Friday, 11 September 2015

Halo:Fleet Battles

Apologies for the long gap in articles, It's been an 'interesting' summer, and times been at a massive premium. Lots of 28mm WW2 reviews and articles coming up, but for now something totally different!

One of my fondest gaming memories is playing Battlefleet Gothic many years ago, and I've been wanting a star ship capital class game to come along for years that will hook me, and finally one has, (Since finding Halo there are a couple of others I now like the look of too...).

I've never really played the Halo computer games that Halo: Fleet Battles is based upon, however I liked the look of the ships and saw an interview on Beasts of War with the developers that piqued my interest, and finally an offer I couldn't refuse on a boxed set and I was fully on course to a new game system.

What is Halo Fleet Battles?

Halo Fleet Battles is based upon the massively succesful computer game series Halo. Unlike Halo though which focus on elite infantry ground combat, Fleet Battles uses it's core concept capital ship combat with cruisers, carriers, frigates etc. Combat is fought between battlegroups comprised of a mix of capital and escort ships, as well as smaller fighter and bomber wings, and boarding actions can be utterly devastating. 

The Halo universe focuses (Initially anyway), between the conflict between the Human UNSC and Alien Covenant, and the game kicks off at the point of humanity's near collapse in the Human Covenant war in the mid 26th century...

Initial Impressions

 Halo Fleet Battles retails at £80, and for that you get (From the Spartan Games page):-
  • A full colour 100+ page rulebook packed full of images and examples
  • Fall of Reach campaign guide
  • 49 highly-detailed plastic ship models
    • UNSC (32 models)
      • 1 Epoch-class Heavy Carriers
      • 4 Marathon-class Heavy Cruisers
      • 27 Paris-class Frigates
    • Covenant (17 models)
      • 1 ORS Class Heavy Cruisers
      • 2 CCS Class Battlecruisers
      • 14 SDV Heavy Corvettes
  • 30 custom Halo Dice
  • Fleet Commander Data Sheets
  • Flight Stands and Overlay Cards
  • Punch-out Scenery and Token sheets
  • Quick Guide reference sheets

The game comes packed in a large but very appealing box with some great art work on the front. It could be argued the box is too large for the contents, however there is a lot in here and any smaller and things would have been a bit too tight I feel. 
Opening the box presents you with two smaller boxes, one containing the models, and the other containing  all the counters, books and dice. Everything feels like a quality product, and is very satisfying to open and fiddle around with.

How are the models? 

The models are quite a small scale, however the ships they represent are very large, even the smallest in the game represents a vessel hundreds of meters long.  This translates to quite satisfyingly sized models that range from about 1" long to maybe 6" for the largest ships in the set. The models are based on flight stands that contain between 1-3 ships usually depending on their class and formation. More on this later.

The ships are designed to be simple to build, even the most complex uses maybe 6 parts, but looks quite striking. 

So far I've only tackled painting the Covenant, (apart from one stand of UNSC frigates), but enjoyed them as a change of pace. Not really having much point of reference I decided to do a quick image search on Google, and decided to do my vessels in a metallic blue colour, with lots of OSL effect. 

  • Build the model, and prime it
  • Spray the model gloss black. Keep repeating this process until the gloss is glassy smooth with thin layers of paint
  • Airbrush on Alclad II Prismatic Sapphire Deep Blue
  • Mix Alclad II  Chrome into Alclad II Prismatic Sapphire Deep Blue and spray this on the higher points and edges of the model
  • Spray Vallejo Game Colour Magic Blue anywhere you want to be a large light source, such as engines.
  • Spray Vallejo Sky Blue into the centrre of the large light source, leaving some of the Magic Blue visible
  • Spray Vallejo White into the centres of the large light sources, leaving the preceding 2 stages visible as well
  • Add light sources to the rest of the model using GW Nihilak Oxide and Vallejo White to add things like spot lights, hull lights and running lights. 
Using these techniques I was able to finish my fleet in about 3 evenings of work, excluding the drying times! 

How does it play?

