Monday, 28 April 2014

Using Star Army with other settings

(This is the second of two related posts about 5150: Star Army. The first being my general look at the game, which can be found here.)

If, like me, you want to use 5150: Star Army in other settings, such as Star Wars or Warhammer 40k, there isn't a great deal you have to think about changing. This post (perhaps of rather limited interest!) is to look at some of these points and maybe help those who are thinking about using these rules to fight battles with figures from specific ranges.

Weapons and Armour

This is pretty straight forward. Most armour can be closely fitted around one of the SA categories or, if not quite accurate, the abilities of SA categories can be added to or removed. Maybe BTA is a close fit for 40k Terminator armour, but you want to ignore the movement bonuses it gives.

Weapons are equally straight forward really. Most categories are covered, but given that they are all a combination of different ranges impact values and firing rates, it is easy to make something up. For my Star Wars project I use an online resource for the old RPG for weapon ranges and use the damage dice rating as the basis for the weapon's impact value. It should be easy to do similar with other rules. 

Army Organisation 

I try and stick fairly closely to the basic organisation as presented in the rules, but if you want an army that is wildly different then it should not be a problem. Just tweak what is already there.

My Imperial platoon: 3 squads with two repeating blaster assets. One command half-squad


Platoons and companies have different assets available depending on the investment level and the type of engagement. This is really a case of spending some time and seeing what is available in your collection and suits your force.

Imperial assets: Repeating Blaster, Blaster Cannon, Heavy Repeating Blaster and a Probe Droid.

Reinforcement tables

Depending in your setting and how 'colourful' your army options are, this might be a big or small task. Near future settings where your army would mostly consist of 'standard' squads with a couple of vehicles in support would be easiest. Settings with a big variety of troop types which don't operate under 'usual' military organisation (40k Orks maybe?!) might be a bit trickier. What I am doing is looking at the figures I have available and deciding what might be available to each side. So my campaign is based around a rebellion on an Imperial factory world. Rebel reinforcements include Rebel Troopers, corporate security and some battle droids and vehicles. In essence, figure out what you have and draw up a chart to roll on! My suggestion would be to start simple and develop it as you go.

Infantry Reinforcements chosen to reflect my campaign setting: Battle droids, corporate mercenaries, planetary security and Sith troopers.


Although the lists in the book describe a variety of vehicles, the rules themselves go through, step by step, the different things which need to be defined. So this is a case of start from the beginning and work through, deciding how to define the different aspects of your vehicles. You'll want to note the possible Rep of the crew for when you roll them up and also create a chart of available vehicles for reinforcement purposes. Worth noting is that the rules expect the 2nd and 3rd vehicles rolled as reinforcements to be the same as the first, the idea being they are part of the same platoon. Personally I don't bother with this as I don't have 3 of the same vehicle and don't think it is really required in Star Wars games. So a key point here is the rules are definitely your tool to use as you see fit.

Potential vehicle reinforcements: TIE Crawler, Viper war droid, AT-ST walker and speeder bike

Other stuff

There are rules for retrieving wounded and using the skills of medics, so these along with other bits and pieces will have to be decided upon as you go, or discarded if inappropriate to your setting. You may also want to tweak the random events so they are more specific. 

You will also need to decide which reaction tables you will use for your forces, which will determine the outcomes of them coming under fire, taking cohesion tests and so forth. For the time being I am using the Star Army reactions for professional, soldiers and another for less well trained chaps. It's also not too hard to look at the options and create your own. 

The main work that would be required is probably if you want hero types in your setting. Personally I think it should be kept as simple as possible. So Jedi can just be very high Rep characters with a large melee bonus. But there is definitely scope for deciding on the effects of various psychic abilities and such like if you want. 

The rules also don't use a points system, so this should be seen as an opportunity to jump on in and experiment! 

Final word

There are plenty of generic systems which can be used for gaming in your preferred sci-fi setting. But I find that 5150 Star Army brings together a lot of interesting elements which make it worth the (not too large) effort needed to play Star Wars games with it. In fairness I have probably gone to the extreme of what is required!

