Chain Reaction 3 is a free set of rules from Two Hour Wargames suitable for skirmish games in most periods where modern firearms are used. It forms the core of the majority of THW rules and is offered for free as a ‘lite’ version of their rules so potential players can get a feel of what it is all about. The implication in the document is that it will be used for modern police actions or urban warfare but, that said, as long as you are prepared to do a little work, it can be adapted for whatever you like.
So how does it work?
CR3 has a rather interesting approach. Core to the game is the idea of ‘reaction tests’. When certain things happen, like being fired upon or coming in sight of the enemy, figures have to test by rolling 2d6 and comparing the individual dice results to their Reputation (Rep), which is usually between 3 and 6. The outcome varies depending on how many dice score equal to or lower than the figure's Rep. So a Rep 4 figure rolling 3 and 5 has passed with 1d6. Naturally, higher Rep figures pass with both dice more often, meaning they react better under fire, duck for cover less and generally behave themselves more!
The second important aspect of the rules is that Rep is used to determine initiative. Each side rolls a d6. The highest roller gets to activate first, but only figures with a Rep equal to or higher can act. So less well trained figures will act less and be forced to mainly react to the enemy (and even then quite poorly), This can be overcome by organising soldiers into groups with a higher Rep leader, as they then use the leaders Rep to decide if they can act.
Both of these things mean that, while you can coordinate your troops according to your plan for victory, you are effectively commanding real people who sometimes are slow to follow orders or prefer to cower in safety. Game play wise, the reaction mechanism means both players are involved no matter who’s turn it is and the activity feels much more integrated than in other games.
What else do I get in these rules?
While they are a substantially paired down set of free rules, CR3 still contains weapons lists, rules for campaigns and generally enough to keep you going for a while as you decide if you want to try some of THW’s other rules. More importantly, it contains one of the most interesting ways to play solo or on the same side as your mates that I have ever come across! The number and deployment of the enemy at the start of the game is unknown, represented by Potential Enemy Force markers (PEFs). When these move into line of sight they are resolved and could be a single figure, or a whole squad, maybe even nothing at all. Once resolved, the figures act according to another table, so the game really does take care of most of the enemy decisions. It is a fun way to play and I personally find it a satisfying solo experience, especially when added to the reaction system.
So what is missing?
I don’t think ‘missing’ is quite the right term, but the ‘full versions’ of the rules are much more meaty affairs. You will find rules and scenarios specific to the period being recreated and skills for characters which add a lot of variation. Depending on the period, there are lots of tweaks to the core rules many of which are significant changes, such as the rules for ship battles in the Pirate rules. Also of note is that while the CR3 rules has one reaction table list for all characters, the full rules have different ones based around class. So police, military or civilian characters will react differently. There are also different rule sets covering platoon (or larger) engagements, where the basic unit is a squad rather than an individual.
Okay, so be honest. What’s not to like about them?
Well, the main thing with these are that they are free and designed to get you interested in the ‘full’ versions. But this isn’t really a criticism as you do get a good game experience from them. In fact I would go so far as to say that in some ways this is a good thing. For example, I am planning on playing Doctor Who games with these rules. I’d rather add to these ‘core’ rules to make them work than try and take bits away from full sets. I guess they do feel a bit empty compared to the full rules, but that is to be expected. They are also different enough that some people seem to struggle with understanding the core concepts. I cannot comment on why this is, but it is safe to say that players should leave their preconceptions at the door and absolutely not make assumptions based on experience with other rules. But that’s why you should really try the free version and see what you think.
Right, so a quick sum up…
This is a fun and very different free set of rules that provide a good insight into the core concepts behind THW rules. I would very much say try them out and see what you think. Then, if you like what you see, take a look at the rules for a specific period which interest you (and most are covered). The full rule books are available as PDF only or PDF/Print versions and even then only cost you $15-$25 so you are not really breaking the bank to find out what is going on. I’ll be posting more reviews of specific sets in the future.