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.

Dystopian Wars Russian Coalition – A Review

rc-naval-battle-group-gallery

As it’s been a while since I looked at something from Spartan I thought I’d take a look at the Russian Coalition starter set because, well, I think they look ace. And ace they are. Weirdly, for me, the tiny flyers are a stand out favourite. They’re just a very cool looking plane. Equally the rest of the ships  ooze that perfect balance of steampunk technology and the bludgeoning, relentless design aesthetic we’ve come to expect from anything Russian. So the hulls are very sleek and sharp but with ablative armour welded all over the place and the crudity of heavy industry evident along its flanks guns, bridge and engine room with dirty great smoke stacks, ugly piping, corrugated steel roofs and boilers on the outside. It’s a fantastic contrast which is carried through to the gun turrets which are much the same.

You’ll also notice that the frigates are round. Based on the poorly designed and ill-fated Popovkas the design is amusingly similar which rather suggests it would have the same catastrophic tendency to catch fire, spin itself around when firing its guns or otherwise just be a bloody nightmare to move or keep afloat. They’re very much a Marmite model and if I’m honest, I kind of like it. Unlike the bombers which look like, if I’m brutally honest, a steampunk fleshlight. And I suppose Sputnik. You can add your own jokes there.

Like other Spartan models the detail is very good and cast well, although not quite to their usual standards as I had a couple of tiny flyers that were miscast. Still usable but still. The larger ships had a bit of flash here and there but it was nothing to worry about and those models that require assembly all go together seamlessly. Which is nice.

As with all the non-core fleets, the starter set comes with a booklet containing a bit of background and the fleet list. I’ve always been a bit sceptical about Spartan’s ability to write fluff. It’s always felt a bit all over the placed and cobbled together because their focus has always been the models. The Russian background however was rather well done. It set the scene well, and read much like a Codex or Army Book. High praise indeed. Well almost. Just as it was getting good they decided to spoon feed us why Russia was at war with certain nations which thoroughly ruined the flow and feel of the background. But as it was at the end it could have been much worse.

But what of the ships themselves? Well, at first glance they look horrid. They’re not not horrid mind, but they’re not the unstoppable vessels of slaughter one might assume. Their guns throw out a lot of dice but only in range bands 1 & 2 but the sheer weight of fire will mean that if anything is unlucky enough to get caught will be tin foil and match wood before you can say ‘by Jove!’. The obvious response would be to soften them up at range or hammer them with torpedoes or rockets. Well no. Because the other thing the Russians have is special rules and generators ups the arse. Pages of the blessed things. It rather highlights the limitation of the mechanic if this many special rules are needed to make the faction different.

The Russians get generators to inhibit missile attacks, generators to inhibit torpedo attacks and, just to be cheeky, a generator that allows you to mimic the effects of another generator nearby. Oh and they have a glacier generator just coz. Throw in ablative armour that raises its damage rating to be the same as its critical rating until it sustains that first level of damage and Russian ships are unpleasantly tough nuts to crack using the obvious tactics of keep your distance and chip away at them, because it just won’t work. Which is rather bad news for the FSA.

They are, however, slow and not quite as tough would first appear. They have lower than average critical ratings and utterly shite ack and concussion charges. Againt, the obvious tactic of chipping away with rockets and torpedoes would have rather limited success considering the generators but they’d get absolutely battered by a strong air force. I can also see fleets like the Covenant and French making life unpleasant for them with particle cannons and thermal lances, providing they can get close enough, but their respective generators should give them a degree of protection and the redoubtable special rule for the French would help further still.

Equally their chunky broadsides and fairly decent fire arcs means that outflanking isn’t so straight forward either. However, if a Prussian flotilla were to bide its time and draw the Russians in they could easily get behind them and be able to harass them with impunity. And that’s where the Russians are vulnerable if they don’t keep their formations. The gung-ho, all guns blazing, approach won’t work despite their incredibly short-range.

The Russians are a nasty fleet, especially for the points. They’re hard to hurt and hard to handle when they close to range. They do, however, have easily exploitable weaknesses if your opponent knows their fleet and compared to other fleets they are horribly under armed. Only the weight of shots they can chuck out evens it up, although the ablative armour is perhaps over egging the pudding somewhat. But equally there are ways round that too.