Hopefully this post has been of some interest or given you a few ideas to try out. Maybe it's even encouraged you to pull out an old collection and try using it with whatever your current favourite rules are. Comments are welcome as always and thanks for reading. 

A look at: 5150 Star Army

I thought I'd kick off my 'new-look' blog with a couple of related posts. A look at 5150 Star Army by Two Hour Wargames and my thoughts on how it adapts to different settings.

5150 Star Army is Two Hour Wargames' rule set for platoon level sci-fi wargames. It is set in their 5150 universe, but easily adapted for whatever setting you like.

How does it work?

SA uses similar mechanics to other THW rules, with an integrated turn sequence centred around their reaction system, meaning that players don't have an unrealistic control over their forces. (For more info see my post about Chain Reaction 3.) The main difference from other rules by the company is that figures are organised into squads of 8 figures and players typically control a platoon of three squads or a company of two platoons. Same side, solo and opposed games are all possible.

Bugs everywhere! (From the THW Blog post found here)

Any aliens?

I won't dwell too much on the different races available, but the rules cover various humans along with setting specific aliens and generic bugs. What is worth mentioning is that they are all neatly represented by different abilities. If you want to play in your own setting, you can easily pick and choose from these to create your own alien races. It works well without making things over complicated.

BatRep of 5150 Used for WH40K. From this blog

And the scenarios?

Patrol, attack and defend scenarios are available, although the reality is that, combined with things like the enemy investment level, variable reinforcements and PEFs, there is a lot of variation in actual gameplay. 

Reinforcements can appear for either side during the game. Squads, vehicles, off board artillery, snipers and strafing runs are all covered. This really varies the basic scenarios and forces you to respond to a changing situation on the fly.

Assets are also available at platoon and company level with their availability being dependant on the type of mission and the investment level. They include flame throwers, machine guns, plasma guns, satchel charges and more.

Great looking game from this blog. Note the recurring theme of "Ace for solo gaming"

Hang on! Enemy Investment Level? PEFs? What...?!?

The Enemy Investment Level determines how much effort the enemy is willing to put into defending or attacking the region the battle takes place in. This has a direct bearing on the strength of resistance you are likely to find. PEFs are 'Potential Enemy Forces', markers placed at the start of the game which are resolved when in line of sight. They could be enemy squads, vehicles, defensive emplacements, or just a false signal. 

Sci-fi is about the tech! What gear and equipment is available for my troops?

There is a good range of weapons and armour represented in the game. Modern style projectile weapons as well as lasers are present, with the differences represented by varying the firing ranges, the number of targets which can be shot in one turn and the impact values against different armour types. 

Armour can be one of four classes: soft body, hard body, exo-suits and battle tactical armour. The latter two also afford the wearer extra movement, targeting, communication and other benefits. I see hard body armour being like Storm Troopers, exo-suits like GW Space Marines and BTA like in the Starship Troopers novel. 

All of this makes it quite easy to create new weapons to fit your preferred setting and figure out their effectiveness against various armour types.

Want an asymmetric game with a modern/near-future feel? Look no further than here!

So, tell me about the options for a campaign. 

When you start a campaign you pick your side, who you are fighting against and decide who is attacking and defending the planet. You undertake two missions per month, the results of which will cause your campaign morale and that of your enemy to rise or fall. The side whose morale drops to zero first loses. 

Your first mission will be a patrol, but after that it could be any of the three types depending on the outcome of your last game. So you may find yourself on the offensive or defensive at various times depending on how you are doing. 

Before each game you need to determine various factors, all of which work towards making a seemingly small range of scenarios actually quite varied. The investment level has to be determined along weather conditions and what kind of intelligence is available. This last point is very important as entering a scenario with poor intel can result in your force being outflanked or running into a much larger enemy force than expected. Simple rules to implement which allow for unexpected situations to crop up and make even setting up interesting!

Following the battle, you find out if you have received replacements for your losses and any gaps in your command structure are filled by promoting soldiers. You may feel cocky at the onset, but try to fight a campaign on an enemy planet when your senior command doesn't care too much about the platoon it sent in as a token gesture to gauge the enemy strength. Soon you'll be begging for more soldiers, even green recruits, and every battle becomes a balance between preserving your force and achieving the required victory. Tough times, soldier, so just man-up and get on with it!

