May 18th, 2010
In Focus Review - Faction Wars
Created by Daryl Morton, and published by Fire and Forget Games, Faction Wars is a new 28mm scale sci-fi skirmish game. The rulebook is 190 pages, and is a hardcover. Actually it's a very nice hardcover, full color from front to back, complete with a wide variety of photos and art.
Here's a quick breakdown of the rulebook itself...
The first 19 pages detail some background, and the time line fluff. The rules themselves, character creation, plus some scenarios take up literally only 20 pages from page-20 through page-60. The next section covers all nine of the factions, with sample squads and special characters in detail, which runs from page 60-130, which is 70 pages in all. From page 131-190 you'll find information on purchasing Specialists, the entire wargear section called Weapons and Equipment, and lastly Enhancements and Skills, which includes the Psionic abilities, and even Beasts.
Throughout the book there are photo examples utilizing Em4, WestWind, Reaper, Alternative Armies, Heresy and Pig Iron miniatures. All of which evidently gave permission to use them, and they're credited appropriately. It's nice to see the community coming together to help each other out this way. You don't see this very often these days at all.
The game takes place in the 23rd century, in the Inviroate Commonwealth of the Federated Worlds. There are 9 factions to choose from the Advancers, Commonwealth Guard, Corporations, Criminal Gangs, Grand Families, Ideologian Clerics, Mercenaries, Privateers and Security Forces. Instead of trying to define the differences myself, here's a little copy and paste I did from their website defining the factions in their own words...
It's mostly a humanoid universe, dealing with the struggle for mankind. I don't see this as being a bad thing. I think it's nice to see something different for once. Each of the factions also come complete with a small number of their own special abilities/bonuses, which are exclusive to each faction.
There's even some limited beast mastery abilities, along side beasts that you can control on the Advancer Faction side, including attack dogs, big cats, gorillas, chimps, flying creatures, snakes, and large and small hybrids. This made me think of how cool some of the Pulp City, or Hordes miniatures would be to use for the beat handler stuff in Faction Wars.
At a glance, there are a lot of similarities to Warhammer 40k, and other popular sci-fi/fantasy skirmish games, but this isn't by any means a clone of any of them. For instance, once you've decided on the faction that you want to play as, you can then decide which gear and abilities that they can have to take into battle with them. So the concept of kitting out the troops, from a list of possible weapons and upgrades is very much like 40k. What's not like 40k, is that you can't jump in with the horde mentality, and think that rolling two fist-fulls of dice, and out rolling the other guy, because you have more pieces than he does is the only way to win.
Mechanics-wise, the game utilizes D6 and D10 dice both, but most of the important rolls are done with the D10. To play you'll need a handful of D6/D10 dice, a ruler/tape measure, a 6x4 playing surface, altho they say a kitchen table will do, about 10-15 models, and some terrain items, or something that will pass for terrain.
You'll also need to print off some of the Character Sheets in .pdf format (which you need to download from their website), to write down everything after you've geared up your troops. I'm not a big fan of having to print much of anything really, since I almost never have printer ink, and I have really bad luck with printers. lol So others mileage may vary for sure. Since the models you use in the game can be customized, there's a lot more stats to keep track of that might be different each time you decide to play, if you don't stick with the same exact force each time.
I guess I'm spoiled by the simplicity of Warmachine and other games that include cards with stats ready to go for each piece, and 40k where you only need to remember a few core numbers to roll for your armies' various actions each time. The customization of the troops on one hand is really cool, and opens the door to new tactics, but on the other hand, I feel like I'm putting together a character for D&D when I make my army in Faction Wars, and I'm not big on RPGs. You can however just use the characters as they're already designed in the book too, which for the most part is what I did, with minor customization. I'd suggest doing just that for the first few games, until you get the hang of it.
An average turn is played out in 4 sequences, or phases as I'll call them. The Motivation Phase, Movement Phase, Shooting/Action Phase and Close Combat Phase. Sound familiar? It's definitely not a reinvention of the sci-fi skirmish game, but the similarity to most others help to make it one that can be picked up fairly quick. Motivation Phase checks your motivation to see if your able to fight, or bail.
Movement is straightforward, there's not a lot different or unique in this department. However, the average moment speed is about 3-4 inches, and it's rare to find models in this game that move much faster than that. Only a select few that I've seen were rated at 5, which were Aerobots. What's different tho, is that you can not only Run doubling movement like in other games, but you can Sprint also, which triples the movement rate.