I’m pleasantly surprised by how the Russians play. I honestly expected them to be a crude, cheap, and explosively violent fleet but actually it’s very considered that attempts to provoke its enemies. Then it becomes explosively violent. Interestingly I can see the Russians being good for beginners because they are, essentially, straight forward to use, but an experienced gamer would also enjoy the challenge they represent, particularly when it comes to all the rules.

The Russian Coalition starter fleet is available from Firestorm Games priced £29.25.

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

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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.

ODAM Episode 6 – The Bitterness Show

Another month and another show. This episode we’re all full of bile and bitterness and it’s all about rants.

It seems that we’re all a very grumpy bunch of wargamers. We’re probably over tired and need a nap. Or maybe rum. Anyway, hold onto your fan rage gland and get comfy for a rantapalooza of pissing and moaning about GW, Spartan, Mantic and more.

As usual expect adult language and humour from the start.

ODAM – Episode 6

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

Is the Hawk becoming a Turkey?

Resin scenery is finally available to pre-order on the Hawk Wargames website. Having seen the real deal when I was invited to Hawk HQ for playtesting I was excited for DzC gamers. Despite my misgivings about Hawk’s truly shameful pricing policy the models are ace, the game – once you’ve deciphered the rulebook – is good and the scenery did look superb.

Sadly however, all my misgivings immediately bubbled to the surface when I saw the prices. £7.50 for ten wall tiles. This may not seem that much but they’re only 36mm wide by 21mm high. Ten tiles will not make a building of note. And roof tiles and accessories are separate.

Anyone who plays Games Workshop games is no stranger to high prices but I’m starting to wonder what Hawk Wargames are up to. Army deals that start at £68 with very little of the good stuff in them and the bigger better army deals are on available on the Hawk Wargames website and they are no better on the value for money stakes. The Metropolis pack was what we used for our playtest game. More or less anyway, some of the buildings didn’t have backs to them but in terms of board space that’s what we used. It covers a 4×4 board but it doesn’t fill a 4×4 board. To play the game as it was intended you’d need a Metropolis pack and, at least, a City Pack.

On the plus side the scenery does look gorgeous when it’s painted up but £740 for enough scenery for a 4×4 board? I mean are they fucking high? As they seem to thing they have the muscle of Games Workshop let’s use them as a comparison. Specifically Forge World. Specifically the Forge World Zone Mortalis board set. It costs £350 for a 4×4 board that’s modular. And that is an absolute shit load of resin. So for less than half the money for 15 buildings for DzC you can get a fully pimped 4×4 board. From Games Workshop. The most expensive wargaming company ever.

Or are they? I’m really concerned that Hawk Wargames have lost touch with reality a little bit. They’re in a full tilt blind rush to pay off their investor and simultaneously expand the business (plus pay off all the unplanned expense of increasing production) that they seem to think that gamers will blindly pay that kind of money. Now I’ve been in wargaming long enough to know that there are some people who will happily part with £740 for scenery, and good for them, but for the vast majority of gamers scenery is an after thought and something they will but would rather not spend money on.

Personally I love a good bit of scenery. I’ve got enough 40k buildings to fill and 8×4 board and I’d happily get more. But it only costs me £70 for an Imperial Sector, which is crammed full of plastic, will fill a 4×4 board and I can build it how I like. And it’s not made of one of the most expensive resin blends going. I completely understand why Hawk Wargames felt the need to cast their models the way they did. The detail is stunning and they’re robust. But they need to be stunning and robust. Scenery just doesn’t. Again, a lovely bit of a scenery really sets off a board and there’s no denying that the photography in the DzC rulebook is stunning; however it seems crazy to cast scenery, that just sits there, out of the same stuff. I also suspect that Hawk are attempting to squeeze the same margin out of scenery as they are their models. Which, again, is mental.

The laughable thing is that because the tiles are so thin they have to be mounted on something like foam card anyway. Which makes me  think that perhaps a cheaper grade resin cast in blocks so it’s stackable may have been the smarter move. I also suspect it would have been cheaper too.

Between a shocking lack of planning leading up to launch, over priced models, over priced scenery, an iffy rulebook and a pervasive arrogant indifference since the game release I’m deeply concerned about Hawk Wargames. I can’t decide if it’s greed, over ambition or because they want to pay the bills. I have no idea but there’s already striking similarities between Hawk and Games Workshop both in attitude and pricing structure. And I’m not one to defend Games Workshop and how they do things but at least they have share holders cracking the whip and setting targets the business has to meet.

