Saturday 13 December 2014

FiveCore Skirmish Gaming Review

This game system (and its various permutations) has been sitting atop the Wargames Vault bestsellers for a while, so I thought I'd check it out. This is the "basic"system based on modern warfare, but there already are a swarm of supplements. 

The Shiny:
There isn't any. My $5 pdf is easy enough to read but looks like it was written in MS Word. In fact the whole rules are pretty brief - so much so I was a bit concerned lest I accidentally publish the complete rules system when reviewing it.

5Core has some interesting ideas with regards to action and weapons fire. It will appeal to the minimalist Song of Blades crowd and is great for getting minis on the table for a quick game.

Each player takes a turn.  However, there is a twist - a d6 is rolled before you activate any of your minis.  A "1" (Scurry) means your forces can move and not fire; however they are immune to overwatch fire.  On a "6" (Firefight) your forces can fire but not move.  A 2-5 means you have a normal move -  you can activate 2 of your minis (or 3 minis if you are using a big squad of  8+) and move/fire.

Movement is the usual 6" and can be impeded by the usual rough/difficult ground and obstacles.

Players roll two sorts of dice - a Shock dice and a Kill dice.  Again the key rolls are "1" and "6". On Kill dice 1s and 6s knock down or take targets out of action.  On Shock dice targets can flinch (take cover) or bail (flee).  Minis who have not fired in their last turn can react and put down suppressive fire (Shock dice only) on targets that move into LoS.

Melee is simply both roll d6, highest wins and knocks out their enemy (with a few simple modifiers).

Weapons & Equipment
Normal modern weapons - from assault rifles, pistols, grenades, sniper rifles and LMGs etc - are all covered. Short range weapons like pistols and SMGs fire 12" - the rest work to LoS.  The guns have some good "character" that fits their role well - a LMG can fire lots of Shock dice in a suppressive role.  Sniper rifles get extra Kill dice and cause friendlies near the target to flinch.

5Core's basic system is aimed at modern warfare, but lack of troop quality is an issue for me.  Eureka has some great modern figures - here are some USMC models from their gallery.
Extra Rules
There are extra rules for “unusual situations” such as info gathering and searching for items)such as weapons caches) . Completing tasks uses the same 1-and-6 system – a ‘1’ delays, and a ‘6’ means someone else has to try.  There is rules for calling in indirect fire, and some welcome solo gaming guidelines – again there is a simple dice system and troops can dig in or push forward recklessly.
I do like the rules for advancement and casualties – troops can miss games or die outrigjht, and there are about 20 skills that give simple boosts or extra dice when shooting, moving etc.

The aim was for a simple game, with no stats at all (not stats can be good or bad, depending on how you view it) and plenty of unpredictably. It has interesting activation and weapon mechanics.   It was to be a skeleton system to hang campaigns and create stories. I think the game designer has achieved his goals quite well. The popular rules-lite Song of Blades engine falls down in “shooty” settings so 5Core fills this gap nicely.  This is a game where you can jump straight in and get playing and would make a great introductory game for friends – it’s super easy to learn and you only need a 2x2 or 4x4ft table and a handful of minis each side.

Recommended: If you liked the minimalist approach of Song of Blades and don't mind paying for a somewhat bare bone ruleset with minimal production values, then yes. It's quite a nifty little system, and I think it will gain a cult following amongst a certain type of gamer.

Personally, there are a few things have me holding back my enthusiasm:
#1.  the system itself is so short it should be simply be included within any "setting" or "campaign" it came with rather than sold separately.  It's just a Word doc.
#2. I think troop skill/training is very important, and the rules do not reflect this enough
#3. I'm not a fan of using a squillion special rules/traits/abilities just because the designer was trying to be trendy and eschew stats.  I think it's false economy - it's actually easier to remember 3-5 stats universal to everyone, than the extra 80 special rules you need to do the same job i.e. differentiate between the minis. No, there isn't 80 special rules... yet - but I'd put 10:1 odds on the "supplements" adding bucketloads.

EDIT: I've just obtained the 5 Parasecs from Home sci fi supplement, so we'll see if this addresses any issues I have... stay posted for a follow-up review... and here it is.


  1. There is indeed a real balance to be struck, more isn't always best and less can sometimes be just...less. This sounds like it's more down the Infinity line with an excessive number of special rules. I much prefer games like In Her Majesty's Name

    1. It actually has far more similarities to SoBH than Infinity, in the way it is presented. I do recommend SoBH by the way, in case you haven't tried it. It's great in an "excuse to paint random minis" way and half the fun is creating unusual warbands.

      I have a curious love-hate relationship with Infinity. At its core, it is possibly the best, most tactical game I have played. Each mini can react to the active mini, cover really matters and each time you pick up a mini you are faced with a zillion vital decisions. At its core, it is actually a simple game. Your playing skill is always more important than your army - something you can't say for many games.

