My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Review of Hardwired: Cyberpunk Espionage and Mayhem

 I purchased the miniatures rules Hardwired: Cyberpunk Espionage and Mayhem some time ago, along with the expansion The Tsim Sha Tsui Expansion. These are by Patrick Todoroff, who also wrote Zona Alfa for Osprey. The description for the rules are:

Corporate wars, shadow ops, cranial jacks, cyber-augmentations… you’ve been here before. You know how this goes.

A table top war game set during the Corporate Wars of 2069 in the mega-city of New Kowloon.  Miniatures agnostic. 1 - 6 players, Co-op or Solo Mode. Made for 15mm - 28mm miniatures.

Given my last post, you can probably guess where this is going...

Overview

Players have 4 Agents, which can be selected from 5 Specialization Protocols (SPs):

  • Ronin - ranged combat specialist
  • Razor - close combat specialist
  • Splicer - hacker and drone controller specialist
  • Sawbones - medic and support specialist
  • Shiver - psionic

Think of an SP as an RPG "class".

Although Agents can do actions from any specialty (exception: only Shivers can perform psionics), your SP will determine if you get a bonus die when trying to perform the action.

That brings us to the core mechanic, which is that almost every action requires you roll a die and score a 4+ in order to succeed at that action. Want to move? You need to use an action and then roll a 4+ on your die. What to hit someone with your rifle? You need to use an action and then roll a 4+ on your die. Note that there are a few modifiers for most action types. For example, shooting at someone in cover would penalize you with a -2 to your roll.

The second core mechanic is the number of actions you receive every turn. Each Agent starts with one free Move and three Actions every turn. As you become wounded, it removes the number of actions that Agent receives every turn and reduces the dice pool (described later). The enemy forces - called Hostile Security or H-SEC - get a number of actions based upon their Tier level. Tier 1 have one action, Tier 2 have two and Tier 3 have three actions.

The third core mechanic is that each Agent gets a dice pool of a D6, D8, and D10 each turn. These dice are used to determine if you succeed (rolling 4+) at the action you are attempting. So that means you get one action using a D6, one using a D8, and one using a D10. Again, you need to roll a 4+ on that die in order to succeed at the action you are attempting. So if you use your D8 to shoot at an H-SEC, you need to roll a 4+ to hit them, otherwise it is a miss. Note that the Agent's free Move is not an "Action", so it does not need to roll for success (using a die).

The reason you specified an SP for your Agent is because each SP has a bonus for certain actions. For example, the Ronin is a ranged combat specialist, so when choosing a Shoot action, rather than rolling one die (of whatever type selected) the Ronin would roll two of that die type. If either die succeeds, the action is successful. (Nothing special happens if both succeed.)

H-SEC always use a specific die type based on their Tier for all of their actions. So a Tier 1 gets one action using a D6, Tier 2 gets two actions using D8 for each, and Tier 3 gets three actions each using a D10. (Ouch!)

Finally, when it comes to combat and damage, Agents all have 3 Wounds, while all H-SEC have 1 Wound each. A successful attack, whether ranged or close combat, inflicts a single hit on the target. When a target is hit they get to make a Defense/Dodge roll to see if they can avoid the hit. Unavoided hits inflict a single wound. Once your wounds are down to 0, you are dead.

That's the basics of the combat mechanics. The turn sequence is IGO-UGO with Agents always acting first. H-SEC forces get reinforcements every turn, with each wave of reinforcements always moving to cover on the turn of their arrival. Reinforcements escalate in deadliness, with turns 1 and 2 bringing on Tier 1 forces, turns 3 and 4 bringing Tier 2, and turns 5 and 6 bringing Tier 3 forces. (Games generally end after turn 6 is completed, so it forces the players into a sense of urgency to complete the mission and not dawdle.)

Details

So, with the core mechanics out of the way, let's get into the details and how these rules make them "appropriately flavored" for the cyberpunk genre. After all, it is more than just cool figures and gritty terrain.

Skills

Even though each Agent has a Specialization Protocol (SP, i.e. "class"), every Agent can pretty much do everything, except for psionics (which are limited to those characters that have that innate talent). Everyone can shoot, fight in hand-to-hand combat, hack, control drones, act as a medic, etc. It is just that some SPs are better than others at some of those actions than others (as indicated by receiving a bonus die when rolling for success). I feel like this reflects that Agents will have "skill chips" that allow them to perform tasks that "normals" might not be able to.

CAPs

Another representation of "skill chips" are Combat Augmentation Programs or CAPs. These are pre-installed, skill-specific pieces of software and hardware that all Agents have. Again, all SPs have access to all CAPs so an Agent can attempt to use any of them that they wish. Note that activating a CAP is an Action, so it takes time,  uses a die, and you must succeed on your die roll. As with actions, some SPs are better at certain CAPs than others, so when rolling for success they roll two die of the type chosen for the action.

