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Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Firestorm Armada 2-Player boxed set - What should we have got?

Someone (Daniel Jones) asked on Facebook what ships people think we should have got for the core race expansions, so I thought I would share my own opinion (together with stats) of what TheoryMachine think we should have had as a 2-Player boxed set. Now the obvious bit is - it has to be the two Core Races that haven't yet had a boxed set, right? The Sorylians and the Relthoza. Now, with Spartan's ability to create more complex, multi-part models, it should be possible to create a boxed set that actually give you Large and Medium models that can be built in one of two different ways. This would both extend flexibility and appeal to players, and give people a reason to either buy multiple boxed sets, or to buy the boxed set and still buy the separate models on individual release.

So given that, what do the Sorylians need?


The Sorylians - Tier 1


Well, first off, another Battleship would be a good start. From how the Falx fares in battle, the Sorylians would undoubtedly have been working to cover some of its shortcomings. Now, the Falx isn't a bad ship, it just isn't an equal counter to other Large ships (it's no dueller) - so enter the Cuirass:


The Cuirass class battleship is one of a new breed of designs that Sorylian Engineers started working on at the beginning of the Seccession Wars, based on predictions of how the conflict would escalate. These designs have been developed by the Sorylians over the past decades and are now finally ready to start field trials in the Outer Spheres – the standard method of deployment the Collective uses when producing new starships.

The Cuirass bears many similarities to the Falx and Swordbreaker that preceded it, but with several enhancements and design shifts. Firstly, the Cuirass has a much greater offensive bent that the Falx – it is built as a ship ready to duel with other battleships in open space one-to-one, and take them down. To further this point, the ship has an extensive number of defensive enhancements, notably a reinforced, strengthened fore, and shrouded scatter weapons - making the ship extremely tough on the approach into battle. Shield generators may also be fitted with Terran-derived sectoring technology, something unknown on Sorylian ships of the past, but garnered out of close cooperation with their Kurak allies.

Let's have a look at some stats:


Sector shielding gives the Cuirass a possible 7/12 DR/CR profile from the frontal arc with 2 Shields on it’s approach into battle, making it one of the best protected battleships in the Firestorm Galaxy. It retains the ability to use its Kinetic and Torpedo weapons even with this profile, so it is not a passive approach, meaning that when it arrives in optimum firing position it is likely to be doing so at full or close to full HP, making it a very potent early-game ship the enemy cannot afford to ignore, especially if also accompanied by Flechettes to further enhance its firepower. This would also make it ideal to pair with a reserved Falx entering by foldspace for a heavy-hitting one-two punch in the early or mid-point of the game.

Another more unique innovation on this second generation battleship is the ability to deploy Seeker-Class Drones. These do not form part of the Cuirass’ squadron, nor even have their own activation, but instead work as a force multiplier for the Sorylian Collective. These are developments of the Sorylians long-established wormhole network, re-imagined with Terran expertise of fold-space beacons from their Satellite Charter, to act as specific beacons for Sorylian ships – free from the Ba’kash infiltration and piracy that their wormhole network has been plagued by. Deployed by Hidden Setup or by the Cuirass, these drones allow pinpoint foldspace entry by Sorylian ships within their area of effect – making that 1-2 double Battleship setup even more deadly.



The Cuirass is no slouch either – with a native 8” move, it has the legs to get into that optimum firing position quickly, and at the cost of some manoeuvrability it can even become faster than many cruisers. With AP, movement and Assault Blitz upgrades, the Cuirass becomes a very credible boarding threat in addition to its native direct AD potential, especially paired with a Katar Assault Cruiser.

With a fast, hard-hitting battleship, what other class could a multi-part model make that would fit with Sorylian lore, and fill a role in their fleets? Well, the Sorylians are not SRS heavy, but they do board well - how about an Assault Cruiser? Let's take a look at the Serapis:


Utilising the same basic hull arrangement of the Cuirass, the Serapis dispenses with shrouded weapons for overall hull strengthening and the provision of extensive launch bays for its assault shuttles to carry the vast numbers of its boarding marines to the enemy. This results in a reduced broadside capability, and so Sorylian Engineers have focussed on providing a hard-hitting fore mounted scatter array to soften targets up on approach before launching their coup de grace hand-to-hand. The Serapis also retains some of the innovation and options that the Cuirass introduces, such as a reinforced fore and sector shielding:


Accompanied by a Katar Assault cruiser, the boarding potential of the Serapis becomes overwhelming - something the Sorylians have found necessary when combatting their martial galactic neighbours, the Relthoza. It is also possible to take a pair of Pauldron Escort Cruiser to further expand and add flexibility to its SRS complement.

Tier 2


We heard mention above of the Pauldron Escort Cruiser above, so let's start there. The Sorylians are not natural fliers, and they tend to field SRS principally in dedicated carrier vessels. The Grand Council have recognised that the tactics of other races, especially the Relthoza (who are capable of fielding large quantities of SRS at any engagement level) have exposed a potential weakness in the Collecxtive's Sphere defences, below where fleet carriers such as the Xiphos are deployed.

As such, the Pauldron has been devloped using the same manufacturing lines as produce the Skyhammer and Falcata Cruisers, adapting the hull to provide flexible launch bays for an array of different SRS. This enables SRS cover for smaller task forces, and boosts the abilities of larger vessels such as the Serapis - the latter is not configured for bomber operations, but coupled with 2 Pauldrons, it can field both bombers and assault shuttles, or provide interceptor cover etc. With typical Sorylian practicality, the Pauldron also retains offensive armaments to ensure it remains viable even on losing its complement of on-board craft.


