Galahad's Thoughts on Robotech RPG Tactics, Part One: The Models
Part Two: Rules & Layout
Part Three: Playtest

    As some of the more dialed in kickstarter followers may or may not remember, about eighteen months ago, Palladium Books (makers of Rifts, a number of other orignal RPGs and a number of licensed RPGs including TMNT and Robotech) hit Kickstarter with a wildly successful campaign to launch their first wargame:  Robotech RPG Tactics. As you can see from the link, it raised nearly 1.5 million dollars and attracted a lot of attention and excitement.

    While Palladium has a long history in the field of RPGs (they were the dominant company in the early 90s and were still riding high until d20 turned the RPG industry upside down), they've not got much track record for miniatures and nothing for wargames. To help offset that they brought in Ninja Division best known for the Relic Knights game.  They have a track record of producing beautiful miniatures and fun games, so with them doing the heavy lifting and Palladium providing a nostalgia-tastic license, what could go wrong?

    If you know anything about Kickstarter in general and Palladium in specific then you know exactly what can go wrong.

    The original ship date was December 2013. It is now late November 2014, almost exactly a year late and only now have people really started getting their stuff...well, half of it. They decided to break it into two waves a while back. Wave one was supposed to ship back in June or July, and wave 2 in October. Well, by that standard, they're still half a year late, and the rest of it probably won't ship out for another six months...making it almost two years since their project started before it's officially done.
    But honestly, that doesn't upset me much because I expected it. Palladium hasn't delivered a project on time since sometime in the late 1980s, and I always add a few months to a Kickstarter project's ship date before I start getting surprised.
    Developing a new product, making tons of new miniatures that you didn't initially imagine having to make, and handling the shipping for thousands of supporters all takes time. I'm fine with that. That said, I fully understand and sympathize with those supporters with a less jaded or zen-like outlook on things like this. Lots of people are upset and rightly so. I'm just not one of them.

    Well, not upset about the release schedule at least...

    What I am upset about is what I encountered when I started putting together my nearly 140 miniatures (I sprung for the Showdown level, two starters and double the rewards. I also grabbed a lot of the add-ons that weren't included as giveaways so I could have all the minis, but all that stuff is slated for wave 2, along with about 50 more giveaway minis).

    What I expected: Beautifully detailed minis on sprues with numbers to indicate bits that go together, full instructions showing all the different part combinations with numbers matching the sprue, and a saane and sensible sprue layout/parts count.
    I realize now I've been spoiled by many years of assembling Citadel plastics...
    What I got: Beautifully detailed minis on unlabeled sprues with nothing to indicate what bits are supposed to be paired up amongst possible combinations, half-assed instructions with one camera angle showing not all the parts or combos or any indication that some of the subtly different parts are, in fact, different, and frankly insane sprues with way the hell too many parts squeezed into way too little space.

    Having assembled about a quarter of my haul (but enough to have built every model type in the shipment) I've managed to figure out what goes where for the most part, but even as a veteran modeler and kitbasher, my patience and ingenuity were pretty heavily taxed. If I were a novice or casual modeler who picked this as my first foray into wargaming, I'd probably have gotten halfway through mangling a few destroids before shoving the whole mess back in the box and never touching it again.

    I'll break it down point for point.

