Publisher: Spartan Games
Reviewer: Roger Gerrish
In 2000, Microsoft broke into the video gaming market with the XBOX console and in doing so created Halo one of the most lucrative and successful video game franchises of all time. I personally spent many hours battling alongside the Master Chief when I really should have been painting the latest bunch of white metal sitting on my shelf. One fascinating aspect of the game was the occasional cut-scenes of large scale space battles featuring enormous and beautifully modelled star ships. This prompted wistful thoughts of how cool it would be to play a wargame recreating those titanic engagements. Well, here we are fifteen years later and the good people of Spartan Games in association with 343 Industries have made this a reality.
Here for review is the first product in this line; The Fall of Reach 2 Player Battle Box. This is from the onset an introductory product and provides all the components for two players to jump straight into the game. It includes ‘The Fall of Reach’ campaign book which teaches the rules through a series of programmed scenarios each introducing a new aspect of the games mechanics.
So what is Halo Fleet Battles? Essentially it is a game of ship to ship combat where miniatures representing various capital ships of the Halo Universe are moved around the tabletop in attempts to outmanoeuvre and destroy their opponents. Any players of traditional naval wargames will be very familiar with the feel of this game the only difference being a battle fought in the vacuum of space rather than on the oceans. Consequently, I’m of the opinion that a historical gamer will find the majority of the concepts and terminology in Halo Fleet Battles quite familiar despite the science fiction setting. Many existing players of popular space warfare games such as Full Thrust and Firestorm Armada will already be aware that science fiction writers and games designers invariably base their concepts of space combat on traditional naval terminology and tactics. Such games are infested with battleships, battlecruisers, destroyers, fighters and bombers. In HFB a starship will have primary and secondary weapons, comprising guns and torpedoes firing into fixed arcs of fire along with a level of manoeuvrability based on its size. We could just as easily be talking about a First World War dreadnought and not a two kilometre long space going battlecruiser. As in a traditional naval wargame how you combine and manoeuvre these various ships to gain favourable firing positions is the key to victory.
Ok, let’s take a look at the game components. Let me say upfront their quality is second to none as would be expected of such an important licensed product. The game box is striking, emblazoned with computer generated images, excellent photos of the miniatures and sure to draw the eye of both traditional gamers and perhaps just as importantly newcomers who might be pulled into the hobby.
The first thing you notice on opening the box are the plastic sprues holding the components of the 49 separate ships and their clear plastic stands. Spartan has had the foresight to provide the two sides of the conflict in different coloured plastic specifically for those who may not wish to paint their miniatures. The blocky United Nations Space Command (human) ships are grey whilst the bizarrely alien Covenant warships are moulded in a suitably outlandish purple. Most traditional gamers though will want to paint their miniatures as the detailing and fine design of the models just screams for some creative brushwork. Some of the smaller ships are simple one piece mouldings whereas the larger ships are comprised of multiple parts which need to be cut carefully from the sprues and then cemented with polystyrene glue. The parts go together very easily and create some very striking and detailed miniatures. The smallest models are around one inch long whilst some of the bigger capital ships are four to five inches in length. The ships are mounted on 60mm square clear plastic bases with the large ships mounted singly and the smaller vessels based two or three to a stand. These multiple bases represent escort formations. Some large vessels can also have a single escort ship mounted on the same base to represent a supported capital ship. Finally a card template covers the base printed with the ships class or formation type, its key statistics and the weapon arcs of fire. Whilst utilitarian these templates are very striking in design and greatly add to the high tech look of the game.
Game documentation is also of the highest quality comprising a concise 129 page rulebook printed in full colour, the aforementioned 35 page ‘The Fall of Reach: Campaign Guide’ and various quick reference sheets and other game information. Several sheets of punch out cardboard counters are provided including game status markers and various fighters, bombers and boarding vessels. There are also two sheets of terrain comprising of planetoids and a variety of asteroid and debris fields. The traditional naval wargamer will instantly recognise these as the ‘space’ equivalents of islands and shoals. The component list is completed with 30 customised and attractive 6 sided dice.
The game is typically played on a battlefield measuring 4 foot square, so finding a space to play on should be not too difficult. Ships are organised into battle groups which move and shoot together. The composition of each battle group is chosen by the owning player policed by a few organisational points cost restrictions. Along with the battle groups the various small fighter and bomber groups are consolidated into separate independent wings. As the components of single battle group can combine its firepower HFB is very much a fleet battle game. Even the biggest and meanest ship can be blown apart by a well-co-ordinated battle group of smaller ships. Command and control is an important factor in the game and controlled through the use of custom command dice which determine initiative and also allow special commands to be carried out. When and how to use these special commands is crucial to winning the game. Certain named commanders from the Halo universe are represented with cards each with their own benefits and traits. During a game turn players will alternate moving and firing their battle groups and wings meaning that both players are constantly involved. Of course as would befit a game celebrating Halo, boarding and shipboard combat is very important and ships are regularly gutted if boarders are allowed to run amuck. Combat mechanics are very much of the throw buckets of dice school with certain results inflicting double damage and allowing rerolls of failed dice, the so called ‘exploding dice rule’.
As you might be able to tell from the tone of this review I am rather impressed with this game, the components are of a very high standard and the rules easy to pick up. In my first few games I have found HFB to be pleasantly challenging and that a well thought out game plan and a use of tactics is essential. So whether you are already a fan of science fiction wargaming or a historical grognard looking for a change in scenery Halo Fleet Battles is something well worth considering.
Thanks go to Spartan Games for kindly supplying this review copy.