As many of you will know I've been really taken with Heavy Gear Blitz recently. It's all those giant robots and hover tanks that do it I think. Any way I've had my copy of the Heavy Gear Blitz Field Manual for quite some time now, and I thought it was a bout time to give you all a bit of a break down on what I thought of it as a product and as a game... if those two things can be so easily separated out. I'm willing to give it a go...
What we have is a roughly 60 page full colour (the book is also available in Black and White for £10.50), soft back rulebook. The pages have a matte finished and the cover has a high glossy cover. It is glue bound, and unsurprisingly contains the rules for Heavy Gear Blitz... what? It's a rulebook, I thought people might like to know it contains the rules is all.
Gameplay 8.5 out of 10
It's often really hard to review rulebooks without re-writing some of the rules and quite frankly going into far too much mechanical detail. I've re-written this section of the review three times now, because every time I want to talk about something nifty in the game I end up reproducing the rules, which obviously is a breach of copyright and not really all that helpful to you in terms of understanding what the game plays like in a general sense. That is actually what a review of a rulebook should be about, if you want to have a look at the rules you should zip along and read the free quick start rules download for yourself. I'm going to be talking like a hippie in this review, trying to give you sense of what the game is like and talking about the feel of the thing... man. The game is very fast, fluid and highly tactical. The game system also responds well to different types of scenery and table layouts, with different options and tactics becoming more or less prevalent depending on the scenery down on the table. In some respects the game works equally well with any sort of tabletop set up you could imagine, it'll just play differently and different tactics will rule. That to me is a sign of a good system.
|A typical sort of two page spread in the book.|
Firstly the game can seem a bit daunting when starting out, even more so than most games. It's not more difficult or indeed complex than most, in fact it's the opposite once you get down to the core mechanics, its actually quite an easy set of rules to understand and they're actually quite streamlined. Nope it's the words used, Heavy Gear has its own language and lexicon to learn but once you're past that the games a doddle to play. There also at first seems to be a lot of it, but what the game actually gives you is options, lots of options, but none of the rules governing these options are complex or overly fussy. In this respect reading the rules and learning to play the game is actually quite a similar experience to another favorite of mine, Infinity. In many respects they're kindred spirits, both games want both players to be as involved as they can be at the same time, they don't want you experiencing 'downtime'. They both want to offer players choices and options on the table, but they don't want the rules governing those options to be complex. Get over that initial trepidation and you'll start realising the game isn't as daunting as you fist thought.
On page 5 of the book is a brief description of each of the various facets on a units cards. You can see a picture of page 5 to the left. I've watched people reading the rulebook who I've loaned it too stop on this page and make a confused face, sometimes they make strained noises, but mostly they just look a bit scared. There is no question that the Datacards contain a lot of information, and it is a little overwhelming if you aren't used to such things. For instance most Gears within the game will have multiple weapons that can be used by them. While most games give individual models just the one weapon and that's your lot, it's all part of Heavy Gear wanting to give the gamer options, as I mentioned earlier on. The Field Manual does a great job though of explaining it all clearly and precisely. There's obviously loads more than just weapons, and various 'stats' have multiple numbers, which obviously relate to various different 'options' you choose as you're playing the game. It could've been badly handled and mentally traumatised the more timid gamers amongst us, but it is explained swiftly and clearly and at no point is too much information loaded onto the player in one shot. The thing that causes the next panicked look is the mention of 'Threat Value' (TV) and 'Priority Level' (PL). They really aren't that daunting though, all you need to know now is that TV is in effect the points a unit cost, in much the same way as pretty much every other game you've ever played, while PL is about selecting the sort of force composition you want to use. The higher the PL value the better or more access you'll have to the elite units in your army.
|Take that master of the beard!!! Oh wait... no... that's me!!! *sad face*|
This is the first nifty thing I want to talk about with Heavy Gear Blitz, selecting your forces. I'm sure many of you will be familiar with the term spam. Many games have what I'd call no brainer units and defunct choices, why take any of unit X when you can take multiple unit Y's, which are just so much better? Games have tried limiting you from taking such elite forces only, either by putting a limit on how many you can take or introducing a second point value as in the case of Infinity with SWC. All have their places and all work well when implemented properly. Heavy Gear Blitz takes a slightly different route. It says if you want that elite force that's fine, take it, but we expect you to win by more because of what you've got in your force. It's actually a really subtle and very clever way of balancing things out. You can take a PL 4 force in a 750 TV game if you want, but if your opponent is playing with a PL 1 force they need to achieve less to ensure victory. I like this a lot.
