How to Breach Hulls and Influence People

The other week Spartan Games released new free PDF downloads of the Six core Fleet Manuals for version 2.0 of Firestorm Armada. Having had a look through the new files, I’m quite impressed, and there are clearly a lot of new ideas in the new version of the game.

So far, we only have Fleet Manuals for the six core factions (Aquans, Terrans, Sorylians, Directorate, Dindrenzi and Relthoza), but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the Alliance of Kurak and the Zenian League (not to mention other factions like the Syndicate) get their own treatment. These free downloads contain the key rules for choosing a fleet and the ship stats and options. For background material or shiny artwork however you will have to wait (and pay for) the shiny printed versions to be released in early 2014. It will be interesting to see how this pairing of premium book and free bare-bones download works out for both Spartan and the players. Certainly it means not having to lug a heavy book around when you can just look up stats on a phone/tablet; or carry around a printout and not get your nice book all scuffed.

The fact that the downloads are intended to be ‘living documents’ which will be updated as rules errata come up or new ships are released. This is undoubtedly a good thing, though I can imagine a few people being narked about having to download an updated PDF every so often.  I have to wonder how people with the hard copy versions will be updated. Whether Spartan will take the GW route of releasing updated manuals every so often or the Privateer Press route of releasing periodic anthologies with new toys for all factions. [Or downloadable paragraphs that you can glue over the redundant paragraphs. -Ed.]

Looking at the Manuals themselves, it’s clear that the fleet selection rules have been expanded and refined. Ships are now chosen from one of three Tiers, with minimum and maximum selections for each. Tiers group ships roughly according to size and the what falls within a particular Tier changes based on the size of the game, so large ships are heavily restricted in small games but are more widely available in larger games. The minimum and maximum choice restrictions for each size Tier both also scale with the size of game so fleets should have a reasonable balance of small, medium and large ships at all game sizes. That said, the gap between the minimum and maximum choices at each tier is quite narrow and I would not be entirely surprised if some players ran out of slots before they ran out of points.

Most importantly to some players, it is no longer possible to build a fleet with a token single squadron each of small or medium ships and spend the rest of your points on dreadnoughts.

The rules covering Alliance Fleets in the Fleet Manuals are clear and straightforward. While Alliance fleets do face some penalties in terms of Tactical ratings and access to cards, this is presumably to balance out the fact that including allies can be used to offset the perceived weaknesses of a particular fleet. Interestingly, each core fleet now has a ‘Natural Ally’, a minor faction whose ships can be taken in greater proportion and with slightly reduced penalties, for example Terrans with Hawker or Dindrenzi with RSN. This is a nice touch as it is evocative of the background and helps encourage players to vary their collection without having to take too great a wallop  from the nerf bat.

Interestingly, in very large games, you now assemble your force out of multiple separate battlegroups which are considered independent for a lot of rules purposes. Again this has a nice evocative feel of distinct formations coming together in common cause, but it also appears to be another way of including allies without the same penalties you incur when you are simply lumping allied ships in with a single detachment.

Looking at the ship rules themselves, the most obvious change is that virtually everything bigger than an escort now has at least a few options. I’m sure this will please anyone who has ever felt that playing Firestorm Armada felt a bit samey after a while and longed for the chance to make their personal armada just that little bit more theirs. The options seem to be thematically consistent throughout each fleet list and combined with the fact that ship weapons are now broken down by type (scatter weapons, beam weapons etc) means that each fleet has a lot more personality now. The only question is how to represent these options on the model as most FSA ships lack any kind of options in the kit. Players may find themselves having to concentrate very hard to keep track of which squadron of cruisers has the overcharged engines and which has the juiced up guns.

Coupled to this is the fact that in most, but not all cases ships of the same type (for example the Terran Razorthorn and Apollo battleships, but not the Tyrant battleship) have been rolled together and are  covered by a single profile and options list. This is slightly disappointing as it seems like they have missed of on a way of introducing more opportunities to vary and/or theme your force. Most of the ships affected by this are the MK1 and Mk2 cruisers, carriers and battleships so perhaps there is some reason for similar capabilities, but to potentially have them running with entirely identical stats – and even identical upgrades – seems a bit of a shame. I can appreciate that you can in principle use, for example, Sentinel and Hermes class cruisers to represent cruisers upgraded to different capabilities, but I can imagine unscrupulous players keeping their opponents guess about what they are facing, maybe luring the enemy into a trap with a ‘humble’ mk 1 cruiser.

Overall these are pretty impressive documents. All the more so given that they are being offered free to download. I’ve not had a chance to read the version 2.0 rules yet but what we see hints of in these PDFs suggests big changes and a lot more investment in making the game more diverse and characterful. I think FSA players have a lot to look forward to.

Shell Case Shorts 10

We’ve made it to double digits and we’re hurtling towards the end of the year. That means only two more competitions after this one and another step closer to the Shell Case Shorts Anthology.

I’m taking a slightly different tack with this month’s prize, paying forward some extraordinary generosity showed to me by those fine chaps at Studio Sparta. I refer to the two Firestorm Invasion start sets they sent me to review. To keep both would simply be greedy so the prize is nothing less than the Dindrenzi Federation kickstart set.

