December 3, 2009
by Russ Wakelin
Russ’s Thoughts on Firestorm after devouring the book last night.
(Note: I haven’t actually played a single game yet. I’ve just read the book, looked through the cards, and checked out the sheets that come with the ships I bought)
After reading through the rulebook last night and sleeping on it I have to say as someone who has been a fan of space combat games since Starfleet Battles, this one has REAL potential to be one of the best. It definitely stands on the shoulders of giants, borrowing ideas from those who came before, but it also innovates in very clever ways, taking the simple exploding dice mechanic and using it throughout the game to handle everything from fighters, guns, shields, torpedoes and more!!
As the folks who had a chance to glance at the book already know, this game is more than just Uncharted Seas with a space wrapper. In fact Firestorm Armada (FSA) is as different from Uncharted Seas as Warhammer Fantasy battles is from Warhammer 40k. Yes they share the same core shooting mechanics, but that’s about where it ends.
Ship Weapons Systems
BFG and B5  both did a great job making space combat games play faster than older games like Full Thrust or Starfleet Battles, but they did it at the expense of feeling like you TRULY had access to different kinds of weapons. I think FSA will really have players feeling the tactical differences between using gun batteries, torpedoes, mines, point defense, and small craft.
Shields and Point Defense
Having access to different kinds of defensive systems really reminds me of days of old with the more complex games and greater depth of strategy. The brilliance here is that Shields and Point Defense share the same mechanics as shooting. It’s almost like an opposed shooting test, or a saving throw, if you will. The tricky bit is that Point Defense only works against torpedoes and small craft, while shields can block almost any weapons fire.
Main ship guns
These work just like Uncharted Seas, no real surprise here. The big thing to remember is that the main guns can’t be stopped by point defense, but they can be stopped by shields. The other thing to remember is that main guns lose effectiveness as you take damage and/or lose crew. What is interesting to note is that most ships have the best dice at range band 2, not 1. So capital ships like to be in the 8-16” range band usually when using main guns.
When this rumor started floating around I thought of the old flights of BFG torpedoes or the drone markers from SFB. But no, Torpedoes are direct fire weapons, just like the main guns. You don’t need markers or anything to track movement. Just check range and shoot.
So what makes them different? First, torpedoes don’t lose dice if your ship is damaged. As long as your ship is alive, it can fire its torps at full power. Second, if you look at the ship cards you’ll notice that torps don’t get lower dice at longer ranges. In many fleets they keep the same power regardless of range, and in some fleets they get more powerful at longer ranges!
What is the downside? Torps are the only weapon that can be repelled by BOTH point defense and shields. Worse, when you draw your LOS line to your target, any enemy ship that your pass within 4” of can add their point defense to the attack. And even after they make it through the Point defense they still have to deal with shields. So although they are long range, a cagey opponent can deploy his fleet with many overlapping 4” Point defense arcs to make it difficult to get torps through. In my head these torps might work like photon torpedoes in Star Trek. They’re really good near the end of a battle, when shields are down, point defense is spread out, and both ships are damaged.
But in the early game it sounds like it’s a pretty good idea to bunch up your fleet in this game right?
BRILLIANT and my favorite addition!
The mine mechanics are very simple, each time a ship moves, it can drop one mine. The mines have a value equal to the mine rating of the ship, this number will be show on the mine token you drop behind your ship as you move. If an enemy (not friend) passes within 4” of a mine, the mine will detonate with the number of dice equal to its rating. ALL ships within 4” of the mine take that damage. Fighter point defense can repel the mine shrapnel, but cap ships can’t.
So just think. Your cagey opponent has bunched his whole fleet up so you can’t get your torps in past his overlapping point defense systems. But if you get close enough you could fly right through his formation, each ship dropping mines in the middle of his fleet. When he moves next turn… BOOM!! Sounds like it might be a good idea to spread your fleets out.
But wait! Then the Torps will get you? I doubt it is a coincidence that both mines and point defense are 4”.
Auxiliary Craft and Boarding Actions
Fighters, Interceptors, Bombers, and Assault craft.
What is brilliant is by just adjusting the core mechanics stats of each aux craft, you change its role. Interceptors just have a higher Point Defense. Bombers have higher AD (can attack cap ships) and Fighters have a mix.
They have to be grouped in flights, so they function in units (love this, don’t know why this wasn’t done before in other games) and they limit the number of flights to 2 per carrier.
So while different carriers carry more fighter tokens, none can field more than two ‘squads’ (flights) of them. Whenever a wing (single token) passes within 4” of a cap ship it can be attacked by point defense, so wings have to watch out for that. But because wings have their own point defense systems, they are useful for clearing mines.
A huge part of the game is boarding actions. Assault craft can do it and your ships can come in close, float alongside the enemy, and board. I have to re-read this section again, but it looks solid and a welcome addition.
Cards and Fleets
The cards add a lot of depth to the game. There are two that I absolutely love. The first is “Afterburn” which allows you to actually roast an enemy ship that is too close to your rear engines!! How cool is that?!?
The second is the BINGO card. You can play this card on an enemy aux craft flight and they must immediately return to their home carrier and land. If their home carrier is destroyed, they will fly off the table. I LOVE THIS. As I was reading the book, I noticed there was no reason to ever land back on your carrier in the core rules, but they handled it with a card.
(If you are wondering, BINGO is pilot slang for “we’re at minimum fuel for a safe trip back.”)
After reviewing the fleets, they all look like they will play VERY different. They did a great job with this in Uncharted Seas, and I think Spartan has done it again here without the need for ‘fleet codex books’ or anything.
I love this maneuver as well. It simply means that your ship has gone inverted, and starboard is now port, and port is starboard. Lose your port battery due to a crit hit? No problem, just roll your ship over, and fire your starboard guns while upside down. It’s nice to see a little nod to the fact you are in space and it is 3-D.
While I love the point defense mechanic, it does have me worried that it might be fiddly in practice. Trying to draw a line from the attacking ship to the target and figuring out how many times it passes within 4” of another ship might get tricky. Perhaps 90% of the time it will be obvious, but we’ll have to see one we play. Also it looks like the book isn’t clear on pre-measuring, unless I missed that. So I’m not sure how that is supposed to work.
Any whoo, there are my initial thoughts. Thanks for reading if you made it this far!!
- 1 http://www.dakkadakka.com/dakkaforum/posts/list/268244.page
- 2 Battlefleet Gothic
- 3 Babylon 5 Call to Arms