Published by Minden Games
Designed by Gary Graber
Retro (2nd edition) is a tactical 2nd World war variant ruleset for using alongside your current tactical (preferably squad level) boardgames. The rules are unusual in that they avoid the use of rule 'exceptions' and they deal with defensive fire in a more subjective manner than current systems.
From the outset, it is important to understand that Retro is a variant, it is not a replacement set of rules as such. Retro assumes that the player has ownership and knowledge of the host system, the host rules will be necessary for some reference. A good example of this would be the sentence in the FIRE section of Retro that says 'Fire Groups may be formed as usual' – what is usual ?, well in Basic Squad Leader, fire groups can be formed from a chain (of any length) of adjacent units and does not require a leader to be present. In Combat however, a fire group is limited to a chain of units no longer than 3 hexes and a leader must be present with one of the participants. So users of Retro might (or choose not to) use fire groups differently, dependent upon the host system.
The terminology used in Retro is closer to MMPs ASL game than anything else and so use with other formats may require some minor modifications to varying degrees. For example, in Retro, units may 'break' under fire. ASL has the same feature and provides infantry counters with a 'broken' side on their reverse. But when using a game like Combat, the player would have to make some 'broken' counters as Combat uses different terminology to deal with the ordered status of its units.
In fact, it may be useful to see Retro as a collection of building blocks that can be changed, swapped and modified as the player desires. When I try out the Panzer Grenadier modules, I will likely drop the Retro Anti-Tank fire values and procedures and use those from the host game instead. The ability to be able to do this so easily is great testament to the stability of the Retro system.
So what does Retro actually do ? Right, Retro can be thought of as a heavily pared down version of the host rules, streamlining the main concepts of tactical gaming and doing away with lists of exceptions and ultra detail. It includes the necessary combat tables but presents them in such a way that the 'to hit' process and the 'results' are combined into a single die roll. The rules are most definitely set at a level that allows players to get on with playing without the need for constant reference back to the rules. Although Retro is presented in a 48 page A5 booklet, only some 16 pages of the booklet are actual game rules.
You pick a scenario of your choice from the host system and set things up as normal. You then play using the retro rule book and only refer back to the host rules (for guidance) if you need to resolve a particular difficulty, remember you are now playing Retro – not the host game.
The game phases will be familiar to most, Rally, Movement, Fire, Defensive fire and Close combat. The remarkable part of the rules is that opportunity fire as such is absent – though this sounds incredible for a tactical game, the new mechanic of 'Hesitation' combined with a 'range restricted' Defensive Fire, superbly replaces opportunity fire, dispenses with a lot of game markers and is an excellent solitaire tool.
Basically, what happens is that before a player can move in the open within range of an enemy squad or MG, the player must dice for Hesitation. If the test is passed, the player can move that unit or stack freely without fear of further interception that phase. If failed, the unit or stack cannot move further and can't fire either because failed units are treated as though it had used movement points.
The effect is superb, the player is frequently frustrated by that vital unit hesitating and MGs behave more realistically, that is, they don't run out of fire and go to Final Fire or Fire 2 states or anything like that, rather they continue to effect all enemy movement within range, throughout the entire phase – setup some proper interlocked fields of fire and it all feels very realistic.
The Defensive Fire phase is really only dealing with those units that start to get quite close to each other and rebalances the game phase to prevent units that pass their Hesitation tests having too much freedom.
Retro should not be simply seen as a simplified tactical game, it is much more than that, largely due to the Hesitation rule and the sequence of play. Your squads still dash across fields, jump walls and hedges, fire from buildings exactly as you have enjoyed from the host game but streamlining and using Hesitation makes Retro a real players game with a potentially complicated subject for the most part being handled by just a couple of play aid cards.
Initially, some players may actually find it hard to 'drop' some of the higher level of detail and rules from the host game that may have become second nature. Part of the beauty of Retro is that extra detail can easily be slotted in. For example, Retro does not use turrets, but I like them, so I use them. All I have done is add a single line onto the Gun Modifiers list '2 columns right for A/T or turret to fire outside CA' – it's as simple as that.
Of late, I have been using Retro with my Combat:Rangers (Critical Hit) module. I like Combats smoke allocation rules and the use of Support weapon teams, so I have introduced those into my Retro game. Also, Combat uses a D10 (Retro uses D6) so I still use the D10 for rally checks.
I highly recommend Retro. Using these rules, I am playing tactical games on a regularity that I have not done since my enthusiasm for pushing squads around was ignited over 20 years ago by a John Hill design called Squad Leader – nostalgia at its best.
Norman Smith 13.12.01
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Retro is particularly suitable for the tactical range of games that use squads and individual tanks. These are typically Basic Squad Leader, Advanced Squad Leader (from MMP) and Combat (from Critical Hit). I imagine that 'Armour' and 'Panzer' from Yaquinto games would also fall within this 'usable' group. Some platoon level games such as Panzer Grenadier (Avalanche Press) can also fall within the scope of Retro.
The sequence of play uses IGO-UGO style phases, there is interaction but it is based around the very subtle mechanic of 'hesitation'. Units might hesitate (halt) if they move in the open and in the line of fire of an enemy. The hesitation rule substantially helps solitaire play.
I have found that Retro tends to play faster than the host system. Some of the game procedures are streamlined such as firing has the 'To Hit' and 'Result' process combined into one die roll. The main reason for the faster play is that the rules are easy to hold in memory and they are unusual in that the designer intentionally avoids use rule 'exceptions'.
The 2nd edition is presented in a single 48 page A5 booklet (like a standard A4 rulebook folded down in half). Out of the 48 pages, just 17 pages are rules, the rest covers Design Your Own charts and Retro scenarios.
Retro achieves a rating of low complexity by the use of clever streamlined mechanics that give the game both flavour and pace. The lack of rule exceptions becomes the most obvious contributor to keeping complexity down.
Retro support pages