Saturday 18 May 2013

Revell 1:50 Viking Longship

Grabbed one of these off eBay for $25 and I must say it looks the goods.

I know 1:50/1:48 is "about" 28mm but since 28mm varies so much it was a bit of a gamble.

I'm not a fan of "modelling" but for the price the Revell longship is worth a look. The sails (not included in the shot) are hard white plastic, in a "billowing" shape.

GW's LOTR stuff is, ironically, pretty lifelike and one of the least "heroic" (i.e. ridiculously oversized) miniature lines - so I used it as my "frame of reference."

As you can see, the longship seems a little small - but not jarringly so.  The miniatures' base makes it appear proportionately larger.

If you look at the size of the Viking roundshields, however, the scale seems pretty spot-on.

The "rounded bottom" of the model ship means it is only really good for acting as a "beached" longship - but that is all I really intended it for anyway - as a scenario marker for a raid, as I cannot think of any Viking boarding actions I would need to re-enact.

I dislike multi-part models....  ...but after all this is a "model kit" designed for those strange masochists enthusiasts (who probably also enjoy meaningless frustration in activities like crosswords, Sudoku and puzzles) it is fairly restrained with a modest but not unreasonable amount of parts.  I'd say it looks like an "average" to "easy" kit - but I'll get back to you on that.

I also notice there is a HMS Beagle which might stand in well for a pirate ship, and a S-100 S-Boot which might be useful in WW2 scenarios. 

TL:DR  Not bad for $25 - seems to fit 28mm fine - I'll let you know how much I fill up my "swear jar" completing it.

Sunday 12 May 2013

5150 Fighter Command - Space Fighter Miniatures Game Review

At last - a space fighter game to challenge the venerable Silent Death.*

Anyway, since I interviewed Javier last year this is a game I have been waiting for.  This is 2HW's second attempt at the space genre.  5150 Star Navy was more a fast-playing campaign system with abstracted gameplay for mass battles, rather than the Full Thrust replacement many craved.  5150: Fighter Command promises gritty fights between flights of fighters, made by a fan of the old Wing Commander PC game series. 

Studio Bergstrom makes excellent fighters... that bear an uncanny resemblence to popular TV shows. 
Super cheap at only $1.25 each!

The Shiny
Well I plumped for a pdf and given most 2HW games are softcover B&W with a colour cover I presume my comments will fit the print version as well.

I am not a great fan of the 2HW editing and layout and I personally find reading the rulebooks a chore. This is not helped by the fact 5150:FC is quite "dense."   The pdf is large - weighing in at 67 pages of rules plus another 30 or so pages of appendices, ship info, quick play charts  etc. As usual for 2HW games there are lots of "reaction charts" which look a bit confusing but you usually only need a few of them.

There are plenty of ship charts for the homebrew 5150 universe and I appreciate the "Reaction Test" sheets which detail key reactions for fighters, capital ships on 3 handy pages.

5150:FC will use any ships, and indeed the author uses the super cheap EM4 Silent Death plastics I have used in the past.  I can also recommend Studio Bergstrom for your not-Stars Wars and not-BSG needs - the minis are always beautifully cast, and flash free. 

5150: Fighter Command draws influences from the old PC game: Wing Commander

Pilots and Crews
Fighters can be piloted by Stars (Starbuck, Luke Skywalker) or Grunts (the cannon fodder). This cinematic conceit well suits a fighter campaign.  You have complete control over the stars, but grunts will react depending on circumstances (and dice rolls).  Stars also have cinematic longevity (they cannot be killed by lower-rated pilots, get bonus dice and can "cheat death."

Pilots are rated REP 2 (civilians) to REP 6 (godlike heroes) with most being REP 3-5.  I've often wondered why 2HW never switched to d10 as this would allow them a wider range of ability types with a more gradual scaling.  Stars can get two "special attributes" and grunts get one. These include sci fi staples such as "maverick"  "born leader"  "exceptional pilot" and ..."drunk."

Fighters, Weapons and Stuff
Fighters are classed as light, medium or heavy. They have a solid selection of weapons that cover most sci fi series - lasers, mass drivers, plasma cannon, rail guns. There are missiles, mines, rockets and torpedoes, with sub-classes such as swarmers (think Macross) and leech missiles (shield missiles from PC games). A good mix of weapons, without going overboard. So far so good.

However there is NO points system.  The author suggests that points systems are inherently imbalanced and games depend more on player skill than otherwise. This may be true, but in a space game, the absence of a "ship creation" system is glaring, and it may alienate potential players.

Stars get to choose their actions and reactions, but grunts usually react to certain situations based on dice rolls made against their skill (REP).

At the start of the turn both players roll a d6.  The lowest scorer moves all ships and missiles, then the higher scorer moves.  The lower scorer than completes any actions, then the high scorer carries out actions.  Actions include firing, repairing, etc. 

However not all fighters will get to act. Only fighters who have a REP higher than the dice roll can act - which means better pilots will be able to act more often and rookie pilots will often miss out.
I.e. a "4" is rolled for a REP 3 flight of Vipers.  As their REP is lower than the roll, they are inactive and can only "react" to enemy actions.  A REP 4 or 5 flight would be able to act.  

