VOR: The Maelstrom

Originally written August 1999

I have long been a fan of FASA. In my mind, they have consistently produced rich worlds that go far beyond the call of duty. I still consider Earthdawn to be one of the best fantasy settings ever created. And their Star Trek material developed that universe further than Gene Roddenbery himself could have imagined.

So when I heard that FASA was developing a science fiction tabletop game, I was eager to see what it would be like. The previews showed up on their website, and I got even more excited. It looked to be as interesting a setting as anything else they’ve done. When it came in to my local game store, I snapped it up.

What do you get for your money? Well the boxed set includes:

  1. A 134-page setting and rules book with a 40-page color section in the middle.
  2. A booklet with four scenarios designed to be used with the figures in the box.
  3. 3 plastic templates for area of effect weapons
  4. 5 plastic walls for terrain
  5. 2 ten-sided dice
  6. 9 metal Union miniatures
  7. 7 metal Growler miniatures

I’ll get to the figures in a moment. First let’s look at the…

Setting

The setting is The Maelstrom — a cosmic vortex in a parallel dimension that every so often pulls worlds out of their normal realities into its own. Many of these worlds are destroyed by the forces the Maelstrom exerts on them, but every so often the planets devoured end up in a relatively stable orbit, and any life on them either adapts or dies.

In the not-so-distant future, Earth has become polarized between the Union and the Neo-Soviets. And then it gets pulled into the Maelstrom.

The opening section of the rulebook describes all of this fairly well — far better than I could do it justice in a review. It is a classic FASA setting, as far as I’m concerned. It takes the stereotypical tropes of a genre (in this case, miniature wargame settings) and provides a reasonably “believable” environment for them. They did it with Shadowrun, they did it with Earthdawn, they did it with Crimson Skies. They do it with VOR.

Now, the setting is hardly original — at least as far as it goes, but it is interesting. There is loads of room for expansion, and because of the dimension spanning ability of the Maelstrom, you can have multitudes of different races and cultures who all share this incredibly hostile setting.

The second part of the book details nine factions in the VOR universe. The aforementioned Union and Neo-Soviets; the monstrous Growlers, who resemble a cross between a gorilla and a Tyrannosaurus Rex; the Zykhee, a tall, thin race with a deep spiritual streak; the Shard, an energy-race that inhabits and animates crystalline bodies; the Pharon, a race of “undead” beings with a decidedly Egyptian flavor; the Mashers, a race of primitives who have the ability to absorb alien technology into their body like a cyborg; the Golems, a merciless symbiotic race devoid of emotion; and the Ceru, a race that used to be slaves of the Golems, but has since gained their freedom.

Each race is given a four or five page write up describing their history, appearance, culture, domain, and style of fighting. These descriptions are accompanied by wonderful full-color artwork that really captures the flavor of the game and the various armies. FASA‘s production values (particularly with regards to their art) do not disappoint. Each race comes across as original, and I personally find it hard to decide which one I like the most (though right now I’m leaning towards the Golems).

The Rules

The last part of the rule book covers the rules — which aren’t tremendously original. If you’ve played Warzone or Chronopia you’ll recognize the basic mechanic. Each figure has a list of attributes, and in order to succeed at a task, you need to roll below the skill number. VOR uses a 10-sided die instead of a 20-sider like Chronopia, but the system itself is remarkably similar. Anybody with experience in miniatures gaming should be able to pick it up with little difficulty.

For movement and actions, VOR uses movement points that translate to one-point-equals-one-inch. Other actions (like firing weapons or attacking) cost different amounts of MPs. This is also not tremendously original, but in all honesty, there really isn’t a whole lot you can radically alter in terms of how these games operate.

An army is assembled by point cost — each figure has a cost, and in theory, equal point cost forces will be balanced. Though in all honesty, I don’t know how balanced things actually end up.

The one thing included in the game that I really liked were rules to create your own army lists — something that I have never seen in a game, although some people tell me one of the early Games Workshop products had similar rules that were quickly removed.

The rules allow you to determine the point cost of various units you can create, guiding you through the process. In fact, the developers encourage you to design your own races and powers — though there is more than enough variety to keep one busy without resorting to extensive army creation.

Those rules right there put VOR high on my list — I’ve always been bothered that none of the other miniatures games I’ve played give you the ability to create your own races. Even if the system is less than original, this makes up for it.

