Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dust Warfare: First Games & Review

This weekend I had a chance to try out Dust Warfare from Fantasy Flight Games.

Fantasy Flight make a lot of games I love, but this is (I believe) their first try at a true miniatures wargame.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that they had Andy Chambers on the project.  So that's a lot of good breeding stock, so I had high hopes for this game going in.

I picked up some of the minis before -same ones used in Dust Tactics- a Sherman walker, which I converted for my VSF Quar, and late last summer I couldn't resist the newer German 'Heinrich/Herman' Light Walker, which I got 3 of for my Frau Totenkinder Weird WWII force, along with many infantry and the Gorillas for my Belgian Liberation Army.  On quick review, I found these minis a great value for their price.  The walkers I mentioned are my favorites, I seem to be in the minority of liking the Sherman walker (at left in the picture above) better than the Luther German walker (at right in the picture above): the turret is quirky and cool and far more practical than the side arm mounts. My only complaint is that the infantry are soft plastic, so things like long thin gun barrels can bend.  And I'm not crazy about the bases, but they can easily be rebased, which I did.

Despite picking up many of the miniatures I had not played the game until this past weekend.
I had no interest in Dust Tactics, not liking the look of the game tiles, not wanting to play a weird war version of D&D Minis.
So I can not make any comparison between the two game systems.


The game currently has two playable factions: German & American, with the third, Soviets, being released now.  Armies are selected within a points value system, with first choosing a command squad from a list of options, which will determine the type of army you have, which then gives you further options for your squad type choices.  In other words, you have some flexibility for what you can field, but not free rein, your choices are limited: you won't have all vehicles, and some troop types will never see action together.

The game is divided into phases:

First determine initiative by rolling a die for each unit you currently have, so the more you have, the more you will likely be able to activate in the command phase, but the less likely you will go first, since initiative is given to the player who rolls the fewest successes.This has a nice balancing effect.

Once initiative and number of command phase activations are determined, the player with initiative can activate as many units as they had successful rolls for plus one.  These actions are limited to just 1 action per unit activated, and they have to be within 12" of the commander, unless the squad has a hero, or if the command squad has a radio, then 1 activation can be further than 12" away.  Radios are very good to have.

A unit that activates in the command squad gets an activation counter, which means in the orders phase they will only be able to do one action, not two.

Then the 2nd player does their command phase, then on to order phase for the first player.

In the order phase, any unit can act as you wish, they don't need to be within the commander's range.
A unit has 2 actions.  Possible actions are move and combat.  If you double move, you move twice, if you double fire, then any initial shots that miss can be re-rolled.  Unlike a lot of games, there is no distinction between combat by gun or by knife (or other hitting weapon) only the range of the weapon.

All dice in the game are the special Dust dice, where 2 sides of the d6 are success and 4 are miss.
Some characters or effects change the chance of success by causing the success to be reversed: miss is good instead of hit.

The Clever Bits:

Since a unit can only have 2 actions, it becomes advantageous for you to waste your opponent's actions. The easiest way to do this is to suppress them.  If a unit is hit (even if no wound is taken) it gets a suppression token. A unit can only put one suppression token on an enemy unit no matter how many hits they inflict, but a second unit can place a 2nd, third unit another, etc.  Before a unit activates they roll a die for each suppression token they have, it takes a hit to clear it, so only a 1/3 chance to do so.  If they have any suppression on them they lose 1 action, only leaving them with one remaining action, and if they acted in the command phase, then that activation token uses up an action as well, so they'd sit and do nothing if they don't clear their suppression.  Too much suppression will cause an automatic route. At the end of the turn, all units remove activation tokens and 1 suppression.

Another clever bit is the scenario generator. Before the game each player rolls dice for their units, adding up their hits. This gives points for modifying the game set up.  There are several themes such as deployment, objectives, and conditions. If you don't like the default, you can add a point in to change it, the opponent could leave it there or add a point to change it to the next in line, and this continues until all points are spent.

On to Our Games:

In our first game I played Germans, while my friend played Americans.  We used the painted minis I had when possible, otherwise we used the fresh new minis he'd just bought for our trying out the game.
We used 150 pt forces, possibly not in legal builds, since we took the 300 pt armies he'd written up and divided it in half as even as possible, since we decided 300 was too large for a test game. I had a command squad, a grenadier squad, a small squad of 3 heavy lasers, a sniper team and a medium & light walker.  The Americans had a command squad with flamers, an infantry squad, sniper, jump pack troops with rocket firsts and a medium walker. The game was for straight up damage.
His sniper got the best of mine.  and he also managed to take out my light walker. I did take out his infantry squad.

One thing I found interesting is that armor saves are based on the squad, not the individual.  A typical infantry squad has an armor value of 2. This means they can roll 2 dice when the unit is hit, and any success on the dice prevent a wound.  So if the squad of 5 are hit by 5 shots, at most their armor will save 2 of them, and only if they are very lucky. In a lot of games, like 40k, a single infantryman can make an armor save against every shot that hits him, but not so here.  Your luck has a predetermined limit.  This makes cover very important.  Light cover will let you ignore one hit, and heavy cover two hits.  Note you will still take suppression.  You can also 'hit the dirt' to add one to your cover, but only to a max of hard cover, so it's no help doing it in hard cover.  Hitting the dirt will also add an action token and its own suppression token, so if you haven't already activated that turn, the chances that you will are pretty slim.

