Tabletop Game Review: Rogue Planet (Brent Spivey, Bombshell Games)

Brent Spivey’s skirmish wargame Rogue Planet plays like the much-loved Games Workshop RPG/miniatures game hybrid Inquisitor; it has similar systems of random activation counts and a focus on interactions with terrain and inventive skill use. It is different in fundamental ways mechanically, but the intent – bringing together the freer mechanics of role-playing games and the structure and campaign advancement of a miniatures skirmish game. It will not stand as a direct competitor to something like Necromunda, as the focus is not on highly granular combat and strict rules (insofar as Necromunda’s rules were strict), but it offers an attempt to emulate, as any niche wargame should, a specific kind of skirmish combat.

The designer’s introduction explains the intent was to emulate the kind of combat seen in some console RPGs, where magic, melee weapons and guns are equally viable avenues of combat. A rudimentary system of psychic powers attempts to emulate Mass Effect’s biotic combat, although I feel the casting system is the game’s weakest aspect as there are only two psychic powers and three spells (compared to a much larger and more modifiable system of weapons). It could be easily houseruled, and avoids the issue of large numbers of often dubiously valuable spells that perhaps Frostgrave suffers from, but at the same time is worth mentioning as a limitation of the system for players who might want to make more spell-focused characters who are mechanically distinct from ranged or melee ones.

That aside, the game has many merits; its core combat system is, at its heart, Dungeon World’s dice check; a 2d6 roll modified by various factors within a small range of values (+/- 3 in this case) with target numbers of 7-9 for a partial success and 10+ for an unmitigated success. A failure or partial success let the opponent move one figure in response to the action, while a full success lets an action take place unopposed. It is a simple system which nevertheless works well; two levels of success also allow some granularity in situations such as damage resolution. Only the active player ever performs a proper skill check, although the game has an elegant reaction system; reactions, paid for out of the defending player’s action pool and only usable by the second player to act in a turn, generally add a “rogue die” to the dice pool. This functions like armour rolls in Horizon Wars; it cancels a matching die from the attacker’s pool, and thus reduces the total rolled. If this then causes a test to fail, a rider effect (such as damage, a free move or some other ability) triggers. (It is worth noting some skills used by the attacker also add a second rogue die to the pool, which if it matches the attacker’s die cause other effects such as bonus damage).

The strict cap on dice bonuses (specifically, even if a unit would be eligible for a bonus of more than the 3 maximum the bonus is hard-capped at 3 before any deductions are applied, thus a unit with modifiers of +2, two +1s and a -3 would have a final modifier of 0 not +1) balances the system well; it effectively places a strict limitation on the disparity in stats between figures without feeling too homogenous (as a stat disparity can be offset by equipment modifiers). Furthermore, most modifiers are situational; a weapon might give +2 against a specific class of figure only. This means there is rarely a “best” single weapon and the game encourages players to equip their figures with multiple visible weapons, or create combination weapons to emulate various unusual items. These, of course, are all paid for from a very tight points budget; my test game effectively had six “units” a side (between grunt groups, regular figures and a leader) but ended up incredibly high in points as I had equipped them well. Multiple weapons are simply depicted by stacking (up to the hardcap of 3) all the appropriate bonuses. A free supplementary rulebook adds some more options including advanced melee skills and special ranged weapon ammo, but even at maximum complexity the hardcap on modifiers means there is little bookkeeping.

The whole game, in fact, is very abstracted. Ranges (including movement) are functionally infinite with a few key quirks. A figure can only move in a straight line. As soon as it changes heading, encounters a terrain element or the opponent declares a reaction, it is spending a new action to move further (and the cap on activations per turn is 6, randomly rolled). This sounds obnoxiously simple, but works excellently in practice. Much like the good memories I have of Inquisitor, the game ends up being about rationing out your actions (albeit without the slightly clumsy intention system Inquisitor had where you would declare your turn’s actions and see how many you actually did). Figures can take any number of actions, Infinity style, but usually no more than two in a row (leaders may take a third consecutive action).

The final aspect of the rules worthy of note is the FX system; actions that cause forced movement use the FX roll, a roll of 2d6 with each die rolling 4+ counting as an extra success over the base value, or any double counting as an automatic three successes with a twist. Each FX success gives a “unit” of movement (described in the book as three fingers-width, or measured by me as about 2”) for throws, slams and pushes, with a twist allowing the relevant player to divide up the movement in any fashion they choose (to create dramatic ricochets, send people bowling into each other, etcetera). This, and the rules for terrain impacts and destruction, are briskly described and mostly left up to the players’ discretion; while this level of woolly rules-writing is often a weakness of a game, when the subject is forced movement and terrain interaction the vagaries of board design and the infinite possible situations means educated judgment is all that can be realistically recommended. Often it is tactically more useful, if able, to slam, throw and shove your enemies into dangerous terrain rather than try and fight them. Or at least it is more fun, and can cause all manner of unexpected situations that are memorable (but rarely negative play experiences as a result of the bounded balancing). Obviously this necessitates a dense board with players willing to put hazards, verticality and suchlike in; without this, the game lacks any strong selling-point.

