Saturday 3 January 2015

My Favorite Rule Books

Today I cleaned out my library, and re-arranged my rulebooks.  I found a few I forgot I owned.  Some I re-read.  Some inspired me to get painting miniatures.  Some I packed away in a box to stick in a dark corner of the shed.  As I sorted the "good", "bad" and the "ugly" I thought - if my wife made me trim down my collection - which ones would I keep, and what would I chuck?

I'll fight to keep these in the house....

Infinity the Game.  Great decision making that glosses over the annoying amount of special rules.  Amazing art and production values. Good mechanics, crying out for a simpler WW2/modern conversion and a decent campaign system. A great game that rises above its flaws.
LoTR:SBG+Battle Companies/Legends of High Seas/Old West/Gladiator.  A surprisingly subtle and underrated game engine. Clean design that gave birth to a range of skirmish campaign systems. Easy to learn, and easily adapted with house rules - samurai and medieval mods are also available.

Force on Force/Tomorrow's War.  Looks simpler and quicker to play than it is. Can "bog down" with all the reactions, counter-reactions.  Lots of rules explaining specific situations. Still the most interesting modern combat/near future sci fi games, for me, with lots of hard decision making. 

General Quarters I/II/III.  The first two books have a sensible amount of record keeping for a naval game. I'm currently fiddling with an aeronef adaption.

Battlestations! Battlestations!  For fleet level naval actions.  Good design philosophy, clean execution.

Bag the Hun/Check Your Six. Two very different aerial rules, for very different reasons.  BtH has a great activation system, but inconsistent game mechanics.  CY6 has good mechanics but annoying written orders. 

A Fistful of Tows 3.  A lot of good design ideas in this modern armoured warfare game. Would love to see a proper sci fi adaption with a simpler-to-use unit builder.  

Song of Blades/Song of Our Ancestors.  SoBH is like a box of LEGOs. You spend more time making warbands than actually playing the game.  SooA is a spin-off book for the wonderful world of the Quar. A whimsical, wonderful, coffee-table rulebook. 

Chain of Command.  The pre-game scouting phase is awesome. The emphasis on "Big Men" and spotting gives a real flavour to WW2 gaming.  I also like Sharpe Practice - pity I never play Napoleonics...

Secrets of the Third Reich. A weird war game that is very simple, yet still more realistic than Bolt Action. Great vehicle building rules for using DUST and MaK mecha as well as random 1:48 models.

Savage Worlds. The ultimate toolkit for cinematic RPG skirmish, plugs into some really cool settings (weird war/pulp/fantasy.)

DBA.  A triumph of simplicity and elegance.  The only mass battle ruleset I have minis based for.

Battlefleet Gothic.   I couldn't afford the models so I played with cut-outs made of ice-cream lids.  Stood out from the usual Full Thrust clones. Even had a campaign system.

Musket and Tomahawk.  SAGA's lesser known sibling.  Interesting blend of familiar and new ideas for French and Indian Wars.

Hind Commander. This helo game is unique, with both interesting game mechanics and its niche focus. I'd like to see more from this author.

Shipwreck! For proving not all modern naval games are gluggy and unpleasant book-keeping marathons.

Cutlass! A fantasy pirates skirmish game, with interesting activation and a deep campaign system.

Heavy Gear.  Another great concept DP9 managed to stuff up. Combined arms mech warfare pitched at the right level.  Not a bad ruleset, but core rules and errata confusingly scattered through several volumes, married to an overpriced miniatures line.  So much potential.

Lightning Strike.  I LOVE these rules.  Perfectly captures anime Gundam battles in space. A much tidier game than Heavy Gear. Pity that DP9 never bothered to make a proper line of miniatures for them.

HAVOC. Another set of rules I like but never play.  Great ideas, but terrible rules layout and lack of an army builder means it plays second fiddle to SoBH, despite it's superior gameplay. I look at this wistfully and think "if only." 

