Planetstorm Review

Review by Mark Langsdorf (mlangsdo@prismnet.com)

Planetstorm
Global Games Company
Stock #5000
ISBN 0-9695872-7-9

Planetstorm: Tabletop Battles in Legions of Steel

Physical Description

The Planetstorm rules come in a single 200 page, 8.5" by 11" softcover book. The pages are high gloss paper, illustrated in black and white, with 8 pages of color plates. All rules necessary to play a skirmish game are included, but some photocopying will be necessary.

Most of the text is printed with two columns to a page, with a single grey sidebar. The text in the sidebars tends to look a little "squeezed-in" without very much internal whitespace. Similarly, some of the in-line picture have text bumping right up against the borders.

Contents

The first 142 pages of Planetstorm consist of descriptions of the cultures, units, and tactical organization of the five major races: Machines, UNE, Black Empire, Fantasians, and Infrantites. Each race gets roughly twenty-five to thirty pages. Standard racial tactics are not covered, nor are unit organizations above the platoon level.

The next 35 pages cover all the rules necessary to play Planetstorm. The rules are numbered in a pretty standard fashion: 4.0 is combat, 4.1 is the first major subrule under combat (how to target, I think), 4.11 is the first subrule for targetting, and 4.111 would the the minor subrule for targetting. The first part of each rule (the "quick and dirty" ruling) is boldfaced, with a plaintext explanation below it, and an example in italics after that. The rules formatting is explained on page 11, tucked in between the setting history and the description of the Machines.

Mechanics

Planetstorm is based on the Legions of Steel system. Each figure has 3 characteristics- movement, general modifier, and UPV (unified points value)- a weapons list, and (possibly) hero, command, or leadership points.

The game is played in turns. At the start of each turn, iniative is determined for every unit (squad) for every player. The unit with the highest iniative is activated first. This unit can move, fire, whatever. Then the unit with the next highest iniative is activated.

Movement is rated in inches per turn, walking. All figures can double their speed by running (which imposes penalties on the to-hit roll) and some can triple it by sprinting (which prevents ranged combat). Movement is slowed down by terrain, and may be interrupted by covering or suppressing fire.

Each figure has one or more fire actions. Each fire action can be used to fire one weapon, once. Fire actions can be used before or after movement. If a figure doesn't use its fire actions, they are saved can be used for covering fire during someone else's movement. If a figure doesn't move, it can use suppressing fire- essentially, firing a lot of shells down a lane- to hit a larger number of targets.

Each weapon has a set of kill numbers, based on range. In order to hit a target, a single d6 must be rolled over the kill number for the range. Making the kill number exactly pins the target (forcing it to stop moving, take cover, and expend its fire actions or become exposed and easier to kill). Line of sight, movement, and target toughness (general modifier) also add or subtract to the kill number.

Rules for indirect fire (grenade launchers, mortars, etc) and area effect weapons (grenades) are also included.

Battles can either be set up as scenarios, or point-based pickup battles. With points-based battles, there are limits on the numbers of speciality troops that can be included (such as command sections or Fantasian security groups), and bonuses for using "standard" units (a UNE platoon, bought as a platoon, costs 15% less than the individual figures that make it up). There is also a rule for "decimation," to represent losses taken before the skirmish.

A small set of morale rules is included, but are mostly irrelevent. Most units have such high morale that they only have a 2-6% chance of suffering negative effects from morale, and only when most of the unit is dead.

System Strengths

Legions of Steel is quick to play and tactically realistic. Commanders have to carefully use fire actions during their turn, in order to save some for covering fire during their opponent's actions.

The point system is workable, and presumably reasonably balanced. The limits on special forces are pretty tight, and most special forces aren't that wonderful anyway. The decimation rules tend to hurt quirky forces anyway- losing 3 or 4 troopers from a PI platoon may not be a big deal, but losing Lord Garbelly of the MegaMarines may destroy a strategy.

The background has improved from the first product, and the history is growing. The Machines are reacting to their initial losses in the Planetstorm by reorganizing their command structure and improving their units. The background is rich, and the cultures of the races are described in detail.

System Weaknesses

The pinning rules make it very hard to kill things. Most weapons don't have a base kill number less than 4+ at most ranges, so a roll of 3 or less won't hurt, and a roll of 4 only pins, meaning (if there aren't any other modifiers) there's only a 1/3 chance of scoring a kill. And there's usually going to be modifiers, and most of them are only going to worsen the chances. And a pinned figure is not too terribly limited- it loses fire actions and has to stop moving.

A lot of the optional rules that were suggested in the Tabletop Preview were not included in the final product, as well as many of the rules already available from Legions of Steel Advanced rules. There are no ammo rules for energy and heat based weapons, no rules for kneeling or prone figures, no electronic warfare, mine warfare, or psionics. The concept of overkill (large weapons + small target = extra kills) was lost, making some weapons weaker.

Finally, several rules were changed from LoS to Planetstorm. Some of these were minor tweaks- kill numbers adjusted slightly- but a few were major changes (meaning of a -2 general modifier reversed). A page or system listing the changes for old customers would have been appreciated.

Overall Recommendation

Planetstorm, compared to its stablemate- the Legions of Steel Boxed set- is weak. The rules are unattractively formatted- major headings aren't centered, there's little whitespace, the repeated use of boldface is distracting- and rather sparse. A lot of the rules got little coverage: the section on vehicles is maybe half a page long, as I remember. The races get too much coverage- by page- but not enough detal- in terms of tactical details. There is no description of racial tactics or unit organizations above the platoon level (unlike LoS Boxed, where the unit organization of a UNE battalion was explained. Something is backwards, here). I would have gladly traded the color plates and the color plate descriptions (some twenty pages) for another ten pages of rules and ten pages of battalion breakdowns.

If I sound down on Planetstorm, its only because I am very up with Global Games. Legions of Steel (despite some editing problems) is one of the best miniatures games on the market today. Most of the supplements for Legions of Steel are excellent. I had expected very high quality from Planetstorm, and I got an acceptable quality product. Maybe a little better than something from GW, but not much.

Still, I would recommend buying Planetstorm, but only with reservations. I don't want to see GG lose their shirts over this product. However, if Stormfront (the first expansion) isn't much better than Planetstorm, then I wouldn't recommend it, nor will I buy it.