Monday, April 16, 2012

Thoughts on FUBAR and Characters as Units

For those unfamiliar with it, FUBAR "are a set of one page, fast play rules for small unit actions in a modern or SciFi setting" that lot's of people want to like. Of the reports that I've read, several seem to find fault with the activation system because they don't get to move their toys. I happen to think that possibility is a huge plus in a set of wargame rules, and so I decided to include it among the contenders for my go to sci fi set.

FUBAR, like most rule sets I am considering, is a free download. There are also a number of supplements (also free) for different genres/periods.

As a refresher, I'm looking for rules that can handle very small scale games of around 1-5 figures per side on up to 10 or so plus a vehicle. The FUBAR page mentions "small unit" but what does that mean? Well, the core rules (4th ed) note: "A player has one or more Units, as defined by the relevant Force Supplement." Unfortunately, the Generic Sci-Fi add-on contains no such information. Other supplements suggest anything from solo characters up to squads of around 10 figs. Ok, so it appears there's some flexibility here.

At the 1-5 figs per side, I think you'd be hard pressed to assemble units that work well with all of the rules. In particular, suppression values - which dictate how many members of a unit can be suppressed are based on their Level (green, elite, etc.) - are fixed numbers not a percentage. When you're unit is a solo character, or even just has less or the same as suppressed figures allowed, how does suppression work then?
Fortunately, the authors encourage users to modify the rules as needed and include this helpful reminder:
"The Cardinal Rule: where a rule does not make sense in a particular situation, ignore it or modify it. These are one page rules after all."

Of course, the simplest solution is to simply ignore suppression entirely and count all hits as casualties, but I think, at this small scale, results in too fast a game.

For my first tests of any rules, I like to just grab some figures and play it out on my desk - using office supplies in place of terrain and scenery. I'm sure this makes some people cringe, but I figure when all I care about is the mechanics, why should I bother setting up a nice little table. So, I grabbed three 1/32 Germans and three 1/32 Russians - two rifles and 1 SMG each. I ranked the Russians as Seasoned and the Germans as veterans.

Please excuse the poor quality cell phone pic, but you get the idea.

With 3 figs per side, I first tried to use the rules as written - they'd be one unit. This worked fine but felt like I was rolling initiative 2x - once to get initiative and the next to see if the lone squad activated. Turns passed very quickly this way.

However, treating each character(figure) as a unit worked quite well and it felt similar to Ganesha Games Song of ... activation, with the back and forth due to failed activation rolls, but without the gamble of rolling more than one die to test if a figure activates. 

Yes, it is true, some units don't move when you want, or at all even - particularly those of lower quality. As a solo wargamer, I find this highly desirable. It makes organizing action across units more difficult and can throw a monkey wrench into the best laid plans - a plus, whether it's 3 solos, or 3 sections of a platoon, my side or my "opponent".

One of the downsides, from a solo point of view, is that the order in which you activate individuals or units isn't controlled by a game mechanism - which means, theoretically, that this is one of those places where bias can slip in. This is one of those things that solo gamers are used to and there are probably as many ways to handle it as there are players.

Combat is simple enough - but suppression just didn't make sense. With a solo character, you're either suppressing the entire Unit (since there's only 1 figure in it) or taking them out of the fight entirely. The Suppress value is of no use. None of the supplements I checked seemed to address this - even the Steampunk/VSF rules which explicitly encourage the use of characters in addition to units. I suspect there, as in the Star Wars supplement, the intent was that the characters would lead units, like in G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. for example.

My solution for characters/single figure units in FUBAR:

If hit, roll a "save" against the suppress value - <= Suppress value and the figure is suppressed. Otherwise, figure is a casualty. Add penalties or subtract bonuses to the roll as required by armor, cover, special skills, etc.

To handle the unit penalty on activation, I suggest that t
he individual character has to roll for activation with the penalty in order to no longer be suppressed. Thus a Green character may never be able to rejoin the fight. Or, for a more extreme effect, any Unit (solo, squad or vehicle) within 3" of the figure takes the -1 activation roll penalty. 

Finally, if you're playing a campaign, I recommend that character casualties roll vs. their suppress value to see if they return for the next fight. In fact, maybe this could be extended to all casualties.

I expect to play a proper game with these rules in the near future (same scenario as I ran with the USR rules)


  1. Hi! The "suppress save" for single figures sounds great, I've got to try this.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! If you do try it out, let me know how it works for you.

  2. Very clever. I especially enjoy solo games with less than 10 figures a side as well.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I find the smaller games justify my purchasing small amounts of cool figures that I can paint up and get on the table more quickly than games with many figures per side. I also find it easier to develop a narrative for the game when the figures represent particular characters. By the way, I've got your Gut Check! rules on my list to try out as well. I'm looking forward to playing them soon.