Sunday, January 19, 2014

Firestorm Armada 2.0 Review


So I got the new Firestorm Armada 2.0 rules a few weeks ago and have had a while to read it over. I still have not played a game yet but it was a sufficient improvement over 1.0 and 1.5 to get me to buy models. Since I don't like to play with unpainted models and there are others in the queue, it may be a while before I can review with actual game experience. However, I have a fair amount of experience with Battlefleet Gothic (BFG), my own rule set which has been under development for the past 2 years, and previous editions of Firestorm Armada, I believe there is sufficient frame of reference for a review.


TURN SEQUENCE
Activation. Instead of alternating moving/fighting with all your pieces, like Spartan Games other games (Dystopian Wars and Uncharted Seas), each player alternates actions with a squadron. While I like the interweaving of player interactions, I feel that with alternating activations the game become more reactive and less tactical. Sure you can still try to unfold your grand tactical plans regardless of what the other player does, the game mechanic itself lends more toward feints and lets see what the other guy does and the react. The opposite mechanic of I move all mine and I shoot all of mine, then you move all of yours and shoot with all of yours is even less appealing. The mechanic in the Hobbit/LotR SBG, with I move all of mine, you move all of yours, I shoot with all of mine, you shoot with all of you, we both melee, seems best to me thus. I use a modification of this mechanic in my rules.
Special Action. Other than belly roll allowing you to roll your ship to shoot with the starboard arc when your port weapons are out, there is no special maneuver. What this means is that game play is more dependent on the models stats. In BFG there were 6 special orders for enhanced movement, enhanced shooting, and enhanced defense which gives the game a heroic feel when these actions are a deciding factor in outcome. As such ship leadership was crucial in BFG and doesn't really exist in Firestorm. It is called heroic action in SBG. I think it adds substantial value to the game experience and take the game beyond basic mathematical gaming. Sure the exploding 6 mechanic helps in Firestorm but because it is so ubiquitous, it feels less heroic.
Exploding "6."The exploding "6" means that a roll of 6 means 2 hits rather than one and allows you to roll another D6 for hits determination. The total of hits rolled are then totaled to determine whether a sufficient number of hits has occurred to cause damage.


MOVEMENT 
Movement allowance. Models maximum movement is between 6" and 12" and varies by size of model class. I think this is similar to BFG. I think both games got it wrong. I am not sure given the lethality of modern, not to mention scifi weapons, that anyone would build a lumbering warship.
Momentum. Objects in motion tends to stay in motion, and this is particularly true in the void of space. How this is represented is the minimum movement forward a model must conduct. In BFG for frigates it was about 5-6", cruisers 4-5" and battleships about 3-4" (15cm). In Firestorm it varies from 0" (even for larger ships) to 2". In my opinion this isn't well founded real world Newtonian physics and engineering, and diminishes the significant of forced movement (which is the essence of momentum). Some battleships have the options of 0" minimum move even.
Turning. Turning in Firestorm is 45 degrees after your minimum movement forward. And you can turn as many times as your movement allowance. Again the easier it is to turn, the less significant movement and turning become, and thus model orientation for shooting also become diminished.


COMBAT
Direct fire. Unlike the previous edition of firestorm, direct shooting has gained variety with the differentiation of primary weapons, beam weapons, nuclear weapons, gravity weapons, and such. Each system is slightly different in its effect. I think the differentiation of direct fire weapons is the most important change to the Firestorm. Having just primary weapons make the game too simple, while having too many varieties make the game too complicated. Having different weapon systems also facilitate faction differentiation, which was sorely lacking in the previous editions. A huge improvement in my opinion.
Indirect fire.  Torpedo attacks have become indirect, meaning line of sight isn't required. However, other than celestial phenomena there is very little that block line of sight in the game, so this isn't much of a differentiation. The thing that bothers me about torpedoes is that they travel at the speed of light (attacks are rolled at the same time as direct fire) and loses very little power over distance. In BFG torpedoes are represented by markers, moving much faster than ships but not instantaneous like direct fire batteries or lances.
Attack crafts. There are five variety of attack crafts: interceptor, fighter, bomber, assault shuttle and repair craft. All attack crafts are now limited to stay within range of the carrier. I have no problem with this though I don't see fuel as an issue when engines should be nuclear. But I can see it making the game more interesting about large ship models fighting rather than a carrier war. The issue I do have with Firestorm attack crafts is that a squadron (which may have more than one ship with launch bays/hangars) is limited to just two types of attack crafts at the beginning of the game, each represented by a single token. Sure I can understand that an actual star fighter will be built differently than a star bomber or a repair shuttle. However, there should be command and control / logistic options to split what your hangar hold into 6 flights or 3 or 2 or 1, and you should also be able to combine a token to have fighter escorts for bombers. I think the need for game mechanic simplicity have diminished the game representation.
Boarding. There are two boarding options, directed from the ship themselves versus by assault shuttles. Without a special rule, each ship is limited to one boarding attack per game but for whatever reason, perhaps oversight, carriers can launch as many assault via assault crafts as long as they have assault crafts. My personal opinion is that boarding is too prominent in Firestorm. It is too prevalent and too long ranged for a game taking place in the vastness of space. But at least the rules has been cleaned up and appear playable.


