Monday, 2 January 2017

ROGUE STARS. A BRIEF REVIEW

A long time ago, in a galaxy (not) far, far away, there was game called Laserburn… this has a very similar premise, a new take on space-opera skirmish gaming. Having just played through my first game of the new ‘Rogue Stars’ game, I thought I’d write down my thoughts in a mini-review.

Our game scenario was an attack by my mercenary squad, breaking into a spaceship to steal some of its high-tech cargo from its security detachment of ‘Star Cops’. It all took place inside the ship, represented on floor plans. 1 floor plan square equaled 1” in game terms.

The book itself is in the now established ‘Osprey-style’, nothing very flash from a graphic design POV, rather small font size and a lot white space’ left, which makes me think these books are written to fit a set format, which in itself can be limiting. It feels lightweight, no real meat on this bone, just the rules and a short (one page) on the campaign rules. The artwork is nice in a cartoony style, I’m more a ‘gritty reality’ man myself, but each is just an image of single character, so not much for establishing a look or feel for the universe. There is no background at all, its just generic ‘far future’ space opera, which is fine, players can create their own, or just use a ready made one from Star Wars, Star Trek, Buck Rodgers, 40K, whatever they fancy and floats their boat.

The miniature photography is rather uninspiring, nothing here in the way of eye-candy, nothing to get the creative juices flowing or inspire a player to do something cool themselves. Each picture is almost the same, 3-4 miniatures on a bit of generic sci-fi terrain. The same miniatures reappear often. Meh! I’d like to have seen something that got me really wanting to play ‘games like that!’. These photos add very little and just fill some space.

On to the rules then. Well, the game scores well for its activation/turn system. That stood out as the best part of the game, acting, reacting and passing the initiative back and forth. It feels like you can you do a lot with a little, if the dice favour you, and that there is a nice ‘to and fro’, both sides are always very involved in the game. There is never a predictable pattern forming of who will get to do what when. This kept both the players thinking, planning and re-planning throughout as the game progressed. I enjoyed that.

The downside, well sadly, is the rest of the rules. The shooting combat I found very dull, and this should really be the heart of the game, laser-blasts flying. Its a D20 system, and the problem is that a D20 allows a lot (too much) of detail and flexibility. The long list of ‘to-hit’ modifiers had my eyes rolling - 24 in all! More that 3 or 4 modifiers don’t stick in the head, so you have to look it up each time. -1 on a D20 is a tempting prospect for games designer, the lovely detail it includes, but makes such little difference and slows the games down a lot. Rogue Stars has fallen into this pit trap.

Second big negative point for me was all the counters. It’s a skirmish game, so with just 5 men to control each, you can have some bookkeeping, but here the counters stack up to crazy levels. Stress markers, Pinned markers, Wound markers, and then other types of wound marker too, Staggered, Lightly Wounded, etc, it all made for a messy table and felt inelegant. At one point the stack of Pinned counters on one of my mercenaries was as tall as the model itself. All these counters have -1 effects in various places and need tracking, which is slow and fussy.

The final part of the game is the squad creation system. Again, it feels very light weight and a bit ‘tacked on’, but the detailed required for each character, their abilities, arms and armour, makes it a lengthy process to run through pre-game. You really need to pre-generate these before hand and have a right models painted, which is a lot of work for a small ‘pick-up’ skirmish game.

In our game my Mercenaries took a good kicking. The Star Cops captured 4 of them and killed 1, for only 1 badly wounded cop in return. Of course, that now suggests a follow-on game for a rescue mission to recover the four prisoners, but if this was an on-going campaign then my squad would be decimated already, and the 5 miniatures I’d bought and painted up would be useless and require 5 new ones. Here is a problem with the whole genre of ‘narrative skirmish games’ (Inquisitor being a classic for this), there is are no grunts to just get killed, everybody is a detailed character and specific to their model. Their loss is a massive loss and means a miniatures is now useless (unless you replace the loss with the same model, which sort of defeats the object of the narrative - a character dies only to be replaced by almost exactly the same person doesn’t happen much in books or movies).

Rogue Stars has its good points, but it leaves me a bit disappointed. I’m not hankering for another go at it. I enjoyed the game as a learning/testing experience, but it took over 3 hours to play which, even with this being a learning experience and checking rules etc, seems long. This from a man who used to play Phoenix Command (the big-daddy of ultra-detailed firearms combat rules), but times have moved on.

I’d play again, but I can’t see it becoming a regular in my gaming circle. As with all these small Osprey games, they feel flimsy, never really getting into the meat of the hobby. The rules do the minimum and that’s about it. More ‘play it twice and throw it away’, not sure I like that… for me my hobby is about longevity (having been at it 30+ years). In our world where your PC or phone or washing machine is redundant after a year, I like that my model soldiers remain in use for 20+ years and never grow old. Osprey just seem to want us all to move onto to the ‘next thing’ all the time.

Overall, Rogue Stars gets 2 stars out of 5 from me.


 Game in progress, as the firefight in the ship's cargo hold begins. My Mercenary leader is down, shot whilst leading the way. The rest of my men are still making their way through the engine room. Note those counter stacks.

A grenade goes off in the doorway as the Star Cops try to get through, knocking 2 prone, but only injuring the lead guy. Not sure the rules on grenades are well explained - how do you do damage to multiple targets hit by 1 attack?

Counters everywhere! To illustrate, my down leader has Stress counters (brown), pinned counters, a dice for wounds and his gun is empty. All could be written down on paper, but a visual reminder helps, especially in a first game when you don't know what these things mean.


12 comments:

  1. Thank you for the review Warwick, having read through them it sums up what I thought. Seems way to much fuss for little return, I think it could have been a lot slicker and all those counters! I will no doubt give them a try, but it seems my search for some sci-fi skirmish rules that grab me will continue. Although it has spawned some neat figures from Mr. C.

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  2. Yep after a read through thats what I thought.

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  3. Thanks for the review. I had read some other reviews, and neither was very enthusiastic. I'll probably get a copy though, only to snatch up some good ideas for my own scifi skirmish campaign using homegrown rules.

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  4. A good review and some good points. On another note, nice figures!

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    1. Infinity commando-guys (can't recall name) vs Hasslefree sci-fi humans. I scratch build the bases from old model bits. Pity about the rules really.

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  5. Thank you for the review. A few notes:
    1) this was NOT intended as a quick pick up game. I have written plenty of games like that. This is intended as a campaign game for players who love detail and a bit of crunch. The d20 system is to give space for character growth, so you have something to spend your XP on during the campaign.The game has some learning curve. It is the maximum complexity I can tolerate myself (my other titles are much simpler).I see most people playing very fast by their third game.

    2) The counters: you are not supposed to put them on the table. We play with a card for every character, and place three colored d6 or d10s or whatever is needed (though honestly I never see Pin or Stress going more than 6 in a game, the game is generally over by that point). The only counter I ever place on the table is an Entangled (I use a small net placed over the character) and Reload for an empty gun which normally lasts the time of an action. You can download sample cards from my site.
    3) creating characters is long -- well, you have just 4-6 characters, and you can't have it both ways -- either you have a simple system with little granularity on characters, or you have a detailed system where each action can have its own modifiers.

    It is true that these books are written to a format -- Osprey gives you an amount of words, like all publishers do when creating a book series. Rogue Stars is well beyond the word count - we tried to stuff in as much content as possible.

    One thing that could have helped is a good QRS, but having it in the book would mean reprinting most of the tables, so we would have no space for the campaign rules -- a QRS in that format would take about 4 pages. There will be one soon on Osprey's site (the game was just published, I received my own copies just two days ago).

    As always, I am listening to players and there is already a strong community on Facebook (look for Rogue Stars Fan group) where we discuss the rules everyday.

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    1. Comments welcome. Obviously Osprey's approach to rules publishing isn't anything to do with you guys, but I do think it all suffers from a feeling of being 'churned out'.

      I did say the counters could be tracked on paper (or dice then), but again, that always feel slow, especially with a lot to track. I'll probably give the game another go, but as ever, games systems are very subjective, we are all looking for different things from a game. Good luck with it.

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    2. Great commentary all around.
      If it was originally played with reference cards in-house, some way of tracking them would have been pretty excellent. A javascript creator on the site, or pre-generated ones, or a simple tip to do that in hme games would have been nice.

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  6. about the "death of specific characters": characters rarely die in the game (I think I lost 2 in a campaign, and I am the guy who always loses) because you can save them with a medic, or just by moving off board when you are wounded. In a campaign, you are supposed to care for your characters so we assumed that would be the default behaviour. In addition, all characters are assumed to have a clone at home, so you can always justify recycling models with that... and frankly I know very few miniature gamers who don't have a huge selection of models already. In facts, most of the fans of the game have created at least 2 or 3 gangs.

    I am working on a supplement that will both add "grunts" (really, there was no space in the book for units of mooks, I need at least a couple of pages of rules); suggest ways to simplify the game, and add more gadgets and abilities for those who are into that sort of thing. Your review has been helpful, thanks!

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  7. I enjoyed the review, thanks for putting it up. It's a bit hard on the game for my taste but I respect the point of view.

    You say you've been in the 'game' a long time, what do you see as a middle-ground for you between something like this which you think is throwaway (its only 12$ on amazon) and the hard-core games you used to play? What DO games do you like?

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  8. Its also important to note that in my opinion this is a game to use with your existing models. Not a game to go out of your way buying and working on models for.

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  9. A good and honest review. Thank you!

    I'm finding that I'm a picky wargamer. I like Warmachine, but not the culture. I like Infinity, but not how it's so fiddly.

    This game seems like it'd have a nice multiplayer aspect, but that's not enough for me to want to really play it.

    I liked the core design philosophy a lot, but the second I saw individual wounds for arms and legs and head and torso? Ugh. That was the point that I started to get skeptical. Reading the rest of the book didn't recover my opinion. I don't think I'll ever get this to the table because of that complexity.

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