Sunday 20 December 2015

Lightning Strike 2nd Ed Rules Review (Space Wargame)

I've broadly described the game here but I noticed no real detailed reviews when trawling the internet recently. As this is a potentially excellent game, I'd like to remedy this deficiency.  The game has been around in 2nd edition form since 2000ish... so why haven't more people heard of it?  Glad you asked.

Firstly, how do you make an awesome wargame IP?

#1.  Create a rich, deep background (RPG roots); supported with good art. Include epic-looking mecha to channel Gundam as well as to BSG/Star Wars tropes.

#2.  Create interesting mecha and ship miniatures; design the game in the "sweet spot" where capital ships can share the same board with individual mecha or fighter aces (think X-Wing meets Armada)

#3.  Make sensible, innovative rules that allow players to choose their level of complexity, add in campaigns allowing you to "rank up" mecha and fighter pilots, Necromunda-style and run your own fighter squadron.  Have links to a deep RPG universe. 

Wow. Sounds great!  Okay, now how do you f**k up such potential?

#1.  Make those cool mecha and ships jarring out of scale. I'm talking X-Wing bigger than a Star Destroyer out of scale. So jarring, few actually want to buy the minis, however nicely they are designed.

#2. If that doesn't put people off, overprice the minis, then toss in such high postage it makes GW look benevolent. (Admittedly, probably not overpriced compared to X-Wing)

#3.  Genuinely don't support the product by not making the miniatures.*  I.e. release data cards for 100s of ships, fighters and mecha classe; then only turn 5% into actual models over 15 years.  That's "lack of support."  Then only do limited production runs where the minis are only available every 6 months.

#4. Finally, for those who don't care about the minis, and think the fluff is awesome enough to forgive anything, change the game's timeline/fluff around several times to put a final nail in the coffin.
Okay, okay, you've made your point. DP9 are retards.  So what about the game review you promised?

Lightning Strike is one of the best space rules to come out in the last 15 years... unfortunately it is a sad tale of unfulfilled potential
 The Shiny
It's pretty solid.  Colour cover and centrefold (which shows minis and modelling tehcniques) and a very detailed table of contents and index.  The art is very good.  The book is divided into standard, intermediate, and advanced rules. The three primary fleet lists (i.e army books/codexes) are included.  Much easier to use than the Heavy Gear rules (admittedly not a high bar to jump step over).  My only gripe is the small text.  At 110 dense pages @ $15 it is a Osprey-like bargain (never thought I'd say that about a DP9 product!)  It also comes with any game counters and markers you need to play for recording damage, lock-ons etc.  At that price it might be worth picking up the Lightning Strike Companion (also $15) which has campaign rules and extra fleet lists (the latter of dubious value sans miniatures).

Exo-Armour (mecha/gundam), exo-suits (power armour) and fighters work differently than ships and are much simpler, allowing them to be fielded in numbers. These "standard units" have a normal movement and an overboost speed, weapons (with arc/accuracy/damage), avoidance (a too-hit modifier) and defence (a stat that attack need to beat), plus any perks/flaws (yes, it was originally based on a RPG.) which can include ECM/ECCM.   Furthermore, units have an electronics (sensors and comms) and actions (how many actions/attacks they can make).

Ships also have an avoidance (which works differently to fighters - this can spike or drop depending if the ship is firing, using silent running/ECM etc), damage control to repair damage, and also components (turrets, weapon and hangar bays, point defence) which can be damaged individually.

The players act alternately within many sub-phases - it's alternate move, divided up sensibly.
Independent ships move
Grouped ships move
Independent units (exos, fighters) act
Ungrouped units act
Independent ships act
Grouped ships act
Ship missile launches/hits
I've simplified it a bit but you get the idea. I like how ships move first, but only get to shoot after mecha/fighters move and shoot.

This cleverly differentiates between mecha, fighters, and ships.  Mecha are supremely agile. During their activation they can be anywhere within their movement radius.  I.e. they could move to once side of a 10cm circle, shoot, then move to the other side before ending its turn. Their facing is fixed only at the end of the activation.    They can "overboost" (i.e. increase their radius of the circle) at a -3 to shooting/actions.  Fighters are faster but less agile; they get a free 90d turn, but halve their movement for any other turns.  When overboosting they are blazingly fast, but may only make a single 90d turn at the start of their move.  While small craft are abstracted, ships turn more ponderously but can move in both their movement and action phases.