The Sorylians have a pretty effective Tier 2 selection, with extremely effective Cruisers and Gunships - what more could they have that would be a viable selection? Well one area the Sorylians do lack is in the area of mines - they simply do not use them. Rather than give them a ship that did the same as other races, they would deal with this by countering this threat. As such, we have the Flagellant:


This is a tough cruiser, built on the same lines as the Kopis, shielded as standard and with the capability to increase that shield strength. It needs to be a tough ship too, since it's assigned duty is minesweeping, using the new Minsweeper MAR:


Once again, a single-purpose ship in this class is something Sorylian Engineers would wish to avoid, just minesweeping is not going to satisfy most Sorylian Commander's thirst for combat. As such, the Flagellant retains a decent - if short ranged - set of scatter weaponry, and coupled with its toughness it is often seen plunging ahead into enemy lines ahead of the rest of the fleet, weathering the fire of the enemy to unleash short-ranged hell into their foes. This type of assault often disrupts the carefully made plans of their opponents, allowing the Sorylians rapidly-closing fleet elements to mop up the scattered remnants. Flagellants have thus rapidly gained a reputation as line-breakers, and it is seen as one of the most honourable positions to hold in the Collective's Sphere Defence fleets.

As the Tier 3 would be a resin rework of an existing ship, no need to talk about that here, so let's move on.

The Relthoza - Tier 1


The Relthoza spiders were my first entry point into the FSA universe, so I'm used to them and I've never had a problem with how they play in terms of seeing them as "difficult". I've never really had too much of a problem with the Brood Battleship, it's a solid ship. The Relthoza have a good selection of options, and I love the feel of the faction. That being said, the Relthoza have some obvious gaps in their repertoire given their fluff - they're an SRS and boarding-heavy fleet, so why they don't have a Battlecarrier and Assault carrier seems odd - these are both obvious development directions for them. So let's have a look at some rationale:

The Relthoza Incursions into Sorylian territory have time and again been repulsed by the sphere defences the Sorylians have entrenched around their territory. Although the recent conflict in the Storm Zone has drained Sorylian forces and allowed the Relthoza to make gains, these are relatively minor and have not allowed for the large scale footholds the Twenty had hoped for. Without this bridgehead into Sorylian territory, the reformer fleets cannot operate with sufficient impunity to start thoroughly terraforming worlds - which is what the end-game is for the Relthoza: More inhabitable worlds to colonize.

This has led the Relthoza to technological solutions – the introduction of the new nanospatial lance weapon system in the Virulence gunship has proved successful and has been expanded to new ship types. Advanced shunt matrices and new cloaking systems are also being deployed, together with expanded suites of support ship types to disrupt the highly structured Sorylian defences. The Sorylians, like the Relthoza, are excellent martial opponents, so the need for more means of delivering more warriors into the field is highly desirable, hence the development of the Atrax:



The Atrax is a ship designed to prize other vessels through martial combat. Commonly fielding assault shuttles and packed with warriors, these ships are relatively cheap and fast to construct, relying on stealth and cloaks to get to their prey and seize them. Alternatively they can be outfitted with the next generation of Shunt drives, enabling them to leap forward and deliver a crippling blow where the enemy would never suspect it. As with much emergent Relthozan technology, it is meant to be highly disruptive to any enemies plans. It does pay for this rather single-purposed mentality somewhat - it can be vulnerable to short-ranged torpedo weapons, and should it's cloak be damaged its hull is not meant for front-line combat confrontations with similarly-sized vessels. The Twenty deem this a price worth paying for its potential rewards - after all, fresh young warriors are an easily replaced resource.

Now making a multi-piece model representing two ships here is easy, since all you need for an Assault Carrier is a bit more armour and some more weapons - the launch bays and general configuration can be much the same. Here we have the Dysdera:




The Dysdera employs the same nanospatial lance technology that was first implemented on the Virulence Gunship, in an up-armoured version of the same hull as the Atrax. The Broadsides are extensively expanded, and the aft weapons systems removed to accommodate the power generation requirements of the fore lances. This results in a slightly more delicate internal structure, simply because of the fine balance required for the new technology. It also reduces the range of any installed battle shunt drive generator - the power requirements for more would simply be impractical to accommodate without a major hull redesign and expansion.

Tier 2


Now Relthoza mediums are also an interesting design space, and there is plenty of scope here. One of the things the Relthoza lack is a stand-off destroyer (the Venom is very much an ambush predator), and surprisingly for a race which is quite torpedo-heavy, they have no dedicated Torpedo Cruiser. So, here they are:



The Bolas is a stand-off torpedo cruiser designed to provide long-range support to advancing fleets. It remains in the rear of the engagement, cloaked and often running silent to avoid detection as it unleashes nanotech-laced death from the depths of space. Should it be engaged, it has a moderate short-ranged broadside array to defend itself, and can either be rigged with non-detection systems or an advanced Shunt matrix to help it get out of trouble quickly should it be flanked. It's weapon systems make it a deadly late-game opponent, but even from the opening salvoes this is not a squadron that can be ignored, meaning the enemy needs to divert valuable resources to deal with them as the main Relthozan force closes.



