Sunday 4 January 2015

Cleaning off the Hard Drive - Best & Worst PDF Rules

A follow up to my favourite rules list - but with PDFs this time. This time, dividing them into "zones"to make it less of a wall of text.  It's interesting to note how many of the good rules are available for free. 

Age of the Trebuchet/Legends of Feudal Times/Legends of the Middle Ages/Legends of Ancient Times & Legends of the Rising Sun (free)
Free LOTR:SBG mod for ancients/medieval/dark ages, and samurai.  A testament to how clean and adaptable the rules are.  Most have campaign advancement rules.

Battle Companies (free)
A cleaner Mordhiem-style campaign game for LoTR.  Officially published by GW, then withdrawn when they realized people were having too much fun with only $20 worth of miniatures.

Bloodbowl (free)
I made my own board and spent countless hours playing against myself, in a solo league, using plastic counters as players as I was too poor to afford the official models.  Awesome game.  

Mordhiem (free)
Somewhat unbalanced, complicated, and showing its age, but still the benchmark for campaign skirmish games.  I'd like to see an updated version with better activation (not IGOUGO!) and reactions.

A lighthearted, simple sword-and-sorcery skirmish game from the Age of Conan.  Uses an interesting dice pool - a mechanic I'd like to see more of.

Song of Blades & Heroes Unit Builder (free)
The most fun you can have with an Excel spreadsheet. Dig around in your shed and stat up random models to create zany warbands.

Bushido the Game (free)
I really like the rules, and dice pool mechanics.  But I do resist another "boutique" system which requires you to buy their miniatures to play.  Already got burned by Malifaux.   Add a custom unit builder and I'd be all over this one.  I'd even buy some of their minis - which are quite nice. 

Lords & Servants
A very interesting "modern style" medieval skirmish ruleset, by the folk behind Impetus.  Reactions, action points etc.

Algernon Pulls It Off
Continues the juvenile TFL naming conventions, but the only WW1 flying game that isn't Wings of War, or based off a system from the 70s.

C21 Air War
An otherwise good, simple set of rules that criminally neglects energy management and altitude. I use it for ideas and the aircraft/weapon lists.

Bulldogs Away!
Modern strike craft fascinate me, and this is a good set of rules. A pity miniatures are both rare and expensive.

Battlefield: Miniature Modern Warfare
A tabletop wargame that mimics videogames? The irony is delicious.  Interesting ideas - I found it a little more complex than it initially appeared.

Dux Britannium
This skirmish campaign for Britons-v-Saxons has me keen to see TFL do something similar for broader periods such as generic medieval.  Do not read alongside Bernard Cornwall's Warlord series or a miniature purchase may occur.

Schnell Rules for Schnellboote (free)
These free coastal forces rules are ironically smoother and better than the published ones I own - probably because it resists getting bogged down in rivet counting. 

Damn Battleships Again (free)
Adapting DBA ancients rules to WW1 naval. A very different approach to the usual zillions-of-hitboxes approach. 

Coaling Stations
With a better shooting mechanic, these could be great. An interesting take on pre-dreadnought combat.

Red Sand, Blue Sky
I often pay out on 2HW, due to their supercilious fanboys, poorly presented rules, and dogged belief that one game system works for all genres and eras - but this is actually a good game. My #1 gladiator game, in a surprisingly crowded market.


Infinity N3 Rules (free)
Infinity again - but who can resist a complete free rulebook, of a good, popular game system. Handy to keep on a laptop, and to print off quick-play sheets/important chunks of the rules.

Necromunda (free)
I never really liked the "gangers" and "underhive" thing but like Mordhiem, still a benchmark campaign skirmish game. A flashback from a happier era when Games Workshop had not yet turned to the dark side, and was about fun not just shareholder profit.

Railgun 2100 (free)
A sci fi spin-off of the excellent Fistful of Tows series.  This demo from 1998 desparately needs to be turned into a proper rulebook, with a good unit builder, and it would become THE benchmark for platoon/company+ sci fi.

Gruntz 15mm
This is a complete ripoff of Warmachine, but it is actually a good game. It's key strength is its use of neat unit cards and a robust unit builder that allows you to stat up 15mm minis from any manufacturer.  