The final feature of the rule book are army lists for four of the nine factions. The Union, Neo-Soviet, Growler and Zykhee lists are available, along with armories and special abilities. There is more freedom of customization with these armies than with armies from other games. For example, the Bull Growler is given a list of five special abilities, of which it can have up to 2.

The scenarios included in the other booklet aren’t anything tremendously special, but they do provide a nice way to learn the game with the figures that are included. The four scenarios describe a Union expeditionary force that encounters unexpected Growler resistance. They are well balanced and play rather smoothly.

The Figures

The five terrain walls are made of a very sturdy plastic, and depict half-melted futuristic walls with closed bulkheads. It is nice to see plastic terrain in a box instead of the typical cardstock, but the five walls do not allow you a wide variety of set-ups. Not a problem is you’ve got a bunch of other terrain floating around, but you’ll quickly exhaust the possibilities of these pieces.

The Union miniatures are your fairly standard future troops. Guns, packs, helmets, flak jackets. There is one sergeant, one heavy weapons trooper, and seven regular infantry. The figures have nice detail, and minimal amounts of flash. I have yet to paint mine up, but it looks like they’ll paint up rather nicely.

The Growler figures are also nice and clean, although they are all made of multiple pieces. An inexperienced modeler may have some difficulty assembling them, but they do end up fitting together rather nicely with a minimum of flash and not much in the way of gaps between the pieces. There are three types of figures included:

Pups: These three are the “babies” of the growler packs. Each requires one of their arms to be glued on, and they use the standard one inch slotted base. They look nice, but they tend to run a bit small, which may make detail work difficult. Still, there really isn’t a lot of detail on these guys (as they don’t have equipment or anything) so it probably won’t be too much of a problem.

One-horns: These three figures come in four pieces each, and use larger, two-inch bases. The head/neck piece fits nicely into the body, and the arms fit nicely where they belong, but they hang down right next to the creature’s knees which would make painting somewhat difficult. I suggest leaving the arms off until all the pieces are painted, and then attaching the arms. It looks like they’ll paint up all right, but there really isn’t a lot of detail on the figure itself. Most if it will probably have to be added after the fact in order to make the figure stand out.

Bull: This is a huge piece. It comes in four pieces, legs, torso/arms, neck, and head. Two different heads come with it, allowing for some variety. When fully assembled, this figure stands a full three and a half inches tall from base to arms, which are raised over it’s head in a clearly threatening posture. Despite suffering from “Incredible Hulk” syndrome with a massive torso and legs that don’t look like they can support it’s weight, the figure stands very nicely on a two-inch base. I do recommend assembling the whole thing before attaching the base, because if not placed properly, the top-heavy bull has a tendency to tip over. There is a form inside to order another bull figure for $20 — which seems a touch pricey to me, but it is a really nice figure.

Final Analysis

I think this game is certainly worth the sixty bucks it costs. You get sixteen metal figures (four of which are good-sized), five plastic pieces of terrain, dice, a rules and setting book, and four scenarios. Compare this to other boxed sets out there, and it actually seems like a pretty good deal.

The system is pretty simple, and is pretty good for newcomers to the wargaming hobby. Veterans will not find much that is revolutionary, but the interesting races and setting compensate for this. The figures themselves will not bee too much trouble for experienced miniatures people to deal with, but rookies could have some trouble assembling the larger growler figures.

There are a couple of things that bother me, though. First of all, of the nine factions described in the rulebook, only four are given army lists. I understand that there will be “army books” released, but I would have liked to see how the Golems (for example) compared to the Growlers. The other thing is that (at least at my store) no other figures were available, meaning that I was limited to just the figures in the box. The pictures they have of other miniatures in the rulebook and promotional flyer makes me really eager to see how they really look. Not having them available is a bit disappointing.

Neither of these problems are fatal, however. I would have been willing to pay an extra five to ten bucks to get basic army lists for all the factions described, as I don’t want to wait for six months to a year to play other forces. Still, the rules they give for creating your own factions balance out the lack of pre-generated armies.

All in all, veterans will find this product worth the value. It also is pretty nice for the older individual who wants to get into the hobby. I certainly look forward to seeing what FASA comes out with for this game in the future.

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