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





    So, I finally put together enough models to try running a game. I dragooned my younger brother onto assisting me, on the condition that he got to play the UEDF...or as he called it, "The guys with the Warhammers and the Stinger LAMs" because we'd both played Battletech since we were about six and eight. He took great joy in blowing up the "Messed up looking Ostscouts" defending my lone "Marauder"
    Overall, the session was fun, once we got our feet on the ground and our heads around the rules. Despite some issues we had navigating the cards and book, most of the rules  were pretty easy to master and the game went fairly smoothly, with some notable exceptions...

    We picked the last of the pre-made introductory scenarios for our initial run through. The first two were very much 'tutorial mode' where abnormally small single units take each other on to get a handle on the rules, and the third had some objectives that I didn't feel like messing with. The 4th scenario was just a big brawl, so it seemed like the place to start.
    The forces were very mismatched, owning mostly to the limitations imposed by the models included in the starter box and their desire to keep it simple by not including upgrades in the intro sessions. It helps a bit that for the intro sessions you're supposed to ignore the rule that says Regults (the bulk of Zentradi forces) don't generate command points. Without that little addendum you're looking at about 90 points of Zentradi vs 130 points of UEDF...I'm not convinced that the extra command points make up for the big points disparity.
    The UEDF side had 4 Valkyries (two basic VF-1As, and two officers in a VF-1J and a VF-1S) and a pair of Tomahawk Destroids in a second squad. The Valks are pretty powerful, 14MDC each, able to change modes every turn, and equipped with an array of weapons, any one of which are more than capable of smearing a Regult battlepod. The Tomahawks are walking tanks, 19MDC, slow but bristling with enough heavy weapons to level a city.
    The Zentradi side consists of 12 Regult Battlepods and a single Glaug command pod, broken into two squads: one of six pods, and one of six pods and the Glaug. The basic Regult pods have only 5MDC each and if they hit with both main weapons can do about 6MD in damage. not much on their own, but in groups they can whittle people down. They're also not easy to hit. Their Defense stat is 6, meaning you have to roll a 6+ to hit them on 1d6, adding your Gunnery score and any conditional bonuses. But in general, a single hit from a missile or main weapon is enough to wipe them out. The Glaug is a lot more formidable, but still fragile at 9MDC...it's bristling with guns though, and capable of damage output similar to valkyrie or maybe a tomahawk, at least until his missiles run out. The main problem with this setup though, is that it could really use another Glaug to even things out and make it so both squads can use the Zentradi's faction ability to let them get back lost Regults. As it stands, only one squad can benefit from that rule, leading to a bad mismatch, even with bonus command points.

    Somewhat distressingly, this disparity carries over into your choices available for regular games too. They just give you less Zentradi than you should have, which will make followup games challenging without buying more forces.
    For reference, standard suggested game size is 300 points. The forces supplied in the box will easily make  two Squads totaling 170 points of UEDF without upgrades, (80 for a Valkyrie squad, 60 for a mixed squad of Tomahwks and Defenders, 30 for a VF-1S commander) and if you go a bit nuts, upgrades can make that shoot up to like 265. The Zentradi forces, however, make up one 115 point Squad (70 for a Recon squad containing 6 Regults, 1 Glaug and 1 Recon pod, 35 for an extra 6 Regults, and 10 for a Recovery pod), and there's only one upgrade option: Bumping your Regults to Veterans for about 20-25 points (depending on how you buy your pods). If you drop the VF-1S and don't upgrade the UEDF forces, while using every single model and upgrade on the Zentradi side you can just about make a pair of 140 point lists, but just because the points match doesn't mean they're equally good. I'm sure if Wave 2 ever materializes and all the *good* zentradi mecha show up things will be more interesting, but for now I expect to see lots of "UEDF Training Missions" where the human side fight each other because there's no point in playing Zentradi.

