At the beginning of September, Steve (sovthofheaven) of the Under the Dice/Hive Scum fame asked if I wanted to take part in a playtesting session for his mech combat game, Flames of Orion. I had played a game of it at Rich Grimmond 2023 a few months earlier, and had a great time with it, so the opportunity to play a few more games was one I was not going to pass up (even if I had to drive quite a few hours to do it).
Beyond just getting a bunch of people together to play the game, Steve designed a small campaign for everyone to play through. The campaign was set on the planet of Sumar, a once thriving capital world of the Orion sector. The star at the center of the Orion sector is dying, its core devoid of hydrogen and helium, finally cooling into a white dwarf star, the last vestiges of heat slowly radiating away. With the star in its death throes, most of humanity have fled the Orion sector, leaving whole planets largely uninhabited and in ruin. But not everyone has left Sumar, hardened criminals and mech pilots down on their luck fight for what little is left amongst the ruins of the once prosperous capital world. There are rumors of an ancient device called the Eternal Flame that can reignite the dying star.
There were three factions that players could play as, which Steve randomly assigned to those in attendance:
- Mercenaries - The Empire of Humanity has hired an armored division of mercenaries to descend on Sumar to kill anyone they find and to secure the Eternal Flame.
- Pirates - The promise of treasure is sure to bring out criminals intending to loot Sumar for all that it is worth, hoping to sell the Eternal Flame to whomever will pay the most.
- Exiles - The Exiles view the Orion sector as their home and wish to see the Pirates and Empire of Humanity leave the sector. If they can find the Eternal Flame, they hope to keep the star unlit, thereby encouraging the Empire of Humanity to leave the sector for good.
Everyone playing was required to build a list with four mechs, and then had 100 credits to equip them with weapons and other technology. Each mech starts with a basic stat line and no weapons or equipment. Much of the game is streamlined to make playing easy. Mechs start with a Combat Skill of 4, which simply means to do a shooting or close combat action, they need to roll a 4+ on a six sided die (D6) to be successful. There are some things that modulate what you need to roll to hit, but not enough to make every action feel like a math problem. Each mech has 4 platforms that function as slots to fill with weapons or equipment. A standard ranged weapon or close combat weapon will each take up one platform, whereas larger and more specialized weaponry might occupy two platforms. Outside of weapons there are lots of neat equipment/technology upgrades that can occupy platform slots. One of my favorites is the Self Destruct option where you can choose to have your mech explode, damaging everyone closeby! This Self Destruct ability plays off of a HEAT mechanic built into the game, where as your mechs perform actions, they will accumulate HEAT. Each mech has a HEAT threshold that if reached the mech will become disabled, and could explode! If you want to read a more detailed explanation of turn structure and how a mech will accumulate HEAT while performing actions, please read my earlier account about playing the game at Rich Grimmond 2023.
|Steve provided everyone with a full color pamphlet describing campaign rules for the day of gaming!|
I did not bring any mechs to the event, though Steve was kind enough to provide me with some to use. They were mech models that Evan Hough (itswhatevan) commissioned Ana Polanšćak (of Gardens of Hecate) to sculpt, which were then cast in metal and are now on sale at Under the Dice’s webstore! Steve painted the four models in a black and red color scheme that was quick and very effective. The game’s rulebook has a random name generator where you roll on a table to create evocative names. The names of my four mechs were generated with that name generator. I was assigned the Exiles faction.
|My first game was against Terry (stone.jaw), where we were playing in the largely arid expanse of a dried ocean. The scenario was called “Burnt to a Crisp” where intermittent solar flares were terrorizing the surface of the planet, forcing everyone to seek refuge in bunkers. Terry and I each placed a bunker token (the circular washer markers near the center of the board as seen in the picture above) on the map within 12” of our deployment zones, and were trying to get our mechs to them. At the end of each turn, the solar flares increased the amount of HEAT our mechs accrued, making it more dangerous to keep our mechs above ground. Scattered around the board was loot, represented by green crystal markers, which we were trying to collect as we found our way to the bunkers.|
|Dark Spirit slowly creeps from behind a rock outcropping, hoping to acquire some loot before one of Terry’s mechs is able to claim it.|
|Delta Lock dispatched one of Terry’s Mechs in close quarters combat using a piston gauntlet. As it was on the verge of overheating, it descended into Terry’s bunker and exploded.|
|I got three of my mechs into my own bunker, and Delta Lock was able to get into Terry’s bunker as it was destroyed. This was enough to count as a victory for my Exiles. Unrelated: Steve designed a sticker for our podcast Dragged Into Turbolasers featuring Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) pissing on Hive Scum’s logo. Steve had shown me this design a few months earlier, and I had told him that I respected his work with Hive Scum too much to want to have that as a sticker. Humorously, he still got a bunch of stickers printed.|
|The second game was a three way match between Terry (stone.jaw), Tyler (tylerisalrightatpainting) and I, playing a scenario called “Capture the Cargo”. A piece of valuable cargo was placed at the center of the table, and whoever was in possession of it at the end of the game was the winner.|
|Midway through the game, the surroundings rumbled and a gigantic mech vomited forth from the ground, seething with malevolence. It was the Divine Guardian Beast of Sumar, an ancient mechanical construct programmed with the sentience of a long deceased pilot, intent on keeping everyone away from the Eternal Flame. The Divine Guardian was heavily armed with two Ancient Cannons, a Beam Weapon, and multiple light weapons, and immediately opened fire on the closest enemy mechs in the vicinity, pinning them down.|
|As Tyler’s mechs avoided the Divine Beast in favor of gathering loot, Delta Lock charged into it headlong and managed to deal a sizable amount of damage with its piston gauntlets.|
|The third and final game of the day was a skirmish between the Exiles, commanded by myself and Sebastian (itcouldbeseb), and the Pirates, commanded by Gage (noclearcoat) and Ian (echoes.of.battle). We played the “Burnt to a Crisp” scenario again. Before the start of the scenario, Steve said everyone could equip their mechs with an additional 200 credits worth of equipment, in an effort to get a sense of a game with fully equipped mechs.|
|Gage’s (noclearcoat) mech detachment “The Word of God” was painted only the night before in a matter of hours. You would not have known that based on their menacing appearance! He used some iconic Battletech mechs in his force, like the skull-faced Atlas and the cyclone missile launcher wielding Mad Cat.|
|In a very nice gesture, Steve bought everyone who took part in the playtest a Battletech Blind Box with a random single mech miniature! I received a Mongoose!|
I had an awesome time playing Flames of Orion with a bunch of really cool people. After the game sessions, everyone provided their input on how the game functioned to help make the final version of the game even better. I am thankful for Steve giving me the opportunity to take part in the playtest session, and am really excited to see the game released to the world.
- Greg Wier