While mecha/fighters use actions for attacking, ships can also use theirs for damage control, extra thrust, and to ping/spoof enemies (light up enemies with active radar or jam enemy targeting).

Line of sight is only blocked if you are in base contact with something bigger.  Range bands are divided into close combat/short/long.  Most interesting is avoidance - 2300AD fans will like the submarine-warfare feel of this, as ships can increase/decrease their detectability (and thus enemy to-hit modifiers). Firing weapons, thrusting, active radar pinging and laser designators reduces avoidance, whilst cover and spoofing increases it.

Both attacker and defender rolls 2 d6, compare their single highest dice, +/- modifiers, and check the margin of success over their opponent.  This margin of success is the multiplier for damage, i.e. attacker wins 6 to 4, the MoS is 2 - so any damage is x2.

Small units like mecha and fighters are either stunned, crippled (halve stats) or destroyed.  This is very sensible and can be recorded with a token next to a unit. Ships have a more detailed data sheet and can have individual components like turrets blown away. I really like the lack of meaningless hitpoints.

The basic rules are ~30 pages and strike a sensible balance between abstract-yet-interesting mecha and fighters and more detailed capital ships.  There is also rather useful modelling information on how to build asteroids and star maps as well as miniature assembly.  The next 30 pages are intermediate and advanced rules.

 Sadly these are most of the ships available out of 130+ ship designs with published data cards. 
The ship in the top right is a carrier of the mecha... ... which are larger on the tabletop....
Even if you do like the weird scaling, they are only randomly available...

Intermediate Rules
These add in a lot of combat options for your mecha/fighters, like evasion, aiming, and reaction attacks (yay!).  Simple vector movement is added for ships, allowing them to drift one way and fire another.  Melee combat gets a lot more fun - mecha can counter-attack and grapple with foes.   Grappling allows the winner to drag enemies, hold them immobile for an ally to shoot(!), or stun them, in addition to simply attacking them.  Command Points are then added into the game, awarded both to the loser of the initiative and at a rate of 1 per 5 units.  These can be used to take extra actions, free facing changes, or defensive bonuses.

Advanced Rules
Ace Pilots with unique skills and perks (and their points costs) allows you to add heroes with Skywalker or Starbuck-esque skills; as well as ECM/ECCM which allows you to alter your ships avoidance levels.   Normal infantry are added and the ability to perform boarding actions, breaching into ships to fight the units on board.

There are also terrain rules for asteroids, dust clouds, debris fields, factory complexes, installations and dense rock fields, as well as rules for fighting in low orbit.  There are conventional minefields as well as cloaking mines.

Finally, there is rules for ramming and performing lightning strikes - abstracted 'drive by' attacks by units off-board, rather like aircraft are used in ground combat games.  There is also some simple campaign rules (as well as four scenarios) regarding resupply and support ships,  using abstract movement and focusing on battles.  There are tables for random terrain, salvage and the survival of aces, repair costs and reinforcement rolls, and campaign roster sheets, as well as an extra nine scenarios.  I say simple, but they are quite detailed compared to most rulesets. However if you love that sort of thing, the Lightning Strike Companion does a Rolls-Royce version of the campaign. 

The remaining pages are devoted to hardware - perks and flaws - like energy resistant armour or exposed sensors; gear like cloaking devices, and EW (ECM/ECCM) suites.   There are also lots of weapons and their characteristics.  This also elaborates on how weapons work (i.e. point defence can work in standard or shield mode), as well as detailed rules explaining how drones operate.   In addition, it explains the ~30 optional weapons and gear that units (especially mecha) can equip - from advanced sensors and thrusters, to a shield or missile pod or combat claws. 

Weirdly, this is where info for launching and recovering fighters/mecha is found, as well as how to "tag" (laser designate) targets for others.