The Shooting/Action phase is where the shooting is done of course, but also when you utilize any Psionic abilities, Demolition Charges, Bypassing locked doors, applying First Aid, dealing, Taking Prisoners, etc. The one concept I like, is the Snap Fire rule. This can be done out of turn, during the other players Movement Phase. If a player moves through the other players arc of fire while moving, that other player can elect to Snap Fire, which allows them to shoot out of turn, with a -3 to hit modifier.
If the target is moving from one piece of cover, and ending in cover, then the shooter must perform an Initiative test. However, a player who elects to use Snap Fire, cannot shoot or perform any other actions during his next Shooting/Action phase, and you're to mark that miniature with a token, or turn the character facing backwards to represent this. That I thought was a really interesting rule. This I think mixes things up a little more than most games, and is a welcome addition to the skirmish game genre. It really makes you think when moving, and to pay attention more during the other players movement phase. Medics are also a useful thing to have, because they can heal troops.
Taking prisoners is a unique concept too. There's also the means during most phases to use Combat Drugs which are purchased like wargear. I think of this as a buff, like those used in most MMO games like WOW and StarWarsGalaxies, to enhance existing stats or abilities. The difference is, you may end up with the base benefit of the drug, but you're also forced to roll and see if you incur any side effects, all of which can be nasty. Rolling a D10 determines if there's a side effect. On a roll of a 1 for Low-Risk drugs, you will need to now roll a D6 and confer to the chart to see which the side-effect you end up with. For High-Risk drugs, a roll of 1 or 2 initiates a side-effect roll. Drugs can be risky, and every side effect inhibits your ability to perform one way, or another.
While there are no saving rolls, armor does effect the outcome, determining if the hit misses, is Glancing, Penetrating or a Devastating blow though. Light and Kinetic Armor has no effect for shooting, but Heavy Kinetic, Mirror Armor and Power Armor offers a -1 to hit modifier to the attacker's roll, and an Exo-Suit a -2 modifier.
To determine a successful hit, a D10 is rolled, combining its' result with the Targeting ability of the shooter, and then adding, or subtracting any modifiers. A simple table is used to determine the success or failure. A result of 8 or lower misses altogether. 9-12 is a Glancing Hit, 13-15 is considered a Penetrating Hit and 16 or higher is called Devastating, incurring an Instant Kill. Any roll of a 1 is an automatic failure, also known as the dreaded Critical Miss, which is what we've called it in other games for years now. There's also a roll to make now for Glancing and Penetrating hits, and charts to reference to determine the damage from them accordingly.
The Close Combat phase is also fairly simple. 4-inches qualifies for Close Combat (CC) range. If you can make it to a foe within 4-inches, then you can take part in close combat, it's that simple. Only two characters can gang-up on any single character, so a third would have to go find another fight. This is bad for the defender though, because they'll end up with a -1 modifier to their roll for being outnumbered.
If the defender didn't perform any actions during the prior Shooting/Action phase, they could opt to perform Reactive Fire. Although a dice-off decides if this is possible, and if the defender loses they will suffer a -1 to their Close Quarters (CQ) ability stat during the later Close combat resolution roll. If they win, they can perform Reactive Fire, but if they don't stop the attacker by doing so, they still end up with the -1 modifier to the CC resolution roll.
There are also a variety of other interesting modifiers, like if you use a large Close Combat weapon it's -1 to your CQ score, but later when you calculate damage, you end up with +2 to the damage resolution score. While a regular Close combat weapon incurs a +1 benefit during the initial resolution roll. To resolve Close Combat, roll a D10, add the CQ ability stat to the roll, plus any modifiers, and the player who rolls higher wins. If there's a draw, then that Close combat will continue on next turn. Any Damage is then calculated by rolling a D10, adding the CQ stat, plus any modifiers, and if it exceeds the Defensive Score (which is Armor Rating + Toughness) then the character is killed.
If the roll doesn't exceed the Defensive Score, then the defender is just wounded, and the fight continues on next turn, only the defender suffers the -1 modifier for being injured now during the next turns' combat.
During the damage roll, if the Attacker ends up with a roll of a 1, it's considered a complete failure too.
