Star Fleet – A Review

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed A Call to Arms: Noble Armada by Mongoose Publishing. Those fine chaps also let me get my hands on the rule set for the Star Fleet rule set.

Essentially the rule set is the same. Units/ships take it in turns to move, then to shoot and so on. I made the comparison to chess because of its elegance. A theatrical interstellar dance that results in someone getting the living shit blown out of them. Combined with the space operatic overtones of Noble Armada it worked very well.

With Star Fleet it works but in a different way. I grew up with Star Trek – although I’d hasten to add when the original series was re-run just before The Next Generation aired. I am not that old. The point is that in pretty much every episode of Star Trek in all its incarnations it was very rare for ships to rock up and immediately blow said living shit out of each other. There was posturing, manoeuvring and various other attempts at diplomacy or general sneakery. So the ACTM rule set works rather nicely.

More over because the multitude of weapons and gizmos are/should be familiar which makes it easier to get to grips with what does what and the slightly over baked combat mechanic. It’s not bad just as every weapon has a special rule there’s no attacks that are just a straight up roll.

The fact that it’s Star Trek means that you get to hoon about with shuttle craft, cloaking devices, shields and warp drives. This is unassailably cool. Equally being able to damage a dilithium chamber is way cool. And, again, the familiarity with the universe makes it all the more satisfying when your Constitution class lays into its opposite number of the Klingon Empire.

As with Noble Armada the scenarios and campaign rules are fantastic is a big feather in Mongoose’s cap and gives the game incredible longevity. Plus you know, it’s Star Trek. The game is set during the General War which is a fooking huge conflict and there are lots of lovely lovely background about the factions as well as the conflict itself. Add it to the campaign rules and you can actually fight out some of the big conflicts of the war. This is a very good thing.

And the models are cool. As with Noble Armada they’re metal so won’t have the level of detail resin models have but they do look cool. The starter fleets gives you a few ships but they’re all massive and they’re all Star Trek so worth every penny.

Like Noble Armada, Star Fleet is an elegant game that puts tactics at the heart of the game. Adding in the Star Trek universe and it’s hugely fun simply because there is nothing quite like having your very own USS Enterprise powering across the board blowing things to pieces.

Noble Armada – A Review

It’s review time again and this time it’s the turn of A Call to Arms: Noble Armada by Mongoose Publishing. I first came across Mongoose when my brother and fellow Alliance member, @Chris_S_79 pointed me in their direction. Being a total sucker for anything with space ships I didn’t need much convincing to get in touch with them. And, thanks to their incredible kindness, this will actually be the first of two reviews, the other being Mongoose’s Star Fleet game. But more on that another time.

So…

Noble Armada is a space opera in the truest sense. It has a fantastic back story, based on the Fading Suns RPG, that recounts the rise and fall of Empires and religions. And it’s so good to see a developer put as much effort into the background as they do the rules. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t quite keep track of who was who but essentially through war, betrayal, and, ironically, the longest era of peace and prosperity the Known Worlds have been carved up and divided amongst a handful of noble houses who are quite happy to beat the living daylights out of each other. The twist is that the galaxy is dying all about them – supposedly due to galactic jump gates drawing their power from the stars themselves – and yet, thanks to rivalries, religion and ignorance, they’re all too suspicious of one another and the alien races of the galaxy to do anything about it.

The background has the right amount of grit to keep it interesting and no one faction is likeable over the others. Because they’re all bastards basically. Or nutters. Mustn’t forget the nutters. I’m harping on a bit just because it’s refreshing to read a rulebook that has had the same attention to the background as it has the rules. It means that you understand what you’re fighting for which is a very important part of wargaming.

The other truly fantastic part of the Noble Armada is the campaign and scenario section. It’s huge. Sixteen pages of scenarios. And the campaign rules include strategic assets, resources, planets, crew experience, the whole shot. It’s so comprehensive it’d be worth finching for other games with frankly lousy or non-existence campaign rules. So, thus far, Noble Armada has the two most important elements for me in a game; good fluff and good campaign rules.

The rules themselves I wasn’t too sure about at first. In Noble Armada each side takes it in turns to move, then shoot and so on. So it’s kinda like chess. You position your pieces and then strike. I don’t like games or rules that break the natural flow of play – which is why I hate things like overwatch or snap fire or any of that toss – but the rules reflect the grandeur of the game.

Now, bear with me for this thought because it may seem a little out there but it kind of feels like one should play Noble Armada with Cello Suite No.1 by Bach playing in the background (what? I can be cultured!). The movement phase is a delicate dance of pirouetting ships of war. Before all hell breaks loose in the shooting phase. Which means that whoever wins the initiative is pretty important in Noble Armada but I suppose that’s true of all games.

And hell is right. The shooting phase is a little on the complicated side. Not because it doesn’t work or anything, just that there are quite a few stages as well as special rules and, I’ll be honest, I had to read it through a couple of times. Damaging a ship was a bit of a tough read but it does make sense. Ships have damage points which is fairly standard, however, they have a threshold which denotes the level of damage it can take before systems are severely compromised and it becomes crippled. It’s a nice idea and rather nicely represents that pounding a ship of war can take and keep going. The Critical Damage table is a bit of a faff and requires a degree of paper work keeping track of the level of critical damage the ship has taken and the resulting modifiers. It’s a cool idea, just a bit fussy for me.

There are a healthy number of weapon systems in Noble Armada capable of dishing out some pretty awesome amounts of damage and each have their benefits. Each weapon has special rules attached to them which at first I thought a tad unnecessary but even a lasgun in Warhammer 40,000 has a special rule attached to it. And actually all the special rules are balanced, make some real sense, and make for a very fun game.

The one part of the game that I still can’t decide on is the boarding phase simply because the rules seem a little bonkers primarily because they use grapples. It just doesn’t make sense to me that a ship would want to lash itself to an object of tremendous force and armed if massive massive guns. Its guaranteed carnage, that’s for sure, but I’d sooner fire boarding parties and let them take their chances than risk the ship.

That gripe aside it all works rather nicely. There will be more a couple of page turning moments as you get to grips with all the special rules, traits and orders, but it’s written well enough so persevere. It’s different to the other games I’ve played which keeps things fresh. I could do with slightly simpler profiles but that’s my preference and Noble Armada is all about the detail both in its background and the game, and that’s its great appeal. But, more than anything, as I mentioned, it’s just such an elegant game. So much so you almost fail to notice the extremity its tactics. And those tactics need to be flexible because of the nature of the phases it can get very tasty, very quickly.

And finally the models.

They’re way cool. Compared to resin models produced by other companies the detail isn’t as sharp but the models are great looking and there’s some really original designs in the ranges. What’s nice is that the fleets have a look that runs through the ships without basically making smaller versions of the same ship. They’re all very distinctive whilst still being identifiable as part of their respective fleet. In the fleet set you get a lot of metal for your £24.99 and it’s more than enough to have a bloody good scrap. The models are also a sensible size so you can really throw down some big games. This can only be a good thing.