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Sunday, 30 July 2017

What the Firestorm....??

We're starting to get rules snippets from SG now about v3 of Firestorm Armada....and for me, this does not bode well. Let's have a look at a few of these;

1. Cloaks

Cloaks have been significantly reduced in value - models shooting at a cloaked model now use HEavy (blue) dice rather than Exploding (red) dice. Now I'm certainly not against introduction of the Red-Blue-Black dice mechanics in FA - they would fit well in certain areas, and it's a change myself and the FFG suggested, so it's nice to see some things come through.

Cloaks, however, are not one area that I believe this is a good thing. This essentially nerfs cloaks to the same as in PF, and it makes them sh*t. I always advocated that PF and FA stats should align as far as possible (something that did not happen), and that FA lore should over-rule PF lore, as it came first and was established. This also did not happen - and we have giant space dino-eldars kitted out with nose-rings and howdahs...just stooopid.

The Relthoza being masters of nano-tech and stealth doesn't come through when you're reducing the effectiveness of a cloak by a massive amount - Exploding dice normally have a hit probability overall of 0.8 per die, whereas on a cloaked model in FA v2 you halve your AD, making the probability approximately 0.4 (it's actually slightly lower on a macro level since you round down in FA) - so your attacks are half as effective, i.e. 50%.

Non-exploding "heavy" die have a hit probability of 0.67%, which means they're 83.75% as effective as exploding dice - or a 16.67% reduction in effectiveness. So Cloaks went from being 50% effective at reducing incoming fire to 16.67% effective. Wow - that seems utter garbage.

2. Movement

So it seems we're going down the Halo route of pivots for FA. This is personally something I don't like, but of course it remains to be seen how it pans out. I'm not against pivots as a mechanic, I just think it alters the "feel" of Firestorm, so I think it shouldn't be there. It's a rather imprecise tool too, since you're using the model's own base, you move it without putting a marker for where the edge was and you could open up the possibility for arguments....not something I've ever relished. With the "drift" mechanic (which sounds just like an unnecessarily rebranded minimum move/turn limit), you're also going to encounter the same issues with movement that FA v2 has when it comes to the knife fight - which was one area the FFG looked specifically at resolving.

3. Fleet Building

OMG - going back to %age MFV values? Are you F*cking kidding me? The %age system is easy to say, but a b*stard to use daya to day, and VERY open to abuse. It's also difficult to introduce new ships because if you get the points wrong, it can be impossible to field them in some games. In short, there are more min-max options that are difficult to spot if they are legal or not, and test - since balance is all about testing, this isn't going to allow much time for that, so I don't expect v3 to be balanced in any sensible sense of the word.

4. Weapons

So there are some good things here - one is that they're using a suggestion by the FFG (even if they don't admit it or credit us) about how to deal with linking easily, and that is to have 2 values for weapons - one to use for being the focus fire (or lead) ship, and one for if you're joining in...makes on the fly maths easier.

They've renamed the range bands, which is just stupid and unnecessary. Point Blank? In a starship combat game? Come on! <sigh> Also, the "WARs" (Weapon Assigned Rules) now replace coherence effects (which again seems unnecessary), and some are direct ports from those that already don't really work in Planetfall, so I'm not a fan. Kinetic Weapons are going to be hellish in this edition, now the Dindrenzi don't have to worry about fixed arcs and their weapons f*ck shields. Sorylians get a kick in the teeth since it seems scatter weapons now only work in RB1 (not going to use the stupid name for that!).


In short, what we seem to be seeing is a wholesale copy/paste from Planetfall with some small concessions to prior FA....but not many. Thsi si feeling a lot like the clusterfuck that v1.5 was, but in a much, much larger way at a time when FA and Spartan can't afford to do this. I don't see this winning over existing players who want a bit of a fatser game or attracting people from other wargames. All it seems to be doing is aligning PF & FA closer together in ways that don't make any sense, and actually detract from former strengths of the game.

Let's face it, if you like FA now, this is unlikely to float your boat, because too many things have been messed with, seemingly arbitrarily. I swear to god if the next change is that Fleet Guides are announced as ORBATS I'm going to have to physically hurt someone!

The big question to me, however, is how on earth are they going to balance all these changes before release? The answer? I don't think they're going to even really try. I think they're going to do a Planetfall v1 and release and change on the fly until it seems to be ok-ish. The problem there being that took over a year for PF v1, and by the time they'd done it they'd lost interest in the game ad abandoned it for...well, until now, actually. The issue with FA at this point is that PF was a new, exciting game with lots of models and it was ground combat and...ohh, new shiney! etc. FA is not that, and it's lost a huge amount of its playerbase. Where are they going to get balancing feedback from? The existing beta-group plus a few more people? How well is that going to work?

Now there is a good outcome here - it's strengthened my resolve to finish Fanstorm! 

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Fanstorm Armada - the Autonomous Miyveen Protectorates

So something positive about Firestorm Fanstorm Armada....

The Illosians have always been one of my favourite factions in Firestorm that have never had any attention from Spartan save for some stats in v1. They had a back-story (such as they are in Firestorm), and that was about it. They are the rebellious children of the Aquan Sebrutan, and supporters of the Zenian League. I really wanted SG to release them, because they sounded cool and they were crab-men...what's not to like?!

The Fallout Mirelurk nails what I imagine the Miyveen to look like....

As Firestorm had an aneurism sometime in late 2015/early 2016, the chances of me ever seeing decent Illosians on the table from SG are vanishingly small - snowball in nuclear blast level of probability I think. Since Hawk released Dropfleet Commander, however, this is no longer a problem, since the Shaltari fit the alien derivative of Aquan sleek aesthetic rather well. What's needed then is the narrative and a working set of stats for v2.0. 

