Saturday, 27 August 2016

Master Chef baking some Unggoy...

Holidays are a glorious thing and what can be better (except for a surf/sup of course) than a couple of games of Halo Ground Command with my gaming pal Steve?

We decided to play my 'Breakthrough' scenario as it was designed for the core box and as a type of intro game with a purpose. Steve had had a quick go through with the rules at the club but this was his first time solo.

I set it up with the Mcfarlane 'toy' stuff as the wall and door the UNSC had to get through while the rest was scatter and LOS blocking stuff from the core set and my terrain box. The idea is the Covenant are set up in three diagonal bands (you can download the scenario from the post before this one) and the UNSC can set in the band up to the front of the bunker. the UNSC score Victory Points by exiting to the EVAC point behind the gate - the Covenant get VP for destroying them on the way!

Taking the role of the Covenant I was thinking video game and had the Hunters covering the gate with the Ghosts in the 'middle level' and the Grunts spread across everywhere. Tactically I was hoping to slow Steve's forces down in the early game and make it real hard to get through the gate if they opened it due to the Hunters. A couple of Grunt units were set up within striking distance of the heretic troops, who let's face it have to be shown the light!

Steve was going all out psycho wannabe ODST with an HMG supported unit giving cover from the bunker, two units led by the Spartan (who seemed to be upset by my naming him Spartan 118 Master Chef) up the middle while the Hogs provided fire support from the left flank. 

Opening with a sweep around with the hogs they made short work of the Grunt unit on the rock in the middle - only the overseer surviving the onslaught due to good work on the part of his Heroic Save. But I was not going to let any heretic squishy humans make their sacrifice to the cause unworthy and a round of fire from the Ghosts caused some more damage to the Hogs (my unit on the hill, seeing what was coming had made good use of some 'stay sharp' orders and managed to react to the Hogs, damaging one, Steve had then used good sense when moving to drop the damaged vehicle to the back. This kind of tactic is important as without it he would have been a Hog less after my Ghosts fire). 

Steve advanced a unit of Marines up to finish the Grunts off. Obviously they were either planet militia or cadets from the training school as they failed to complete the task. Although, I admit, three successful heroic save rolls probably helped. Swooping in low the Phantom took a hit from the Spartan but still managed to drop off some Grunts to reinforce the centre. This was early in the game to use my one reinforcement air support mission but I needed to slow the UNSC down and inflict as many casualties as possible. 

Thinking back on it this probably prompted Steve to throw caution to the wind and send in the Pelican. Unopposed due to a failed reaction test it flew in shot the Ghosts up something chronic, leaving two piles of twisted purple smoking detritus and also hammered up the reinforced unit again.

BUT, at least I was holding the advance of the disbelievers up!

The Grunt unit on my left made a dash to reinforce the right flank but was spotted by Spartan 118, who still smarting over being called Master Chef managed to shoot them up with a reaction... as above. As the UNSC pushed up I decided to smuggly spend a couple of VP and bring in the Phantom to blast the Pagan, Image worshipping squishy germs to bits... 

Now at this point it may be prudent to warn readers that we were testing a rule that may give some dedicated AA fire the ability to make the air support see sense and 'Bug Out'. Lacking any real dedicated AA we gave this test loadout to the flyers. So if any damage is caused by an opposing flyer, the flyer (on the mission) rolls a Halo die per damage token and on a SKULL it 'Bugs Out' from the mission. Yep you guessed it my own rule screwed me up royally. Steve had cunningly put his Pelican on Combat Patrol and intercepted my attack, caused a damage token and YES I rolled a skull !

Thwarted maybe, however, I was still feeling pretty smug. We were coming up to the end of the game and while I hadn't destroyed a lot (due to a canny reinforcement mission on turn 5) Steve had little near enough to the gate, which still wasn't opened.  His Hog rushed in and opened the Gate while the Spartan was dealing slowly with the Hunters (all I had left) as the marines tried running for it. 