For a company that claimed to have had its roots in the community, that allegedly puts the community first they seem to be completely out of touch with what is reasonable and what is reasonable for the money. The one good thing that’s come out of this though is that it’s made me realise that GW isn’t all that bad and actually a realm of battle board for £175 isn’t comparatively bad. And I’d still have enough money to buy 2 Imperial Sectors (£140), the 40k rulebook (£45) a Codex Space Marines (£25) Mega Forces (£300) to play on it and I’d still have £55 to spend on some glue and paint.

Obviously you don’t have to spend that much. Obviously you can buy fewer buildings and obviously I’m taking the most expensive as an example. But only because I know that gamers are realistically going to need that many buildings to get the most out of the game because it was designed to be played, primarily, in dense cityscapes. With so many awesome games already in a very flooded market. With Spartan and even Games Workshop able to match the quality of design and (most of the time) casting but for a better price I don’t see where Hawk Wargames expects to go. But a tweet I saw earlier today summed it up rather well for me, which read;

‘so just seen the price of the @HawkWargames resin buildings. Think I will keep my paper buildings’

 

Dystopian Legions – A Review

Well spit spot and a stiff upper lip, the plucky Brits are rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in. No, I haven’t had a stroke, I’ve just finally got my hands on the Britannian starter set for Dystopian Legions by Spartan Games and it’s all very exciting.

So, what do you get in the box? Well aside from a very generously proportioned quick start rule book, some card, dice and counters you also get 14 blokes including some line infantry, a chap that looks suspiciously like Lord Flasheart from Blackadder and the completely and utterly fantastic Sky Hussars.

First of all I have to address the elephant in the room. These models aren’t 25mm. Not even close. I have no idea why it was billed as a 25mm game when the models are 30mm. A line infantrymen stands as tall as a Space Marine. In fairness, I have no problem with this at all. I like the bigger scale. The models are more substantial and that extra 5mm can mean a lot of extra detail. However, it just seems daft to have called it a 25mm game when very early on it would have been apparent it wasn’t.

Something that came as a surprise was the fact that the models are metal. Considering Spartan is a company that cut its teeth and made its hay with resin, and with the spiralling cost of metal, it doesn’t seem all that logical to me. Especially as the casting quality on a couple of the line infantry wasn’t to the usual standard I know Spartan reach. It wasn’t catastrophic and it’s all fixable with a file and bit of time but it’s just a bit of a disappointment. The models themselves, however, are superb with bags of character and once painted will look gorgeous on the board. I must admit my Brits will be the green jackets.

The line infantry are actually a really nice blend of history and the steam punk science fiction. The armour is obvious but not overly sexed up to make it too obvious. The rifles, again, are subtly sci-fi which emphasises the industrial crudity with which the Britannians approach the business of war. All the while being terribly nice chaps and keeping ones uniform clean and neatly pressed.

Lord Flasheart aka Captain Gilbert ‘Bertie’ Smethington II leads the force and is every bit the blustery grinning noblemen that has become so iconic of the Imperial Britain.

It’s a cool model and is terribly British. However, my one gripe and this applies to other character models I’ve seen is that they border on the comical. They’re just that little bit too exaggerated. Too comic book. Too cheesy. And they stick out against the rest of the faction but not in a good way. They, for me, don’t fit in the superbly crafted steampunk world we’ve come to enjoy with Dystopain Wars. Don’t even get me started on Scattergun Sam for the FSA.

However much of the damage is made up by the completely brilliant Sky Hussars.

I got to see these models back in September and they are just inspired. This is Spartan getting the steampunk influences exactly right. The plumes of smoke are such a cool touch and although between those and the Hussars being single cast bodies the room for variation is limited they still look fantastic. Because the plumes are resin and the rest of the model is lovely heavy metal I think it’s reasonable to assume that they’ll fall over. A lot. So save yourself some heart ache and weight the base.

In total honesty, I’ve seen a lot of models over the last 23 years and these have to be some of my favourites. It’s a perfect synergy between the militaristic simplicity of the Hussars combined with the ‘ray gun’ like weapons and the billowing clouds of smoke shooting from the rocket packs telling a story of just how experimental the technology is. They are superb.

But what of the rules? Well, in a nutshell, they’re essentially the same as Firestorm Invasion, as I expected. This isn’t a bad thing as I really liked the mechanic. Like all other Spartan games the game works with alternate activations allowing for a more organic gaming experience than other more traditional turn based wargames. I like both systems but mechanic Spartan use for Dystopian Legions works best with alternating activations.