After you've selected your forces you'll want to set up a game. Now obviously you can choose straight up brawls but the game includes options that cover Table Effects like sand storms or night time, unusual events such as Extreme Temperatures, which mean you can start the game stunned. All that's before you decide what the deployment zones will be. Obviously you can follow the set up and pick the various aspects at random, and that's fun too, but I think what these various rules and options give you is the ability to construct your own battles exactly how you want them. I think the scenario set up in Heavy Gear Blitz is a real strength of the game coupled with the PL system it actually makes for really engaging and exciting games. To see a game that has such a tight and well considered scenario generator from the outset is actually a pleasure. Many games offer standard missions or a very few random options, but with Heavy Gear there really is a sense that all of these various options give rise to very different games, that force players to think on their feet, and more importantly on the table.
Speaking of things 'on the table', I'd better talk a bit about the game and how it works hadn't I? Well as with most wargames the core mechanics revolve around random outcome generators, or 'dice' as normal people call them, these 'dice' are 'rolled' to generate uncertain outcomes. I'm sure you're all familiar with the process! Rolls tend to be face to face rolls / opposed, or against target numbers, The game uses the trusty old D6, but often you'll be rolling multiple D6 or to be more precise 2D6, although it isn't a 2D6 system. Let me explain, so what you do is roll your two dice and take the highest score, you don't add them together. You then compare the results either against your opponents roll or a target score you need to achieve, depending on what it is you are attempting to do, to discern the margin of your success (or in the case of my gaming buddy the Cursed the margin of failure) and that determines the nature of what happens, like how much damage you do etc. it's a really straight forward and quick fluid system. The game uses alternating activations, so I activate a unit then you activate a unit. All actions in a unit must be carried out so move shoot and fire with everything you can, before moving on. Their are a few actions which allow you to respond outside of this sequence like reactive fire, but it's not the norm as it were. This keeps the game close and also means you're always doing something and participating rather than being passive. I hate being passive!!!
I could go into how movement works or ECM and many other neat little touches I like in the game, but you can read about them yourself in the quick start rules. The purpose of this review is to let you know that I love the game, and that the Field Manual makes the game really easy to learn and play. I've personally found the rulebook really accessible and easy to read. I've also found it really easy to focus in on a specific section in the book when I'm a bit lost ad am not quite sure what happens next. I think the fact that the core rules for playing the game are actually only 18 pages long helps a lot, as does the fact that it's set out in a logical fashion. The rulebook is also jam packed with flow diagrams and diagrams explaining the rules and and various sequences, which really help give you a clear sense of what the rules actually mean and how they should be implemented. It's just a really good game with a really well laid out rulebook, if big giant robots beating seven shades of crap out of each other is your idea of fun then you should consider looking at this game, it's great fun.
Detail 7.5 out of 10
The detail section of a rulebook review is an interesting beast. It the past I've picked up on the ambiance of a book, the fluff and back story, but not really all that much. It's more about the images and pretty pictures, as well quality of the writing. In terms of the pictures within the rulebook they're all exceptionally clear as are the diagrams. It's very well written and is cleanly and clearly laid out. The only downside is the distinct lack of fluff, but the idea behind this rulebook was to just give you the rules straight and clear, and on that count it does it's job. If you want the fluff you should go check out the other books in the range, like the NuCoal Perfect Storm book (review of that coming shortly).
|There's even some nice pictures of 'aspirational' boards... books and tablecloths again then?|
Quality 7.5 out of 10
I've often bemoaned the poor quality of some rulebooks in the past. I've found that many of them have been badly constructed and flimsy, meaning they're easy to damage during use. Rulebooks aren't like your paper back novels that once you've read them you don't mind the fact they have cracked spines, as in effect they're 'done'. Nope, rulebooks are tools of the trade, things that will see repeated use, reference materials if you will. As such they need to be produced with this function in mind, they are the laws by which our geeky hobby is governed, and they will see repeated use. Now I can already hear Jon Nguyen in my ear telling me that's what the downloadable PDF's are for, and I should upload them onto my iPad... and yeah that's really handy, and an option I'd urge you all to explore if you have a tablet computer of non-specified brand or make to hand. There are other things out there besides the iPad people. But here's the problem with that, it requires you to have an iPad or some such device in the first place, and it doesn't negate the fact that I've found the binding on my rulebook to be, not poor exactly, just not up to spec. It's a bit like the binding on Games Workshops Codices from a few years back when they'd be fine for a while but start to crack a little too early for my liking eventually.