Thankfully there is equally as much new and refreshing about Faction Wars, as there is similarities to other systems and rule-sets. The medic for instance is brilliant, and it's something that many other more popular games could really make use of, but don't. Snap-Fire is also pretty sweet, and it encourages better movement tactics, and to utilize cover more frequently when possible. It really does change things up, and keeps you on your toes more when you move.
The game itself isn't terribly hard to learn, or play either. After all the rules are literally only 20 pages of the 190 page rulebook. The means to pickup, and use most any miniature companies' figures is also a plus, since there's less of an investment up front.
There's also the fact that Faction Wars is pretty much a self contained sci-fi skirmish game system, in a single hardcover book. You don't need to buy a rulebook, and then a codex/army book too, everything that you need to play is right here in the Faction Wars rulebook. The only way I think they could improve it is to include a quick reference card that's separate from the rulebook. There is one on the last page, but I hate to photocopy anything. This is something they could easily offer from the website as a .pdf file.
Cost-wise Faction Wars is competitively priced with other products out there. The price of admission is 28.50 GBP, which includes free shipping in the UK. Shipping to the rest of Europe the book costs 31.50 GBP delivered, and shipped anywhere else in the world the price is 39.00 GBP, which converted into USD is $58 delivered if you're in the US, or anywhere else outside of Europe and the UK.
The website states that they're working on distribution for North America too, so that the rest of the world can get their hands on it, for as much as UK and Europe customers. So it may not be long before you can get Faction Wars even cheaper here in North America from a US retailer. The base price of 25 GBP converted equals $36 USD, which isn't bad at all for any hardcover rulebook either. Most of the best online retailers here in the US offer some sort of discount usually too. So I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up costing US customers from a US retailer about $30-$32 USD, give or take a dollar or two, once they get a distributor here in North America.
The fluff and background, really doesn't interest me much, and it's not because there's anything wrong with it, but I'm not big on reading fluff quite frankly. If there were a movie, or more passive means to learn about the story, I'm all for it, otherwise when I want to read a book, I'll read a book. Really the only thing missing from this rulebook, is some hobby content. However, considering they don't have their own figure line yet, I guess there's not a lot that they could have done in the way of hobby content.
Faction Wars certainly isn't a reinvention of the sci-fi genre skirmish wargame, but it also doesn't reward the “rolling of a bucket full of dice” mentality either, because Faction Wars does encourage tactics over brute force. Either way you look at it, Faction Wars is a refreshing change of pace.
As an added bonus, here is the interview I conducted with Faction Wars creator Daryl Morton...
WarGameGuru - I've noticed that most of the common sci-fi stereo-types can be found within the nine factions presented. Where do you go from here, are there more
factions planned, and what will their strengths and weaknesses be?
Daryl Morton - My plans are to keep on expanding the Faction Wars universe. One thing that I am really keen on doing is involving the gaming community in helping
to steer that development. Gamers often have vivid imaginations and will come up with their own in-house rules and modifications for games, so why not capitalize on that creativity and feed it into the game's development? There are many examples of businesses around the world harnessing the power of their customers, so I thought that this could be applied to the development of a wargame too.
So, to answer your question, there are plans to add more factions, but nothing is set in stone yet - it depends on what suggestions and feedback we receive from the gaming community, which will then go to form the "official" expansion of the FW universe. One of my personal favourites so far is the "Robot Liberation Front" who are a faction devoted to giving equality to
sentient machines and robots with their human masters.
WarGameGuru - I like the fact that if someone is moving from cover, and ending in cover, that it effects the modifiers during Snap Fire. It encourages players to
utilize cover, and tactics in general. Am I correct to assume that "tactics over brute force" was a large focus in the design of Faction Wars?
Daryl Morton - Tactics over brute force was one of the most basic starting points when developing the game. I wanted to design a game that was very simple to
play, but had a lot of emphasis on the players having to make choices during the game. Should you move a character into cover, or chance it and take a
shot from open ground? Being able to use a medic skill to revive injured characters is another example. This emphasis on tactics should engage the more hardcore gamers who like to get a bit more in depth with their games, but the simplicity should still appeal to other gamers too.
WarGameGuru - Faction Wars seams to be a humanoid universe, devoid of aliens and demons. There's mention of alien technology tho in Faction Wars, so are there any
plans to ever bring alien races into the game, or will it always be about the human struggle?