      The special rules creep is annoying and adds to the learning curve, but if you haven't tried it, grab the free "demo"rules off the website, and some random sci fi minis off your shelf, and try the game using only standard "line infantry" without any special rules like airborne deployment and thermoptic camo.

      I'm going to do an "introduction to infinity" article sometime soon - bear in mind some of my snarky comments are due to disappointment at the game having so much potential, and (IMO) overcomplicating things.

  2. Cheers, the author here. Appreciate the review and I think you hit the ups and downs of the system quite well.

    As you identify, FiveCore was made with a few specific goals in mind and any time you focus in on a certain goal, I think your design will accumulate certain quirks. The target audience is much as you describe: Grab a pack of 8 figures, paint them up and get a game going.

    "Abilities instead of stats" is one of the things that people either really like or really don't like. You explain why nicely. It wasn't actually an intended goal to begin with but when I was half way through "FIve Men in Normandy" I realized it was turning out that way and decided to go with it.

    On the topic of brevity, I feel I should explain this. The core system originally came in Five Men in Normandy, a ww2 game with a more detailed campaign and so forth.
    There was interest in the rules as a stand alone item, so I extracted them and put them together for a reduced cost.
    That also makes it easier to do settings like Five Parsecs, since you won't have to reproduce the rules each time.

    As it turned out, there was a lot of interest in just the rules themselves and people have done crazy things with it that I never predicted, like black powder and whatnot :)


    1. May I congratulate you on a successful ruleset, and I think you have achieved your "design goals"quite well.

      It's nice to see an interesting activation/initiative system instead of the dreaded IGOUGO, and this, along with the way you made weapons have a different "feel" is one of my favourite parts of your system.

      Abilities vs stats does fit with the "kill dice"system; do bear in mind this is more a personal opinion against a current "trend" - obviously the masses disagree with me given your success with the ruleset!

      Good luck with your rules (and I hope you continue to experiment with your game "engine").

    2. Cheers!
      No need to apologize for your opinion :) It is sort of interesting to see how we've gone from games with very few stats (Laserburn) to very long stat-lines (40K, Warzone) to minimal or no stats (5150). I'm sure that trend will swing back eventually.
      I really like your review style btw. It's very rare to find introspective reviews in the hobby, I find.

      My biggest fuss is in games where the stat differences are too small to notice. Warzone did this, where the difference between one unit or another was often only a 5% difference in hit chances or morale check chances.
      It's nice to have a fine grained scale but the difference needs to actually be noticeable :)

      May I inquire if you playtested 5core or was this a reading review?

      Also, if you are interested, pop me an email and I'll give you a review copy of my upcoming scifi platoon level rules.

    3. The blog evolved out of forum posts for my friends; to help make up their mind to buy into rules or not. So I am aware I sometimes seem more harsh than most blogs where people are unstintingly nice to every single rule set.

      I think I belong to the moderate amount of stats (3-5), moderate amount of special rules (~20, universal to all armies) faction (think LOTR: SBG).

      I did test out 5Core (on the kitchen table as my games shed is being painted - thus no pics!) but not the sci fi campaign system. Which reminds me, whilst I love reaction mechanics, an illustrated diagram would be more user friendly than just text, and could be easily done with a photo of your minis and a text box.

    4. yeah, I've been meaning to get some photos done up. As you can no doubt tell, this is all very one-man-show. There's some specific reasons for that but it does limit me a bit.
      Appreciate the suggestion.

      Hopefully with time, that will improve :)

      I do like your style. I'd rather someone say "this works for me but it may not work for you" or vice versa.
      I think people get worried about hurting someones sales, since its a small hobby but in a lot of cases, the thing that the reviewer does not like will be a selling point to someone else.

      It's a bit like video game reviews. "10/10 game is perfect" tells me nothing about what I'm about to blow 60 dollars on.

      With the stats, I do wonder sometimes if its being influenced a bit by the fact that most of the miniatures we have in scifi games are humans or humans-with-rubber-suits.
      More wild aliens might encourage a wider variety.

      Of course, fantasy games have been condensing the stat lines too, so maybe it's just a trend :)

    5. I've tried so many rulesets I tend to get on a hobbyhorse about particular things. Stats vs "Extra Rules" is just one of them. <--if you want the nerdy version.

      Sometimes I suspect it is a certain way so designers can justify reusing their game engines; the stat+special rules allows you to play many different periods and just rename or create new special rules to add flavour.

      For example "sameiness" is not a big deal in modern warfame; weapons tend to be very similar (5.45 vs 5.56mm) and purpose (PKM vs SAW) whilst I expect sci fi and fantasy to be a bit more differentiating.

      But sometimes the whole engine needs to change if the combat is too different. For example 5Core does shooting better than SoBH. but (from what I can see) SoBH would be superior for fantasy or eras centred on melee.