Rules are as follows:

Write a short story of between 2,000 & 5,000 words set in any established wargaming IP.

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Wednesday 31st October 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Firestorm Invasion – A Review

It didn’t seem all that long ago that Studio Sparta and with it Firestorm Invasion, the first in a series of ground war games set in the Firestorm Armada universe was announced and here it is out released to the world. I, for one, was extremely excited not only because the models looked absolutely pimp but because it further expands the background of a top game. Which is a good thing.

Let’s kick off with what you get in the starter boxes. In short…lots. A decent sized force (over 20 models a piece), dice, cards, tokens, stat sheets, rules and a natty little measuring stick. And all for £45. Which is a fricking steal.

The models themselves are awesome. Each force is distinctive both in aesthetic and playing style. Put simply; the Dindrenzi get all the cool shit and the Terran Alliance get shields. And lots of big scary tanks. The designs reflect their influences nicely. The Terran Alliance are, unsurprisingly, current in influence whereas the Dindrenzi stuff doesn’t so much feel alien, although it kinda is what with the awesome grav tanks, as it feels refined and ultra advanced. And a little Manga.

The casting quality is up to Spartan’s usual standard. None of the models needed a major clean up and all the pewter components fit nicely in their various turret housings etc. And did I mention they look pimp?

I wasn’t entirely sure what I was expecting when I started reading the rules but one thing I didn’t expect was how much strategy would be involved. I know it’s a strategy wargame but the one of the most fundamental parts of the game is assigning a set order of unit movement to your force at the start of the turn. Once you’ve locked in that order that’s it, they’re moving in that order regardless of what your opponent does.

This means you have to be even more aware of the bigger picture than ever before. It’s a superb idea and catapults the game to Chess-like levels of forward thinking. The only gripe, if any can be made, is that the cards that determine the order of unit activation are blank and you have to write on them with a white board pen. Which, if I’m a little honest, is a bit cheap and it’d be nice to see pre-printed unit cards that go into the stack. But that aside the point is that you’re effectively playing your opponent’s stack. Which actually kinda makes it like poker.

What it also makes it is realistic. It’s about holding your nerve, sticking to a plan in the face of enemy guns and hoping to the almighty that it works. Mistakes are costly and mocking from your opponent will follow shortly after.

The other new idea which I can see being rolled out across Spartan’s other games when second editions are released (1.1’s don’t count) is a colour coded dice to represent the power of a weapon. This is an evolution of the exploding dice mechanic which you either love or hate. Low powered weapons roll on Black dice and a roll of 6 is a single success. Mid powered weapons roll on Blue dice and a 6 counts as two hits. And finger of God weapons roll Red dice counts as two hits and you get to roll again.

It’s an interesting rule development which I can see being refined further for the likes of Firestorm Armada and Dystopian Wars but works well with Invasion especially as it incorporates effective ranges. So, for example, the Terran’s main battle tank gets 3 Blue dice at effective range. This means it can cause a maximum of 6 hits. At long-range it gets just 3 Black dice, so the potential damage is cut in half. The Dindrenzi counterpart however gets 3 Red dice at effective range making it, well, fooking horrid. However at long-range it drops to an alarming 1 Black dice. So big scary 127mm cannon scary generally. Big scary laser only scary at range if you’re a tin of beans.

Between deciding what order to move your units and checking the number of dice you get your first few games won’t be mega quick but  the rulebook is sensibly laid out (no really) so any rule checking will not be the utter misery it can be with Dystopian Wars. It’s nicely presented albeit a little on the thin side but a full and swanky version of Invasion is on the cards if it proves popular enough. But, like other starter sets, there’s nothing wrong with a stripped down gamers rule book. But they managed to cram in a couple of scenarios which is pleasing and long overdue. Only 2 mind but that’s two more than other books had.

The rules are concisely written and devoid of the abundance of bold copy that crops up in Spartan publications and they make sense. No upper range limit makes complete sense, the reserve rules are fantastic and a critically important card up your tactical sleeve rather than something to fuck over your opponent like it often is in 40k. In Invasion it’s as much about shoring up a line or preventing a breakthrough.

The force organisation does feel a little vague and the faction list is can barely be called that but I’m going to be charitable and say that it’ll get sorted in the big version of the book as at the moment they’re only lists for Dindrenzi and Terran forces which would be awkward when the Sorylians and the Directorate hit the site in the coming weeks. There also feels like a lot of phases but I suspect it’s broken down for clarity rather than because they actually take a long time to do.

Firestorm Invasion is not only a fantastic looking game but stunningly strategic. The rule evolution and move away from the existing Spartan mechanic is brave and I think pays off. It makes 10mm ground warfare what it should be which is a gruelling series of tactical decisions that leave the lives of the men under your command hanging in the balance. It harks back to the days of Epic and order counters hidden deployment where it was anyone’s guess what your opponent was going to do and at best you could make an educated guess. And that’s exactly how it should be.