Battlefield Evo/Starship Troopers. A fascinating look at the way 40K could (and probably should) have progressed. The WW2 spin-off Victory Decision seems to have a small but devoted following.

Malifaux.  Overly complicated rules - plays like a bad CCG.   Excellent scenario generator rescues it from the shed.

Wings AT War.  No, not the one you're thinking of.  Aerial rules put out by Tumbling Dice.  An interesting series that focuses on energy management, but is very bare bones otherwise.

Fairy Meat. A game of 1:1 scale fairy combat between cannibalistic woodland sprites. Just because I enjoy the fact a wargame like this exists. Quite a good game, to boot.

ADDED: Dropzone Commander.  This has an excellent air-armour-infantry synergy - you need infantry to capture and hold objectives, but vehicles to get them there/interdict opponents.   Thought has gone into scenarios and use of terrain.

These go straight into the box in the shed...

Spinespur.  An overly complex skirmish game, with fluff including rape. Unpleasant AND bad.

Warhammer 40K.  5th edition? I've lost interest in the codex "arms race" a long time ago and GW's business practice slashed and burnt my remaining goodwill.

Warzone/Vor/Wargods of Aegyptus.   R.I.P.  They all died a long time ago. 

Flames of War.  Not interested in replicating all the faults of 40K in 15mm WW2.

Iron Ivan rules. (Coffin for 7 Brothers, Thrilling Tales, etc)  Not bad, just kinda bland.  Other rules do the same eras, only better.

Fields of Glory/DBM/Impetus.  Yawn. Zzzzzz.

GASLIGHT.  VSF toolbox that's OK, but very overrated by its fanboys. 

AE:WW2/AE:Bounty.  WWW2 and pulp sci fi skirmish rules that never took off. Restrictive warband choices and some weird design ideas.

Helldorado/Anima Tactics. Beautiful books, great production values, cool background/fluff - but overly complicated gameplay.

Future War Commander. I found the rules surprisingly inaccessible and how the anti tank/anti infantry dice worked didn't make sense.

Rapid Fire.  WW2 platoon level combat is a crowded market. It's probably my 6th choice rules for this genre. 

5150.  An early 2HW offering with typical (for the time) obscure layout and editing.

5150: Star Navy.  A space game so abstract you might as well remove minis altogether and randomly roll dice against each other.

Battletech. Anything with that much recording really should be a PC game. Wait, it is....

Star Fleet Battles.  Fun for accountants, maybe?

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Ed.  If people actually use this for any sort of miniatures gaming...  ...ugh. just ugh.  It's not even a good RPG.

War Rocket. The asymmetrical movement was vaguely interesting, but everything else wasn't.

Babylon 5: A Call to Arms. An exercise in meaningless dice chugging.

ADDED: Firestorm Armada.  It takes a particular skill to borrow so heavily from other games (Battlefleet Gothic in particular) and yet make a worse game.  You're meant to pick the good ideas! If you want to push spaceships into the middle of the table and chug handfuls of dice until someone wins, fine. The bad news is they used the same engine on all their other games.

Disclaimer:  There are about 80 other books which simply went into the "neutral cupboard"  and I'm excluding about 150 more pdfs. Also, the big clean up is not finished - I'll edit and add to this list as more come to light.


  1. The old Vor and Warzone stuff makes me sad. I still dig out Warzone 1st edition from time to time.
    Vor had a lot going for it but it never quite made it.

    1. Vor and Warzone never made it, crushed under the weight of 40K. Warzone minis used to be quite cheap. I'm surprised someone isn't trying to Kickstarter them back to life.

    2. Lol. Just googled and found this:

  2. For your information, there are three other games from the author of Hind Commander:
    - Sturmovik Commander - Marcin's first game, WW2 aerial combat (available for free),
    - AWACS - modern aerial ruleset for solitaire play,
    - PMC 2640 - sci-fi land combat, definitely the simplest of all 4 (free demo on Assault Publishing website).

