Skirmish Wargaming is encompassing a wide variety of ‘levels’. Let’s get low like limbo with this squad-level rules set and look at Ganesha Games’ Flying Lead, written by Rich Jones and Andrea Sfiligoi.
I do not review wargames rules without actually giving them a test game, if only solo, so I sat down to give those rules a try. The game is a generic set of rules based on the popular “Song of Blades and Heroes” rules mechanics. Flying Lead is the game’s “gun version” so to speak, meaning that the games are centred around engagements between groups of beligerents using firearms in combat.
I think that the game works best at one or two squads or sections a side (so about 10 to 20 models), maybe with a vehicle as support but you can play it at platoon level as well.
There is a points system in the game rules but it’s very open and mostly just a measurement so you get a general idea how to set up a vaguely balanced game. To make things even more comfortable an ingenious fan of the game cooked up an online squad builder for Flying Lead.
However, there is nothing stopping you from just setting up any scenario you like. First off: I don’t think that this is a tournament system. Granted, people will play tournaments with the darnest things and if they have fun it’s cool.
What do I need to play?
Just to cover the basics quickly: The game is based on six-sided dice (d6, you will not need more than three), measurements are done in three range bands: Short (7.5cm), Medium (12cm) and Long (18cm). Games take place on tables as small as 2′ by 2′ when using 15mm models or on 3′ by 3′ or 3′ by 4′ using larger models.
Bigger tables are advised, though keep in mind that these are all just guidelines.
Models are referred as characters, and they are. You can customize your warriors to your liking with a host of traits, special rules and equipment. Weapon ranges are basically unlimited, however at long ranges negative modifiers start kicking in which makes actually hitting things much harder at long ranges. Usually models move up to Medium (12cm) per action.
Alternate Cover, you get this one as well as the one in the top picture with the pdf download.
Flying Lead Quick rules summary
This brings us to the core of the rules – character activation and actions. The models all move and act by themselves. Once it is one player’s turn he/she elects one of his/her models to activate. Then the player chooses whether the character attempts to do one, two or three actions and the number of actions chosen is rolled for.
Depending on the Quality of the character and how many of the action dice passed the check based on this Quality value, the character will get to do a varying number of actions. Actions include things such as moving, firing a weapon, going prone, recovering from being shaken and so on.
More complex things to do require more than one action to carry out.
Let’s say a regular US Army Private has a Quality score of 4+, the player wants him to get two actions this turn. He rolls two dice and gets a 2 and a 5. The 2 is a miss (being less than 4), the 5 is a success so the Private gets one action this turn.
Now the devilish thing is that once you fail on two dice you don’t get to activate any more models and your turn ends. So the main considerations should be to activate the characters who are to do something important this turn first and second, how many activations can be rolled for without taking too great a risk?
It’s a typical risk-reward thing which also introduces the factors of initiative and battlefield friction. Rolling three dice means a higher chance to do a lot of things but also a higher chance of ending the turn immediately. Rolling only for one action on each character means that you get a chance to activate all your models without running the risk of ending your turn prematurely.
However, your characters won’t get to do much, thus your force being sluggish and ineffective.
This will end your turn
Quality score aside, characters have a Combat score which is used for hand to hand as well as ranged combat. Combat is done simply by rolling one d6, adding the model’s combat score, adding weapon combat bonuses (a bolt action rifle for instance has a combat bonus of +2) and modifiers such as range, enemy cover and so on. The defending character makes an opposing roll adding his character’s Combat score.
The totals are compared and depending on the difference the defender is killed outright (in the case of the attacker’s total being triple the total roll of the defender), out of action (this is only different to killed in action in campaign games or when medics are present), shaken, diving for cover or unaffected.
So much for the basic rules. There are also things like overwatch, group activations, vehicle rules, sweeping bursts of fire potentially hitting multiple targets and so on.
