, I do believe that objectivity is a fiction and that bias, conscious or unconscious, is inevitable. Bias, however, does not equal dishonesty, as long as you don't hide it under the pretence of objectivity. Long story short: this review is a mix of hard facts (book description, chapters organisation, page count, rule descriptions) and of personal feelings (things I like and others I don't based on my gaming experience and tastes).

  Quadrant 13, "rules for company size actions in a science fiction universe", by Robert Avery, are Too Fat Lardies, a well known British historical rule editor, first incursion in sci-fi. Using mechanics proven in their WW2 "I Ain't Been Shot, Mum" and Vietnam "Charlie Don't Surf" rules, the company's motto "play the period, not the rules" was somewhat tested by the lack of any real life hard and documented period to simulate... 
Too Fat Lardies sells a PDF edition, a tablet edition (which also seem to be a PDF) and a bundle of both. Not quite sure if this equates to"printer friendly" versus "full colour but functionally identical" or if the tablet edition has extra features like hyperlinking or something. I went with the PDF version.

The file is 100 pages (cover, 97 actual pages and 2 unnumbered reference sheets) and laid out two columns per pages with a picture of painted 15mm minis taking about 20 to 40% of a page once every few page. The more ruly parts also have top down schematics for explanation/clarification/illustration purposes. The font is a serifless arialsih one that combined with the white background offers good readability (my eyes aren't particularly bad - no reading glasses - but I printed the rules B&W at 2 pages per sheet and didn't experience any undue discomfort nor fatigue from reading them, including while taking the train and other suboptimal conditions).

