Monday, 25 June 2012

Hind Commander: 1/600 Gunship Combat - Rulebook First Look

It's not often something comes along to tickle my jaded palette. Another boutique skirmish game, with lots of unit cards and special rules? Puh-leese!

 PicoArmour 1:600 gunships on patrol

However ever so often there is a breath of fresh air. In this case, the air is provided by the downdraft of spinning rotors.  Hind Commander is, as one might surmise, a game about modern helicopters. I ordered from Pico Armour, who somehow got the rules and 2 starter boxes from Illinois to Australia in 4 working days, eclipsing the old 5-day record set by GZG from UK, as well as impressing me with their communication. Free shipping to boot.  I bet if you lived in the same town as them you'd get the parcel before you actually thought of ordering it! I will definitely be a repeat customer. 

Note: This review of the rules is done without my usual playtesting. A follow-up post with info on minis and actually gameplay will occur in a few days, as unlike most games I have nothing that will proxy for a 3mm helicopter.  My sand table will provide a good desert landscape methinks.  (I'm building a new double-size one this holidays - I'll post up my progress).
The Shiny
The Hind Commander rulebook is reasonably shiny. It is a 100-page softback but has a nice embossed title.  Colour photos of actual minis are used to provide gameplay example, which is always helpful. On the downside, the text is rather small and in a non-standard font, making reading a little tough on aging eyes. There are quite a few typos but not bad if you consider it is probably translated from Polish. There is a very very thorough table of contents, which is hampered by being in tiny size 8 font. Separate quick-reference sheets (made of stiff card) were provided, meaning you don't need to risk damage to your rulebook. I also like how cut-out card counters were provided, minimizing your prep time. Overall - plenty of thought went into this rulebook but a bigger font would be good.

A well-thought-out book: but I wasn't a fan of the font or font size

Stats n Stuff
For its small size (the actual rules themselves are 37 pages) Hind Commander is quite dense.  I mean this both literally (the small font & layout crams lots of content in); and figuratively - it is a fairly complex game about a complex topic, though you can see the author has striven for playability.

Helos have quite detailed stat cards:  type, tech level, speed, ceiling, sensor effectiveness, sensor tracking, ECM, armour. There is a range of weapon options and ammunition is tracked. Aircrew skill ranges in 5 levels from basic to elite and modifies most dice rolls significantly.

Players roll for initiative; then use alternate activation in detection, moving and firing stages. Contested rolls (d10+modifiers/stats/pilot skill) are the primary mechanic.  Players with reserve forces can roll to deploy them at the start of each turn, then both players write generalised orders. (I am never a fan of written orders in wargames).

 Gunships can fly low and take cover behind terrain features
 Orders include "turn" which simply means a chopper can turn 45d somewhere in its movement; to "relocation" where a chopper can turn 90d at the start or end of its move; to "evasive action" which allows for sharp turns and forces opponents to re-roll for lock-ons.  Helos are either hovering, moving under half speed or over half speed; they can change altitude by 1 level per turn.Restricting altitude levels to 6 means they can be tracked with a microdice. 

Locking On/Tracking (Detection)
Helos are represented by contact markers until they are successfully detected.  A helo can attempt to lock targets, until it either fails a lock roll, or reaches its "sensor tracking value".  Multiple lock markers may be placed against a single target. Helos may also track hidden contacts to reveal them. This is an important aspect of gameplay.

Targets can be engaged with gunfire (which do not need a lock) or missiles. Each lock-on against a target allows a missile to be fired against it.  Both sides roll a d10 and add modifiers. Each point the attacker exceeds the defender by allows one roll on the damage table.

Now the damage system is very good. There are 6 damage locations (weapon, sensors, controls, cockpit, engine, rotor); in most cases a second hit destroys the helo. This means a few d6 microdice (like the ones from EM4) can be used to track damage to each chopper. Simple, elegant, and offers a lot of 'variety' without resorting to hitpoints or overly involved critical hit tables.

 Jets do not linger on the tabletop but make "attack runs" on specific targets

Extra Stuff
Command points are used to call in support (UAVs, artillery etc) or change orders and Intelligence points used to reveal information (reveal foes, enemy mission data etc) about the enemies - adding an extra layer of tactics and resource management.  There are rules for forests, buildings, and hills which units (including helos) can use as effective cover.   There are also some special rules for choppers and weapons such as "agile"  "door mounted gun"  "data share" etc.

Jets can be called in, but they cannot track or lock on and may only attack pre-designated targets in their "attack run" making them functionally similar to UAVs and artillery. 

It is obvious helicopter gunships are the star of the show - ground units are usually more mission objectives. For example, infantry do not usually move at all in the scope of the game and simply offer static defence to objectives. Naturally flak units are a threat to your gunships and need to be neutralised swiftly. 

There is a lot of hidden movement and thus opportunity for cheating - unless GM'd, this is not a tournament ruleset by any means and falls into the  "play with good mates" category like Two Fat Lardie games.

Overall - A rather dense 37 pages of core rules. I'm never a fan of "written orders" but the mechanics seem solid (d10+stats opposed rolls) and the damage system is rather clever. A reasonable mix between complexity and playability.  