So turn 6 saw the Spartan and the Hogs rush through (and presumably up the ramp and into the ship as it was just taking off - I am seeing boosted jump over a broken bridge here for some reason) but leaving the foot sloggers just missing out. 

Victory points were counted and while Steve only got the ones for the Spartan and Hog unit I had not been able to destroy enough, that damned 'Bug Out' on the air mission (me bitter - never!) cost me the game and it was a marginal victory for Steve and the UNSC heretics... 

The real winner was however the rules and the game... Yeh corny but true. It ran smoothly, had lots of dramatic moments to laugh at,  cry about,  swear at or jubilate in (depending on your stance at the point). 

Bring on bigger games!

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

HALO scenarios for the starter set...

I did a couple of scenarios based on the forces out of the starter set. Mainly because I wanted to play out a couple of the missions I had done in Halo Guardians. Also the fact that the starter is 3/4 of a normal force means that you sometimes run out of troops when doing the missions as is from the core rule book.

I make no pretence that the scenarios are any good, but we had a bit of fun playing them. The Breakthrough mission is not particularly balanced - you need good play and luck, which is why it is suggested swapping sides and playing it twice  :)

HALO Ground Command - a fair few games in...

Oh the joys of being a teacher in summer, enforced time off... So quite a few games of HGC have been had with a number of differing people. Lessons learnt, rules made sense of and fun had all round. One of the beguiling aspects to the rules is that while the booklet looks quite daunting on first read the rules are extremely intuitive in many ways, also the rules book is laid out in such a way that core aspects are repeated in greater depth as you read on. Both of these aspects mean that by about the third game we were not even looking at the rule book, or indeed the quick play reference; all that is needed really (after you have got the core rules down) is the info on the unit sheets. For instance last night I spent 10 minutes going through the core rules and stats with me mate Shaun and then we started playing - he had it down pat very quickly.

But underneath this seemingly easy game play is a mother lode layer of subtlety with the interactions of the units and the mechanics. Both opposing forces play very differently, even with the basically half force Battle Groups you get in the starter box. Covenant wise you want to get up close and personal as quick as you can - not necessarily close quarter combat range but the weapons are shorter ranged based and always count as 'point blank' where that extra fire power rating is very handy. Conversely the UNSC want to use their longer ranges and good suppression to stop the Covies advance - hit them hard and hope they fail their suppression test. This often leaves them out in the open, or at least unable to fire/charge if done as a reaction.

Talking of reaction, learning when to use the reaction is a big part of the game play. To start with it is very tempting to use it, because you can. But after a few fails and then enforced activations it becomes apparent it is often better to wait til your activation, where at least a shot is guaranteed. However, a well timed reaction can, and often does in the UNSC case, stop the enemy dead in its tracks.

Take, for example the 'Hogs in the picture above, they had already taken out one unit of Grunts with their initial foray forward and now a good reaction roll (helped with some orders from above to lower the target number) was about to do the same to another unit (serves them right for being unpainted I hear you say).

Melee is pretty brutal, as it should be... One quickly learns not to get your 0 melee stat armoured units near to anything that can charge them (grenades in, down, under your vehicle is not a desirable occurrence). But that said any melee is not to be taken lightly, unless you have a high melee score and a heroic save to, well, save the day. So Spartans kinda shine here, but then again my War Host leader has been doing pretty well himself. In the picture above he had stormed the bunker basically by himself (losing a few grunts on the way - but hey, that's what they are there for), the combination of the cover from the bunker and his heroic saving let him see out the fire (as seen by the dice) from the unit behind. All in all as it was the last turn of a 'King of the Hill' scenario I was feeling pretty snug... Until that pesky Spartan on the right charged in!

