Saturday, 11 April 2015

PMC 2640 Hard Sci Fi Rules Review

I'm pottering about in the shed again, and have been inspired to dig out my 15mm stuff by a rules book that arrived in the post:

PMC 2640
This is a hard sci fi game by Marcin Gerkowicz, who did Hind Commander – a niche and rather interesting game of modern helo combat.   PMC is more mainstream – I presume aimed at the burgeoning 15mm sci fi market, joining a crowded field with, Tomorrow’s War, Gruntz and more recently No Stars in Sight.  It’s gritty sci fi, aimed at playing PMCs (mercs) as the name suggests.

The Shiny
It’s a softcover 110 page book, with B&W internal illustrations.  It has a thorough table of contents but no quick-play rules or index.  It’s easy to read, and despite being (presumably) translated from Polish, this is not noticeable apart from occasional idiosyncrasies in word choice.  There are about 25 pages of fluff and background information, and snippets about the game universe scattered throughout the book. At $24 and $10 postage it is sensibly priced (disclosure: my copy was a review one). 


PMC 2640 has a colour cover and easy to read B&W interior.
Yes, I'm still stuck using the smartphone camera... :-/   
Mechanics
The units are rated I (rookie) through V (elite).  Most units are 6-men strong (like Gruntz) and cannot be altered.  The units have a sensible stat line:
Firepower (damage and accuracy)
Range (shoot range)
Defence
Assault (melee)
Morale

I like how WYSIWYG is ditched in favour of “RCL”  Recognizable & Cool Looking – as the unit determines the function, the exact gear used by soldiers does not matter. I.e. in a MG squad the exact amount of MGs carried does not matter – it is the role of the squad that matters.  Units stay within 1” coherency.

At the start of a turn, both sides remove suppression markers and any troops broken due to morale.  Then any reinforcements are brought on.  When it is time for action, the activation is alternate move (both sides take turns).  Units can Move,  Fire (aimed), Move+Fire, Move+Melee, or perform a special action (hack a terminal, foe example).

Shooting
A single d10 is rolled for each unit, with modifers for the # of soldiers firing, range, cover etc.  A roll that exceeds the target units’ defence scores hits equal to the amount i.e. a roll of 8 vs Defence 6 scores 2 hits.    Hits are then rolled on d6 to see if it is ignored, scores a suppression point, or kills an enemy (adding two suppression points as well).  Next turn, suppression can be removed by rolling #d6 = to Morale and removing markers on each 4+.  Suppression can be marked using coloured d6s beside a unit.

Whilst soldiers can react and fire at assaulting enemies charging into contact, reactions have been deliberately omitted, to encourage active movement and to speed up the game.  I like how the author explains design decisions in little text boxes.  There is a “crossfire” rule which encourages pinning and flanking units. 

Vehicles, Aircraft & Drones
These use the same rules as infantry – which avoids having “rules within rules”  - with merely some changes to movement and damage resolution that follows similar principles as infantry – shots that hit are ignored, do a damage point, or D3 damage.  When a vehicle accumulates too many damage points, it is abandoned, set on fire or explodes.   The rules are much simpler than Tomorrow’s War (where I commonly exclude vehicles due to the special rules resolutions.)  Aircraft use similar rules to vehicles but obviously differ in movement (and have some extra rules like “strafing.”)  Drones are pretty much standard units with a few changes (they can automatically remove suppression, and can be hacked, etc). 

Terrain
PMC 2640 uses primarily area terrain, i.e. units further than 2” of the edge  of a wood cannot see into/out of it.   I like the rule where units half in/half out of a terrain feature suffer the worse effects of both (i.e. unit half in woods gets no cover AND has move penalty) – it naturally encourages players to be clear on their unit placement. 

A lot of effort has gone into the background fluff and campaign system.

Unit Creation
Battles have a tier and size – a bit like Heavy Gear – which determines how many units and what types (ranks I to V) are allowed.  There are mission and terrain generators you can roll on, and six missions- ranging from demolition to take and hold.   Units are fixed.  There are no “custom” units like in Gruntz, for example.  I suspect this will be the most contentious point of PMC 2640 for most players.  The lack of a unit creator is a deliberate omission (to prevent min-maxing) - playing a campaign and “gaining” skills is the suggested way to get custom units. 

The troop categories are pretty broad – basic troops, rifle infantry, assault troops with CQC carbines and shotguns, recon troops, snipers, engineers,  light and heavy support troops, drones, mortars and command units.  Furthermore, each comes in a 3-5 tiers or types.  I.e. a rifle squad could be rookie. Regular, veteran or ranger.  Support troops might wield LMGs, HMGs or gauss cannon.  Vehicles are similarly restricted – destroyer, transport, support vehicles, and transport and strike aircraft. Again, each comes in 2-7 varieties, offering some choice. 