However, like F:I, it uses a deck of cards to determine the order in which you activate your units. This can obviously go horribly wrong but it’s actually an ace rule that forces you to play your opponents hand which adds a real element of risk to the proceedings. It’s ever so slightly like playing poker. With models. Which I think is what’s been missing from poker this entire time.

Statline are similar to that of F:I and Dystopian Wars in so much as models have a fixed set of statistics that represent their battle prowess as well as the number of dice they roll in a fight. And like Firestorm Invasion it uses the coloured exploding dice mechanic. Allow me to explain. If you’re rolling black dice a roll of a 6 is a single hit. If you’re rolling blue dice a roll of a 6 counts as two hits. If you’re rolling red dice a roll of a 6 counts as 2 hits and you get to roll again. An evolved mechanic from the one we know and love and one I can see being rolled out as the full second editions of their other core games come out. It’s straight forward enough and can be augmented up or down depending on certain factors such as range.

Models have Injury Rating which is akin to DR if Dystopian Wars, and a Kill Rating which is essentially a critical hit that causes instant death. If I’m honest it seems slightly unnecessary as few models have a KR and it’s tough to justify for the ones who do considering they usually have greater Life Points which are essentially wounds. An armour save seems to be an easier way round it but I suspect that it was as much to keep it similar to the other Spartan systems as anything else.

There’s also force building in Dystopian Legions which not only makes sense but is done in such a way to ensure that you take balanced forces that vaguely represent the forces of the 1800’s. Which I like a lot. It’s also needed as the percentage limits in Dystopian Wars is far too open to abuse and had Spartan done the same with Legions it would have just been everyone buying tanks and big armoured dudes.

The rules are a big improvement on Dystopian Wars, being written in phases rather than leaping about the place. Diagrams match up with their explanations too. There are still a few rules that I don’t get, like formations. As far as I can tell having your unit in one formation or another has no bearing on the game what-so-ever other than being in Line formation makes you a sitting duck for anything that goes boom. So why would you bother? There’s the usual heavy-handedness with the bold button which makes paragraphs harder to read, and some sections are over explained but over all its easy enough to read.

The book itself is very nicely put together with lots of lovely photography and is comparable in approach to the quick play book you get with the 4ok boxset. The thing that’ll make punter buy the main Dystopian Legions rule book is if it includes not only bags and bags of fluff, which is the one thing I think Spartan really need to get nailed down, and full faction lists.

For both a model and gaming perspective I think Dystopian Legions is superb. The mechanic is solid and easy to pick up. The models are completely brilliant, slight casting defects aside, and each range boasts some real gems. As more models become available I can see Dystopian Legions from being a big hit.

Dystopian Legions is available from Firestorm Games, the starter sets priced from £36.00

Shell Case Shorts 10 – Winner

There were some great entries for October’s Shell Case Shorts but, as usual, there can be only one winner and it goes to a short story rather appropriately set in Firestorm Invasion written by a previous Shell Case Shorts entrant, Lee Faccini, who got an honourable mention for his Loyalist Emperor’s Children origins piece back in April.

Lee clearly did his home work I think capturing the what it means to be on the ground in the Firestorm Armada Universe very well. And the lucky bugger wins himself a Dindrenzi starter army for Firestorm Invasion for his trouble.

Firestorm – by Lee Faccini

Davin ran through his system checks one last time. One last time before it all became real. The academies trained you to your peak during simulation but nothing can truly prepare you for that which you have not yet experienced.  Nothing happens as you would expect it to, or want it to. Taking a slow deep breath Davin triggered the main power up sequence, tensing sharply as the display blacked out, flickered, and then gradually brought his surroundings into focus. Waiting a moment to allow his senses to adjust to their new sources of feedback, he flexed his neck and attempted to settle as comfortably as possible into his piloting position.

One by one the system indicators started to come on, each flicking through various warning states before settling on a column of green across the right side edge of his view screen. They glowed prominently against the dull red hue of his suits optics that made the world around him seem even darker than it probably was. Looking left and right, he could see the other members of his unit running through their own pre-combat rituals. Some moved impatiently in their harnesses, others stood still almost lifeless.