Finally there is the fleet lists - short and sweet fluff explanations about the navies and main combat units of the Jovian, Venusian and CEGA space fleets, as well as special rules specific to said fleets such as weapon and unit availability, morale and any special rules.

There is also a quick reference which summarises key rules, followed by data on ~130 ships...   ...of which about a dozen actually have miniatures.  Grrrr. 

 (+) Occupies a sweet spot where individual fighter pilots can fly alongside capital ships (most games tend to focus on either solely fighters a la Silent Death or capital ships with fighters as soulless "squadrons" of 6+ - aka Full Thrust)

(+) Cleverly differentiates between ships, mecha and fighters; well-thought-out movement and damage mechanics

(+) Campaign system, ace pilots and cool maneuvers - want to stand on the deck of a battlecruiser in your mecha, ripping off turrets with your fighting claws?  Want to grab an enemy mecha and swing him around for an ally to blow his head off? You can do that...

(+) No meaningless hitpoints! Recording is minimal for fighters/mecha (tokens only) and component-based for ships

(+) Possibly the most innovative rules for the space genre in 15 years (admittedly not a high bar) - mixes submarine-like EW-esque capital ship combat with blazing anime/Star Wars dogfights; capital ships and individual fighter aces both occupy the same tabletop

(+) Rules are well priced and well presented; worth perusing for the ideas alone, even if you have no interest in the game itself

(+) Rich, deep game universe with RPG tie-ins. Companion book has deep campaign system.

(-) Like Battlefleet Gothic, Lightning Strike is too wedded to its game universe for general use; a generic unit builder would skyrocket the versatility of this cheap and innovative set if rules.

(-) What's the point of having mecha and ships in the same battle when the official miniatures are so stupidly out of scale? Also it's hard to source proxy mecha...

(-) Genuinely unsupported, in the "only 10% of ships ever got a model released for them and there's been no progress in 15 years" and "models available only sporadically" way....*

Recommended: Yes Probably the best space rules to come out in the last 15 years, at $15 it is well worth a look, even if you never intend to get the minis.  Poor handling from DP9 prevented this from having the prominence it deserves - a market that was begging to be filled (as evinced by X-Wing/Armada) ....but that ship has sailed...

*Off-Topic Rant: I've talked about supported/unsupported - recently I came across a guy saying "I want to get Dragon Rampant so I can still play with my LOTR minis, since LOTR is unsupported."  Wtf?  Do you still have the LOTR rules? You obviously have the minis.  So if you have the rules and you have the minis, why can't you still play? It's not like GW comes and confiscated your rulebook... How the hell is this "unsupported" nonsense stopping you continuing to have fun with rules and minis you already own...    "I have all the minis and all the rules, but I can't play anymore because GW isn't going to 'support' it anymore." Ridiculous.

Have never produced half the core models and shown no sign of intending to over 15 years - now that is unsupported!


  1. These actually sound pretty fantastic, shame about the lack of decent "official" models but I'm sure some suitable fighters/ships/mecha can be found somewhere... Maybe Shapeways?

    1. I'm sure I've chronicled my hunt for mecha in another post, but I used 1:300 (6mm) mecha from GZG and battle armour from Battletech. DP9's Fleet scale Heavy Gear models (doubtless OOP) also work OK.... basing is the problem.

      Match them with large ships a la Firestorm Armada.... only problem is the very universe-specific unit profiles.

      What it really needs is a unit creator like Starmada et al.

  2. Sounds not unlike the rules for Mobile Frame Zero and Intercept Orbit - the wargame rules for buildable Lego units. I was surprised at the subtlety of the rules. Have you read them?

    1. I looked at them several months back, and dismissed it on account of the page count, + "LEGO".

      I'll have another look.

  3. Thanks for the review. I remember being very interested in the game... 15 years ago. Something that allows for mecha/large ship orbital combat should do well in the market, pity that DP9 can not seem to capitalize on this.

    As for official miniatures, they are splendid, but it seems like "roll your own" would have to be the way to go here (maybe make everything closer to scale while you are at it).

    1. Roll your own would be awesome, bur rather like BFG, it is tied to fluff.

      The problem with using 1:300 mecha (the most readily available and in-scale supply) is they come with a wielded base; which stand in the way of attaching them to a space stand in a "flying" pose - incredibly bloody fiddly to snip off; basically I cbf...

