Wednesday 5 August 2015

Rogue Planet - Sci Fi Skirmish Rules Review (Derelict Planet Edition)

Note: This is a review that has been sitting in my draft box for a while.  Usually, Bombshell Games have 3 review stages
(a) Sticker Shock - i.e. "wow, these mechanisms are unusual"
(b) Easy after All - i.e. "oh, this actually plays pretty quickly and easily"
(c) It's Deeper than It Looks - i.e. "Ahhh, I didn't realise that at first"  "x effects y, I see."

Foreword: Due to my limited playtesting time, I didn't really get a grip on (c).  However it's been out for awhile and there should be plenty of AARs and other reviews about, so I might as well publish it as quite a few people have been asking. If nothing else, you'll get an idea of how the game works on a basic level.

A free "Derelict Planet" update has made the rules much prettier and more user friendly - my review is aimed at the original but I have (hopefully) amended it where appropriate.

So far I've been quite impressed by the series of games put out by Mr Spivey.  I've played Havoc (fantasy skirmish), Battlefield:MMW (modern skimish), OPS4, and Mayhem (fantasy mass battle).

Each one was full of different ideas that were well outside the usual 40K-knockoff envelope (yes, Bolt Action/Flames of War/Empire of the Dead, I'm looking at you). So I was quite excited to find a review copy of Rogue Planet to arrive in my inbox. I was expecting interesting mechanisms and game design decisions. And I was right. In spades.

 The upgraded Derelict Edition has improved layout and graphics.

The Shiny: The original was comic-style B&W, but the free Derelict Edition update goes full colour throughout, with a real Frank Frazetta Flash Gordon/Conan-style 50s art feel to it, which goes a way to justify its usual $20AUD price tag (which puts it, for me anyway, outside "impulse buy" range).  The rather dense layout of the original has been spaced out for easier reading. There's a nifty index/quick reference at the back for finding things. There's a separate points-list pdf for quick reference when creating warbands. Even the quick-reference sheet has lots of text.  The original was short (24 pages) but overly dense.  The new edition doubles the page count and unpacks much more nicely. I believe you can get a softcover version and I'm quite tempted, given the nice layout.

The original was stylish but only serviceable, and rather a dense read; the update has made it rather nice. Has a good range of play aids included.

Actions & Reactions:
Players get Action Points (AP) - they can either play it safe and have an automatic 3AP, or roll a d6 and potentially get more or less.  Players use AP to do stuff.  The "reactive"player who hasn't had their turn yet can spend AP reacting to enemy actions in LoS. I really like games with reaction rules - it means you are always involved in the game, and don't have to sit around like a dummy as an enemy walks his entire army up to yours and fires without retaliation.  (*cough* 40K/WFB *cough*

Reactions include casting magic, counter-charging, dodging, and reactive missile fire.   Players use 2d6 to succeed at actions; a 10+ is a total success, a 7-9 is a partial success, and a 6 or less fails. With a partial success, there are complications - among them, a single enemy unit gets a free move.

TL:DR  The reaction system is very distinct in this game - I'm talking Crossfire/Infinity/Tomorrow's War-level influential, as opposed to say Clash on the Fringe where reactions present but toned down.  You've always got something to do.  The ability to counter-charge/intercept enemy moves at any distance stops it becoming bogged in a Vietnam-in-Space shootfest though.

The old cover.  The older book was shorter but was B&W and had very dense formatting. 
You automatically get both versions. Win-win.

Unit Stats: I'm not a fan of the super-minimalist false economy approach of say Song of Blades (which has 2 stats, but then a zillion special rules) - I''m pleased to see RP has enough stats to be descriptive, for the space fantasy genre.
CQ = close combat skill
RAT = ranged combat skill
DEF = avoid damage/dodge
ARM = how tough
There are also equipment and abilities which I'll cover later.

There is no measuring.  OK, that got my attention.  Units can move in a straight line until it hits an obstacle or terrain. Similar rules include And One for All and Crossfire.  Actually, there is "some" measuring - generated on occasions when needed and using 3 fingers on the hand, scout salute style. 

"No measuring/unlimited move/shoot" presupposes a large amount of terrain, which breaks movement/firing into reasonable chunks.  Not everyone may possess this - a few 40K corner ruins isn't going to cut it.  To be honest though, the "no measuring" seems at times a bit gimmicky to me - kinda like making a challenge for yourself  "how can we make this game not use measuring" (actually how it first came about, with Crossfire) It's a pretty significant abstraction to make, and kinda divorces the game from a set range/time scale.  The author regards it as integral to his action/reaction mechanic though, and I guess I agree, in the way he has used it.