    First off, the minis are beautiful and insanely detailed, and that's part of what gets them in trouble. All the detail means a lot of undercuts, which means a lot of pieces. All of the UEDF mecha have undercuts or recessed details on both sides of their legs, meaning they need to be moulded in two halves per leg, which means more parts but also means wicked big seams running up the fronts and backs of most major pieces, likewise for the forearms of all the valkyries, the limbs on the glaugs, etc. They could have sacrificed some details for simpler moulds with less parts, but they didn't. I can respect that, and honestly many of the seams aren't bad if you're equipped to do some filing and sanding and maybe a little light fill work.  It would be forgivable if not for everything else...
Good luck, suckers!
    The sprues are completely unlabeled. For the most part, many things are self explanatory. Two halves of a leg fit together pretty obviously, ditto for the body, etc. Were things get messy is in the variant pieces. There's usually two models on each sprue, and the ones where there's only one it usually has multiple arm sets. The two sets of mecha bits are not identical...this is great because it means you have variety in poses! It's less great because many of the pieces look identical at first glance. This really stands out (so to speak) in the feet. The destroids (except the Spartans) all had two sets of legs and feet that looked exactly the same...until you tried putting them together. Each foot only works with one leg, but there's nothing to indicate what leg. They are all grouped together in a neat little row of feet and a neat little row with leg parts scattered about the sprue. A simple A B C D on the sprue next to each foot and leg combo would have made this a no brainer, or even a picture of the sprue in the instructions with the pairs circled and called out...but neither of these things happened.
    Instead you get parts randomly strewn about the sprue with instructions that are a fixed-forward exploded view showing roughly where the bits go but no reference to multiple choices for the subtly different bits. Sometimes parts are clustered together to imply that they go together (like two-handed gun arms), but other times they're not, or they;re clustered with other similar parts that don't go together. for example, valkyrie battloidss have two different options for both one handed and two handed carry of their gunpods. In both cases, the two-handed upper arms are grouped in pairs, but they're right next to the pair for the single-hand carry...and not marked. On the other side of the sprue is another pair of two-hand carry arms next to a set of one-hand carry arms. nearly identical forearm assemblies are all clumped together too, with the subtly different left-arm units (which have a hole in them to line up to one of the hands attached to the two-handed gunpods) almost indistinguishable. Zentradi battlepods come three to a sprue and have the same problem as the Destroids in that certain feet only go with certain legs and there's nothing in the layout of the parts to suggest which re which. A dozen pods down and I still just have to dry fit each one before I glue it so I can be sure.
    All of these problems could have been fixed with absolutely minimal effort and forethought. Letters on the sprues to mark mated parts, with fully detailed instructions that call this out would be ideal, but even a picture of the sprue with mated parts highlighted and circled would work. It's probably too late to have the sprues reworked with letters but it's not too late for them to chuck out those terrible instructions and at the very least include a sprue map. Photos of some of the sprues with mated parts called out have been posted here and there online, but most people don't know they exist or where to find them. A friend of mine sent me some but to this day I haven't been able to find where he got them from

Those two antennae WILL break.
Especially the one on the right, which broke from
sheer quantum forces imparted by the mere act of photographing it.

