Stephen goes dark…
Black Ops is another Osprey game I bought when it came out but didn’t have a chance to play.
Once I had my copy and read it, I felt as if it had been mis-sold to me. The pre-launch blurb was all about futuristic stealth missions. And the cover art of the rules enforces that feeling.
However, once read, you can see the author is more aiming at contemporary special forces missions – SAS and Delta Force style anti-terrorist actions. Oh yes, there’s a brief bit on near future tech at the end, but you feel that’s been added solely as a bit of lip-service.
Maybe that’s why it stayed on the shelf for ages, unplayed.
However, I have now played it and I must say I thought it was a great game! I always wanted it to be more sci-fi, if I’m honest, but I didn’t let that stop me. How I rationalised it is that at this level of combat it will always come down to frightened men desperately trying to stay alive and eliminate the person trying to kill them. The battlefield tech is for the…well, battlefield.
So I decided the weapons were all relative. Whether you call it an assault rifle or a gauss carbine, or a LMG or an autolaser, who cares? Well, I don’t.
I decided the game board should be loaded with terrain. This creates a more tactical game, enhances the stealth nature of the rules, and cuts down firing lines. The scenario was simple, the humans had to break into a communications station, download some data, and get out.
What I liked the most about Black Ops is how the rules were geared to the setting. This, as you may have read in a previous review, was the main failing of Zona Alfa for me. Since Black Ops is about stealth missions then the rules must reflect that. And they do. You can either play against an opponent or you can play solo and you make rolls to see if the guards spot your troops and what they do. It worked really well.
My sci fi humans are all named after French philosophers and writers. Leading them was Foucault with Voltaire offering heavy support and Camus, Balzac, and Flaubert as back up. The cyborgs are all named after 70s and 80s computers. The venerable Dragon 32 was control with the ZX81 equipped with a heavy bolt gun and the Spectrum, C64, TI99, MSX, and CPC 464 also on patrol.
Turns are done by card activation (I like card activation, as any club member will tell you). Foucault with Camus and Flaubert made their way around the north of the compound with Balzac and Voltaire sneaking through the breaker’s yard.
Standing guard outside the comms bunker were the Sinclair duo – ZX81 and Spectrum. The rest of the ‘borgs wandered around. How the stealth and observation rules work is that if a model moves into a position where they could be seen a roll is made. This could be modified if there’s any gun fire, running, fighting, etc. If heard, the observer has a choice – they can either raise the alarm or take a shot. Once a guard has heard the enemy then they are under player control and no longer roll for their actions.
The humans moved up part of the way. To the north, Foucault, Flaubert, and Camus were held down as Dragon 32 and MSX kept pacing back and forth. They could have made a dash for it, but they might have been seen, so decided to be cautious and stay hidden.
Most of the cyborg guards seemed to be drifting toward the south, where Voltaire and Balzac were. It was proving hard for them to move up. It reached that point where any more movement may compromise the mission and so, deciding to take the fight to the borgs rather than the other way around, Balzac opened fire! Voltaire took his lead, and also let rip.
This fire drew the attention of the cyborgs. On their turn, they got to roll for observation and they were alerted by the firing. This drew the guards toward Voltaire and Balzac, allowing Foucault and co the chance to move up!
Amongst the trash the firefight hotted up. ZX81 went down (not for the first time) but TI99 returned fire. Dragon 32 dithered a bit, unsure whether to stay where he was or cross over to where the shooting was taking place. MSX was in position around some junk, and he was making it difficult for Foucault and the boys to sneak up to the comms bunker.
Meanwhile, the firefight with Voltaire and Balzac took a turn for the worse. Balzac went down under fire from TI99 and C64. Voltaire moved up, firing from the hip with his rail gun. C64 went down, with CPC464 close behind him. Foucault sneaked around behind some tires but was seen by MSX, who promptly started firing at the French linguist. He missed, and Foucault returned the gesture. Down went MSX.
The two sides now got stuck in to a fire fight. But due to cover no one was scoring any more hits. Foucault saw his chance, albeit a risky one. He moved around the side of the comms bunker and had to take the risk – a dash for the bunker doorway where he could deconstruct the cyborg data. Dragon 32 also took a risk and made a rush for Foulcault and the two became locked in close combat. Dragon 32 had the advantage on the first round by attacking Foucault from behind, but he failed to exploit this. Foucault turned to face his attacker and managed to take down the 8 bit monstrosity.
Success went to the humans.
I thought Black Ops was a great game. Loved it. The stealth rules work well, and so do the guard reaction rolls, without being too stodgy. The other mechanics are nice and simple and there are also lots of equipment options for specialists. I will definitely be playing this again.