Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue...
Add up to a rather good set of sci-fi rules apparently. Let me explain. I was attracted to this rules system by the advertising blurb which promised that it would "easily handle 50 infantry models and 15 vehicle models a side in a two hour time frame". I thought this to be an entirely outlandish claim but in fact it is a very fast system and although I am not there yet I can see myself having games of this size in around this period of time.
I bought the PDF so can't comment on the quality of the physical product. I do have to say I really like the lay out with it's blue section headings. Some may miss a more professionally illustrated product but personally I love the high legibility even when reading on a 7" tablet. It is very well laid out, not skimping on space. Don't forget to download the free quick reference sheet. Again this is superbly produced document meaning it will be a rare occasion you need to refer to the main rules after a few games.
The rules are 92 pages long and breakdown as follows. P1-P41 rules, P42-46 scenarios, P47-73 army construction, P75-78 weapon charts, P79-90 background fluff and sample army lists, pages 91-92 appendix and blast templates.
I do have to admit that I gave up on my first two attempts to read the rules. There are active units, command points, command ratings, shared activations, active commands, reactive commands, it all seemed a baffling mess. Then it clicked, once you get the command and control system, you realise it is model of simplicity that gives you agonising tactical decisions to make, straight from the off.
This system is entirely new to me and as far as I am concerned sheer genius. Basically you get a number of commands to issue in a turn equal to the number of units you have on table in good order plus 1D3. So as units get shaken or destroyed the number of commands you can issue in a turn reduces. Play alternates between players with the number of commands which can be issued in a given phase equal to the leadership rating of the active players best commander on table plus one. Commands can be used to activate a unit, give an extra command to an already activated unit, add +1 to the initiative roll for the following turn or call in a reserve unit. When you are the active player your opponent can use reactive commands to return fire, take cover or react to an assault. It may sound confusing but I promise you in reality it is simplicity itself.
Why do I love it? Instead of using your best units first and spending the rest of the turn trudging through the also rans in your army every command you issue counts. Units shaken in the current turn cost 2 commands to activate. Do you skip that shaken unit, pull it back to remove suppression or pay up as you just can't afford to let it do nothing for a turn? Your opponent fires at your best unit and does little damage, why not use a reactive command to return fire, you can still activate the unit later and get another shot! You are closing in for an assault and get fired on, should you use a command to take cover or save it to use on another unit entirely? Is it worth one of your units not getting to do anything because you used it's command to get a bonus to hit with one of your best units? In short it never feels like it's not your turn, you are always involved in the action. I also find that the system lends itself to banter as you encourage your opponent to prematurely use up all their commands allowing you to wreak havoc without reply if it comes towards the end of the turn and you still have commands and they don't. Or you raise an eyebrow when they use a reactive command to take cover when you know it is exactly the right move.
The turn sequence is very simple consisting of sorting out the values for command and control, deciding who has initiative, alternating issuing commands, close combat and calling in reserves. When a unit is activated it attempts to regroup removing damage or morale effects by a successful die roll based on the quality of the unit. All units have an experience value based on whether they are poor, average or superior. The unit can then move and shoot. Infantry and mechs can get a second run move instead of shooting if they prefer. Movement rates are high compared to other rules systems which makes for an all round faster game. Units which did not take a second move can assault.
All the rules are streamlined for speed of play. You only use D6's. There are only two types of terrain, those providing cover and buildings which give reinforced cover increasing the armour value of units inside. Vehicles can bog in terrain and can't enter buildings. Shooting is standard score of 5+ for poor, 4+ for average and 3+ for superior modified by a grand total of six modifiers. Once you hit you compare the power of the attacking weapon to the armour value of the target on a table which gives a value for saving rolls. Now that does seem familiar, something borrowed perhaps? Shooting against vehicles you add 1D6 to the power of the weapon and you have to at least equal the armour value of the target to get an effect. The more you exceed the armour value by the more devastating the effect on the target. Assault involves strike ranks and specific weaponry for close combat along with a table giving the to hit score required by comparing the quality of the units involved.