  But for our purposes, we were going to assume that 90 points of Zentradi with the ability to generate 17 Command Points (where normally they would generate 5) is an equal match to 130 points of UEDF generating 11 Command Points. And, surprisingly, it wasn't as bad of a mismatch as I first feared...but it was still a lopsided battle.

   I didn't have time to rustle up any decent 1/285 scale terrain (though there are a number of papercraft files out there, and the posterboard buildings from Dropzone Commander work well, from what I hear. I just grabbed whatever home-made Warhammer terrain that wouldn't look too out of scale and supplemented with some clear party cups...behold the majestic glass silos of Macross City!

Truly an epic landscape of detail and majesty!


    First and foremost, even though I was on the losing side, it was still a fun and exciting match. The game plays kind of like a combination of Warhammer and Battletech. The lack of hex grid and use of true line of sight makes things  more interesting than Battletech's locked in hex grid and, abstract LOS system, but the ability for squads to split up and target individual models, and switching off unit activations between players makes for a much more dynamic (if a bit complex) style of play than Warhammer's "Roll to see who wins" initiative system and frustratingly abstract squad-based wound allocation and combat system

    The first turn was pretty much uneventful as we inched our way towards one another. I had actually forgotten that I had extra command points and so didn't spend many to boost my pods speed. My brother deployed his Valks in guardian mode (sort of a jet with arms and legs) so they weren't as fast as they could have been, and the destroids were lumbering along at their own pace. He did boost his units with command points, but wasn't able to close the gap, mostly due to bad rolls.
   Turn two got a little more exciting as the forces finally began to close in and open fire. Unfortunately, between the range and the terrain, I couldn't bring more than one or two pods to bear on a single target, and without the other guy spending command points on defense, it takes concentrated fire from at least three Regults to take out a Valk. Four or five if he's spending command points to shake off damage or you're missing a lot. I was able to scuff the paint on his 1J and inflict some minor damage on one of his 1As. The valks returned fire and managed to take out three of my pods, half the squad.
    It was at this time that I realized I had forgotten about the extra command points that could have been used to try and dodge or roll with some of these shots. As a compromise we decided to give them a one-time Reinforcement, since it was the squad without a Glaug. Next turn I put my three doned pods back on the board at the edge of my deployment zone so they could try and regroup later. Meanwhile my Glaug squad and his Destroids inched ever closer, but intervening terrain kept them form exchanging shots.

    Turn Three was the real make or break point for the battle. I had won the intiative and was left with some tough decisions. My Glaug squad was within striking distance of the Tomahawks, but if I boosted my speed, I was pretty sure I could close in on his Valks and maybe between both squads could finish or at least cripple them.  the Tomahawks were scary but the Valks were the real threat, so I went for it.
   About halfway through moving my squad I realized I wasn't as close as I thought, and only about half the squad would have clean shots, but I could still make it hurt, the Glaug was in perfect shooting position to nail his 1J and one of his 1As, and if I got sneaky with the missile rules, I could hit his 1S as well. The results of this exchange would literally determine the game. The three Regults I had in range opened up on his 1As and inflicted some minor damage. One pod missed entirely, one hit with just its 4MD main gun on the one who took damage last turn, and the other managed to land two hits on one valk, inflicting a total of 6MD on a fresh valk.
    Then the Glaug stepped up. I had hoarded my command points so I could let fly with just about everything. I lined up the main particle cannon and the secondary particle cannons on the previously undamaged 1A, a railgun blast on the damaged 1A, and the other railgun on the 1J, then fired all 6 missiles, aiming the volley at the 1J, then cleverly directed all but one of the missiles to the 1S who was close by but out of LOS
    If I managed to hit, which was statistically very likely, I would have destroyed the As, crippled the J, and maybe even took out the 1S. The Valks only had a Defense of 5 in that mode, the Glaug had a 3 Gunnery and was benefitting from being in Close Formation with its Regults, netting it a +1 to strike. Its main gun was also Accurate for an extra +1. I was in the middle of explaining that the only way to miss is a 1 since 1 always fails...when I rolled a frelling 1. That's fine. Everything else only needed a 2 or better...so I rolled a couple of twos...I managed to wing a valk with a railgun, but that was it. I rolled for the missiles...the one targeted on the J hit, but was easily dodged. The five missiles that I shot around the corner at the 1S had a tougher time hiting, breaking off a volley like that when the target is out of LOS is -3 to hit...shockingly, 3 missiles actually hit! If a fourth had hit the rules say it would be impossible to dodge and he woudl have had to just Roll with it and taken half damage, all but killing him...instead, 3 hit...and he dodged them.
Taken right before my Glaug was blown all to hell.


