Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thoughts on USE ME 001: 15mm Sci Fi Rules

As noted previously, I ran through a couple of games (4 or 5) of USE ME 001 Sci-Fi rules with the same scenario I've been using to test other rules(see USR and FUBAR  thoughts).

I admit, when I first purchased USE ME, I was somewhat disappointed by the writing and was reluctant to even finish reading it let alone try the rules. Still, it has gotten some love over on Drop Ship Horizon and I trust that they know sci-fi better than i do, so I gave it a go.

First I should correct my earlier assertion that it's similar to FUBAR in scope. According to the authors, USE ME functions both at the individual character scale but can also handle activation by squads- the latter being recommended for larger games. This is exactly what I'm looking for (if you consider 10 figures a larger game), so, so far so good. However, I thought the same for FUBAR and it took a bit of work to make it fit the 3-a-side game I'm using for my first test. Whereas FUBAR works with modification and then not entirely satisfactory, I'm happy to note that USE ME does indeed handle individual characters without any rules massaging required.

No set of rules is perfect, and there were two issues I encountered while playing that I noted:

First, the initiative system in USE ME works well when each side has mixed Elans and can provide some tension, which as a solo gamer I find necessary to have a satisfactory gaming experience. If, as I did in some of my tests, you have one side that has one Elan for all characters (let's say 4) and the other, a higher Elan (let's say 5), for all characters, well, you can skip the initiative roll entirely as it has no effect on the game and it breaks down into a very predictable IGO-UGO situation.

Second, with respect to armor, it is handled in a  rather unexpectedly broad manner. Whereas in role-playing lite systems like Risus or Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying, I can easily create gradations of armor, and everybody's favorite 1-page freebie, FUBAR, includes armor grades both in the standard and generic Sci-Fi rules, all infantry-worn armor in USE ME gives the same +1 to the defense roll. Even Chain Reaction 1 allows for armor differences!

Perhaps the game is geared towards low tech near-future combat where at most a flak jacket/SWAT armor is worn? It's easy enough to modify this part of the game, but allowing for any kind of granularity here means you should probably take a look at the other offensive and defensive bonuses and make sure you don't suddenly throw combat out of whack. In play, I found the generic +1 works well enough for me, at least for now, but it does seem like something that would be found in a set of sci-fi rules.

One thing others have pointed out in reviews, there is no attempt to detail close combat weapons or attacks. You could of course add this in yourself if it matters to you, but in my test games, melee had a nice back and forth feel, often neither side gaining the upper hand and then all of the sudden, a kill result. So, I see no reason to modify them myself. Indeed, melee seemed particularly deadly in my test games - something to remember if you're using USE ME for a campaign.

As I intend to play games with just 3-5 figures aside, and possibly using the same characters in linked scenarios, the key to making these games interesting from my point of view, is that characters can't be easily killed by one shot. After all , if one side is eliminated, the possibility of linking to a follow up game is eliminated. If rules allow one-shot kills, it should take some doing and a confluence of luck for the shooter and bad decisions on my part for the target.

Hit Points or a similar mechanism are the most obvious ways to extend the staying power of troops on the table but there comes a point where managing Hit Points bogs down the game (around 10 figures is my personal max). USE ME instead focuses on degrees of damage -  figures that are hit can suffer no effect, or be winged,  struck or killed. This gives a hit point-like feel as successive hits move a figure to the next worse status, while allowing a greater possibility of one hit taking down a figure as the range closes.  This status also allowed me to think about whether or not I wanted to commit a figure to combat, to have them hunker down, etc. Any time a game mechanism forces me to consider the implications of a tactical decision for a legitimate reason (i.e. it's not a rules flaw), I consider it a good thing.

Overall, my USE ME games played a little faster than I am looking for but not enough that I would rule them out of contention for these very small skirmishes. That said, for a campaign or series of linked scenarios with just a few figures on one or both sides, I would use the autofix, the hero and maybe even create a medic unique action to help extend the lives of characters and the length of a given game.

Needless to say I see myself turning to USE ME regularly. I think the PDF was something like $5 which is a steal for what you get: complete fun, fast rules for 1:1 skirmish from a few figures to several squads per side with vehicles and you get solo and campaign rules included. The rules are simple and fun and they don't get in the way of enjoying the game. I like the system so much, I'm considering buying the WWII variant to see what it has to offer! 


  1. Hello There,

    Thank you for your review of UM001. I think you caught the spirit of these fast play simple rules. There is always a balance in complexity over playability and like you I play a lot of solo scenarios.

    Every incarnation of USEME is different and there are more coming in 2012. Check out UM010 Support Pack for gaming info and more.


    Gavin Syme

  2. Hi Gavin,

    Thanks for checking out my review of your great game. As I re-read my post I realize it doesn't nearly convey my enthusiasm for USEME. I should have started with the last paragraph!

    UM010 is on my want list and I'm looking forward to seeing what the rest of 2012 brings for USEME - but WWII is next up for me!