Welcome to the first review of 2021! Hope everybody had a good start into the new year. Today I’ll have a closer look at 5150: Citizen Soldier by Two Hour Wargames.
…or rather 5150: Star Army Citizen Soldier. Over the past 15 years Two Hour Wargames , run by the industrious Ed Teixeira, released a ton of rules sets for all sorts of settings and historical period. Starting with tabletop wargames with a particular focus on solo and cooperative play, THW in more recent years took the mechanisms and moved them into tabletop RPGs and board games as well.
Among all of these there are three which are constantly updated and over the years got staggering numbers of expansions, spin-offs and variants. Those are All Things Zombie (zombie survival), Nuts! (fireteam to platoon level WW2) and 5150:Star Army (squad to platoon level sci-fi).
When it comes to solo or cooperative play THW games are sure to be mentioned. For many people 2020 was big on solo wargaming due to the pandemic. Seeing as how these circumstances probably won’t change much in the first half of 2021, I thought it would be a good idea to have a look at these rules again.
While ATZ gives a unique gaming experience and I’m not averse to zombie survival gaming, I think that these rules play best with other people rather than solo. So Nuts! or 5150:Star Army it was. Somehow I was in a sci-fi mood, not the least because Cpt.Shandy got way into 15mm sci-fi recently and has been posting very fun looking games over the past months. And I’m very much a “wargamer see, wargamer do” type of monkey it seems.
5150: Star Army Citizen Soldier
So I bought the latest version of 5150: Star Army, Citizen Soldier. The latest version of 5150 I had on my hard drive was from 2012, so this purchase was entirely justified.
There currently are three different variants of 5150:Star Army available (not counting role-playing games or space combat): Star Marine, Gaea Prime First Defence and Citizen Soldier. The first covering proper Space Marine stuff: Boarding actions, meeting exotic peoples in exotic locations and killing them, and so on. Gaea Prime First Defense deals with an alien invasion on a human-held planet (rather X-Com. Which I’m very much into.). The third, Citizen Soldier, is centered around the player character’s adventures of rising through the ranks to attain citizen status in Gaea Prime.
I liked the idea of Citizen Soldier, so I went for that one. The PDF version that is. Reading PDFs is a pain, but THW are located in the US, and with shipping the printed version most likely would end up more expensive than having it printed and bound here.
The rulebook comes with a colour front and back cover, 4 pages of colour counters for soldiers, aliens, vehicles and mechs and a ‘battle board’ for tunnel missions you can print and cut out.
The counters and the battle board (basically an A4 sized ground texture) are meant to be used for playing the game without miniatures or a gaming table. On top of that we get a big index and 83 pages of rules, including unit rosters and a lot of tables.
The rules are easy to read, but at times have to be read two or three times to grasp them. Maybe it’s because I’m not a native English speaker, and it surely is in part due to the fact that the rules use a unique reaction system, and anything non-linear in a games turn will make explaining them a bit more complicated.
The author is aware of that (well, the latter thing, not the native speaker thing of course.) and makes use of a nifty little gimmick. Each chapter ends on one of these:
It helps summarizing the points the author wants to get across in this chapter. At one or two points these boxes also instruct us to set up a very simple combat situation to apply the rules, which certainly helps understanding them.
Apart from the game rules the rule book includes a little introduction to the game world and the 4 major races featured in the game: Basics (humans in all their beautiful variety), Hishen (evil, cloned slave traders), Grath (hard-as-nails henchmen to the Hishen), Zhuh-Zhuh (Slightly ape-like aliens, trusted by the Basics). The player may choose to play their campaign on either side. Then there are the Bugs, who work appropriately differently to everybody else.
In the back of the book there are three more pages (taken from a different THW rules set named Longrifle) detailling differences between tabletop play with miniatures and playing using the ‘battle board’ and markers.
What do I need to play?
Assuming we’re playing on a table with miniatures the suggested size of table is 3′ by 3′. The rules never mention a specific size of figure, but I think that 15mm figures are assumed. I play with 28mm figures with no changes to the rules. I do think that even for 15mm figures a larger table size is advisable. My test game took place on a 3′ by 5′ table. That worked OK.
Apart from that, all you need is a few six-sided dice (of two different colours) and measure tape. The game requires no markers or tokens. Maybe you’ll want to add “damaged” and “destroyed” markers for vehicles, but a small white and big black puff of cotton wool will do for that.
How does it work?
Which brings us to the rules themselves. Rules sets by THW are a very different breed to most things you probably played. Years ago I wrote a comment by the author in which he made a point of not reading other authors’ rules sets much. To which extent this is true is up for interpretation, but looking at the rules I think it makes sense. This is a very unique set of rules which was refined and tinkered with for over 15 years, with the specific goal of making the game playable solo or all players being on the same side.