5150: Fighter Command
The only noteworthy new fighter rules in a decade; I prefer them over Silent Death; they're simpler and allow for solo play, as well as a campaign.

Silent Death:TNM
The benchmark space fighter game - which either is a testament to its design, or the fact no one is making good space games any more.

Full Thrust (free)
The benchmark generic spaceship game.  Reigning by default due to bland and unimaginative rivals. (It's ironic that GW's now-defunct Battlefleet Gothic was the most exciting development in space gaming in recent memory).  Lends itself easily to house rules and different genres.

Star Cruiser 2300
I don't really play it, but their spaceships-as-submarines is a refreshing change from the spaceships-as-WW2-battleships everyone else does. StarCruiser Lite attempts to make it more playable.

Starmade Fleet Ops
Actually capable of handling groups of ships and finishing in a decent time.

Triplanetary (free)
Super simple boardgame, with the best true vector mechanic I have seen (I modified the theory behind it for my own house rules).

Renegade Legion: Interceptor (free)
Hideously complex fighter game but some good ideas in there. I used to borrow ideas out of it all the time. I'd like to see a simplified version. Kickstarter anyone?

A lot of good ideas - the "theory" behind many mechanics are similar to my own house rules. Sadly falls into the "rivet counting, record keeping and hitboxes" trap.

FUBAR/Fast And Dirty (free)
The two free rulesets I recommend for generic sci fi.

In the Emperor's Name! (free)
Ideal for breathing new life into those 40K miniatures you've got lying around.  Essential if you liked the Eisenhorn & Ravenor series (some of the few decent Black Library books). 

Savage Worlds: Showdown (free)
The combat system from the RPG. Pretty much all you need to play a lot of cinematic skirmish genres. 

Flux Battle Objectives
More scenario and mission ideas for $1.50 - yes please!

Two Fat Lardies "Christmas Specials" and "Compendiums" 
Chock full of scenarios, ideas, extra rules etc.  Aimed at TFL rule-books but a good read anyway.

I'm not actually deleting them, but couldn't resist the chance to take a swipe at...
Beyond the Gates of Antares (beta - free)
Another GW-rip off. Warlord is trying to nudge further into the GW gravy train.

Deadzone (beta - free)
I may get the set for the terrain, but it's missed the mark in trying to claim the Necromunda crown for Mantic.  From the stats it looks pretty hard to actually kill anyone. After Infinity, most sci fi skirmish games seem bland.

Naval Thunder
Bringing the joys of hull box ticking and record keeping found in the space rules, to the naval sphere.

Colonial Battlefleet
The exact same game as Naval Thunder, but with spaceships.  Wet navies in space again, yay.  Space game designers - please stop remaking inferior copies of Full Thrust. Look at the new mechanics other game genres (like skirmish) are using please, and try those. 

Swashbuckling game that is so complicated you spend more time buckling than swashing.  Most RPGs run combat smoother.

Pike & Shot & Zombies
Zombies in the English Civil War? Royalists, Roundheads and undead? Yes please! Pity the rules are so clunky.   Mark me down as disappointed.

Love the setting and the fluff, and campaign add ons. Love the miniatures.  Hate the rules, which are simple but combine record keeping with a total lack of meaningful depth and tactical decisions.  With exploding d6s.

Any Age of Sail Game
Seriously. It must be the era.  I've tried FASB,  Flying Colours, Form Line of Battle, Grand Fleet Actions in the Age of Sail, It's Warm Work, and Kiss me Hardy. I think the designers are (a) all armchair naval historians first and rules designers a very distant second; and (b) have dedicated naval buff friends who like counting rivets and 5-hour games.   It pains me to say, the most playable is Games Workshop's Trafalgar, and I'm sure it is "unhistorical" enough to give your local navy buff a conniption.


Well, I'm sure there's a few I missed (I have a dozen new pdfs I've yet to fully playtest, some of which look quite promising) and remember, I'm ignoring over 100 "middle of the range" rules which are neither worth of particular praise nor bad enough to be singled out for ire.


