Bernwode Ltd, hardback or PDF, 144pp, hardback £25, PDF £18
Sabre Squadron is a new company-level ruleset for gaming modern, post-World War II conflicts from Australian company Bernwode Ltd. Modern warfare has become a very complex affair, with a huge amount of technology involved, so the problem is how to distil all this into a set of wargames rules. Bernwode, it would seem, have taken the ‘kitchen sink’ approach and attempted to shoehorn everything into the game including – I kid you not – low yield tactical nuclear weapons in the space of a 144 page, hardback rulebook.
The rules certainly veer towards simulation rather than abstraction, and there has obviously been an awful lot of work put into their production. Everything you’d expect for modern warfare is there: not only the standard rules for movement and firing, but also detecting the enemy on the battlefield, artillery support, air support, helicopters, UAVs, battlefield engineering, electronic warfare and even weapons of mass destruction – chemical weapons as well as the aforementioned nukes.
The problem when dealing with so much information is how to present it. Unfortunately, Sabre Squadron very quickly finds itself distracted. In each of the first four chapters, the author starts describing aspects of the game, and quickly gets bogged down in describing details, whether that be how terrain affects units on the battlefield, how programmed artillery works in scenarios or spending eight pages describing all the weapon system technologies that can be used in the game, but all this is before the player even knows how the basic turn sequence operates.
When you get to the turn sequence, you discover that at its heart, the game is IGO-UGO. Each turn is split into six phases, with the inactive player taking some actions during the active player’s turn: calling in airstrikes and artillery strikes that were previously requested, but only the active player may move and shoot with all of his units. The inactive player does not even get an ‘overwatch’ ability to interrupt and react. In a modern set of rules, I find this not a little surprising.
As I read through the rules, trying to get my head around everything, I looked back at the introduction, which includes claims such as “…the rules should not slow the game down”, “streamlined mechanisms… with a few key modifiers” and “with a little experience, players will rarely need to consult the QRF, let alone the main rules” and I struggled to relate these quotes to the rules I then read.
The first impression when you read through the rules is the sheer number of tables. There are 140 in total (I know, I counted them). Many are hit modifiers for various weapons in various situations, and have anything from three to nine entries. When the two-sided QRF has 30 tables on it, how can you say that you should not need to refer to it after a few plays?
And for all that, when you start looking at the main details; how you fire and damage units, suddenly the game becomes very simple.Whilst hitting the target is the difficulty, if you hit something, you generally kill it. Comparing average stats of Main Battle Tanks, let’s say a T72 versus an M60, firing against frontal armour, the T72 will always destroy an M60 if it hits it, whilst reciprocally a T72 will be destroyed 80% of the time. There is no room for damaging or immobilising vehicles here. Despite all the details of weapons and technology, when you hit something it is either suppressed, neutralised (combat ineffective until rallied) or destroyed. What is the point of all the stats about the different types of ammunition used, or how good a vehicle’s armour is against various ammunition types, if, after you’ve crunched the numbers, when you hit the target, it’s dead? All that level of detail is ultimately meaningless. Admittedly, modern weapons systems are pretty deadly, but it seems to me that somewhere along the line during the design, this issue could have been flagged, unless the designers simply didn’t see it as an issue.
And this is my biggest worry for these rules. They are obviously a labour of love by the authors, and represent potentially hundreds of hours of work, yet the look of it is like someone has written a word document, added pictures and illustrations and then printed it. Rulebooks like this are not cheap to produce, yet in my opinion these rules could have done with the attention of a good editor and graphic designer.
However, there is also the accident of timing. These are released at the same time that Battlefront has released Team Yankee. Now admittedly, Team Yankee covers one particular conflict, whilst Sabre Squadron is aimed at every post-WWII conflict, but given the option of which rules to buy, I can imagine the direction that most players would choose to go.
I’ve been looking for a new set of rules for Modern gaming for some time, and was very hopeful when these rules arrived on my doorstep – I’m looking for a set of rules to play 1/600th scale Arab-Israeli war. Unfortunately, after going backwards and forwards with these rules for several weeks, my search continues.