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

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