That's already started to happen with my book, even though I have digital copies of it. Why? Because from the age of 5 my brain has been hardwired to bring a rulebook with me. To resort to the rulebook. Is that silly, do I need to get out of the habit and use my electronic copy? Probably, but for others the rulebook is all they'll have access to. It's by no means a deal breaker, and 7.5 isn't a bad score, it's just an average in terms of rulebooks. The pages being a matte finish also means that they've tended to get a little bit grubby as they've been thumbed. Now I'm sure I've banged on about this before, but I think pages should be a satin finish! Not high gloss so it feel weird to thumb through, and makes the pages hard to read, and not matte finish so it looks tatty and dog eared after use. Satin finished pages retain enough of the best properties of the other two options while negating most of the negatives. Yeah, I really do think about these sorts of things, and yes that probably does make me a bit of a freak. But, it's freaks like me that obsess about these things and point them out to people like you so you don't have to. You should thank me for being so strange, and count your blessings you don't know me in person!
I am however going to say the actual print quality on the pages is top notch. Despite me giving the book a damn good thumbing over the past few months, hell I've even given it to my friends so they could give it a good thumbing too... I'm honestly not trying to make this sound dirty... and so far I've noticed no ink smudges or running. The pictures and print are all really clear and easy to read, something regular readers of my Blog will know I appreciate immensely, as I'm dyslexic. Trust me if I can work out what your rules are saying and accurately play your game after one read through then the print and layout is fine. I'd also like to give a thumbs up to the glossy cover... yeah it's OK for covers to be glossy... why? Well some blithering idiot spilled a can of Coke over the book during a game... OK the blithering idiot was me, but thankfully because of the glossy cover no damage was done. True if it had got to the pages I'd have been done for, but the glossy cover gave me time to respond. I never seem to learn my lesson either, open bottles and cans of fizzy pop and I have a long and sordid gaming history. As rulebooks go quality wise it's not terrible and its not awesome, it's just average, and that's not bad.
Service 6 out of 10
Although this has nothing to do directly with the rulebook itself, or indeed Dream Pod 9, it does speak to an issue the game has here in the UK and Europe. I ordered the book off of Waylands Games, and to be honest the service I get from there is usually very mixed, that's me being as polite as I can be. When I ordered the book their God awful website said it was in stock. Over a week later, nearly two weeks, I hadn't received anything, so I contacted them and they told me to wait for a month or so for it to turn up. They claimed over the phone it had been sent. The post date stamp on the parcel I received 5 days later begs to differ with that claim. The book also came with a number of other things I'd order at the time. It wasn't packaged well at all. No bubble wrap to protect it from the boxes or anything. I'm pinning my colours to the mast here, I hate trying to use Waylands Games website its shocking to navigate, and I hate having to use them for orders because they're shockingly bad at getting it right. Sadly they have exclusive distribution rights to the game here in Europe, which means none of my usual stores will go near it as a product, even though many have told me they'd like to stock it. Honestly, Dream Pod 9 in Canada offer a far superior and speedier delivery service to Waylands Games and I'll be using them from now on, and I'll possibly give Pyre Studios a go.
Price 6.5 out of 10
Eyebrow raising moment again. Waylands Games are selling the full colour rulebook for £21, and I have to say for the quality of the book alone I'd score that as poor value for money. I'd have expected the product to have been closer to £15 or £16 mark, as that's what I normally pay for products of a similar quality from other games... simply put don't go to Waylands Games, try Pyre Studios instead who are selling it for £16. That is a really fair price, and if I'd paid that price I'd have given it a score of 8 out of 10. Indeed it's actually cheaper to get it imported from Canada via Dream Pod 9 than it is to get it from Waylands Games. Waylands Games really are a bit of a joke when they have a strangle hold on distribution rights.
Overall 8 out of 10
I've taken the scores for service and price out of the equation because that's Waylands Games doing what Waylands Games do, screwing things up. It's not fair to score a product from one company down, because another doesn't know its arse from its elbow! Besides, the most important thing for any rulebook is that the rules are presented in a clear and easy to understand manner. That it is easy to navigate to and that it's layout makes sense when trying to look things up when you think your opponent is cheating... I've got my eye on you!!! That the games the rules produce on the table are fun, engaging and above all else worth your time. On all those scores the Heavy Gear Blitz Field Manual exceeds expectations. I'm sure some of the fluff bunnies out there will be sobbing into their perfectly crafted back stories for their armies at the lack of fluff, but that's not what this rulebook was about. It was about streamlining the rules and making them easier to pick up and play, plus sorting out some issues in the Locked and Loaded rulebook, on than score I think it's made of epic win. If you want the fluff their are plenty of other source books out there, truly there's loads of them, if you want to start playing the game then I highly recommend you get this book first and read through it as it makes the game seem far more accessible than the original rulebook I saw did... and as someone who is dyslexic that's a good thing. Peace out!