02 October 2010

More Rules Fun Pt. 2 - USE ME 15mm Sci-Fi System

15mm.co.uk released USE ME (Ultra Simple Engine for Miniature Engagements) this month, for the very tasty price of £3.50 (about $5.50 US). It promised to be an all-encompassing system - battle rules, army lists, off-table support, campaign setup, and solo play, all in 32 pages. I was quite skeptical, but for that price, I figured it was certainly worth a read. I've had it for two weeks now, and am not disappointed at all in this system.

In fact, I am extremely pleased.

Here is a breakdown of the game system:


This game is specifically designed for 15mm miniatures, in terms of movement and weapon ranges. I'm sure it could be scaled up or down with some simple halving or doubling of ranges and distances, but I already have plenty of 28mm rules. In terms of the size of games you can play... I've only played three smallish games so far (up to the "starter" scenario of 20 light troops and five vehicles vs 30 heavy troops), but it appears USE ME will handle much larger engagements with absolute ease.


First and foremost, I am pleased to report that USE ME uses nothing but ordinary six-sided dice (and a few basic counters) for all of its mechanics. That means you have no need to purchase a bunch of funny shapes just to play a basic game... it's ready to go with something I'm sure you already have. The gameplay itself follows a pretty straightforward initiative-activations-resolution sequence but with a twist - the Elan rating. Despite it's funny name (it sounds like something Acura Motors would sell!), it's a pretty clever stat that governs most aspects of combat and initiative. Thinking of it as "troop qualiity" would help compare it to some other systems.

While many other initiative-activation games allow you to select any unit, USE ME activates units based on their Elan ratings - high Elan troops take their activations before low Elan troops. The only mechanic I can compare this to is the Initiative stat in the 40k Assault phase. It works extremely well! It makes sense to me that the most trained and skilled units will be more decisive and take quicker battlefield action than inexperienced troops.

Combat itself is pretty straightforward - roll to hit, then roll weapon penetration vs target defense. Units hit their targets by scoring 4+ on a D6 roll (after some pretty simple modifiers). Penetration vs defense is a D6 roll off between the firer and his target (again, with some simple modifiers). Close combat is handled by simply removing the To Hit roll and rolling penetration vs defense.

Targets are either winged, struck, or killed outright. These effects last the rest of the game, but are handled with simple counters. There isn't much bookkeeping required outside of the counters, which is what makes me think this game will scale up to company-size engagements without bogging down. There are only four tables you will ever have to look at to play a game of USE ME, which means there isn't much page-flipping in game. In fact, I've already seen a complete quick reference sheet that prints on half a page... exactly what "quick reference" should be!


There is a two-page guide to creating forces - complete with points costs. Rather than saying this mini is a Muster Private armed with a Moth Rifle, you would select an Elan 3, Movement 4 Infantry with a Standard Rifle. This game is a bit like Alien Squad Leader in this way... it abstracts troops, weapons, and vehicles to put them in a few simple categories. While this may lack a little bit of distinct flavor among different armies, it's a great way to make sure forces are fairly well balanced in the game.


A great deal of the book is dedicated to rules such as off-table long-range artillery or supporting spacecraft fire, arrival of reinforcements and drop troops, linking games together (which can even keep some troops in a "winged" status from game to game), and how to govern opposing forces in solo games. Again, it's amazing how much is packed into such a small book! I've now run the solo rules against a defensive and an invading force, and they worked perfectly with such a "one track minded" opponent. I'm going to come up with a neutral objective scenario to really put them to the test!


No system will ever be immune to gripes and complaints. USE ME is clearly designed to be a shooting game. The weapons table has categories to cover every type of firearm, energy blaster, missile, or mortar you could imagine... but no close combat weapons at all. That means you won't be able to use these rules effectively against "bug" armies, like the Starship Troopers movie or Aliens-inspired games. In fact, the lack of close combat detail makes for some interesting situations in the game. The same penetration table is used in close combat as in shooting... which means an autocannon or mortar crew actually scores higher against dedicated assault troops.

Something else that must be considered when preparing for battle is the resilience of heavy vehicles. Infantry with heavy weapons will need nothing short of a dice miracle to even scratch a heavy vehicle, and cannot destroy them outright. If you are going to run vehicles, make sure there are vehicles on both sides of the game if any are to be Heavy or Super Heavy. Otherwise, just make your tanks into Light Vehicles with Armor, or it will be a very lopsided game!


USE ME is designed to be a fast-play set of rules for which you will need minimal preparation, bookkeeping, or special rules. As such, it makes for a great basic wargame. It will never go into extreme science fiction details like net-centric warfare, battlefield intelligence grids, fighting in very extraterrestrial environments, etc... if you want a game with that much detail, you will probably be in the mood for something like Tomorrow's War or 5150. But if you want a quick pickup game to play in an hour, this is exactly what you want - it holds its own extremely well against Forge of War and Mutants and Death Ray Guns, and is far more approachable than Fast and Dirty or Chain Reaction. USE ME is, by far, the most complete one-book game system I've seen in my eighteen years of tabletop wargaming.

FINAL SCORE: 8 out of 10, would jump to a 9 out of 10 if a close combat fix could be added.


PS: There is an alternate review at The Orky 15mm Blog, if you want another opinion!


  1. Great Review. Thank you.


  2. Good Review, missed that part about crewed weapons and CC.
    I was going to make bugs and give them no weapon, it shouldn't make a difference the way CC is figured.

    My main complaint is the lack of suppression. Did you notice that lacking in your games?

  3. What I've been thinking about doing with bugs is counting them as having a crew served weapon with zero range. That would give them the bonus in close combat, prevent them from shooting, but keep using just the existing rules and tables instead of adding something else. And by going crew-served on the penetration table, a bug with strong enough claws can shred through thin-skinned vehicles, though not as easily as through flesh.

    I think the morale/suppression effects of short firefights are actually handled pretty well by winged/struck effects. It's not a stretch to say if your unit is taking fire, you may suffer from a sudden onset of "I'm not moving" whether your body is hit or not. I figure science fiction weapons are going to be pretty darn advanced... if these things hit you they've basically killed you. If you think of it that way, with the nonlethal results taking the place of a dedicated morale system, it's actually pretty representative of what might happen during a five minute firefight in the distant future. :)


  4. I'm actually tempted given the price and the review has given me plenty of justification. Any chance of something this in depth for tomorrows war.


  5. I fully intend to give Tomorrow's War the full review treatment, but it will take some time. My only experience with Ambush Alley Games so far is playing their quickstart scenario with Orks as the insurgents. Because of the way TW was pre-released, I need to read through Force on Force, play a few demo games using just that book, then move up to Tomorrow's War.

  6. Very good review, thank you so much!
    I too look forward for your review of Tomorrow's War!