Terrain can impede missile fire like usual - but my favorite is how you can spend AP to attack enemy who are within actively treacherous terrain (quicksand, deadly plants, etc.). "I attack you with that carnivorous creeper you're standing next to."  That's fun - and encourages interesting terrain setups!

This is a contested roll between CQ (or DEF, if the defender chooses).  Like Mayhem, there are "soft counters"(+1) and "hard counters"(+2) to specific weapons and circumstances. Missile fire works in similar fashion.  A failure (6 or less) can result in extra damage being taken unless fighting defensively using DEF.

Doubles do critical damage. Damage effects depend on the type of units. Light, medium and heavy units take damage in different ways. Light units take damage equal to the difference in skills between combatants on a 7+, and are knocked out on criticals  Heavy units take only a single point of damage on a 7+, and the difference on criticals.

Units may spend "energy" to negate damage.  This is unusual, as energy is drawn from a common pool (the leader has his own); so you can choose to boost the survivability of a unit you are loathe to lose. It adds a layer of decision making (do I spend the energy keeping this guy alive, or save it for later?) and is definitely a mechanic I can't recall seeing before.

Units can charge, collide with, slam or throw objects and opponents, and destroy terrain. This immediately made me think of Warmachine (and the models that languish on my workbench as I mislike the cheesy official rules). Some rules require d4 and d8 which is a tad annoying but you can stick with d6 if you need.

Rogue Die & FX
FX is just like the 2d6 system used by 2HW games - roll 2d6, and each 4+ is a success. You can have 1,2 or no successes.  

Rogue Dice is an extra dice thrown along with the usual 2d6 during rolls. If it matches one of the other 2d6, a special event is triggered - like, say, extra damage caused by a power sword. A little bit like Wild Dice from Savage Worlds.

 The text in Derelict edition is spaced up and broken up well - a criticism I had of the original edition.

Make your Own Army
I'm pleased to see this included, as not having a points system handicapped the otherwise-excellent Havoc. You can price up stats and armour, then add gear.  You can have one-off units or "groups"of four who operate a bit differently.

Heroes can have free extra abilities like magical powers, signature weapons, and command bonuses. They can have followers called "Pawns"  which are kind abstract and do not take up gameplay space - they're actual miniatures, but act kinda like a token that follows the leader around.  Heroes can use their pawns to absorb damage, and pawns give abilities like extra fire rate, melee, command, and magic bonuses.

I like the concept of pawns - they both add customization to your hero, and allow you to damage the hero and remove various special abilities - kinda like "critical hits"on a spaceship game or a boss in a videogame - but without any record keeping.   However, I personally found  abstract way the pawns are presented in game a bit "jarring."  It's treating a miniature as a special ability or trait - not an actual mini per se. I can see the depth it adds to gameplay - it just seems a little too offbeat (I feel self-conscious saying this, as I am always griping about paint-by-the-numbers mainstream games).  

TL:DR - Pawns are a really cool idea.  They add special abilities to heroes which can be stripped off them, like a boss fight in a videogame. It allows critical hits without record keeping.  However, having a mini on the table represent an abstract concept is a bit jarring.

Armies get "energy" depending on the units they contain i.e. 1 for a light armour unit, 3 for a heavy - this can be used to negate damage. The way I played it, the energy is held in a common "pool"to be spent on units as you wish, with the leader having his own pool.  It was a tad confusing as the energy rules were kinda scattered randomly though the rules.  I do like the idea of a layer of "resource management" but I found the concept of shared hitpoints a little weird. 

Again, like the pawns, I understand the gameplay idea behind it, that added depth and resource management (players must make the decision "is it worth spending energy to save this mini?") but I'm not sure if I'm comfortable with how it 's presented in the game - which is a bit unfair, as having a shared hit-point pool is probably no more abstract than a shared action pool, which is used in quite a few of my favourite games.  And it IS sci-fi, after all.

TL:DR - "Energy" is kinda the shared overall resilience of your warband. It is a resource to be managed that adds a layer of decision to each hit you take "is it worth spending energy to try to save this mini?" I.e. if an enemy has powerful vehicle on board and you just took a hit to your last bazooka guy.  It adds a layer of decisions and is a unique concept. It's also gave me an initial "wtf" reaction when I first encountered it. (Not many rules can claim that!)

There's a definite Frazetta/Conan/Flash Gordon vibe...

