Photos and terrain courtesy of Adam Isherwood at Iron Forest Games, models my own.
The much-delayed Kickstarter-funded wargame Robotech RPG Tactics has finally begun to be delivered within Europe, and as my copy has arrived I have had the opportunity to play two limited-scale games of it. These are sufficient to form general opinions about the rules design – although more detailed examination of unit selection and faction play-style is currently impossible as many of the more interesting and different units are not currently available. Overall, as a wargame attempting to recreate the combat style of Robotech/SDF Macross – a translation of theme into mechanics – it works well. Using a system of named pilots adding thematic abilities to stock units like X-Wing forces can be given more flavour, while the weapon system rules emphasising mass missile attacks and divided, inaccurate fire versus enemies concentrating to bring one hero down creates a strong aesthetic element to mechanical design.
The game has an impressive sense of size – using 6mm figures and an effective 1 model = 1 unit system like Battletech is appropriate for the visual effect being created, and on the whole the quality of the models is high. There are some assembly difficulties which come from the large number of discrete parts each figure comprises and – although the issues are nowhere near as bad as Malifaux‘s plastic miniatures – there is not really enough customisation capacity to warrant the piece separation. Furthermore, assembly convenience could be improved by numbering pieces on the sprue to make selecting matched arm/weapon pairs easier. However, the assembly instructions are clear and the miniatures have a lot of fine detail in general, making them enjoyable to paint and visually distinct on the table. What is more, the unit sizes are designed to make battlefields look full and overwhelming for the human-side player; four VF1 mechs are roughly equivalent in points to 9-12 Zentradi mechs.
In terms of game balance, this necessitates very strategic play at low points levels. The rulebook recommends 300 points as a standard game size, which translates to 2-3 activations a side (with activations done on a per-squadron level, as explained later). With only one activation a side, and the potential for highly destructive attacks to remove even an elite figure in one shot, the human side’s tactics are effectively forced into evasive play. It is likely that at higher points levels, and when a greater variety of units such as the Super VF1 and armoured Valkyrie (yet to be released) are available this will change – similarly Zentradi tactics will be more varied with the option for heavier units (the Nousjadul-Ger and Queadluun mecha) instead of a simple mass wave army. On the other hand, figure advantage is only an advantage on the active turn; on the reactive turn, a smaller force is able to better use its limited resources in the form of Command Points. Command Points, Robotech‘s main defining mechanic, are used to both buy extra actions in a fashion similar to Warmachine‘s Focus points, and to prevent damage in a fashion similar to Soulstones in Malifaux. Human mecha tend to have significantly higher base offensive stats and carry multi-target missiles, and so have less need to use Command Points for offensive actions – meaning their smaller pool can be used simply to buy defensive actions like damage prevention and evasion.
The turn sequence in Robotech takes elements from Dystopian Wars/Firestorm Armada and Bolt Action. Players generate command points, modified based on casualties sustained, resolve reserves and then declare which unit they will activate. A unit resolves all movement, all shooting, and then play passes to the opponent unless a Command Point is spent to retain the initiative – which requires a roll of 6 on 1d6. This does not seem to make situations where a player is locked out of activating as likely as Bolt Action‘s random order dice, but may at the same time prove too random to be a worthwhile mechanic to spend Command Points on.
In the movement and shooting phases, the orders for each figure must be declared (including Command Point use to buy extra movement or attacks) at the start of the corresponding phase and then resolved in full – adding, when limited-use weapons feature, a risk element between guaranteeing a kill or potentially wasting ammunition. The missile mechanics are elegantly written in general; they are appreciably more effective than guns (capable of downing a plane in one hit) but more easily avoided (suffering accuracy penalties for splitting fire and being evaded by models with countermeasures without Command Point expenditure). It is a simple system but one well suited to the scale and theme. Furthermore the squad mechanics build on this; coherency offers bonuses but splitting up has its own benefits.
Units in formation receive a modifier to hit if their base shooting stat is less than the number of models in the group, while on a reactive turn damage may be divided within a formation. These rules generally synergise with the Zentradi faction traits in a piece of rules design that mirrors the background; weak line troops work together against stronger foes while shielding high value pieces like artillery or officers. The ability to shift damage onto these weaker models then has further synergy as while the officers survive the destroyed line troops can be used as reinforcements. By comparison, splitting up gives bonuses for surrounding foes and reduces vulnerability to missile attacks – it seems after having played a good strategy for the human side is approach in close formation in fighter mode, release ordnance then break off to surround the enemy with other forms. Unsurprisingly this play style mirrors most action scenes in the source material. The use of different figures to represent various forms makes for a strong visual element and much less bookkeeping.
Actual combat resolution is easy; d6+stat with modifiers of +/- 2-3 at most versus a static target, with a dodge roll using the to hit score as the target. Melee uses the same rules, although evasion and to hit are resolved as a direct opposed roll and a standardised list of attacks such as punches, kicks and pushes is used. This simplicity – with keywords building intuitively on a solid foundation – makes the game easy to teach.
It is hard to comment in depth on other aspects of the game based only on a single activation demo but from reading the army creation rules the system is highly flexible. Each squadron may be accompanied by up to two support elements, which add new members or specialists – creating the need to balance a massive unwieldy group against smaller ones, choosing resilience and alpha strike capability over activation advantage. The strongly thematic rules do suggest the game is more suited to narrative than competitive play, with guidelines in the rulebook for environmental rules, event tables and unit progression.
Overall, the game presents a strong initial impression – detailed and fun to paint figures, a solid and intuitive ruleset whose core mechanics can be summarised quickly and scope for flexible force creation in larger games.