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Thursday, 15 December 2016

Dropfleet Commander & Firestorm Armada side-by-side - Part 2: Game Mechanics

In the second of my side-by-side looks at DFC vs FA, I'm going to look at how the actual games stack up against each other. This post is really a comparison of the mechanics nuts and bolts, and not how the games actually play, which I'll do for the next in this series. So let's plunge straight in....

Basic Stats

Firestorm Armada

Designation - What type of ship this is - e.g. Battleship or Frigate
Size Class - Small, medium or Large - also designates whether the ship is a Capital ship or not
Squadron Size - the number of ships present to make up a legal squadron (e.g. 2-4)
DR - damage Rating - the value that must be reached to damage the ship
CR - Critical rating - the value that must be reached to critically damage a ship
Mv - Movement - How far in inches the ship can move each activation
HP - Hull Points - the amount of damage the ship can take before it is destroyed
CP - Crew Points - the value of the non-combatant crew running the ship
AP - Assault Points - the value of the marine contingent aboard the ship for boarding
PD - Point Defence - the value of systems used to defend against torpedoes, SRS and boarding
MN - Mine value - the strength of mines laid by the ship
Points Cost - self explanatory
Shield rating - the value of any shield systems the ship has (including Cloaking fields)
Wings - the value of SRS (Short-range spacecraft) the ship can accommodate
Turn Limit - how far the ship must move before it turns 45degrees

Dropfleet Commander

Scan - the range of the ships active search systems in inches
Sig - Signature - how "visible" a ship is, in inches added to an enemy's scan range
Thrust - How far in inches the ship can move each activation
Hull - the amount of damage the ship can take before it is destroyed
A - Armour - effectively a "saving throw" per damage point, expressed as a dice value (eg 4+)
PD - Point Defence - the value of systems used to defend against Close Action and Launch Assets
G - Group - The normal operating range for the ship, similar to Squadron Size in FA
T - Tonnage - What size class the vessel is for fleet building
Special - Lists any special rules such as Launch and Atmospheric
Points - self explanatory

Force Size and Building

Firestorm Armada

Firestorm Armada has three main levels of play - Patrol Fleet (up to 800 points), Battle Fleet (801-1500) and Grand Fleet (>1501). It has to be said that the vast majority of games are played at the first two levels, since people find the Grand fleet level takes too long.

Within the various game sizes you have three Tiers of ships - Tier 3s, which are generally small Frigates and Corvettes, Tier 2s, which are Cruisers, Gunships and the like and Tier 1s, which are everything from a carrier up to dreadnoughts. Depending on what points level you play will determine the minimum and maximum number of the different squadrons you have in your various Tiers. There are various other restrictions and possibilities layered on this, plus it is possible to customise individual squadrons of ships, so you can build an extremely diverse set of fleets for any race at any points level.

Cost of ships range from 15points for an escort or corvette, around 20-30 points for frigates, 40-90 points for medium ships such as cruisers and the like, around 170-220 points for Battleships and around 280-350 for dreadnoughts (the largest ships currently in the game)

Dropfleet Commander

Dropfleet also has three levels of play - Skirmish (up to 1000 points), Clash (1000-1999) and Battle (2000-3000). As the game is new I can't really comment as to practicality at the higher levels compared to FA.

Fleet organisation is a bit different to FA, as you assemble your forces from "Battlegroups", each Battlegroup being made up of various ships (not restricted to the same type). There are four types of Battlegroup (Pathfinder, Line, Vanguard and Flag), and four categories of ship that can go into a battlegroup (Light, Medium, Heavy and Super-Heavy). Battleships are Super-Heavy, and only come into Clashes and Battles - this is an interesting setup, and as each Battlegroup has variable composition, you get a wide range of options...If I got it right at Skirmish level you can have 0-2 Heavy, 1-8 Mediums and 0-10 Light Ships present.

Cost of ships range from around 22-50 points for Light, 79-140 points for Medium , around 155-210 points for Heavy and around 220-285 points for Super-Heavy (the largest ships currently in the game)

Game Size, Scenarios & Setup

Firestorm Armada

Games tend to use a 4'x6' table regardless of game size due to the long weapon ranges and design heritage. There are 6 core scenarios in the core rulebook, which was expanded to 10 with the System Wars booklet (you don't necessarily need the supplement ships to play these, though its recommended). Setup of the game can be done in several ways, and recommendations for placement of terrain (asteroid fields, gas clouds, planetoids, debris fields, gravity wells and comets) together with their effects are all provided. Setup is a pretty painless procedure, though agreement on what an "average" table looks like varies depending on local meta.

