Review: Robotech RPG Tactics Rulebook

There are two facts at play, here: (1) I’m a ridiculously huge fan of Robotech, and (2) Robotech RPG Tactics has been out for a little while already, at the time I’m writing this review (it Kickstarted in mid-2013 and started shipping in late 2014; I’m typing away here in October 2015).

Okay, three facts: (3) there’s a not-insignificant section of the Rulebook that comes with the game’s Starter Box Set that addresses converting to and from Robotech: The Roleplaying Game, also by Palladium Books.

Okay, okay, already! Four facts: (4) Palladium’s roleplaying game rules mechanics tend to be a mess (even after a sequel game in 1988 and a full revision since 2008), their publication schedule pretty spotty, and their adherence to the source material (both in terms of respect to the canon and in terms of the “feel” of what a Robotech RPG should capture) is lackluster.

So, here I am to take a look at the Robotech RPG Tactics Rulebook, specifically from the angle of someone familiar with Robotech: The Roleplaying Game, and see if the conversion work is worth it for us roleplayers, as opposed to the miniatures wargamers out there.

Robotech RPG Tactics rulebook

Robotech RPG Tactics rulebook

Content ****

I’ve rarely been disappointed by Palladium Books when it comes to the content of their books: they jam pack their stuff with tons of rules, dozens of tables to use as inspiration or to change the pace of an adventure, and some evocative setting material that just screams HIGH CONCEPT all over the place. Particularly for Robotech, there’s sometimes a sense that important setting material is left out to make room for stats, but even that’s forgivable considering it’s a game aimed at a niche audience that probably is going to show up already knowing the setting fairly well.

Enter the Robotech RPG Tactics Rulebook, a book that has a (nearly!) complete miniatures wargame, evocative 1-page (or shorter) vignettes that capture the feel of an action-packed Robotech battle scene, a decent amount of setting information on the three main factions of the Macross Saga (the humans’ United Earth Defense Force, the Zentraedi, and the post-war Malcontents), and a handful of pages dedicated to RPG conversions and/or turning the minis game into a continuous campaign featuring star heroes on all sides of the conflict.

It’s a lot of stuff to pack in there, and it’s all pretty well done.

The Rules in Brief

Many wargamers have stated “It’s good, but not innovative.” I’ve got a rudimentary background in wargames, and I’d have to agree with that assessment. It’s a paint-by-the-numbers approach to building an army out of Force Cards (stat cards), grabbing the minis that represent them, putting them on a table with some terrain, and rolling a few 6-sided-dice (or a lot, if you get in the habit of rolling for each unit and keeping the rolls “displayed” for your opponent to see as you roll the next one’s, and so on down the line; you’ll need a bucket of d6s for that!).

There’s plenty of strategy choosing your method of attack and movement: many mecha have a unique movement system (or three, in the case of Veritechs!), and a couple of weapon options to employ. The hand-to-hand maneuvers are ripped straight from Robotech: The Roleplaying Game, so most mecha have a half-dozen or more hand-to-hand attacks they can use. This probably slows things down a bit due to option paralysis, but most everything involves rolling a d6 (or many, if the weapon can fire volleys or split to attack multiple different targets), so there’s not a huge amount of math going on. That said, there’s also usually two methods of defense, though some come at the cost of Command Points, so they can’t be executed willy-nilly…

…to a degree. You see, Command Points are generated often and generally in a number equalling your units on the board, plus some additional points for leaders that are in play. Command Points have a lot of strategic uses, though, and some of these don’t have to do with what your mecha does on any given turn, but rather they can be spent to try and steal the initiative from another player, or to create other special effects unique to your force’s abilities.

From the standpoint of an RPG player, this can all lead to a pretty heavy emphasis on tactical combat, though no more than you’d get from the more tactical versions of d20/D&D (3rd and 4th editions, for instance) or even from Mekton Zeta (which had a fair amount of dice rolling going on, despite a pretty streamlined system). The number of units you have in play is really the indicator of how much work things will be, and theoretically, that number will be small if you’re concentrating more on the RPG-scale of individual player characters (and maybe 1-2 hangers-on, which I like to call Red Shirts for obvious reasons). The ability to play out larger scale battles in a much more structured way than the original Robotech the Roleplaying Game rules allow will certainly be useful for adventures that include bigger skirmishes.

It’s a bit nitpicky for the average roleplayer, but it is by no means the complex, contradictory mess of the original Robotech the Roleplaying Game rules, so in that way, it’s already a great start. Deadliness is going to be a problem, but hang in there, because that gets addressed in a little bit!

Setting Material

For a miniatures wargame rulebook, there’s quite a bit more setting material than I would have presumed in this book, You’ve got a couple pages introducing the background of Robotech: The Macross Saga, as well as a fairly detailed timeline of major events, up through Khyron’s attack on the SDF-1 and SDF-2.

After the game rules are explained, each faction has a chapter detailing it and its mecha. The UEDF’s general structure is explained, as well as the programs (and their fruits) that created the Destroids and the Valkyrie Fighters. You also get very brief portfolios of some of the major pilots (Roy, Rick, etc.) plus some newly created ones to serve as leaders for Destroid platoons and such. The Zentraedi section is similar, explaining the organization of the Zentraedi Armor, and then covering characters like Azonia, Breetai, Khyron and a few newbies after the mecha stats.

The Malcontents chapter…well, just kinda hangs there. In a few more words than this, it essentially says, “use some combination of UEDF and Zentraedi mecha; make up your own leaders.” Fairly weaksauce, but with all of the context provided by the previous sections, there’s honestly not much else you’d need to know.

The setting stuff is strong, no bones about it. Combined with even a cursory re-watch of the series and/or judicious use of the Robotech Saga Wiki, you’re golden.