  4. This post made me think of an old game called Jovian Chronicles. I think that was DP9 as well. I never played but the models and RPG looked all right.

    1. Lightning Strike IS derived from Jovian Chonicles. It is the much streamlined, "wargame" version of the RPG universe. I.e. Lighting Strike = Jovian Chronicles setting.

  5. Sorry to be so late to the party! ;)

    Excellent review! Nail on the head and all that. While I kind of came to terms with the scale difference I was still always on the lookout for fleetscale proxies. I found some interesting stuff at Shapeways, but that can get expansive quickly.

    Now... suddenly DP9 has gone and released the old fleet scale fighters that were teased many years ago, and they're hinting at (and even showing mockups of) the possibility of fleet scale EXOs and even an updated ruleset to go with the switch in scales (although I personally don't really think it's needed).

    Still just having actual news about Lightning Strike/Jovian Chronicles almost has me in a state of disbelief. Perhaps the huuuuge success of the Dropfleet Commander kickstarter made DP9 realize that people actually like space games!

  6. Great review! I've played both versions a couple of times, but can't seem to keep my friends interested in what is a really good game (X-wing is just too shiny for them to resist, as well as deep seated due to formative years exposure).

    I found the DP9 ship minis to be somewhat sub-par. I think they could do so much better now with 3d printing. But, in my quest to play the game I made some minis myself, and bought some of Eli's fleet scale exo's (I think 15mm.Uk sells them), though all went AWOL last year sometime (I believe they were taken from a friends place by a particular unsavory visitor, but have been unable to prove it). It would be really nice if LS could somehow get some more attention that could bring it out to the fore again, like perhaps a boxed set that included tokens, minis, rulers, rules, etc, as is expected from new games nowadays, especially from the Kickstarter crowd.

    I also totally agree with you: if it had an easy to use build system that allowed the game to be more flexible and usable outside of the JC background it would probably attract much more attention, which would be a good thing. I would use it for a couple of other settings, like Traveller for instance. I get why they tied ship design and abilities to the fluff for the same reason WW2 games do with tanks (the old "a german medium tank is not the same as a russian medium tank" thing), but ya, generic ability would be really nice.

    Perhaps DP9 could be poked with a stick hard enough to try? (ya, I doubt it too...) There must be some dedicated fan out there that has done some number crunching and figured it all out...

    1. I've been told there's a shipbuilder program in one of the old RPGs, but the ones I found were complex and the RPGs are NOT = to the LS rules so it was of little use...

      "I get why they tied ship design and abilities to the fluff for the same reason WW2 games do with tanks (the old "a german medium tank is not the same as a russian medium tank" thing),"

      I always thought companies did it so you had to buy their minis (where the real money lies - I don't know anyone who got rich selling rulebooks).

    2. You're right there, selling minis is usually the point, but in this case DP9 has given each faction their flavor based on story and their projected developments of technology and tactics of each nation, then tailored the "personality" of the ships to those nations. In the ship books for the RPG they even go so far as to list out the differences between some ships of the same class based upon where in the construction timeline they were built, and by which shipyard. For instance, I recall a ship class (might be CEGA) where 3 were made at a smaller shipyard and used lower grade modules for the PDS so those ships got a lower rating than their siblings. I really do like the flavor bits that add to the story of a battle. Sure, you can have a balanced battle between opposing 4 ship squadrons and have a good time, but I'd prefer a little background to what's going on. What if one of the ships had sensor problems due to a micro-meteorite strike, while another had been out on cruise for so long the crew is physically worn out (in the JC universe that'd include muscle loss and degraded agility making performing a lot of shipboard jobs more difficult). Maybe another ship just doesn't have the fuel to be able to do a lot of tactical burns, or has munitions made by "the lowest bidder" that aren't entirely reliable, or is just a bad luck sort of ship...
      I guess what I am saying is that though I wish they had a LS build system that was easy to use, I get why they don't. As I think they have all of the published ships stated it doesn't harm the setting, but does make it really difficult to try to use the system for other settings.

