Monday, May 26, 2014

Sci Fi Rules Playtest

My Starship Trooper infantry take cover on a steep hillside and prepare to open fire on the swarms of bugs headed their way
Keith had picked up an interesting sounding rules set and wanted to test it out. They are called, "Tactical Assault: Combat Cards." The core mechanic is each player has a deck of 72 cards. These are used for everything -- command and control, combat resolution, special events, and more. Players have a hand of six cards which they can use some or all during a turn, and then replenish. Reading it, the rules reminded me a bit of the Memoir '44, Battle Cry, etc., board games. You can't always move or fire the unit you want, you need the right card to do it. The random aspect of a deck of cards means you need to figure out what cards to save, what to play, when to discard, etc.

Unlike Battle Cry and its brethren, the cards are also used to resolve combat. Each unit type has a Protection Level and Attack Level for shooting or close assault. You compare the two, and along with tactical factors like cover, this causes the result on the card to shift up or down levels. So, if flip a card from your deck that shows "Fall Back," it may shift up one level to "Shaken," or so on. It all sounded good on paper, so I was real interested to see how it played out. I had been looking for a good set of Science Fiction combat rules, and had high hopes for these.

The Behemoth Bug exchanges fire with my infantry, who face out in all directions to hold off the enemy
Keith set up the battlefield with three, separate one-on-one engagements. He provided each of us with forces about 2/3's of the size of the recommended size in the rules. I think he wanted to keep it as simple as possible for us, what with learning a new set of rules and all. In the end, this worked out against giving us a true feel for the rules. With many of the forces having just 3 troop types, that meant most of the cards in the deck were for troops we did not have in our forces. This led the battle to become very static at points. You may have no cards that you could use on your turn, or at best one or two. So, as the game went on, there were a lot of discarding turns instead of "playing turns" (you choose to either discard or play cards on the turn -- you can't do both).

I did like how Opportunity Fire was a card that you could play on enemy units that moved in your line of sight. That was perhaps my favorite aspect of the game. I wasn't crazy about the combat resolution system, though. There are 5 levels of results from No Effect, Fall Back, Shaken, Out of Action, and Eliminated. The frustrating thing is if you have hit an enemy unit and drawn a "Out of Action" card, then hit them with another one, or a "Shaken", it has no further effect. I felt that there should be a get hit once, further hits should worsen your status.

Anyway, we decided to give the rules another chance. This time, though, we will make sure each force has an adequately balanced troop list with infantry, armor, artillery, air units, and so on. That way, we shouldn't have so many useless cards. My battle against Joel was a Starship Trooper style game with my infantry fighting against his swarms of bugs. The battle was very static, though, and we had numerous turns where nothing happened as we both waited for cards allowing us to fire or attack. So, we'll see if a more conventional force provides a better game next time...

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