Tabletop Review: Robotech RPG Tactics Core Rulebook

IMG_1400Robotech RPG Tactics Core Rulebook
Publisher: Palladium
Cost: N/A (Only in the core Robotech RPG Tactics Box Set which will be approximately $99.95)
Page Count: 112
Release Date: October 2013
Get it Here: Palladium Books

Back on 10/15 I did a large unboxing photo collection of the Kickstarter Backer version of the Robotech RPG Tactics box set. Now, however, it’s time to start reviewing the product. First comes the book, and later on I’ll start reviewing the minis, many of which have a ton of tiny parts (a single Valkyrie has more parts than some giant Warhammer minis. Sheesh!) I was very happy when I first flipped through the core rulebook for Robotech RPG Tactics. However, when I really started to read it, I realized that although the production values were high, the book suffered from a few HUGE issues that really ruin the core rulebook. In the end, the core rulebook was far more style than substance and there are some major mistakes within it that I’ve never seen occur with a miniatures game before. I was kind of shocked by some of the decisions and mistakes, but in the end, there were a lot of red flags with this game once the crowdfunding effort ended, so I shouldn’t be too surprised. Still, it’s worth noting what’s good and bad about this book, because it’s far from being all bad, so you the reader can make up your own mind about its quality.

First up – let’s talk the production values. Although not a hardcover like a lot of core rulebook for wargames, the softcover boasts the same wonderful art as the art print that comes with the game. The cover is glossy, but is much thinner than the usual cover for a RPG/wargame related book, so it will probably tear easy. The book is held together by glue rather than a sewn binding, so it will fall apart with regular use. The interior pages are gorgeous. Every page is a high quality glossy stock. It’s gorgeous to look at and it will definitely leave you with a fantastic first impression thanks to the beautiful art and snazzy design. This core rulebook oozes style even if you just know if will fall apart after regular use. It would be nice if Palladium had made it a bit sturdier or offered a way for people to pick it up without the $100 box set purchase, but what can you do.

Now for content. The book features nine chapters, with a mix of Robotech history and background that eventually gives way to stats, rules and mechanics. The first chapter, “History of the Macross Saga,” is exactly what you might suppose – a timeline and rundown of Harmony Gold’s first Robotech series. This is then followed up by “The Rules,” which gives you a good idea of how to play the game. The rules aren’t very detailed, especially compared to games like Warhammer, Warmachine or Deep Wars, but they are defined enough that you should be able to play the game decently if you stick to just what is in the box set. In some ways, the rules are as deep as Heroclix or Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures from back in the mid 00s. The crux of the rules is to roll a D6. A 6 is an automatic hit, a 1 is an automatic miss and anything in between is added to your mech’s trait in one of four particular areas (Speed, Piloting, Gunnery, Defense), and if the core result is a 6 or higher, you succeed at your task. It’s amazing how simple and user friendly the rules to Robotech RPG Tactics are, while the miniatures are perhaps the most newcomer unfriendly on the market. Such a crazy paradox. Basically, you want one friend who is very good at gluing, painting and snipping to do all the work, and then after they have finished weeks later, you can play a quick, easy tactical wargamer.

IMG_1401Also in “The Rules,” you have the standard content, like discussing how turns work, how important facing and line of sight are to attack, special abilities mechs can have and the little things that can be added or subtracted to a die roll’s final result. It’s all pretty well detailed and easy to follow, but there there is such an emphasis on specific distance between miniatures on the field that I’m surprised the game didn’t come with a mini tape measure like some similar boxed sets have. It’s also going to be annoying to some that Health is called MDC here instead of something like Hit Points. That’s so un-instinctive it’ll confuse newcomers and casual gamers alike.

What I am impressed with is that there are a lot of combat options in the game, but not too many that you’ll need to crack the book constantly to see what they all are. You have two basic defense options in Dodge and Roll with Impact. You can use both in succession, which will really help to keep mechs alive in this game. Perhaps the weakest part of the game are Command Points, but only because I think you get too many of them. You get 1 per mech you currently are fielding, combined with however many leadership points you have amongst your mechs. It really does feel like way too many, but at least it means you’ll have more than enough for your defensive maneuvers when your opponent is on the attack. You can also use command points for extra attacks, but honestly, from what I’ve seen, defense is king in this game so far. Maybe when the Wave Two pieces come out that will change, but right now, if you spend all those points on extra attacks that will inevitably miss when your opponent uses his or her on avoidance, you’ll have nothing left to dodge their blasts when they get to attack.