The RPG Conversion

This is kinda what brought me to this game, but there’s little to say beyond, “good job!” The chapters on scenario rules and campaign rules give you a really strong set of options for varying how the game plays through the use of terrain, battlefield objectives, and long-term missions with reoccurring leaders. When you combine this with three jam-packed pages of material dedicated to Role-Playing Game Applications (as the conversions section is called), you end up with a strong foundation for using the RPG Tactics system to completely replace mecha combat in your standard roleplaying game sessions.

The aforementioned note about the game’s deadliness is covered in detail, and while it does often resort to handwavium for the answers, the fact is that this works, and they spell out the implications. For example, if a player character’s mecha is defeated, you can assume they bailed out in time, and are good to lead the next skirmish. Easy-peasy. There’s more than that, but it’s the simple answers that work, sometimes.

Mechanically-speaking, the book covers how to translate a character largely in terms of their level (an otherwise rarely used measurement of general power in Palladium games, arguably). The character’s level grants them Advance Points, which are spent on the mecha the character will pilot, and then on a shopping list of cool maneuvers, bonuses, and abilities that they can make use of in their mecha that are usually relegated to special mecha, or unavailable any other way. That’s precisely the type of game design that’s going to make the player characters feel unique and special, and the rules appear balanced and fun, so that’s great.

The actual conversion rules are dead-simple and evocative, and they make great use of the scenario and long-term campaign rules to really make it feel like the player characters are the stars of the show, whether you’re doing small skirmishes or mass battles.

Form ***

Man, oh man, does this scream of Kevin Siembieda’s writing style: the use of bold, italics, underscore, and Caps Lock with no rhyme nor reason is atrocious, and you can find examples of it ON EVERY SINGLE damn page. Very nearly in every paragraph, it seems (or maybe that’s just the effect), and it gives you the sense that the author is yelling at you, shaking their head in defeat as they find themselves forced to explain what should be a simple concept to you over and over again.

Finally, any mecha that successfully boosts its SPD must move a minimum distance… (p. 15)

Doing so will reduce the MD the target receives by HALF (round down, to a minimum of 1 MD); no further dice rolls are needed… (p. 16-17)

Check out p. 20 to see how uneven it is; they repeat the “target receives by HALF” text without making bold the “no further dice rolls” portion. Bizarre.

Beyond that, the book is, at first glance, beautiful. There’s plenty of artwork, it’s in full-color (something Palladium Books doesn’t really do to this day, even after 25ish years), and the sections are pretty clearly laid out. So why the 2-star ding in the rating, you might ask? Well, I might answer that, in my humble opinion, it’s because certain critical pieces of game information were relegated to the Force Cards and other physical doodads that come with the Starter Set. Not necessarily a bad thing, but as you can see in these comments by the wargamers who have the game, that creates some problems.

Heck only reason I knew there were special rules for each faction is because I read the draft of the rules which originally had all that information, instead of printed in 7 point font on one card each in the pile of force cards.

From an Amazon review.

The Stats and basic weapons are a separate card than the force cards, and it would have been nice to have the stats on each squadron card instead.

…The Book lists the units for each option but I immediately noticed that squad and unit pricing is missing. It looks like the Design team expects the gamers to rely completely on the cards included in the box.

From Capture and Control.

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.

From Diehard Gamefan.

What is there is really cool, and gives you pretty much all of the mecha you’ve seen in the Macross Saga, as well as a few of the random fighters like the Lancer and the Ghost.

It might be a little annoying to be missing out on bigger capital vessels and troop carriers, but that’s a pretty tall order for a roleplaying game arguably centered on ace fighter pilots or deck officers and the drama that surrounds them, anyway. You’re best bet there is to just pick up the Macross II books (specifically the Deck Plans series) because they have the most up-to-date, Robotech-like space combat rules you’ll find. Sure, The Shadow Chronicles RPG has some of that, but the Deck Plans books just laid it all out better.

Robotech RPG Tactics Starter Box Set

Robotech RPG Tactics Starter Box Set

What’s Next?

Do you actually care about the minis? This is the most in-depth post I can find about that; you be the judge.

The Kickstarter was a fiasco, Wave 1 was pretty late and Wave 2 seems to be late-ish, too, so the biggest (as of yet unanswered) question is whether or not we’ll see the subsequent generations: The Masters Saga, The New Generation, and The Shadow Chronicles.

It’s hard to tell from the base rulebook alone whether it’d be easy to extrapolate this information and create homebrew versions of Cyclones or the Veritech Hovertank, but it doesn’t seem impossible. Despite the high buy-in for miniatures fanatics and the like, this game appears to have a somewhat steady fanbase (the Kickstarter did make a ridiculous amount of money, after all!), so hopefully the fan support will overcome Palladium’s typical glacial support pace.

Conclusion

Is Robotech RPG Tactics a good miniatures wargame? I’d say it’s decent.

But what’s important to me is whether or not it’s a good replacement for the Robotech Roleplaying Game’s cluster-eff of a game system, and I’d say it’s certainly a great starting point. While you don’t have a “personal scale” set of rules, I suspect it wouldn’t be hard to simply use the roleplaying rules as-is, or even co-opt a simple, more dramatic game that’s of the appropriate genre to cover this aspect, such as Heroic Journey’s Mecha RPG, or Fate (especially Mecha vs. Kaiju, of course!).

But as a combat system custom-built for Robotech vehicles, this book does a fantastic job, and works as a great quick-reference for the mecha and their armaments, too.

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neuronphaser is an editor, eCommerce consultant, web producer, and analyst living in sunny Hollywood, CA. He’s been playing tabletop RPGs of all kinds since 1985.

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