Marauders of the Rift – A Review

motr-coverAnother day, another review. And this time I look at the Firestorm Armada supplement, Marauders of the Rift.

There are two things that stand out most on first impressions. 1. The cover is reminiscent of the earlier days of Forge World when they discovered photshop and 2. no one in the wargaming business, it seems, knows how to proof read.

But putting poor spelling and grammar aside, the book is nicely presented and is consistent in styling with the current rule set. It’s also reasonably well written by Spartan’s usual up and down standards. The introductory background to the Rift (within which the Marauders live) is coherent and paints a detailed picture of the part of space, its inhabitants and where events fit in against the backdrop of the main game.

Interestingly they’ve opted to have fluff take us to the start of the Dindrenzi War rather than during, like the main rule book. It’s not a bad thing as such its just a bit of a rough fit especially as the mkII ship variants of the main fleets were in response to the war, but you can take them as looted vessels for corsair fleets. But the fact that the option is there at all is immensely cool.

The book focuses on seven new sub fleets and campaign rules. Yes, ladies and germs, campaign rules. Finally. At long bastard last. Some campaign rules and scenarios which, with some tweaks, you can use using the core fleets. But the important thing to note that players now have a choice of game beyond lining up fleets and sailing them in to one another’s guns. This is extremely welcome news and worth the price of the book all on its nose. And the scenarios themselves are pretty damn good too.

The fleet sections, again, are tidy representations of each faction and their interests in the Rift without getting too bogged down. Although there are a few clumsy paragraphs in there which does rather spoil the flow but it’s not the end of the world. But to rub salt in the wound I do have to say that it’s a little frustrating, when considering the aforementioned proofing problems, when the models in the photography are not only averagely painted, but they’ve also used a miscast as the focus of a shot. Not awesome.

What is awesome is the fleet lists themselves. They’re all pretty well-balanced without too many MARs muddying the waters or slowing play down. In fact they’re actually extremely characterful and go a long way to giving what are quite limited fleets some serious punch. I’m especially impressed with the OmniDyne from both a rules and hobby perspective.

Omnidyne-dreadnought

The nice thing is that there’s actually a point in taking the fleets in their own right rather them making them additions to the core fleets. In truth, the main protagonists of MotR – the Syndicate and OmniDyne – are nasty. As in proper nasty. As in could be a real headache for a core fleet. Especially if they were complacent which it would be easy to do.

That’s not to say that the other fleets are without teeth. The Corsairs are distinctly average but they’re cheap and they can take looted vessels from other fleets which gives them not only extra muscle but makes them very unpredictable. It’s also a great opportunity for those gamers that like models from different factions but not enough to do a specific fleet. Now gamers can buy what they want and shoehorn it in around the core of Corsairs. And I think the result could be really quite striking. It’s immensely cool that, if you’re feeling cheeky, you can field a floating supermax prison and it’s attending fleet.

Supermax01

I guess the point of Marauders of the Rift, and what makes it so good and worth the money is that it breathes life into Firestorm Armada’s slightly fuddled background. Granted it’s not specifically set in the Storm Zone but the scenarios just means that your games will instantly become more interesting, more enjoyable, and hopefully more violent. Which is nice.

And for this reason alone it’s absolutely worth the punt.

Marauders of the Rift is available from Firestorm Games priced £9.00.

Ryushi Previews for Firestorm Armada

I don’t know. I say nothing about Spartan Games for months and now they’re practically all I talk about. Well, not really but still.

The Ryushi are on their way and my goodness me they look a little bit lovely. They’re a Kurak Alliance fleet so most likely what you see is all you’ll get but they’ll make an extremely pretty addition to most fleets. Like mine…

FAAT17-2

Ryushi Fleet set – £45
FAAT18-2

Battle Carrier Set – £30

The prices of Spartan’s stuff is starting to creep up a bit. To get both sets it’ll set you back £75 which isn’t cheap. Off puttingly so I’d say. But either way, they’re released on August 21st and below is some fluff from the site.

Ryushi military doctrine focuses on large, durable craft; combining unequalled defensive technology with powerful weapons systems. Huge versatility is offered by their heavily armed Onnisha Carriers, whose Flights can swiftly be tailored to offensive or defensive situations and kept operating at full capacity by highly trained deck crews. Torpedoes and enemy craft are swatted aside by matchless point defence systems, whilst the Carrier’s heavy-grade primary weapons and guided torpedoes tackle the toughest of long-range targets. The Ryushi are one of the more prominent members of the Kurak Alliance.

