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Friday, 31 July 2015

A break from Invasion Ships...Hawker Carrier Group unboxing

OK, so I'll admit that I'm a little "invasion-shipped out" at the moment, so I thought it was time I went a bit backwards and look at some prior, but relatively recent, releases. The first of these is the Hawker Carrier group.

So after we get the nice glossy card cover off the box and unload the resin, we get to the ships...

You get the Regent, 3 Stalwart Escorts 2 large and 2 small SRS tokens. Of course the main attraction is the Regent.

This is typical carrier size really, obviously a Large capital ship but not coming up to the proportions of the Excelsior. It is an angular block, unmistakably of Hawker design but SG have taken away the solar panel type shield vanes and incorporated them into the main body, so the ship has the link not only with the old Hawker ships, but also the new Tyrant class battleship. This is a nice touch and hints at the evolving designs and technology going on at Hawker.

A side view shows the elevated bridge/viewing deck and prominent Hawker quad-turrets, as well as the side-mounted shield panels. It also highlights the sharp edges and angles on this ship.

Underneath you can see more of those quad Hawker turrets and the recess for the dual flight peg stand piece.

You can see the amount of detail SG have packed into this, which is very impressive on a single-piece ship of this size.

This front 3/4 view displays the ship in one of its best views I think.

Next are the Stalwarts - you get three, and they're pretty big for escorts, but then their stats also reflect that.

They're a lovely design, moulded with pour recesses at the rear which will need cleaning up, as shown here.

Lastly are the SRS tokens, which we've not seen before. These are lovely, and those of you that know the Planetfall Hawker ships will recognise the small tokens.

This is a really nice touch, and helps tie the games together in feel if nothing more.

System Wars Review Part 1 - Dindrenzi Ships

Continuing the System Wars ships analysis, next in the book are the Dindrenzi....let's start with the Legion:

So as we already saw, the model is a real monster - how do the stats stack up against that expectation? Well, pretty well actually - the Legion is just one CR off a standard Battleship in terms of toughness, and 1HP off in durability - so straightaway she is one of the toughest invasion ships, and certainly a very tough ship to carry a carrier tagline. At almost the same base cost as a Battleship, she's also the most expensive invasion ship across the board.

Weapons-wise, she has the same rail cannon as a Cataphract, but as they're on separate rails it's nice to see her Gunrack is much more substantial. She also carries 7 wings base, so potentially an 18AD Bomber strike too - all of this makes her a good mid-short range brawler. A base 7AP also means she's dangerous close-in, and that coupled with 6PD make her difficult to take with an assault. She has a massive Planetfall 6 value, which you can further boost to 8 at the cost of most of her wings.

So already she's got a good solid baseline of stats, and looking at Hardpoints and Upgrades ,you can tailor her to be more wing or assault focussed. The non-Planetfall option adds 3AP, making her 10AP, to which you could add Launch tubes, Second Assault and Assault Blitz - that's nasty. Of course now you're paying 210 points for her without wings, 245 with. You'll probably want Deck Crews too, topping her out at 255 points.

Interestingly - especially with her decent Gunrack, you can add Retarius escorts, which make the broadside output from her pretty formidable....though you're now at a Dreadnought cost of 300 points.

Then we have the Drawback - if you're looking at this thinking how on earth do I counter a monster like this at Patrol fleet, well, you're in luck. The Legion takes TWO Tier 1 slots in a Patrol fleet, meaning you can't field it in Invasion missions (as Planetfall ships don't fill mandatory Tier requirements). Of course you can take the Behemoth version in non-planetfall, but you've now invested 40% of your points in a single squadron - the main ship of which is DR6 with no shields....

Again, it's all about these difficult choices and options. Does the Legion give a Dindrenzi player new options? Definitely yes. Will Legions been seen to the exclusion of other Tier 1 options from now on? I really don't think so. I'm sure they will see action, but they will be amongst Nausica and Praetorians and Gunships and so on. It represents a very Dindrenzi, completely unsubtle approach to invasion, and that is to cram a massive obvious block of armour and guns into the throat of the enemy before he can destroy it. I like it a lot!

