A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to pop down to Spartan Games HQ outside of Shepton Mallet to play a couple of games of the new Halo Ground Command (HGC) game, plus have a chat with Spartan supremo Neil Fawcett. As luck would have it, we also met up with sometime Podcast host and good friend Rich Jones, who ended up teaching us the game.
What you will need
Pretty much everything you need to play will come in the starter box – even a few bits of scenery.
You will need a few regular D6 – probably between 4 and 8 – and tape measure marked with inches. Combat uses a number of custom D6, which are provided in the 2-player starter set. You will probably end up needing more of these, so you can purchase additional sets, though it is also worth noting that these are the same dice as used in Halo Fleet Battles, so if you also own that game, you should be sorted.
Forces / Model count
For our introductory game, we played with the forces that come in the 2-player starter set. As we discovered, these give enough troops for a fairly decent game, but are essentially half the size of the minimum force that you would really want to play with. The two starting forces both work out at 1,000 points of troops and vehicles, plus 250 points for an air support option of a Pelican or Phantom. When playing on a 4’ x 4’ table, it is recommended that forces be up to 1,500 points each in value, and up to 3,000 points when playing on a 6’ x 4’ table.
HGC is, for want of a better phrase, aimed at somewhere between platoon and company level (if you were thinking in World War II terms). The smallest playing piece in the game is an element. An element could be a base of USNC Infantry or Grunts, a Hunter or a Warthog. Several elements are grouped together to make a unit. These units are the building blocks of your force.
In terms of the starter force, the USNC Battle Group consists of a unit Commander, three Units of USNC Infantry, 2 Warthogs and a Spartan (plus an optional Pelican dropship). You could probably consider this force to be a supported platoon. On a 6’ x 4’ table, you may well want to be fielding two of these, plus extra armoured and aerial support.
Playing the game
At the start of each turn, players roll a number of Order Dice, which will give players special actions they can perform during their turn. You then roll 2D6 for initiative. The winner has the initiative for that turn. Sequence of play is by alternate unit activation, with the player who has initiative deciding if he wants to move first or second.
Units have four stats: Move, Soak, React and Melee. Move is movement distance, Soak equates to armour, React is the score needed to react to an enemy – usually two vales (before/after activation) and Melee is the number of dice rolled in close combat.
Units normally move and then fire, although they have the option to move Flat Out, which then precludes a unit from firing.
Where the game differs almost immediately from many other games is in the use of reaction fire. All units may always react to another unit on the table, as long as it moves within its Line of Sight. You make a test against your React stat using 2D6. If successful, you may fire, if not, then not.
If the reacting unit has yet to be activated, it is usually easier to react, but doing so will mean that the unit then counts as being activated.
Think as the whole thing as a unit constantly being on overwatch. It works really well.
Each unit moves and then fires, so both players tend to be constantly involved in the action. Weapons have a short and long range, and a number of dice that is rolled against infantry, armour or air units.
You roll a number of custom combat dice, and make adjustments for weapon types and potential cover. The custom dice then determine the number of hits. Armoured targets have SOAK, which gives the unit defense dice – these can be rolled to see if any of the hits are countered.
The result is then applied against the damage of the target unit, starting with the closest element to the firing unit. Some units, such as Spartans or Zealots, get heroic saves when damaged, so can absorb damage and be difficult to kill.
As well as infantry and armour, the game also supports the use of flyers (as Halo players will know, flyers play an important part in the game), both as on-table assets, or as combat missions. Various combat missions can be flown, including air strikes and resupply, but flying these actually gift victory points to your opponent, so if you are going to call for a air strike, you had better be sure that the result is ultimately worth the cost.
Obviously the game has a lot of extra nuances, but this is something of a bird’s eye view of how it plays.
In short, I really enjoyed it!
Did it help that I won? Possibly, but it was a really tight game – I only won by a single victory point, and it proved to me that the starter box forces actually do give you enough to play the game (unlike some starter boxes out there)
The game offers the players a lot of tactical decisions straight out of the gate, and always keeps both players involved in the action – especially with the Reaction Fire mechanic. This means that no unit is ever fully safe from incoming fire – simply moving towards a unit which has already activated that turn doesn’t mean that it won’t fire at you (or at least try). Do that to a Spartan, and it can seriously ruin your day!
Gameplay is intuitive, fast, and can get quite bloody – Covenant Grunts tend to die in droves (no surprise there!) It does mean that once you have mastered the basics, you shouldn’t have to refer to the main rules that much. Everything you need is on a QRS and individual unit cards, which all adds to the speed of the game.
Though the game is playable with the forces in the box, you will probably want to expand your forces pretty quickly. A second box set is an obvious choice, though the next three months should see expansions for armour, air support and infantry appear for both sides: Wraiths, Scorpions, Banshees, Hornets, ODSTs and Vanguard should all appear by Christmas, which should give us plenty of toys to be going on with.