Fighters can use afterburners which can yield up to double speed depending on rolls and pilot skill. Turning is like many space/fighter games - move half distance, make a turn; move the remaining distance, make a turn.  Ships can increase or decrease their speed based on their acceleration.  Pretty standard so far. 

However...  Active fighters can make special maneuvers instead of normal movement. Fighters within 5" (visual range) can perform "dogfight" maneuvers.  These will be triggered based on the facing and direction of the opposing fighter.  These can be triggered by reaction tests.  

This allows "NPC" fighters to be controlled by their reaction rolls but may mean combat positioning is dictated more by pilot "REP" ratings and dice rolls rather than the maneuverings of the players themselves.   

"PEFS" (Possible Enemy Forces) or "blips" are picked up on scanners from 20"; at visual range (5") can "see" enemy ships and is the range where fighter combat usually occurs.  

Once enemies are "In Sight" a test is rolled for all in visual range. The highest scorer acts first.  Stars can choose exactly how to react (fire, dogfight, use afterburners, change course, etc); grunts will fire if they can, and dogfight or change course if they cannot.  

Reaction Tests
These are heavily used in 2HW games and 5150:FC is no different.  There are lots of tests but the most common are the "Received Fire" (when a fighter has been shot) "Countermeasures" (against missiles) but can include ejecting, collision, landing, repair, and stuns.  

Ships that pass the tests may perform actions like snap fire, afterburning away, changing course or even retiring from the fight.  

Combat Resolution
The typical weird 2HW system where 2d6 are rolled and rolls of 7-9 score hits if certain criteria are fulfilled; and any 10+ hits regardless.  It's supposed to be simple but I find it more awkward than otherwise.

Any hits roll 1d6 against the weapon's damage or "impact" rating; if the d6 score is less damage occurs and a d6 is rolled for hit location.

Hit areas include engine, shield, hull, guns, comms, and cockpit. A 2nd hit to the same area destroys the fighter. This is similar to Hind Commander (and Check Your Six?) and means a few micro d6 can be used to track damage rather than recording zillions of hitpoints an elaborate ship data sheet.  

 Fighters can attempt to repair a damaged area each activation.  

Capital Ships. They're awesome. 

Capital Ships
5150: FC is mostly aimed at flights of fighters, but capital ships are needed to transport and supply them.  They are fairly simple - they have main guns and torpedoes and can transport fighters, bombers and assault dropships.  They are divided into light (destroyers, escorts) medium (cruisers) and heavy (battleships, carriers). They use the same rules except they accelerate and turn ponderously and have far more powerful shields.   Capital ships have their own series of reaction tests and their own damage table.  There are rules for ramming and boarding actions. Players can elect to be the "Star" captain of a capital ship (aka Captain Adama).

This is important for a space game and 5150: FC supplies a "random terrain generator"  which can include minefields and drifting hulks along with the more common asteroid belts and dust clouds. 

Battlestar Galactica > Star Wars. There, I went and said it.  
The core "rules" are 42 pages but there is (as expected) a solid campaign component.   The game is aimed squarely at scenarios and focusses strongly on campaigns.  There is no "points system" but the campaign system uses an "investment level" that, depending on the intel level, can cause significant mismatches.  Typical forces include a single flight of light, medium or heavy fighters, with or without an accompanying capital ship (depending on "investment level.")  Your squadron may have extra "assets" such bonus rockets or missiles depending on your investment level. 

You can have good or bad intel - you may find yourself significantly outgunned or missions may just "go wrong" - the mission you prepared for might not be the one you actually have to accomplish. 

"PEFs" or "blips" can be moved and resolved automatically depending on dice rolls and tables set out in the rules. This is very handy as it allows you to play solo or co operatively against "NPC" ships and fighters. 

Random events can occur (such as space pirates, rescuing escape pods, or encountering an enemy ace) and reinforcements can escalate battles on their own.

Missions include patrols, strike, boarding actions and defensive CAP and escortAfter battles pilots can be promoted or replaced, gain or lose fame and "REP" and track your success in the campaign overall.  There is some information on the homebrew 5150 "Game Universe" which, to be honest, I don't find very interesting or attractive. However they will suit as handy generic races if you are using less recognizable miniatures such as the ones from EM4.  

As usual, 2HW puts in a very strong campaign element and the solo/co operative gamer is well catered for here. 

 Talk of Wing Commander.... maybe PC space sims aren't dead yet. 
By the creator of Wing Commander - Chris Roberts. 
The trailer is actual in-game footage! More details here.
5150:Fighter Command caters for a different audience than Silent Death, eschewing a point system in favour of a strong campaign/narrative focus.  It has far more depth of gameplay than the rather sparse 5150: Star Navy and allows you to field fighters from your favourite movies.  

Some players may dislike the emphasis on pilot skill "REP" and automated "reactions" which can detract from the player's input - but remember you are only a single "Star" pilot (who CAN choose his reactions freely) mixing it up with less skilled "grunts."  