  1. I truly love the Renegade Legion universe and setting, and the fact that FASA made interconnecting land, space (fighter), space (fleet), and RPG elements that then could work together into a bigger system wide war-game. Such wonderful depth and imagination, and a couple of great novels too. Yet such horrible mechanics by today's standards. I agree, it screams for a rewrite.

  2. Fast And Dirty got a shout-out. I feel warm and fuzzy inside now :-)

    1. I'm not being nice to a fellow blog lurker - they are actually are one of the most polished and complete free rules and would work well for your 15mm sci fi.

    2. Thanks :-) I'm actually kinda proud of the points system. Though multipliers can be a bit of a bear, it does help keep people from loading units with every trait in the book.

    3. The trick seems to be to disguise the mathematics higher than addition and subtraction as mechanical or procedural operations using dice or somesuch.

    4. Forgive me for asking, but is this the same "Nurglitch" that used to hang out on the old "Portents" GW rumour forum many many years ago?

  3. I have to agree with you on the DeadZone v Infinity. I had high hopes (now dashed) for DeadZone, but my list of niggles I had with Infinity N2 has not been entirely put to bed by N3... skills within skills I am looking at you.

    1. N3 tidied the rules up, but it's to late to "fix"' Infinity - the genie is out of the bottle with regards to special rules, and it's unusual for a company to ever REMOVE rules, especially when they want to keep the same feel of the game. (unlike say 40Ks migration from skirmish RPG to mass battle rules to sell minis)

      I agree - the special rules are not only numerous but complicated in how they interact with each other.

      I'd like a modern warfare version, but with a far SMALLER selection of skills and weapons. I have a funny feeling the game designer is an ex-RPGer and that Infinity descends from a RPG universe - it's kinda like a labour of love, despite being commercial.

  4. As usually nothing to disagree... fully agree with Naval Thunder... ticking boxes with no reasons ok once you tick it all the ship move toward the bottom of the sea... but they have no bearing on the fighting condition. As an interesting sidenote I was reading some stuff from DK Brown recently and there was a tidbit from he correspondence between the Admirality and the Naval Constructors (turn of the XIX-XX centuries) on the need to extend the belts to the end because splinter damage was causing speed reduction, thus validating the need for cumulative damage. Still if you want cumulative damage in your rules at least have some effect on the ship and not only on the bookkeeping.

    Said that I found Flying Colours and FASB quite nice. I used the former in classroom and the students were quite happy (disclaimer at the time I was professor Andrew Lambert's TA and the class in question was Aspects of Naval History, so even the students were in the loop..., plus my seminar group was made of students who decided to take the module the year before because they shared the interest). I think Age of Sails games are directed toward naval buffs anyway. Naval wargaming is a niche into a niche.

    1. FASB and Flying Colours, coincidentally, were also the ones I liked best. (I also have a set of fast-play - relatively speaking - rules by Langton)

      That said, I think Man O War (the fantasy ship game by GW) is probably better than them all - heresy!

    2. Man O War is a mess with templates everywhere and no coherent rules whatsoever..... but it is a GLORIOUS mess and we had so much fun playing it :)

    3. That was back when GW was about fun as well as profit. Rogue Trader, Space Hulk, Necromunda, Blood Bowl... that racing game whose name I forgot... those games would never have been made in the climate of GW today.

    4. And yet Car Wars has made a come-back with a new skin by the name of 'X-Wing'

    5. I thought X-Wing was a rip-off of the WW1 game Wings of War - obviously I don't go back far enough....

  5. Thank you for including CROM. That's moved CROM2 nearer the top of the pile of 'things to finish' :)

    1. Nice! I'd like to see a more generic CROM with a unit builder - it'd be a good rival for Song of Blades. The dice pool is a engaging and seldom-used mechanic.

  6. Interesting list. I wonder how long it would take to work through my PDF library ;) I wonder why you put It's Warm Work in as a set of rules with lots of counting etc? I find it very quick with the hits you take directly effecting your combat ability. Each to his own of course ;)

    1. As I think I replied above, I found FASB and Flying Colours faster to play. Probably my favourite is the new Osprey age of sail rules, though.