How to Breach Hulls and Influence People

The other week Spartan Games released new free PDF downloads of the Six core Fleet Manuals for version 2.0 of Firestorm Armada. Having had a look through the new files, I’m quite impressed, and there are clearly a lot of new ideas in the new version of the game.

So far, we only have Fleet Manuals for the six core factions (Aquans, Terrans, Sorylians, Directorate, Dindrenzi and Relthoza), but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the Alliance of Kurak and the Zenian League (not to mention other factions like the Syndicate) get their own treatment. These free downloads contain the key rules for choosing a fleet and the ship stats and options. For background material or shiny artwork however you will have to wait (and pay for) the shiny printed versions to be released in early 2014. It will be interesting to see how this pairing of premium book and free bare-bones download works out for both Spartan and the players. Certainly it means not having to lug a heavy book around when you can just look up stats on a phone/tablet; or carry around a printout and not get your nice book all scuffed.

The fact that the downloads are intended to be ‘living documents’ which will be updated as rules errata come up or new ships are released. This is undoubtedly a good thing, though I can imagine a few people being narked about having to download an updated PDF every so often.  I have to wonder how people with the hard copy versions will be updated. Whether Spartan will take the GW route of releasing updated manuals every so often or the Privateer Press route of releasing periodic anthologies with new toys for all factions. [Or downloadable paragraphs that you can glue over the redundant paragraphs. -Ed.]

Looking at the Manuals themselves, it’s clear that the fleet selection rules have been expanded and refined. Ships are now chosen from one of three Tiers, with minimum and maximum selections for each. Tiers group ships roughly according to size and the what falls within a particular Tier changes based on the size of the game, so large ships are heavily restricted in small games but are more widely available in larger games. The minimum and maximum choice restrictions for each size Tier both also scale with the size of game so fleets should have a reasonable balance of small, medium and large ships at all game sizes. That said, the gap between the minimum and maximum choices at each tier is quite narrow and I would not be entirely surprised if some players ran out of slots before they ran out of points.

Most importantly to some players, it is no longer possible to build a fleet with a token single squadron each of small or medium ships and spend the rest of your points on dreadnoughts.

The rules covering Alliance Fleets in the Fleet Manuals are clear and straightforward. While Alliance fleets do face some penalties in terms of Tactical ratings and access to cards, this is presumably to balance out the fact that including allies can be used to offset the perceived weaknesses of a particular fleet. Interestingly, each core fleet now has a ‘Natural Ally’, a minor faction whose ships can be taken in greater proportion and with slightly reduced penalties, for example Terrans with Hawker or Dindrenzi with RSN. This is a nice touch as it is evocative of the background and helps encourage players to vary their collection without having to take too great a wallop  from the nerf bat.

Interestingly, in very large games, you now assemble your force out of multiple separate battlegroups which are considered independent for a lot of rules purposes. Again this has a nice evocative feel of distinct formations coming together in common cause, but it also appears to be another way of including allies without the same penalties you incur when you are simply lumping allied ships in with a single detachment.

Looking at the ship rules themselves, the most obvious change is that virtually everything bigger than an escort now has at least a few options. I’m sure this will please anyone who has ever felt that playing Firestorm Armada felt a bit samey after a while and longed for the chance to make their personal armada just that little bit more theirs. The options seem to be thematically consistent throughout each fleet list and combined with the fact that ship weapons are now broken down by type (scatter weapons, beam weapons etc) means that each fleet has a lot more personality now. The only question is how to represent these options on the model as most FSA ships lack any kind of options in the kit. Players may find themselves having to concentrate very hard to keep track of which squadron of cruisers has the overcharged engines and which has the juiced up guns.

Coupled to this is the fact that in most, but not all cases ships of the same type (for example the Terran Razorthorn and Apollo battleships, but not the Tyrant battleship) have been rolled together and are  covered by a single profile and options list. This is slightly disappointing as it seems like they have missed of on a way of introducing more opportunities to vary and/or theme your force. Most of the ships affected by this are the MK1 and Mk2 cruisers, carriers and battleships so perhaps there is some reason for similar capabilities, but to potentially have them running with entirely identical stats – and even identical upgrades – seems a bit of a shame. I can appreciate that you can in principle use, for example, Sentinel and Hermes class cruisers to represent cruisers upgraded to different capabilities, but I can imagine unscrupulous players keeping their opponents guess about what they are facing, maybe luring the enemy into a trap with a ‘humble’ mk 1 cruiser.

Overall these are pretty impressive documents. All the more so given that they are being offered free to download. I’ve not had a chance to read the version 2.0 rules yet but what we see hints of in these PDFs suggests big changes and a lot more investment in making the game more diverse and characterful. I think FSA players have a lot to look forward to.