Campaign
PMC 2460 seems designed with campaigns in mind – your merc  company gains skills, money and can increase in size/rank.  Losses can be replaced, and units upgraded.  Destroyed vehicles may be salvaged.  This is very in-depth – far beyond the usual token campaign page in most rules.   A merc company can have strategic doctrines (like extra $$$, better training, better PR), operational doctrines (like air superiority, flexibility in army lists) and tactical doctorines (like better medics, melee, or resilience to suppression).    There are up to 20 battle honours (special abilities) than can be gained – from stealth, determination, extra move speed etc.   Vehicles can be upgraded too.  Units which suffer losses can accumulate trauma (become alcoholics, suicidal, cowards, or become unpromotable.)   There’s a lot to like for the closet RPGer out there. 

Solo/Co-op
Again, this is a lot more in depth than the usual list of suggestions.  You roll dice to determine the unit behavior.  This includes two new troop types – space bugs, civilians and insurgents – which are not used in regular games., as well as six co-op solitaire missions.  

TL:DR
+ Simple, consistent rules (a bit more streamlined than Tomorrow’s War and Gruntz)
+ Deep campaign system for the closet RPGer
+ Solo-play system
- Rigid units (you cannot “make your own” like Gruntz, for example)
- Limited reactions

Recommended?  Yes.  A simple, consistent ruleset designed for campaign and co-op play.  The people who are offput by the lack of a “unit builder” will likely be appeased by the thorough campaign options.  It’s also more appealing to use with vehicles than Tomorrow’s War and is a true platoon+/company level playset. 

27 comments:

  1. For those who prefer the mechanics of Gruntz and TW, is the Campaign and Solo section portable to those systems? Sounds like those are the highlights of the mechanics

    PS Great to see you getting some review copies of rules after all the cash you've laid down over the years. Good for you!

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    1. Co-op could certainly be ported. Most of the campaign, but "battle honours" and "trauma" can refer to rules-specific bonuses i.e. Gruntz does not use suppression points.

      I'd say Gruntz is its closest rival. Tomorrow's War's reaction system makes it bit different. I haven't played NSiS through yet but glancing through the rules it seems more similar to TW.

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  2. Thanks for sharing, I've been curious about this one.

    Sort of funny, I had poked with a very similar firing mechanic recently since it occurred to me "Why has noone done this before". Well, turns out someone did :-)

    You know you're going to have to do a friendly "head to head" now between the platoon level scifi games, right?

    Gruntz, TW, NSIS, PMC, 5150, Stargrunt.

    Anything I am missing?

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    1. hit "publish" too fast.

      Could be a number of categories and rating each game in each, with a "winner" for each category.

      I guess it could break down something like this:

      Movement rules
      Firing rules
      Morale
      Command/Control
      Troop building
      Scenarios
      Solo play
      Campaign rules
      Value for the money

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    2. "Sort of funny, I had poked with a very similar firing mechanic recently since it occurred to me "Why has noone done this before". Well, turns out someone did :-)"

      I don't think it's a new concept. I used it in a set of homebrew space rules back in 2012, a game called Voidstriker uses it as well, and DP9 uses a variation on it (difference x damage) in all its games.

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    3. I'm sure it's been out there before :) I just never managed to run into it.

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  3. New follower here and I second Ivan's suggestion of a head-to-head review of the systems he listed. I've been bouncing between reading Gruntz, NSIS, TW, and PMC, looking for that one mythical system to rule them all for me. The cats have played with my 15mm collection more than I have :(

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    1. The answer of course is: *deep breath*

      NSIS activation system with the army builder from Gruntz, the PMC campaign rules and the TW reaction system :-D
      (add in the morale rules from Stargrunt and it's a good 'un!)

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    2. A bit like Ivan said. There's no clear winner for me. Each has benefits and drawbacks. I don't know if I'd directly give an opinion and rate them #1 to #5, nor do a series of thorough comparison articles (especially atm as I'm a bit tired of the gritty Vietnam-in-Space style they all address and I'm in pulp/VSF/fantasy mode at the moment). My 5c though:

      Whilst I like Gruntz's unit cards and builder, I'm not sold on its 2D6 Warmachine mechanics and 6-man units. It would be good for introducing ex-WM players obviously, and has the most "commercial" feel. It has the benefit of scaling to a Spec Ops skirmish ruleset. Less realistic than the rest.

      PMC would be better if the focus was a series of linked games, but lack of unit builder will hurt it a bit. Also if I was using vehicles/bigger games it would likely get the nod.

      5150 - well I haven't played the latest iteration but this is the one I'm least likely to play based on the version I have. It's more the rules layout and style of rules I think - I'm not a fan of their brand of reaction system which removes decision points instead of adding them. Good for co-op/solo play though.

      NSiS - I've only read through this, so withholding judgement until I play it (should be soon now, as I'm fiddling with my 15mm toys)

      Stargrunt - I've never played it, but my read on it seems like TW's grandaddy, and similar enough I didn't bother to try it.

      TW - This gets the most playtime, but has several big flaws - rather limited troop types, poorly laid out rulebook, , and many unique rules for special situations including vehicles. Accordingly, I tend to avoid weird stuff and vehicles (which means it pretty much IS Vietnam, sans space), and I don't think it's a true platoon+ game.

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    3. From what I've seen, I actually think Stargrunt is better than TW but it has some issues with organization and layout.