There were five of them in all lined up against one side of the metal container and all were ready to go into action at a moment’s notice. Davin ignored his squad mates and merely stared at the ground some ten feet below him, trying to remember everything he thought he’d never forget after the intensive, seemingly endless, training he’d endured leading up to this day. Although a rookie pilot he was a seasoned soldier and had seen enough combat to last more than his life time, with a few more besides. Fighting on foot was easy he joked to himself, easier to fight when you don’t have to remember how to walk.

And it was a joke. Being a true infantryman was utterly unforgiving without ever having to make a mistake.  Unprotected by heavy armour, casualty rates were severe in the extreme and you were lucky to see the other side of a battle, let alone a campaign.  Only through a mix of ability and luck could one hope to progress and eventually gain promotion, and the mix leaned more in favour of the latter the longer you served. Modern day battlefields were no longer a place for unprotected soldiers and he was glad to have left it behind. He had trusted in his ability and knew he would come to rely on it more ever now – he was good, and he knew it.  It was why he had been assigned to this unit despite it being his first suited combat drop.

Davin had never seen himself as the Elite Sections type, but his situational awareness and natural aptitude for combat techniques had got him noticed by his superiors. It wasn’t long before he was training to operate a War-Strider for one of the specialist Combat Infiltration Units. Adept at gaining access to heavily-defended positions in the midst of a full engagement, they were usually deployed away from the main thrust of a diversionary attack. After quickly breaching defences, they were tasked with completing critical objectives – primarily search and destroy- which would either complete the mission outright or enable the main attack to succeed.  It was a risky tactic as the possibility of being observed while deploying was high, and if the enemy had sufficient reserves to spare they would quickly be overwhelmed. But on many occasions the gambit had proved successful enough to now utilise it as a legitimate plan of attack – even if the CI Unit didn’t survive the attempt.

Davin’s unit had their objectives located in a large thermal energy facility that was supplying power to a number of military installations. If it could be captured or destroyed it would severely hinder the defensive efforts in this sector. The Terran Alliance had sought to hide it from the Dindrenzi in a wooded valley far away from any other positions of tactical value.  Hidden conduits running underground and the close in vegetation meant it was difficult to see from the air and almost invisible on the ground.  Only through meticulous intelligence gathering had the RSN pinpointed its location and once the list of assets it supplied became apparent, a full scale attack was inevitable. Three battalions comprising a full regiment from the Storm Legions had been allocated as sufficient for the attack plus a periphery of support elements – including their CIU assistance.

Just as he was about to do another mental check of his objectives, his comm-link sounded. The squad snapped to attention as a calm voice announced himself as Field Commander Horten. The sounds of war could be heard in the background and Davin knew the audio dampeners of his comm were straining against the cacophony of noise that must have been pouring through the transmission. Despite this Horten continue to talk as if nothing was amiss – secure in the knowledge his voice would be heard. Even though they had been extensively briefed on what was expected of them in the next few hours, Horten explained his exacting demands of their action and left each of them in no doubt that failure was not an option. They would succeed, they had been commanded to. 

As soon as Horten signed off, tactical data lit up Davin’s view screen, spooling lists on all manner of information flickered in the corners of his vision. With a jolt, the wall in front of him began to separate and sunlight spilt into the dingy container as it parted along its length, as the roof and floor pulled back behind them more of their surroundings came into view. The drop ship, nearing its target location, had begun to point its nose down for a sharp dive and as it rolled into the manoeuvre the battlefield stretched out in front of them.  As they descended, he could see Dindrenzi forces approaching the facility through the nearest end of the valley and tactical data told him the same was happening on the other side. 

Explosions billowed up from the tree line and fierce fighting could be glimpsed as they skirted the edge of conflict.  Flying lower Davin could see the Terrans were putting up a wall of fire to prevent any of the attackers from breaking through. Valenfyre tanks in concealed positions relentlessly sent shell after shell screaming through the undergrowth, punishing the dense Dindrenzi formations as they negotiated the dense terrain.  Blazing wreckage clogged the spaces between the massive trees towering overhead, providing a measure of cover but also further restricting room for manoeuvre. It was quickly degenerating into a blood bath.

A squadron of Long Bow tank hunters eventually managed to find a position with a good field of fire and holes had started to appear in the Terran lines as they unleashed the fearsome power of their rail-cannons. Lines of fire streaked between the trees, the extreme velocity of the rail slugs igniting the air as they ripped through it at hyper velocity. Trees centuries old and tank armour alike was torn asunder by the force of the slugs, bones of nearby soldiers turned to powder by the concussive force. Successes were short lived however, the distinctive contrails revealing the position of the tank hunters and they soon fell victim to the continued concentrated shelling that was steadily tearing the forest apart.