The air missions have a really smooth mechanic to them, yes they can be powerful (especially in the base box set games) and are likely to take out a weaker unit, or damage a stronger one... BUT they cost you VP points. All well and good laughing at the fact you just vapourised a Grunt unit until you realise it got you 1VP and you gave away 2VP !  So, like the reaction mechanic, you have to be careful when you use them - OK to start with you will, again because you can, but now we only use the when we need them. I lost a game last night by 1VP and this was because I had run some combat air patrols when things were looking grim and if they had succeeded in taking his Spartan out I would have won.

I do like the exploding dice mechanic - always have from the first ever try of it all the years ago with Unchartered Seas playtests. But it works really, really well in this game, really well. Did I say really? But it does. Everything has a chance of glory; just some things more than others.

SO, how is it going? Well no one I have showed it to so far has not liked it, it is smooth and quick (after a learning curve) and is HALO. Yeh, I feel a bit like a fan boy, no I really didn't want to get into another game but hey, that's life and did I mention IT'S HALO !!!!

Monday, 8 August 2016

Reach for the toys...

Halo Ground Command - The Battle for Reach - two player starter set by Spartan Games

So it arrived, out of the box and onto the construction table:
This is what is in the box when it is built - minus the trees...

Demand has been extremely high, which has produced a few hiccups in supply of the game - but a deep breath and a step back to the good old days when one didn't instantly throw a hissy fit if things were not delivered over night should prevail - so on with the game at hand...

The following is not supposed to be a review in any sense but it is best, one feels, to impart some kind of order on my otherwise rambling muses.

BOX - a hefty little blighter, about A4 in size with some depth and a lot of mass. Lovely artwork, as you would imagine and wish for.

Inside are all kinds of goodies - the figures, scenery, tokens, unit cards, dice, in fact everything you ever needed to play the game apart from a tape measure - but then who wants a crappy tape which is going to break anyway?

Scenery - you get some shields/barriers and supply pods made of resin - all done ala the video game graphics. I like Spartan resin, an odd thing to admit to maybe, but it is good quality, not prone to exploding if you handle it any rougher than a museum curator and in my experience has very little, if any, releasing material on it which means I never bother washing it (bad boy that I am).  You also get some acrylic and card bunkers. Acrylic is so much better to work with than MDF and seems to make a cleaner cut - all without the horrible smell. Basically you make the acrylic shell and then the lovely card art work slips in there, then it goes onto the table (with a bit of weathering dry brush action on the acrylic if you can be arsed). 

Figures - made of metal as resin 15mm would be too brittle and with plastic it is hard (if not impossible) to get the amount of undercut detail that is required for an audience who knows the subject matter far to well... However, the vehicles do have resin parts (which in my opinion gives a far better, smoother look than metal) and all the bases are textured resin which was a pleasant surprise. The figures are very detailed, and as one would expect, very faithful to their source material and come with a 'how to' guide. The figures for each unit come on sprues in a bag with the bases. Some of the larger figures are multi- part and all of them have a round peg on which inserts into the base. All the sprues come with the associated mould flashing which is clipped off and then filed. Now, I am an old school wargamer, used to flash, used to putting stuff together and used to filing, repairing and even the odd bit of pinning. BUT I am wondering if a lot of the people picking up the game because of the subject matter and advertising by 

are going to be in for a bit of a shock - certainly the newer gamers down at the club who have only dealt with putting X-wing together, one piece plastics or at the most a guild ball figure or FOW tank are going to be in for a bit of a shock. Painting wise they should be really nice to do and the book comes with a very good painting guide which even gives you the codes for the vallejo paints. 

Unit cards - excellent idea, everything you need to know about a unit all in one place. also saves on them having to print everything in the core book and then having to do 'something' when new stuff comes out. New units will just have their unit card and be ready to go. Production value wise the double sided cards are excellent, the layout, graphics and the coating are all being top notch. 

I particularly love the 'generic commander' card with the gorgeous artwork on one side and the other reserved for game business (like placing order die).

Rules - what the game is all about really I suppose...