    1. I didn't realize he did Sturmovik Commander - seemed quite a comprehensive set for a freebie. Tried it years back - a bit like Imperialis Aeronautica from memory?

    2. Heard this opinion a couple of times, though I've never read the rules for Aeronautica Imperialis...

      I can assure you there will be more rulesets by Marcin, though I'm not sure when these will be released.

  3. After reading your reviews for a couple of years, this makes for a really great post.
    As I read it I was ticking my own rules off in my head and thinking, agree, agree, what about this, don't agree with that, but mostly agree agree agree.

    At home in storage I have a LOT of old rules and games which never see the light of day. After some bad experiences in the past I have an aversion to getting rid of ANYTHING, but maybe its time to reclaim some space (and maybe a little money).

    I'd really like to see this post continue to get expanded please! Perhaps it might make for a good permanent section at the bottom of the page in you blog page design?

    1. Glad it was useful - I was worried it was a bit self indulgent actually - I did it in lieu of a New Years post.

      It may be helpful in allowing others to "let go" of old rules - kinda confirming your opinion - yes, it IS a crap rulebook - why am I storing it?

      Bear in mind I've ignored a lot of "middle of the road" rules - for example SAGA - i.e. I like them, and like the period but lack of warband advancement means I am unlikely to play them over LoTR and Lords & Servants, and the battleboards are so specific I am unlikely to refer to them, but I'm not going to get rid of them cos they're good.

      I could make a "middle ground" section for rules like this, but this post is a wall of text as it is.

      I suppose there could be a companion post extended to a "cleaning up the hard drive" for PDF rules, but THAT would be a mammoth task....

    2. Then again there are other rules that will keep, and play, despite them not being my preference. SAGA and Bolt Action come immediately to mind, because I can get a game with them with people I know close by. Mind you we converted many to CoC too...

      Then there are rules I want to play but cannot readily get an opponent. Aeronef and Secrets if the Third Reich come to mind. They have mostly become modelling hobbies now.

      Finally there are rules/genres I;d like to play but its a multiple investment to do it right and finding those guys can be a challenge. I played a demo game of Muskets and Tomahawks and really liked it (especially the side plots aspects). But you need more than a few of you to make that work well.

      You could always turn this project into a word document, as long as you like, for people to download as they like. Then you can just provide updates as necessary. It might be cool to do that with hyperlinks for posts where you have reviewed each ruleset. Sorry, that sounds like a lot of work now!

    3. Alternatively, it would be neat to see you list you 'top 3 rules sets' for each genre. You could do that as a series of shorter posts as you feel like it.

    4. I've heard similar suggestions before for a "face off" in genres. I'm actually planning a few "dual reviews" in future.

      Based on the rules I have, there would be hefty competition in these categories:

      Aerial Combat
      Space Combat
      Naval Combat: Age of Sail
      Naval Combat: Predreadnought-Present
      Sci Fi Platoon+
      Sci Fi Skirmish
      WW2 Platoon+
      WW2 SKirmish
      Fantasy Platoon+
      Fantasy Skirmish
      Western Skirmish
      VSF/Pulp/Horror Skirmish

      I have plenty of other genres but usually only 1-3 samples in each.

      I don't have many ancients/medieval mass battle rulesets - i.e. the sort where players make a huge single line of units facing each other, move to meet each other in the middle, then roll dice. Ditto Napoleonics for much the same reason.

    5. Looks like a great starting place! I'll watch with great interest as always, though you frequently induce me to spend more money on rules! :-)

    6. Aaagh - I'm trying to SAVE you money by avoiding dodgy rulebooks. I only wished more people explained the rule mechanics in reviews so I could avoid the $$$ pitfalls (OK, I would probably by the shiny glossy rules anyway... Precious)

      By the way, I've been allegedly rearranging my computer files in preparation for school planning... ...but did a list of PDF rules instead. Procrastinators of the world, unite!