Dropfleet Commander

The recommended table size is 4'x4' - an obvious and immediate difference to Firestorm. There are 8 scenarios in the core book, and it has to be said these are a lot more objective-driven than Firestorm's, partially because of the nature of the game (orbital deployment and defence rather than deep-space combat). The DFC rulebook also goes on to talk about Ways to Play, Tournaments and integrating DZC, as well as running Campaigns and days - this shows Hawk's approach to its games, which is very much about building the community and building its games towards this - something it definitely wins out on here in DFC and generally as a company.

Gameplay - General

Firestorm Armada

FA is an alternate activation game, and was quite early on the scene in this regard. Players can use a tactical card (TAC) before rolling initiative each turn, bring in reserve forces (if applicable), then activate a squadron of their choice from those left to activate. In the Squadron's activation it can move, shoot and perform other actions like laying mines, launching fighters and bombers, and attempt boarding actions. Once an individual squadron has finished all of its actions, play passes over to the other player, who then chooses one of his squadrons to activate and so on.

Dropfleet Commander

DFC is also an alternate activation game, but this is done by Battlegroup rather than by ship squadron or group. The order of these groups activation is defined at the beginning of the turn by use of Battlegroup cards, the order of which is set by the player in the Planning Phase of the turn. This is the first major departure in gameplay which gives a slightly different feel to the game. During a Battlegroups activation, each group within the battlegroup can activate in any order the player wishes. this means you have a strategic choice to make at fleet building - more Battlegroups with lower numbers of Groups, or more Groups in less Battlegroups. There is also the option to use a Special Order before a ship activates, which is something similar to the TACs used in Firestorm, but applied at a more individual tactical level, since each ship in a Battlegroup can choose whether or not to use the Special Order. These "Ships Orders" are an important part of the flavour of the game, since they determine how the ship behaves and also affect its Signature value, making it more vulnerable to attack.

Gameplay - Movement

Firestorm Armada

Ships in FA move like wet navy ships, having a minimum move and a turn limit. Movement can be ponderous - 6" with 45 degree turns every 3" - or rapid - 14" with the ability to turn a 360 in 8" - depending on the individual ship (smalls generally being faster and easier to turn). 

Dropfleet Commander

Movement depends on the Orders given to a ship, rather than by the type of size of a vessel;

  • Standard Orders - Turn at the start of activation, and move from half to all of its Thrust value. 
  • Station Keeping - Uses 0-half of its thrust movement with a turn at the start or end of its move
  • Course Change - two turns at any point during its movement
  • Max Thrust - Turn at the start and use up to double movement
Any of these orders other than "standard", however, inflict a "Minor Spike, which adds 6" to its Signature value. there are some other Orders which affect movement too;
  • Weapons Free, Silent Running & Active Scan - All prevent ANY turning that activation

Gameplay - Weapons and Firing

Firestorm Armada

Ships in Firestorm have variable numbers of weapons systems, which are broken down into "Direct" and "Indirect" types - both of which have general rules around them, such as Indirect weapons not requiring LOS and not degrading from combat damage. The Direct weapons come in different flavours - Kinetic, Beam, Nuclear, Scatter and Primary - each of these having different properties associated with them. Indirect weapons also come in different types such as torpedoes, cyberwarfare and gravity. Weapon Systems all have 4 range "bands" (1-4), but the size of each of these depends on the weapon class - a Primary weapon has 8" bands, a kinetic weapon has 12" bands.

Arcs in FA are Fore, S/P (as in the example above), Aft and Fixed Fore - the latter being a channel the width of the ship's base. There are also turrets which have a full 360 range and gunracks which are P/S weapons that can only fire into one of the side arcs at a time.

Each weapon has a profile like this;

This shows the weapon type (in this case a Beam, which has 10" range bands), an Arc (in this case Port/Starboard broadsides) and a number of dice to be rolled depending on where the target is located. So up to 10" we would be rolling 12 dice, between 10 and 20 we'd roll 16 etc.

We then roll these dice, with a 4+ being a hit (unless other rules come into play, like difficult target etc), and using the exploding 6 mechanic that is present in most SG systems (every 6 counts as 2 successes and allows another dice to be rolled). 

Small and Medium ships have lower AD values, but can link their attacks as a squadron. in this way smaller ships can "gang up" to damage larger ships.