Next we have the Cryptos Destroyer, one of the most daring and advanced ships Relthozan technology has produced to date. Employing an experimental advanced cloaking field, the Cryptos is almost impossible to target when cloaked, and chooses when to engage its prey using the same nanospatial lance system used in the Dysdera. Such is the power drain from this new cloak, however, that it cannot use weaponry whilst it is engaged (and even if it could, to do so would reveal it's location to targeting sensors).

It has, however, an advanced shunt matrix to allow itself to reposition whilst cloaked, meaning the enemy can never predict where the ship will suddenly appear, it's alien weaponry tearing ships apart from inside before fading away into blackness. It also maintains a standard broadside weaponry to protect itself from flanking attacks should its cloak or shunt matrix be damaged, though most Cryptos crews pray that these are never to be used, as it is not a ship designed for an honest, even fight.

Once again, Tier 3s would be reworked all-resin Nidus frigates, giving us a nice up-to-date offering for the Relthoza, with plenty of new dirty tricks up their sleeves.

Extras


Most Spartan 2-player sets come with extras, like the Valhalla station and the Overseers gate and probe. What I'd have loved to see from Spartan here would be an add-ons pack of Pathogen pieces for the included ships, to replace some of the ships parts. What do I mean? Take the Aquan Cruiser from the Taskforce Reinforcement boxes - you have a top and a bottom, plus another add-on for the Carrier version. In a similar manner with the construction of the ships in this set, you could have a pathogen bottom that would fit the Aquan top, giving you yet another iteration of the ships. This would have been super-cool and added more reasons to buy multiple boxed sets, and also another play element to the game - an AI deck.

This has been done elsewhere (like Deadzone) - you include a set of cards that allow you to play against an AI-Pathogen fleet. This way it doesn't even matter if you don't have someone to play the game against, you can still buy and play the set - how cool would that be?

I think a set like this would have far greater appeal than the Saurian/Pathogen set that SG have proposed with their Kickstarter - what do you think?

Monday, 14 August 2017

Firestorm Armada Core Race Expansion Sets

So now we have the blog Spartan should have put up before they started their Kickstarter, we can see some details of the planned Core Race Expansions, and it doesn't make for pretty reading for me. Why? Read on (Spoiler - contains jaded opinions about Spartan Games' current behaviour - do not ingest if sensitive to honest but scathing opinion).

Core Race Expansions - A Good Thing, right?


Well, possibly....

Expansions should be added for a reason, other than "the company needs to sell more models". Ultimately, this goes down to why a company exists, it's heart and soul. For me, a gaming company needs to be about gaming - it needs to have that at its core...if it doesn't, it comes through in everything they do, and what they do doesn't ring true. Of course companies exist to make money to continue doing what they do, but that shouldn't be an end point - it should be a means to it's end (which is growing its games). 

Take GW as a case in point. They used to be a games company - founded by gamers who didn't want to grow up. It was successful- enormously so, and grew to behemoth proportions. Still, in the late 90's-early noughties, it was still a games company - lots of hobby tips (for free) on its website, GW stores were places people went to congregate, paint and play. People inside and out were passionate about games.

Then it started being run by executives.

Sometimes, this can be a good thing - execs bring focus and timelines, spreadsheets and analysis that can really help companies improve, cut out waste, do more god stuff. Sometimes they end up controlling things and the bottom line becomes the important thing, and the rest is a mantle upon which it rests. Prices go up, free stuff starts being removed and replaced with chargeable extras, things are pushed out because they're low volume sellers, and the execs start directing company direction. People leave because "it just isn't the company it used to be". These things are picked up by the community, because things start to feel different in the game.

This behaviour really hurt GW for the past decade. Now they've a new CEO who seems to understand that the "Games" in GW means something to its customers, and is getting back towards the company it used to be. Hell, they even released a pack of skulls, which if isn't taking the piss out of themselves (in a profitable way" then I don't know what is. Not to say they still aren't having some crazy pricing decisions (that Primaris Captain and Librarian, for example), but it's early days.

So I'll come back to this point at the end of the blog when I've run through the Tiers and factions;

Tier 3 - Destroyers


"Wait a minute Alex, you said Tier 3, but you're talking about Destroyers..."

Yes, I know. Most factions get "Light Destroyers" (I'll come back to naming conventions later too), a couple get Torpedo Destroyers. So this is one of those "Oh god I hate them" general faction-wide releases that makes no background sense whatsoever. That's the first thing. The main issue I have with this release, however, is that where do these fit in the design space of Firestorm?

What do I mean by this?

Well, as a designer (and I did this for Firestorm for a long time, so I do know what I'm talking about here) there should be a reason for the ship you're designing. That's number one. So you have a role the ship should fit, and then you look at what already exists, and stat the ship according to its role and what has gone before. In general, it should fit with the existing theme of the fleet, with maybe a few differences based on its new role (otherwise why would the race design it?). Stats should be in-line with existing ships and the role, unless it's some ground-breaking new technology. So, in the FSA world, a Destroyer is generally a hard-hitting, but often difficult to spot/hit type of ship (more like a wet-navy submarine). Firepower wise they hit above their weight, especially at longer engagement ranges (with exceptions for those "Ambush" type iterations like the Venom).

Now the Firestorm design space is fairly "tight". DR ranges from 3 to 7, CR from 4 to 13. The lower end of the spectrum is more crowded, because the difference between 3/4 in game is not much and you can't really go above that for a small (as Cruisers start at DR4). So that means a "Light" Tier 3 Destroyer could be "Light" just by the virtue of having a Small hull, rather than difference in weapons, so you have a (for example) 3/5 hull with standard Destroyer weapons.

