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


  1. I was waiting for your review you know? ;-)
    BTW, I'd like to know if you found the ruleset interesting enough to try a full campaign.
    Thank you for your review.

    1. Javier - AAR and sample campaign coming. I've only experimented with my minis - haven't tried a campaign.

      I plan on doing a walkthrough campaign of 3 missions.

    2. OK. I'm already waiting for those AARs!
      BTW, I'm working on a build your own ships and on a points system for FC that will be free downloadable at the THW Yahoo group soon.

    3. Be patient - I have report cards and a new baby taking up my time!

      The points system, while you or I may not need one personally, is important to many people: and if you're trying to sell rules then appealing to as broad an audience as possible is a good thing.

      Consider having a look at the free Mordhiem rules. You might be able to add the ability to "buy" extra weapons and gear, as well as recruiting better pilots.

      Also, it might be worthwhile publishing the EM4 fighters you use for specific 5150 universe fighters (i.e. stats with photos on yahoo group). Many people feel more comfortable with a "universe" pre-made for them.

      Mordhiem link (Spanish :-)

  2. Hi there! I am thinking on trying this game with some very small ships (fighters are 2cm long and corvettes 4cm, titans about 7-8cm). What are the measures of the map in inches? Because I dont know If I have enough space.

    Good review, I hope you do some ARR's or something.

    1. You don't need a huge map. I think I used both 4x4ft (120cm sq) and 4x6ft tables when playing the game last. You can always scale down ranges if needed.

      I haven't come back to 5150 for ages as I re-purposed my space fighters as sci fi submarines (!) but I'll have to give it a run over the holidays as I haven't played through a campaign yet,