Speaking of a lack of subtlety. here comes the Castra. This is a veritable slab of a ship, with DR/CR not far off many Battleships, 6HP and decent movement. It turns like a shopping cart, but it does have a decent (if short-ranged) gunrack. It has 5AP, and the removal of Planetfall adds second assault, plus the upgrades allow these to have Assault Blitz, meaning you can pull of decent boarding assault on relatively undamaged ships.

That's about as complicated as the Castra gets. The other trick up its sleeve is that the squadron can add an accompaniment of Buckler Escorts, boosting linked squadron PD up to 10 and outgoing firepower to quite nasty levels. Still, for 185 points, a 16", 16AD threat isn't so bad...200 points and next activation thats likely to be followed by a 10AP Assault Blitz boarding assault. Not cheap per se, but another point of utility in fleet building and keeping your opponent guessing.

Last in the Dindrenzi line is the Scuta Frigate, which has the stats of a Terran Cruiser, but the standard DT instead of a Terran shield. It also has Three, yes - 3, Hull Points, making it VERY hard to get rid of these ships. It can upgrade its already high AP, but then it doesn't have the high squad size to keep it intact like other invasion smalls.

For its non-planetfall build, it can change from being a simple frigate to a dedicated escort. With that innate hardness and high PD, that could make it an interesting alternative to SRS cover. It's expensive, however, at 25 points a pop, but imagine a legion with three of these covering it on the way in to a planet! As they count as a Zenian League Escort, adding one of these to any capital ship that can take them will almost guarantee a 4 PD baseline defence even after heavy damage, meaning your vulnerability to torpedoes, SRS and boarding is hugely reduced. Taking them down is going to be a massive PITA, and require some dedicated high levels of firepower.

So once again, we see a set of different options for both invasion missions and non-planetfall use. They won't be to everyone's meta, nor will they necessarily be auto-takes where they fit, but they provide choice, which is always a good thing in my opinion.

System Wars Review Part 1 - Aquan Ships

So both preceding (in the form of the PDF) and accompanying (in the form of the printed booklet) the invasion ships is the System Wars Phase 1 Supplement.

So in the spirit of full disclosure, I am - together with the FFG - (and as you will see from the credits on the picture above) the primary writer for this booklet, so my views are bound to be biased. This also gives me the ability to talk about intent and design purpose, so there are advantages and disadvantages to me writing this!

So the first thing to talk about is the difference between the PDF and printed booklet. Essentially the PDF has all of the ship stats and rules on Commanders, plus any errata, whereas the booklet does not. Both have background, pictures and descriptions of commanders and the four additional scenarios. For me this is a good compromise where I have a physical book to flick through and read, but without pages that will rapidly become invalid with errata and FAQs.

So I think the first thing to talk about are the ship stats themselves, which I'll tackle in the order they come up in the PDF, so first we'll deal with the Aquans.

Stat-wise the Nectridea is very similar to the Charybdis, just being slightly faster, slightly better defensively. At first this looks like a short-changed ship, but if you look at MARs, the ship has Reinforced fore (again, boosting its defences) and Energy Transfer (1) included - which costs 5 points on the standard carrier. In addition it has the Planetfall MAR (more on that later) and the Durable MAR, which makes the ship more resistant to the attentions of SRS. Its hardpoints also change the picture somewhat - the extra shield or Difficult Target make it more durable by far...the +3 WC (for free) boosts it to Charybdis levels of carrier capacity, making it a very viable alternative to that ship - similar role, but different focus.

"So what?", I hear people saying, "I never take the Charybdis anyway!". Well, that's up to you, but the Nectridea gives you options you didn't have before. You can configure it as a cheap carrier with Quick Launch - that's not to be sniffed at, giving your bombers a 6" range boost - by itself that could sell the ship. Alternatively, a DT Large with 6 Bombers is likely to deliver that payload right down the enemies throat. I've found in games the Nectridea is great at sweeping smalls or mediums out of its path, either using separate attacks or linked depending on requirement.