The problem then is why would you not take these awesome new Smalls over standard Frigates? That kind of Firepower is pretty good on a small ship. Well, you could price them higher, but now you're encroaching into standard destroyer territory - it's only 150 points for a pair of Venoms, whilst its usually around 100 points for a bunch of Frigates. Do you see what I mean by a crowded design space now?

This is why the FFG worked so well at designing ships, because we had twenty-odd players of the game each with a different meta putting in their opinion in the design stage, so we didn't end up with glaring oddities that ended up massively OP or vastly useless. What you really want is a ship design that half of the players think is OK, one-quarter think are OP and one-quarter think is useless. You've usually got it right then.

What should NOT happen is someone decides "you know what, all races need a new small, what should it be - I know, destroyers!" and then this is implemented. That fundamentally breaches Rule Number One - the ship should be derived from a need (perceived or real), not an arbitrary assignment. It's a bit like some god-like entity suddenly saying to all the nations of the world "and you must have Battleships in your navies". We don't need them - they're obsolete, and obsolete for a reason. Shoe-horning them in would be moronic.

Tier 2 - Medical & Repair Ships


Hmmmm. My gut feeling on this is....why? From a fluff point of view, this is madness - you don't repair ships or send in ambulances in the midst of a pitched battle. We already have SRS to cover these functions in v2, what do these add except for sucking out more points and making you buy more resin? If the repair function effectively acts as an add-on Self Repair MAR, then I foresee a lot of issues - it will tend to drag the game out, rather than make it smoother and faster.

This goes back to rationale as I mentioned above for the Tier 3s - what is the reason for introducing a ship type? Did anyone call for any of these ships in their games before (and by that I mean the function rather  than the name)? In other words, is there a gap to be filled? For me, the answer is no.

Tier 2 - The Terran Heavy Gunship


Wait, the Terrans - one of the CP-heaviest factions and one of the fleets most likely to see use of Medical Shuttles - does NOT get Medical ships? Nope, they get a Heavy Gunship. Not a gunship, which of course they don't have, but a Heavy Gunship.

Now a gunship for the Terrans is not a terrible idea, but its also not a great one. Sorting out the role of the Heavy Cruiser (which is essentially a gunship in all but name) would have achieved the same thing, but of course wouldn't have required you to buy more models.

Tier 1


Now here we start to see some apparent variety, so I'll go through them individually:

The Aquan Repair Battleship


Now there's an oxymoron for you - repair battleship. It's like a War Domain cleric....does it fire sticky glue that covers impact blasts? Does it have multiple cranes that attach to other ships and fix them? What? You think I'm being silly? Well it's because it's a fucking STUPID idea, thats why.

The associated fluff basically says its a Battleship which carries Repair Shuttles - or in other words, an Aquan Battleship. All this really indicates is that the normal battleship is restricted in the SRS it can carry (if any) and that this is a Battleship with limited usage. I'll come back to my stock question here - Why? If you're having to create new ship types because of changes you're making to the mechanics, then please, stop.


The Dindrenzi Battle Carrier


So here's a ship type that you can actually see the race developing. The Dindrenzi actually have a decent carrier option, but you can definitely imagine them creating a Battle Carrier, so this is actually one that seems quite rational.

The Sorylian Fleet Carrier


OK, so the fluff makes no sense whatsoever here - "The Sorylians do not make much use of SRS, but when they do it is normally ‘heavy’ in nature." - in fact I'm not sure that's even a proper sentence. Still, the idea of a Fleet carrier for the Sorylians is...meh. They already have a fleet carrier in the Morning Star/Xiphos - again a decent carrier. Surely the Sorylians would be best supported (both in game and in fluff) with an Assault Carrier? Or how about another Battleship to use, since their existing Battleship and Dreadnought are much maligned? No, we get another carrier. :-(

The Terran Battle Carrier


Well I suppose this one was inevitable, despite never being intended as a production model, when you show a render/artwork people are inevitably going to say "Ooh, shiny, when can I buy it?". That's not necessarily a good rationale to base a ship class on, and so we have the Terran battle Carrier, despite the Terrans having one of the two best Fleet Carriers in the game (the other going to the RSN Argus), and good battleships.

So why is a Battle Carrier a bad idea for Terrans? Well, it's either going to have sub-par weapons, in which case if you want SRS the carrier is probably a better idea, or it's going to compete with the battleships (why have a plain battleship when you can have a battleship+?). It also adds a third ship to the Battleship space for the Terrans, when they could really do with choices elsewhere. So whilst not a terrible decision, it is a ship in a crowded spot in a tight design space for the Terrans. It's not very interesting, and it's not very Terran.

The Relthoza Heavy Battleship


So a ship between the Brood and the Apex? Hmmm...I mean, it's possible, but as for the Sorylians, why not an Assault Carrier or Battle Carrier for the Relthoza? Ships that fit with their background and fluff? Why call it a Heavy Battleship? Is the Terran Tyrant a Heavy battleship? Did people have issues distinguishing the Apollo and the Tyrant? No, so what's the point? It's the Why? question again.

The Directorate Fleet Carrier


Oh dear. Not only do the Directorate nor care about their vat-buddies that they're prepared to spend vast amounts of capital to make specific ships that will help them out in the midst of battle, but they're so intent on SRS operations all of a sudden that they make a Fleet carrier, which sounds like a Battle Carrier if you believe the short fluff. It's quoted to be as tough as a Dreadnought, armed to the teeth with beams and cyberweapons (which are due to be bland AOE weapons in v3), and carry loads of bombers and stuff. 