I kept trying to crack the Medium Walker, but with armor 4 and in Light Cover, it didn't happen.

The real star of the game was the unit of American jump pack troops.  These were amazing.  I had no answer for them. They move 12" and have a close combat range of 3", so if they have two actions available, they can fly from 15" away and do combat.  They hit on misses instead of hits (so 2/3 of the time) have a lot of dice, and since they are armor 3, even machine guns get only 1 die against them, no better than a rifle.

Game 2.

A couple days later, after digesting the rules, giving them a good think we tried the game again, this time with around 175 pts and trying to make the armies more balanced.  We felt the Rocket pack troops were too good against the German list, so we added Gorillas for the Germans, replaced the heavy laser troops with standard laser troops and the hero Lara (only to later realize that wasn't legal) and the Americans added the hero of the rocket troops and the rocket troops with machine guns (which we soon discovered was a balance mistake).

Unfortunately I had forgot my Gorillas, they are packed with the Belgian army, and I substituted 3 of my big fairy tale manifestations from the Frau Totenkinder army to sub in for gorillas:

The snipers did a sniper duel, which mine lost.
The enemy walkers exchanged shots, and the American got 6 hits out of 6 dice!  The light cover I had took 1, I made 1 save on my 4 dice (for armor 4), leaving 4 wounds left and the vehicle was destroyed. A very lucky shot for the yank.  

I soon discovered my panzer grenadiers were not scratching the walker, and the rocket machine gunners took them out. The 3 gorillas were facing 6 rocket troops with a hero.

No, this wasn't going to work.  It was a fast game.

We tried it again, this time switching sides.  I was now convinced the American rocket troops are over powered.  Unless truly balanced with something equally powerful, so we added Gorilla's hero who gives them the charge ability -can attack after move without needing an action- and comes with 6 wounds for himself -where the american hero has 4.  I played the two American rocket squads at either end of my deployment, so they couldn't help each other against the gorillas.  My friend said he'd seen on forums that there is a lot of talk that the gorillas and zombies are too powerful, but hadn't noticed anything about the rocket troops.  While it is true that gorillas might be easier to use since they can charge, not needing 2 actions to move and attack, and can never be suppressed- so they are easier to use than rocket troops, rocket troops can move further and some have machine guns, letting them do damage from afar, and they hit on misses, so twice as often as gorillas. I don't see it: rocket troops just seem better.
The gorillas charged me and on a slightly less than average roll I put a couple wounds on my hero.
In return the rocket troops soon slaughtered the gorillas.

So I'm stumped.  Most range in this game is 16". The rockets can avoid most threats, can repossition, and hit hard when able.  Armor 3 is amazing, and if they land in or behind cover they should survive the few dice enemy units can throw at them.  The obvious equal counters to them don't seem to be very effective.
I think these troops must be very under-costed.

It will take more game play to know if the big weird stuff (rocket troops, gorillas and zombies) are too powerful compared to basic troops.  They don't cost much more than regular units.  It is possible to get platoons of nearly all gorillas, zombies & rocket troops. If they are as good as they appear to be I fear that games would succumb to an arms race where it's just these troop types for the most part. I hope that isn't the case. At worst though, it seems like a great and balanced game if not using these troop types. I think it would be a very fun game with armor 2 infantry and light & medium walkers.

I saw some other games of this being played over the weekend, including some of the heavy 6 legged walkers.  I don't think I'm a big fan of those- I don't care for how they look and I think they are just too big: their footprint is massive, reminding me too much of super heavy tanks and titans in 40k: fine for a really big battlefield game, but looking too big for a 4x6 table. But that's just a personal reaction.

I will look forward to trying the game out more in the future.  At this point I can't say for sure if the armor 3 infantry are too powerful, but I can say I have some concerns.  If it is unbalanced then this wouldn't be a game I'd play for tournaments or random pick up games, but if it turns out the forces are not unbalanced and not requiring one to compete in an arms race or not have a chance in battle, then I'd be happy to.  If such imbalance exists then it is still a great game that can have those elements balanced or limited or removed by a group of like-minded gamers. I think the mechanics are very solid and the game is enjoyable.



Chris said...

I'm glad to hear a review about this game as me and some of my friends had been considering it, as for the comment you left on my blog you're right, it's going to be an arena. Hard to tell in the picture I posted but it's quite large.

Paul of the Man Cave said...

I have a few of the walkers to use in Secrets of the Third Reich, but haven't played the game. At long as you have fun, any game is a success!

Some nice terrain there too!

Michael Awdry said...

Not sure I would ever get round to player this, but I could certainly see myself tempted by some of the miniatures, especially having seen your wonderful conversions.

Bill said...

Thanks for the video. Love that song.

Lobo said...

looks like you had a very nice game!

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