Flying Lead: The Test Game
When it comes to getting to know rules I think that you learn them best by playing them. For this I set up a solo game. No special scenario, just a small encounter between a forward scouting troop of British Commandos (Quality 3+, Combat: 3) and a German army recon section (Quality 4+, Combat: 2) of . The table is about 3′ by 3.5′ in size, the models are 28mm scale
The setup. British in the left, Germans in the right. The Germans won the roll for first turn, sent MG34 team into the woods from where they would have a good field of fire and some cover. Apart from that their turn ended prematurely. The British, passing action checks more easily, all advanced straight for the barn while the sniper took off to take position in the woods in front of them.
German Turn 2 ended immediately with none of the models being able to do anything after a very bad roll on the German leader’s side. This bought the Commandos precious time to move up to the barn, only to realize that the door is locked and for the sniper to take overwatch position to open fire at anybody who would dare to stick his head out of the forest the MG34 team was lurking in.
Three Commandos working together to break in the door.
Now that both sides had taken positions a lot of shooting took place this turn. First the German MG34 unleashed hell in the general direction of the barn but the Commandos were well dug in, only causing one of them to be Shaken (meaning that next turn he would have to use two actions to recover before he could do anything). One of the German riflemen also took at shot at the Commandos in the barn, causing the Bren gunner to be Shaken as well.
Things almost looked grim for the Commandos when the Sergeant finally entered the barn, helping them to get three actions each! The Bren gunner and the one shaken rifle man rallied and opened fire at the Germans in the forest while the other two Commandos in the barn took some time to carefully prepare Aimed Shots. Together they killed the rifleman in the forest as well as the MG34 gunner.
The sniper also tried his best but again only got one action, resulting in a regular shot which at this distance didn’t work out well.
The Commandos in front of the barn are actually in the barn. I just put them there to show where in the barn they were sitting.
At this point the Germans noticed that they were up against Commandos and due to common sense and aversion to big knives decided to retreat and report back to platoon HQ.
Flying Lead: The Verdict
So what are my thoughts on Flying Lead? I am impressed with the rules. There is more to them than I initially thought. Everything you could ask for in such a rules set is present and I have to salute the authors for the elegance and efficiency of how the rules get a tactically satisfying game out of such an elegant core mechanic. The vehicle rules are extensive enough and even cover motorbikes and doing stunts with vehicles.
During the game I tried acting accordingly to historical training manuals, with the German section commander sticking with the MG team, directing fire while the Commandos took a very offensive strategy, heading for the forward position of the barn, knowing that if they approach the MG with it’s very wide field of fire head on they would get shred to pieces.
What most impressed me was that I got the feeling that the historically accurate thing to do is the most helpful in this game which is a.) very, very good and b.) doesn’t happen all too often. I also like the way the character activation works. On the one hand it adds a bit of a gamble to the game but I think it models battlefield friction very well. Tactically this game is satisfyingly deep whilst using a minimal amount of dice rolls.
Especially combat mechanics are very elegant. It can be played as a wargame but just as well it can be played as a sort of role-playing game with very different characters. It lends itself rather well to solo- or coop-play, rules for which can be found online (Here and here. Both are designed for Song of Blades and Heroes and Song of Drums and Shakos, two games sharing the same core mechanics as Flying Lead).
Two Thumbs Up for Flying Lead
So much more could be said about how versatile and light-but-not-shallow this game is but it boils down to this: Looking at the USD8.00 price tag for the pdf version (USD 14.00 for the printed version), the fact that you can use pretty much anything from your collection, no matter the period, setting or scale, …
Yay, we all can play Flying Lead!
…the fast, yet tactical rules I see no reason not to check this one out. I heartily recommend it and at this price you can barely go wrong.
I hope that you enjoyed this review, found it interesting, entertaining and so on. If you have any questions, comments or indeed commission inquiries, feel free to let me know via the comments section.
Don’t forget that any WW2-themed painting/modelling project commissioned during all of December is -20%!