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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Marco Arnaudo's Pulp! skirmish rules from Osprey, a first impressions review

 This weekend I've been reading the rules to Pulp!, Osprey's latest skirmish title, by Marco Arnaudo who most of you probably know from his Youtube boardgame reviews.

Presentation-wise it is a classic Osprey blue paperback. It has a good number of photos of painted minis in nice scenery, mostly from Bob Murch's Pulp Figures and some paintings of pulp adventure scenes. 64 pages inside the cover.

Like other blue stripe Osprey titles, the layout still suffers from my pet peeve, tables with small print and alternating dark blue gray and light blue gray backgrounds. I'd much prefer Osprey to use white and an even lighter blue gray backgrounds for the alternating stripes to maximize contrast with the text for my aging eyes. And bump the text size a step. I'd rather pay a few more dollars for rules that don't cause so much eye strain.

It's a lighter game than Pulp Alley, with more focus on combat than other adventure perils, less character customization, and a simple D6 combat system. Each player will be typically moving around a dozen figures, most of them in small groups of 2-4 with a few heroes, sidekicks, and villains as singletons. The character stat bar has 8 columns, pretty typical of a combat oriented skirmish game.

You are dicing for initiative each turn, and activating by alternating groups. Before the general activations phase begins there is a continuing melee phase where both combatants in a continuing melee from the previous turn have option to withdraw, hidden choice, and if neither do they fight again. If either or both do, the one that stood the ground can activate normally but withdrawing figures are spent by their withdrawal move. When a group takes its turn, it must roll to activate, easier for heroes than mooks, and will have a reduced defensive Partial Activation on a failure with only a few options. A group that gets too separated, with some figures outside of a 3" cohesion distance, will have the out of touch figures suffer a penalty to their activation roll which they'll roll separately after the in touch part of the group is resolved. I like this activation scheme pretty well as it sits about halfway between, say, Mordheim and my own Rencounter. One of the possible actions is marking for Reaction Fire, which allows a shot at a moving or shooting target.

Combat is a D6 to hit, with a save ala GW rules, that varies with the armor level or agility of the defender.
A low quality character that is hit is taken out. A high quality character is suppressed by the first hit, wounded by the second, and taken out by the second wound from the third hit, with certain special actions accelerating that to inflict both a suppression and wound together. Suppression is a penalty to activation, reduces melee defense, removes Reaction Fire tokens, and halts movement if suffered while moving due to Reaction Fire. A suppressions clears after it affects the activation roll.
Movement speeds vary from 2" to 8" depending on what the figure is doing. Armor is a heavy penalty, medium armor halving moves and heavy armor quartering moves & preventing jumping. This armor movement penalty strikes me as too much, since characters slowed that much make for boring game play. Also, in real life, armor doesn't slow you down much, except for all out racing. It fatigues you faster instead. It's probably the one thing I'd change. I'd either reduce the effect to 3/4 and 1/2 or actually model it as fatigue by having 2" and 4" (walk) moves unaffected and charge 6" and run 8" moves require a follow on activation check that causes a suppression if failed, with heavy armor checking at a -1. I might also reduce the effect of shields, heavy, and medium armor against guns by a point or two depending on the setting and modernization of the armor.

The status changes you'll be tracking or marking on figures are suppression, wounded, reaction fire, defensive stance (an action that gives a one attack defensive bonus, one of the Partial Activation options), usage of single use weapons like grenades or thrown spears, and a small pool of special points, 0-4, depending on the unit, which can be spent for the figure or unit to use one of a menu of special benefit actions, once per turn. There are about 20, described on pages 28-31.

There is also a Life Experiences profile option, which brings a semi roleplaying element, reducing a figure or unit's Special Benefits choices to a thematic pair and granting an additional thematic special rule for the unit to make up for the reduced special benefit options.

There's the typical weapon and gear charts, animals list, terrain rules, guidance on building teams and scenarios, a handwave towards campaigns, a fully developed example scenario, etc. Vehicle rules are explicitly not present, just a mention that if the pilot does not survive in some remote setting the remainder of the team might be trapped in the locale and be a scenario loss.

Overall, I like the rules in Pulp! and plan to give them a try. It's actually a testament to quality when there is only one rule in a skirmish set that I immediately want to change. It's a set that is definitely worth paying the cheap Opsrey blue series price for.

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