Review: No Stars in Sight

From Nordic Weasel Games, No Stars in Sight is a new sci-fi ruleset that expands on the conventional wargame from the same designer, No End in Sight. The game is designed for small unit action of a reinforced platoon with a vehicle or two at most. The scale is for 6-15mm individual models, but larger scales or infantry stands could also be utilized. One thing that stands out is the game is meant to have a very small footprint on the table, with 2 to 3 feet being enough space to duke it out.

The game is more geared towards near-future engagements. Some trappings are offered for more futuristic technology and aliens. However there is a foundation that troopers in the future will be armed with advanced weaponry that utilize some type of projectile. All the while the universe tends to be geared towards a generic setting of future conflicts that somewhat mimic what we have in the world today.

Player’s troops are organized into units or independent fire teams with assigned leaders. Coherency with the units are pretty tight, with each trooper required to be within 6 to 8 inches of their leader. This works out though as squads are designed to be 4-5 troops at most. Players activate a unit and alternate with their opponent until all unit leaders are exhausted. Victory conditions are assessed, stress removed from leaders, and the turn sequence is repeated until one side has a clear advantage (or victory).

Units activate based on rolling a d6 and retaining that many activation points for their squad. Individual troops firing, recovering from pins, movement, and other miscellaneous actions require an activation point. There are options for group fire and movement, allowing 2-3 models a chance to activate on one point. Models but can only move and fire once when they are activated. At the conclusion of the unit’s activation the leader gains a stress marker.

Movement is a simple affair keeping everything at a constant 3 inches provided they are in cover. If players move a unit out of cover into LOS of an enemy however, this becomes a random roll of d6 inches. If caught out in the open, their opponent has an opportunity to fire at them hitting a trooper on a 6 (with the poor grunt being pinned on any other result). So those dashes across open terrain become a very tricky proposition, and even more so as there are no cutoff for weapon ranges. Anything that can be seen on the table is fair game.

Directed fire is split into two types as shock or kill dice. All basic weaponry throw out shock dice. For every 2 shock dice thrown, 1 kill die is generated. Shock dice can pin a model on a 5 or 6, while kill dice hit a model on a 6. Hits are rolled again resulting in killing the model outright on a 6, or wounding them. Either way, hits with kill dice typically mean the target is out of the fight being wounded which can be rather deadly.

Close assaults are even deadlier. When units approach within 6” of each other shock dice are dropped and kill dice are rolled instead, having hits generated on a 5 or 6. Actual hand-to-hand fighting results in just rolling of a d6 between players, with the attacking player killing the enemy if they roll equal to or higher than the defender (and being killed in turn if they do not).

With all of these pins being thrown around and casualties, they all contribute to degradation of morale. If players cannot roll over this amount on a d6, they immediately fall back a random distance. Casualties also incur stress on the leader. For each excessive casualty, one point of stress is added to the leader. At the end of the turn when all units are exhausted, each leader can discard 3 points of stress. All excess stress becomes permanent, making it more difficult to activate on future turns.

What you end up with is this slow degradation of a unit’s ability to function. Pinned models cannot take any actions until an activation point is used to remove the pin. Casualties and activating a unit slowly accumulate leader stress. After a few turns, they begin to whittle down the ability of a leader to do anything but have their squad hunker down and remain in cover.

Different types of troops with varying equipment is offered, from elite troops in power armor to irregular, lightly armed forces. Vehicles are also presented with a variety of armaments although most are land-based as tracked or walker equivalents (with no real rules for flying units). There are several optional rules to mimic near-future battles, including rules for improved communication and command (along with hacking these aspects) and there are also rules for drones and simple automaton combatants.

There are a variety of scenario ideas and a simple campaign system to allow for a more role playing type of experience, following a single trooper or unit through a series of battles. Some more military-centric rules for off board ordinance, smoke, combat drops, and the like are also presented. There are several generic alien species offered with small tweaks to combat abilities along with suggested scenarios to play them as.

Finally suggestions on a point system for force construction is presented. While the numbers do not not necessarily ensure a balanced game, they can provide some guidance for a fair engagement if trying to figure out how best to match up power armored troops against regular militia. This is a nice feature of the game.

Don’t let a point system detract you however. This is very much a wargame ruleset based on players agreeing to have a fun game and tinker around with asymmetrical forces. There are a lot of optional equipment and rules to utilize. The game does require going through some set hoops for playing them however. You have to use a board with a certain amount of terrain density, or at least be willing to break up long alleys of open ground. You really can’t field larger forces more than a few squads of 4 or 5 troopers each.

The Good – Pinning and suppression are key. I really enjoy the whittling down of actions a unit can complete due to taking enemy fire, and it’s not dependent on killing troops (but it doesn’t hurt either). I also appreciate how task resolution uses a relatively streamlined system for determining outcomes.

There is a fair bit of optional rules and varying techs and equipment to give games a little variety. There are a few scenario tables offering a pretty diverse list of possible combat encounters as well as a more narrative campaign. As there are aliens and planetary environments, the game is not exhaustive in detailed rules but certainly provides a nice platter of choice sci-fi elements to try out.

I have the PDF version so I can’t speak on the quality of the printed book. You get a very spartan layout with a decent number of charts including a few summary sheets at the end of the book. It’s serviceable and plainly explains the rules.

The Bad – The game has some rough edges, especially with excessive bookkeeping. Troops typically are wounded which need to be indicated somehow. Effectively they are out of the battle however a unit needs to spend actions stabilizing them and getting them to an extraction point. While untreated wounded troops have an effect on morale, treated/stabilized figures don’t. Add to this individual units getting pins and you have a clutter of markers and tokens hovering around every unit. While a small engagement with 2 units and 8 figures total would not be much of an issue, adding more models into the mix seems to glut the game down some.

Another rule regards stressed leaders passing off leadership to another model in their unit. Effectively this can get rid of any permanent stress (as it stays with the original trooper and is not transferred to the new leader). While the vibe of the rulebook certainly rings of folks playing in an agreeable manner, this is something that could certainly be abused.

Overall I found the rules pretty well laid out. However a few topics seem to jump around some. It feels like a few sections could have been tightened up and reorganized in a better fashion. There are some critical rules that seem to get buried in other key topics. The rulebook is far from being difficult to go through, but it’s also far from being perfect.

The Verdict – I see No Stars in Sight as sort of a mixed bag. I really don’t like the wounding of troops and seems heavy on keeping track of fiddly conditions in the likes of pins, stress, and unstabilized wounded troopers. But the game has many more hits than misses. The random activation of units, the desperate dash of units out of cover, the accumulation of control stress on a unit, all are highlights to the game.

I also appreciate the abstract systems employed by the rules. Movement, cover, and weapon types are not mired down in detailed minutia. However there is certainly enough optional rules and suggestions to make the game have some unique flavor from unit to unit. It’s a decent set of rules that give a challenging feel of command for small, tense, engagements with a futuristic feel. Still, there are some rough edges to the game. I think No Stars in Sight is a fair set of rules and not a bad choice if looking for sci-fi skirmish action, just not quite the home run I was hoping for.


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