Not bad for 3mm - a Oddzial Osmy Tunguska.  

Army and Vehicle Lists
Each army or "strike group" has a doctrine which impacts the selection of helos and ground units it can choose.  They are not based on true army TO&Es/order of battle but are a gameplay-balanced army list. Similar to 40k "army lists" but not specific to a particular nation i.e. the "special forces" list can be used by Soviets or Americans.  There is a wide range of stats for vehicles, both ground and air - equipment is mostly modern and is good from the 70s onwards.  Both sides have ground AND air forces. The all-round stars of the show are gunships like the Hind, Cobra and Apache (most strike groups have about 4 of these); but they are supported by transports like Mi-8/17s and UH-1s, and scout helos like Kiowas and Gazelles. A dozen or so tanks, light armour (including AA and artillery), lots of softskin jeeps and trucks, and about 24 infantry sections make up the average "strike group." I would probably halve the strike group size in order to make the game quicker to play through as that is still a decent assortment of units. 

Organising Battles
What I particularly like is that missions are randomly drawn - like Malifaux, each side is unaware of the opponent's mission. A mission could be to destroy 70% of enemy tanks, or to move half your friendly infantry across the board.  Missions are only revealed at turn 10.

 In addition the player draws "Strategem" cards (similar to "Fog of War" cards in Ambush Alley games) before the game  which confer small advantages to the user and can be used strategically to tip the tide of battle.  "Strategems" could be a +1 bonus to lock on rolls or +2 to Intelligence rolls.

It seems a good stab at making a complex topic playable without losing the flavour of gunship combat.  Quite involved rules. Pilot skill, "hide and seek" electronic warfare, and gunship weapons and performance seem strongly underlined.  The basic d10+stats opposed roll is a solid system, and is increasing in popularity. The damage system is clever.  However the written orders and tracking of ammunition complicate things a bit more than I would like.  I'll be interested to see how long a full-size game will last.  I like how players keep their missions secret from each other and strategems add flavour.  Intelligence and Command points add a layer of tactics and resource management.

Overall - looks a little dense, but with good concepts. And 1:600 gunship combat has the benefit of being cheap and interesting - a definite breath of fresh air compared to my usual projects.A niche game - gunship focussed modern combat - but there is room for variety  within this - gunships can perform so many more missions compared to the more glamorous jets; I'd be curious to see how Apache missions, kills and sorties compared to, say, F-15s. 

Recommended?  To early to say. Keep your eyes out for a battle report and miniatures over the next week. Definitely the 1:600 stuff is well priced - at $1 a house means a decent sized village would cost $20-30 - cheaper than a single 28mm building!  PicoArmour do $20 battlepacks which include everything you need to get started; but I recommend looking at the plastic rotors which for a few dollars to your order add a lot of realism to the tiny minis.This is a project I am very interested in.


  1. Once again our interests are completely aligned! I am a BIG fan of Thunderbolt Apache Leader, always wanted to pimp it with miniatures, and even write my own variant rules called "Comrade Hind Leader"

    I was looking at this game last year, but it was a project forgotten in the joys of moving house interstate once again. Looks like there is some good innovation with these rules, though I would go the 1/300 aka 6mm route just to fit in with the terrain I already own.

    Do the rules include a Campaign system? I quite liked that part of Thunderbolt/Apache Leader - having to manage Crew Fatigue and casualties, and the abstracted strategic level of War going on in the background which was influenced but not driven by events on the table.

    I also look at this and think 'wouldnt that be cool as a SciFi game"...

    1. Haven't tried T-bolt/Apache Leader.

      No campaign, but the pilot skill level goes from +1 to +5 which given you're working with d10s is a hefty advantage for a top pilot.

      A simple XP system could be added - (i.e. roll OVER skill level like I did in Delta Vector) i.e. if level 3, you need 4+ on d6, if level 4, you need 5+ on d6). To qualify for a level up a pilot must either succeed in his mission or score a kill on a mission objective.

      If you had a sci fi variant you could simplify things - the author has tried to balance playability with realism but with sci fi you can chuck realism out the window for speed of play...

  2. Much to ponder there!

    Sent you an email with some more thoughts on T-bolt/Apache Leader

    1. I'm assembling the 3mm/1:600 and I may end up going 1:300 too... There is a point when minis are TOO small. For example, 1:600 jets are great, but 1:600 WW1 and WW2 planes, are, IMO, simply too little and are simply "playing pieces" at best. The bigger helos are fine and the gunships borderline, but the scout helos are simply too tiny to have effective detail.

      The OO 1:600 is also finer than Tumbling Dice and so far I prefer the chunkier, slightly out of proportion TD sculpts as it is easier to pick out detail without a magnifying glass.

      I'll probably use 1:300 aircraft and 1:600 terrain and vehicles so it looks like the aircraft are high above the battlefield.

  3. The Mi24, sans rotors, looks a bit sci fi anyways.

    Off John Bear Ross's website

    Since his old projects tend to turn up as Khurasan 15mm; I may one day have this on my workbench