    On top of that, I've also got issues with the general layout of the sprues and where they chose to put the points where the sprue touches the model piece. Too many parts crammed into too little realestate makes for gaps that are almost impossible to get a set of nippers into, and if you do manage to wedge a clipper or a knife blade in there, there's a strong chance you'll break the part trying to cut it out. Particular standouts include the head guns on some of the valkyrie models (almost broke a couple sets but barely managed to avoid it, but there's bad stress marks on them), the antenna on Zentradi command pod (The base of the antenna immediately snapped off and went flying when I cut it off), and the goddamned little frelling paddle-shaped antenna that goes into the side of the Zentradi recon pod. (Arrrgh!) I was warned about that bit by my cousin who broke every single one of his trying to get them off the sprue in different ways, so I came at it carefully, cut away the section of sprue it was attached to so I could get the nippers in at a good angle and then very...carefully...broke the little bastard in half! Fortunately it didn;t go flying, so I was able to glue it back together, but the piece is so ridiculously small and thin and fragile that I'm just waiting to see it in the bottom of my army box any time now.
    There were also lots of instances of the sprue point being placed on the absolute worst part. Ideally you want the sprue to connect to a flat area so you can shave the nub down and have no visible sign of where it came from...but instead they do things like putting sprue points on the fronts of fists, where the fingers are all lined up so you end up with mittens that suddenly have a set of joints at the end, or a sprue point on the CENTRAL DAMNED EYE of the recovery pod, so that if you're not very careful you end up with a crater in the perfectly round domed eyepiece, or on the face of a valkyrie.
    Other pieces I almost threw out because I didn't even realize they were there or needed. Namely the little triangle of cockpit that goes on the chest of the battloid valkyrie models...why the hell was that not molded in? It's a tiny tiny little triangle that you probably won't see on the sprue until you realize that the chest of your batts look weird and go looking for it...and when you find it, good luck getting your nippers in. I have to cut from the triangular end first then carefully go after the top once it has room to wiggle.  The 'chin' guns on the zentradi battlepods are easy to miss as well, and for that matter, their main guns are easy to lose on the sprue...but at least you know they're supposed to be there.
    So far with about 30 models assembled I've only managed to lose one really vital part, which makes me a little proud. I salvaged half the officer pod's antenna so it's nubby but it plugs the hole, and I glued the aforementioned paddle bit back together for now, but one of the teeny tiny little battlepod chin guns is lost and gone forever, so I made up for it by turning the empty socket into a blast crater and drilling some bullet holes leading up to it. When in doubt, make it look on purpose.
    I have lost a few less vital pieces...arm bits that have alternates that maybe I didn't use on another model so there's spares, or missiles off of the valkyrie wing missile racks...I lost one of the three-missile bits and the end off of one of the mini-missile pods, so I had a choice: Either use the single missile options, or say to hell with it and mix and match munitions...since jets and guardians are boring as hell on their own, I decided to mix and match missile pods. Officially all models are supposed to have the same upgrades, and the missile racks are either/or options, you can't have both in one squad much less both on one model...but WYSIWYG isn't in the rulebook so I just went with what looks cool. Each squad will have a different combination of missile pods to differentiate them...because I probably won't get around to painting them for a while, if ever.
See that row of identical circular feet on the left?
They're ALL different and pair up only with a couple of the
six nearly identical legs...also, can you tell from the instructions
which way those feet are even supposed to go on?

    That brings me to another point: Dynamism/alternate poses or the lack thereof.
    To be fair, they did make the effort, and with only a couple of models per sprue that means there's bound to be only a couple of poses per model...but with the sheer number of parts, I was expecting there to be some customization, but no. Two models per sprue means two poses, one for each model. That's it. And when you've got four or more models per squad (a dozen or more for zentradi) that gets old fast.
     The destroids don't have a lot of articulation, so it's forgivable with them, but they're actually not that bad. You can mess about with the position of the arms, the tilt of the hips, the twist of the torso, so there's actually a fair amount you can do to make each one different...and with the aforementioned foot/leg problem, you know they're at least going to stand slightly differently. Spartans and Tomahwks even have options for open chest missile racks, so you can have one showing off its missiles and one with them locked down, or even two locked down. There was a surprising amount of variation, but it still could get bland quick. The zentradi battlepods were three per sprue, with three sets of legs that, thanks to the way they're built and the option to have them on jump stands means a lot of mix and match opportunities. I assembled a dozen and I think they were all a little different. Their guns being on ball joints helps too, so you can aim them differently...but considering how many you'll need, you'll run out of poses quick enough.
    No, the real problem was with the stars of the show, the valkyries.