Overall the feeling in Firestorm is rolling big handfuls of dice to overwhelm the defences of your opponent - you can be rolling up to the low 20s in terms of number of dice. Having said that, you are still at the mercy of dice, though the number rolled have a statistical evening effect.

Dropfleet Commander

Firing in DFC is a bit different from FA. Firstly, weapons don't have ranges, ships do - the range is the Scan range of the ship you're firing with, plus the Signature of the all those "Spike" values start to make can turn hard, but you're increasing the range that the enemy can shoot you at!

Now weapons in DFC also have a stat line, and heres an example;

  • Type - Descriptive text of the weapon
  • Lock - what the weapon scores hits on
  • Attack - the number of dice you roll
  • Damage - the hull points removed for each successful hit
  • Arc - as for Firestorm, you have similar arcs, though named S (L) and S (R) for Port/Starboard. also unlike firestorm, a weapon might be F,S(L) for example, meaning it can fire in either front or side arcs. this will be familiar to DZC or Planetfall players
Overall DFC feels a lot more like a developed GW mechanic, which is unsurprising given Andy Chambers involvement in the project (though this may also be very familiar to DZC players too!). Numbers of attack dice are much smaller - topping out at 6AD for some battleship systems (around a quarter of what FA tops out at!).

Damage and Attrition

Firestorm Armada

If the total equals or exceeds the DR, a HP is lost - if it exceeds the CR rating, it receives 2 HP and the attacker can roll on the Critical Hit table, which has effects from losing crew to detonating the ships reactor. Attacks which reach the CR threshold a number of times inflict 2HP for every multiple, with a corresponding table roll if the ship is still alive.

Shields may be rolled to remove hits, and these use exploding dice as well, though typically these are only 1 or 2 dice )3 or 4 being the high upsides). PD is used against Torpedo attacks in addition, and PD values can range from 1-9 depending on ship class and size.

Once damaged, ships begin to degrade in effectiveness - every HP of damage reduces the AD of the ships DIRECT attacks by 1, and also the PD. This makes Indirect weapons like Torpedoes - which don't degrade in this manner - much more effective, so the balance of weapon's effectiveness changes across the course of the game.

Dropfleet Commander

Critical hits are handled differently in DFC too - if your dice hit with 2 or more than you needed (so a 5+ in the example with a 3+ Lock above), they score a critical hit, which means you don't get to use your Armour value to attempt to prevent the damage.

After rolling attack dice and determining hits and final hull points of damage, the receiving player can roll dice for their Armour for any non-critical hits to attempt to reduce damage. Critical hits may not be defeated by Armour, but may be reduced with Passive Countermeasures if the ship has them active. Some weapons have the Close Action Special rule, which means you get to use PD against them, which can take out critical hits at a 2:1 rate.

If a ship takes more than half its hull in damage, it must roll for "Crippling Damage". this is a one-off check, unlike the Critical table in FA which is rolled on every time a critical hit is scored. Essentially this helps to kill damaged ships, shortening the life of vessels and helping to prevent "Zombie Ship" syndrome, which can occur in FA. Also when a ship loses all its Hull, you roll for Catastrophic damage, which determines the ships fate and effects - which again helps kill stuff around it.

SRS & Launch Assets

These are the fighters, bombers, interceptors and other small craft that both games have.

Firestorm Armada

Firestorm refers to these craft as SRS (Short Range Spacecraft), and they come in several flavours - Fighters, Interceptors, Bombers, Assault Shuttles and Support Shuttles. They are handled in the movement phase of their parent carrier, and may be launched and perform an attack run on a target within range in the same turn, or they may stay within range of their carrier to perform an attack run in future. SRS may also combine their PD values to prevent torpedo attacks in the vicinity. 

Dropfleet Commander

Launch Assets (as DFC calls them) can be launched against a target within twice the thrust range of the type of LA, except Dropships and Bulk Landers, which can only launch against targets within Thrust range. These are all launched in the Roundup Phase, which occurs after the activation phase of a turn. Dropfleet also classes Torpedoes as Launch Assets, whereas FA has Torpedoes much more like missiles in DFC. Once again, PD systems may be used to help ward off the attacks on a ship from Launch Assets - except for torpedoes. A ship may attempt to outmanoeuvre Launch Assets as well (including torpedoes) by using Course Change or Max Thrust orders. 

Special Rules

Firestorm Armada

Firestorm handles special rules with MARs - Model Assigned Rules, of which there are over 60 of at the moment. These provide all kinds of effects, and individual ships can have anything from zero to half a dozen, often with the option of gaining more.

