Sniper! (board game)
Sniper! was a board wargame originally released in 1973. Some sources refer to "Sniper/Patrol" as a sort of series of games: a similar game by Simulations Publications Inc. (SPI) was released at the same time as the original Sniper!, called Patrol (1975).
Sniper! was rereleased in 1986 in an expanded and improved edition by TSR. Both games dealt with combat on a man-to-man scale in the Second World War, and the rerelease expanded the scope to include the years 1945-1990, as well as combining material from the original Patrol game also. Three companion games to the Second Edition were also released; Hetzer and Special Forces focusing on World War II and post-1945 combat respectively, and Bug Hunter set in a science-fiction setting.
The first Sniper! game was released in 1973-74, designed by James Dunnigan. According to the BoardGameGeek website, developers included Hank Zucker, John Young, Ed Curran, Bob Felice, Bill Sullivan, Angel Gomez, and Hal Vaughn. Game play focused on urban combat, being subtitled "House to House Fighting in World War Two".
The game was published in three different formats by SPI alone; in a simple white box (a trademark of early SPI games), in a "very" common SPI black box/tray, and a "Designer's Edition" with color box and mounted mapboards.
A set of "footnotes" (actually optional rules) was included, covering such things as sewer movement/combat.
The mapboard was unique in depicting buildings as trapezoids (technically, parallelograms, though printed material related to the game usually uses the more general term trapezoid) - the abstracted shapes allowed for consistency in Line of Sight rules.
The game included 1 34" x 22" Map, 2 Sniper charts and tables, Game Rules, 1 Pad of Simultaneous Movement Sheets, 1 tray with game pieces, two sets of 2 tanks, two sets of 2 APCs and two sets of 2 trucks as well as 400 die-cut counters in two colors, olive green for Allies and Grey for Germans, with information counters in white. The map itself was in shades of pink/red. The sets of vehicles were printed on cardstock and had to be cut out; they were also trapezoidal in shape.
A new version of Sniper!, titled Sniper! Second Edition: Game of Man-to-Man Combat, 1941-90 was designed by Steve Winter for TSR, and released in 1986 by TSR using SPI's brand name. Dubbed as the Second Edition of Sniper! and subtitled "Game of Man-to-Man Combat, 1941-90", it was really a reorganization of both TSR's Sniper! and SPI's board game Patrol.
The game came in a handsome box (illustrated at right), containing two large 22" x 34" paper maps (double sided, with urban terrain on one side and rural terrain on the other), a 32-page rules booklet, a sheet of vehicle pieces on cardstock (these vehicles were square, however, unlike the original trapezoidal vehicles in the original game), two six-sided dice, a plastic counter tray, and 600 die cut counters.
The maps were identical to each other, allowing for "double-blind" play with an umpire. While one side of the maps depicted urban combat similar to the first Sniper! game, the other depicted rural terrain. The urban map made better use of colour than the original, with grey hexes representing pavement and different sized buildings color-coded according to the number of floors they had.
The counters were also very colorful, with soldiers and informational markers in a variety of colours.
The rulebook was divided into Basic, Intermediate, Advanced, and Optional rules.
I find it immensely interesting that when I first started revising the Sniper! and Patrol games in 1985, there were only two other wargames (that I am aware of) that covered modern combat at man-to-man scale. Since then, at least three more have been published (two of which, like the Sniper! game, were based heavily on previously published games). Yet, despite this surge of man-to-man games, very few articles have been published about any of them.
The game used a ground scale of two metres per hex and between thirty seconds and five minutes of time per turn.
Hetzer was billed as "Sniper! Companion Game #1" and the Sniper! logo was prominently displayed on the cover. This was a standalone product, subtitled "Game of Man-to-Man Combat in Europe, 1940-45", and focusing on the Second World War. The game included two 22" x 34" maps (similar to those in Sniper! but including Normandy style hedgerows), a 24 page rulebook, a second 16 page rulebook, an 8 page book of scenarios, 3 cardstock sheets of vehicles, 2 six-sided dice, a counter tray and 400 die-cut counters. The game was named for the eponymous German self-propelled gun. The initial release was in 1988.
A review by James C. Gordon in Vol 2 Number 5 (Christmas 1988) of The Wargamer stated the following:
Hetzer...fills a (niche) in the hobby with a challenging view of ground level combat situations in World War II. A player must know his objectives at all times and keep a clear plan in mind. Managing forces of sometimes questionable reliability, weapons systems with various strengths and weaknesses, and reacting to the opposition requires the skills of a chess player. Overly aggressive play can lead to excessive and unnecessary casualties. A passive defense leaves the player vulnerable to the impact of the opponent's plans.
Physical Quality: Professionally done map and counters. The rules are well organized.
Playability: Lots to remember and lots to do, but the system is not cumbersome. Some record keeping involved.
Historicity: Derives from the technical details, "typical" situations and objectives. Good marks for all.
Comparison: Ambush! is similar, although solitaire. Trenchfoot covers a different era but at the same level. The original Sniper! had Patrol as a companion.
Summary Special Forces, billed as "Sniper! Companion Game #2" was sold in a magazine-type format, with a hard cover folded over loose contents, including two 21" x 32" maps, a 24-page rulebook, a second 16-page rule book, an 8-page scenario booklet, a reference card, a ziploc bag and 400 die-cut counters. This too was a standalone product, designed by Rick Swan, though the format allowed it to be offered for a reduced price.
Swan provided an extended set of Designer's Notes in Volume 2, Number 6 of The Wargamer (May–June 1988).