  That was basically the end of the game. Rather than scrambling to regroup his crippled valk squad and get them out of range like I had hoped, he instead closed in with his Destroids, using one to blow up the intervening terrain (shown by the chalk circles denoting the rubble area after we took the cups off the board) while the other targeted my Glaug, missing it mostly but landing just enough damage to cripple it. I moved my other squad of regults in to try and shield the Glaug from the valks, but it was too little too late. Half the squad was still way out of range, coming in from the table edge as reinforcements. The Valks easily swept them aside with a well-placed missile volley from one of the 1As. Another volley was poised to wipe out the remainder of the Regults, but thankfully managed to miss. Unfortunately the path to the Glaug was clear and both his officers unloaded everything they had on him, eventually landing enough damage to finish him off.
    From there it was just cleanup. His 1As were badly damaged and I managed to take them out with me, but the undamaged 1S and lightly scuffed J, along with the pair of pristine Tommies converged on the handfull of remaining Regults and wiped them out entirely. Without the Glaug I couldn't even reinforce them with the kills from last turn.

    Still, despite the mismatched forces and the seemingly inevitable defeat, it could have gone differently. If I'd have been able to hit with everything, or been able to get more regults into the fight I could have crippled or wiped the valks. If I had gone for the tomahawks my glaug squad was close enough that I could have easily gotten them all on target and probably taken them out.

    And more importantly, it was still fun!

    That said, it was far from flawless. It took about three hours to do about four turns. Granted, a lot of that was looking up rules and the like. My brother hadn't read up on the rules at all so I as explaining as we went along. There were also a lot of rules to go over, and little things like the penalty to hit a model with Hover would get forgotten only to be remembered again later. Once you're used to it, it may not be too much to keep track of, but the game could certainly do with a Battletech-style Summary sheet with things like a chart of a all the to-hit bonuses and penalties, melee attacks, maybe even a master list of weapon ranges and damages for easy reference.
    Speaking of references...the cards were a constant hassle. The phrase, "Oh, of course, why would THAT be on THIS card?" came up a lot. We had to refer to two or three different cards just to find out what we needed to know about one model. the dry erase gimmick for tracking ammo and damage was also a little cumbersome because they never bothered including a bloody pen, nor does the box say "DRY ERASE PEN REQUIRED AND NOT INCLUDED" We had to scrounge around the house til we came up with one. Where did we find it? Inside the box for Frag, a board game that required a dry erase pen and actually GAVE US ONE.
    The models, now that they were in one piece, were beautiful, but we had to have a quick session with a silver sharpie to number their bases, and in the case of valkyries, mark what model they were...without distinctive paintjobs, telling the models apart in Jet or Guardian modes was nearly impossible until we wrote on the bases

    Despite a few glitches and gripes, it really was a good way to spend an afternoon, and we're both looking forward to repeating the experiment now that we know more of what we're doing. As much as I gripe about all the things to keep track of and the weirdness of the cards, I can honestly say it went better than my first time playing Warhammer 40k. I think the game has a lot of potential and I hope it does well, but they do need to iron out a lot of things to get to that point.

  Sorry, Blitz, I don't think we need your adorable services to close this one out.
 
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