      Off topic: A fun project might be doing vidoegame-style reviews for wargames. Here's one for 5Parsecs:

      Got chased by an amorous pseudopod 11/10 would play again.

    6. Indeed. I've read a ton of your old posts, particular your design ones, yesterday and enjoyed them a lot.

      I do think reusing the engine is a big reason for it. It obviously worked for the 2HW guys in building a somewhat fanatic fan base :)
      Even then, since they tweak the engine slightly each time, it sometimes becomes counter-intuitive because you know roughly how it works but the details are always different.

      Pop quiz: grab 2 2HW games off the shelf and tell me the difference in the in-sight test in each without looking it up ;)

      (and I'm not saying that to poopoo someone else's game, Nuts is probably the WW2 game I;ve clocked the most hours in ever, except... possibly.. Crossfire)

      There's an additional problem in scifi games since most of our modern day and ww2 games play like a space fantasy game to begin with, it becomes hard to distinguish the science fiction game. Maybe that's an entirely different story though.
      A pet peeve of mine is the "two forces with perfect TO&E strength meet on a field, the germans only suffered 75% casualties so they won" type of game we see so much.

    7. I laughed at the "slightly fanatic fanbase" - for an indie game 2HW have done a great job in collecting a fanboys as rabid as any GW apologist. Suggesting the rulebooks are a bit unclear/badly laid out/unwise in repetitively using the engine for everything from gladiators to space combat and just watch the defenders come out of the woodwork.

      The reason WW2/sci fi plays like each other is a conscious decision by designers (alien bug-hunt style games are always like Vietnam, Star Wars dogfights channel the Battle of Britain, spaceship combat is like WW2 naval in space/age of sail) and the abovementioned re-using of game engines. Show me any wet navy WW2 game and I''ll show you it's sci fi variant....

      Perfect TO&E is a GW thing I reckon, brought about by the competitive game scene. It's sparked a "points systems are evil, I refuse to have them in my game" reaction amongst many indie designers, but that is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    8. Yeah. It irks me a bit because a lot of time the response from the fan base is "well, maybe it's because you can't adjust to this type of game". There's a certain "we found the light and you must be too dense to see it" spirit.

      I'll add that Ed is a tremendously nice guy, so I am not blaming him for anything, but it's interesting the culture that came up around it. I think a lot of it was that it was always an "outsiders" game. It's like being the first 4 kids in your school who got their hands on a Sex Pistols tape.

      And agree completely on the WW2/Scifi thing. Quick, think of a movie or show where a shoot out did not play out exactly like a wild west shoot out.
      Interestingly, I think the old Laserburn was one of the best at giving us something a bit different. Super powerful weapons and you either had to armour up or shoot first.
      The rules are kind of a mess but its a glorious mess.

      POints systems is tough because a bad one might hurt you more than not having one. And lets be honest: Most points systems are bad. Very bad.
      It's easy to turn that into a philosophical stance and seem high brow. I know, I've done it myself :)
      Some of it, like you say, is reaction. Putting a points system in hits a target audience.
      Not putting one and saying loudly that you didn't, will hit a different target audience.

      Though one thing I've noticed is, even in games that have pretty bad points systems (you know the type, its on the 3rd to last page of the book, only covers half the units available in the game and makes no difference between a T70 and a Panther) the game still comes out fairly okay.

      A friend of mine used to play ww2 games with one ruleset but use the points system from another and the games ended up just fine. Maybe the amount of chaos and random factors is just so great that it evens out.

  3. I also got a laugh out of this--> " It irks me a bit because a lot of time the response from the fan base is "well, maybe it's because you can't adjust to this type of game". There's a certain "we found the light and you must be too dense to see it" spirit. "

    ^ So much this ^

    I recall of forum post when a fanboy said condescendingly "it has very different mechanisms so you"ll have trouble understanding it if you play a certain sort of game"

    No, people have trouble understanding it because it is confusingly written and laid out, and poorly edited. I personally own 200+ rulebooks and reviewed half of them. When you tend to have to teach yourself from the rulebook as no one local owns it, "clear"and "not clear" rules become obvious fast. (In THW defence, their later books are quite improved)

    I think I've done an article on why points systems, logically, can never be balanced. That said, I'm all for them: adding them caters to one audience while maybe annoying another; whilst excluding one definitely alienates an audience whilst pleasing another. "Points systems don't make players jerks - they're that way already"

    Points systems work if they're used as a rule of thumb; heck even "two infantry squads = a tank" is better than nothing.

    If there are enough special rules, sometimes the lack of balance balances itself out (such as Warmachine); in other games where cover and decisions are important (like Infinity) good players can win out anyway regardless of balance, as a few "points" difference is less important than the -6 modifier you got from standing stupidly in the open.