The problem is once again that the Directorate already have a pretty bitching Battleship that does a lot of this in the Anarchist, and they also have the Overseer - a carrier that never needs to decloak. I've seen double-Overseer lists run by Directorate players, and they can be pretty savage. So this ship promises to do all of the Anarchist and Overseer jobs in one, which makes it either too powerful, overcosted or one of the two sides at least partially redundant.

The main issue I have with it though, is it just seems unimaginative. Maybe it'll be ok, but I already have big issues with how the Directorate flavour is being massively diluted with v3 rules. Why would I add another shade of grey to those already available?

Naming Conventions


OK, so this is a personal bugbear. and I know it doesn't bother some people at all, but I hate these arbitrary namings of "Heavy" and "Light". It smacks of a small child trying to win a war of words;

"I've got a gunship"
"Yeah? well I've got a HEAVY gunship"
"That's nothing, I got a Battleship"
"So? I got a HEAVY battleship"

And so on. It smacks of Trump's lack of vocabulary ("It's gonna be really, really great - really"), a lack (once again) of IMAGINATION. Why does that matter? Well, this is meant to be an immersive universe. Why would all factions suddenly create "Light Destroyers"? What's the rationale behind calling a Battleship "Heavy"? The answer to this is - there is no reason - and that (for me) makes the whole announcement sound hollow, a clanging tin bell. I don't think "Cool, a Heavy Battleship", because I'm not 6. I want some meat to my sci-fi, even in a game with plastic spaceships. I may behave like a 12 year old when I'm playing games, but I don't expect to be treated as one mentally.

Verdict - Hit or Miss?


Once again, I don't need to tell you my verdict on this. It only adds to the Kickstarter cash grab feel that SG is developing lately. These announcements in the right environment with the right thought process and rationale behind them would be exciting, and investment and expansion to the universe. What they do instead is highlight the poor planning and lack of creativity that seems to be beleaguering the FA universe (and maybe the whole of SGs portfolio) at the moment.

If I were a potential Kickstarter backer reading this blog, it would not sway me to part with money. Most Kickstarters offering this as part of the campaign or as stretch goals will actually show you what they're doing or planning - here you just have to hope. Even if you think all of these are fantastic ideas, you have no idea what the stats are or what the ships look like - you have to take it on faith. Unfortunately (or rather, Fortunately, for me), I'm an evidence-based guy, and without a shred of it ,being asked to rely on Spartan's word (which is increasingly worth nothing, if it ever were) is purely ludicrous.

I mentioned earlier I'd come back to the point of a company's heart and soul. It seems Spartan is increasingly a model company, rather than a games company. The other pieces - it's rules, it's fluff, it's community support (such as it is) - seem to be "stuck on", after-thoughts  to sell more models, rather than being part of it's DNA. They laughably tout the Kickstarter as being "what you told us you wanted" but they should KNOW what people want, they should be able to sense it intuitively. If they were really customer-focussed gamers at heart, they would (or should, at least). That's a change no-one can force on SG, and it's the reason I've not bought into their products for some time now - why I have a Halo Ground Command box which is still unopened in my gaming room. It's the same reason I got out of 40k and decried GW for what they did to themselves, because no-one wants to feel like a bred-for-its-milk cash cow.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

The Firestorm Galaxy Expansion Kickstarter

Well I guess it was inevitable, SG release a KS for FA and I'm going to blog about it. Before you read on, this will contain various complaints about SGs current behaviour, so if you're still shackled to Spartan like a ball and chain, then this is probably not the post for you. I will, however, attempt to be as fair as I can regarding this, so people who don't know SG can make up their own minds without just the "Oooh, shiney" aspect, but also the "Oh, I wasn't aware of that" side. So, disclaimer over, let's begin.

Kickstarter Provenance


Firstly, let's talk about Spartan's Kickstarter history. This is the third KS they've launched - the first was for modular terrain, was horrible and absolutely bombed - they pulled it before it closed woefully short of its target. Their second was for Dystopian Wars, which I've talked about before at the start of the year (Here) which funded £136k of a £50k target, but only 858 backers - not a large number, well below comparable niche games. Is this important? Well, I'd argue yes, it is, because that directly affects the active player-base and how likely you are to be able to get a game - this is a miniature wargame, not a board game.

Compare this number of backers to a game like Maelstrom's Edge, a brand new niche wargame released in 2015, and it's about the same - they got 813 backers for a completely unheard of skirmish game from a new developer, rather than for an established game from an established company. Now there are obvious differences in the two, but it starts to give you a feeling of how the KS was primarily backed by a hard core of existing players, rather than attractive a much wider audience.

Again, I'm going to compare this with Hawk's Drop Fleet Commander. Here we have a similar game from a similar sized manufacturer, with an existing install base (albeit in a different game). Their KS bagged just over 4.5 times as many backers as Spartans DW Kickstarter, and should be directly comparable to the FA expansion just launched. Numbers of backers is always a better indicator of Kickstarter success than just money, because there are so many variables in the latter.

As I type, there are 217 backers for the FAv3 Kickstarter, about half of what it needs to fund. I'm pretty sure it will fund, but I'm doubtful they'll get as many backers as their DW project. Why? Well, firstly some DW players are also FA players, and not all DW Kickstarter backers have their pledges yet.