And is solo play actually any good?

Solo play is well catered for. In addition to the variability from the PEF rules, there are charts to determine enemy behaviour during the game. These are used by rolling against the enemy Rep to decide what action they take and vary depend upon the type of scenario. There are also basic tactics which the enemy will follow in addition to the mission specific ones. Added to the ongoing campaign, this means lots of fun and variation for the solo gamer. 

Any other points I should know about?

Here is a list of things I could think of that I haven't covered:
  • Random events including snipers, mines and artillery strikes. 
  • Variable insertion: enter the table on foot, in APCs or even by dropship!
  • Rules to cover all kinds of vehicles without being overly complex. 
  • Structures including bunkers and other buildings
  • Rules for 'Stars' so you can heroically lead your forces into battle. 

There has to be something you are not so keen on, surely?

I think there are a couple of gaps to fill if you wanted to game the whole gamut of sci-fi settings. Things like psionics or independent heroes are not covered, and there are no rules for droids, specifically thinking of single ones like Imperial Probe Droids. But in truth it is pretty easy to figure out the odd special skill here and there, or construct a special set of reaction tables for droids to make them act like you want. If you really wanted a game focused on the exploits of larger than life heroes like Han or Luke from Star Wars, then you'd probably want to check out the more skirmish focused 5150 New Beginnings.  But these are minor quibbles given the game's remit of delivering fairly 'hard' sci-fi platoon battles. This it does very well indeed.

Final words to sum up?

I'd like to finish with a quote from the designer's notes which summarises what I like about the game:

5150: STAR ARMY is all about potential. We're giving you the tools to play the sci-fi games you want, as big as you want, and as detailed as you want. Not the crunchy "what bolt was hit" details rules to cover all aspects of sci-fi warfare but easy to follow rules that cover all aspects of sci-fi warfare.

STAR ARMY is not for everyone. You'll find that you do not have total control of your forces, this isn't chess, that you will often not know what you're facing, and the reinforcement system can be cruel at times. But you will be presented with challenges every battle and the tension that comes from uncertainty.
Star Army is great as a solo game and for playing campaigns that are focused on the games to be played rather than lots of paper work. Despite what I said in the section above, in practice it is very flexible in terms of adapting your favourite setting as well. I always used to play Star Wars using Star Grunt. But I'll use Star Army from now on. And that's strong praise from me!

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Blog Rebranding

Thanks to everyone who made suggestions recently when I posted about changing the name of my blog. There were several very good ideas there and they all certainly helped to get me thinking. I had a few suggestions sent to me privately as well, and one of them in particular struck a chord with me as it seemed to reflect my constant change of focus and variety of projects... As such, I am pleased to announce that Chris's Gaming Journal shall henceforth be known as:

The Conflict Cornucopia

I think this reflects what my blog is about and I quite like the alliteration.

In addition I took the slightly drastic step of altering the web address as "cthulhuchris" wasn't quite cutting it! I guess this might make all my old links defunct, but I'll sort out problems arising from that as they happen.  (

Finally, this is still a work in progress, so there will be further changes to the general appearance as and when I get round to it.

Hope you enjoy the Cornucopia's content, I have a few good posts in the pipeline that I hope you'll like! Thanks for reading


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Machinas: A second look

A while back, I posted briefly about the PDF copy of Machinas that I received. Today, the postman brought a packet from THW containing a hard copy of the rules and three decks from the Indigogo level I pledged at. As a result, I thought I'd better post my first impressions pretty sharpish, as I am quite excited about this game.

The Rulebook

The rules are in standard THW format, meaning comb-bound A4 (sorry, I mean Legal or Letter, or whatever) size with card cover and back. Included is a glossy game record chart and 6 card car markers. First up, Ed at THW is genuine in his desire for feedback and a couple of points I mentioned led to clarifications in the rules. So kudos for that. Aside from that, not much has changed in them since my last post, so you can refer to that for more detail because in honesty I just want to talk about the cards right now!