  • Cover (1 page) - See picture here above.
  • Introduction (1 page) -  Includes some design notes by the author.
  • Index (4 pages) - Includes 1/2 page fairly exhaustive 15mm miniatures manufacturers listing.
  • Section 1: Concepts (5 pages) - Definitions and preliminary notes: while the game is designed for miniatures from 6mm to 15mm, the ground scale is fixed at 1/300, the activation of units is driven by a deck of cards (more on that later), and the game is generic (i.e. it's not designed for a specific setting, nor provided with one and matching armylists), turns are therefore of fluid length and minis can be based any consistent way. The basic building block of a force is the squad: each squad always fight as a whole, has a single stat line and individual minis are only used as "hit points" to be removed when the squad is "damaged".
  • Section 2: Your Troops (17 pages) - The biggest chapter of the book is basically a guide on how to stat your minis; choose tech level (from WW2, to Star Trek), role (infantry, assault, recon...), size (number of minis in the squad), organisation (squads, platoons, companies), weight (light i.e. no SAW or poor quality weapons to heavy i.e. multiple SAW or huge personnal weapons), expertise (rabble to elite), the number of big men (i.e. characters, heroes), and equipment (mostly armour but also Personal Movement Systems i.e. horses/bikes/jet-packs). Similar processes are provided for statting  specialists, vehicles... An example is provided for a Khurasan Garns and Felids forces, using the background blurbs on the seller's website and the very organisation of the ranges as a guide on how to organise that force.
  • Section 3: The Game Turn (5 pages) - The turn is driven by a deck of cards containing one card for each platoon (or equivalent unit), both sides of the table shuffled together. Each unit is activated when it's card comes up. Furthermore, a "commercial break" card trigger the end of turn sequence during which the deck is reshuffled for the next turn, leaving yet to activate units without a chance to do so in the turn. So statistically, each unit as a chance in two of doing something each turn. Except big men have their own cards too, and when activated can choose (among other things like calling fire support and stuff) to activate a unit "out of turn", basically taking close control of it to make sure it does it job instead of taking the risk of letting Clausewitz's friction taking is toll. Add some special actions and events cards to the mix and you're good.
  • Section 4: Command & Control (6 pages) - Each activated unit actually gets a number of actions function of it's expertise and number of remaining minis. Similarly, big men get a command initiative depending on their level. Possible actions varies but include movement (random distance), obstacle crossing, (dis)mounting vehicles, hunkering down, spotting, combat, issuing orders (big men), requesting fire support (big men and forward observers specialists)... Note that big men must respect the chain of command, e.g. 1st Platoon can only take orders from its platoon leader and from the company commander, but not from the leader of 2nd Platoon!
  • Section 5: Movement (9 pages) - Lots of specific cases in here (all the way up, I mean down to submarines), but basic infantry moves 1D6" per action spent on movement with terrain inflicting per die penalties (e.g. difficult terrain 1D6"-2"/action).
  • Section 6: Spotting (3 pages) - All units starts hidden under blinds (elliptical templates which can hide anything from nothing (i.e. a couple of scouts allowing the blind to spot but vanishing once spotted) up to a full strength platoon; just like genestealers did with "blips" in good old Space Hulk, only in Quadrant 13 both sides are blinded. Fog of war and thus spotting are critically important parts of the game. 
  • Section 7: Direct Fire at Foot (9 pages) - Infantry unit firing throw one die per action with some modifiers (weight of squad, big man directing fire, tech level...) and look up the total thrown in the fire table where together with the type of weapon, range (short, effective or long) and "quality of shot" (great, okay or poor, mostly depending of the target's cover) it gets a number of hit and a morale effect (e.g. 12P for 12 hits and "pinned").
  • Section 8: Indirect & Off-Table Fire at Foot (2 pages) - Big man and forward observers can use actions to request fire support, thereby placing a aim point marker on the table and adding the card of the requested asset to the deck during the next commercial breaks. When the asset's card come up, a marking round is fired (applying deviation to the aim point). The big man can use it's next activation to either order "fire for effect", or to apply correction to the aim point. The off table asset next activation will either be an actual attack or another ranging round. And so on. Once ordered to fire for effect, artillery will fire on the same position at each activation until told otherwise or until all its  fire missions are expended. Using off-table artillery is thus a fairly protracted process... And a fairly accurate simulation of the real life process (and yes, I've done it in real life; as firing unit)!
  • Section 9: Preliminary Bombardments (1 page) - Fire mission can be used for preliminary bombardment by designating a box for each (without knowing the other side's actual deployment, either firing blindly or based on intel provided in the scenario) and then rolling on table for damage for each unit caught in the box.
  • Section 10: Direct Fire at Ground Vehicles (3 pages) -What it says on the lid. An entirely different mechanism than firing at infantry though...
  • Section 11: Indirect Fire at Ground Vehicles (1 page) - Again.
  • Section 12: Infantry Squad Firing at Vehicles (1 page) - And again.
  • Section 13: Anti-Aircraft Fire & Air-to-Air Combat (2 pages) - And again.
  • Section 14: Shock & Awe (2 pages) - Battlestress is simulated by shock points which reduced units ability to move (malus to their movement rolls) and to fire (idem) until a point where the unit as more shock points that members and retreat or freeze. Big men can rally units, medic can heal them and high quality troops can rally themselves, in effect removing shock points.
  • Section 15: Specialists (3 pages) - Rules for drones and their operators, snipers, electronic warfare, forward observers and medics.
  • Section 16: Close Combat (4 pages) - Again a entirely different combat mechanism...
  • Section 17: Engineers & Battlefield Features (3 pages) - Rules for smoke, mines, demolition...
  • Section 18: Other Technology (4 pages) - Considerations on some non conventional tech (CBRN, chameleon gear, teleport, etc.) including rarely considered in wargames time travel (nothing continuum shattering, but points for exhaustivity).
  • Section 19: Mission Generator (11 pages) - 3 pages of terrain generator (table devided in 9 squares, one roll for each square in one of four tables - light, medium, heavy or urban) and definitions and 8 one-page generic mission including deployment, missions and forces composition (e.g. 1 infantry company less 1 platoon, 2 support squads and 2 off-table fire missions). 
  • Reference Sheets (2 pages) - Better printed one page per sheet... And is it just me or the all important fire table is missing?

