Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Product Review: Heavy Gear Blitz! 2-Player Starter Set
I've always been interested in Dream Pod 9's "Heavy Gear" universe but I never found the system very approachable without a proper starter set. That changed earlier this year, when Dream Pod 9 released their Blitz! 2-Player Starter Set, and I finally decided to take the plunge and buy in.
The "universe" of Heavy Gear revolves around the colony world of Terra Nova. In a nutshell, Terra Nova was a typical Earth colony for 500 years until the Earth abruptly left and threw the world into turmoil. Terra Novans were quick to adapt to their new found independence and, due to the quirks of Terra Nova's landscape and manufacturing base, the Gear became the principal machine of warfare. A Gear is a large robotic walker piloted by a human, able to traverse nearly all types of terrain with a large weapon load-out for its size. Over the ensuing years, two major powers began to consolidate their control over the polar regions of the planet - The Confederated Northern City-States (CNCS) and the Allied Southern Territories. This power balance changed suddenly when the Earth returned to reclaim its wayward colony and the powers of Terra Nova were thrown into a brutal war with their former masters.
I should start out by saying that, at a $65 price point, I'm rather pleased with this purchase. I honestly bought it for the Locked & Loaded rulebook and the Jager miniatures but the set itself is quite impressive. First, the box is well-packed and of a convenient size for everything included. There are no issues of excessive or un-necessary packaging.
The box itself is simply a nice, white cardboard box with a glossy cover detailing the set contents. When opened, everything is packed nicely and there's some extra packing material to make sure none of the contents is damaged in transit - something I've never seen in any type of boxed miniature I've bought! Additionally, the box is sturdy and just big enough to fit 1-2 squads of assembled gears inside (with the addition of some foam protection).
As to the contents, this box set includes the core rulebook, the "Field Manual" rules addendum (more on that below), a branded ruler (in both inches and centimeters), 6 d6 in a resealable baggie, six Gears (3 Northern Hunters & 3 Southern Jagers), and some additional weapons.
There's also a nice single sheet introduction paper detailing the above contents, the "Gear Garage" software (essentially a free army building program, available on the Dream Pod 9 site), and a general overview of where to proceed from this starter set. What I found most appealing about this is, unlike certain other companies' starter sets, this intro sheet isn't one big glossy marketing ad. Dream Pod 9 seems more concerned that the player make informed choices before proceeding, rather than simply "OMG! Buy our miniature$$$!!!".
If I have one complaint about this set, it's the rulebooks. While I appreciate the smaller-sized rulebooks (I've worn out the binding on both my 40K and FOW mini rulebooks within 6 months of purchase), there's simply too much material on each page to condense it down to a ~4"x6" size, thereby making the fonts miniscule. I think older players and those with poor eyesight may have a serious issue finding and digesting information at this scale and, if this is an issue for you, I highly recommend skipping this set and instead buying the large format rulebook and/or downloading the rulebook PDFs via DriveThruRPG.
I won't go into the rules in detail in this review, as they are simply too comprehensive to delve into here. I will however say that, even though they are small, they're literally packed with rules, background, fluff, army lists, weapons guides, and indexes. Additionally, while the "Locked and Loaded" core rulebook is a huge improvement over its predecessor, it's not very stream-lined and there are some editing errors throughout. Interestingly, instead of making yet another updated core rulebook, DP9 instead added the "Field Manual" rules addendum (making it free to users who had paid for and downloaded the "L&L" PDF via DriveThruRPG...again, something you rarely see in the miniatures industry today).
I should stop and make a short note on army building here. All armies in Heavy Gear are based on the typical "points" system, expressed as "TV" for Threat Value. Units are a given number of "TV", with options and upgrades costing additional "TV". Players agree on a point total for a game but the choices available to building that army are governed by the mission's "Priority Level", agreed upon by the players. For example, at "Priority Level 2" an army must take a minimum of 2 Core groups, and may also include between 2-3 units each of Aux., Specialist, and Elite choices.
The "Field Manual" is a HUGE step forward in easing new players into the HG rules and there are three noticeable differences which make this little book a real gem. First, many procedural rules (i.e. whether a model can "Lock On" to a target and fire) are given simple flowcharts to satisfy the inner geek in you. Instead of having to plod through paragraphs of text, one simply chooses options and proceeds accordingly. Second, weapon ranges have been brought down from the overly complicated mess of 5 range bands (essentially, point-blank/short/medium/long/extreme) to the more conventional 3 range bands (i.e. Short/Medium/Long). Third, ALL current models have their datacards updated to reflect rules changes and the new weapons ranges in the back of the "Field Manual".
Last (and certainly not least) are the Gears. The Hunter and Jager are the standard trooper Gears of the Northern and Southern Leagues, respectively. They are average in stats, skills, weaponry, and pilots (usually); and are the backbone of each armed force. They stand roughly 25-30mm high, are multi-part models, and are mounted on 25mm hex bases. The starter set comes with three of each Gear, packed with all parts for each individual miniature in its own compartment of a six-cell plastic case. This makes it especially easy for new or younger players to assemble the minis without mixing up parts.
Additionally, there are some extra weapons for the Gears and 2 separate heads to make a command Gear for each of the forces. Unfortunately, there aren't enough Gears in this set to make a full unit for either Northern or Southern forces. Leagueless and PAK lists could run all 6 Gears in a single unit, just not North or South specifically. They are still a good value and there's enough miniatures here to run some practice games.
-Good value, especially for beginners who don't know where to start
-Well-packaged contents (probably the best I've ever seen in a miniature game)
-Small size works well for portability
-"Field Manual" rulebook is a real gem
-One Gear/one cell-pack setup is excellent for ease of assembly
-Font size on mini-rulebooks could be an issue for those with poor eyesight
-"Locked & Loaded" rulebook is somewhat 'rough around the edges'
-3 Gears do not a Squad make