Deck 1

This is the 'core' deck for the game. 66 glossy cards of good print quality covering cars, weapons, skills, and others to record game information. Here's a breakdown:

12 double sides stats cards
4 cars (all sedans)
18 cards to track the number of bonus dice drivers have left
4 defensive measures cards
8 signature cards representing special driver skills
9 car feature cards showing special upgrades
11 weapons cards including shooting and bashing weapons

I'm quite pleased with how the deck looks, feels and what it contains. It has a good mix of cards reflecting the options outlined in the rulebook. Although I would consider the cards a 'must have', it is possible to play the game without them, so you don't need to feel limited by what is contained if you want more of a specific card than is included. Perhaps dedicating 18 cards to just tracking a number could be called a little excessive, but I feel that they will be welcome when I'm actually playing the game. Also the cars are all the same, but ultimately they are just markers, so you if you wanted the 'green car' to be a pick-up instead of a sedan, that's fine. The rules for different cars are all in the book. 

Deck 2

This deck is the first of two available at the higher pledge levels. At present I don't know if the contents will be made available outside of the Indigogo campaign, but I have expressed to Ed the opinion that I really think they should be! A big part of what I like about this game is the decks. Being able to open up the new ones and find a whole load of stuff not in the rule book is just ace. Missiles, flamethrowers, heavy armour? Yes please! One minor point before I look at the contents is that the core deck has a slightly different sheen and colour saturation to the others. But given that the cards are for reference and not being shuffled and drawn from a lot, I don't consider this to be a big deal. 

So, 54 cards in this deck. The breakdown is as follows:

12 double sides stats cards
4 cars (two sedans, one SUV, one pick-up truck)
14 cards to track the number of bonus dice drivers have left
4 defensive measures cards
6 signature cards representing special driver skills
8 car feature cards showing special upgrades
6 weapons cards including shooting and bashing weapons

This deck greatly expands upon the options in the core deck and it also highlights one of the strengths of the game: if the rules can be fitted on a card, it can be printed as an expansion. No need to flick through extra books to find the details you want, it is all there in front of you while you are playing. I'm not sure the deck needed two more sedans, but that said, it is fair to say that they are a good 'all round vehicle' as presented in the rules, so it makes sense that there are a couple more for larger games. 

Deck 3

Looking at the cars, I think I might have got these decks the wrong way round. The cars in the other deck were numbered 9-12 and these are 5-8, so apologies for any confusion resulting from me putting the decks back in the wrong boxes... The preamble is the same to the deck above, so I'll crack straight on with the contents. 

54 cards again, the breakdown being:

12 double sides stats cards
4 cars (one each of pick-up, SUV, sports car, big rig)
12 cards to track the number of bonus dice drivers have left
6 defensive measures cards
6 signature cards representing special driver skills
8 car feature cards showing special upgrades
6 weapons cards including shooting and bashing weapons

I like this deck a lot. Two 'number tracking', cards are dropped in favour of two more defensive measures and more variety in the cars. The good things I mention for the deck above still stand but with a couple of small tweaks which make me prefer the card distribution. 

The Verdict

I have to say I am very happy with my three decks. I'll be the first to say that I am a picky person in my comments, and I think this is because I make no secret of loving THW products and fear appearing like a company sock puppet! 

Of course, I have not commented on how the game plays, but I will need to get a few more games under my belt before I feel happy to do so. However, from my first game before I got the cards I'd say the rules are robust and easy to follow. 

Personally I think this is a brave move from a small company. It would have been easy to just publish the rules as though they were another book like their others, but the decision to create the decks and have all you need to know on the cards is excellent. I doubt it comes cheap, so I can understand the decision to go down the crowd funding route. I'm pleased I backed it to the level I did for the product I received. 

I should also mention that there is nothing stopping players from substituting in model cars instead of using the cards, something miniatures games players may be inclined to do. 

I'm very much hoping that more decks will be made available. I'd like the option maybe to buy smaller packs of cards, perhaps without the 'tracking' cards as I feel there are plenty in the current three decks. Perhaps they could be offered as a separate option? But as it stands there is a lot of variation and options in what is available, enough to keep players entertained for a long time.

