This is a simple (not simplistic) easy-to-learn game of tactical starship combat (in two or three dimensions). It is customizable (both in the rules difficulty and the ship design); it is adaptable (large fleets or small), and it is fun (one playtest with a friend had several nail-biting moments). Poor grammar and the lack of bookmarks do not detract from the fun and replay value of this gem.
Writing this review, I can't help but compare to the other two tactical space combat rulesets I've played: Starmada and Full Thrust. Both are GREAT games that would also earn 4-star reviews. (I played Star Frontiers Knight Hawks many years ago, and I own Slag! but haven't yet played it). It's hard to rate these rules against the others out there, because Firing Solution is more complicated and detailed in some ways and much simpler and more basic in others.
Compared to Starmada and Full Thrust, Firing Solution is easier to learn on first skimming the rules. FS rules are simpler and more basic than Starmada or Full Thrust. The simplicity of the rules make it very easy to add optional rules, such as 3-Dimensional combat and rolling to bring weapons to bear. Love hexes? Hate 'em? You can play this with a hex grid or no map whatsoever with no changes to the rules.
There is a core mechanic involving rolling 2D6. You get a number between -5 and +5. One die is negative, one is positive. This did not take much getting used to, and when we added 3D movement it made a lot of sense (as the elevation levels are -5 to +5 as well). Ship's traits (such as thrust, defenses, etc) also have ratings in this exact range. It helps keep the rules simple and easy to recall during play.
Throw in the 3D combat, and suddenly your big gun might be completely useless--elevation is very important in 3D, and your dorsal Big Freakin' Gun can't shoot at anything below you. But you can always roll your ship.
Movement seems to place a lot of emphasis on forward momentum. I am guessing that the assumption is the ships have been accelerating towards each other in order to get into combat range, so if they are moving forward of course they will have to spend Speed points between turns and elevation changes. As I said before, ships move forward. There is no vector movement here (I don't mind that at this rules level). Given the simplicity of the rule mechanic, I'm not sure that vector movement would be difficult to house rule. To add complexity (something the rules allow for at every stage of the game turn), there are movement orders (such as Full Stop, Defend, Self Destruct, etc) that have concrete results on the game. Again, I am sure that it would be easy to create your own house-ruled movement orders.
Ship customization is a snap. Really. But again, it's not boring or overly basic. Weapons and defenses, as the description states, follow a rock-paper-scissors approach. Energy weapons (long range, medium damage) are stopped by Shields; Kinetic weapons (short range, great damage) are stopped by Armor; Guided weapons (precise) are stopped by Point Defense. Call them whatever you want (Phasers, blasters, proton torpedos, whatever)--they all do the same thing. Each weapon can have other characteristics that produce modifiers to their range, damage, potential for critical hits, etc. Unlike in Full Thrust, it is impossible to build an uber ship that cannot be defeated. (To be fair, FT has been around so long that people have had time to find the loopholes in the rules; something about massive amounts of drones). As the rules say, no ship excels at everything. Good fleet balance is the name of the game.
Combat is fast-paced and easy to keep track of. You need lots of 6-sided dice of different colors (for keeping track of elevation and rolls when using the 3D rules). FS plays a little more quickly than Full Thrust and Starmada; the damage system seems to have a little more depth and description. The gameplay definetely has a simpler feel compared to the other systems I've played. This is neither a strength nor a weakness ... it just depends on what you're looking for. Oh, and this ain't Saganami Island Tactical Simulator. That's way out of the ballpark on complexity (but give it a try if you can).
Every ship belongs to an Empire, which grants bonuses and imposes penalties to certain ship characteristics. The Empires are each composed of one race (Humans, bird-people, badger-people, and bugs--an overly simplistic descripion. The fluff text is pretty good). Humans don't get any bonuses or penalties. Don't like the empires as written? Make your own. Pick what you want them to excel at and suck at, and as long as the bonuses and penalties add up to 0, you're fine. It would be fun and easy to make, for example, the Galactic Empire and the Rebellion from Star Wars; the UPF and Sathar from Star Frontiers, etc.
There are brief fictional excerpts from the bridge of ships during combat; these open each chapter. The lack of punctuation (or the wrong punctuation--a period in place of a question mark, for example) is appalling. There are a few run-on sentences, one of which is in the rules. It took 5 reads to figure out what they were trying to say. Punctuation is missing in many places in the rules. My grammar ain't perfect ;) but I expect a little effort to make the text readable. That's a pet peeve of mine and it's the only reason I didn't give this game 5 stars. It just makes it look like the authors didn't care about the quality of their product. And it is a good product. If Digital Alchemy is going to become a viable force in the Indie gaming industry, they will issue an updated pdf with (at least semi-) proper grammar and punctuation. Luckily, 90% of the abysmal grammar is in the fictional chapter openers. The rules are otherwise clear and easy to pick up.
The learning curve is not as steep as Full Thrust or Starmada (it's not very steep for those rulesets either)--especially as regards ship construction and fleet building. All other things being equal (good opponent), the gameplay basically delivers the same level of challenge and playability.
Ultimately, Firing Solution won't be permanently replacing Full Thrust or Starmada as my ruleset for tactical space combat. But I will definetely play it often. The authors attempt to provide a set of rules for space combat that are easy-to-learn, fun, customizable, and able to simulate some complexities (such as 3D combat and movement). Their final product meets these goals.
If you are looking for a game that has good challenges built into the rules that is easy to learn, quick to play, and easy to customize, Firing Solution might be exactly what you are looking for.