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Sunday, 11 December 2016

Dropfleet Commander & Firestorm Armada side-by-side - Part 1

So this was obviously inevitable, but I thought I'd put the two games side-by-side and draw up a set of compare and contrast items to let people know what they're getting into with both games.

1) The Companies

I think given my recent history this is an obvious starting point, but it may not be obvious when people are considering a game system. To me it has always been since my GW experiences, and my initial experiences with SG were extremely favourable, which was in sharp contrast to the treatment GW was handing out to its customers. With more and more companies and games on the market than ever before, I think this is more important than ever.

1a) Spartan Games

Spartan is a small UK manufacturer, started and run by Neil & Frances Fawcett. It started with Uncharted Seas, and firestorm was its more successful second game, and really catapulted it into a more global marketplace. Back in 2009 when SG started Firestorm, the market was ripe for new companies with new attitudes. Customer support was great, and they had an active community for their games. In 2015 they gained the Halo license from 343 studios, and games like Planetfall, Dysopian Wars and Firestrom Armada have seemed to take a secondary rank behind the Halo franchised games since that time. They don't have a great reputation for following through on promises, often giving grandiose plans that aren't followed through on.

1b) Hawk Wargames

Hawk is another small UK manufacturer, started and owned by David Lewis. It started in 2012 with Dropzone Commander, a 10mm scale game that captured a lot of people's imagination. Dave worked on DZC for over 2 years before bringing it to market, and he did a lot of the work  - design, sculpting and painting - on the original DZC himself. Hawk have a reputation for community building, show attendance and tournament support. The release of their second game, Dropfleet Commander through Kickstarter has attracted some criticism from backers due to fulfilment delays - many waiting long after retail sales to receive their pledges.

2) Backgrounds & Universes

For many people, the "story" of their battles is a lynchpin on which their enjoyment hangs, for others it is nice window dressing and some don't care either way (though I think they are in the minority, or else why play any individual game?).

2a) Firestorm Armada

Firestorm Armada has been criticised over the years for its lack of background material, despite the game having a huge number of races and ships - leading some to draw parallels with GW as Spartan being a model company rather than a games company. Two fleet guides for the major sides in their universes conflict were released in 2014, around 6 months after v2 of the game was available, and they filled in a lot of the blanks players had before, but mainly for the "core six" - the main protagonists in the game. In addition, Spartan's release of their 10mm ground-combat game Planetfall did not tie in well to their existing universe, with several differences in feel and direction in background on introduction and thereafter, especially over certain factions (like the lizard Sorylians and the arachnid Relthoza).

2b) Dropfleet Commander

Dropfleet has an advantage here in that it is a game created in an existing setting that was already very well thought out and had a lot of background pre-developed. Hawk have been good at providing detailed background materials, with a lot of supporting artwork, for their releases, which makes it feel like a more coherent and fleshed-out universe. The flip side to this is that Hawk have developed far fewer factions than Spartan, having four main factions in both games, with an additional one in their ground combat game.

3) Factions & Setting

The universes that games companies create need to be sufficiently expanded to appeal to a broad range of players - what one person thinks is cool another will not. Having sufficient expansion potential for a game from a player's point of view is often a big part of getting into the game - what commitment is required from the player, is there a broad church of options, and how much is it all going to cost to get playing properly.

3a) Firestorm Armada

At present there are 22 factions for Firestorm, falling into three broad categories - The Kurak Alliance, The Zenian League and the Marauders & Mercenaries. The latter comprise elements that can combine with either main division plus a "monster" type faction that stands alone. Six of these are the "core races", including the broadest choices of ships and most developed background, though that is fairly scant even fro these races. The factions for Firestorm are;

The Kurak Alliance

  • Terran Alliance - Core race (Humans, corrupt and overbearing - a bit like the 19th century British Empire)
  • Aquan Sebrutan - Core race (Aquatic multi-species conglomerate with semi-organic ships)
  • Sorylian Collective - Core race (Lizard engineers with a strong sense of tradition and ceremony)
  • Hawker (Humans, Corporate entity which produces ships for the Terran Alliance)
  • Ryushi (The 9-foot tall remnants of a large empire looking for revenge against the Kedorians)
  • Terquai Empire (Human sub-faction that live in Aquan space with hybrid tech)
  • Tarakian (Ancient and mysterious race watching for the coming of the "old enemy")
  • Veydreth (Dragon-like mercenary lizards with a taste for human flesh)
  • Xelocians (Religious bird-like creatures on a holy quest in their world-ship)

The Zenian League

  • Dindrenzi Federation - Core race (Human separatists - hardy frontiersmen, like revolutionary America)
  • The Directorate - Core race (Human corporation, completely self-serving, betrayed the Terrans, stoking the war)
  • Relthoza Empire - Core race (Huge Arachnids with a strong martial honour system and cloaking fields)
  • Ba'kash (Savage raiders of the Sorylians, plaguing their wormhole network)
  • Kedorians (Mysterious slavers & traders with advanced technology)
  • RSN (The elite Navy of the traditional Dindrenzi Leaders home worlds)
  • Works Raptor (The Human weapons development experts of the Directorate)

Marauders and Mercenaries

  • The STL Syndicate (A criminal gang with its claws in the government of the Terran Alliance)
  • The STL Traders (the "legitimate" face of the Syndicate, with a gunned-up merchant feel)
  • OSO Omnidyne (An up-and-coming corporation in the Directorate, willing to do anything for money)
  • OSO Corsairs (Pirates! How Omnidyne gets things done whilst keeping plausible deniability)
  • Oroshan (Four-armed monkey mercenaries)
  • Pathogen (The Flood in FSA)

