I have always has a tempestuous relationship with THW products. On one hand I am a true fan of the way their rules truly buck the trends so common in wargaming and deliver a very different play experience to anything else on the Market. On the other hand, I've never been sure if I was playing them correctly and had trouble making sense of them in many cases. I found the layout baffling, the language used unhelpful, seemingly endless charts that seemed to have limited effect.. There were always speed bumps that stopped me really enjoying the experience.
It is for these reasons I never bought the original 5150. Five years have passed and THW has stuck with it. They have released many more games and paid a great deal if attention to fans. THW fans are pretty hardcore and luckily, very enthusiastic and positive toward newcomers. This is important to know because THW rules are supported through their Yahoo group, which boasts thousands of members. Some people say this Yahoo group is a strength of the system. (To play Devil's advocate I would suggest that if the system was that well written it would not require a Yahoo group to comprehend it... But let's put all that aside for now.)
After reading a couple of good reports I took a chance and downloaded the PDF from RPGnow.com. I'm glad I did because this book is really, really damn good.
First, to judge the book by its cover. Gone are the cringey CG efforts of the previous editions. Like all current-gen THW covers, this one is tasteful and professional looking.
On to the rules, they are written in a much more clear and direct way to the older sets (my experiences have been with Legends of Araby, CR 2.0 and 3.0) and explain the game in a very well thought out sequence that makes the game a pleasure to learn. The layout is thoughtful and a tremendous improvement for the company.
The game is presented this time as a campaign system specifically for running battles that the ubiquitous Star Army might take part in, rather than a "everything you can imagine" approach. This focus makes the whole product feel tighter and more polished. There are lists and charts for alien and insurgent forces that will proxy well for a lot of mini ranges on the Market.
Some of my favourite positives about Star Army:
*No points values. The game runs great without needing them. Brilliant.
*Vehicle rules that are both different to infantry systems yet share common mechanics. Slick.
*Vastly improved squad mechanics that are quicker to use, yet lose no flexibility. Nice.
*Great campaign system for military battles.
*Highly scalable to your own minis and terrain collections. Plays well with a handful of figures as well as platoon strength forces.
*Arguably the best solo rules and quick scenario generator on the Market.
Negatives? Surprisingly, none so far. I need to get some games under my belt to make any more comment, but as far as reading the book goes I am enthused about playing and feel likeI know how to.
One caveat may be the price. $20 USD is more than I'm accustomed to paying for a PDF, and there are a lot of comparable products for a good deal cheaper. However I don't feel cheated in any way and will hopefully get a lot of fun out of the book.
If you are at all interested in the THW family of games, this one represents a genuine turning point and you owe it to yourself to try it out.