Equipment & Weapons
There is a good but manageable selection of weapons, including normal blades, great 2-handed weapons, lances, whips/flails etc - and powered variants thereof. You can create pretty much anything you want by mixing and matching attributes.  The list of missile weapons ~8 is more limited in comparison - and tiny compared to many other rules.  Though you have to attack the closest target anyways, maybe proper ranges does "hurt" the game a bit with regards to variety in missile weapons?

There is a small pool of spells - lift, anchor and throw, blink (short range teleport) and time stop (amused to see it here, as I remember once discussing with Brent that time manipulation, along with Portal-style guns, is something I don't often see in a wargame).  Again I feel a bit of a hypocrite saying this, given my dislike of extra special rules, but I'd have liked a few MORE spells.

There is a range of game "levels" which increase in complexity, so you can gradually absorb the mechanisms as you go.  Whilst there is some simple rules for advancement, I suspect Rogue Planet might be just too "out there" to attract the old Necromunda crowd anyways (who will probably gravitate towards the more familiar Clash on the Fringe) and is more likely to compared against the Song of Blades series with the audience I expect it to gather.

TL:DR  A minimalist selection of spells and weapons. However you can see this has been done to prevent player overload.  (Also, the way the game is introduced gradually in "levels" of increasing complexity).  The author did this previously in his Mayhem mass battle fantasy rules, where I criticized the lack of magic, I recall.  It's a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't. Given the author's tendency to upgrade his products, it wouldn't surprise me to see free expansions added in time. 

I appreciate it when indie authors put the effort in to "pretty up" their games...

A set of rules both simpler and more complex than they appear.  It may be only 24 pages, but they are very "dense" rules which I found a little hard to follow at times - mostly because of the unfamiliar ideas.  The rules writer is wonderfully inventive, but sometimes it seems like ideas are shoehorned into the game "just because it seemed cool."  It seems a reverse of say, TFL games - they seem to pick a period/genre and design a game around it.  Rogue Planet seems to be a bunch of original and interesting design ideas that has been turned into a game. It's certainly fun to try out, as there are quite a lot of "different" concepts crammed into Rogue Planet:

*no measurements (always a "!")
*energy pool (a general resource which negates damage when spent)
*roll the dice or accept half the dice value (I.e. roll d6 or accept a default 3) - risk vs reward
*pawns (kinda hero powers, represented by a miniature yet in practice a hero's abstract attribute)
*actions/reactions (not revolutionary, but goes far beyond simple overwatch into Infinity/Crossfire territory - unique in the way it is combined with no measuring/unlimited moves)

I found this ruleset quite thought provoking in how I instinctively was uncomfortable with some aspects of it, despite liking it "on principle." Ivan Sorensen said in response to another post "to be successful, games need to be only a bit clever"   I.e. introduce maybe one or two new/neat ideas but keep the rest conventional. Rogue Planet might be a good example for this argument. That said, it is very successful on Wargames Vault and I think it will very much appeal to a certain sort of gamer.

Perhaps I'm being nitpicky.  There's a lot to like about this game, which has a deceptive amount of depth. There are plenty of  'decision points' - even when activating a model you can choose to take the default 3 actions or take a risk and roll a d6 for it (potentially gaining more or less). I like the flexibility of the unit creator. Pawns and energy both add many layers of decisions/resource management.  A reaction system keeps everyone involved.  I have no "actual" complaints about the rules, bar the rather limited spell and weapons selections.

As a bonus, Rogue Planet isn't aimed to be hard sci fi.  A genre I used to love but now am completely jaded with.  It's like everyone and their dog has realised they can make a single ruleset for modern combat/WW2 and then re-use it for 'hard sci fi' (or vice versa) with a minimum of adjustment.   Platoon-level Vietnam/Afghanistan in space is getting old about as old as the WW2-wet-navy in space that is 90% of spaceship rules.  I'm actually starting to pine for a certain grim dark world where psychic powers, chainswords and energy blades are legitimate weapons. Rogue Planet certainly does space fantasy, and not only does that, but in a completely fresh way.

Recommended?  Yes It'll give an interesting game experience, and has many different design elements to differentiate it from the usual regurgitated 40k ripoff rules.  Outwardly simple,  there are many decision points and layers of tactics. Whilst it is not a Necromunda replacement, I like how you can make your own units and forces, and it has simple advancement rules.  I think this will be a cult hit with a certain type of gamer.  It's clever.  Perhaps too clever for me - I get the feeling I need to play it a lot more to plumb its depths.

More Flash Gordon than 40K.  The most interesting game you'll try this year.  A good excuse to dust off some random sci fi minis, and a completely different change of pace.

