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Subject: SNIPER! A review of the first man to man WW2 combat game rss

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steve mizuno
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San Diego
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15 minutes of prep per turn and morale as a random factor - from sublime to ridiculous in SNIPER!

SNIPER! was the first true man-to-man urban combat game produced... at least, that I know about. I played the **** out of this one back in the day (around 1975) I can remember punching this one out with my buddy from school... the men, as I recall, were labelled A-Z, and each had a different pose, depending on his primary weaponry.

First: Why I liked it:

At the time, there were no other man-to-man combat games. Super tactical simulations just weren't being produced at this time in history. SNIPER! broke a lot of new ground, and the graphics, for the time, aside from the weird hex-grid anomalies, were excellent. I loved the grenade counters, in particular.

Each guy had a particular type of primary weaponry - and it was pretty cool to have a couple of guys with Schmeissers just hosing down an incoming assault. Most of your guys had bolt action rifles, however, there were a total of four basic types of weaponry - Machine Pistol, Assault Rifle (think Sturmgewehr), and Machine Gun. One bone I had to pick with the game system is that the MP ends up being much more effective than rifles at long range. Peculiar, eh?

There were also rules for satchel charges, rocket launchers, and flame throwers. You could throw smoke grenades or frags. (Can you tell that I loved grenades, which basically gave you a 50% of wounding or incapacitating someone in the range of effectiveness, and a 50% chance of stunning them.)

I loved tossing fragmentation grenades into a building, and I loved trying to clear a building from bottom to top. There were rules for moving through an "aperture", with different rules for doors and windows, as well as rules for moves up and down stairwells. Defense values were effected by interior walls, posture (prone), movement, smoke, apertures (think windows)... and smoke was REAllY effective. The game did teach you something about the effectiveness of volume of fire and visual obstructions.

The version I played was the SPI flat box game. This thing had a GREAT front cover, and gave you a real feeling that you were going to get into some serious firefights. Mostly, however, I remember that the design was broken.

This game, unlike Squad Leader, did not have buildings that only occupied partial hexes. Instead, the hex grid was used to portray entire buildings. So you had building which looked like they were designed by Max Escher. All tilty and weird shaped, with 60 degree angles everywhere. This was great for the LOS rules, but not so great for the way the board appeared.

(Here you can see the oddly shaped buildings and vehicles)

Anyway, moving beyond the strangely shaped buildings, and the even stranger shaped vehicles (which were also shaped on the same 60 degree weirdness), Dunnigan, in this stage of his design career, was bound and determined to throw command and control rules into every one of his designs, and, I think, even into some of them that he merely oversaw. So the weird PANIC rules written into Kampanzer moved over into Sniper! and many other designs of the time. (For those of you who don't remember, the hex numbers were used as a basis to determine which hexes - not UNITS - were hit by panic. One of the effects of this for players of these games, was that you didn't dare concentrate too many of your guys on hexes with the same last digit - or digits shared by the same panic die roll. And there were particular hexes that suffered more frequently from panic, due to the base six die, and the base ten hex grid numbers. So you had this very peculiar gamey artifact of scrutinizing the hex grid to avoid concentrating your guys on numbers shared by the same panic roll.)

There were two other critical problems that I had with this design. The first problem was with the application of the SIMOV system to this game. (Similar to Kampfpanzer, another very flawed design, all units had to pre-plot all movement before each turn. For players of Star Fleet Battles, think of it as having a whole squad of ships to move around and plot actions for... each turn.) I'm not sure how you feel about the rewards of simultaneous movement systems, but for me, I can't imagine picking up a copy of either game and playing it again.

The second problem I had was with rifle grenades. These were a bitch to prepare, but had different rules about useage. If you properly prepped a rifle grenade, you could fire it across the board without having, as I recall, an LOS to the hex you wanted to hit. I think we ended up seriously defanging these with in-house rules.

Sniper! was succeeded by Patrol, a second design that moved the fun into the countryside. This was also well appreciated by brother, but had the same SIMOV problem. The two issues that were most broken for these designs, at least, in my book, were the PANIC rules and the SIMOV system. Apparently, this was addressed in the subsequent TSR edition of the game. I wonder if they did anything to the panic rules?