Dropfleet Commander

DFC has around half of the special rules FA does, and these are separated into Ship special rules and weapon system special rules, with a ratio of about 1:2. They have some important key concepts however, like the Burnthrough rule on some weapon systems, which uses a type of capped exploding system.

Unique Elements

Firestorm and Dropfleet are both games designed for slightly different purposes, so a very direct comparison is somewhat difficult. This section talks about some of the things that are largely unique about each system.

Firestorm Armada


Ships in Firestorm may attempt to capture each other during play, and although quite a variable tactic in terms of success, used well it can be decisive. As far as I can see DFC has no similar mechanism within the game. Rules for boarding are pretty simple and it's possible to build a boarding-heavy fleet, though in general it's a risky strategy.


Mines are a minor mechanic in Firestorm, but one that can have pivotal effects in games. Again, from what I've see so far there are no similar mechanics within DFC. This is understandable, since mining your own planet's atmosphere is probably unwise!

Dropfleet Commander

Orbital Combat

The main thing that is obviously different about DFC is that it occurs around a planet, including it's outer atmosphere. This is represented in game and has various affects on gameplay. The rationale behind Dropfleet is often to deposit assets to capture ground targets, which requires ships to enter the atmosphere. You have mechanics to traverse the orbital layers, and also one for "Orbital decay" (yes, it sounds bad, and it is bad - well, if you like keeping your ships intact and not as a firework display for your ground troops, anyway!)

Ground Combat

Although a space game, as you are landing assets on a planet, the ground combat element of this is also rendered in game as part of each turns Roundup Phase. You also have the extreme option of "nuking a site from orbit" - I can't wait!!!

Roundup & Conclusions

Well, it's difficult to make any conclusions from a simple comparison of mechanics, especially as I've not yet properly played DFC yet. However, just on initial impressions there are clear differences in the approach and rendering of game elements. Ironically perhaps, I can see tweaking both games to fit with each other, representing deep space and orbital combat respectively, which would be pretty cool.

Interestingly, there are some elements of both games that seem somewhat old-fashioned when compared to each other. The main differences do go back, however, to what each game is trying to achieve, and the approach of the two companies - Firestorm is much more about a straight-up fight with no real eye to tournament play, whereas DFC is all about objectives and the planet, with a definite nod to narrative campaigns and tournaments.

In some ways I'm not sure a direct comparison is possible or desirable here, I can see playing both games without too much difficulty or overlap, to be honest - I think they're scratching different itches. I can see someone who enjoys DFC enjoying FA and vice-versa, and certainly the models are compatible in terms of size, scale and number.

So I'm afraid, perhaps somewhat unsatisfactorily, I'm going to defer any proper judgement on the games until I've played them side-by-side with Oscar, and get our distilled wisdom down on the virtual page. Until then, enjoy the space ships!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Dropfleet Commander & Firestorm Armada side-by-side - Part 1

So this was obviously inevitable, but I thought I'd put the two games side-by-side and draw up a set of compare and contrast items to let people know what they're getting into with both games.

1) The Companies

I think given my recent history this is an obvious starting point, but it may not be obvious when people are considering a game system. To me it has always been since my GW experiences, and my initial experiences with SG were extremely favourable, which was in sharp contrast to the treatment GW was handing out to its customers. With more and more companies and games on the market than ever before, I think this is more important than ever.

1a) Spartan Games

Spartan is a small UK manufacturer, started and run by Neil & Frances Fawcett. It started with Uncharted Seas, and firestorm was its more successful second game, and really catapulted it into a more global marketplace. Back in 2009 when SG started Firestorm, the market was ripe for new companies with new attitudes. Customer support was great, and they had an active community for their games. In 2015 they gained the Halo license from 343 studios, and games like Planetfall, Dysopian Wars and Firestrom Armada have seemed to take a secondary rank behind the Halo franchised games since that time. They don't have a great reputation for following through on promises, often giving grandiose plans that aren't followed through on.

1b) Hawk Wargames

Hawk is another small UK manufacturer, started and owned by David Lewis. It started in 2012 with Dropzone Commander, a 10mm scale game that captured a lot of people's imagination. Dave worked on DZC for over 2 years before bringing it to market, and he did a lot of the work  - design, sculpting and painting - on the original DZC himself. Hawk have a reputation for community building, show attendance and tournament support. The release of their second game, Dropfleet Commander through Kickstarter has attracted some criticism from backers due to fulfilment delays - many waiting long after retail sales to receive their pledges.