The rules appear quite daunting at first, and a lot of effort has been spent on the part of Spartan Games to make a rule book that leaves very little lacking in clarity and that explains every situation conceivable. I did find this quite over whelming actually, and had to have a few read through of the rules.
 This may have been from coming from the perspective of an experienced gamer where I tend to go through rules and pic out the flow of the game, and the break down into examples and definitions of terms broke that for me. I suspect if your completely new to gaming which a lot of people coming to Halo:Fleet Battles are likely to be will be grateful for that extra clarity. 
I'd recommend having a handful of dice to hand and playing along with the rules, as this really does help them click. 

Halo Fleet Battles is actually a very simple game,  and splits into the following phases, titles of the phases might be wrong as my books not to hand at the moment.

Command Phase
Each fleet has a commander who provides you with abilities to use through the turn.  These are generated using 5 order dice, which can also come into play for determining who has initiative for the turn. The order dice is a standard 6 sided dice marked with 3 symbols specific to the faction. these are assigned to either attack or defensive abilities. Once this is done both players role a standard D6, and add the total number of their faction specific order dice icon to this. The player with the highest score may choose to go first or second in each of the following phases, until the end of the turn.

Wings Phase
This is where players move their fighters and bombers into position, and also where these classes of ships fight either one another or against the enemies capital ships. They operate in stacks of between 2 and 5 craft represented by counters, with each player alternating activation of a stack. Fighters are used to engage other wings, whilst bombers can also attack capital ships.
Elements Phase
This phase is the meat of the game, and where you use your big ships, with movement being key. Like the wing phase activation alternates between players, and ships are grouped into battlegroups consisting of one Capital ship and at least one escort ship, which I'll discuss more a little later.  All vessels have to move at least half their full move allowance and turns are restricted as well. Escorts get to make a 45 degree turn at the start and end of their moves, whilst capital vessels only get a single 45 degree turn at the end of their move. After moving firing solutions are declared, where various ships in a group can combined their weapon types together to better increase your chances of damaging an opponent (Unless your dice are like mine...). In this stage you can also fire off boarding craft to engage enemy vessels at close range. Players alternate activation of their battlegroups until all have been activated, and then the phases moves on to the the Boarding Phase.
Boarding Phase
If boarding craft have been launched, then boarding actions occur, These are resolved between the security details on board ships, and the raiders sent against them via boarding craft.  These can be utterly devastating, and result in  huge chain reactions being set off that destroy or cripple several ships at once. This is probably the tensest and most fraught phase of the game! 

End phase
The final phase of the turn cleans up the board, and players attempt to defuse count down templates, and remove vulnerable tokens from their ships. 

How does combat work?
When attacking, players roll Halo Dice. These are 6 sided dice marked, 1,2 a skull and circle with a line through it. These represent 1 or 2 successes, a failure,and a miss. Players roll the specified number of attack dice when fighting, adding up all the 1's and 2's rolled, and applying any relevant re rolls. The defender then rolls their specified number of defence dice, and again apply any re rolls and total up all their successes. These are then subtracted from the attackers number of success, and compared to a damage track of ships. If the score is higher than the number of hull points a ship takes damage. It's a very simple, intuitive and elegant system, and one I really like.


Force building
Halo Fleet battles uses a familiar point system to guide you in gathering your ships, and the set comes with 2 complete 1000 point forces, more than enough for an evenings gaming. 
Constructing a fleet comprises of creating a series of battlegroups that have a combined build rating of 6. A build rating is a rating assigned to a ship depending on its size, the larger the ship the higher the rating, so a battlegroup will consist of between 1 capital ship and usually 3-4 Escort formations depending on the faction. 

Final Thoughts

I'm really quite taken with this game. I like how it flows, and it is extremely tactical and has quite a steep tactical learning curve. It's simple to learn but tough to master. 
The models are nice, and there seems to be plenty of support coming from Spartan Games in the form of new content as well. 
I got my copy of the game through Gladius Game Arts and you can read more on Halo Fleet Battles at  Spartan Games

As ever you can see more of my work at Volley Fire Painting Service Thanks to Lewis at Medway Wargames Society for being a willing opponent!

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