      Thinking now, I seem to recall a build system of LS2.0, and I do think it was somehow based on a conversion from JC... I'll have to see if I can locate my old PC's external drive to see if it is in there. If so, I'll share away!

  7. "I guess what I am saying is that though I wish they had a LS build system that was easy to use, I get why they don't."

    I don't agree.

    It's not mutually exclusive. You don't have to choose one OR the other.

    You can have your own ship designs from your universe, with as many classes, sub-classes, and back ground fluff as you want - AND you can also include a ship build system.

    It's not like by having a ship build system you are somehow barred from including your own fluff and designs.

    All you are doing is barring people from creating their own designs - taking away player choice. It "railroads" players into using only official designs, limiting the game universe in the way 40K does.

  8. I have a few questions about system:
    -how big table I nid to play?
    -how mane ships/fighers/exoarmours I need to play "standard" game for each side?

    1. Warning: the exo-armours are out of scale and way bigger than the ships. DP9 stuff is VERY expensive.

      That said, I used a 6x4 last time I tried it (ages back). Like 40K, you build units to a "points value" so force composition can vary. Maybe get the rules first? They're quite cheap.

      As a rule of thumb, (again from memory) a few ships, and maybe ~4 each of fighters and mecha would be a decent force.

      I recommend the rules, but the minis are far from satisfactory re: range and pricing.

    2. Although now I recall they had "fleetscale" stuff in the pipeline... so maybe it will merely be somewhat overpriced 15mm instead of out of scale and sell-a-kidney expensive 28mm...

    3. I have my copy of rules and now I reading them :)

    4. The fleet scale stuff is in full swing! The first two waves covers the Jovian forces and CEGA pretty well and the next will be Venusian exos, including the Bonebreaker which hasn't been released before.

      You get six models in a pack for about $12 which are supposed to be mounted three to a stand. I will use mine with one exo per stand, so will get six units from one pack, which is a pretty good deal. And even if you do three per stand the value is about twice of the old 28mm models.

      I think finally Lightning Strike is at a point where financially viable game to play.

      Here are my reviews of the first wave:

    5. By the way, Adam, I put together two small "demo" forces last year just to have something to work toward. They are modeled after how many exos fit in the respective carriers and the idea that CEGA has the numbers while JAF has an ace and a top of the line ship.

      Mind you these numbers are way off if you go by the "real" numbers in the rpg where the ships can't carry as many exos as in the miniature wargame.

      Jovian Confederation

      1x Valiant 80

      5x Pathfinders 40

      1x Pathfinder Ace - lvl 3, inspirational 28

      2x Vindicators 26

      1x Pathfinder Command 9

      1x Stormrider 23



      1x Tengu 40
      2x Bricriu 60

      4x Syreen 28
      4x Wyvern 44

      1x Fury 13

      2x Wraith 20


      Yes, it's weird that they're 205 points and not 200. :D

    6. Thank. I love these rules and for sure I will collect my fleet.

  9. Slightly off-topic, but in no sense a rant: you do know the 2nd edition of Sharp Practice is out, don't you? And guess what - it's being definitively proclaimed as Not Exclusively Napoleonic! Forces for five periods - including the Peninsular War, of course: imagine the outcry from those annoying but economically essential anal retentives otherwise - are listed, with many more to come, covering the entirety of the era termed 'black powder'. Button counting, whether literal or metaphorical, is neither featured nor encouraged! It will be supported, albeit not with tie-in figures, let alone useless-for-anything-else stat cards (though there are cards for activation purposes, for which MDF 'poker chips' can be substituted).

    Practically all potential philosophical objections have been deftly side-stepped, other than its possible clash with the forthcoming Chosen Men, for which the designer / publisher can hardly be held responsible. Better still, it's almost certainly quite good. Just thought I'd mention it.

  10. I noticed the 2nd Edition base rules were on sale for $6, so I finally sprung for a copy. After a quick skim through them to see what's different from the demo rules, I'm shocked at how much sloppier and more ambiguous the proper rules are compared to the 5-page quickstart.

    1. Heh. Think that is ambiguous? Have you ever read the Heavy Gear rules?