Well look no further, here I present to you "The Autonomous Miyveen Protectorates" for you to use in your games, using whatever proxies you fancy. 

The TheoryMachine group worked on these stats, and they have been playtested worldwide, but I'm interested in feedback as always, and hope you have fun with them - they're another faction for the Zenian League (which needs them compared to the Alliance of Kurak), but not one that's suddenly been shoe-horned into the galaxy like the upcoming Saurians, which have never had stats or background before. 

The Illosians have always been around (though that name is what the Aquans call them due to their origins on Illosi) - the name change is to make them mine (rather than SGs) and to make them easy to differentiate from the Xelocians - the names for these two races were always too close for my liking. 

What I'm hearing about v3 has encouraged me to continue with v2.5, because I think v3 is not a game I would like to play - too many fundamental changes to the core game mechanics for my liking. Most players agree that v3.0 should be v2.5, that v2.0 did not need completely revising - so that's what myself and TheoryMachine are going to give you - the game Spartan should have worked on. Until then, enjoy the Miyveen!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Spartan redefines stupid with Firestorm Strike Force and Kickstarter

Well, it's been a very busy month for me of late with work - end of quarter, commercial training for my European Team, PMDs (Performance Management Discussions - those 6-monthly reviews everyone loves) and lots of travel - Copenhagen, Barcelona, Darmstadt.....

It's been busy out of those times too - birthdays, keeping the garden under control, working on the house - all stealing time from hobby (apart from our regular Friday night 5e D&D session). I started several blog posts, but haven't had the time to complete them - until today.

Checking through my emails, there's the (ir)regular Spartan Games newsletter. A while back they announced v3.0 of Firestorm would be funded through Kickstarter. That made me exasperated, because I know some people are still invested enough in the universe to fund it, and I believe they're throwing good money after bad. I read the blog which "explained" some of their reasoning - which turned out to be "Neil wanted v3 of FA" so that's why they're doing it. Stupid reason, but still, I'm divested enough from the game to make some commentary on Facebook and leave it be.

Then today what do I find but an announcement for "Firestorm Strike Force" - a fighter combat board game....WTF?? The  I remembered a couple of conversations I'd had with Neil 18-24 months before where he talked about wanting to do a fighter combat game in the FA universe. I eluded to the fact that that would be difficult with X-Wing dominating the market, and maybe as part of the extended game it could work, but there was still a lot of stuff to do in the FA universe first.

Unbelievable. Trying to cram in a board game in that hugely saturated market, and a board game of fighter combat - which as I already mentioned is pretty solidly blocked out by X-Wing anyway, seems insane. Launching it within an existing franchise is smart, but only if that existing franchise has some market presence, which FA really doesn't. So GW would make this work in 40k (as they did), but even they have rolled aerial combat into their core rule set.

So is it really that unbelievable? Well, I don't think so. Let me go back to the point above about why v3 of FA is coming - because Neil wants it to happen. Why is Strike Force coming? Because Neil wants it to happen. Why did SG restructure the "working pretty well" structure of FA/DW? Because Neil wanted to.

Now all of that is fine - Neil Fawcett is the creative director of SG, after all - it's his company, he can do whatever he likes with it. The problem I have with that is the good people who have genuine faith in his words that will waste good money on these products and get taken down with the good ship "HMS SG Titanic". Spartan Games is clearly in trouble - companies doing well with increasing market share don't suddenly switch from a standard retail model to Kickstarter to fund their core IPs.

That's a big problem for me. I have a team of 16 people reporting to me, and decisions I make often have a direct impact on their lives. Neil has a company with about the same number of people (maybe a few more) who absolutely depend on his decision making abilities for their jobs - and he makes BAD corporate decisions. Creating new games and changing direction and structure because of personal whims is fine when no-one cares or depends on you. Doing it when that is the case is a massive arrogance, and shows an underlying ego which borders on the pathological.

In big companies (or small companies that get big and sustain themselves), these huge egos are often used but tempered - so the role of a Creative Director is balanced by the business manager and the CFO etc - committees and reviews, checks and balances that stop companies slitting their own throats when it comes to their direction. Sometimes they still get it wrong, but the risks are less, and usually have countermeasures in place for the "what if this doesn't work" scenario.

The problem with Spartan is this is not a company that has learned from prior mistakes of this kind - the 15mm DW Kickstarter that never was comes to mind - indicating a directive force that was so out of step with its customer base it was shocking. Now SG are here doing it all over again.

So what does this mean for SG long term? For me, I don't see a Spartan long term. The ego that drove the company to prominence in the early days is now driving the company to more erratic and ever-wilder decisions, and negative feedback is not only ignored, but countered - SG were actually arguing on Facebook with their customers, FFS!!! Neil, who was the initiator of the company because he wanted to make himself nice models, has now donned the grim reaper robes and scythe for exactly the same reason - because he still thinks that SG exists to make nice models that he likes, rather than build excellent games with integrated universes that serve people.

For me this is the problem with SG, and its the difference between management and leadership. Anyone can tell someone what to do when they've authority over them - that's management. Not everyone can tell people their vision and then demonstrate that in a way that makes people want to follow it. Spartan started back in 2009 by leading, now they're just trying to manage. Unfortunately they've no authority over their customers, which is why I can't see them existing in the mid-long term. Hell, even the short term is looking chancy.

Apologies for the long monologue, but I've been involved in business improvement since 2007, and it makes my blood boil when I see companies pressing the self-destruct button, especially when they've good products. I'll post something more positive next time...until then, have a great summer everyone....and don't buy Strike Force or fund Kickstarters for games with player-bases that are dropping like stones.... :-)