In four short pages there are rules for three different types of scenarios and numerous types of deployment. Objective based scenarios have a complex way of deciding who won using a points system based on the types of units fielded as well as the objectives captured. Which is neat, no need to throw in the towel because you are never going to recapture the one objective more that your opponent has. As you would expect from the rest of the book these are clearly presented and easy to follow. And so to army building. There are points! There are points that actually make sense! The points work from the experience rating of the unit and build up from there. This make so much sense. As you can see from shooting a superior unit has about twice as much chance to hit a target as a poor unit, so guess what, it costs about double the points.
You choose a platoon type which determines what type of units you can choose. There are compulsory choices of basic units you have to take before taking more exotic choices. What constitutes a basic unit depends on the type of platoon chosen. Units have traits, a freebie modifying stats or something else about the unit. They can also have 1-3 upgrades depending on the type of unit and upgrades to weapons. In short if you enjoy tinkering with unit stats and army lists you will find oh so much to enjoy here. Any points system has it's limitations but I have found this one remarkably robust. A couple of times I have thought I have spotted a game breaking flaw only to realise there is a rule stopping me exploiting the loop hole I thought I had seen. Weapon choices come down to trading rate of fire for power. Weapons are not individually pointed but divided into classes, small arms, support weapons, light and heavy weapons. You can choose freely within a class.
The final section of the book introduces the authors own Terminus Nebula setting and gives a couple of sample army lists. I would think that most people will use their own favoured background and with the wealth of unit building options available reflecting the capabilities of existing sci-fi units should not be a problem. I think the unit builders will lend themselves particularly well to encounters between troopers and bug type armies along with battles between armies with mismatched technology levels.
There are a couple of things missing and a couple of problems with the rules. It is not clear whether unit upgrades cost are per model or per unit in some cases, the default is per model but this is not made clear in the rules. The assault rules as written on when moving into assault occurs are confusing. The movement happens in the player phase and the fighting in the assault phase, this is perfectly simple and intuitive but needs stating more explicitly.
The most notable absentee is any kind of army list roster or computer aid for designing units. You can do it by good old pen and paper and creating vanilla units without much chrome is a doddle. Making and recording more complex units is more of a challenge. Power claws for infantry or vehicles are not covered. These are fairly standard sci-fi weapons and I hope they are included soon. I don't find the lists of unit upgrades as appealing as some other systems, I hope they can be further refined and developed.
A couple of big errors have crept in. There is a major balance issue with the rapid fire weapon trait. In the rules as written it gives +1 rate of fire if stationary, the authors are currently working on a fix, the current version is it allows misses to be re-rolled for stationary units firing inside effective range. This revised rule has worked fine for me. The main rules refer to experience checks being used for regrouping, in fact it is confidence checks as stated on the QRS. This would have a major effect on play if you used the wrong roll. I do have to say the authors have not failed to provide answers to a single rules question I have posed on their facebook page.
So what do these rules add up to? There are lots of old and borrowed mechanics, the staples of many different rule sets. I see nothing wrong in using the best mechanics available. Also lots of sound maths in weapon stats and unit points. Something new, in as far as I know, a unique, and more importantly brilliant command and control system. Something blue in the choice of colour for section headings. I am conflicted in that I can't help thinking the rules could do with just a little more polish but on the other hand they actually feel more complete than other systems which have been in development for years but never seem to leave a state of flux.
It should be said that the rules do not intend to portray the "realities" of future warfare, just the framework for a good game. If your figure collection has outgrown your current rule set and you are looking for a way to get more models on table and still finish a game in a reasonable time period. If you are looking for a fast paced game that does not get bogged down in minutia but still has great tactical depth. If you enjoy unit and army building in a points based system that holds up well. Then Fireteam Andromeda may well be the rule set you have been looking for.