My opinion:
  • Fog of war and friction - Those, two major factors in any military operation, but two often forgotten in wargaming, are central to the game! That's definitely the kind of mechanism I'd like to see in every single game I play!
  • Scale and scope - It is subjective, and I do realize model scale and ground scale are two different things, but for me, two 15mm company sized forces fighting on a 6' by 4' table feels too cramped (it does look/feel great for 6mm, but I write this review from a 15mm player point of view, as befitting Dropship Horizon). I'd rather see platoon sized forces on that kind of surface.
  • Mission Generator - It might be the nature of the generic beast, but that part feels very light. The terrain tables have a very WW2 feel and although it's no big deal to replace the orchard you just rolled by a crystal field, I'd have appreciate to have tables with a bit more of "this is not kansas anymore" to them. More of problem are the forces to be used for the scenarios:  that "1 infantry company less 1 platoon, 2 support squads and 2 off-table fire missions" from the example above can look and perform quite differently depending on force multipliers like tech level and expertise... Not asking for a competitive point system here, but some guidelines on how to match dissimilar forces and still have at chance at a enjoyable game would be nice.
  • KISS - I'm not too found of having entirely different rules each type of combat... Again a subjective matter of compromise between simulation and playability but I'd prefer a more generic core rule to a range of accurate but specific rules.
  • Units and basing - Departing from the each mini has it's own stat line paradigm is a must at this scale. But the need to still base minis individually partially defeat the purpose: I'd prefer to see squad bases with damages applied as a (limited) number of statuses followed by the removal of the entire squad. Again personnal prefenrence.
  • Fog of war and friction - I know said it already, but if you not factoring those two, you're not wargaming but playing a very colourful game of chess!
Bottom line:
I just love the core ideas, and can cope with the mission generator and basing issues I outline, scaling it down shouldn't be much of a problem either, but I really wish for a more streamlined and coherent combat system!  


  1. Thanks for the review. I am not totally sold on the game from this one review, but it has made me think about it critically. For now I'll stick with "Dirtside" and "Stargrunt" . I do really appreciate your words on the matter though as 2 Lardies do tend to make very good rules so I will probably read a few more reviews before parting with any hard earned! Cheers Mate..

  2. I broadly agree with you. I liked many elements of the rules but the frankly ridiculous number of combat mechanics made it undesireable to me. A shame as the rest of it had promise. The lack of emphasis on tech also made me feel a bit like it could jave been a modern rule set with a few tweaks.

  3. Good honest review. The variety of combat methods sound like they're not to my taste but otherwise I'm quite interested... if only to port bits over to other scifi games.

  4. Thanks for the review. Having played Sharpe Practice I thought I would like these, but I'm less than convinced. Sounds like the need some streamlining.

  5. You should play a game or two and see how it goes. I really like Q13, my only reservation is that I'm a lazy cow who doesn't want to spend time making up forces, and wants Robert to provide more pre-statted armies for me. I'm selfish like that. ;-)

  6. Speaking of lazy... But yes, it's on my to do list!

  7. Thanks for a good and nicely detailed review. it sounds like this might play quite well solo, with only a few modifications. are there any hints given for solo play at all?

  8. You're welcome... Nothing specific on solo play, I'm afraid. But Platoon Forward (a rule-generic supplement for WW2 by the same company as Q13) has a nice solo campaign system where the forces the player actually deploys (depending on the scenario you can choose to deploy all your platoon or just part of it) generate a number of enemy blinds (of three different types, broadly speaking infantry, support and vehicles). The actual composition of the forces under a given enemy blind are unknown until it is spotted at which point a roll on a table (three different tables for the different types of blind) is used to figure out what's really there... Might be nothing. Or a tank. The table entries are generic enough ('infantry squad and platoon leader', 'LMG or AT team', 'self propelled gun') and shouldn't be too much of a problem to adapt to sci-fi. Except for the training and technology: PF assume broadly similarly trained and technologically advanced forces... Pretty sure some sort of compensation factor needs to be introduced for high tech/high expertise troops facing low tech/low expertise ones.