New Firestorm Armada Fleets

It’s been a long time since I had anything to say about Spartan Games. I almost put fingers to keyboard when I saw them releasing a range of HDF scenery for 28mm sci-fi games when they don’t have a 28mm sci-fi game. It’s yet another knee-jerk, ‘hey wouldn’t it be cool if’ idea from a company that is becoming increasingly scattergun and increasingly expensive. That’s not to say it isn’t cool, but sets for Dystopian Legions is perhaps a more logical way to go, I would have thought.

But moving on to something more positive. Coming out at the end of July are two new factions for Firestorm Armada. The Hawker Industries fleet and Works Raptor fleet. Both say Alliance on them but I’m not sure whether that means Terran Alliance, Alliance of Kurak or the Zenian League, although Hawker Industries definitely fall into one of the first two. But I tell you what; I don’t care because they look amazing. It’s the first time since I got my Terran Alliance fleet at Christmas that I’ve really felt drawn to anything from Spartan. The £45 price tag is a little steep mind considering 18 months ago starter fleets were £33. Although, providing they don’t go up any more, I’ll not rant too much about it.

Anyway, feast your eyes on these…

Hawker Industries Alliance Fleet

FAAT16-2

As conflict in the Storm Zone intensifies, Hawker Industries readies its famously reliable vessels for front-line service once again. From the mighty Excelsior to the hardy Endeavour, these tenacious hulls are now outfitted with new shielding technology, state-of-the-art sensor arrays and devastating weapons systems. Emerging from space-docks across the galaxy, they stand ready to remind the Zenian foe that Hawker is still a name to be feared.

Works Raptor Alliance Fleet

FAZR16-2The name Works Raptor has long been synonymous with arms design and manufacture. Single-minded in their pursuit of the science of war, the vessels of the Works Raptor fleet are uncompromisingly lethal. Utilising unmatched stealth systems and powerful drive engines the Attrition Class Assault Carrier will always deliver its payload of Space Craft Wings, deadly torpedoes and elite, genetically engineered boarding marines into the enemy’s heart. In turn the Interdictor Cruisers and Tyranny Corvettes sow chaos through their fleet, dissecting their prey whilst evading retaliation with ease.

The Future of Spartan

This Christmas I was very lucky to get a huge Terran Alliance fleet for Firestorm Armada from my folks, and some Covenant cruisers to make my fleet for Dystopian Wars even bigger. As I sat filing, trimming and gluing last night something dawned on me. I don’t understand my Spartan hobby any more. Or at least the direction in which it’s going.

That’s not to say that I don’t understand the rules – although I do (barely) – or what I need for my fleets – the big shit – but Spartan Games are churning out so much stuff at the moment I don’t know what I’m supposed to be looking at. One of my main reasons for getting a Terran fleet is to tie in with games of Firestorm Invasion. Except that no one plays it. Because nothing has come out. I’d have got into Dystopian Legions if the models were cheaper and the entire faction ranges were available but instead we have to wait for the decent stuff and even then, without a proper rule book, I wouldn’t know what to get anyway.

It’s all so frustratingly half arsed.

One of my biggest issues with the Spartan rule books, aside from the confusing lay out, was the lack of scenarios and campaign rules. It doesn’t give you anywhere to go in terms of playing games unless you fancy coming up with scenarios on your own. But without a basic scenario to work off it means gamers are going to find it harder than normal to get the balance right.

Spartan Games have started to address this gripe with campaign books that also, according to the blurb about Storm of Steel, incorporate significant rule changes. So now not only do we have to spend money on something that should have been in the rule book in the first place, but now have multiple books just to play the game at all. And I’m not entirely clear why there’s a sudden emphasis on armoured units when the land based element of Dystopian Legions is already armoured units. Plus the game was meant to be combined arms…

And there’s new fluff too!

It strikes me that Spartan Games are doing exactly what Games Workshop did all those years ago: which is publish compendium after anthology after expansion so you needed three or four books just to play the fecking game. And if someone doesn’t have all the books you’re forced to revert back to the original rules, so it’s fair.

I’m all for expanding the universes of Spartan’s IP. In fact, I really think it’s needed especially on the background front, I just don’t understand why they’re doing it with expansions – other than the commercially motivated reason – as those that don’t want or can’t afford the extra books lose out.

Throw in the scattergun approach to releases and I just don’t know where to start or, more to the point, what to do next.

Something I’ve never understood about other wargaming companies, not specifically Spartan Games – is the reluctance to follow Games Workshop’s approach to writing and structuring games and releases. There is a very good reason they’re the behemoth they are and it’s not just because they charge the most money. Rule book. Army book. Core release one faction at a time. And more than just a starter set as it doesn’t give gamers anywhere to go.

