The British Special Air Services were a rogue military unit formed in North Africa during World War II. Ben Macintyre has an excellent book on the history of the SAS that’s also been made into a fantastic and gritty BBC series, the former called “Rogue Heroes” and the latter “SAS: Rogue Heroes”. It’s quite a story because the regiment actually started out as part of a disinformation campaign and then became real when a group of British malcontent soldiers decided they were going to prove that unorthodox guerilla tactics would be tremendously effective against the Axis. Their reputation spread and soon the SAS was involved in military action throughout the European theater in WWII.
Game designer Robert Butler has taken the mythos and larger-than-life figures from the actual SAS and created an engaging and compelling skirmish game called SAS: Rogue Regiment. The game has an excellent table presence and supports solo and multiple players cooperating as key parts of the regiment. For reviewers, there’s a “Work In Progress Mini Preview”, offering a substantial subset of the game elements, though only four of the nine gameboards that will be included in the final game.
THE INITIAL SETUP
The two “Operators” in the preview game are Paddy and Jock, two of the men who founded the actual SAS. Their mission is to infiltrate a German depot area, destroy three supply dumps and kill the German officer, then dash back to their egress point to win the scenario. Here’s the initial setup:
You can see that even with just four scenario boards, it takes up quite a bit of table space. On the lower left are the Operator Cards for Jock and Paddy, and you can see that there are roads, buildings, small forested areas, and lots of places to hide while skulking through the camp. In fact, the name of the game in SAS: Rogue Regiment is stealth. The game plays in two phases, with the Germans mindlessly walking their patrol paths until you make too much noise and raise the alarm. The second phase is far more intense because every German on the board is endlessly marching towards you, which is daunting!
The upper right is the mission information card, including setup instructions, the goal, and recommended setup nuances to adjust difficulty:
The track along the bottom is the Alarm Track and once your tracker gets to zero, the base goes on full alert. Notice that I’m starting with the tracker token on ‘6’ for a normal difficulty setting. Also notice that the Mission information also details how to destroy the supply dumps: bombs, grenades, or fuel barrels.
Jock is our man for stealth maneuvers because of his knife. He is armed with a pistol, two grenades, a grappling hook (for climbing tall walls, critical for this mission), a lucky rabbit foot and his dagger:
The right side tracks his health; get below 1 health point and, well, yer dead, mate. Sorry ’bout that. The red tokens denote consumable resources, including those two hand grenades. Each weapon has a number of elements that describe its utility. For example, the pistol has a one-die attack and requires a 5 or better for success. Its short range is 4 squares, long range is 8 (but at lower accuracy), and enemies within 6 squares will hear it when fired. It never runs out of ammo (which is handy!). With that in mind, you can see that the dagger is great: A 1 or better is a success, but you have to be immediately adjacent. It’s also silent, which is critically important in the early stealth phase of the mission.
THE HIT-AND-RUN MISSION BEGINS
Much of the game mechanics can be demonstrated by looking at the initial setup corner. The vehicle on the lower left is known as an Exit Tile. Jock and Paddy start out on that tile and will have to return there to complete the mission. The other tiles around the board are Spawn points for enemies. Speaking of which, notice that there’s both a Sentry in the building, facing away from our heroes and a Patrolman marching along his dotted white line path:
The first move in the game is to kill that Sentry because we need to rush along the left edge to get into the main area and start our nefarious and destructive mischief. Jock has the dagger, so he’s going to climb into the building and silently kill the Sentry. Since the Patrolman is not facing the window, he’ll remain clueless that it’s happened and we can proceed.
This brings us to moves. In the stealth section prior to the alarm, turns consists of operator actions, alerted Axis soldiers moving towards us, Event phase, Axis patrol phase, Axis attack phase (as needed), and an end phase that helps keep the board from getting too cluttered. Each operator has 4 action points that can be spent on moving, climbing, picking up and dropping things, aiming, attacking, crouching, and more. Everyone in the game can move in any of the 8 squares adjacent (including diagonals) as long as structures don’t block them. Jock (with the red cap) can move to the building window (1 point), climb in the window (2 points), and then move & attack (1 point). It’s the dagger so the Sentry is dead.