This is probably the Number 1 No-No of ANY Kickstarter - don't release another Kickstarter when the first one hasn't fulfilled yet. It just isn't on - it leaves a bad taste and the feeling that the company is struggling with cash flow. It doesn't build confidence, and it just isn't cricket.

The v3 Ruleset


So followers of my blog and podcast will probably be aware what I think here. Spartan Neil specifically promised the community that v3 would really be v2.5 - the existing solid ruleset with tweaks to address a couple of pretty minor flow issues and make games easier to play, the intent being that you could play existing games in a shorter time or larger games in existing timeframes. Here is the actual quote from his own forums that proves I'm not just making this up:


So to quote "This isn't about rebooting v2.0". This year, he's rebooting v2 because he didn't like how certain bits played - again, his words - and so essentially he's rebooting the universe on a whim. Players did NOT ask for this (or those that did were definitely in the minority). This grates with the continuous references to "This is what you wanted" messages throughout the Kickstarter, which sounds like they're trying to convince themselves rather than the players.

So, SG (or Neil) has decided to produce v3, and have released various "sneak peeks" of these on their community, which have had a VERY mixed set of reactions. They are still talking about re-statting everything (in future tense, which is worrying given the timescale), which means testing must be difficult and it sounds like the rules are all over the place. They are also reacting to announcements - there is a Command Order that gives Terrans +2 Shields (which is plain dumb), which on reaction of "jeez that's stupid" they're saying "oh, yeah, we'll address that". Now I know some of you will be like "c'mon Alex, that means they're listening to their customers". Yes, you could say that, but to me it highlights fundamental issues with the developers understanding of the core game mechanics when they're missing such obvious faux-pas at such a later stage.

So how does this affect the KS? Well, I sure as hell wouldn't want to back a miniatures game KS that has rules so far from being finished. Just what am I buying into? The rules COULD be excellent, or they could be pure BS. We just don't know (though I'd say there's pretty compelling evidence at this stage which way it's heading, and the whiff of excellence is decidedly missing...). So Spartan are asking you to back this project regardless of what it's rules are...that's...well...bold would be one word for it.

The Background


One thing I constantly went on at Neil about during my tenure as Spartan Alex was filling out the background - people want a consistent, deep and detailed universe. I fleshed out a huge amount of this, and no interest was shown. Now it's great that SG are addressing this (at last), BUT....wait, what's this? "a revamped and improved narrative"...uh-oh, that sounds suspiciously like ret-con...and here's the killer line:

"...our major rewrite of past and present events truly sets the scene for the continued evolution of the Firestorm Galaxy."

Ugh - this is one of my personal hates of ANY games company...and the major question it raises in my mind is...why? Was there a fundamental flaw in the prior law (such as it was?). No. So why do it? Just to shoehorn in some more races for people ti buy? Firestorm already has one of the most diverse sets of races for ANY wargame, with over 20 individual races you can buy fleets for. Do we NEED any more? So why do it? Well, one thing is models - more races = more models, and Spartan are banking on people buying new shiny. We'll some to that in a minute.

First, back to fluff. Pathogen are being re-invented (unnecessary), Saurians are being introduced (also unnecessary, but I'll put this one as a "fair enough, some people want that" item), but worst of all, they're being introduced in a 2-player boxed set TOGETHER. Why is that a problem? Look at the Firestorm map - the Saurians are in the galactic Northwest, the Pathogen are across the other side, between the Sorylians and the Relthoza in the Rift. So somehow the Pathogen have travelled across the entire width of the Sorylian Collective, through a massive piece of Terran space and attacked the Saurians? How does that make any sense at all?

"But no, Alex, you've got it wrong - there are new galactic maps"....Oh god, so now they're literally changing the shape of their 8-year old universe to fit with a new retconned fluff? This just burns any background credibility of the universe for me. The problem is that Neil has layered his new narrative on top of a prior background which is wholly incompatible with it - like trying to paint watercolour on acrylic, it just doesn't stick - it feels flaky.

I've always maintained you need to build a universe from the ground up - what are the limitations of the drives used, how does communication work, what do people use for power etc - all of this gives a universe a centralised feel and theme, and frames future story writing. Without that, there are no bounds and it becomes an amorphous entity which feels completely ad-hoc. That doesn't mean you don't have flexibility or have to nail down every plank of wood, but you build the boxes that people can play within.

I'll reserve judgement until I see a copy (which I won't buy, obviously). but this part really turns me off as an existing player of the game.

Models


Let's talk about models. There are two factions touted in this expansion, the Saurians and Pathogen. Looking at the Saurians, Spartan have managed to create an aesthetic that is different to most of their existing fleets, which is a good thing.

The centrepiece of this is the Heavy Battleship, which is the main image shown on the Kickstarter page. There are no additional images of this on the page, though there is one of the BattleCarrier which is available as an add-on in the force pack for an extra £75 (which seems on the high side).


Whilst the aesthetic is not one I particularly like, it is distinctive and I'm sure there will be those out there that love them and we know the models will be nice, that's one thing Spartan are still able to do well. They're also introducing something that I (and many other players) introduced to their games years ago - dice trackers for HP & CP:

Not exactly innovation, but at least they've done this now - will be interesting to see if they have double ones for Large ships with >6 Hull Points and Crew Points. So far not, if their KS page is accurate.

They also show renders for the other side of the Saurians:

These are a more Battlefleet Gothic version of the fleet, and do nothing for me at all, though this is something Neil and I discussed a couple of years back - it would have been funny if they'd have done this before the BFG video game was released - and they may have gotten some uptake from BFG fans, but the timing for this just makes this an in-joke which goes nowhere.