In invasion missions, the ship draws a lot of fire, as it's supposed to. DT & Reinforced Fore make it difficult to destroy, and I've not yet faced one that also has a second shield! It also has the option to take the Sulis as an accompaniment. Now this makes it more expensive, but imagine this - two Nectridea with Sulis, travelling together and each using the others Energy Locus to boost their combined RB1 shots into a target 20" away....that's potentially a 16AD attack per activation, plus Port/Starboard shots and any Wing action. It's not a Maelstrom, but it is viable and can also choose to use the Energy Locus with another squadron (say 3 Stingray destroyers), and give yourself a 1-2 punch from them followed by the Nectridea squadron - or multiple fore shots. It all depends on who you're up against. Go against Dindrenzi with hard to kill shielded DT ships with lots of approach angles and I'd often opt for multiple lower AD shots, since I'd be unlikely to get a crit anyway, I'd go for attritional kills.

The thing for me is this gives Aquans another way of fielding ships, it ADDS to their already extensive toolbox, without being an auto-take. I can see uses for a Nectridea in Aquan fleets, and it's a difficult ship to square up against, which alone makes it a viable option in my opinion.

"An Assault Cruiser? It only has 2AP!?!"

Yes, once again I'm always amused by people who take a completely monocular view on ships, especially ones supposedly designed by aliens! There are no formal definitions of what ship classes are in FA, so to trying to impose them, especially on a diverse group of races as in FA, is slightly narrow-minded.

The Limulus is designed to assault enemy planets and installations by delivering ground forces safely to the surface - it's not an FA space assault marine ship. It can't even be upgraded to fit that role - it's simply one Aquans don't do well - period.

So what does it bring? Well the Limulus is tough - DR6/CR7 make it almost as tough as the Nectridea - oh, and it can gain DT too...with a typical Aquan squadron size, you can have four of these 6/7 DT ships heading for your planet, netting their commander 8 Battle Log - that's not something you can ignore. They're going to take a lot to bring them down, and that's a lot of firepower that then is NOT targeting your enemies combat ships.

That is the essence of the invasion ships and the scenarios (which I'll talk about in another blog) - the tough choices you need to make as an opponent to these ships. They bring only frigate-level firepower to the table, but any targets of opportunity they can pick off are just gravy - they just need to deliver their contents to the planet.

Whilst we're on the subject of firepower on these ships, let's just step back a moment....if these had decent (ie equivalent firepower to their normal equivalents), putting them on the planet would degrade your ability to damage the other fleet, and thus be a negative to actually doing it. The Large ships which actually do bring some firepower are also relatively slow, so they're not reaching the planet until turn 4 at the earliest, by which stage in the battle the BL they represent is better on the planet than potentially destroyed....and they're going to have attracted a lot of firepower by that stage.

As far as non-Planetfall builds, you have the option to take Mn2....Wow. Escort-sized mines...yawn, right? Well, they do this for free, and that links to Mn5 for the Squadron. Again, underwhelming. They have the option to take Double Mines, however, which now gives them a lot more options - now the squadron can lay 8 Mn2, 4 Mn 3, 2 Mn5 or 1 Mn9 token. Clouds of Mn2 or Mn3 mines don't sound much, but now think about these guys flying ahead of your fleet, sowing these mines in abundance. When the enemy arrives, these are going to do nothing to his ships, but any SRS around are going to have a rough time, as a 6 kills one wing regardless of its 3 Mn2 tokens are as deadly to Wings as a single Mn6.

So again, is this an auto-take? No - 200 points to achieve this is a lot, but against certain enemies (like Relthoza), this kind of active suppression could be very handy. Dealing with the Squadron is also a pain because they're a nuisance rather than a priority threat, they're tough and yet they can shape the way the game flows. So again, difficult choices.

Finally we have the Antiarchi, and one of my favourite models from the release. Planetfall wise, these are tough, cheap and net you a Battle Log each - plus get one down on the planet and you've denied your opponent destroying the squadron, so no negative to your BL and no positive to him, meaning the worst they can do with one ship down on the planet is parity (+1 BL for enemy by reducing Tier 3 to half, +1 to you for getting one down).