Firestorm Invading at Last?

Almost a year ago I reviewed a starter set for the Studio Sparta game Firestorm Invasion: Planetfall. I enthused about what had the potential to expand on the Firestorm Armada universe and finally break the company out of their habit of overly abstracted rules, shit writing and horrendous amounts of pointless bold copy.

At the time I had a chat with the people in the know at Spartan and they said that the Directorate and the Sorylians would be hot on the heels of the initial Dindrenzi & Terran Alliance starter sets. Well…they weren’t wrong. Almost a full 12 months later they’re finally releasing those two factions. And the indications are that they’ll be a proper boxset and some proper rules on the way too.

It’s been a hugely frustrating 12 months watching Spartan devolve into an early version of Games Workshop with rising prices, a scattergun release schedule with things like Spartan Scenics popping up despite no 28mm games actually being out yet from Spartan. Which is all part of the longer term plan for Firestorm Invasion. Which is why it’s odd that they’d release all that stuff so early.

I promise this isn’t sour grapes. I just don’t get it. The erratic releases, the supplements that push an abstract game system to its absolute limit and taking a year to roll something out that they’ve outwardly ignored. I have no problem with a company taking time to develop, or raising capitol to develop. Credit where credit’s due, they haven’t done a kickstarter. But I do feel that if Spartan had spent less time and money developing some of the iffy supplements they could have properly developed Firestorm Invasion rather than lose all momentum by taking a year.

Anyway, this is what Spartan had to say about Firestorm Invasion – and there’s some sexy shots of the Terran vehicles. I’ve also included all the stuff about the Sorylians and Directorate.

As I say, I really want this game to be good and successful. And I really want Spartan to regain its focus and get back to doing cool stuff rather than bodging, improvising and generally messing with a mechanic that was too precise to allow for it…

Spartan Games…

It has long been a part of the plans for the FA Galaxy that your space fleets could fight their way to planets and star systems ready to deploy ground forces with which to capture or destroy vital strategic objectives. Having watched our community of 10mm scale gamers grow, and beavered away in the background on new models and enhanced rules, it is a pleasure to tell you that all of the six major races will be coming to a tabletop soon.

Having listened to feedback and read your Wishlists, Firestorm Planetfall has taken shape and will be rolled out to as follows:

• All six major races
• Boxed Sets designed to make army building easy and cost-effective
• Hardback Rulebook
• Alliance Books
• Range of high quality scenery – from bunker complexes to entire cityscapes

For those players who already own Terrans and Dindrenzi we have not left you out. An entire set of new, highly detailed models have been created to complement your existing forces. From brand new tanks and aircraft to gigantic Prime Movers capable of transporting entire units of infantry across the gaming table, we’ve worked on it all.

So to end, please have a look at concept art for some of the new Terran models. Over the next few weeks our web pages will be changed to reflect the enhancements to our spaceships and ground forces, and we’ll keep detailing the new models across the range. Check back soon to see images of the Sorylians, Relthoza, Aquans and Directorate at the ground scale!

Terran Concept Artwork - MBT (Main Battle Tank)

Terran Concept Artwork - Heavy Tank

Terran Concept Artwork - Prime Mover Troop Carrier

Sorylian Collective

Sorylian Collective

What you can see here are concepts for just three of the Sorylian models: the Medium Walker (think Main Battle Tank quantity wise on a tabletop, the FA version of a Sherman), the Heavy Walker and a Small Strike Drone. But there is a myriad other models for this race, from the Small Flyer right up to machines that block the sunlight on a battlefield.

Chris added: “Their fundamental characteristics were to be resilient legged tanks that would lumber across the battlefield with less haste and more of a juggernaut archetype. With this in mind I started to think of the silhouette and sense of the weight of these mighty mechanical mechs piloted by a lizard-like race. Their centre of gravity would be extremely low to help them feel sturdy and immovable and I drew reference from the body language of various reptiles and similar creatures to create a leg setup that was appropriate. Having arrived at these wonderfully mechanical dinosaurs of war I am very pleased with the outcome. They feel technologically advanced yet prehistoric in their physical presence.”

The fighting vehicles of the Sorylian Collective are primarily comprised of bulky, resilient walkers. Slow and ponderous, but very well protected from all forms of incoming ordnance, these stoic vehicles shrug off enemy attacks whilst their return fire punctures hulls with ease.