CAPs are divided into Cyber (where a Splicer gets a bonus), Combat (where a Ronin or Razor gets a bonus), Support (Sawbones), and Psionics (usable on my Shivers, which receive the bonus).

Cyber CAPs cover things like infiltrating, shutting down, or asserting control over the enemy network, drones, and cyborgs. It also includes piloting remote drones.

Combat CAPs cover things like targeting software, augmented reflexes, sub-dermal armor, and shields. All means of boosting ranged and close combat attacks or your defenses.

Support CAPs cover adrenal boosts, medical skills to heal wounds, overwatch software, and the ability to give an action to another Agent.

Psionics are limited to Shivers only. They have their own abilities that act as an overwatch skill, a mental attack on enemies that can kill, cause fear, or confusion, and a defense that makes the Shiver harder to target with attacks.

One final note: although every Agent can try any and all CAPs during the course of a mission, each can only successfully use each one once per turn. You cannot, for example, successfully use targeting software twice and then on your third action shoot a target. You can successfully use different CAPs in the same turn, however.

Equipment

Before the start of every mission each Agent can change their equipment load-out. Every Agent has three equipment slots with gear taking anywhere from 1/2 to 2 slots. Equipment falls into the category of Cyber, Combat, and Support.

Cyber equipment are essentially Intrusion Countermeasure Electronics (ICE) called Macros, and assist in infiltrating, overloading, or hijacking targets, or in piloting remote drones.

Combat equipment is either Smart Ammo (better ranged attack), Monofilament Blade (better close combat attack), or Micro-Grenades (two one-use ranged attack with various effects).

Support equipment are either drugs or drones. Drugs can either heal or boost you (but you subsequently crash when the effects wear off).

Drones occupy two equipment slots, so you really have to want one, but it effectively gives the Agents another model to use, but it uses the drone controller's actions, so it is questionable about how useful it is. While controlling the drone the only thing the operator can do is their free Move every turn. Drones basically can, for every action given by the controller: move twice; move once and perform one other action; or perform two actions. So in one regard it is more efficient as you are spending one action by the controller to get two actions by the drone. There are various configurations of drone that you choose from before the mission starts. Each drone has two hardpoints with each hardpoint containing either a D8 weapon, a storage container with grenades and drugs, or Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) that helps everyone's attempts at hacking.

Hacking

Would it be cyberpunk if it did not have hacking?

Any Agent can attempt to hack, with Slicers getting the bonus die. What exactly can be hacked seems to be a part of the scenario. For example, are the doors closed and simply need an Interact action to open them or do they need to be hacked to get them open? Can you hack the network and open them all at once? Are the H-SEC forces organic or cyborg?

All H-SEC cyber-systems have a Security Rating of 1-3, with the higher numbers harder to hack. (Civilian systems are rated 0.) The rating is used as a negative modifier to your hacking roll (again, needing a 4+ to succeed).

It should be noted that everything is networked to some degree and wireless to boot so an Agent can hack without range or line of sight restrictions as long as they are in the mission area.

H-SEC A.I.

Hardwired is meant to be played cooperatively (all players are playing Agents) or solo, so the H-SEC forces naturally need an A.I. or program to operate. The rules they follow are pretty simple.

  1. Engage the nearest visible enemy.
  2. Use cover whenever possible.
  3. Keep attacking until either they or you are dead.
  4. Prevent Agents from achieving their objective.

Pretty simple and straightforward. Play them to the best of your ability while following those rules. Where two options are equal, you can easily roll a die to see which they choose.

H-SEC forces actually all start off the board. Each turn they randomly spawn on two of the four access points defined in the scenario. Each spawn is either 2 or 3 models, of a Tier indicated by the turn. On the turn they spawn they only thing they can do is a free Move towards cover, no activation roll needed. (There is an exception for the final game turn, otherwise the last turn's reinforcements would be useless.)

Scenarios

There is 1 scenario and 5 mission starters (scenario ideas) included with the rules, in order to give you an idea of how to approach this genre as a miniatures game. The scenario, the Seraph Protocol, is a straightforward retrieval mission. "Move in, secure a VIP, eliminate any hostile forces, and exit the area with the asset unharmed." It gives the backstory, forces involved, a description of the mission area, objectives, and special scenario rules (like bring a Slicer to deactivate the cortex bomb in the VIP before you exit out of the mission area with him).

Expansions

The only expansion to date is The Tsim Sha Tsui Expansion although there was mention of a military-oriented (big skirmish?) expansion in a videocast.


This supplement introduces new weapons, gear, and threats, as well as provides clarifications and variants for the original game.

New Weapons

As every agent is considered to be armed with a generic close combat and ranged weapon that have generic combat values, I am glad to see that this did not turn into an exhaustive list of weapons that basically have no real value in game terms. Instead, the author focused on creating new weapon categories that come with their own rules to cover all specific weapons of that category generically.