2) Backgrounds & Universes

For many people, the "story" of their battles is a lynchpin on which their enjoyment hangs, for others it is nice window dressing and some don't care either way (though I think they are in the minority, or else why play any individual game?).

2a) Firestorm Armada

Firestorm Armada has been criticised over the years for its lack of background material, despite the game having a huge number of races and ships - leading some to draw parallels with GW as Spartan being a model company rather than a games company. Two fleet guides for the major sides in their universes conflict were released in 2014, around 6 months after v2 of the game was available, and they filled in a lot of the blanks players had before, but mainly for the "core six" - the main protagonists in the game. In addition, Spartan's release of their 10mm ground-combat game Planetfall did not tie in well to their existing universe, with several differences in feel and direction in background on introduction and thereafter, especially over certain factions (like the lizard Sorylians and the arachnid Relthoza).

2b) Dropfleet Commander

Dropfleet has an advantage here in that it is a game created in an existing setting that was already very well thought out and had a lot of background pre-developed. Hawk have been good at providing detailed background materials, with a lot of supporting artwork, for their releases, which makes it feel like a more coherent and fleshed-out universe. The flip side to this is that Hawk have developed far fewer factions than Spartan, having four main factions in both games, with an additional one in their ground combat game.

3) Factions & Setting

The universes that games companies create need to be sufficiently expanded to appeal to a broad range of players - what one person thinks is cool another will not. Having sufficient expansion potential for a game from a player's point of view is often a big part of getting into the game - what commitment is required from the player, is there a broad church of options, and how much is it all going to cost to get playing properly.

3a) Firestorm Armada

At present there are 22 factions for Firestorm, falling into three broad categories - The Kurak Alliance, The Zenian League and the Marauders & Mercenaries. The latter comprise elements that can combine with either main division plus a "monster" type faction that stands alone. Six of these are the "core races", including the broadest choices of ships and most developed background, though that is fairly scant even fro these races. The factions for Firestorm are;

The Kurak Alliance

  • Terran Alliance - Core race (Humans, corrupt and overbearing - a bit like the 19th century British Empire)
  • Aquan Sebrutan - Core race (Aquatic multi-species conglomerate with semi-organic ships)
  • Sorylian Collective - Core race (Lizard engineers with a strong sense of tradition and ceremony)
  • Hawker (Humans, Corporate entity which produces ships for the Terran Alliance)
  • Ryushi (The 9-foot tall remnants of a large empire looking for revenge against the Kedorians)
  • Terquai Empire (Human sub-faction that live in Aquan space with hybrid tech)
  • Tarakian (Ancient and mysterious race watching for the coming of the "old enemy")
  • Veydreth (Dragon-like mercenary lizards with a taste for human flesh)
  • Xelocians (Religious bird-like creatures on a holy quest in their world-ship)

The Zenian League

  • Dindrenzi Federation - Core race (Human separatists - hardy frontiersmen, like revolutionary America)
  • The Directorate - Core race (Human corporation, completely self-serving, betrayed the Terrans, stoking the war)
  • Relthoza Empire - Core race (Huge Arachnids with a strong martial honour system and cloaking fields)
  • Ba'kash (Savage raiders of the Sorylians, plaguing their wormhole network)
  • Kedorians (Mysterious slavers & traders with advanced technology)
  • RSN (The elite Navy of the traditional Dindrenzi Leaders home worlds)
  • Works Raptor (The Human weapons development experts of the Directorate)

Marauders and Mercenaries

  • The STL Syndicate (A criminal gang with its claws in the government of the Terran Alliance)
  • The STL Traders (the "legitimate" face of the Syndicate, with a gunned-up merchant feel)
  • OSO Omnidyne (An up-and-coming corporation in the Directorate, willing to do anything for money)
  • OSO Corsairs (Pirates! How Omnidyne gets things done whilst keeping plausible deniability)
  • Oroshan (Four-armed monkey mercenaries)
  • Pathogen (The Flood in FSA)

3b) Dropfleet Commander

DFC only has four factions, but each is fully fleshed out and meshes well with its DZC counterpart. They have consistent looks between ground and space, and each has a distinct identity.
  • United Colonies of Mankind (The traditional humans - think Colonial marines from Aliens)
  • Post-Human Republic (Progressive human splinter elevated by technology from a mysterious sphere)
  • The Shaltari (an advanced race that may have put humanity in harms way to save themselves)
  • The Scourge (a parasitic species that absorb other races and use them to expand themselves)