We need to move quickly thought, Davin.  The attack was doing its job in absorbing the Terran’s attention but at the current rate of attrition it wouldn’t last long, the forest negated their superior manoeuvrability and the Terrans had prepared their defences well.  Time was his biggest enemy now.

They approached the facility perimeter away from the fighting and attempted to break any sight lines the enemy had drawn on them.   The drop ship skimmed the forest canopy as it came in low, dodging the sporadic anti-aircraft fire that lost its way through the dense foliage.  The pilot swung the tail around so it was pointing towards the facility and levelled out for a few seconds before powering vertically into the sky, eventually disappearing into the cloud cover. In that brief pause the ten members of the 201st CIU had disengaged their harnesses and jumped out of the open container doors on both sides of their transport.

Davin braced himself for the impending impact as his suit plummeted to the ground – his descent ending abruptly with a jarring impact and his suits leg servos and inertial dampeners protested against the strain, warning lights momentarily flashing on his HUD.  His team thumped down around him as he pulled himself upright. An amber warning light had stayed lit on his HUD causing him to frown in irritation. A quick diagnostic told him the uneven ground had meant the joint had twisted a load pin on landing the would shear through within the next 30 minutes based on projected operational requirements.

Pushing the concern to one side, his first objective flashed up on his view screen and a timer began counting down – 90. sec. Until Mission Failure.  Breach the Perimeter.

Davin’s suit scanners had begun registering enemy contacts a small circular display in the bottom left corner filling with insistent red flashing dots. As his active scanners started to pick up hard returns his vision was overlaid with white ghosting silhouettes of enemy positions. His system highlighted the weakest defended sections of the perimeter on his map and his squad leader selected their target zone. “Unit 8, you’re with me.” Came his order and he dutifully followed as the squad dispersed further into the trees, some branching out to the flanks in a standard bull horns formation. They pounded their way onwards through the undergrowth, the twelve foot tall armoured exosuits pulping the foliage and smashing through brushes and fallen logs with ease. Their small window of opportunity meant there was no room for stealth of subtlety but within moments they were close enough to launch their attack.

A collection of icons floated on his screen with a distance counters rapidly counting down. They were just over 150 metres away from the perimeter wall. Echos of targets rippled all along their primary objective. Their silhouette identified them as a section of support platforms armed with autocannons and were risky to take on in frontal attack, but time was a factor – they had no choice.

60 sec. Until Mission Failure.  Breach the Perimeter.

Davin’s squad leader stopped ahead of him and knelt down behind a dead fall, checking everyone’s position before he gave the order to break cover.  Turning to look straight at him, he motioned ahead with his free arm and Davin heard the go signal in his comm-link. He started forward without hesitation and it was only a few paces before he crashed through the tree line and into the open.  As one the sentries arrayed ahead turned to face the detected threat and locked on to their chosen targets, gun fire rippling along the defensive line a hundred metres ahead.  Evasive manoeuvres were already being taken by the members of the 201st as the 54mm rounds began stitching lines in the dirt towards them but dozens of rounds still found their mark.  Davin’s suit began to register impacts on various locations though thankfully his speed meant they glanced off the thicker plating of his armour.

His comm-link was a chorus of noise. Grunts and yells punctuated by the odd cry of pain filtered in as the cascade of fire maintained its punishing rate. Several of the squad member indicators on his view screen had changed colour, mostly yellows and ambers but a few flashed red then winked out.  Another warning flashed up – it was his left knee again. The warning light had changed from amber to a ruddy orange. He ignored it, pushing on, faster now, dodging side to side as the early warning systems informed him when he was being targeted. Ducking under a sweeping burst, his knee joint protesting vehemently, he risked a sharp glance to his left and was just in time to see Unit 04 get caught in a cross fire than cut him in half.  Another red light. 

30 sec. Until Mission Failure.  Breach the Perimeter.

He had closed to within thirty metres and only now raised his coil gun to try and carve a gap, for fear of slowing his rate of advance. Quickly locking on to the nearest turret, he sent a burst of fire towards it, aiming for the sentry’s targeting array. The high velocity slugs tore through the armoured housing with ease, shredding the delicate sensors inside. Denied targeting information the gun fell silent, patiently awaitig instructions that would never come. Davin and the rest of the squad quickly exploited the gap he had created and the guns fell silent as they were neutralised one by one.  Blasting through the perimeter wall, they entered the facility and took up position amongst the closest group of buildings.