We also see a border station for the Saurians:


Whilst this looks initially OK, I know that all those grey pieces are going to be acrylic, which Spartan does not do well and is pretty horrible for these sorts of models, Its got a bit of a Star Trek Deep Space vibe, but overall it's just going to be a big white elephant of a piece IMO - the thing is huge and I'm 99% sure there will be no decent rules for it on release - we've seen this a lot from SG.

OK, so moving onto Pathogen, let's see if Spartan have been listening since those uninspiring models they previewed at Adepticon:


Ugh! Yes, they listened...and produced Tyranid Turds. Oh dear. These have gone too far in the organic direction for me - first they were just Relthoza ships with some droopy bits, now they're pure organic chompy, which is a shame since Pathogen had such potential. Again, there will be players who like these models, and if I were a BFG player they would probably serve as better Tyranid ships than what I had, but these are once again quite disappointing. I'm not sure whether the tentacled turd Large or the Sperm Smalls are my least favourite, but I'm definitely not a fan of these. I think Spartan could have made some really unique models here - techno-hexagon surfaces with tentacles and angles - a fusion of organic and machine, more Geiger-esque than Mr Crapper.

We get a Battleship in the add-on expansion pack here too, which is less turd-like than the Assault Carrier but still too organic sea-life for me.


We also have some other models:

Hang on -these are the same transport ships that SG have been giving away for free with orders in their regular weekend fire-sales over the past few months! They're ok, nothing revolutionary or innovative here, they look like decent transport models which you can use in any game, but their inclusion in their KS is a bit odd, especially when the tagline is; "Often overlooked by gamers, scenery can be used to enhance not only the aesthetic of gameplay but can also vastly improve the overall gameplay."

Excuse me but "Often overlooked by Gamers..."? Do we, as gamers, overlook terrain? I don't think so, especially in Firestorm where terrain is a vital piece of the game - what are SG trying to tell us? "Hey, you idiots that forget scenery, we're making some so you don't in future". The dialogue is just baffling.

Also, the models are going to be delivered pre-coloured for those of us who don't what to paint. Eh? Tournaments in almost any game usually REQUIRE painting beofre play, and though most of us will admit to not painting enough, I don't know many mini wargamers that don't think this is part of the hobby. This isn't a board game. This isn't X-Wing. If I'm not painitng something, I want it pre-painted so it still looks good on the board, not just a purple-brown of baby-poo khaki lump of plastic. I kinda get the sentiment, but does SG really think its appeal is that broad? If they do, they're kidding themselves - do they really understand what their players want?

It's all what we asked for...


Well, apparently they do. Based on their Survey (that extensive one that lasted for slightly more than a single weekend), this is all what we wanted. Hmm, I'm calling BS on that one. Their survey was (as surveys go) massively flawed and very blinkered. They released a survey that would essentially tick one or more boxes on a couple of pathways they had pre-ordained, it wasn't a properly open survey asking for what players wanted in a way that was ever going to change their direction. 

What do I mean?

Well, I design a survey for a specific purpose - if I ask a question like "Would you like more models?" to an audience of gamers, I know the answer will be "Yes", because we all like models. That doesn't mean that Firestorm players wanted new factions. "Players want more background material" does NOT mean re-write the history of the universe. This underlies my big problem with SG at the moment, because they're STILL NOT LISTENING. Yes, they say they are, yes, people on the forums might be trying to engage people (like Spartan FA Mike), but at the end of the day these people are fans, not Spartan Games, and the core of SG have already made their decision, and then they bend the facts and survey results to support their pre-ordained decisions.

Spartan Neil has told us this already, if you read his blogs. Essentially there he said that he changed elements of the game because he didn't like them. Now that's fine - it's his company, his game, he can do what he likes - but that is NOT doing something "because players wanted it". We didn't. We wanted kins ironing out of what was one of the best minis games on the market, not it porting into a Halo/Planetfall/Firestorm/Dystopian Wars hybrid.

Kickstarter Campaign


The final issue I have here is that even as the most ardent Spartan Fanboy, this KS campaign is a bit of a fuck-up. I mean, they're only releasing the Illosians if they hit a KS goal. You only get a Pathogen Dreadnought as a KS exclusive. The add-ons for the Core races are renders of blank boxes, with a message telling you to go to the blog to find out more, when the blog is empty. That money still burning a hole in your pocket for this project?

For me, this feels like a money-grab, It feels like SG are trying to fund bad business decisions by using Kickstarter to shore up their day-to-day business. It feels like we're being lied to.

Now maybe that is the case, and all is shiny in Spartan's future, but I'm not seeing it. If I were an investor and looking for good growth shares, I'd be looking to GW and not SG right now. I mean, I know if I buy some GW stuff I can find a game nearby, and if I get bored I can shelve my stuff and bring it out in a couple of years and not much will have changed. Not sure I feel that way about my Spartan stuff.

So should I back the Kickstarter?


You're asking me? You know the answer. I'm going to wait a year or so and pick up the models I want in a show bargain bin. But hey, if you're that much of a fanboy and you believe SGs hype, sure, go ahead. While you're there, I've got a great time-share property proposal for you - you can't lose....

Monday, 7 August 2017

Cheap GaGa MILANO . GANZTON Airbrush - Is it worth it?

