Sunday, July 31, 2011

Firestorm Armada - A First Game Review

So I decided to try another system this pass weekend, something I had no previous experience with either the company or the IP previously. The game is Firestorm Armada, and the company is Spartan Games.

I was in my local store, just looking at some various minis. At the time I wasn't even really intent on purchasing anything, but I just wanted to play something different then the standard 'foot-race' type wargame. being that the choices were limited between Hell Dorado, Dystopian Wars, and Firestorm Armada. I will say this, Hell Dorado was tempting with it's beautiful miniatures, but my wife and I already have a similar style skirmish game in Anima Tactics. So it came down to a naval battle, either in the sea or in space. Of course I picked the space setting, as I thought it might have more overall variety.

We left the store originally with only a Directorate starter fleet for my wife, I wanted to know what exactly the contents was, and if we could even play. Got home and opened the box to see what exactly was included in the starter box. It had the starter fleet itself, the 'army' sheet that gives the stats for the most common ships for that particular force, and tokens that are used during combat. There were no starter rules of any type to be found. At this point I did a Google search and found out that with Firestorm Armada, you are expected to purchase the rulebook outright and proxy the minis until you feel you want to purchase the minis. Kind of backwards from what I am familiar with.

So to cut the even longer story a bit shorter... Eventually I got the Relthoza starter fleet for myself, the starter book, the template package, and the card set.

So the review now:

Miniature Quality:
The ships are molded huge (For ship minis anyhow), and made of a resin material, much like Forgeworld, and white metal. Pretty common stuff here for the most part. The quality of the minis could be higher, as my wife's fleet had numerous miniatures with air bubbles in fairly key features. I had my main battleship warped slightly, cruisers that the mold wasn't properly set together, and parts that were in consistent in fitting into places (many requiring me to trim them down). A huge drawback is the fact there is no US customer support, so no locally to call if ships come severely disfigured or missing bits.

In summary: The minis are nice, but quality control really needs to be tightened.

Rules Quality:
The rulebook was cheap, only costing $30 to get from the local store, and of course cheaper if you purchase online somewhere. It is a bit overwhelming reading through the book for the first time, as there are a lot of acronyms used for things that really didn't need it in my opinion, and the system does play so differently from a normal land based wargame. The book could be better streamlined, and a glossary would be a god-send as finding things on the fly were rather hard. I still don't know where in the book it describes what happens with a ship that is 'A Drift', as I simply could not find it in the rules quickly enough not to impact the game.

The rules themselves are relatively simple, but some key areas are lacking in being descriptive enough. The early section about the card deck for Firestorm Armada doesn't explicitly tell you if you need only one deck per game or per player as an example. Better example is the fact you are expected to get the ruleset before anything else, but nothing is listed on either the starter fleet boxes or the book itself that it should be the first purchase.

In Summary: Simple rules overall, but can be a bit overwhelming bad design of the book and lack of some critical descriptions.

Accessory Quality:
As I stated earlier, I got the card deck for the game, as most people say it adds so much to the gameplay, that it is almost required. It was a fairly standard deck, but the local store only had a single copy. Now as I said earlier, nothing really says you need a deck per player in the rulebook, but at the same time it also doesn't say you split the decks apart. The cards themselves are pretty much standard cardstock paper in terms of quality,  slightly better quality then normal CCGs but not as high quality as a Vegas style card deck.

While the book and online had the templates to print out as needed, found the quality of not to be good enough to warrant me spending the time to reprint them. As such used the token packages Spartan Games also sells. For the price you get a lot of tokens to use (but strangely enough no stealth tokens which my Relthoza actually needed), and the movement templates. These still have the same cheap feel as the cards overall.

There is a company online called LITKO Game Accessories, which apparently makes much more expensive, but higher quality accessories for Firestorm Armada (among other things). Would be nice to find a middle ground though.

In summary: The default accessories come across as almost being required to have, but feel rather cheap.

Be forewarned, I have only played one game thus far so that could skew this section. The game itself is set-up for an alternating playstyle like Anima Tactics or Hell Dorado, and not a IgoUgo type play of Warhammer/kings of War/ Warmachine. One of the biggest changes for me from other games is the fact you unload on any targets you can with your weapon systems. I forgot about that until about turn 3 in last night's game which of course slowed the game down much more then it should have.

Turning, while simple in theory, for some reason really proved tedious for my wife and I, as we constantly had to figure out how to work out the 45 degree turns for each ship. More then once we failed to measure properly simply because we measured from the wrong edge of the ship's base. This part truly takes the most time to get used to. Terrain also seems overly important since without it, your ships will zoom through your enemies, both unload shots, circle back and repeat (plus the various affects the terrain can have on the game itself).

The rules are simple enough, you can tell they were originally a sea game made for space. It is quick to set-up and play, but there are a lot of tokens on the battlefield that starts to make things a bit cramped as you have hull points, crew points, mines, wings, and other tokens all on the field. A 4'x4' battlefield isn't huge after all. Expect a lot of action quickly, but also find a way to keep your tokens well organized or you may well lose a lot of time simply looking for the right token.

In Summary: The game is overall easy to play, but the heavy use of token and specialized movements makes the game slow down if not properly set-up beforehand.

I would say the game is fun and good to get into, but don't expect the same quality standards or customer service of companies like Games-Workshop or Privateer Press. Give the game a shot, but before diving into any of the starter fleets, grab yourself the proxy fleets and rulebook and find out for yourself if this is your cup of tea.
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