How do we achieve this?
THW games have a lot of tables. Don’t worry though, they’re small and simple; usually there are three possible outcomes. And most of them are very specific to certain situations. The main one you will need are the table for Reactions, Shooting, Damage, enemy movement and Will to Fight (morale). Then there are tables which may come into play here and there, like for throwing grenades, medics, and so on. But this gets rather specific pretty fast.
Figure stats are pretty simple. There really is just one important stat, and that’s Reputation (REP).
Armour and armament of a figure also play into the whole affair, but 90% of times you will refer to a figure’s REP or their group’s leader’s REP.
The typical way of working out the outcome of a situation in 5150:Star Army Citizen Soldier is rolling 2 six-sided dice and compare the single results to the figure’s REP. If a die result is equal or less than the figure’s REP it’s a pass, if the result is above the figure’s REP it’s a fail. So possible outcomes are either two passes (good), one pass (meh) or two fails (bad). Simple. The standard grunt will have a REP of 3, well trained and motivated fighters will have REP 4. REP 5 is mostly for heroic figures or elite leaders.
A game turn starts by rolling two differently-coloured dice to determine which side goes first: Roll a die for each side, the side with the higher result gets to go first. But there’s a twist – they may only activate group leaders whose REP is equal or higher than the die result! So you’ll want to roll high to activate your groups first, but you’ll also want a die result which allows for many of your groups to be activated.
An active group may move and shoot, do a fast move (the distance depends – again – on the number of successful rolls vs. their REP) or carry out special actions such as rallying if they lost their nerves during a firefight, recover wounded comrades, reload support weapons and so on.
The Reaction System
Now for the thing that makes 5150:Star Army Citizen Soldier (or any THW game) tick – the reaction system.
As soon as a figure moves in line of sight to an enemy figure both sides roll 2 dice for Reaction based on their group leaders’ REP. The side with more successes gets to act first, which means they open fire. Any figure of that group may fire their weapons if they can see an enemy figure (shooting’s done individually), damage is worked out. After that each member of the group who lost the reaction roll may return fire. The firefight goes on until all figures in sight are out of the fight or have Ducked Back into cover.
So even if a group can’t activate during a turn they still can very much react to what happens around them.
Possible Enemy Force (PEF)
These rules being geared towards solo/cooperative play, we need something to figure out a.) where enemy forces pop up and b.) how they behave.
The first matter is handled using PEF tokens. Usually three of these will be placed randomly on the table before the game starts. They indicate possible enemy movement. They activate as units, but their direction of movement is random (can’t quite pin down where the enemy’s sitting).
Once a PEF gets into sight you work out what it is that your dudes are facing. This might be anything ranging from a case of the nerves and a full enemy platoon. In certain cases, your patrol might even run into enemy defensive positions or get ambushed by fighting vehicles or an artillery strike.
Once these enemy forces are on the table their behavior is pretty clearly laid out as well, modified by the mission and the situation.
There’s an optional special rule concerning reinforcements for either side showing up as well. This, combined with the way PEFs are resolved, may lead to unwinnable situations. In such cases it’s best to just get your guys into safety and get the hedge out of the combat zone.
As much as solo/cooperative gaming is built into THW rules sets, as much is campaign gaming. It’s pretty simple: Work out who the faction of your choice is facing, work out your squad/platoon members’ attributes, and go on your first mission.
The goal is to reduce your enemy’s Campaign Morale ( a mix of morale, logistics, resources) to zero, meaning the campaign for that planet is over, the side with zero morale retreats, signs a treaty, etc. Starting morale depends on the faction you play. For example: Gaea Prime’s ISS troops ( fully-enclosed powered armour, spearhead any invasion, Space Marines) start with tip top morale, a company of mercenaries with mediocre morale. After a mission each side’s campaign morale may improve or decrease.
Apart from the overall situation, campaign morale also has a direct impact on things such as reinforcements during missions or replacements between missions. Between missions you will also work out if wounded figures return to duty and of course if your character gets promoted. The campaign system is kept very simple. All you need to keep track of is both sides’ morale and a roster of your squad or platoon.
Missions are kept simple as well. There are Patrol, Attack and Defend missions. The sequence thereof being decided by the outcome of the previous mission. Each kind of mission is given an outline, but of course they get more interesting if you ‘spice them up’ based on the setting and collection of figures you use. Bugs, as usual, as given some extra attention to reflect how different they work. They of course are led by a Brain Bug sitting in some tunnel. The goal of a campaign involving Bugs is find that tunnel and clear it out. All the bugs collapse or run away, Doogie Howser says “It’s afraid”, everybody’s happy.
The book also includes rules for vehicles, mechs, fighting in and around buildings, terrain generation mechanisms; all the good stuff.