Sorylian Collective

Sorylian Collective

Sorylian Collective

Filling the sky around these walkers are swarms of much smaller aircraft. Incredibly agile, they dart around the larger vehicles, knocking out enemy aircraft attempting to strike at the walkers from above, or driving off light vehicles trying to outflank their charges. In this way the Sorylian ‘Sphere’ formations grind across the battlefield, maintaining their defensive stance whilst they roll over objectives and crush enemy wrecks beneath their giant metal feet.

In the next blog we’ll delve into the ideas behind the Directorate ground forces. Sleek, fast, deadly – I know it sounds clichéd, but it’s the ideal way to sum this force up.

As the most technologically advanced race in the known galaxy (in their own minds at least!), we felt that the Directorate in Planetfall needed to capture that sleek Hi-Tech sci-fi look, whilst still feeling like working military vehicles that can take a beating and dish out some brutality in return.

After an exciting design meeting with lots of reference pictures (and sci-fi gun noises) an eager Chris Peacey set about bringing to life the Directorate ground forces, and the units he came out with are some of the most stunning Planetfall models yet.

Chris Peacey explains: “The Directorate have the best gear, the best resources and the most advanced technology of all the races in the Storm Zone, so it was only fitting for their ground and air vehicles to have an air of elitism about them. Superior offensive and defensive technologies manifest themselves in the form of plasma weapons and ablative armour, cyber-attack capabilities and intimidating air support. Ground units are swift and employ first-strike tactics. It is rare that a Directorate force is ever cornered or taken by surprise. In this unlikely event, air support is devastating for the opposing forces as large and impressively armoured gunships can promptly deliver a barrage of suppressive fire.”

The Directorate

Pictured above are three concepts for Directorate vehicles: a particularly mean looking Battle Tank with reinforced armour cladding and a giant plasma weapon, an aggressive Gunship that perfectly hits the balance between functional military and sophisticated design and my personal favourite – a sleek cyberwarfare vehicle that screams speed, stealth and advanced tech.

Chris Peacey explains: “The Cyber Warfare tank is the personification of the Directorate’s slick approach to conflict. Its smooth lines and hexagonal cladding give an appropriate feel to a vehicle that changes what is necessary to secure victory over enemy forces. You can expect future Directorate units to share this striking aesthetic. In contrast, the main battle vehicle and heavy gunship have a contemporary science fiction feel; armed to the teeth and equally armoured. These vehicles built for pure offence are the true fist of the Directorate military.

I hope that Directorate players of Firestorm Armada are looking forward to seeing these vehicles realised as 10mm scale miniatures as much as I am!!”

The Directorate - Battle Tank

The Directorate - Gunship

The Directorate - Cyber Warfare Tank

On the battlefield, the ground forces of the Directorate take a ‘right tool for the job’ approach. VTOL craft of varying sizes provide manoeuvrability and heavy firepower, Tank Destroyers and automated gun platforms deadly fire support and Battle Tanks occupy the enemy’s attention, shrugging off their shots with high-tech armour systems.

Meanwhile elite infantry and powerful augmented mechs perform a crucial “special forces” role, supporting the larger vehicles, clearing ground and seizing objectives. Across the board, the Directorate supplement their arms and armour with unmatched cyber-tech. Capitalising on their supremacy in this arena, they shut down defences, overload systems and sow havoc and discord throughout their inferior enemy.

My Other Ship is a Dreadnought

Hot off the presses over at Spartan Games are these grabs of the Dindrenzi, Relthoza and Directorate dreadnoughts for Firestorm Armada, and like the three we’ve already seen, they’re absolutely massive!

My guess is that some new products will be appearing on the Spartan Games shop any day now that’ll make many gamers, myself included, extremely happy. And fear not loyal readers, I shall bravely review a couple of them for you. I know, I know, I’m a hero…

The Destroyer of Worlds

Today it’s Firestorm Armada’s turn to get some shiny new ships in the form of destroyers. I’m a massive fan of this game mainly because the ships are gorgeous and these are no exception. As you’ll see they’re all as sexy as the other ships in the range. Although I have to say that the Aquan ships is, once again, a bit of a departure from the rest of the Aquan range.

It’s not a complaint, just an observation. But I can see Aquan players getting irritated by this lack of direction. Personally I love this and the Aquan dreadnought, I think they’re both very bold designs but had I just spent £30+ on a fleet I think I’d feel a little bit confused as to how current that fleet is.

The rest of the ships, as you’ll see, stay true to their roots and I may have to add them to the dreadnoughts to review when they’re released…

 Terran Artemis Class Destroyer

Sorylian Kestros Class Destroyer

Dindrenzi Trident Class Destroyer

Relthoza Venom Class Destroyer

Directorate Nemesis Class Destroyer

Aqua Stingray Class Destroyer