The first weapon category is heavy weapons. Any and all Agents can carry one, but doing so has both benefits and penalties. Agent Drones cannot carry heavy weapons, although H-SEC Drones can. Rather than firing 18", heavy weapons fire 24". Because these weapons are heavier and bulkier, the model's Move action grants 3" of movement rather than 4" and they can no longer climb sheer surfaces without a ladder. Finally, heavy weapons use a 3" Blast template. If the hit roll is successful, all models touching or in the template must make a Defense/Dodge roll or take two wounds.

The second weapon category is SAD or Short-ranged, Area effect, Direct fire weapons, i.e. shotguns, flechette rounds, flamers, and such. The weapon uses a 3" wide by 8" teardrop template. Everyone touching or within the template must make a Defense/Dodge roll or take one wound.

New Equipment

The new equipment includes Carbon Fiber Armor Plating, Active Mimetic Camouflage, Electronically Activated Adhesive Grips, a Miniature Holo-Generator, Variable Condition Optics System, Full Armored Tactical Suit, a Breaching Charge, a Resuscitation and Rapid-Healing Module, and a Nanite Fabricator. I'll let you imagine what these are, but you can see that now the author has considered armor and stealth a little more.

New Threats

In addition to the reinforcements that spawn every turn you can now face new threats in the form of sentry guns and turrets, surveillance masts, cyber-security nodes (ICE), and improved H-SEC troops using the new weapons indicated above.

Campaign and Missions

Included in the expansion is a mini-campaign of five linked missions. Wounds and Agents carry over from mission to mission, but as always, you can swap out your equipment load-out between each mission. At the start of mission 5 the action escalates, so you get a fifth Agent on your roster. If you lose an Agent there will be a replacement, but it will take one full mission to recruit them, so you will be down one man (for each lost Agent) for one game.

As in the main rules the missions define the forces, constraints, objectives, and any special rules. No maps are provided only descriptions of the environment and terrain.

Final Thoughts

I found it interesting that for an "espionage" game, stealth plays no real role in this game system. Rule systems like Black Ops and Chrome Hammer have stealth as a core game mechanic, but not Hardwired. I can see grafting stealth mechanics from either of those two systems onto Hardwired for a better espionage experience. But that is for another blog post.

Another aspect not touched upon are civilian forces, i.e. scientists, workers, bystanders (if the scenario takes place in public), and such. You can easily devise your own A.I. rules for them (run!), but I was surprised nonetheless.

I like simple game mechanics and Hardwired definitely falls into that category. But just because the rules are simple it doesn't mean that there aren't difficult decisions to make. Given that you have six turns and four actions (one being a free Move) for each Agent every turn, this game is like Warhammer Underworlds in that this is all about managing a limited resource (Actions) as efficiently as possible. Given that the standard board size is 36" across and a standard Move is 4" that is a minimum of 9 Move actions if the scenario is to cross the board and exit off of the other side. As you have six free Move actions that means you must spend a minimum of three of your other actions, where success is governed by a die roll. Want to use your D6 to move those three times? Well, that is a 50% chance of success for each of those actions, so you better plan on burning six actions instead of three. That is now one action every turn, in addition to the free Move, assuming you move straight across.

So, Hardwired has no shortage of meaningful decisions for the player to make that will greatly affect gameplay. Also, like deck-building games, the player has to consider their load-out of equipment and Agent SPs. (If playing a campaign, you decide the Agent SPs once, unless you have a deep roster.) Unlike deck-building games, however, the amount of time needed to decide on that load-out is far shorter and can easily be done in a few minutes prior to the game, rather than setting up a card deck the night before the game.

Another aspect of a good game design that I like is not needing to constantly refer to the rulebook. Dice rolls are very easy in that the target number is 4+ and there are very few modifiers. The odds are determined by which die type you decide to throw rather than a long list of modifiers and model characteristics. The one areas where I can see getting stuck on is CAPs, because everyone can use any CAP at any time and there are just too many choices (12, unless using psionics then it is 16) to remember all of the details. Add in combat drugs, ICE, and gear variants on top of that and you probably have more than a few things to refer to. That said, the core of the game is activation efficiency and all of these other things use activations to get bonuses, so after you play a few games you realize that you cannot use these things except when you really need it.

All in all, I like the rule system. If I have any skepticism it is whether I can think up a sufficient number of scenarios that have the right cyberpunk feel.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Dale,

    Thanks for the detailed review. It does seem like a well thought out and structured game. I remember Jason playing this a few years ago. I must admit, although I have never played it, I find The Department would be more my type of game (although it has no solo rules). I have had The Department for many years and keep getting close to playing it (solo). I do note Jason is playing a The Department campaign at the moment on his blog!

    ReplyDelete

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 58 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ working for a software company for the last three years. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").