Friday, June 15, 2012

5150 SF Rules Battle Report and Review

As a result of the minor sh!tstorm that resulted from our group's less-than-overwhelmingly-positive first impressions of Tomorrow's War, "Ed the Two-Hour Wargames Guy" very generously offered me a review copy of his company's Sci-Fi skirmish wargame, "5150: Star Army". I duly promised to play and review the game and finally we've had a chance to do so. Here goes...

My hardcopy of 5150 comprises a 98-page rulebook bound "cerlox" style. The full-colour cover is well-executed and professional. The inside is black-and-white throughout, with no illustrations and a few line diagrams. While the layout is basic and unornamented, it's clear. Production quality is nowhere near something like Tomorrow's War, but then again, neither is the price. The writing style is conversational, in some cases a bit much so for my liking ("are you picking up what I'm putting down?" yikes) but in most instances, it works. The basic rules take up about half the book while the rest is comprised of the "army lists", scenario contruction and campaign information and the quick reference material.

Like Tomorrow's War, the game uses a "reaction system", where figures act and react to the actions of others, as opposed to the traditional "IGO-UGO" system where one side takes its whole turn, followed by the other side. Unlike Tomorrow's War, the reaction system in 5150 is relatively well-described and is more clearly laid out in the rules. There are a finite number of "reactions" and the circumstances for tests are pretty clearly described. An interesting feature of the rules is that each faction has its own reaction tables and a die roll that would result in success for elite troops often is much less positive if your troops are not as good. I like this feature but it results in a chart-heavy game... 

So we played an introductory scenario, "Rescue the Pilot", pitting three squads of PDF (Rep 3 and 4) against two squads of Star Army troops (Rep 4 and 5). We used Greg's cool new individually based 15mm figures, and just substituted centimeters for inches for movement and range purposes.

The "pilot" is in the building in the middle of the table

Star Army squads moves on

Hapless pilot, "objective-ified" yet again

PDF waiting in ambush

Star Army crosses the river

PDF lurking behind a hedge

Star Army squad decimated by PDF fire

Star Army survivor makes off with the pilot

Star Army squad withdraws
Conscript Brian played the PDF and Greg B. ran the Star Army. The game pretty much went as expected with the better-led Star Army squads lighting up the PDF and achieving their objective of grabbing the pilot. However, they weren't exactly unbloodied, with a Star Army squad caught in the open getting seriously mauled. Greg's die rolling was hot (lots of "obviously dead" results) and Brian's was mostly "not" so that may have made a bit of difference in the result, but as with most "reaction" rulesets we've played, small differentials in troop quality make a huge difference in the game (Tomorrow's War, I'm looking at you).

I think the guys enjoyed the game, but personally, it is gonna take more to move me off my beloved IGO-UGO (I know, I am a bit of a dinosaur that way). The different charts for the different factions are pretty cool, but it is the sheer volume of charts in 5150 that blow my brain a little bit. There are over 100 (!) in the rulebook... including three dealing with Spider Holes (standard chart plus "Discovery" and "Occupancy"), two dealing with Grenades ("Ready" and "Throwing"), etc.  Granted, most won't be used in a game, but still... I guess there were about three pages in the book I had to flip back and forth regularly from, and that's not too bad.

I actually think I prefer the reaction system in 5150 to that in Tomorrow's War, because it seems more clearly laid out and a bit more intuitive. For example, I like that 5150's "Received Fire" reaction is to either duck back, snap fire (at reduced effect) or fire at full effect... and that a firefight can rage back and forth until one combatant is hit, or ducks back out of sight. Very cool.

We didn't get into advanced stuff like leaders' dice in the first game, but I can see us getting detailed in future games. As I said, IGO-UGO may be less "realistic" but on a Thursday night, after a long day at work using my grey cells, sometimes I just want to crack a beer and kick back to some non-brain-melting Warhammer or Lord of the Rings-based gaming. My pleasure is mainly in pushing some nicely-painted lead around a well manicured table. But while I don't need "fancy" in my rules, I have to admit that from time to time it's nice to stretch the brain a bit and I think 5150 could do the trick for that.

Thanks again to Ed Texeira for the review copy. 5150: Star Army can be purchased as a hardcopy or .pdf from Two Hour Wargames.


Lead Legion said...

I'm a big fan of the two Hour Wargames system. I haven't seen 5150 yet, or the more campaign orientated supplement for it, but I love their zombie game, ATZ. I agree that it's a much faster, more elegant system than Ambush Alley's games though.

Lead Legion said...

I love 2 Hour Wargames' system myself. I haven't seen 5150 except in battle reports, but love their zombie game, ATZ. I agree that it's a much more elegant, less clunky system than the Ambush Alley mechanics, despite being a fan of Tomorrow's War. I might have to go an expand my collection of Two Hour's games, just to have a look at 5150. The supplements for it look interesting too.

Kobayachimaru said...


If you want to deepen your 5150:SA experience you can have a look at my 5150:SA page on my blog:

You'll find counters, optional rules, etc.

I used to play TW but I'm 100% in THW games now (5150:SA, 5150:NB, etc.).



Greg B said...

Great review Dallas. I liked 5150's approach to reaction better than Tommorow's War too, but one area where I think 5150 is very limited is that the reactions are per model, not per unit. That is quite cumbersome, and really limits the size of the game.

I agree that IGOUGO has a lovely clarity to it, but I am stuck on the idea that somehow reaction based based gaming can still be clear enough to play a good-sized game quickly without undue strain on the Thursday night grey matter. Perhaps I am chasing a ghost...

Ed the THW Guy said...

"but one area where I think 5150 is very limited is that the reactions are per model, not per unit. That is quite cumbersome, and really limits the size of the game. "

Easy to fix. NUTS uses one roll applied for the whole unit. Went to individual figures because players asked for it.
So you can roll one set of dice for the whole unit.

Ed the THW Guy said...

By the way, the Reaction System was first used by THW way before there even was an Ambush Alley games. First appeared in 1998 with Warrior Heroes and in 2002 with four skirmish games starting with Six Gun Sound and BUGS.

Ed the THW Guy said...

Just o clarify in SA you roll one set of d6 and apply the results to each figure taking the test, not each figure rolls individually.
Had to look it up myself.

Mike A said...

Sounds like a good system. I'll have to pick it up and finish off my 15mm NAC.

Mike Lawler said...

This review in part led me to purchase Battalion Commander, which I believed to be a scaled up version (in scope of game) to Star Commander. I get that there are a ton of people that enjoy it but holy cow I can't get into it. The format of the book, the charts, it just really needs some polish. It's also confusing that you are told that the game scales but you are then told you should put your models on strips like for 10mm gaming. Not happening for 28mm sorry.. If it was fantasy, sure.. but not models that are used for other games that don't require a permenant multi-basing type of system.

I feel like the die-hards are going to bash me for this but I want to put it out there for people who are googling like I did. THW has some free rules on their site.. they use a similar set up.. Look at those (they're free) and make absolute sure you like that type of thing. I feel like I flushed $20 down the toilet :/