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.

Shell Case Shorts 10

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

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

Rules are as follows:

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

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

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

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

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

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

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

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

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

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

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

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

Good luck and have fun!

Firestorm Invasion – A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colours in Review

 

Yesterday I ventured up to the wilds of Newbury for the second day of Colours with Jezza and Ian of The Chaps. For those not of this green and verdant land you can find out more here. But, in a nutshell it’s the largest wargaming event in the South of England.

I thought I’d just focus on the things that piqued my interest rather than give a blow-by-blow account of everything that was there because it’ll be boring and I didn’t look at everything. Partly because it’s a far bigger event that I expected. Spread out over 3 floors at Newbury Race Course, it had something for everyone.

Shrewdly positioned by the entrance was none other than fellow #warmonger Jed Norton and Antenociti’s Workshop (@Antenociti). It was great to finally meet Jed and have a proper natter about his game Governance of Technology. Everything he’s got planned for the game sounds absolutely fantastic and is a very fresh take on a futuristic world at war. Plus his models look ace. I’ll be doing a review of some of his models very soon.

I also got to have a chat with the guys at Steel Crown Productions and all the exciting stuff going on with their 6mm version of Exodus Wars. The models are looking ace and we’re now mere weeks away from the release. They very kindly let me take a couple of snaps of some of the models including their ‘titan’ construct which is utterly massive and awesome. The model they had there didn’t have its arm weapons attached but it’s a beast and weighs an absolute tonne.

They kindly let me shoot it next to the infantry so you can see the scale.

I also got to meet Ed & Harry from Warmill. They produce a wide range of multipart, laser cut, MDF scenery. I got the opportunity to speak to them at some length about how it all came about. I was also lucky enough to get a couple of samples for review in the very near future but for now, here’s a snap of what they do…

As I wandered around I was struck by the effort some people went to for just display boards. Below is a photo of a zombie apocalypse game. I had no idea what the game system was but it looked fantastic.

There was also a fantastic board for A Very English Civil War but unfortunately the photo didn’t come out.

The star of the show, for me, however, was the Studio Sparta stand where they were showing off Firestorm Invasion and specifically the Planetfall 10mm ruleset.

As if that wasn’t enough they also had models of the 15mm & 28mm games including all three versions of the Terran Alliance main battle tank. Which was awesome.

And the cherry on that particularly awesome cake was they also had some models for Dystopian Legions including the FSA trackbike, some Prussian and Britannian infantry (again the pictures didn’t come out for those – sorry) a couple of tanks and the fecking massive Prussian robot.

I had the opportunity to chat with the guys at Studio Sparta at length and both projects sound very exciting. Indications are that the Sorylians and Directorate will be out next for Invasion with the Auqans and Relthoza following shortly after. They also confirmed that the FSA would be getting their own massive robot and the dude in front of the robot above is a 3(?) up of a Britannian explorer sort complete with robotic hook for a hand and pith-helmet wearing monkey.

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

 

The Hawk and The Spartan

It’s been an interesting few days in the world of wargaming. The launch of Studio Sparta and the release of Firestorm: Invasion was very exciting news but also very interesting in terms of the wargaming landscape with how this news impacts on the growth of Dropzone Commander by Hawk Wargames. Allow me to paint you a word picture.

Dave Lewis use to work for Spartan Games. He left and founded Hawk Wargames and developed Dropzone Commander. Dropzone Commander is released to an eager world and Hawk Wargames promptly runs out of stock because, from what I’ve been told, only produced enough models to sort out those who ordered direct, not via retailers.

At present the average wait for UK retailers is around 4 weeks. My sources tell me that some international stockists are only just getting their original orders. Another source tells me that once overseas retailers had placed their orders they were forbidden from changing them other than to reduce the number of rulebooks they wanted or increase the overall order. Not to reduce or to cancel. This also comes with a very damning piece of news – and this is a verified source which shall remain anonymous – retailers are only allowed to undercut Hawk Wargames by 10%. Anything more and they won’t be allowed to sell the products.

So supply problems and price-fixing. It doesn’t paint the rosiest of pictures. I’m of the opinion that retailers should be allowed to charge what they like for a product as they have already invested capital to buy it. If you over charge no one buys it and you’re a retard if you do. Under charge and you will shift volume at the cost of margin. However, more at less margin still beats less at a slightly higher margin. Basic economics.

Price fixing benefits no one as the cost price stays the same. Yes retailers, in theory, maintain higher margins which is good for profits but when you go out at the same price as everyone else then you make it harder for the customer to spend their money because they’re looking for that USP (unique selling point) – usually a price, a promotion or something that sets one retailer apart from another.

Now, in a high street it’s not such a scrum as if you only have one independent retailer locally (I have…zero locally) then that’s where you go to buy your toys. Go online, however, and you have dozens to choose from, eCommerce is an incredibly tough market because just about anyone can get a website built. But because they’re all selling out at the same price and are all having the same supply problems there’s no competition. As a customer I ask myself; if no one’s got stock nor can do me a deal then what’s the rush?

Then there’s the price of the models themselves. Having spoken to Dave I understand that the resin he uses is expensive because of its detail and durability. He’s quality assurance is second to none. He’s also not dealing in the volumes that other companies do, at the moment. But I also know the margins. But anyway, the point is this; a starter deal is £68. Plus rules. Plus faction cards.

This week, as I mentioned, saw the unveiling of Firestorm Invasion by Studio Sparta. A 10mm sci-fi wargame with lots of lovely tanks and exosuits and even fast movers. I wouldn’t say that the models are as detailed as the Dropzone Commander range but they’re detailed enough that you can paint them, they’ll look good and you can actually play a fecking game.

It’s also set in an established IP which is on top of looking awesome and the starter army is a stonking £23 cheaper and includes rules and faction cards and dice. It’s tough not to have your head turned when you can confidently order from Spartan and know you’ll get your new toys in the same month you paid for them.

It’s a risky time for Hawk. Although launch was a success, the supply troubles that have dogged it ever since is burning good will quicker than it can cast models. And no matter how many times we’re told they’re working at full capacity it doesn’t change the fact that customers are waiting for an expensive product with something similar dangling in front of their noses for an initial investment £44 less than Dropzone Commander.

I really like Dropzone Commander and it’s a game I want to collect. But, in light of the seemingly endless problems, coupled with a pricing strategy that smacks of an arrogance belonging to a far larger organisation I can see a lot of customers being put off. And with cheaper alternatives like Invasion and the utterly fantastic Gruntz (which, granted is 15mm) they’d be forgiven for going elsewhere.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens next but if I’m honest I think I’m going to have to get my hands on Invasion before I get my PHR army for Dropzone Commander. Especially since seeing this ace post from Pins of War.

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.