The strength is in its simple but deep campaign and mission setup -  individuals and squadrons can progress in a Mordhiem-style setup notable for its ease of use. I also like the simple damage system which is easily tracked and avoids the "dozens of hitboxes" trap.  Best of all, you can play it co-operatively or even solo. As space gaming is a bit more niche than your average "40K" or "Warmahordes" club, and finding an opponent can be difficult -  this is a not-insigificant feature. 

Recommended:  If the idea of guiding a fighter squadron through a series of missions appeals to you, then look no further.  5150: Fighter Command has to my knowledge no obvious rivals bar some Silent Death house rules (Mongoose's Blue Shift remains vaporware) and it is by far the most playable space campaign system out there. And unlike Star Navy, it is tied to a pretty decent tactical game.  

*No, X-Wing doesn't count. Since (a) it is more an (expensive) CCG and (b) it reuses Wings of War's guessing game mechanics

Friday 10 May 2013

Back to Infinity

I have a weird relationship with Infinity. I think it is an awesome game, with great models and innovative, elegant game design concepts, that has been wrecked by a ridiculous amount of special rules, skills, abilities, and weapons. 

It is a points-based competitive game where "lists" were secondary to player skill and tactics. "It's not your list - it's you," was the famous Infinity catchphrase.

However the game has succumbed to rules creep (aka "Malifaux syndrome") so victory can often go to he who remembers the most rules.  Base Infinity had 54 special skills, Human Sphere increased that to 76 and Paradiso upped the special rules count to 83.  In addition, there are currently 61 unique weapons, there are a dozen unique ammo types and there are over 30 different pieces of equipment. Personally, I think 200+ special exceptions to rules is a bit much for a RPG, let alone a competitive wargame.

The new Infinity cry should be "It's not your list - it's your memory." An iPad linked to the rules wiki is pretty much mandatory for play.

Anyway, for a while I have been determined to get back to the basics. So I dragged out two simple forces - a Ariadnan force (me) made up of 4 Kazak riflemen and a Scout sniper, against Yu Jing squad of 4 Celestial Guard riflemen and a sniper (wife).

Turn #1.  I deployed first and took the first turn. I advanced my scout sniper to the central buildings and my rifleman in pairs up the right side where cover was thickest.

My scout sniper was taken out from a rifleman firing from under the pipe.  I positioned him poorly (not in cover) but I was "surprised" by the long effective range of the humble combi rifle.

Turn #2.  My wife moved her sniper to my far left, but as it had no LoS I kinda forgot about it - with unpleasant consequences to me later...  then moved her forces forward.  My scout sniper forced an ARO but was promptly gunned down burst of fire from a rifleman. I forgot how long optimal ranges are, even for relatively short ranged rifles.  0-1.

Do you see the sniper in the top central building building? I didn't. My guy died.

Turn #3. I tried to seize initiative back with a raid down the right flank.  Sadly my rifleman crossed the LoS of the wife's sniper, artfully hidden in a window on the opposite side of the board.  It fired between the oil drums and my rifleman dropped instantly.  0-2.

A bit shaken, but undeterred I pushed on through the far right building. I hosed two of her rifleman with automatic gunfire; both took half a dozen shots each and passed every armour roll.  I took this as a sign the dice gods were against me.  

The Kazak in the top building scored 9 hits.... without one causing a wound. Naturally, in the next turn he took two hits and failed both his armour rolls. 

Turn #4.  With my scout sniper disposed of, the wife was able to move her forces up the middle.  Thankfully she missed an opportunity to "blindside" me with a rear shot - but no matter.  Firing from cover she delivered two shots to my rifleman, who was punished for his earlier failure to pass an armour roll by promptly failing his own. 0-3.

Then one of her troops poked around a building to take on my last two troops sheltering at the corner of a building. My lead Kazak took two rifle rounds to the chest and dropped.  0-4.

With my luck thus far, I wasn't expecting to win (or even survive) my last opposed roll. 
I didn't.

Turn #5. My last remaining rifleman (also my Lieutenant) failed his nerve test. Typical. As an upside, my very competitive wife (who is such a sore loser she refuses to play PC FPS games against me for more than 10 minutes) now thinks Infinity is "awesome" and she wants to play more.  There's a silver lining in every cloud, I guess.

Thoughts:  Weapon ranges are stunningly long - something I forgot to my expense early in the game.  Mistakes are punished harshly, and lethality is high - for me anyway (my wife freakishly passed 9 consecutive armour rolls).  Without any special rules (I ignored the scout's "Camouflage" and "Infiltration" - which could have made a difference early on) the game flowed quickly and lasted only 30 minutes, which included pauses to check on baby.  Infinity at it's most basic is an elegant ruleset, with resource management (Orders), free "reactions", lots of move and action choices and high lethality making for interesting and tense decisions every time you (or your opponent) picks up a miniature. 

Infinity miniatures are a mongrel to paint - they are so fine, fiddly and delicate and you always have their impossibly talented studio painter Angel Giraldez to keep you feeling hopelessly inadequate and unworthy of even basecoating them....   ...but I am inspired nonetheless - currently prepping some chaingun-wielding werewolves to spice up my Ariadnan force....