So the rules of Robotech RPG Tactics are light, easy to understand and pretty newcomer friendly. It’s when you get to the next three chapters, which are the army sections, where things fall horribly apart. Now I assume most of you have some experience with fielding an army in a miniatures game, be it 40K or Risk, but in most collectable miniatures games, you army book gives you a list of fieldable creatures for your army, along with a point value per figure and some information about fielding a squadron/sect/whatever. Well, in the Robotech RPG Tactics core rulebook, you don’t get that. Oh, you get the base stats for your mech, along with a list of attacks and special abilities it possesses, but there is absolutely no information about how to field or create an army. No point values, no squad information, no list of upgrades, NOTHING. This is nowhere in the core rulebook, meaning the one thing you need to carry with you is essentially useless for army building. If you can’t build an army, you can’t play the game. I’ve never seen this kind of a faux pas in a miniatures rulebook or army book before, so I’m shocked at how badly though out this is.

IMG_1390So how DO you field an army in Robotech RPG Tactics? I’m glad you asked. Inside the box set are some tiny cards, about the length of my pinky finger. It is only on these cards where you can find the point value of pieces. Even then, it only shows the point value for pre-generated squadrons, such as four Spartan Destroids or 12 Regult Battlepods. There is absolutely no way to customize a squad from scratch. There are a few add-on and upgrade option cards (with tiny print on them) as well, but if I want a squad of two VF-1Js and a VF-1D (different Valkyrie types), it’s not even possible. You can’t even make a squad of just one or two mechs if you want. So not only does the game stifle gamer creativity by not letting them completely customize their team (what if I don’t WANT to build two VF-1A mechs?), but the only way to know how to build an army is with these easily lost and/or destroyed tiny cards. Who actually thought this was a good idea? Other minis games that have cards for easy reference which contain point values do this in ADDITION to having the stats in the core rulebook, not INSTEAD OF. There is absolutely no reason the point values for army building aren’t in the rulebook and this is one of the most boneheaded decisions I’ve see in this industry this year. It’s shockingly stupid. That’s all that can be said about it.

Even worse, there are absolutely no point builds for the Wave Two figures. Why not? Their stats are in the book. There has been no mention of needing to purchase extra cards (or even that they would exist) so how is anyone going to be able to field any of these Wave Two figures? Are their cards coming in the miniature boxes that will house the sprues? What if someone wants to field an Armored Valkyrie, a Super Valkyrie and a regular Valkyrie in the same unit? Why don’t we have costs for that NOW so people can plan ahead? Are we not going to be allowed to play a Monster without X number of other pieces? Why include their stats in the rulebook but not any way to play them? If you were going to do that, why not just complete the divide and make a Wave One and Wave Two rulebook? This is just so horribly thought out and it would be nice to be able to actually have an idea of how to field everything. Hell, there is no card or point value for anything with a VF-1D, and that’s a figure that’s currently available! There are so many terrible mistakes in the realm of army building with this game that it’s not even funny. As good as the mechanics are, the terrible result that is the entire army building experience coupled with the high degree of miniature building experience needed to even get this game put together makes this a “DO NOT BUY” for anyone but someone well versed in wargaming. I’d love to know what the hell was going on at Palladium when they designed the army building aspect this way. Sure, at some point someone had to have lost or destroyed one of these tiny Force Cards, right? RIGHT? Ugh. Just thinking/writing about it gets my dander up, and I’ve been extremely patient with Palladium even while hundreds of other backers have had public temper tantrums on the web about how badly they have handled this game post crowdfunding. The army building flaws in this game though… oh man, I can’t forgive this. Not at all. Shame on you Palladium for putting out the worst Army Building I’ve seen in twenty-some years of wargaming. Who knows, maybe when Wave Two comes out they’ll do a NEW rulebook that does things right. If they do though, you’ll probably have to buy it all over again. Ugh, slimy.

