Saturday 13 August 2016

War Rocket Review: Restrospective Series

The "restrospective" series is for older games that have never gained traction for some reason or other; or perhaps once-great titles now OOP.

With War Rocket, it's hard to see how it could gain much traction in the first place.  It's well-finished but quirky starships are designed to evoke Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon but have more in common with Futurama.  Dunno about you, but I suspect people wanting to paint miniatures so they can pretend to be Kiff and Zapp Brannigan to be fairly limited.  The sort of thing that might catch the imagination of those of a quirky nature (I bet it went down big on Lead Adventure Forum) but is unlikely to have widespread appeal.

 I think War Rocket was trying to evoke Buck Rogers but the minis remind me more of Futurama...

Anyway, let's look at the game itself:

The Shiny
It's a slim, readable 75 pages.  The comic-style B&W illustrations do a lot more to promote the Buck Rogers vibe than the minis themselves.  There are good references and rules summaries. 

Activation & Stats
The stats are simple - in fact the stats for an entire fleet (i.e. all 4 ship classes) can be noted on a single page.  Speed, Defence, and Weapon (range/arc/firepower). 

1. Determine move order - move in order of slowest->fastest (break ties with d10 roll)
2. Rockets with a "delayed action" do all actions - both move and fire - now
3. Actually move rockets from #1
4. Place hit markers next to targets in range/arc of any weapons
5. Check damage - d10 roll on table
6. Remove any stun tokens from last turn
7. Take any special actions/may take a Delayed action token if qualified

Any rocket that takes no actions in one turn may take a "delayed action" turn that allows it to act with all actions (move/shoot/special) before enemies. Regard it as a overwatch-y sort of mechanic; you forfeit actions now in order to act first next turn.

I always think "Planet Express" but I do think the minis look very well finished and produced...

You may not move at all - and a stunned rocket cannot move.  This seems a little weird in space - most space games allow for "some" inertia.  Now all 4 factions have their own unique movement mechanics.  I think this is an interesting idea to give flavour, but I'm a bit dubious about balance - we all know how well different movement worked in BFG *cough* Eldar *cough.*   Two factions are similar (Empire being just unwieldy Galacteers) but the saucers of the Zenithians and the pulse jets of the Valkeeri offer different movement styles. 

Only one weapon type?  Really?
Whilst I found movement interesting, the attack mechanics left me scratching my head.  If the aim was to reduce record keeping I wonder why they came up with the quirky shooting mechanic which seems designed to maximise the number of needless tokens/dice on the table.

Basically, your ship has a "firepower" rating which denotes how many hit tokens you can place on a target(s) within range/arc.  You count up the combined hit tokens on any given ship and cross-reference it with the target defence on a table.  A d10 roll determines if the ship is stunned (miss a turn) or destroyed. 

Whilst I approve of the lack of hitpoints, the whole system is weird and does nothing that couldn't be achieved by a more vanilla, less token-y system.  Remember the article I did on "why your great idea may not be great?"  I have a feeling this falls into that category.

Also, I'm not sold on tracking your stun from turn to turn (the "delayed action" kinda confuses things).

Terrain, Scenarios, Customisation & Stuff
There are rules for asteroids, wormholes and nebulae, and 9 scenarios.   There are special rules for ramming, docking, minefields and boarding combat, along with freighters, space stations and gun emplacements. 

There are some customization options - which mostly involve slight boosts to speed or firepower, or similar - as well as "defects" which reduce the same.  This gives some interest to the otherwise bland fleet lineups, (oh wait, I lied - there are torpedoes as a special optional extra, but they act just like kamikaze rockets, and you can lay mines - but there isn't a whole lot of unique or interesting stuff)

A quick recap:
 + Little recording, relatively fast play
+ Different movement types for different races gives flavour
+ Easy to use rulebook
+ Range of terrain, scenarios

- Weird shooting rules
- Only 4 classes of ship per faction - pretty bland
- Only 1 weapon type/not a lot of customisation options/no shipbuilder
- No campaign rules
- Pulp minis are very niche and Futurama-y

War Rocket is both a niche and somewhat limited product. It seemed simple, quirky and fun, but I couldn't see it being more than a one-trick pony with limited shelf life. Lack of more than one meaningful weapon type, limiting the four races to to four similar simplistic classes (class 1 to 4), and limited customization/no shipbuilder tends to focus players on the minis and universe provided - which does not appeal to everyone.  Different movement systems and the delayed action idea was the most interesting, though the shooting mechanics seemed weird.  Whilst the minis look well-produced, aiming the game squarely at Futurama-style pulp automatically put a low cap on the potential audience.  Given that X-Wing has since become the current best-selling miniatures game, and at the time it came out, Silent Death had not had any challengers since the early 90s,  I'd put War Rocket down as a missed opportunity.  

Recommended: Not particularly, not unless you really love the ships. I don't see it being a long-term gaming staple and after a few playtests I shelved them, and decided against getting the minis (only the Zenithian saucers had even vague appeal anyway).  I was optomistic about this game - but found this game (and minis) just struck the wrong notes for me.*

(*Which is weird, for someone who avidly collects Quar - the very definition of wargaming quirky...)


  1. Never even heard of this one so thanks for doing a write-up.

    I've often felt the RPG guys are way way better than the wargaming guys at preserving gaming history.

    The models are kind of neat but I think you're right, this would be a hard sell to most gamers.

    1. I like doing the "retrospective" reviews as I enjoy digging through my rulebook cupboard(s).

      Jeez I've got some weird rules and stuff. I must have 5 French-Indian War rules, for example....

  2. The only thing I can think to use that ship shown here for is in a "Hordes and Things" Flash Gordon about limited use!

  3. I must confess to being one for the play testers, which was an interesting experience. From memory there wasn't a lot of real feedback provided to the authors and most of that was accepted without visible changes to the rules.

    You're right in its niche application - if you want to pit Princess Xenon from Mars and her buxom Space Valkyries against the despotic Tyrant from Venus and his super soldiers, this is definitely your bag.

    Put it this way, Hydra thanked their play testers with store credits, which was very nice. I used mine to acquire non War Rocket miniatures...

  4. I picked up a bunch of these miniatures second-hand for a very reasonable price. I like the pulpy look. I've never played the actual rules and don't plan to, but do have a couple game ideas for the models.

    Thanks for your review.

  5. I am wondering if the starship battle genre would benefit from software support. Instead of dice and markers you use your tablet or phone to do calculation and book keeping.

    1. Given the near universal use of smartphones I too wonder why they have not been seized upon for wargaming purposes.

      Yes wargaming is an analogue hobby, but apps could (as you point out) do all the donkey work / record-keeping, and would be great for campaign games - no post game messing around - get straight into the next game with your repaired/levelled up units.

      As well as simply record keeping, they could do complicated initiative orders/activation sequences as well to enhance gameplay.

    2. So you give more credence to this review than the folks who played it and had a good time?

  6. Someone published an AAR on FB for these rules and it sounded like a blast. So I went in search of reviews and was delighted to find you had done one. :-) Definitely saved me some money there.

  7. That was the original reason for the blog - saving people money!
    I was always the 'non 40K guy' who had tried all the rulesets. I started the blog because I got tired of explaining about random rules to everyone...

  8. Did you actually play the game, or are these ‘musings upon reading the rules’?