I was more or less given a free hand to set the scope of the game, so the first design decision was to establish parameters. It seemed it could go one of two ways - it could either focus on a few select forces in specifically chosen conflicts, or it could take a broader view and allow for forces from around the world to participate in a variety of situations. The first option would demand a more detailed and complicated system than I wanted, not to mention requiring the answers to questions I wasn't comfortable answering (Which nationalities should be included? What's a "typical" terrorist operation?). The second option was more attractive - not only would it give players a lot to pick from, it sounded like it'd be more fun to design and more like a game I'd like to play.
Terry Rooker, writing in Fire and Movement Magazine Number 73, May/June 1991, had the following comments on the suitability of the game system to the subject material ostensibly covered by Special Forces:
Despite its potential, Sniper! (emphasis in original) is lacking. It has many of the pieces, but it fails to capture some of the most important aspects of LIC (Light Infantry combat). Part of (the) problem is one of scale. Platoon and squad sized units are not committed until the intelligence people have a good idea about what is going on. Much of the guesswork and uncertainty is missing. Part of the problem is the system. The original system was designed for WWII infantry engagements. In that type of warfare, everyone obeys the rules of land warfare and wears a uniform of the appropriate color. In LIC situations, the situation is not so clear. The combatants often wear clothing indistinguishable from the non-combatants. Target identification is much more difficult....For the direct action part of a mission (however), Sniper! Special Forces is the best game available.
"Sniper!" Companion Game #3" (1988) was a futuristic version of Sniper!, called Bug Hunter, designed by Steve Winter for TSR focuses on "the popular science fiction theme of embattled humans threatened by vicious alien creatures in space and on the ground" as described in Volume 2, Number 6 of The Wargamer (May–June 1988).
According to the BoardGameGeek site:
Bug Hunter is a Sniper!/Patrol! series game about hypothetical clashes between space-faring human adventurers and hostile alien monsters.
As in all games in the Sniper! series, this game focuses on combat as experienced by the individual soldier. This game examines the problems and situations peculiar to close combat in strange environments and against unknown foes.
Multiple geomorphic 2-sided maps are included in the game to play out numerous scenarios (for from 1 to 3 players), each with their own set of victory conditions. The game also includes rules to Sniper!, exclusive Bug Hunter rules, scenario booklet, random event cards, cut out vehicles, and 400 personnel counters and markers.
The geomorphic maps could be combined into two large maps, identical in size and shape to the original Sniper! maps, depicting indoor space stations, again using familiar trapezoidal architectural structures. The same rigid book-cover format as used in Special Forces was used for this release.
Game Features in Common
All four of the published games were quick to set up and to play, with varying degrees of complexity depending on the rules used. Some unique design features included the use of trapezoidal building depictions on the maps, to better simulate lines of sight, and the use of multi-hex counters (in actuality, thin card stock) to simulate vehicles. At a map scale of 2 metres per hex, some vehicles occupied as many as 8 hexes simultaneously.
Steve Estvanik converted the board game series into a multiplayer, online computer game for CompuServe. In the Sniper! a strategy war-game, a player starts as a recruit in the Sniper Saloon & Salad Bar, where players can pick up local gossip, brag about wins, and explain defeats. There, players can also challenge other players to a Sniper! game, or play the computerized opponent. A drill instructor waits in the Bootcamp to show you new players how the game is played. The Halls of Fame also display players' best scores. In a game of Patrol two opposing squads, Alpha and Bravo, meet in no-man's land between their front lines. In a game of Infiltrate, the Alpha force must cross from one side of the map to the other, exiting the map at Bravo’s Victory Point area before Bravo can stop Alpha. The player has a small squad of soldiers to command, and plays either the Germans or the Americans, somewhere in western Europe during World War II.
Paul C. Schuytema reviewed the Sniper! computer game in the January 1993 issue of Compute! (Issue 148):
CompuServe offers SNIPER!, a European-theater, squad-level, World War II war game. The game can be played in ASCII, but the text characters are far too cryptic for my tastes. What makes this game shine is the graphical shell which you can down-load (there's no connect-time fee but there is a $2 flat fee for the software).
The software gives the player a skewed 3-D view of the battlefields (including building interiors), as well as several information windows displaying the status of the game.
While the game's control logistics seem a little obtuse at first, you can enter a modified boot camp where you explore all of the various commands. Battles are arranged in the game's meeting area, called the saloon. The games are actually missions with set goals for each side.
The game given a positive review in Computer Gaming World, admiring it both as a social experience as well as a competitive game.
1 ^ Close Assault by S. Craig Taylor was set in World War II and released by Yaquinto in 1983. It was reworked by Taylor as a modern game and released by Avalon Hill in 1984 as Firepower. One of the other "modern" games mentioned by Winter may be Ranger which deals with post World War II combat (released in 1984 by Omega Games). A much earlier game named City Fight had been released by SPI in 1979 and may also be what Winter refers to.
2 ^ It is unclear at present which three subsequent games Winter is referring to. Firepower and its predecessor Close Assault has been mentioned. Battle Cry may be one of them; it was released in 1986 by 3W. Soldiers was released by West End Games in 1987, focusing on World War II man-to-man combat. In January–February 1990 (over a year following Winter's comments), S&T Magazine released Iron Cross in issue number 132, which was billed as "Man to Man Combat on the Eastfront 1941-42."
- Winter, Steve (May–June 1988). "Review of Sniper! Second Edition". The Wargamer. 2 (6).
- Estvanik, Steve (August 1989). "The Game Wizards". Dragon (148): 54–58.
- Schuytema, Paul C. (January 1993). "Review of Sniper!". Compute! (Issue 148). Italic or bold markup not allowed in:
- Wilson, Johnny (July 1989), "Sniper! Telecommuting to War", Computer Gaming World, p. 27