(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.
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.
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."