Although morale is and always will be a significant and critical aspect of combat, the random, yet systematic, application by Dunnigan in the early 70's designs is really a deal breaker for me. I know there are some who really like this system. Count me out. The command control elements of Sniper feel too gamey - and they did even back in 1975. Although the scale is a little different, the morale rules in both Up Front and Squad Leader are mcuh more to my liking - and, I believe, a better representation of morale at a tactical level.


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Robert Taylor-Smith
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High River
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I liked this game as well but Patrol! the follow up game seemed to actually hit the table more often. Maybe because of the better scenarios and map. As soon as ASL came along these designs faded from the table. Console or computer first person shooters (Battlefield 1942) scratch this itch for me now.

To me the hallmark of Sniper WAS the simultaneous movement system. I can't imagine playing Sniper or Starfleet Battles without preploted movement. The 'free' movement option in SFB...ugh, horrible games as a result. Wish sim-move would come back again, seem to be surplanted now by 'cards' limited the action options (ie. Memoir'44, etc.) in small scale wargames.

I believe the grenade launchers were modeled after the Great War/WWII cup discharges (more a rifle mortar) than the purpose built grenade lauchers of the 1960's+ (a direct fire weapon) regardless of the rules/scenario description. In general grenades and HE in Sniper are just too effective, at least in the open and not in an enclosed 'building'.
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Rob Rob
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La Mesa
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I've owned this game since the late 70's and while the map and counters are frayed from many years of hard use I've never actually played Sniper! with it.

In my gaming group it was like the Swiss Army knife of gaming (similar to Outdoor Survival). The Pepto pink mapboard has been every town in every era imaginable, from Medieval to Sci-Fi in games like Boot Hill, Melee/Wizards, Starguard, D&D, Traveler and more.
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Charlie Heckman
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Ocoee
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When using the original SPI simultaneous movement rules, we have house ruled the panic rules:

1. Each player plots for all troops normally. A special addition for movement plots: If a troop is moving to a specific objective, it should be recorded, i.e., after the movement plot add: "obj: doorway in hex 0317"

2. The Panic phase is now called the Friction phase. In this phase, roll a die for each troop. If they fail their Friction roll they generally repeat whatever they did last action. If they fired at hex 0222 last turn, they continue to fire at that hex, even if the target is dead or gone. If they reloaded last turn, they continue to reload. If they moved last turn and have not reached their objective, they continue moving towards their objective. If they did not define an objective or have reached it, they will go prone and hold their current position.

This adds the friction of war without having your troops "freaking out" all over the map. Also the die roll approach, eliminates the 'hex number hop'. If a sides Panic % is 30, we just roll a d10 for each troop and on a '1', '2', or '3' result, apply friction... otherwise, act as plotted.

- C
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Charlie Heckman
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soltan gris wrote:

Sniper! was succeeded by Patrol, a second design that moved the fun into the countryside. This was also well appreciated by brother, but had the same SIMOV problem. The two issues that were most broken for these designs, at least, in my book, were the PANIC rules and the SIMOV system. Apparently, this was addressed in the subsequent TSR edition of the game. I wonder if they did anything to the panic rules?


The TSR re-write specifically addressed both of these issues and I think they did it very well. Based on your review, I would recommend you take a look at the TSR rules.

- C
 
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Michael Puccio
United States
New York
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Hey Charlie

Nice point.

Could I ask a favor? I lost my original TSR scenario booklet.....could you scan yours for me? I would greatly apreciated it and wouldreimburse you for your troubles.

Thanks
Mike
 
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Charlie Heckman
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Ocoee
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Geek mail me and I'll get you a copy to review... no compensation required!
 
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Kurt
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I also played the heck out of this game back in the 70's. We played it during lunch hour in high school. We would make up our own scenarios and trade for different soldiers.

Like you said, the rifle grenade was a little unrealistic. My buddy fired a rifle grenade across the board into a window where my soldier was standing.

It was a fun game for it's time.
 
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