Planetfall, for Armada players
Since Firestorm Planetfall is the ground combat companion to Firestorm Armada, it’s no surprise that it shares core mechanics with Armada. This post will serve as a primer and “upgrade guide” for anyone familiar with Armada but interested in Planetfall.
What’s the same?
Well, the core mechanic of Exploding Dice is still present, and used in almost all dice rolls just like in Armada. Weapons fire, shields, command checks, and close quarter battle (melee, more or less) all use it in most situations. Similarly, the concept of DR or Damage Rating is basically identical. Damage Ratings in Planetfall range from 3 for basic infantry, through 5 for some heavy infantry and light units, around 7 for most tanks, and up to 11 for some of the heaviest and most impressive units, the leviathans!
What’s a little different?There are several of these. Activations is one of them. Planetfall takes the alternating-by-unit concept of Armada, but modifies it a little bit. When building a force, you assemble an assortment of “helixes”, that really should be called hexes, because that’s their actual shape. You start with a core hex, which will have some mandatory units and some optional ones, and you can add more specialized hexes like Heavy Support, Recon, Aerial, and others. Once you activate a unit from a particular hex, you are required to finish activating the units in that hex before you can move on to another one. This can sometimes be exploited by a clever opponent, for example making an attack on one flank while the currently-activating hex is on the other flank.
The Critical Rating of Armada has been removed and replaced with multiple Damage Ratings. They’re not always the same number, however. Relthoza units, for example, often get harder to damage as they get wounded. The damage rating of one of their command tanks is listed as 7+8+9, meaning that an undamaged one will take 7 hits to damage, but one that has already lost two of its three damage points would require 9 hits to finish it off. The pattern of the damage ratings varies by faction. Some are constant, like 6+6, while others decrease, like 7+6+5. In that last case, it would take 7 hits to put the first damage marker on a model, but once it has two markers, 5 hits will be enough to finish it off! Also, there are fewer damage points in Planetfall in general. A Planetfall model will have about half the damage points of its Armada counterpart. Light units typically have only one, medium units analogous to cruisers have two, and the largest units have only four. This makes for significantly less record-keeping than in Armada.
Weapons can still be combined when a unit of multiple models fire, but it’s significantly simpler. There is no dice-linking mechanic; you can just total the dice of all the models that are able to fire. Also, instead of subtracting dice from the pool, damage markers subtract hits after the hits are calculated. Finally, you target a unit rather than an individual model. Damage is applied to the nearest model, but any damage that “overflows” will be applied to the next closest. Yes, this makes the game fast and bloody!
It’s easier to get shots at vulnerable angles than in Armada. A shot at the side facing of a model treats all the damage ratings as one less, while a shot at the rear reduces it by two.
What’s very different?The Relthozan cloaking field is significantly changed. It is always on, but not nearly as effective as the Armada version. Firing at a cloaked target is one of the exceptions to the rule that you use Exploding Dice. In this scenario, you use a slight modification called Heavy Dice. Sixes still count as two hits, but you don’t get to throw the additional dice. Incidentally, the other scenario where Heavy Dice come into play is if a Kinetic weapon fires at a target with shields. If the weapon is firing at Effective Range (there are currently only two range bands, Effective and Long), then the shield roll to counter it uses Heavy rather than Exploding Dice.
There is no longer a specific reserve phase. During activation of a helix that has reserve units, instead of activating one of the units already on the table, you can bring in one of the reserve units. They can move on from the edge, but in most cases they will “Sky Drop” in, homing in on a sky drop marker that was placed on the table during setup. There will always be some scatter, however, so it’s best not to get too risky.
Most importantly to me, movement is much simpler. There are no minimum movements, and generally only leviathans need to use a turning template. Models moving at cruising speed can turn as often as they want, like SRS tokens in Armada. The only restrictions on movement are that if you go Flat Out (the second of two movement stats), it must be in a straight line and most units can not fire after a Flat Out movement.
Well, there you have it! This turned out a little longer than expected, but I don’t think it’s too bad. I suppose I would be remiss without at least mentioning that a new version of the game is in development, and there have been some teasers released. Most things are minor tweaks and cleanups, but it looks like weapon configurations are getting deeper. More range bands, and more types of weapons, and apparently merging CQB with regular weapons. One new type of weapon, currently called tertiary, is actually most effective at longer ranges than short ones, so it might be intended as the replacement for the artillery mechanic (no, I didn’t mention how artillery works, but it’s kind of weird). Planetfall is a great game, even though it shows that it is a 1.0 revision at this point. Still, it is way better, and way better balanced, than a certain version 7 game I could name!