The bottom line is this; it’s a good game, well imagined and well written. The models are absolutely stunning and the starter set costs you a whopping £23 less an a certain other company to get started but you get more of it. And, best of all, you get to combine it with Firestorm Armada. And yes I’ll be putting a Terran fleet on my Christmas list.

Firestorm Invasion kickstart sets are available direct from Studio Sparta priced at £45

Firestorm Invasion Unit Run Down

So excited am I about Firestorm Invasion that I’ve decided to rob the unit lists from the Studio Sparta website and share them with you. If you haven’t had a look at this game yet then I strongly urge you to. The models look pimp and on the value for money scale it’ll take some beating. I shall be getting my grubby little mits on the starters sets in a week or so, so expect a full (and hyperactive) review…

Terran Alliance

Dindrenzi Federation

 

Studio Sparta

The second bit of big news is the launch of Studio Sparta. Much like the Specialist Games range from the Games Workshop – only with support – Studio Sparta will be rolling out models and games that fall outside the primary focus of Spartan Games. It’s a very exciting move on the part of Spartan, aggressively diversifying into new systems.

The first big release is Firestorm: Invasion. A 10mm ground war game set in the Firestorm Armada universe. Kinda interesting that this has come out so shortly after Hawk Wargames’ – founded by former Spartan employee Dave Lewis – Dropzone Commander.

But I tell you what, the models look freaking awesome. Only the Terrans and Dindrenzi are available at the moment. Starter sets are £45 which is staggeringly good value, especially considering how much you get in there (20 models, rules and some other bits). I think we can expect a pretty rapid release schedule to capitalise on the stir all the new Spartan is throwing at us will cause. I for one am massively excited and will be getting my grubby little mits on a set of rules just as soon as I can.

WANT!

And were that not enough, Studio Sparta have also released the Invaders for Dystopian Wars. Remember this…

Some may have seen it on this humble blog back in April and I was poo-poo’d no less for suggesting the Martians were coming. Well all I shall say is…

…BOOM!

That’s right, aliens have made their legged bad ass way to Earth and they’re bringing some heat ray pain.

The range is available now so if you’re a Dystopian Wars ground battles player then not owning this stuff would just make a mentalist.

 

Firestorm Armada Previews

Not content with dangling a fleet of awesome for Dystopian Wars, I’m also showing off some images of new releases for Firestorm Armada. The Dindrenzi and Terran carriers are both getting a badly needed reworking and the mysterious Oroshan Imperium are getting some ships at last.

These models will be available from the 25th July.

Spartan Games Pre-Orders

Rejoice fellow…er Spartans(?), there’s a bevy of shiny things from Spartan Games to spend are hard-earned cash on. Everything here will be available from the 4th July but can be pre-ordered from now.

First up is the all new Rense System Navy models. Which include a battleship, cruiser, heavy cruiser and carrier, all pictured below. These all look way cool and if the Dindrenzi weren’t such a bunch of bastards I would have had no choice but to indulge…aw who am I kidding…

There won’t be a box set as yet, so it’ll be clam packs all the way.

Firestorm Armada is (finally) getting its second edition rule book. According to Spartan it will include…

A complete list of stats, background stories, imagery… The Hardback Edition Master Rulebook has everything! This updated edition features the established core rules presented in a clear and concise fashion. It includes the latest errata and streamlined rules for Game Set-up, Terrain, Boarding and Wings. The opportunity has also been taken to include new photography, diagrams and illustrations throughout the book, complete with Fleet Lists for each nation and the current Firestorm Armada MARs; the perfect way to begin your campaign of terror in the Storm Zone!

The big thing for me there was, as I’m sure it is for many, wings. RRP a fairly reasonable £20.

But that’s not all. For those with a steam-powered inclinations, Dystopian Wars is getting its first campaign book. Long overdue in my opinion and a very welcome sight…

The first Campaign Book for Dystopian Wars details the bitter struggle between the Federated States of America and the Empire of the Blazing Sun. With the involvement of the Kingdom of Britannia, Prussian Empire and Covenant of Antarctica, this is a titanic struggle! Hurricane Season is fully illustrated and provides a series of exciting scenarios for you to play, detailing major actions in the campaign. The Covenant of Antarctica rules and Stats are included along with new rules for National Fleet Commodores, Amphibious Landings, Deployment Orders and more. Who will emerge victorious?

This is also £20 which seems a bit odd considering its not an essential purchase and the rule book is £4 cheaper. All I can say, as I will be buying it, is it better be good.

There’s also good news for those Dystopian Wars players who have dreamed of amphibious assault games. Both the large landing barge and a platform and small landing craft set will be available from July.

The cool thing about the large landing barge is that it comes with 7 stacks, including the Russian Coalition so one barge any faction and both cost £13.00.

Uncharted Seas also gets a couple of new releases. Most significantly the Iron Dwarves Citadel Armoured Walls which are just Steampunk enough that you could probably get away with using them for Dystopian Wars. And at £15.00 for the set it’s a bargain too.

The Floating Trader Town is just awesome and, again, for just £15.00 you’d be mad not to get it. Not so usable in Dystopian Wars but who cares?