I saw an airbrush on Amazon a couple of weeks ago for £26.99 whilst looking for some other things, and noticed it had a 4.5 star rating...

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B016PXGZ68/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Here's a pic if the link dies (as Amazon often expires these things)


So this is a gravity feed, double action brush with three nozzles and a braided hose....for £27?? It can't be any good, right? Those star ratings must be from people who listed or work there, right? I mean, a braided airbrush hose will set your back £5 by itself from Amazon (in fact, one that looks suspiciously identical is listed for £5.12!), so we're talking about a double-action airbrush for around £20....that seems crazy.

As I was getting some airbrush cleaning things at the same time, I bought one of these on the basis that being £20 out of pocket for an experiment like this isn't a bad prospect. When it arrived, I was pretty surprised and impressed with what came.


That looks pretty identical with the Amazon picture - so far so good...


Opening the box I was surprised of the quality of what was on offer. I mean, the box and packaging is pretty standard cheap plastic fare, but the airbrush, hose etc all looked pretty good.


I don't have a braided hose, so I popped this out first - no issues from what I can see at all, standard 1/8" fittings with a 1/4" adaptor on one end.


Next up is this - a quick release adapter - another nice feature here


Again, no observable issues, all parts seem like they're good quality.


Last in the airline department is a moisture trap - I've a large trap on my line feed from my compressor, but this is a great little addition too. The only thing I don't like about this is the plastic connection - that type of plastic is pretty brittle and I can see it getting snapped off....


Now here's the main deal, the airbrush itself. I do have a Badger gravity feed brush, but the cup is so small I've never used it. This, on the other hand, has a nice big paint cup and (importantly for me, with the way I use my brushes!) a lid. It's nicely weighted, and feels very comfortable in the hand. You'll notice that it's branded GANZTON - which is different from the name I ordered (GaGa Milano), but its the same unit - when neither is a recognised brand name, does it matter? Not to me!


Here's the lid and rear guard taken off. The brush ships with a 0.2mm nozzle, but it also has 0.3 and 0.5 nozzles and needles supplied


I like the fact these are all individually packed and labelled - seems obvious but we've all struggled with unlabelled products sometimes!


Lastly, we have two pieces - one is essential, as it's the nozzle spanner, one is a little dropper that will be used once or twice and then thrown away. It's inclusion is nice but effectively irrelevant for me.

So I got this all hooked up to my existing compressor, and used it to prime a bunch of my Cthulhu Wars Onslaught 2 minis, as you can see in my former post. That's not really proper airbrushing, however, so I also had a go at a recent model kit I've finished - the Sturer Emil (or more accurately, the 12.8 cm Selbstfahrlafette auf VK30.01(H) - doesn't really roll off the tongue though!). For this I used Vallejo Black Primer, and a mixture of Tamiya black, white and Army Painter Cool Grey. I primed in balck, then mised a dark grey that I progressively lightened on the panels of the tank. Here are the results, which I am happy with, and am impressed by how smooth the brush functions, and how easy it's been to clean and keep running so far.




So if you're looking to get into airbrushing or just fancy another brush - this is a fine little piece of kit which costs not much more than the replacement parts you might need to keep your more expensive piece of kit running!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Cthulhu Wars Onslaught 2: Painting Sleeper & some IGOOs

OK, admission on mis-selling/advertising here - this isn't really painting the CWO2 minis, it's starting to paint them! There's a lot, and I also wanted to test out my new airbrush (more on that in another post), so this was really about priming them ready for painting. I went down the zenithal priming method, and I think it came out pretty well, as I hope you'll agree.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with zenithal priming, this involves three steps (all sprayed, I'm afraid - it's not impossible to do this by brush, but that's really better done with your final colours):

1. Prime the mini with a good-quality black primer - I use Vallejo and can't recommend it highly enough, it's great stuff - good coverage, sticks well and airbrushes like a dream.

2. Spray at 45 degrees with a mid-tone grey (I used Army Painter Cool Grey). This has the effect of covering the primer in all but deep overhangs, creating an illusion of depth - don't be worried if the effect is subtle at this stage, it'll soon pop at stage three.

3. Spray from directly overhead with white (in this case Tamiya Model Colour flat white). In practice, you need to spray from 90 degrees minus 10-15 degrees to create a good effect. Start with the directly overhead and then examine your mini to see how much you need to adjust - you'll get a feel for it quickly and it will differ depending on the make-up of the mini.

Here's it in action - Zenithal spraying (this isn't my video, but it illustrates the technique well and there's no point re-inventing the wheel)

So here's how the Sleeper faction turned out...first it's Tsathoggua




I think the fur really shows well using this technique. Next are the Wizards...


The cultists after that - again, the technique really shows up features like the robe folds well


I love the Formless Spawn - tentacles also come out well using this zenithal shading - you get good gradation and not such harsh definition as on some shapes which helps I think.


The Snake Men look good - elements of the cultists with the robes plus their heads have very clear definition


The High priest will probably need more post-work than the cultists, but the smaller elements here show up well, like the emblem on his chest.


I've found Sleeper challenging to play so far - I've not got the hang of them yet - played two games and come woefully behind in them both. Opener of the way, however, I blasted through and won easily - they're (quite literally!) monstrous!

I also had a bunch of IGOOs that I primed at the same time (oh, and some insects from Shaggai)...here they are:









This is one of my favourite figures:



So there you go - it might not look like much, but it does make the minis easier to paint and I think it enhances their appearance to play with them before they are painted. What do you think?