I have yet to fully explore the hero rules, but they seem designed around rather than making one buffed-up hero, making a team of hangers-on, sidekicks and so on; to use a Star Wars analogy in Rogue Planet C3P0 and R2D2 would most likely be “Pawns” attached to a hero rather than characters in their own right, while Chewbacca would be a separate unit. Pawns generally give untyped bonuses or quirks (such as channelling magic) but are removed every time the hero takes damage. The author encourages players to make inventive miniatures for these Pawns, even though they are effectively equipment tokens. Throughout the whole book the emphasis is on describing what is happening in narrative terms to add flavour to the game, and encouraging a casual, roleplaying style of game rather than obsessive rules-lawyering. It is an admirable goal (Inquisitor’s sea of tables got in the way of doing this, making the memorable moments of an Eldar shooting a Tech-Priest in the nuts with a hallucinogen grenade causing a chain reaction of chaos much less common than failing d100 rolls and falling off a ledge).

I am eager to play more Rogue Planet, and make some characterful models for it. It would be ideal for players wanting, for example, to make a very in-depth Deathwatch wargame, or even hero-centric Star Wars. You could get some steampunk/Very British Civil War/In Her Majesty’s Name models and emulate things like Giant Robo. I plan to buy some riot police, mechs and various ninja etcetera and play Bubblegum Crisis or Cybernetics Guardian style games. At the same time I want to houserule some things (magic especially), possibly borrowing from Frostgrave or Mordheim. The system seems designed as a framework to add thematic elements onto, and it is a very good framework at its core. It offers a much more “heroic” and fast-paced take on skirmish fantasy, rather than small groups of muddy men-at-arms shanking each other in back-alleys, or the combo-driven character piece that is Malifaux (a great game but rules-dense).

 

A Short Battle Report – The Anti-Psychic Horror Force vs The Demons of Hell

Background: A small team of marines, led by the armoured hero Psychic Warrior Kakugo, head to a desert base that has fallen silent to recover two ancient artefacts. There, they find that demons from the depths of Hell have overrun the base, led by the deadly Cyber Demon.
Forces: The Humans fielded Psychic Warrior Kakugo, three Task Force Troopers, a Task Force Machine Gunner and a Group of Task Force Rookies.

The Demons fielded a Cyber Demon, two Revenants, a Cacodemon, a Group of Imps and a Group of Zombies.

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Turn 1: The humans generated 4 actions to the demons’ 1, and the Rookies, one Trooper and the Machine Gunner moved up. For the final action the Group’s SAW-wielding member took a potshot at the Cyber Demon, but missed. In response, the Demons used their one action to have the Imps leave the larger building.

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Turn 2: The demons generated 6 actions to the humans’ 4. The Cyber Demon used its flame attack against the Rookie group, who reacted with a Dodge. The Rogue Die for their dodge made the Cyber Demon’s attack miss, and the Rookies moved into cover behind a shell. It spent a second action to pursue them. The Imps subsequently shot the Rookies, who reacted again with Return Fire; again the Rogue Die forced a miss, and one Imp died from the reaction fire. The Zombies left the small building, and used Driving Fire (a special action from their machine guns) to force the Troopers with Kakugo to move. They scored a critical success, and a critical hit for the FX roll, which I adjudicated as letting them force a nearby figure to move to cover as well as the target figure. The remainder of the actions were spent moving a Revenant and Cacodemon into position. For the human turn, Kakugo moved into melee with the Cyber Demon and attacked; his attack missed, but the FX roll pushed it back towards the Cacodemon.

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Turn 3: Human AP: 6 / Demon AP: 2. The Troopers moved towards the right-hand objective, and Kakugo continued to attack the Cyber Demon. While his attack scored high damage owing to a good roll on the Rogue Die, the Cyber Demon expended Energy to absorb the damage. The knockback, however, sent it into the Cacodemon, killing the smaller creature by crush damage. In return, the Imps killed two more Rookies but a Partial Success on one of the rolls allowed Kakugo to move again, charging the Cyber Demon a third time.

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Turn 4: Human AP: 5 / Demon AP: 6. The Cyber Demon attacked Kakugo, and missed. Kakugo’s Parry skill let him make a counter-attack, which scored a critical hit – although the Cyber Demon expended energy to once again shrug the hit off. The knockback this time saw the Cyber Demon destroy a cactus. In return, however, it charged – and with a powerful Throw dashed the cocky Psychic Warrior against a rock, killing him instantly. The Revenant on the left flank continued to suppress the Gunner, and the Imps killed another Rookie. In return, the Troopers killed two Zombies, and the surviving Rookie dashed for the left-hand objective.

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Turn 5: Human AP: 5 / Demon AP: 3. One Trooper killed the last two Zombies, although Partial Successes allowed the Cyber Demon to cut off his comrade’s dash for the right-hand objective. In return, the Cyber Demon killed one Trooper and threw its body into the other, the collision damage killing it. With this, it seemed obvious that the humans would not be able to get the objectives off the board before the Imps and Revenants killed them, and so the game was ended as a Demon victory.

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