4) Miniatures

4a) Firestorm Armada

Materials & Construction

Spartan Games has a good pedigree in making resin miniatures, which the majority of its Firestorm Armada range are cast in. Some of the smaller ships are cast in white metal, as well as some of the smaller components to their ships (Hawker's Shield Generators and Works Raptor's shield panels being obvious examples). Spartan's metal casting doesn't have the finesse of its resin, and can be difficult to work with. Historically it's ships are mainly single pieces, though very early and recent casting have been increasingly multi-component. Unfortunately instructions are not provided for these, meaning you have to work out what goes where. Ships are usually very well cast, though some seaming and minimal flashing can be found, together with some casting gates. On the whole though, these tend to be small and easily cleaned up, and the pieces are well designed with production in mind. Thinner pieces can suffer from some warping, but again this is usually easily remedied, and if not then SGs customer service will replace items FOC without issue, though timing and communication on this depend on the volume of other business that's going on.

Scale, Size and Mass

Scale 1:10,000

Size & Mass: This varies quite a lot between the races, but I'll try to take broadly representative examples. I can only directly report mass comparisons between the battleships since they're the only models cast in the same type of materials.

Battleships:   A Terran Apollo battleship is 147mm long, 63mm wide, 45mm high and has a mass of 82g  
Cruisers: A Directorate Cruiser is 84mm long, 35mm wide and 13mm high
Frigates: An Aquan frigate is 50mm long, 25mm wide and 11mm high

4a) Dropfleet Commander

Materials & Construction

Hawk's main range of ships from its Kickstarter are all injection moulded plastic. Casting is crips and highly detailed, sprues are hugely thick but contact points are thankfully much smaller. The plastic is hard but not brittle, and easy to work with. Battleships for all factions are resin, and their casting quality & detail is at least equal, if not superior to, Spartan's. All components are resin, even very small parts, with no white metal present anywhere.

Scale, Size and Mass

Scale 1:9,150 (0.2mm scale)

Size & Mass: Once again this varies between the races, and I've used the PHR battleship as the comparator here.

Battleships: The PHR battleship is 175mm long, 70mm wide, 45mm high and has a mass of 35g
Cruisers: A scourge cruiser is 117 long, 36mm wide and 38mm high
Frigates: A UCM frigate is 62mm long, 18mm wide and 14mm high

Side by Side

Measurements are one thing, but side by side pictures is what i know everyone will want to see. Here are the Frigates;

And the cruisers

And lastly the battleships;

I think this shows the main aesthetic differences between the two games - Spartan's models are "chunkier" (for want of a better word), probably because they've come from a tradition of casting one-piece models, or multi-component kits were some of the multi-part elements are drop-cast, so have a flat, non-facing side for attachment to the model. Hawks minis have a much more delicate feel - although the injection moulded plastic makes them actually very durable. I'd worry a but about transporting my battleships with Hawk, because they retain the delicate nature but using resin.

I think a more useful or at least direct comparison of the two companies is probably served by SGs recent Reinforcement boxes, where SG have upped their casting detail and gone more modular. The pricing is also more reflective of that. Here are some comparisons between those boxes and the Dropfleet models

Aquan and UCM Cruiser

Close up of the detail on both models

Scoure and Directorate frigates 

Close up of the detail on both Frigates

For me, the models are nicely compatible, which is great because I plan to use the Scourge as a Pathogen fleet in FA, and maybe the UCM for Corsairs/STL Traders. The Shaltari will nicely substitute for the absent Illosians, which I have stats for and will also publish at some point.

4) Cost

Obviously these will all be in RRP

2 Player Boxed set: DFC: £65, 14 minis          FA: £90, 20 minis
Force Core boxes: DFC:£40, 7 minis      FA: £43.50, 7-10 minis (including Battleship); £30, 9 minis
Battleships: DFC: £30     FA: £18

Now this means that RRP you're going to pay £70 for a DFC fleet that's directly equivalent in terms of ships to an FA Patrol fleet at £43.50. However both sets hit the streets a lot less than than, and realistically you're looking at more like £58 for DFC and £35 for FA. So that makes the Hawk ships more expensive than Spartan's, but not by that much - from 25-40% more The DFC starter set also looks like extremely good value when you consider it contains a full rulebook and other extras, though the current SG set includes a smaller version (though still containing the full ruleset).

Of course cost is only really comparable in terms of what you need to play the game, and both games are pretty low-entry cost in terms of the wargames market. Hawk's sets also include a lot of extra build options, and a much greater diversity of kitbashing options by virtue of the leftover "spares" and the fact they're injection moulded plastic. Spartan's sets don't generally contain spares - you tend to use everything, only the new reinforcement sets that came this year having anything in the way of alternate builds.