Daryl Morton - Faction Wars is mostly a humanoid universe. There are some minor exceptions in factions such as the Advancers and Grand Families, who have of
a leaning towards using beasts and robots to do their fighting. Referring back to your earlier question about expansion, there may be well be some alien races which crop up in the future, but for now the universe is mostly
WarGameGuru - I heard you mention in a podcast interview that you actually encourage players to use the rulebook as they see fit, meaning if they wanted to
expand the rules and add house rules, or even create their own faction that you're cool with that. What can you say on that topic?
Daryl Morton - I think gamers will do what they want with a ruleset to suit themselves anyway. There are a few wargaming companies (no names mentioned!) which
like to proscribe exactly what you should and shouldn't do with the game. I don't agree with this. Once you have bought a game, you should be able to do whatever you want with it, with the agreement of your opponent of course. I suppose this philosophy also links in to the commercial side of running the business: we are interested in actively engaging with our customers i.e.
the gamers who buy the Faction Wars book and getting them involved in expanding the game over time. There is a lot of creativity and imagination within the gaming community, so why stifle it?
WarGameGuru - The website states the rulebook was to include rules for vehicles, but there are no vehicles rules in the book. Will there be an add-on, or some free
update maybe with the rules for vehicles anytime soon, did they just not make it to the printer?
Daryl Morton - The vehicle rules were one of the things that got dropped from the final hardback publication due to space. We've got plans to publish these as a free PDF on the Faction Wars web site soon. We need to do some final play-testing first though.
WarGameGuru - Like making a movie, a rulebook I'm sure is a similar process, because you just can't fit every single thing in that you want, lots of stuff can end up
cut out, or changed in the process. Some of the rules introduced in Faction Wars are brilliant, like Medic/First Aid, Snap Fire, Taking of Prisoners, etc. Were there any other unique rules, concepts, Wargear, or variations of
rules, that just didn't make it into the final cut, or that might be included at a later date?
Daryl Morton - I don't think there were many skills that were dropped from the book, but there were rule expansions, if I can call them that, which were dropped.
We've already mentioned vehicles being left out of the book. A campaign system is something else that will be produced in time. The idea behind that is so your faction can progress and acquire new skills over a series of
games. This linking together of games should force players to make different decisions during a game if the result of a decision can impact what happens later in the campaign. I've had experience of this already with another games system. I collaborated with the guys from Great Escape Games on the Operations & Objectives source book for their excellent WWII
game, Rules of Engagement.
WarGameGuru - While you encourage the use of other companies' figures in Faction Wars, what does the future hold for a Faction Wars model line?
Daryl Morton - We've got a couple of sculptors doing some work for us at the moment, but it's very early days so I wouldn't want to mention any names just yet. The
plan is to release a range of miniatures for Faction Wars maybe sometime late in 2010. Even when we produce our own miniature line, we're not going to be precious about gamers using other models to play Faction Wars with. We hope that the miniatures will be good enough that gamers will want to buy them anyway, plus the special characters from the rulebook won't be
available anywhere else, so there will be some exclusivity within the range.
WarGameGuru - There's no getting around asking this question, and it's really only because you do have some GamesWorkshop figures in pictures on your website, and they are notorious for tossing their Intellectual Property weight around when it comes to imagery of their products that are found anywhere else, other than
on their own website. Having said that, and I fully know there are no GW images in the rulebook itself... do you fear action from GamesWorkshop for
the images on your website?
Daryl Morton This seems to be an obsession for a large number of people! We have now removed all the images of GW models from the Faction Wars web site, not
because we feared incurring the wrath of GW, but because I would prefer that people talked about how good/bad the game is. I don't see the point in
speculating and endlessly discussing what one company may, or may not, decide to do. It is my belief that we had not infringed any of their IPR, based on professional legal advice. I agree that GW are right to exercise
the enforcement of their intellectual property rights, but as stated, let's discuss the merits of Faction Wars instead.
WarGameGuru - Is there anything else on the topic if Faction Wars that you'd like to share
with us, which we didn't cover already?
Daryl Morton - I hope that the "philosophy" behind Faction Wars has come through in my answers to your questions. It is supposed to be a game that will appeal to
as broad a range of gamers as possible. We want to encourage the gaming community to get behind it and contribute to its success. We want to encourage creativity and imagination. I believe that "crowd sourcing", as it is known, will become one of the next big things for companies doing