IMG_1406So after the three army sections in the book, WHICH DON’T ACTUALLY HELP YOU TO BUILD SAID ARMIES, we move on to “Fighting a Battle.” Here you are given four intro scenarios that tell you to ignore army building rules and just use the pre-generated groups for each scenario. After these intro scenarios, you are given the “Building An Army” rules (which amounts to “use the cards,” UGH.) and then information on standard scenarios which can involve specific goals, victory points, terrain, set deployment zones and all the other good stuff we’ve come to know and love as wargaming tropes. There are six specific scenarios and eleven common “special rules” that may come up, but you’ll be able to make your own. You know, unlike actual army design. It’s fairly pat stuff, but it’s great to see all sorts of scenario options included in the core rulebook, especially for the newer or more casual gamer. Robotech RPG Tactics is already unfriendly enough as is, so I like that the rules and the inclusion of beginner scenarios are here to attempt to balance out the mini build and army building issues.

The next two chapters are “Campaigns” and “RPG Applications.” This is by far the best part of the handbook. “Campaigns” gives you ideas for more than just one-off battles with your figures. It talks about a narrative campaign designed by a GM where the battles use the minis, similar to the old RPG/Wargame hybrids of the 70s like Boot Hill. Another is a tree style narrative where you have a series of battles. Who and how the previous battle was won determines what the next battle is like, and so on until the campaign reaches its final battle. This is my personal favorite way to do a wargame, and it’s how I regularly play Warhammer games. The final campaign type is map-based, and while it takes a lot of work, if you’re looking to play a LOT of Robotech RPG Tactics it’s worth it, as you will generate a ton of games with this version. It’s somewhat similar to Risk or other “domination” style map based games. It requires a lot of time, energy and dedication to the game though, so it will definitely be the least used version of the campaign. The best part about campaigns is that your pieces can gain experience points and thus graduate from nameless pieces of plastic to characters you grow to care about. That one VF-1A might become your favorite guy as it gains XP and thus new skills and abilities. Then when it actually dies in a battle, it means a lot more.

The “RPG Applications” is a quick three pages that lets you adapt the Robotech Role-Playing Game to Robotech RPG Tactics. Kind of. It talks about how much easier it is to switch to Robotech RPG Tactics to do mass combat and how to convert a character from the tabletop RPG to the miniature tactics game. It’s really quite neat. I’m glad that Palladium put this in, even if only a fraction of Robotech RPG Tactics players will use the crossover.

IMG_1408Finally, you get a really bad paint guide to close out the book. You get fifteen pages of official colour schemes for your minis. Unfortunately, it is artwork rather than actual pictures of the minis shown here. Worse yet, you see the finished colour scheme, and there is no mention of shading, washes or any of the other things to make your miniature end up looking this way. Again, extremely unfriendly to newcomers who haven’t dealt with minis before. Each figure has a set of eleven or so hex codes by them, which a longtime minis fans will really correspond to specific colours. However, most people aren’t going to know that and just view these as gobblygook. The codes don’t even show what color they correspond to. You’re just supposed to take the initiative and look them up. Ugh. Can the game be any more of a dick to people who are just starting out in this hobby? It gets even crazier when you go to a website like Dakkadakka who has the best paint range compatibility chart on the web… only to find some of these hex codes don’t actually correspond to colours you can actually buy from companies like Reaper, Citadel, Mantic and so on. Holy crap, did anyone actually think this through? Bad Palladium, BAD! So yes, even for veteran mini painters, this paint guide is spectacularly awful. What a great way to close out this core rulebook.

As you can see, the core rulebook for Robotech RPG Tactics has some truly great, fun and fresh ideas, but they are lost amongst the truly terrible design ideas that overshadow the good parts of the book. A lack of army building options in the book makes it pretty useless on some levels and the terrible painting guide (coupled with the actual putting together of the minis) makes this game extremely unfriendly to all but the most devoted mini builders, even with the excellent rules-lite system. I honestly don’t know how this made it through playtesting, especially with the sheer amount listed on the inside cover. I think the problem is that either Palladium didn’t listen to some obvious criticism that had to be raised or the testers were too close to the product and or sycophantic to Palladium, not telling them what they actually needed to here. The end result is a game that is pretty terrible in regards to putting things together and fielding your army, but once you actually get through the weeks and/or months or crap you have to deal with before actually playing the game, you’ll find it’s a lot of fun. The problem is most people, especially those who haven’t spent a good portion of their lives putting together minis and/or painting them will give up on Robotech RPG Tactics long before they get to that point. What a god damn shame.

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