It’s an immensely frustrating position to be in as a gamer. And it’s another barrier to playing the games. Confusing core rules and then a whopping £40 for two books that improve and clarify the book you’ve already spent £20 on. And at the end of it all you still don’t have the whole picture on exactly who’s who and what’s what! It’s mental. I so desperately want to take charge of the studio and can the supplements and sort the rule books out. Re-release the lot so they make sense, the fluff is rich and coherent and campaign rules are actually included. And put an end to the random extra units and the endless supplements to use them. All the factions have their own book or the rules have the lot all crammed in at a GW comparable cost.

I do love Spartan, their games and models. This isn’t a bashing, hating, rant. I just feel like they’re going in too many directions without doing any one game to the best of their ability. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

Of Dice & Men – Episode 2

It’s here, episode 2! Now with 200% more content!ODAM

In episode 2 of Of Dice & Men the team talk about their hobby, wargaming blogs that have caught their eye and the importance of background in the building and playing of a game, and does poor fluff mean poor army lists?

We also learn that Jason’s mental, Adam is a deviant, Nate is in a sulk and Phil goes off on a rant. Again.

Of Dice & Men Episode 2

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

Sorylian Destroyers – A Review

It’s been a little while since I gave Firestorm Armada some love and as James Wilson of Political Dice (@ChairmanAsheth) got me some Kestros Class Destroyers as a thank you for doing his blog banner it was the perfect opportunity.

I’ve always loved the sleek yet curvy design of the Sorylians I also like the tactical challenge using them presents as they specialise in encircling an enemy and then blowing the shit out of them with broadsides.


The cool thing about the Kestros Class destroyer is it lives up to its type. It’s aggressively geared towards a nose to nose fight. At its best at range band 3, it’s job is there to move ahead, soften up the big ships and generally make a nuisance of themselves before the big buggers open up with broadsides. Which is brave as it’s not the toughest crate in the sky. That said, operating in units of 2 or 3 and they’ll do a lot more than soften up targets. 8 torpedoes and 13 shots at range band 3 is pretty nasty and as a unit can take as much punishment as a battleship.

So it’s a roving pack hunter that, in numbers is bloody horrid. Throw in a gunship and your opponent suddenly finds themselves with a kill unit ploughing ahead of the main force that will tear a whole and cause enough of a headache that may cause enough distraction that the rest of the fleet can surround and destroy the enemy. Which is cool.

The model itself is ace. Sleek, compact and covered in guns and meaner than a fatty on a diet. I kinda wish the cruisers looked a little more like them but it’s easy to say that as the cruisers are a few years old now, but I really dig how everything is so tightly packed with armour plating over the top. It’s a design shift for the Sorylians but still identifiably them which I utterly love. Detail wise it’s mostly up to Spartan’s usual standards, although on my models it gets a little thin towards the back of the ship and there’s a nasty bit of flash on the engines but it’s easily cleaned up. None of it really matters though because it boils down to this; from every angle the Kestros Class looks fantastic. Combined with a genuine and worthwhile tactical advantage that really adds something to the Sorylian fleet they’re fantastic models. Now to order 4 more…

The Spartan Age

It gives me great pleasure to present to you the first Shell Case Contributor article. So without further a do, Chris offers up his thoughts on the recent rash of news from Spartan and it’s impact on the market.

August has seen an almost volcanic explosion of exciting news from Spartan Games. To start with there has been a flurry of previews for both Firestorm Armada and Dystopian Wars. This has included a fantastic variety of new minor faction units for DW including Canadian and Indian tanks, Polish sky fortresses, Belgian land ships and Danish minelayers and destroyers. Each is a fantastically characterful and detailed model (as you would expect from Spartan) and the very existence of these models wonderfully expands the world of Dystopian Wars and really helps bring the world to life by making the game about more than the struggles of the ‘big’ nations and helping give the impression of a full, living world at war. The rules for these models should be in the Hurricane Season/Storm of Steel expansions, though I notice that these expansions are showing on the Spartan online store at a higher price than the core rulebook. I can only hope that this means they are packed full of cool rules and exciting fluff.

Meanwhile we have seen a lot of previews of new Firestorm Armada ships for the upcoming Marauders of the Rift expansion. These have included ships for a whole range of pirates, raiders, gangsters and other kinds of low life and ne’r do well as well as a very interesting prison ship design. Marauders of the Rift will be out soon and is a snip at £10 compared to the DW expansions.