3b) Dropfleet Commander

DFC only has four factions, but each is fully fleshed out and meshes well with its DZC counterpart. They have consistent looks between ground and space, and each has a distinct identity.
  • United Colonies of Mankind (The traditional humans - think Colonial marines from Aliens)
  • Post-Human Republic (Progressive human splinter elevated by technology from a mysterious sphere)
  • The Shaltari (an advanced race that may have put humanity in harms way to save themselves)
  • The Scourge (a parasitic species that absorb other races and use them to expand themselves)

4) Miniatures

4a) Firestorm Armada

Materials & Construction

Spartan Games has a good pedigree in making resin miniatures, which the majority of its Firestorm Armada range are cast in. Some of the smaller ships are cast in white metal, as well as some of the smaller components to their ships (Hawker's Shield Generators and Works Raptor's shield panels being obvious examples). Spartan's metal casting doesn't have the finesse of its resin, and can be difficult to work with. Historically it's ships are mainly single pieces, though very early and recent casting have been increasingly multi-component. Unfortunately instructions are not provided for these, meaning you have to work out what goes where. Ships are usually very well cast, though some seaming and minimal flashing can be found, together with some casting gates. On the whole though, these tend to be small and easily cleaned up, and the pieces are well designed with production in mind. Thinner pieces can suffer from some warping, but again this is usually easily remedied, and if not then SGs customer service will replace items FOC without issue, though timing and communication on this depend on the volume of other business that's going on.

Scale, Size and Mass

Scale 1:10,000

Size & Mass: This varies quite a lot between the races, but I'll try to take broadly representative examples. I can only directly report mass comparisons between the battleships since they're the only models cast in the same type of materials.

Battleships:   A Terran Apollo battleship is 147mm long, 63mm wide, 45mm high and has a mass of 82g  
Cruisers: A Directorate Cruiser is 84mm long, 35mm wide and 13mm high
Frigates: An Aquan frigate is 50mm long, 25mm wide and 11mm high

4a) Dropfleet Commander

Materials & Construction

Hawk's main range of ships from its Kickstarter are all injection moulded plastic. Casting is crips and highly detailed, sprues are hugely thick but contact points are thankfully much smaller. The plastic is hard but not brittle, and easy to work with. Battleships for all factions are resin, and their casting quality & detail is at least equal, if not superior to, Spartan's. All components are resin, even very small parts, with no white metal present anywhere.

Scale, Size and Mass

Scale 1:9,150 (0.2mm scale)

Size & Mass: Once again this varies between the races, and I've used the PHR battleship as the comparator here.

Battleships: The PHR battleship is 175mm long, 70mm wide, 45mm high and has a mass of 35g
Cruisers: A scourge cruiser is 117 long, 36mm wide and 38mm high
Frigates: A UCM frigate is 62mm long, 18mm wide and 14mm high

Side by Side

Measurements are one thing, but side by side pictures is what i know everyone will want to see. Here are the Frigates;

And the cruisers

And lastly the battleships;

I think this shows the main aesthetic differences between the two games - Spartan's models are "chunkier" (for want of a better word), probably because they've come from a tradition of casting one-piece models, or multi-component kits were some of the multi-part elements are drop-cast, so have a flat, non-facing side for attachment to the model. Hawks minis have a much more delicate feel - although the injection moulded plastic makes them actually very durable. I'd worry a but about transporting my battleships with Hawk, because they retain the delicate nature but using resin.

I think a more useful or at least direct comparison of the two companies is probably served by SGs recent Reinforcement boxes, where SG have upped their casting detail and gone more modular. The pricing is also more reflective of that. Here are some comparisons between those boxes and the Dropfleet models

Aquan and UCM Cruiser


Close up of the detail on both models


Scoure and Directorate frigates 


Close up of the detail on both Frigates

For me, the models are nicely compatible, which is great because I plan to use the Scourge as a Pathogen fleet in FA, and maybe the UCM for Corsairs/STL Traders. The Shaltari will nicely substitute for the absent Illosians, which I have stats for and will also publish at some point.

4) Cost

Obviously these will all be in RRP

2 Player Boxed set: DFC: £65, 14 minis          FA: £90, 20 minis
Force Core boxes: DFC:£40, 7 minis      FA: £43.50, 7-10 minis (including Battleship); £30, 9 minis
Battleships: DFC: £30     FA: £18

Now this means that RRP you're going to pay £70 for a DFC fleet that's directly equivalent in terms of ships to an FA Patrol fleet at £43.50. However both sets hit the streets a lot less than than, and realistically you're looking at more like £58 for DFC and £35 for FA. So that makes the Hawk ships more expensive than Spartan's, but not by that much - from 25-40% more The DFC starter set also looks like extremely good value when you consider it contains a full rulebook and other extras, though the current SG set includes a smaller version (though still containing the full ruleset).

Of course cost is only really comparable in terms of what you need to play the game, and both games are pretty low-entry cost in terms of the wargames market. Hawk's sets also include a lot of extra build options, and a much greater diversity of kitbashing options by virtue of the leftover "spares" and the fact they're injection moulded plastic. Spartan's sets don't generally contain spares - you tend to use everything, only the new reinforcement sets that came this year having anything in the way of alternate builds.

So that's the background and physical minis for both systems. Next time will be gameplay...keep in touch :-)