  4. I have to say I do not disagree with your choices... except:

    Flames of War rules are bad... but the supplements tends to have some good information on organizations (I know Phil Yates is often masquerading on non gaming research sites to get organizational informations... then he adds points... and make min-max lists). I like the Iron Ivan rule quite a lot. Not as Chain of command, but I really like their armor system. Also I have found Rapid Fire 2 a mixed bag. First edition was quite clumsy, second edition is certainly better and the supplements are very nice and useful to organize battlegroups. The one on German panzer units in 1941-42 is one of the best historicla research for gaming I have seen, it is also quite depressing to just see how much the panzer battalions (and regiments) shrunk in fwe weeks of combat. The best thing is that they are PDF and I can carry around in my travel.

    Sturmovik Commander is nice, I tend to call it "warmaster air" but I think it is quite nice and can be used to introduce players to air combat.

    Said that... DBA is not simple... ok it is not that complex, but first you have to get past the writing style (said that depiste disliking the majority of Barker's stuff I still keep and sometime play DBA, it has some good points even if i prefer the original Armati). It is also fun to see how it has been created (Phil Barker vs Paddy Griffith and his cronies more or less).

  5. Good choices to keep and discard, I agree with many of them, or at least, with the rules I know.
    Rapid Fire would be the only that vexes me, whether to keep or not. I had high hopes for it, but a battalion level game that has rules for hand grenades??? shows that it isn't sure what it wants to be.
    I see a bit of a generational difference between us, as I just chucked a bunch of rules, but they were all old cardboard cover and xerox rules from the 70s and 80s from WRG and Tabletop Games and the like. Amazing how impatient I am now with those old rules, just for their amateurish layout and primitive graphics - how far the hobby has moved, and how much more money we spend on rules now because.

    1. I came in at the tail end of that era - I only have a smattering from that generation. But I've already chucked my copies of Starfleet Battles, and various DBM and the WRG stuff.

      My cost issue with rules are pdfs - for something that cost little to nothing to produce, $25+ for a download seems a ripoff.

      I cannot ever see a reason why a PDF should cost more than a physical book. (Or even more than half the price of a "hard"copy)

      For example I am interested in "Fields of Fire" but a $25 PDF just seems like robbery when a physical Savage Worlds core book (160p, glossy full colour) sells for $10....

    2. I quite agree. I'd say that half my rules now exist only in digital form, and the folks who do PDF rules that are table compatible are godsends. Mind you, on my blog today I started a review of Sam Mustafa's ACW rules Longstreet, which require paper cards - quite nicely produced, but an investment in a material product that some may or may not want to make.

    3. One thing I do miss: many older hard copy rules had a cardboard sheet of (usually colour) counters and templates you could cut out. They were usually better, more durable (and less hassle) than printing/photocopying your own.

    4. I still use my counters from Stargrunt II for almost any game we play :)

  6. Confession: I've never played Stargrunt as I got into 15mm sci fi relatively late, and by then I already had Tomorrow's War (which seems very similar).

    1. I'm pretty sure that makes you a bad 15mm gamer :-)

      It's a great game though the rulebook is a bit wonky in the lay out.

    2. Yes, the rulebook is far from appealing. I looked through it, and went "looks like Tomorrow's War but harder to read - I'll pass!"

      It's one of those rules that have inspired others though. In fact Mr Tuffey (with that and Full Thrust) has been a very influential game designer, albeit without the fame of the 40K crowd (Andy Chambers, Rick Priestley) who were (IMO) one-hit wonders - as all they've done since is remake 40K in a range of guises....

    3. Heck, it inspired Fast And Dirty :)

      It was a big eye opener in the sense of "man, you could have a game that's actually trying to be "realistic"" (yes, I know, gamers lose their minds at that word).

      The biggest thing to take away from Stargrunt today is probably the morale system.

    4. Gamers simply confuse the words realism and complexity.

      I commented on it at length a while back:


  7. Great post. Can't say I disagree with a lot of your conclusions. I'm hoping War Rocket is better than you say, I spent a small dime on the ships.