Objective Complete.  New Objective – Neutralise Primary Control Tower. 120 sec. Until Mission Failure.

Sirens sounded out as their presence was detected and alarm raised to the Terran defenders.  More ghosts appeared on Davin’s view screen and began converging on their position.  Seven of the squad had made it through in various states of combat effectiveness – but his squad leader was not one of them, a lucky shot shredding his torso as they cleared the breach.  Unit 2 quickly assumed command and split the survivors in to two fire teams, each group moving towards the objective via a different route.  The Control Tower itself was a tall spike of concrete, looming over the smaller structures that were scattered around it like leaves from a tree.

Davin and his two other squad members hastily moved through the industrial maze wreaking carnage with every stide. Enemy infantry were constantly appearing to launch attacks only to be annihilated by the trio’s fearsome weaponry, but there had been several near misses with Unit 6 now missing the left arm of his suit.  Explosions tore through power conduits and heat exchangers as they fought their way onwards causing a warning klaxon to blare out across the compoud. Davin could see on map overlay that Unit 2 and his group had taken a shorter route and were now closer to the tower, but judging by the ring of enemy contacts surrounding them it did not look like they were going to advance much further.

60 sec. Until Mission Failure.  Neutralise Primary Control Tower.

Enemy War-Striders had started to appear amongst the defenders in the heart of the facility and Davin realised the threat they posed had now been realised.  It wouldn’t take long for heavier armour to be redeployed and the facility to be locked down entirely. Reaching the base of tower the three remaining Gauntlet suits formed up to defend themselves against the army of defenders now on the verge of overrunning them.  The Morbius suits the Terrans used were somewhat smaller and less well protected than their Dindrenzi equivalents but their superior numbers were beginning to tell.  Davin fired his weapon continuously without pause, shell casings clattering around his feet. Temperature warnings flashed angrily telling him it was on the brink of a catastrophic jam but he continued to fire, smashing apart the his poorly armoured foes.

Withing moments the Terrans had closed the gap and were amongst them. Unit 6 dropped suddenlty. Without his other arm to defend himself it was all too easy to tear his suit to pieces and his screams were abruptly ended as an armoured fist smashed through his chest plate.  Davin was knocked sideways as another suit blindsided him, sending both of them sprawling to the floor amidst twisted armour plating and spent shell casings. Davin ended up on his back and reacted first to backhand his opponent who was trying to stand.  The blow caved in one side of the cockpit and a variety of fluids seeped out of cracks in the armoured plate as it slowly toppled over, its pilot pulped from the impact.  

As Davin tried to stand. There was a sickening thud as the pin finally gave out, trapping him in place. Two more Morbius suits body checked him to the floor and pinned him to the ground whilst another fired it’s Shardgun at him at close range, trying to find weak points in his armour.  Davin’s arm ignited in pain as it was blasted apart at the elbow, followed almost immediately by the other as it was torn off at the shoulder through brute force.  Fists began hammering down on his face plate which began to buckle under the repeated impacts. Warnings flashed and flickered as cracks appeared across his view and the last thing he could make out before his suits armour plating was peeled open were two words posted across his view screen.  Mission Failed.  Bio-electric feedback coursed through his body and he screamed as every muscle in his body contracted uncontrollably.  Screwing his eyes shut he almost felt a release as he faded out into the black.

***

Davin’s vision began to return from the darkness. The hazy glow soon becoming a blinding light he couldn’t turn away from.  Dull noises reached the edge of his hearing as he lay still, his body seething with pain and unable to move.  His body was still contorted with electrical discharge from the haptic feedback his nervous system had endured just moments earlier.  The lid of his neuro-chamber came in focus and he remembered where he was; back on the RSN Cruiser orbiting above the planet he had been fighting on.  A voice spoke from beside his chamber, slightly muffled by the glass. ‘This one’s alive too’ it said.
‘That’s four. Total.’ Answered a second voice, ‘A forty per cent survival rate is good for their type of unit.’
‘They must be as good as they say then.’ Said the first voice.
‘I don’t think the brass will see it that way. They failed the mission.’
‘Shit.’ The voice whistled. ‘He’ll wish he was dead after all.’
Davin considered the statement for a moment and closed his eyes.  They were probably right.