    Jets are jets, I get that, but these are Tomcat-style fighters with variable geometry swing-wings, so I was expecting that I'd have different choices for the angle of the wings to help differentiate them and break things up, but nope. jet mode is one per sprue with one set of wings that only go in one way. Kitbashing will be required to change that up. They also only include one height/angle of flight stem, so you can't even have them at subtly different angles, or banking/pulling up, etc. Again, it can be fixed with some cunning use of wire, but it was a bummer.
    Guardian/GERWALK mode was almost as bad, which sucks because it;s my favorite mode. A hybrid of jet and robot, the potential awesomeness is obvious, but alas, it's frozen in place. Also one per sprue, so one pose per model. I was hoping maybe for some alternate legs so you could do the classic kicked-forward thruster-braking pose that epitomizes that mode, or maybe some leaned back legs to show it thrusting ahead and gaining speed...but nope. Straight down legs only. Likewise, single pose wings, in the same angle as the jets even. There are two sets of arms, at least, so you can have it holding its gunpod in one hand or two, but that's it. A little borrowing from the battloid sprue will give you some more variety, but the unique confines of the guardian mode shape limit your options a bit. Because the legs are straight-down only you do at least have the option of mounting them on the base, or using the laughably short flight stem to hover it about five millimeters off the base. I use it only so I can pair it up to its corresponding battloid model.
    Which brings us to the Battloids, or robot-mode. Two per sprue, so you've got a couple of options...literally, two options, and you have to use them both, so really no options. I saw the bent leg and thought "Oh, sweet! I could use this for kneeling, or I could use it for flight poses!" then I immediately realized upon trying to work out a kneeling pose that the bent leg was only for flying. There was only one, so  you can't have both legs bent in a classic kneeling to propose stance, or even get silly and have it sit in a chair or stand on its knees, nope, just one bent leg, in a perfect 90 degree bend, so it doesn't even look natural as a walking leg. The other three legs are perfectly straight.
    This means for every sprue you MUST make one flying model with a cocked leg and one standing model with two straight legs standing at attention. You COULD make the straight-legged model fly, but there's only one flight stem included on the sprue and, short of building up the base so it has something to put its foot on, no natural way to make the bent leg look decent on the ground, you're pretty much locked in.
    Sure, they give you two sets of arms for each model, but the two two-handed grups are both so similar that I can't really tell them apart (I only know they're different because God help you if you mix up the nearly identical arm bits), and of the one-handed grips, one of them doesn't really work. The gunpod has no handle or hands attached to it...I'm guessing maybe it's meant to be mounted on the arm like how they stow in flight mode, but none of the forearms have a slot that lines up tot he tab. The upshot is, the off hand comes in fist or you can have your squad leader hefting his gun in one hand and pointing, but everyone else is stuck with either one handed and fist, or two handed. You can mess with the heads and to some degree the hips, but all in all, I got more customization out of the battlepods. I'd have much rather gotten an extra set of legs than four sets of arms. Three arm sets and three leg sets would have been grand, but nope.

    I get why this is the way it is. There's already way to many pieces, so throwing in a lot of optional poses just adds to clutter and expense, but if they'd have gone with a little less detail so they could use less pieces to begin with they'd have had room for more options. A squad of space marines has a lot of pose options because with five or more models per sprue you can make each one a little different then mix and match...with these the most models per sprue is three, so there's only so much you can do without including a lot of extra bits.

    Still, all and all, it was a bit disappointing and when paired with the insanely frustrating sprue layout/lack of instructions, the sense of reward was not lining up to the level of effort.

    But really, it could all be forgiven if they'd just do SOMETHING about those instructions. The sprue layout is too late to fix, but if they don;t make the assembly instructions clearer they're going to chase away the new players that this game needs to survive. There's a reason why GW makes simple snap-together models for its starter kits (and yet they're still insanely detailed). People need to be able to come off the street and dive in with little effort. Save the complicated models for when they start buying new units for their armies and have their feet wet.
    Despite all the bitching and ranting and petty nitpicking, I cannot overstate how spectacularly bad these instructions are, and how serious I am that they can be the biggest factor for this game dying as soon as the Kickstarter backers have their stuff (or maybe before that...if the game doesn't sell will they be able to keep their Wave 2 commitments?).

    The game itself actually looks pretty fun, and I'll get into the rules and the format/layout of the actual GAME in my next post (with a playtest report to follow), but the rules at first glance seem light and fun and easy to get into...but the models are going to become a hurdle rather than a selling point if they don't do something to fix it.

    Stay tuned for more in a bit. I still have a ton of models to assemble and if there's any demand for it I may include some pictures, maybe even how-to guides, but it'll be a bit before I have time to actually play it.

To end on a positive note, here's my kitten Blitzkrieg, asleep in the box.
Next: Part Two: Rules & Layout
Part Three: Playtest

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