Afterword: Usually when I review rules I feel (in my mind) like have pretty accurately "nailed it" but Rogue Planet is not as conventional as, say, Clash on the Fringe. Don't necessarily regard this as the "definitive" review. Read a few AARs, etc. It may be a bit unconventional for some. But if you're a rulebook magpie like me, the mechanics and style makes this a "must have." 


  1. Wow! I not it may sound superficial, but just the art of these rules scream so loud "buy me".

    I am one of those guys who also love SOBH (it actually made me enjoy Fantasy skirmish again), and this sounds really great. There are days when I really like to grind myself down with my opponent in tough battles, but more often there are evenings after a hard day at work, where you just need something of an excuse to move models around with an easy to play ruleset.

    Two questions, if I may: do you think the rules could also cover all this pulpy VSF (like John Carter)? And wouldnt it be a good idea to add all those nice little pets, like robot dogs or in the case of 40k little flying angels/skulls/two-headed eagles/servitors?

    1. Absolutely. RP cites many influences - many TV and videogame - from Final Fantasy, Star Wars, Mass Effect, Spelljammer, Xenoblade, Destiny etc.

      But (perhaps I am subliminally influenced by the art?) screams 1940-60s pulp comics/novels to me. John Carter, definitely.

      Little pets like flying cherubs/robot dogs would be perfect as "pawns" who simply add bonuses and special rules to the heroes. It would be a good excuse for some fun random painting/modeling projects.

    2. Wow! I know it may sound superficial, but just the art of these rules scream so loud "buy me".

      I would definitely listen to the art if I were you! ;)

  2. Sorry about the spelling. Auto-correct change a wrongly written "know" into a "not". So actually it should have read: "I know it may sound..."

  3. I was delighted to see this review because I have had similar problems wrapping my head around the rules. I'm not sure exactly why it's not clicking. To be fair, though, I haven't actually played a game yet so maybe it will all click there. The image this game brings to mind for me is the WH40K _fluff_ which the WH40K _rules_ totally fail to provide. In other words, if you have a terminator marine fighting an Ork in power armor, the fluff will describe them as throwing each other about, knocking things over, etc -- things which the 40K rules don't provide for but Rogue Planet does. It is, in short, a world where having a sword is equally as effective as having a laser-gun, as Brent says in the Intro. It's definitely a unique ruleset.

    I'm curious where all these AARs are that you mention? I've had trouble finding any press about this ruleset so obviously I'm missing it -- the fact that there is a Star Wars book, a band and an app all called "Rogue Planet" isn't helping.

    1. Yes. Rules are quite cinematic! Using three fingers to measure suggests competitive play isn't the priority though you could substitute a stricter 3"

      I don't know if I mentioned "combat tricks" where if an enemy fails against your hero you can reposition your hero anywhere against its base (ie. backflipping over it or whatever...)

      Okaaaaaay - I presumed there would be more AARs as it's been out awhile - I couldn't find many either!

      Looks like I may have involuntarily done the most "definitive guide" yet! :-/

  4. Thanks for the review! :)

    You're right, attacking units with terrain is really fun! It's especially satisfying when you use it to pull off combos like throwing a trooper into a mass of strangling vines and then using them to attack.

    I would like to add a couple of notes on 'no measuring'.

    It's a pretty significant abstraction to make, and kinda divorces the game from a set range/time scale.

    This is true on both counts. Although one could argue that the set range/time scale is set to 'cinematic'.

    An action takes exactly as long as is needed to complete it. Imagine a movie camera following a unit on it’s action. Speed, time, and distance aren’t important or constants but instead bend to what is needed for the shot. Accordingly, heroes can take more actions than other units.

    On a related note, FX related actions would be resolved in slow motion [aka bullet time].

    But, I digress. In addition to allowing the reaction system to work without slowing the game down with constant measuring and checks, not having to measure creates entirely different tactical options that reduce predicability while adding to the cinematic effect of the game.

    In a traditional game with fixed measures and movement rates [unlike something like Mayhem where they vary], after the set-up is finished, experienced players and good AI will see and follow very predictable paths of engagement. There will be some variability, but the best options should be readily apparent based on the fixed options and stats. You see this in tactical grid based games ranging from chess to XCOM. These style games are almost exclusively about maneuver and engagement.

    Rogue Planet, due to the complete freedom of movement, becomes a game about positioning. While positioning obviously requires maneuvering, it becomes very hard to predict which unit an opponent will activate with and where he will go [imagine if Homeworld was a turn based game for example]. This is compounded by the ability to take two actions in a row.