DAMAGE & RECOVERY
Hull and Crew. Each ship has two ways to sustain damage, either to its hull or to its crew. A reduction in either reduces the effectiveness of the ship offensively. I like this differentiation even though it adds a bit more record keeping. And yes I understand that if you track crew you will need to be able to conduct boarding attacks.
Critical damage. I guess due to complaints from some players, the possibility of a single hit causing a massive model to be destroyed is no longer possible. I have always liked this possibility for the Skywalker vs Death Star option. I guess some of the fluke/force possibility is retained in the exploding 6 mechanic. Another change is the ability to try to selectively target certain systems; harder to hit with but more likely to get a certain critical hit. While I think this should be an option for attack crafts I hardly think it realistic from thousands and thousands of miles away.
Damage repair. Some critical damage can be repaired, and this is fairly typical of ship based war-games. Firestorm adds  repair shuttles and thus adds another dimension to the game not commonly seen. I believe repair shuttles should be more prominent when your fleet is far away from safe naval yards. I guess you can always take repair shuttles as one of your two attack craft tokens.


MODEL OPTIONS
Firing arcs. There are the three main arcs: fore, port and starboard. Pretty standard except had momentum and movement been more realistic, most weapons would be fore. However, having a predominance of port/starboard would require players to make more maneuvering to attack with rather than a forward rush. Enhancing the significance of good movement enhances the tactical feel of the game and I am all for it.
Upgrade options. A significant change from 1.0 and 1.5 is the option for each model class to take variable upgrade like enhanced movement, weapons, or defense. More game options for the models allows more customizing of the fleet and is a very good improvement, perhaps the second most important improvement in the game.
Ship classes.  Ship classes are defined first by size (small, medium, large) and secondarily by function (gun vs torpedo vs carrier vs scout). I believe in real life you would define what function you need and build a ship just big enough to meet that need, rather than build a ship than fill it with content to function. Firestorm does OK here but nothing special.
Models. The models are good but few are inspiring. Yes I understand taste varies. I think the Dystopian Wars models are better, perhaps because they are scaled, meaning you see doors and windows and you instantly have a frame of reference to appreciate the details.


FLEET FORMATION
Squadrons. Except for large models, which can function alone, most models function in squadrons. I am sure this make an activation based game around squadron manageable. One thing in the new rules which is nice is the option to take cruisers in a carrier squadron. I think mixed squadrons is great change even if just limited to carriers.
Ship tiers. There are three ship tiers built around ship sizes: tier 1 for larges, tier 2 for mediums, and tier 3 for small. To field a fleet you must essentially select one squadron from each. A patrol game needs 1-2 each from tier 1 and 2, 1-3 from tier 3. A battle game 1-3 each from tier 1 and 2, 2-4 from tier 3. A grand fleet action game 2-4 from tier 1 and 2 and 3-5 from tier 3. I think this is a simple and fairly nice way to build a fleet for gaming. Naturally there are points limit as well and maximum fleet values are needed, along with class of game (patrol vs battle vs grand).


SUMMARY
Background. Though not part of the rules itself, most of us play a war-game in part because of the background, back drop or setting for the game. I think this is still a weakness of the game as each faction remains fairly simplistic in presentation and motives. Spartan needs fluff writers!
Overall: Compared to the previous edition 2.0 is vastly superior. Previous editions were Ds. Compared to BFG, maybe its my own personal bias and fondness for BFG and the 40k universe, I think BFG has a slight edge. I rate Firestorm Armada 2.0 as at least a solid B if not a B +. As I stated previously, I am buying several factions to get into this game. I hope it won't be money wasted but I need a more lively spaceship combat game now that BFG is no longer being produced.

3 comments:

Falconius Azurius said...

Thanks for the review. It is always interesting to see a review of other space games when BFG is used as a frame of reference.
We play our own version of BFG once every two weeks. And we have made many changes to the rules, including the alternate unit/squadron activation and the hidden orders mechanic. To be honest, the more we change and modernize the rules, the more we realize just how brilliant the original rules are.

fracas said...

The original BFG was good, up to the 2010FAQ. Even though there was some wonkiness I thought it played well. Even with some alternate rules like MMS I stuck with the original.
Then GW killed SG.
So here we are.

Andy said...

Thanks for the detailed run-down, Fracas! BFG was the first miniatures game I ever played, so I share your love for it. I know you have been fairly critical of Firestorm Armada in the past (and with good reason!), so the fact that the new version of a Firestorm gets a B from you is pretty high praise indeed!

-Ruckdog