Tuesday 10 March 2015

Halo Wargames (Spartan Games)

So, Spartan Games is making spaceship and ground combat games based on the Halo universe.

First reaction: Heh, Spartan Games is making Halo. How apt!
Second reaction: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Why the negativity?  Well, I do like Spartan Games as a company.  The interactions I have had with them have impressed me with their courtesy and service.  I also like the idea of a small company successfully growing and carving out a niche in the wargaming world.

However, their rules suck.   And they use the same rules for every game system they have ever put out.  Someone needs to tell them - their rules aren't that good! Certainly not worth copying repeatedly...

People play their games because of the genre (Firestorm Armada was the only supported space game out there until FFG arrived a year ago, Uncharted Seas is fantasy naval - basically inheriting the nostalgia/goodwill from the long defunct Man O'War - and Dystopian Wars has ridden the steampunk craze as pretty much the only offering in 3mm).  People aren't playing their games for their rules.

Given their track record so far, it is hard to imagine Halo (both space and ground) being anything other than a carbon copy of Dystopian Wars/Firestorm Armada/Uncharted Seas with Halo models.

Basically, the Firestorm engine reminds me of an attempt to copy the Battlefleet Gothic engine with all the good bits stripped out and replaced with worse bits.  (Yes, I know Uncharted came first, but it has no direct comparison/competitor)

Let's compare:

Battlefleet Gothic
Buckets of dice (....if you like that sort of thing)
+Blast markers both add "terrain"and damage effects that look nice
+Order system has risk-reward and allows ships to be set in one of 6 "modes"
+Crew skills actually matter
+Torpedoes move unguided across the table, acting as extra terrain/hazard
+Less record keeping than your average space game
 Unique ornate, baroque ships - ridiculously large because of game universe (OK, I guess)
WW1 in space feel because of game universe (fair enough)
Firestorm Armada
-Increases the buckets of dice with even more dice... ...ok this is getting silly
-Adds exploding d6s to boot (extra randomness, yay!)
-No blast markers or "terrain"
-Replaces orders system with random card deck you have to buy separately
 -Crew are simply extra damage tracking
-Torpedoes simply act as guns you can intercept with extra dice roll "saves"
+Less record keeping than your average space game
 -Ridiculously large, bland, generic ships.... ....size chosen because of BFG? (There's something ridiculous about seeing normal spaceships move less than their length).  Generic spaceships are very bland (I could scratch build more interesting ships with a hobby knife, glue and some erasers)

Firestorm Armada emphasizes the more annoying qualities of BFG (huge models vs small movement, buckets of dice) whilst removing the good (blast markers and crew orders added flavour and depth); even whilst freed from the justification of fitting Warhammer's universe. 


Can you have fun with Firestorm Armada? Sure. I can also have fun playing Yahtzee, if I'm in the mood.   And that's what Firestorm Armada feels like.  Push all your models into the centre of the table and chug handfuls of dice, hoping for 6s.  Tactics, smactics.  Who needs 'em?

If all you seek is a reason to mindlessly push models around the table; then you'll love the chance to do the same in the Halo universe.  But if you aspire to more in your gaming (I.e. you actually like using tactics and outsmarting your enemies rather than victory-through-rolling 6s) then Spartan's mindless rules copy-and-paste might leave you cold.

Oh well, there's always Dropfleet Commander - here's hoping they do something original and good. 


  1. I bit the bullet when Dystopian Wars first came out. The models were gorgeous and the setting was interesting for someone new to naval games. After decoding the awful rulebook (1st ed was a mess) I realised after several games it was plain boring. And no matter how good the models are, nobody plays boring games, so the scene here died. At least I got my money back selling all that crap.

  2. They should just repackage and sale a not BFG game and models. They make every thing out of scale with other companies on purpose so as to "encourage the purchase of there rather mediocre figs and rules".
    Actually does any one still make not BFG ships and fleets? :D

    1. Not as far as I know. GW swings its banhammer around so liberally I doubt anyone would even dare clone even one of their defunct games.

      I use to make proxies out of plastic as a teen - played it quite a lot.

      It's pretty sad that Full Thrust remains the benchmark 20 years on, and Gamwes Workshop (!) is the most innovative in that period. I thought sci fi would be innovative but it's full of wet navy in space clones.

      I actually fiddled around with space games once. Martin collected the links on his blog


      The vector movement system is rather neat (one of the simplest and best I know - I'm not being immodest as I mostly adapted ideas from a boardgame) but due to "clutter" - each ship also has a vector token - it limits ships to 4-8 per side.

      I'm revisiting the genre sometimes soon actually, as I recently dug out a bunch of unpainted spaceships during my shift to a new man cave.

  3. What is the "FFG" referenced in the article as a supported space game?

    1. Fantasy Flight Games. Makers of Star Wars: X-Wing, and Star Wars: Armada. The former I think is now the #2 or #3 bestselling game after 40K. Shows there was a spaceship game market after all, despite 15-20 years of no one bothering with the genre. (A bit like PC gaming actually)