So that's the background and physical minis for both systems. Next time will be gameplay...keep in touch :-)

Friday, 9 December 2016

Fanstorm Armada - Battlelog part 2

Now the last entry dealt with the easy to fix parts of battlelog, which brings us to (3) - making ships reflect accurately on the BL. Now this one is harder, since the BL categories of "Tier 1" are very broad - a dreadnought is waaay more BL efficient than a Battlecruiser, despite being double the points. Carriers are also inefficient from a BL perspective, and so it goes on....

Now those of you who have followed my contributions to the SG community or this blog for a long time will know that I'm a numbers guy. I always have been analytical, even when I was playing with model soldiers as a kid I thought that there should be a better way of knowing who got shot than my whim, and when I got started in wargaming at around 11 I was dissatisfied with the mechanics presented to me, and started researching armour penetration characteristics for different guns and so on. It's something that's contributed heavily to my present position in business.

Back in v1 of Firestorm there was a very cool custom ship creation mechanic, which disappeared in v1.5, and which I thought I could recreate and make much "fairer" (it was possible to game the old one to create point-efficient "monsters"). As part of that I went into a deep analysis of the game, elements of which I used in the FFG, like the FA probability calculator, which handles probabilities of DR & CR with various AD by overlaying probability curves - so you don't just get a raw number, but the whole vulnerability curve, which you can compare with others...great for ship design! (I'll share that one with everyone at some point).

The upshot of this is that I created a huge (like 50mb or so at last look) Excel sheet to analyse every single ship in the game - it's effectiveness vs every other ship in the game and its vulnerability to every other ship in the game, incorporating SRS, boarding, range and so on. From this you could determine an "effectiveness index", and on examining this it looks very much like what you'd create from a straw poll of the community using the ships, which shows its broadly in the right direction. It is assumptive, of course, but it's assumptive in a standardised way, thus reproducible and adjustable across the board, making it relatively future proof.

Now the next part if this is to create some standard "slots" of BL based on the current BL ranges - currently you have BL alterations from 1 to 11 (+7 on one side and -4 on the other). This seems a bit restrictive given that Dreadnoughts and Battlecruisers are in the same space, so let's extend that to 15 (the reason will become apparent below). Now we can assign every ship a BL value based on its arbitrarily scaled effectiveness, which should make much more sense.

That by itself solves some of the value issues, but how this is applied needs to be looked at too. Let's get rid of the whole "half strength" bit, because it doesn't really mean anything and its awkward in game, so toss it. Now, for Tier 3s let's just say you get their BL value when the whole squadron is destroyed - an easy to remember point in the game and fluff-justifiable. Tier 3s are now more attractive from the viewpoint that it's now actually quite difficult to gain BL from them - large squadrons with the last one performing FSE deny your opponent BL.

Now this won't work for Tier 2s, which are a more solid investment from a fleet perspective, and yielding BL on the full squadron would result in bloodbaths with FSE and no BL. So let's award BL for them being destroyed (again, an easy point to remember - destroy a capital ship, gain BL), plus a bonus for destroying the squadron - yet again an easy "stop point" to adjust BL.

Tier 1s can be handled in different ways, and actually should be, because this adds design flexibility and granularity in differing ships - you can treat a Battleship and a Dreadnought differently from a Carrier or Battlecruiser. For the latter, we can use exactly the same methodology as for Tier 2s, with the Tier 2 contributing it's BL as an accompaniment (more on that below - hold those thoughts!). For the larger Capital ships, 1Bl per HP is a good stand-in, plus a bonus for destroying the ship and/or squadron. This BL loss should not be applied until after the game ends, or the ship is destroyed/captured/escapes, however - that stops Tier 1s being sniped for BL, but still means you can lose a battle at the end because the other player managed to maul but not quite kill your Tier 1s.

So this all sound really complex, right? Well, it's actually easily represented by a number with three other numbers - one for the BL per HP, one for the BL per ship, and one for the BL per squadron - like so;

Retribution 15 (1-2-1)

This means the Retribution is worth 1BL point for every Hull Point you manage to take off it, plus two for destroying the ship, and one for destroying the squadron. How does a cruiser look?

Isonade 7 (0-1-3)
Tsunami 11 (0-2-3)

So our standard cruiser squadron can vary in BL cost from 5 to 7. You get a BL for every ship you kill, and 3 for taking down the entire squadron. heavy cruisers are worth 2 each, but still an extra three for the squadron.