Non-planetfall build, they give you 4 x Mn2, 2 x Mn3 or 1 x Mn5 Drone mines. So once again, you've now an active threat to SRS, or even small ships from these little tadpoles. The most you're going to spend on them is 80 points, so that seems like a fair return to add this sort of flexible harassment factor.

Originally the Smalls were not going to have a non-planetfall option, but adding one into the ships was actually not difficult and gives people the tactical options once again. Will this appeal to everyone? No, but then no option (or ship design) ever does. The point if that they're there for that time you could need them - how about a couple of squadrons of these in Hold the Waypoints, pumping out Drone mines around your (or your opponents) objective?


The invasion ships are designed exactly for that, but also have builds to slot into existing fleets to bring a slightly different angle. They're probably non-optimal in several regards for standard fleets, but then that's to be expected - these are ships designed (both in a background and gaming sense) to fulfil a specific purpose. They tend to be tougher, down-gunned version of their respective classes, but are often designed with some little tricks to add something flavourful for the race in question. The Aquans demonstrate some aspects of this, and we'll pick up this thread in the other races ships as well.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Invasion ships unboxing - Relthoza

And so we come to the last of the Zenian, and indeed the last of all of the Invasion ship boxes. Of course I saved my favourite race - the Relthoza - until last.

Now the Relthoza get just seven ships, almost as few as the Dindrenzi...but what ships!

As we've seen for several Relthoza designs, and most of the invasion boxes (the Aquans being a notable exception), some of the ships consist of multiple parts.

Here we start off with the Ichneumon class frigate, a not insubstantial ship (above next to an Assassin), sort of looking like a cut down Venom with a tail.

Now this "tail" portion really gives these ships a distinctive look and feel to me - it's like a honeycomb, I can imagine it being crammed with spires crawling with drones ready to be dispensed onto the battlefield!

So with that done, we move onto the Cotesia. This is not a ship that's easy to take pictures of in unconstructed form, so this is two-thirds of the ship - the main hull plus one side pod/wing. This latter section is the same as in the Carrier model, which ties it in nicely with the existing aesthetic and is a good reuse of existing part moulds from SG.

The meat of this model, however, is in the single-piece hull (yes, the "flight stand peg" shown here is actually moulded in place!. This carries on and extends the theme of the prior "honeycomb" piece, with this making up the bulk of the hull. In addition there are several hanger bay doors (the ship can be changed to carry wings).

Last we have the Ootheca, a single-piece ship that staggers me in how they mould in one block!

This is a simply fabulous model - I love it! The rows of honeycomb arrays make it look gravid, ready to spawn its Imperial Relthoza warriors onto the face of alien worlds.

Invasion ships unboxing - Directorate

The next set of Zenian ships are the nefarious Directorate, the unscrupulous corporate bad guys everyone loves to hate...

Now although you get eight ships for the Directorate, you get a lot of parts compared to some of the other sets because of their modular nature

Let's start with the small ships first as before;

So this is the Induction class, and although technically a small ship, she's actually quite large! I love the design, a real throwback and homage to the old Enforcer class frigate but updated with the new engines and increased details that we see in all modern SG designs.

All the little PD turrets and multiple cargo doors etc are just perfect for this design.

We then jump up to the Appropriation class Assault Cruiser, which is a beast, dwarfing the Abraxas. It is made up from the same side-pods we saw in the RotO ships (the Turmoil and Annihilation), which is nice - showing corporate standardisation of these Tier 2 ships.

The central pod itself consists of a heavily armoured front, rear engine, turrets and a front cargo / hanger type door. All the details are nicely moulded as you'd expect.

Moving onto the final ship, we have the Integration class Assault carrier;

This is quite a slim vessel, and relatively small for a large class ship, weighing in around 2/3 of the mass of the old battleship.

From above she's a fairly standard Directorate vessel, though the elevated central structure is atypical.

Underneath, however, you really get the detail and function of the ship, with various hanger bay doors, cargo entrances and what looks like large transport crates - maybe even a carousel cargo dispenser at the rear - very nice

Altogether the ships make a nice force, and again I doubt any Directorate player would be disappointed in them.