Monday, 28 April 2014

A look at: 5150 Star Army

I thought I'd kick off my 'new-look' blog with a couple of related posts. A look at 5150 Star Army by Two Hour Wargames and my thoughts on how it adapts to different settings.

5150 Star Army is Two Hour Wargames' rule set for platoon level sci-fi wargames. It is set in their 5150 universe, but easily adapted for whatever setting you like.

How does it work?

SA uses similar mechanics to other THW rules, with an integrated turn sequence centred around their reaction system, meaning that players don't have an unrealistic control over their forces. (For more info see my post about Chain Reaction 3.) The main difference from other rules by the company is that figures are organised into squads of 8 figures and players typically control a platoon of three squads or a company of two platoons. Same side, solo and opposed games are all possible.

Bugs everywhere! (From the THW Blog post found here)

Any aliens?

I won't dwell too much on the different races available, but the rules cover various humans along with setting specific aliens and generic bugs. What is worth mentioning is that they are all neatly represented by different abilities. If you want to play in your own setting, you can easily pick and choose from these to create your own alien races. It works well without making things over complicated.

BatRep of 5150 Used for WH40K. From this blog

And the scenarios?

Patrol, attack and defend scenarios are available, although the reality is that, combined with things like the enemy investment level, variable reinforcements and PEFs, there is a lot of variation in actual gameplay. 

Reinforcements can appear for either side during the game. Squads, vehicles, off board artillery, snipers and strafing runs are all covered. This really varies the basic scenarios and forces you to respond to a changing situation on the fly.

Assets are also available at platoon and company level with their availability being dependant on the type of mission and the investment level. They include flame throwers, machine guns, plasma guns, satchel charges and more.

Great looking game from this blog. Note the recurring theme of "Ace for solo gaming"

Hang on! Enemy Investment Level? PEFs? What...?!?

The Enemy Investment Level determines how much effort the enemy is willing to put into defending or attacking the region the battle takes place in. This has a direct bearing on the strength of resistance you are likely to find. PEFs are 'Potential Enemy Forces', markers placed at the start of the game which are resolved when in line of sight. They could be enemy squads, vehicles, defensive emplacements, or just a false signal. 

Sci-fi is about the tech! What gear and equipment is available for my troops?

There is a good range of weapons and armour represented in the game. Modern style projectile weapons as well as lasers are present, with the differences represented by varying the firing ranges, the number of targets which can be shot in one turn and the impact values against different armour types. 

Armour can be one of four classes: soft body, hard body, exo-suits and battle tactical armour. The latter two also afford the wearer extra movement, targeting, communication and other benefits. I see hard body armour being like Storm Troopers, exo-suits like GW Space Marines and BTA like in the Starship Troopers novel. 

All of this makes it quite easy to create new weapons to fit your preferred setting and figure out their effectiveness against various armour types.

Want an asymmetric game with a modern/near-future feel? Look no further than here!

So, tell me about the options for a campaign. 

When you start a campaign you pick your side, who you are fighting against and decide who is attacking and defending the planet. You undertake two missions per month, the results of which will cause your campaign morale and that of your enemy to rise or fall. The side whose morale drops to zero first loses. 

Your first mission will be a patrol, but after that it could be any of the three types depending on the outcome of your last game. So you may find yourself on the offensive or defensive at various times depending on how you are doing. 

Before each game you need to determine various factors, all of which work towards making a seemingly small range of scenarios actually quite varied. The investment level has to be determined along weather conditions and what kind of intelligence is available. This last point is very important as entering a scenario with poor intel can result in your force being outflanked or running into a much larger enemy force than expected. Simple rules to implement which allow for unexpected situations to crop up and make even setting up interesting!

Following the battle, you find out if you have received replacements for your losses and any gaps in your command structure are filled by promoting soldiers. You may feel cocky at the onset, but try to fight a campaign on an enemy planet when your senior command doesn't care too much about the platoon it sent in as a token gesture to gauge the enemy strength. Soon you'll be begging for more soldiers, even green recruits, and every battle becomes a balance between preserving your force and achieving the required victory. Tough times, soldier, so just man-up and get on with it!

And is solo play actually any good?

Solo play is well catered for. In addition to the variability from the PEF rules, there are charts to determine enemy behaviour during the game. These are used by rolling against the enemy Rep to decide what action they take and vary depend upon the type of scenario. There are also basic tactics which the enemy will follow in addition to the mission specific ones. Added to the ongoing campaign, this means lots of fun and variation for the solo gamer. 

Any other points I should know about?

Here is a list of things I could think of that I haven't covered:
  • Random events including snipers, mines and artillery strikes. 
  • Variable insertion: enter the table on foot, in APCs or even by dropship!
  • Rules to cover all kinds of vehicles without being overly complex. 
  • Structures including bunkers and other buildings
  • Rules for 'Stars' so you can heroically lead your forces into battle. 

There has to be something you are not so keen on, surely?

I think there are a couple of gaps to fill if you wanted to game the whole gamut of sci-fi settings. Things like psionics or independent heroes are not covered, and there are no rules for droids, specifically thinking of single ones like Imperial Probe Droids. But in truth it is pretty easy to figure out the odd special skill here and there, or construct a special set of reaction tables for droids to make them act like you want. If you really wanted a game focused on the exploits of larger than life heroes like Han or Luke from Star Wars, then you'd probably want to check out the more skirmish focused 5150 New Beginnings.  But these are minor quibbles given the game's remit of delivering fairly 'hard' sci-fi platoon battles. This it does very well indeed.

Final words to sum up?

I'd like to finish with a quote from the designer's notes which summarises what I like about the game:

5150: STAR ARMY is all about potential. We're giving you the tools to play the sci-fi games you want, as big as you want, and as detailed as you want. Not the crunchy "what bolt was hit" details rules to cover all aspects of sci-fi warfare but easy to follow rules that cover all aspects of sci-fi warfare.

STAR ARMY is not for everyone. You'll find that you do not have total control of your forces, this isn't chess, that you will often not know what you're facing, and the reinforcement system can be cruel at times. But you will be presented with challenges every battle and the tension that comes from uncertainty.
Star Army is great as a solo game and for playing campaigns that are focused on the games to be played rather than lots of paper work. Despite what I said in the section above, in practice it is very flexible in terms of adapting your favourite setting as well. I always used to play Star Wars using Star Grunt. But I'll use Star Army from now on. And that's strong praise from me!

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