Monday, May 7, 2012

Dust Warfare Review: 1 game in

Totengraber put together a few Dust Tactics starters in order to give the Dust Warfare rules a try this last weekend.  I volunteered to play against him because I was eager to see how the rules played out on the table top.

I think we played a 250 point game.  It included about 5 infantry units, 2 heroes, and 3 walkers per side.  I took the Allies because the goofy looking Sherman walkers have grown on me.

The Good

The game is simple but has good tactical depth.  This is a sweet spot to hit in a miniature rules system.  If you can add depth to a game without adding lots of complexity, you have a game with potential.  This complexity comes from the interaction of three rules in the game: Commands, Reactions, and Suppression. 

At the start of you turn you roll for initiative.  You roll a number of combat dice equal to the number of units in your army.  The way combat dice work is they have 2 hits and 4 blanks on each die, so the odds of a hit work out to be equivalent to rolling a 5+.  The number of hits you get is the number of commands you can give in the command phase.  Commands are equivalent to minor actions; you can fire you weapons or move away.  It's half of what a unit can normally do during a full activation on it's turn.  Commands are nice because they cannot be reacted to, and you can give them to units that are normally too suppressed to do anything.   Commands are kind of tricky to use and Totengraber and I found out that you need to set them up on your previous turn to be really effective.

Dust Warfare is not the first game to include reactions, even 40k used to have them in the form of overwatch, but they've managed to add them in without bogging the game down.  Whenever a unit attacks or moves with 12" of an opponents unit, that unit has the option of reacting.  This is another situation where you get a minor action.  You can move or attack, and it will restrict the units activation later in the turn.  Units that have already reacted or have been suppressed cannot react.  This means that units have to work together to get to close range.  If most units just try to run into a unit of Rangers, they will get shot to death. If you have a walker fire into those Rangers and suppress them first, then it's a whole different story.

Suppression is essentially the morale system in Dust Warfare.  Whenever a unit is hit by a weapon it gains a suppression token.  Normally when a unit activates it gets two actions.  It can move and attack, or perform double actions of each.  If a unit is suppressed it looses one of it's actions and it cannot react. If you gain more suppression than models in the unit, then they flee.  You'll find yourself taking pot shots at units you can't really hurt, so that you can move in your flamers or melee units to do the real damage.  Vehicles are immune to suppression, so they become key to your attack strategy.

Using suppression and reactions seem to be key to game of Dust Warfare. It adds a level of complexity over 40K's move-shoot-assault model.  It also doesn't fall into Warmachine's depth through complexity trap.  

The game's price point is very nice as well.  You'll be playing 40K scale games at a half to a third the cost. 

Stuff I'm on the fence about

I have some balance concerns.  Units with Jump seem very powerful, as their movement cannot be reacted to.  In my game against Totengraber I took out nearly a third of his army with a unit of Heavy Assault Rangers with an attached character.   They have a 12 inch move(24 on a double move) with the Jump ability.  Their Double Rocket Punch attack can tear up nearly everything in the game.  I'm not convinced that they are not counter-able, and they do cost 50 points with attached hero(most games are 200-300 points).  They are definitely a n00b slayer unit.  On the other side, some of the Axis special rules seam a little lack luster.  Laser seem to be very ineffective.  They just don't get enough shots.   Axis tend to also be more damage reliant, but that just means the Allies will suppress you all day long until you get a nice dose of rocket punches or napalm to the face

Hero units are a little all over the place.  Some are absolutely required.   I would never take a unit of Axis Gorillas without attaching the gorilla hero(he gives the unit movement that cannot be reacted to).  Others are pretty much ablative wounds for a squad.  They tend to cost as much as a full unit of soldiers, so it's a choice of quantity or quality.  

Stuff I don't like   

Certain models are buried in  Dust Tactics Boxed sets.  Most of the hero's are only available in Dust Tactics campaign expansions that cost 40 bucks.  There's a lot of value in those boxes if you play Dust Tactics, but if all you want is the one hero for your Allies army it's kind of annoying.  There are two hero's that only came in the OOP first starter box.  There's also a light walker for each side only available in the current Tactics starter.  But that box has enough Dust Warfare value that if an Axis and Allies player trade starter box units, it's a decent deal.  Otherwise, Fantasy Flight needs to release a set containing the back log of heroes for the Warfare players.

There are a few rules issues that need to be addressed.  For instance all weapon ranges are measured in the horizontal plane only.  This means that a unit can technically punch a unit 10 stories directly above them.  I'm not sure of how quickly Fantasy Flight will be able to turn around a faq on these issues.  These kind of issues are pretty rare though, and a common sense approach should prevail in the meantime. 

I'm not a big fan of the fluff.  The Weird War 2 genre has been done to death.  Maybe if they had gotten in before the Captain America movie it would be a little different.  A serviceable movie, but after I saw it I just became very tired of Nazis with ray guns and Amerika Bombers.  I'm no longer intrigued by questions of, "How would WWII have gone if all the SS where vampire iguanas and Churchill was a robot Velociraptor?"


The game takes a little getting used to if your background is mostly 40K and Warmachine.  You have to worry about a few concepts that will be alien to those game systems.  You'll need to worry about keeping your units within command range of your platoon leader, so that you can issue them orders in the command phase.  You also can't just run your army straight at your enemy.  Even a basic unit or Rangers can gun down most anything if you come at them without suppressing them first.  Learning set-up then take-down tactics will be essential for games of Dust Warfare

My resistance to buying an army is wearing down.  I like the rules.  The game is a good fall back if 6th edition 40K is the doom that all the BS rumors are claiming.  The models are decent, and even the Russian chibi-hind gyro-copters are growing on me.  I may buy Allies now, and Russians when they come out with Dust Warfare rules in a few months.

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