Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Laserstorm: Grand Science Fiction Ground Warfare

By Podsy McPod

One year on.  Do I still feel the love?

I don't know about you but I quite often find myself falling out of love with a game system or rule set after an initial gush of enthusiasm.  Usually when I find some major flaw.  It is just about a year since I wrote some impressions about Laserstorm after my first few games. I have played about a game a month since then.  I have been playing in 15mm although the rules are designed for use in 6mm.  Purely because I did not want to abandon my extensive collection of 15mm figures.  I wondered if the rules would work in 15mm and I have to say without a doubt that they do with a couple of caveats.  Things do feel a little cramped without the room for manoeuvre you might like, and weapon ranges feel generous.  There are four sizes of vehicles in Laserstorm.  Light vehicles, standard vehicles, super heavy vehicles and behemoths.  I have included super heavy vehicles once or twice but felt that games came down to whether they could be eliminated or not.  Playing with much larger armies being needed to balance them out and there is not the room on my table for that in 15mm.  My games have been towards the smallest recommended size by unit count.  I have not used behemoths at all.

So what have I seen that I don't like?  There is definitely a high luck factor.  Units are activated in commands of one third of the whole army.  This is done by a random card draw mechanism.  A flip flop draw as I would call it when one side gets two or three activation cards at the end of one turn and the same at the start of the subsequent turn can be game winning.  Now this is statistically unlikely but not something I like at all.  All vehicles including the larger classes are destroyed with a single failed armour save.  Thus one unlucky roll can spell doom for a high value model.  I would guess this has been done to facilitate large games without any on table markers.

As in most sci fi rule sets, rules for deployment are quite sparse.  Initial game set ups can look like an ancients battle with two forces lined up looking at each other.  I suspect this looks worse in 15mm than it does in 6mm. 

There have been two supplementary army list books produced.  Thirteen factions are mentioned in the extensive background fluff.  I would love to see some more army list books produced.  To be fair the author does have a prodigious work rate producing rule systems and supplements for lots of different systems.

There is a very detailed points system.  Units can be selected by three methods.  DIY, start from scratch building unit stats.  Workshop, using premade infantry types or vehicle chassis and matching to premade weapons.  Army list, use completely premade units.  For the premade units and units you design in a similar fashion the points system is very sound.  Two armies of equal points value will most likely give a well balanced game.  In fact it would put the points system in some other well known systems to shame.  However if designing your own units it can easily be broken, the author freely admits this.  I suspect there are mathematical sweet spots for unit design so you do have to push yourself a little to add flavour to your designs.  I have also spotted a fairly major hole in the system which I have reported to the author.  Again this flaw would not come in to play if designing units in the spirit of the pre made units.  I can only see two tweaks to the points system that need to be made one of them being a fix for the issue above.  If these were done I think it would be one of the most robust points systems for any sci fi rule set that I have seen.

So what do I like?  The game is incredibly fast with simple and intuitive mechanics.  I have played games with the table groaning under the weight of figures that completed in two and a half or three hours.  I rarely see comparably sized games using any other rule set.  I will be using the rules without amendment for a large participation game at my local gaming club in October.  New players seem to get a firm grasp of the rules within the first couple of turns of play. The speed and ease of play makes up for the high luck factor for me.  The wealth of options for how to select units is excellent, including force structure charts if you want to use them.  You will have no trouble assigning stats and traits to match any unit type from sci fi fiction.  At one point the author did promise to publish faction specific workshop designs.  I think this would be a great compromise option allowing cunning unit design but not a complete free for all.

Two rule mechanics make the game stand out for me.  The game is won on victory points.  Victory points are scored by having uncontested control of victory point locations.  Points are scored at the end of each turn, not at game end.  This encourages aggressive play, sitting on the base line with long range lasers will gain you nothing in this game.  Units are often pushed back by the weight of incoming fire so you are never sure if a given unit will make it to a victory point location or be able to hold a victory point location and not be forced back out of position.  This is a mechanic integral to the shooting rules.  I have found a lot of rule sets to encourage static play with two lines of troops shooting at each other.  Laserstorm is the opposite with constant movement.  It also makes fast light vehicles and troops really useful.  You find yourself rushing them to claim an objective location and hoping they can hang on for a turn at least.

What seals the deal?  The game seems easily modified to your preferred style of play without breaking anything.  In fact there are many suggestions for alternative ways to plays sprinkled throughout the rule book  I didn't like the completely random activation card draw so I play a house rule where the two players alternate drawing cards.  So a player does not know which of his units will activate but knows he will get to activate something in reply to enemy activity.  I didn't like the lining up in deployment so I allow a free move on table before the game begins, faster units moving first.  Both these changes really enhance the game for me and don't seem to cause any problems.

When I wrote my initial thoughts on the game I suggested you just might be tempted to buy some 6mm just to play this rule set as it is so good.  I have just bought two 6mm armies.

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