First things first I suppose, some questions I had have been readily answered:
  • No - it's not a rehash of Planetfall.
  • No - it's not just Fleet Battles on the ground (although some of the mechanics will be familiar). 
So far so good, the book is well designed and in sections that are easy to find and read. I did miss out on a few basic things that were hidden away but that was more me than the rules I think. Good idea to read it with the playsheet along side and the unit cards at hand as then it kinda makes more sense. 

Rules seem relatively straightforward but with a few twists. Movement is done as a unit but then element by element with the measuring done centre to centre which then leaves the orientation open at the end. I have always liked this kind of system with bases. There is a unit coherency which for infantry basically will see elements having to be close to touching to keep the chain. Activation is by initiative, alternating one unit per player. Here lies the reaction system mechanic which is designed to make it feel more like a first person shooter. In a unit's activation phase there are two points where a single (but any) enemy unit can try and interrupt with some shooting. This is at the beginning of the phase or at the end - obviously there is a bit of a tactical choice going on here as to what unit to use and when. Units can try and react even if they have activated that turn, however, as reaction success is determined by a 2d6 roll 'over' roll they may not be successful. Units have two reaction stats - a lower one that is used before the unit has been activated (reaction activates the unit) and a higher one which is used if the unit has been activated that turn. By tweaking these numbers units can be given very different feels. For instance Grunts have quite a high first value (meaning they will be hard to react with) and a seemingly impossible second value (meaning the commander will be having to use his command dice to help out) - compare this to an elite unit like a SPARTAN who have a low first value and a second value which is only one higher. Therefore SPARTANS will (as one would expect) be able to react to lots and lots of action occurring around them. A nifty mechanic and one I am looking forward to exploring. 

Combat - this uses the Spartan dice and revolves around making a dice pool and rolling them to get hit results. At different fire power levels certain die can be rerolled and some count as two hits etc. Vaguely typical Spartan 'exploding 6' mechanics and one I have loved since early Unchartered Seas playtest days - the firepower system adds a level of granularity to the system which is very clever. On the defence very few units in the starter box have a SOAK value which is used to create a defence dice pool and can negate hits. Units have a damage 'track' which is basically how many hits are needed to give the unit a damage token - most foot units can only take one damage token.  So how can your super units survive? By the use of a heroic save thats how. Depending on the level of heroism your unit can negate damage tokens by rolling the required result. Yep Spartans have a legendary level and can negate a damage token five sixths of the time. But eventually you know you are going to fail that roll. All in all combat appears to work smoothly and quickly - your normal things can affect the rolling, cover density, elevation etc etc. 

As I stated this is not a review just an overview and the rules cover everything you would expect - there is lots of background; all the rules you need including command die rolls that can be used to enhance phases of the game; aerial support rules - where would we be without Pelicans eh? Although, in an interesting twist calling in support or the big guns will see your opponent getting victory points, obviously as they are smarmy you have to resort to such tactics to beat them; there are a plethora of scenarios; a paint guide, force building rules and guideline -- like I said everything you need, save an opponent to pulverise. 

Obviously the starter set is just that - a 1250 point a side game (standard game is 1500 upwards) but the set is a great starting point to await the expansions and is modular enough to make another starter set (if you can possibly find one) a good investment game wise anyway.

How does it represent the hallowed game? Well in detail I don't think you will be able to quival over anything. Neil (head Spartan honcho) is about the biggest HALO fanboy I know and with him in charge I doubt there is any worry on detail or 'canon' wise issues. There will always be the question of if a miniatures game can simulate the feeling and action of a video game period... let alone a first person shooter. While it is too soon for me to say really (only a few playtest sessions) I can say I think this is going to be as close as you can get to an arcade type of feel - you just have to remember you are playing the big picture, not the action through the eyes of Master Chief. The action on the table is everything that is going on around you on the screen while you hurl yourself on a Spartan Charge at the Elite. Remember this and I can pretty much guarantee fun and carnage on the table top!

Now - off to splat some Grunts!!!!