At first, a space fleet game may seem like an odd choice for Halo. After all, one of the key plot points of Halo is that the human-controlled UNSC is hugely outmatched by the alien Covenant forces. However, this makes for a very cinematic game, as the heroic humans throw everything they have against an implacable foe. In other words, something that is very in keeping with Halo.
The set comes with 49 models; 32 UNSCC and 17 Covenant, with one ‘heavy’ ship on each side. You have to slot the pieces together yourself (it’s easy). The humans are cast in a military grey plastic, whereas the aliens practically glow in a vivid purple. This is a modern table-top war game, so the counters are chunky and the dice are customised so you don’t have to faff around with rules tables. In game, fleets are divided into battle groups, the intention being that you can flood the board with hordes of huge battlecruisers. It’s easy to build different formations without it getting fiddly, thanks to clever component and rules designing.
Key actions are done via commanders. Rather than simply adding an additional rules twiddle to your game, in Halo Fleet Battles the main characters dictate what sort of special orders you can activate. Every round you roll from a pool of order dice (which have special symbols). Simple actions, like a focussed attack, only need one symbol. Really cool actions, of the sort that would get a cut-scene in the video game, need three. You can keep dice from turn to turn (so you’re rolling less) in order to save up for the better actions. This is very satisfying, especially if you’re UNSC.
Fighters, bombers and boarding craft are all represented by stacks of tokens. The focus of the game really is about the big ships, after all. If it’s a small one-man craft it gets a token. This works quite well; you stack them up and then spend them, frittering away lives to give your big guns more time to do their job. The exception to this is boarding craft. If you’re UNSC, you can fire a boarding craft containing a Spartan. These super soldiers can potentially blow up a Covenant cruiser with some heroics (rules-wise, that one man is the equivalent of a Marathon Cruiser, so it balances). The Spartan can also escape the enemy ship once he’s blown it up. Of course, the Covenant has their own troops to counter this, which adds to the fun.
Given the popularity of that other franchised space fleet battles game Star Wars Armada, do you really need Halo Fleet Battles? The short answer is yes. Halo Fleet Battles is a very different game. You get more models in the starter set than you do with Armada, but they’re unassembled and unpainted. The game mechanics are more crunchy and the focus is on big fleet actions and singular heroics. There are no fiddly X-Wings or Tie-Fighters, but you still get to throw heroes at big ships. It’s designed for bigger, more epic scale actions. The two games are as different from each other as Star Wars: A New Hope is from Halo: Combat Evolved.
Halo: Fleet Battles, The Fall of Reach is a great choice for miniature war gamers, and a tempting prospect for Halo fans who want to play a game face-to-face. Recommended.
HALO: FLEET BATTLES, THE FALL OF REACH / GAMES DESIGN: RICHARD GALE / MODEL DESIGN: CHRISTOPHER DREW, CHRISTOPHER PEACY / PUBLISHER: SPARTAN GAMES / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW