Friday, November 12, 2010

Full Thrust, the way it was meant to be played

At GenCon last summer, I got bitten big-time by the spaceship wargaming bug. I demoed War Rocket and had a blast, but the pulp sci-fi setting didn't really resonate with me. I wanted more of a deep-space naval experience, kind of like Star Wars/Trek but without the added burden of a well-developed setting.

Enter Full Thrust, the granddaddy of spaceship wargames that's still going strong almost two decades after it was first published. The game is officially in its second edition (free on the Web) but a fan-made, creator-sanctioned PDF offers an updated representation of the game. It's called Full Thrust: Cross Dimensions, and it's also available as a free download.

The best part about Full Thrust is that players are explicitly encouraged to use any miniatures they want to assemble their fleets. There's an established universe for the game, and the publisher sells miniatures to go with this setting, but it's not essential for the playing experience. The creator notes several times in the rules that the game can be grafted onto any number sci-fi settings, including (of course) homebrew universes.

So, in true Full Thrust fashion, I assembled two mishmash fleets using miniatures from 4 different game lines and manufacturers. For smaller escort ships, I'm using the starfighters from Silent Death. For medium-sized destroyers and light cruisers, I'm using a handful of BattleTech/AeroTech miniatures. Heavy cruisers and battleships were drawn from Starfleet Battles and Firestorm Armada, both of which have some beefy, cool-looking ships.

To a casual player who's more familiar with branded miniatures games, my fleets might look like a mess. But to me they're a perfect example of the Full Thrust ideal: generic fleets composed of the various miniatures, painted up and ready to hit the battlefield (er, space-field?).

I'll make a little universe one day to go along with my fleets, but right now they're just the Gray Fleet and the Green Fleet. Original, huh?

We played our first game of Full Thrust the other night. Thankfully my opponent had played the game a time or two before, so between the two of us we were able to get up to speed quickly.

In Full Thrust, players plot each ship's movement on a piece of paper at the start of each turn. Then, all ships are moved at once. This puts players in the interesting position of trying to anticipate their opponents' maneuvers, and react accordingly. It's also possible that your ships will find themselves with nothing to shoot at because of your opponent's maneuvers. It took some getting used to, but by the second game I was really enjoying the movement system.

Combat is fairly simple, with most ships mounting huge banks of beam weapons, or various missile/torpedo systems. I'm told the combat resolution system inspired similar systems in Uncharted Seas and Firestorm Armada.

The deep space felt mat in these photos is from Hotz ArtWorks. It was a custom job, like almost all of his products, and it took about a month and a half to get to me in Chicago. But the wait was worth it...while playing at our local game store, about a dozen gamers wandered over throughout the evening to ask about our game, drawn solely by the gorgeous spectacle of two fleets exchanging volleys on the pretty felt mat.

The asteroids were pieces of lava rock mounted on flying bases, and the planet was a decorative bamboo ball I snagged from a hobby store. It looked great as a storm-wracked gas giant looming in the middle of the battlefield!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Battle report for Wastelands, the post-apocalyptic skirmish game

My regular wargaming group got together last week to try out Wastelands, a skirmish miniatures game set in a post-apocalyptic world. The rules are philosophically similar to Song of Blades & Heroes — meaning they're simple, customizable and packed with RPG-like flavor — so we knew this would be an easy game to pick up and play. Plus, the game is generic enough to support all manner of post-apocalyptic scenarios and factions: Road Warrior-style highway raiders, Terminator machines, 40k-style shock troopers and everything in between. Games generally include anywhere from 3 to 10 figures, plus maybe a vehicle or two.

Karl, one of the players in the group, had a fantastic desert board set up at his place, and we were able to get in two games, each lasting just over an hour or so. Each game was a three-way slugfest; we avoided crafting a specific scenario because we really just wanted to see how the game would play.

The games were a lot of fun, but the suggested point value for each team (300 points) offered some wildly disparate teams. For example, 300 points got 6 Mad Max-style gangers, or 3 tricked-out shock trooper commandos, or 3 nomadic survivors plus a rustbucket police cruiser.

The 3 armored shock troopers proved to be the most potent fighting force on the board that evening, owing mostly to their bitchin' body armor. They didn't have numerical superiority, but they were able to walk all over the nomadic survivors and the Terminator-style robot infantry, as seen in these photos.

We all agreed that, despite the prowess of the shock troopers, it's just not that much fun to have a team consisting of only 3 guys, so we are definitely going to raise the point cap a bit higher next time we play, maybe up to 500 points or so. I mean, the point of playing miniatures wargames is to get fun toys on the table, right?

Also, the lone vehicle didn't really perform as we hoped it would. I didn't buy a gun for it, so all it was able to do was lurch back and forth, attempting to ram various enemies. It looked cool on the table, but it ultimately killed no one and was itself destroyed piecemeal in both games. I think the game will play much better with several vehicles zipping around on the board, rather than one big moving target that everyone shoots at each turn.

Lastly, Wastelands had its share of inconsistencies and muddled rules. We ended up houseruling more than a few key things over the course of two games. This wasn't a big deal, and I understand that Wastelands is a DIY release that probably didn't benefit from an outside editor, but it's worth mentioning. I'm sure we'll codify our Wastelands notes in some sort of house rules addendum that we can all share.