So in conclusion... Ah, forget it, I'm off to play some games... All I want to say is great job THW!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

A look at: Chain Reaction 3

Chain Reaction 3 is a free set of rules from Two Hour Wargames suitable for skirmish games in most periods where modern firearms are used. It forms the core of the majority of THW rules and is offered for free as a ‘lite’ version of their rules so potential players can get a feel of what it is all about. The implication in the document is that it will be used for modern police actions or urban warfare but, that said, as long as you are prepared to do a little work, it can be adapted for whatever you like.

Oops. Uploaded this on my iPad and it is much grainier than I expected, sorry!

So how does it work?

CR3 has a rather interesting approach. Core to the game is the idea of ‘reaction tests’. When certain things happen, like being fired upon or coming in sight of the enemy, figures have to test by rolling 2d6 and comparing the individual dice results to their Reputation (Rep), which is usually between 3 and 6. The outcome varies depending on how many dice score equal to or lower than the figure's Rep. So a Rep 4 figure rolling 3 and 5 has passed with 1d6. Naturally, higher Rep figures pass with both dice more often, meaning they react better under fire, duck for cover less and generally behave themselves more!

The second important aspect of the rules is that Rep is used to determine initiative. Each side rolls a d6. The highest roller gets to activate first, but only figures with a Rep equal to or higher can act. So less well trained figures will act less and be forced to mainly react to the enemy (and even then quite poorly), This can be overcome by organising soldiers into groups with a higher Rep leader, as they then use the leaders Rep to decide if they can act.

Both of these things mean that, while you can coordinate your troops according to your plan for victory, you are effectively commanding real people who sometimes are slow to follow orders or prefer to cower in safety. Game play wise, the reaction mechanism means both players are involved no matter who’s turn it is and the activity feels much more integrated than in other games.

What else do I get in these rules?

While they are a substantially paired down set of free rules, CR3 still contains weapons lists, rules for campaigns and generally enough to keep you going for a while as you decide if you want to try some of THW’s other rules. More importantly, it contains one of the most interesting ways to play solo or on the same side as your mates that I have ever come across! The number and deployment of the enemy at the start of the game is unknown, represented by Potential Enemy Force markers (PEFs). When these move into line of sight they are resolved and could be a single figure, or a whole squad, maybe even nothing at all. Once resolved, the figures act according to another table, so the game really does take care of most of the enemy decisions. It is a fun way to play and I personally find it a satisfying solo experience, especially when added to the reaction system.

So what is missing?

I don’t think ‘missing’ is quite the right term, but the ‘full versions’ of the rules are much more meaty affairs. You will find rules and scenarios specific to the period being recreated and skills for characters which add a lot of variation. Depending on the period, there are lots of tweaks to the core rules many of which are significant changes, such as the rules for ship battles in the Pirate rules. Also of note is that while the CR3 rules has one reaction table list for all characters, the full rules have different ones based around class. So police, military or civilian characters will react differently. There are also different rule sets covering platoon (or larger) engagements, where the basic unit is a squad rather than an individual.

Okay, so be honest. What’s not to like about them?

Well, the main thing with these are that they are free and designed to get you interested in the ‘full’ versions. But this isn’t really a criticism as you do get a good game experience from them. In fact I would go so far as to say that in some ways this is a good thing. For example, I am planning on playing Doctor Who games with these rules. I’d rather add to these ‘core’ rules to make them work than try and take bits away from full sets. I guess they do feel a bit empty compared to the full rules, but that is to be expected. They are also different enough that some people seem to struggle with understanding the core concepts. I cannot comment on why this is, but it is safe to say that players should leave their preconceptions at the door and absolutely not make assumptions based on experience with other rules. But that’s why you should really try the free version and see what you think.

Right, so a quick sum up…

This is a fun and very different free set of rules that provide a good insight into the core concepts behind THW rules. I would very much say try them out and see what you think. Then, if you like what you see, take a look at the rules for a specific period which interest you (and most are covered). The full rule books are available as PDF only or PDF/Print versions and even then only cost you $15-$25 so you are not really breaking the bank to find out what is going on. I’ll be posting more reviews of specific sets in the future.