Review: Sabre Squadron

Rating: 2 stars

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 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, as previously mentioned, 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 some 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.

Sabre Squadron coverWhen you get to the turn sequence, you discover that at its heart, the game is IGOUGO. Each turn split into six phases, with the inactive player taking some actions during the active players 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 to the introduction, which includes quotes 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 vs 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, how good a vehicles armour is against various ammunition types, when, after you’ve crunched the numbers, if 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 for 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 graphics 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, where 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 chose 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.

You can find the Sabre Squadron website here

Review disclaimer: A review copy of these rules were provided by the piblisher

2 Comments on Review: Sabre Squadron

  1. Nicholas Caldwell // July 4, 2016 at 14:30 // Reply

    Two small comments, both about the rating system. I only bothered to read the review because it appeared the game had scored 3 of 3 stars. It was only when I reached the bottom and saw that Hind Commander (a related article) had received 3.5 stars that I realized that the rating went higher than 3. I’d suggest you always print the total number of stars available (I assume it’s 5?) and then only fill in the stars for that game’s score. (I know that you put up an article about what the rating system was – and I read it at the time – but I think it’s helpful to just know by sight). Secondly — if a game is this bad (I would say unplayable after reading the review) then is even the 3 stars justified? This reads like a review of a one star or even zero star review. And I thank you for it because otherwise I might have given this one a try! Best, Nick

    • Thanks for your comment Nick.

      I’ll look for some new ‘star’ graphics, but in the mean time, I will go back and ensure that every rating links to the explanation page.

      On review, I think you have a point that my rating is generous when compared to the review, so I am amending it to ‘below average’ (2.5). The game is not unplayable by any means, but it is IMO very slow and table heavy – as I said, it’s very much at the simulation end of wargaming, with all the number crunching that that entails. It’s not my cup of tea at all, but I’m sure that there are some gamers out there that will love it.

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