This format gives a lot of design flexibility - so for a start an accompaniment is easily dealt with, since it contributes its individual ship BL...this would be 1 or 2 for most capital ships, and is 0 for Tier 3s. Adding in a heavy cruiser automatically ups the BL cost here, since they're worth 2 points instead of 1, so it neatly gets around any questions of "What is this ship worth in BL in this situation?".

I talked about Battlecruisers and carriers, so let's have a look;

Ares 7 (0-4-3)

The Ares is worth 4 by itself, but you only get that when its destroyed...hey, now carriers look like a better BL choice, don't they? But wait, taking a carrier by itself means that when its destroyed its worth 7 - of course you can mitigate that by adding a cruiser like a Hermes 4 (0-1-1), which would bring the total BL value to 8, but you can avoid half of that if you got the cruiser out after the carrier was destroyed.

Amentum 7 (0-2-3)

Now Battlecruisers are worth less by themselves, but still sit in a higher BL value "bracket", which helps with fleet building, which I'll address in my next Fanstorm blog posting.

The other thing this does is cement the dialog used in game, since you'll probably need to ask the BL value of ships/squadrons as you destroy them - this shouldn't slow down play, since you should have all of that information right to hand (the intent would always be that the BL cost goes into the ship entry.

Here's the current list, have a look over it and see what you think! Always happy to receive feedbacl and discuss in more detail :-)

Complete BL Value list (wip)


Thursday, 8 December 2016

Fanstorm Armada - Battlelog Part 1

Well December is already more than a week old, and Christmas is rushing up to us with the speed of a Dindrenzi rail cannon shot, so I thought I'd better get onto the old keyboard and splurge some more of my thinking of Fanstorm Armada. This time I'm going to look at Battlelog, which was one of my favourite innovations for Firestorm v2.

Now over the past couple of years as the game has evolved, players have gotten used to the system and new ships have been released, some weaknesses have been exposed in the BL system - not inherent flaws, more design weaknesses that didn't take account of tournament hardened players or future releases. Let me lay some of these out there;
  1. Working out who is winning can be somewhat confusing, and requires knowledge of the other players battlelog. Now this does create a dialogue (a good thing), but especially in tournament settings it could cause conflict (is your BL really at +8? I thought it should be +5 etc). This is compounded by some effects applying both a positive BL adjustment to one player and a negative to the other.
  2. In some games you get "topping out" of one players BL, meaning additional positive effects don't count - making them pointless...not really the intent or reflective of where the game is at. this can act to create more draws or minor victories even when one side is clearly winning by any other measure.
  3. Some ships are not worth their BL investment. This is most easily demonstrated with a couple of examples
    • Tier 3 ships are easy BL - 1 point for halving a squadron (usually just 2 ships). 2 points for wiping them out. Easy money, as Tier 3s are not too much of an issue to pop.
    • Battlecruisers in a Patrol Fleet are a liability - lighter on points than a battleship, but a massive BL swing if destroyed...which is easier than taking down most other Tier 1s. Carriers also have this issue to some degree.
  4. Sometimes in the heat of battle it's difficult to remember to apply certain BL events - most usually reducing a squadron to half, a really unsatisfactory point since there are few other negatives associated with this - it's not a really pivotal point that draws attention.

Now obviously (3) is the biggest thing here, since it fundamentally affects how people build their fleets, leaving some ships in the "little used" category, because if used then they can be exploited by other players. This is often shown in minimisation of Tier 3s in many fleets, where their utility for points is also on the low side.

So battlelog is a third element that needs consideration when building a fleet - essentially what players do (those interested in building effective tournament lists, at least) is look at utility (subjective to the player) vs cost vs BL impact before using a ship in their fleet.

So how can we address this issue in a constructive way that solves some of the other minor weaknesses in the BL?

Well (1) & (2) are easy to address - you use a single battlelog for a game - the winner is determined by comparison of battlelog in any case, and it rarely impacts the game in any meaningful manner during the course of play, so why not just get rid of one? A centrally placed BL allows easy understanding of where the game is, and no ambiguity. You still have a dialogue - potentially more so - and it's harder to "forget" events since you're both essentially the gatekeepers of the log. This also eliminates "topping out" since that will indicate a crushing victory and opposing fleet shunt-out (if its not already destroyed!). This helps with (4), but it doesn't solve it entirely - better to address that one separately, which I'll do in Part 2.