But these previews, exciting though they undoubtedly are, were eclipsed by last Thursday’s announcement of Dystopian Legions, a 28mm battle game set in the world of Dystopian Wars. This came as a huge surprise to many observers, but overall the buzz on the interwebs seem to be optimistic. The previewed images look pretty impressive, especially in terms of detail and there are some very characterful designs such as the FSA tread bike and the Prussian Lucifyre walker.

Dystopian Legions could be a big hit. Victorian steampunk games are not new but most of the existing ones lean much more towards the Gothic and the macabre end of the spectrum(Empire of the Dead for example), while Dystopian Wars and Dystopian Legions are much more toward the sci-fi end. Dystopian Legions is also a full-scale battle game rather than a small-scale skirmish affair. The closest competition for Dystopian Legions are probably Warmachine (though again, that is very much towards the fantasy end of the steampunk spectrum) or something like dieselpunk war game Dust Warfare by Fantasy Flight.

When the news about Dystopian Legions broke, I immediately wondered what the chances were of a similar game being introduced for Spartan’s Firestorm Armada universe. Just a few hours later the Spartan announced the formation of their Studio Sparta subsidiary and their Firestorm Invasion project.

While one certainly wonders why this project has been assigned to a subsidiary – and we all have to wonder if Studio Sparta will turn out to be Spartan’s Forgeworld, or their Fanatic Press – this is certainly going to be an ambitious project, and certainly the one I am most excited about. Simultaneously developing 10mm, 15mm and 28mm games including all the assorted factions of the Firestorm universe is an enormous project and one I sincerely hope Spartan Games/Studio Sparta are up to. So far all we have seen images of are them ideals from the Dindrenzi and Terran 10mm starter sets which are already available from Studio Sparta’s online store, plus a few previews of 15mm Terran infantry. The previewed models so far are a fairly limited selection, but what we have seen so far looks pretty good.

I find it interesting, that stuff for Firestorm Invasion – Planetfall is already available, in contrast to the Dystopian Legions announced the same day which are still some months hence. Perhaps this is the advantage of having a separate division working on the project or maybe a cunning way of helping the new division make a splash from the get go.

Spartan are certainly throwing down the gauntlet with Firestorm Invasion. Each sub-game (10mm Planetfall, 15mm Conquest, and 28mm Special Ops will be competing with other manufacturers. Special Ops for example will have to contend with both Warhammer 40,000 and Warpath (and also to a lesser extent, Warmachine) although as Spec Ops will be skirmish focussed it may escape direct competition from 40k.

Planetfall however will taking on the recently released Dropzone Commander by Hawk Wargames for the lions share of the 10mm market. Somehow I doubt it is coincidental that this particular 10mm game has been launched so soon after the other, especially as 10mm is a relatively little used scale. Maybe the hype surrounding Dropzone Commander proved that there is a market out there. Certainly, the fact that Planetfall has been released with no lead up and only a very limited model range could be taken as signs that Spartan is jumping on a bandwagon. Though realistically, even Spartan can’t conjure a project like this out of nothing, so even is they have opted to accelerate plans they must have had the foundations of this laid for some time. The fact that Hawk are currently struggling to meet demand while also maintaining their quality control is as good an example as any about how you shouldn’t overreach or rush into anything in this industry.

It would be difficult to judge which of the two games might come out on top. Spartan has the advantage of lower prices and having the rule book included with the starter forces, but Hawk has the benefit of a much more comprehensive range of models being available across four distinct factions and a separately available rule book. The rulebook will be available separately in the near future for Firestorm Invasion but for now it’s only available in the starter sets. And there’s certainly an advantage to being able to see if you like the look/sound of the game without having to invest in a full starter set.

A lot of people are likely to hold off on Firestorm Invasion until they know when their favourite factions from Firestorm Armada will come out. Hawk, on the other hand, have everything from the rule book already for sale. However in light of the severe supply problems, unfair pricing strategy and keeping the bigger army deals exclusive to the Hawk website it’ll be interesting to see which game ends up on top. And while Hawk models are more expensive, they are made from a more flexible resin mix which mean they will stand up to wear and tear better and in theory makes them better value for money. Whether that counts as a deal maker or breaker probably comes down to personal preference.

Anyway, the news over the last few weeks show that Spartan are clearly a company with big ambitions and the potential to make good on them. I’m looking forward to adding some Firestorm Invasion stuff to my collection come pay-day. With luck I’ll eventually be able to carry through a campaign with my Terrans (and their allies) from the orbital battles all the way to the final ground campaigns and decisive city fights.

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.