The problem is that the body can be spotted if the Patrolman turns around, so Paddy follows Jock so he can drag the body away from the window. None of the Germans are alerted, so the next step is the Event card. Here’s the first one I reveal:
The token flips over each time, tracking whether white or black patrols advance. First round it’s black (the patrolman in the lower left corner is on a white line, so doesn’t move). The card is split into two actions: Left is for phase one, Stealth, and right is phase two, Alerted. In this instance, black Sentries will rotate clockwise. If we were in the post-stealth alerted Battle Phase, this would be a great event card to draw because nothing happens as denoted by the “x”.
A bit further into the game, we’ve moved into the upper left quadrant and hid in the forested area until the moment was right. Jock has killed the Patrolman (the token is replaced with a dead body token) and Paddy is about to shoot the Sentry:
You can count out the squares, but when Paddy shoots, the sound only travels 6 squares, not quite far enough for either Sentry to hear us. So far, so good, we’ve remained very stealthy to this point and the alert level has barely budged.
The problem crops up once we get too darn close to the enemy compound:
Jock has dropped off the oil barrel adjacent to Supply Dump #1 (we can later shoot it from range – up to 8 squares away – to destroy the dump!) and he can sneak behind the Sentry and kill him. Jock’s the operator with the grapple, so he picks up the other oil barrel that Paddy’s helpfully left right by the break in the barbed wire (you can see it below if you look closely).
When Jock drops in, however, that’s when everything hits the bloody fan. He’s SPOTTED! Through bad luck, the Patrolman turned around and marched forward, seeing Jock with his oil barrel. This alerts him, both the adjacent Sentries and those just outside the depot area too. Not good, mate, not good at all:
At this point, the dagger’s not got enough range and there’s no reason to be stealthy anymore, so he pulls his pistol and shoots at the Patrolman. A 6! He’s killed. Jock then rushes into the building and attacks the Sentry therein too. Two kills. A few moves later he’s dropped the oil barrel by the supply dump and is trying to get back to his compatriot, but they’re rather a bit surrounded, which is most inconvenient.
With a bit of quick thinking, Paddy tosses one of his grenades, taking out both enemies. But Jock. Ah, Jock. He can’t avoid being shot by the Patrolman directly in front of him and takes two points of injury. But the barrels are in the right places, so next turn each of them takes a shot and BLAM! Two massive explosions light up the board and two of the three supply dumps are destroyed:
The explosions kill anyone in those areas. Quite the mayhem! Still left for the mission is to destroy supply dump #3 (the pile of wooden crates on the lower right) and kill that officer who has, as is typical of officers, stayed in his safe building watching the chaos. Paddy manages to finish the mission with some help from Jock, but sadly, Jock does not make it off the board, dying from a lucky Sentry’s long-distance shot just a few moves prior to the completion of the mission.
Paddy also has a run of great luck, drawing three “nothing happens” event cards as he makes a mad dash for the egress point. In fact, the board is almost completely absent of enemies when he makes it back to the Exit Tile:
Mission accomplished, though ’tis a sad thing to have to say goodbye to Jock in the heat of battle. The SAS in real life lost some of its best operators too, as you’d learn if you read Macintyre’s book. Still, success.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND COMMENTARY
In case it’s not obvious, I really enjoyed playing SAS: Rogue Regiment and can’t wait to get the full game and take on some more complicated missions. Another player or two would be great since we can brainstorm our tactics as we go, but even solo, it’s going to be great fun. The biggest challenge I had with the game is that it’s difficult to differentiate tokens, particularly the difference between Rifle Infantry and SMG Infantry. Hopefully, in the final game, it’s a bit easier to tell which is which to keep the game moving along.
The other puzzle is the actual definition of LOS or line-of-sight. 8 squares are easy to count for a sentry facing along a road but at the edge of a building? A few squares behind a low shrub? Along the edge of his LOS view? This will be something addressed by the final production version of the rules and will make it easier to understand when an operator needs to crouch to avoid detection while sneaking around.
My gaming journey started with wargames like Panzer Leader, and games like SAS: Rogue Regiment are so, so much more fun to play, appropriately simplified, and far more focused on tactics and engagement rather than the accounting and data table lookup that seemed to characterize too many of those classic “chit and token” wargames. If the theme appeals to you, SAS: Rogue Regiment is a must-have. Get it and good luck.
SAS: Rogue Regiment, designed by Robert Butler and published by Word Forge Games. 1-4 players (depending on Mission). ₤45 and up, depending on your late pledge level, on Kickstarter.
Disclosure: Word Forge Games sent me a copy of the Mini Preview in return for this candid review. Thanks, mates!