Thoughts on The Regiment: Ville’s views on X-Ray Down

This is my view on John Harper and Paul Riddle’s The Regiment, run by Lauri. There’s nothing much I can add to Lauri’s description of the session, so I’ll talk a bit about my impressions of the system. Do keep in mind that even though the version number is 2.5, The Regiment is still a work in progress; beautiful and promising, but flawed. I hope these notes will a) help the designers hone the game, b) make you interested in testing in it, and c) give you a couple of hints while playing it.

While reading, please keep in mind that these observations are based on one session only, and it was basically just one big battle against aliens. There wasn’t any downtime.

My first impressions on the playbooks were not very enthused. I’m used to more narrative playbooks, rather than the sorts of military roles that the game offered. So, at first I thought that maybe the likes of “Farmboy/Farmgirl”, “Oxford”, “Worker”, “Big Brute” would suit better. War stories have these archetypes.

But then again, all the playbooks have profiles and backgrounds, and you can combine them in a zillion ways. My playbook was Support (in other words, Medic), but before the alien invasion, I was a bold firefighter. I’m thinking that instead of looking for inspiration from the moves and the playbook’s descriptions – as you do in Apocalypse World – you’re supposed to play your profile to the hilt. That’s your personality, your role in the story, your soldier archetype. That’s what the players base their introductions on, what GM is supposed to focus on in his questions after character creation. (As an aside, the GM should also ask questions about the bond scores.)

Why emphasise profiles? Because wars cost lives. There’s no way in war (I mean hell) that you’re gonna avoid casualties. If you want to avoid repetition in characters, you’re better off using these kinds of playbooks. I reckon also that the usual AW-hack guideline of not using the same play books does not apply in this game.

The other approach would be the one that 3:16 uses: reputations. That would be the starting point for portraying the character, and it would probably change with the game.

One more thing about the characters: the starting characters, without advances, are fairly weak. I only had two scores above 0: Lucky +1 and Will +3 (instead of +2 because I chose a move for it). It felt fairly one-sided, but it might be conscious design choice. In war, everyone is a rookie at the beginning and you’re as likely to do die as not. You can’t be good at everything in the beginning. It’s the survivors that become badasses. Hence, the game is designed for campaign play, and for oneshots, you might want to give the players an advance or three.

However, I’m not sure about the current utility of the stats. But this, more than anything in my observations, is very subjective and based on one session only. So any of you prospective GM’s trying this out might want to take a look at the next paragraphs and try to make sure that there’s an opportunity to utilise every stat.

In the current version, there are five stats: Battle (for assaults and brute force), Will (for keeping your shit together), Tactics (for assessing the situation), Leadership (duh), and Lucky (for surviving by luck and finding stuff). The things in parentheses are the basic and supporting moves that see a lot of use; in addition, the playbooks also have moves that use these.

In a sense, I felt that maybe Battle and Tactics were the most useful stats. Battle is used when you try to seize territory, and Tactics is for knowing what’s going on. Will seems useful for keeping your cool, but it turned out to be secondary, because first, our sergeant had a move that let him make the Keep It Together move for everyone else; and second, because the move feels like a failure even on a roll of 7-9. My squaddie medic had very little use for Leadership, and although I used Lucky once in a dangerous situation, overall it just felt peripheral.

Tactics seems very useful, because it lets you assess the situation. I love the Read a Sitch move from Apocalypse World, and this one is basically just that. It lets you ask questions about the situation, in other words, it brings more content to the game. In The Regiment’s current version, there are no actual penalties for missing the roll: your information is merely incomplete. Lauri felt that this wasn’t a good thing because it doesn’t let you make a GM move, and I sort of agree; on the other hand, when a failure isn’t punished, it encourages the players to use the move and ask questions. Maybe we just should’ve used Assess more often for this reason; I was afraid to, because I had a 0 in Tactics and I really didn’t want to fail in a wargame.

Writing this, I see that the game is even more complex than I realised, and it’s kind of hard to see, just from reading it and playing it once, what it is designed to do. I definitely want to play – or GM! – it again, and emphasise the character background and using the Assess move as often as possible.

Finally, a few words about battle plans. They’re cool lists of things to do in battle: “recon patrol”, “fire & maneuver”, “defense in depth” etc. Each one lists goals (”to gather intel with minimal engagement”), methods, and considerations (available resources, terrain factors etc.). They really help you out in speedily devising credible tactics and making the game feel like a wargame. In our session, though, they felt quite strict and heavy, probably because it was our first game. For more experienced players (of this game or wargames in general), the mechanics would undoubtedly work better and more smoothly.

(P.S. I still owe you a couple of Ropecon reports. Apologies, the autumn has been quite a mess.)

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