    The other reason I use the term positioning is because not engaging an opponent can be just as useful, if not more-so, than actually getting stuck in. Clever positioning can force an opponent to spend valuable action points to engage or go around a powerful heavy unit so that other units can fire or reposition. This also creates an interesting dynamic on the table as units dance and circle around one another instead of engaging.

    1. This is useful. I think an AAR where you "talk through" decisions you could make could be useful. (There seems to be surprisingly few RP AARs compared to its Wargame Vault sales - perhaps everyone is concerned they are doing it wrong!)

      Sorry not to have got to these rules sooner - I did, but realised I didn't have its deeper concepts "nailed" so decided save it for more testing later.... ...then realised it would be unlikely to happen given my project backlog and two kids under 2 in the house... :-/

  5. perhaps everyone is concerned they are doing it wrong!
    or perhaps too busy playing! :)

    Sorry not to have got to these rules sooner
    No worries! I think you did a great job with it. It's a TON to absorb in 24 pages. Nothing difficult, but it's a lot to process. It's definitely a game that will open up as you play. The Pawn system is a really good example of this. After a few games, it will seem the most natural mechanic in the world [and great for campaigns I might add!].

    1. I think the sticker shock was a bit higher than usual, and I simply didn't play it enough to get past it.

      OT: Are you ever going to do a revised HAVOC?
      I was looking through it the other day, thinking it has to be one of the most underrated books I've got. There's so much to like, but keeping it from playtime is:
      (a) lack of unit builder
      (b) lack of campaign
      (c) rather "forbidding" and inaccessible rulebook
      Given how every subsequent game you've done has (a) and (b), and you've done such a good job with (c) in every other book.... it's a bit of the black sheep of the family. And it would "tidy up" so well!

  6. HAVOC redux is definitely on the list, but I'm not sure when. Time is in short supply right now!

    1. Well, put me on the playtest list right now. :) I have 3 AARs queued up - I just need to get the images associated with the text now so they should be going up no later than next week.

      After this discussion, Rogue Planet is definitely coming soon in the gaming rotation.

    2. Well, put me on the playtest list right now. :)
      You've got it! I'm really looking forward to the HAVOC AARs.

  7. Rogue Planet is currently the 'Deal of the Day' on Wargame Vault.

  8. Excellent review.
    Happy to have stopped by here and caught up with Rogue Planet. Like Nicholas, I'll move R.P. up to 'must play' status!

  9. What a great review! I simply adore the game as it works for both sci-fi, fantasy and steampunk.
    The freedom of movement is very innovative, as are many other rules like the use of scenery to attack your opponent and the pawns. For some reason I keep on envisioning the last as the retinue of a 40k inquisitor, which is often build up with scribes, servo-skulls, servitors, ....
    I still have to find some good AAR or batrep for the game though. Can someone point me to a few?

  10. You really hate 40k. Some toning down of the bashing would go long way to guarantee more satisfying read trough.

    Good review nevertheless.

    1. I seldom criticize readers - I'm doing this illustrate a point:


      I'm curious what vast tracts of this article, devoted to the criticism of 40K (sarcasm), have destroyed your enjoyment of this article.

      #overly sensitive snowflake
      #lacking reading comprehension (a few sentences criticizing rules that mindlessly rip off 40K =/= bashing 40K)

      THAT was bashing.


      On a serious note, if your main take away from the article was "criticism of 40K" then I suggest my comments might have some merit.

      Interestingly, I often directly "bash" Infinity and SoBH and I never see the players leaping to their defence....

  11. Hee hee hee. I've been waiting all day for that response. Sadly I haven't yet played this wonderful game but it remains in the last to play because of the unusual mechanics. And because Havoc by the same author is great fun.

    1. For an interesting example of how people seek things to offend them, watch this Dr Strange trailer, paying attention to the end scene:

      If your response is "Marvel says Buddhists who chant mantras are savages? I cannot enjoy this movie!"....

      ...then I suggest the person missed the point of the joke, which is how dependent we are on wifi - even magical ninja Buddhist monks in remote monasteries.

      But I guarantee you there will be someone in the Youtube comments or the net somewhere who is offended on behalf of the Buddhist monks....

      ...And there's always someone who is offended on behalf of 40K, even if I am not even criticising them, but rather Bolt Action/FoW etc....

  12. Well shit I was toying around with a similar concept to pawns for my homebrew game. Now I just feel like it will be a rip off.

    1. Don't let it stop you. Gaming concepts are not patentable, and many good ideas are becoming mainstream... ...because so many sets of rules use them.