Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Squadron Commander: Reheat - First Impressions


Rules: Squadron Commander: Reheat
Producer: Brigade Models
Type: 1/300 starfighter combat

Squadron Commander: Reheat is a reworking of Squadron Commander 3600. The rules are available as a free download from Brigade Models so the first thing to say is that the price is right. Apparently there will be a printed edition that includes points, campaign stuff and other bits not included in the pdf. The pdf edition of the rules contains the basic rules for play and the stats for the existing range of supporting miniatures so you can get started immediately.

The Rules - Table of Contents
Introduction
Game Set-up
Sequence of Play
Movement
Sensors
Cannons
Missiles
Resolving Damage
Damage Control
Leaving the Battle
Starfighters and Missiles
Squadron Generation
Designers' Notes

So, how does this game play?
The game shows its hex-based origins very clearly and is written as if the default position is to play on a hex grid. They also include a section on playing without a hex grid (read 1 hex as 1 inch and measure appropriately). We played without a hex grid and it works absolutely fine. The only thing we thought would come in handy was a turning key to help fighters turn, because turns are measured in increments of 60 degrees exactly if playing on hexes or up to 60 degrees if not. I shall get around to making one of those at some point soon.

Each fighter has its own data card with all the information on it and space for writing in its missile payload, damage received and current speed. The data card contains most of the information you need to play the game and is probably the main reason why you would not field a vast number of space fighters in this game. We're not sure on practical maxima at the moment, but the starter sets are a good clue to a base game size (two flights of four fighters on each side).

Normal movement is in straight lines or turns of up to 60 degrees. You set your speed at the start of the turn and then move when your turn comes. You have to move a set distance in a straight line, based on your speed and manoeuvrability, before you can turn. There are also options for side-slips, hard turns and barrel rolls if you want to get fancy. Fighters also have acceleration and deceleration limits so you do not have a totally free choice of speed.

Sensors are used to identify enemy fighters and can also be used to scan the enemy for damage or other information. Normally you cannot view enemy data cards and this is how you would find out just what damage has been done. Of course, fighters also carry jammers so your scanner has to beat the enemy jammer before you can get a lock and find stuff out. This same process is used for getting a lock on the enemy to fire missiles at them.

Fighters all carry cannon. This is a generic term for blasters, lasers, etc. Cannon are fairly short range and cause less damage than missiles but there are fewer ways to avoid cannon shots, so it probably balances out in the long run. Fighters can also carry missiles. The basic fighters may carry one missile per hardpoint with fighters having either two or four hardpoints. To fire a missile you need to get a lock on the enemy fighter. Once the missile is launched, the enemy fighter gets to drop decoys if it has any and use ECM to divert the missile before it hits, so there are plenty of opportunities to stop missiles, which might make them seem not much use. On the other hand, they have longer range than cannons and do a heck of a lot more damage when they do hit.

Some fighters have shields. These prevent a lot of damage completely and can recharge between turns. Other fighters have more armour, which reduces the amount of damage taken but does not completely stop it, unlike shields. It's a trade-off in design that played a large part in our game. A lot of games just give the figures damage points that are reduced when they are hit. SC:R uses a system of critical hits instead. This results in components of the fighter getting damaged or damage being taken to the structure of the fighter. If the structure is reduced to 0 then the fighter is destroyed. You can also cause a nice fireball by hitting critical components. This makes the game very interesting, because reduction in capability is not incremental. You either have a system or you do not. The number of critical hits inflicted is equal to the damage done divided by the armour rating of the fighter. So, as you can see a heavily armoured fighter will take fewer hits, while one with shields will take more hits once its shields are gone but no hits up to that point.

One final point to include is that you also roll for pilot skill and abilities before the game. Pilots can start with weakness such as being poor with scanners or strengths like being a Marksman. Presumably in the campaign game pilots can improve in skill and skills. That would be really cool.

The question is, how does this all work in practice?

Our Game
We decided to just play with two fighters on each side. I chose my Hornisse Interceptors while Steve chose a pair of Folgore multi-role fighters. My ships carried lots of armour but no shields while his had shields but little armour. I think it would be fair to characterise my fighters as great lumbering brutes, whiles Steve's were lighter, faster, stealthier and better in almost every respect except armour and ability to absorb damage.

We rolled for set-up and it turned out that my lumbering brutes had got the drop on the Eurofeds (Steve rolled a 1 and I rolled a 12). We deployed behind him, trying to get in close enough to tail him, but his fighters, being more agile and faster quickly turned around and were speeding towards us. Each of us tried to get position on the other but it was not going to work so we wound up in a head-to-head pass. As the fighters flew into range, my two ganged up on one of Steve's. There was a brief exchange of fire that stripped Steve's fighter of its shields and then I launched a couple of missiles right at him. He wanted to do the same but unfortunately I had shot his missile racks off that turn with my other fighter. His ECM failed to stop the missiles, but his decoys did take one of them out. Still, that was enough. Twelve critical hits later his pilot had ejected and the fighter was a brief fireball in the firmament. Steve's remaining fighter then came in to try its luck. One shot caused my rookie pilot to lose control of his craft as Steve did some damage to the main structure but the veteran pilot on the rookie's wing then fired a blaze of blasters at the Eurofed machine and blew it to pieces with a reactor hit. Job done, my boys went home to a well-earned cup of tea.

Impressions
We enjoyed the game. It was nicely crunchy, allowing for a small game that is still engaging. The critical hit system and the design of the two fighters is sufficiently different to require different tactics, which is great. The game play went smoothly enough. There were questions about the rules but we were able to resolve them based on my incessant interrogation of the chaps at Brigade over the past week on their forum.

If starfighters is your thing then I would recommend downloading the rules and giving them a shot. I really like the fighters from Brigade too, so buy them while you are at it! :-) I am now looking forward to more fighters for my faction, although I am tempted to buy a flight of the AmRep ones for an elite squadron. I am also hoping that the published rules are not too far off because they should include a points system, a design system and a campaign system. Then it will be time to add SC:R to our Bwendi versus Albion campaign properly.