Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Universal Soldier Miniature Rules - review

This is the first review in the Once and Future Rules series of retro rules reviews.  This is a review of a set of miniatures rules called "The Universal Soldier".

This is a ruleset, published by RAFM in 1977, and authored by John Lain, Colin McClelland, and Paul Sharpe.  It is a set of rules for tabletop battles, covering the ancient through renaissance period.  The rules cover situations of movement, shooting, combat and morale.  The table of contents from the book is:
  1. Introduction
  2. Command
  3. The Unit
  4. Movement
  5. Combat
  6. Missile Fire
  7. Artillery
  8. Morale
  9. Control
  10. Fatigue
  11. Special Weapons and Tactics
  12. Terrain
  13. Glossary
  14. Summary of Charts
  15. Appendix
The scale for the game is not really important, as everything is done at the figure level, but is described (briefly) in the introduction at being roughly 1 figure = 10 men. A ground scale is not given, but all ranges and movement are in inches.  The rules are designed for 25mm play, but I have participated in 15mm games using these rules, unmodified, and they work just fine.

The rules are written around the concept of using written orders, and I have played games that both used, and didn't use orders.  It adds a level of fun to the game, but also opens up some area of conflict.  For solo play, of course, written orders are not really useful, but the system from Charles Grant's solo wargames book to partially randomize the behavior of one side or the other would be useful.

The turn sequence, given in the book, if using orders is as follows:
  1. Write Tactical Orders for this Turn
  2. Announce Charges
  3. Perform Changes of Formation and Facing
  4. Perform Disorganized Withdrawal
  5. All other movement is simultaneously performed
  6. Missile Fire
  7. Combat
  8. Record Missile Use (ammo) and Accumulated Fatigue
Figures are to be based on stands, which the authors recommend using a 2 inch front on a base that has three infantry, or two cavalry.  That isn't bad, and is comparable to a 60mm front (for instance) with three infantry or two cavalry, if one wants to use a WRG standard.  The authors mention that for 15mm figures, the rules are usable as-is, but reducing the stand size.

Stands are then organized into units, and each unit has several characteristics.  First it has an attack rating (A-E),   a defend rating (A-E), a Morale Group (I-VI) and a Morale Point (typically 5,6 or 7), some weapons, and a description of the Unit Order (Regular, Horde, Skirmish, or Independent).  Finally, there is a Control Point which is a target number to determine if a unit Pursues enemy or not.

The Defend Rating is related to the armor that the unit wears, and that determines movement rate.  Cavalry are all rated A,B,C, or D.  Infantry are all rated C, D, or E.  One pet peeve - all moves are multiples of 3" (3,6,9,12,15), except for D rated infantry, which move 4" as a standard move, and 8" as a charge or road move.  I prefer (personal taste) to have all moves based on a similar multiple (either all multiples of 2,3,4 etc).

Units may be ordered to do a Forced move, which is the same as a charge move, or road move.  It incurs a Fatigue point.

Unit type (Regular, Horde, Skirmish, etc) determines what maneuvers may be done, in terms of evolution, wheeling, expanding, etc.

Combat is done at a per figure level, in spite of having everything based on stands.  Compare the Attack rating of one unit vs the Defend rating of the other, and a chart then gives you the number of dice per figure to roll, and the range that produce a casualty.  Usually you are rolling one dice per figure, but in really disparate match ups (great quality troops, vs unarmored foes, for instance) you might roll more dice per figure (2,3,4 or even 5 dice per figure), or you might only roll 1/2, 1/3 or fewer dice per figure.  All hits are kills.  I would refer to this type of combat system as a "dice per figure" system, vs many others that are "dice per element" (where element can refer to a stand, or a number of stands, of multiple figures).

Shooting is similar, with Artillery having a chance to have the hit drift around on the battlefield.

Morale triggers are from casualty levels, and situational (charge on flank, etc).  The morale group gives any non-standard trigger categories (for instance, Morale Group VI must make a test whenever they are ordered to do formation change, presumably because they are trained so poorly).  the morale point is the target number, rolled against on 2d6, with modifiers added in or subtracted.

Rules for control exist, to see if a unit looses control after a melee (for instance).

Rules for fatigue exist, for doing forced marches, or from fighting melee or routing.  Units that accumulate so many fatigue points lose some of their attack rating, or worse.

There are rules for special weapons and terrain, and a nice wrap up with examples.

The appendix gives a good description of all the fighting ratings (attack and defend) and offers up a list of weapons and a point system.  Finally, there is a list of historical armies, and what the ratings are for the common troop types in those armies.

It is a nice, complete ruleset.  As mentioned, the only problem with solo play is the reliance on written orders, but that can be worked around.  After re-reading these rules, and reminiscing, I think it might be time to break out The Universal Soldier for a solo game - maybe 15mm renaissance?

Note: There are some other fantasy rules from RAFM, much more modern, that have as part of the title the phrase "The Universal Soldier" - I have not seen those.


Dale said...

Wow! Written orders. Been a long time since I have used rules that had written orders.

Charles Turnitsa said...

Yes - I was talking about written orders at a wargames convention earlier this year, with some younger guys who play chiefly Bolt Action. They looked at me like I had lobsters coming out of my ears.