As mentioned in the introduction, I got 5150:Star Army many years ago, but never got to play it. Finally got to it now. I understand that the rules have been slimmed down since, mainly the number of tables, while keeping the same results and gameplay.
Two Hour Wargames rules play quite uniquely, but then there’s few others out there which are so much geared towards solo and cooperative play. As with many reaction systems, just reading them will more likely leave the player confused than anything else. I strongly recommend giving them a test game. Not every little bit will fall in place right away, but even in my one test game I think I got the basics down pretty fast and despite a lot of rules reading in between I was able to finish the test game within 2 hours.
What I like
It’s a solo game for sci-fi things. That’s always nice. It works, it gives a good sense of danger and action. The turn flows well once you got the most important tables memorized. There are little things in there like recovering wounded comrades, Hishen nastiness, and the whole thing with reinforcements.
I really like the concept of not knowing how large the enemy force you will encounter is exactly and where and when you will encounter them. Uncertainty is the most important part in solo games I think.
These rules can easily be tailored to fit any setting you like. There’s a very clear distinction between “Stars” and “Grunts” (if you want to use this rule), the former being much harder to kill due to ‘plot armour’. So you can go either ‘gritty, hard sci-fi’ or ‘heroic’ with these rules. There is no reason why replaying hard sci-fi, “vietnam in space” settings wouldn’t work. However, playing Star Wars or Warhammer 40,000 would work just as well.
The activation roll at the start of the turn is a clever thing. Not only does it have this element of distinguishing between commander ability and agility, but there are several other things which can be tied to it: a combined score of 7 means one side might get reinforcements and there’s an optional rule for introducing a third faction to the game at certain points. Or of course if you play with several players a side you can all have them participate in that roll to work out who goes when. I’ll try introducing event cards to the game as well which are triggered by certain activation rolls. Adds to the fun, adds to the narrative, adds to the experience of the game.
Last, but not least: I really like the campaign system. Skirmish games should have strong campaign mechanisms built in, and solo/coop games even more so.
What I like less
Mr. Teixeira is very active all over the place when it comes to communicating about his rules sets, helping with rules questions, and engaging with fans and critics. Lots of feedback is going into the products he puts out there. This is very cool. There are people who prefer to play Nuts and 5150 with platoon-level forces and those who prefer to play at squad level. Both of which these rules cater to, so at a few points while reading the rules I get a little confused whether this is more meant to be played with a full platoon on the player’s side or one squad.
Of course rules always require a little adjustment to fit your gaming needs and means, but with rules as tight as these here, I often got this slight underlying confusion about certain details. I’m sure that will go away after a few games though.
What I found a bit surprising in a game with many tables is that there is no quick reference sheet in the back of the book. That I would like to see added.
What I find noteworthy
Movement rates are an interesting thing in this game. Regular figures move 8″ a turn, up to 16″ if they run. This, on a 3′ by 3′ table, is very far. I’m not sure whether I like this or not, but it’s something I found remarkable given the tiny table size suggestion (3′ by 3′), combined with 28mm figures. I can see such a table size supporting a squad per side. For my test game, in which I used 1 squad for my own guys, I used a 3′ by 5′ table. That worked well. I’ll see how a platoon-level game works on there and if necessary I’ll make the table larger. No problem.
Oh, and be careful, this game is deadly. A squad caught in the open might get mowed down pretty swiftly. More on this in my battle report.
If you read the rules and are left confused – don’t worry. Use the “STOP!” boxes, and first and foremost you really have to play these rules to “get them”. Just get two figures and have them fight out a firefight or a sword duel across your mouse pad if reading the pdf version of the rules.
Overall I really like 5150:Star Army Citizen Soldier. It’s a unique thing, it plays well, it scratches the solo sci-fi itch and (to round off the triad of reviewer’s empty phrases) ticks all the right boxes for me. It requires the player to be a bit flexible, but that’s a given with solo games. An umpire, if at hand, is a great thing always. But that goes for any game, right? Either way, it makes me wanna get out my 40k figures, which doesn’t happen often these days.
So yeah, if you’re interested in these rules, the PDF version of 5150:Star Army Citizen Soldier goes for USD 20.00, the printed version costs USD 25.00 on the THW website. Every few months they run a store-wide sale with about 25% off. To get a better idea of how the core rules of these games work you get two free rules sets (Chain Reaction for moderns, and Swordplay for medieval/fantasy) off the THW website, and on top of that you can have a look at the Two Hour Wargames youtube channel, at the excellent THW forums, and their facebook groups.
Thanks for reading this review. I hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting. If you have any questions, comments or painting commission inquiries, feel free to get in contact with me via the Battle Brush Studios facebook page, the Battle Brush Studios website, the Tabletop Stories facebook page or e-mail.