      I always figured the unit sizes in Gruntz were a factor of what comes in a 15mm infantry pack: Usually 8 guys where 2 of them have a different gun.

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    4. I rather cynically presumed the Gruntz unit sizes (6 + unit attachments) were copied from Warmachine along with 90% of the rest of the mechanics.

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    5. Ah, if that's the same as Warmachine then I'm sure that's the case.
      I always thought it was the other way around.

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  4. One day I will find a good game system for 15mm Sci Fi. I would like to see the complete package to include rules, miniatures and army lists that local stores could stock. It is hard to get other gamers to play games when we buy the rules from one company and then random models from 15 other companies. For what ever reason 15mm Sci Fi is just a niche market in my local gaming community. Great review I am interested in the rules just not sure I want to spend $34 dollars.

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    1. Basically, you want to see the Games Workshop version of 15mm sci fi.

      I'm sure we'll see it someday - Flames of War did it with 15mm WW2 - but the reasons you object too are the reasons most people got into 15mm sci fi in the first place - it was a backlash against GW, it's prescriptive army lists, tournament mindset, expensive models, and to rediscover the fun that original Rogue Trader sense of fun.

      Even the manufacturers and rules designers support each other (and their rivals) which isn't going to bring about the One Ruleset to Rule Them All.

      Basically, 15mm sci fi guys are the rebellious kids of wargaming who like to discover new indie bands. Most enjoy their niche, I think.

      There's a packet load of $$$ for the guy who GW-ifies 15mm sci fi, but I don't think the majority of 15mm natives are actually looking for it.

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    2. What you might see is a setup where one guy makes official army lists for everything one particular manufacturer makes.

      If the game still included build-your-own, I could see that working pretty well.

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    3. " What you might see is a setup where one guy makes official army lists for everything one particular manufacturer makes."

      Isn't that already happening? I.e. Tomorrow's War + GZG partnership, CMG has their own rules, etc. I think more and more of these partnerships are emerging.

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    4. It is a bit yeah. I think that's as far as it's going to go.

      Thing is, in a generic scifi game, a guy with a rifle is a guy with a rifle. So it doesn't get super specific really.

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    5. Along with the other systems I mentioned above, I have been seriously considering Rogue Trader for 15mm; nostalgia coupled with the ability to make custom forces is tough for me to resist. Ditch the IGOUGO for something more random (playing cards) or as Ivan suggested, NSIS like. TW reaction system should be possible to bolt on. Oh, and a total abandonment of the vehicle and robot rules; everything is built using the normal stat block, just make vehicles faster and tougher with minimal additional "vehicle" rules: limited turns, weaker armor on specific facing, etc.

      Now if Corvus Belli made an Infinity 15mm game WITH the ability to make custom units, that would probably be my One Ruleset to Rule Them All ;)

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    6. I don't want to advertise myself too much, but I am working on something specifically intended to recapture the Rogue Trader feel, complete with unit building (though it won't be 100% freeform), standard stats for vehicles etc.

      Soon my friend. Alex Wasberg has a few AAR's of the test rules on his blog. I can link if you're interested.

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    7. Infinity in 15mm would be awesome if they used the opportunity to prune back the rules bloat. V3 rules were a commentable attempt to make things more coherent, but there's simply so MANY rules. 250 pages? That's just rules, not fluff!

      I also 100% agree with vehicle rules being an extension of infantry rules (like PMC does) - I hate having rules-within-rules.

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  5. Ivan, I shall keep my eyes peeled. I loved Rogue Trader back in the day; the feeling that you could create whatever you wanted, kitchen sink included, was fantastic. The range of 15mm manufactures out there coupled with 1:100 scale kits just cries out for a rule set that allows the player to build whatever their minds can dream up. Yes this can lead to min-maxing, but this can happen in non pointed games as well if the sides or scenarios are not balanced... something I have no time for or interest in doing.

    I really admire the PMC rules for their cohesiveness and the one die roll solution verses multiple die solutions out there.

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  6. These note that some time ago I decided to play the open cards and you can try the game by downloading "PMC 2640: Hell on Echidna". It's free, but fully playable demo version (you can try the mechanic) and mini-expansion for players how already got the game (extra scenario, two extra units and addtional battle honour):
    http://assaultpublishing.com/?page_id=1359

    Regards,
    Marcin

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  7. I think that buying, reading and assessing rules has become a hobby within a hobby itself!

    From what I've seen, there's a whole bunch of us engaged in the search for the "perfect rules".

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  8. Nice review. It sums up my thoughts on PMC2640,too. I like the rules and have played several one off games, but haven't tried a campaign yet. Its on the "to do" list though.

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  9. I have fond memories of Laserburn with 15mm tabletop miniatures, but also of Imperial Commander for big battles with the same figures.
    Ivan, can you link me as well to Alex Wasberg blog, please?

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    1. http://lasersandbroadswords.blogspot.com/2015/04/3rd-game-of-starstrike.html

      He has three test games up there. He mostly plays in 6mm but the scale doesn't matter too too much.

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  10. would a scaled back infinity in 15mm scale work with vehicles? Because that sounds amazing..too good to be true probably lol

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