I’m back! Yesterday I decided to finally sit down and play a test game of Ambush Alley’s Tomorrow’s War (second edition), published in conjunction with Osprey Publishing.
I did so alone for two reasons: First, I couldn’t find anybody available interested in playing the game but that wasn’t too discouraging because second, I preferred to have a first hand impression of how the game plays myself before I try to get people to like it. A few weeks ago I had a game of Infinity with my brother and wasn’t really well prepared which led to a few hold-ups. We had a great game but I feel that I should have been prepared better.
What is Tomorrow’s War?
It’s essentially a version of Force on Force (Ambush Alley’s widely acclaimed and well-supported rules system for modern-day skirmishes) catapulted into the future and turned into a Sci-Fi tabletop wargame. Here are the things that make Tomorrow’s War stand out from most Sci-Fi tabletop games:
.) You can clearly see its heritage lying more on the historical and simulation side of things and the book clearly states that these rules are for “hard Sci-Fi” settings, i.e. the designers went for a more realistic approach to how stuff works. This clearly is not “Fantasy in Space” or a Space Opera kind of game.
.) There is a big emphasis on action-reaction firefights. There is no strict I Go You Go system employed. Rather than that, you roll for Initiative each turn and end up with one side having the initiative and activating units one after another and the Non-Initiative Player reacting to what the Initiative Player does. This more often than not results in firefights between two or more fireteams reacting to each others’ attacks. Once the Initiative Player activated and acted with all his units and reactions have been worked out and rolled for the Non-Initivative Player may activate any units that haven’t done anything this turn and may act with them as he pleases. After that and some other stuff like morale checks, combat stress checks and working out First Aid for the wounded Initiative is rolled for again to see who’s got the initiative this turn.
.) The other big thing is Troop Quality. Tomorrow’s War bases combat effectiveness of the models less on the guns they carry than on how well trained they are. In many other games kind of weapon a unit carries often is a defining part of how the unit performs on the battlefield. In Tomorrow’s War this is not the case. The firepower of a unit is calculated based on the Troop Quality mainly, reflecting that for example hardly trained rebels raiding a local army base and salvaging 150 low-weight high velocity rifles shooting supersonic uranium-coated bees still won’t be as effective incombat as a team of highly trained soldiers with regular hunting rifles. There are some modifiers that get applied to that like the presence of support weapons in the unit or certain other situational factors.
.) Rolling dice is a bit different than in many other games as well. “The (nearly) universal rule” as they call it is that a 4+ on any die is a success, any lower is a failure. Now the way some units are better at something than others is not determined by modifying this 4 but by the number of dice you get to roll and the kind of dice you use. Most checks are opposed rolls made by both players at the same time. Let’s say a fireteam of well-trained and combat-experienced soldiers (higher Troop Quality) fire at a team of hardly trained conscripts (lower Troop Quality). The soldiers will roll a certain number of Firepower Dice and the conscripts will roll a number of Defensive Dice. Due to their higher Troop Quality, the attacking soldiers use eight-sided dice (D8s) while the conscripts only use six-sided dice (D6s). It goes without saying that the chances of rolling 4 or more with a D8 are higher than rolling 4 or more with a D6. After all successfull rolls are determined they are compared and negated by the defending player if possible. The number of surplus successes the attacker rolled is the damage that’s inflicted upon the defender.
.) The game isn’t set in any specific background universe. The authors wrote up a pretty cool setting for the game that’s in the book but you can convert the rules to be used with any other games universe as you like (as I did in my battle report below). Apart from that you can apply the rules to any scale as well. The book says that measurements are worked out with 20mm to 28mm (standard Warhammer scale) miniatures in mind but there are tipps for how to play the game with anything ranging from 6mm to 40mm scale models which means that you can use any Sci-Fi or modern-day figures you got lying around really.
.) Last but not least, there is no points system. This is a purely scenario-based game any the possibilities of creating scenarios are basically endless. Some people might not like this but to me it’s really a new and interesting approach which again is very much rooted in many historical wargames. Many people don’t like points systems in anything historical or any game with a more “realistic” approach and critisize points system for often being arbitrary, not balancing anything at all and simply because of the fact that actual battles don’t work that way. However, the first thing people started doing when Tomorrow’s War was released was writing up points systems of course and rumour has it that an upcoming supplement will have a points system as well. I’m not wildly enthusiastic about this kind of “chickening out” but if people require it it’s okay. I think that I’ll be set with the ten scenarios you get in the book plus the plethora of scenarios posted online by various people.
After this introduction to illustrate what the game roughly is about and what the general design ideas are, let’s get down to business. I decided to play the very first scenario in the book. It’s called “Lost and Found”, involves only infantry fighting and originally describes the scenario of a squad of Marines having to retrieve a downed pilot from no-man’s land with the other side having set up to ambush the marines as they close in.
To make thewhole thing a bit more homely to me, I decided to change the involved parties a bit. Thus, we got…
Scenario: It’s a Trap!
Space Marines Renegades of various chapters were sent off to a smaller world to incite an uprising of the local population against imperial rule. After some investigation they find out that the people are very open towards the teachings of a local “wise man” who probably possesses psychic powers to influence the masses and lives out in the remains of a destroyed city. This would be a valuable asset to the Renegades’ aims so they decide to retrieve the wise man immediately.
Local secret police forces discover the investigating Renegates without their knowing and informed authorities. The Ultramarines Space Marines chapter swiftly dispatched a force of Scouts to keep the psyker where he is until specialists arrive to deal with him. Until then the Scouts are to root out the Renegade Marines and, if possible, take prisoners to learn more about their plans.
The opposing forces:
The Chaos Space Marines Renegades warband (CSM) consists of one Commander with Boltgun and three fireteams of four Marines each. Each of the three squads (CSM1, CSM2, CSM3) is equipped with Boltguns, a heavy stubber (light support weapon) and a missile launcher (medium support weapon).They have a Troop Quality of d8 which means that they use eight-sided dice for all checks they roll.
CSM Victory conditions: The CSM get victory points for getting into contact with the psyker, for escorting him off board and even more victory points for having him escorted off board by turn 6.
The Scouts force (UM Scouts) consists of one fireteam of five scouts plus a Commander with Boltgun and an Apothecary with a Boltgun as well. Three more scouts squads consist of five scouts each. Each of the four squads (Scouts1, Scouts2, Scouts3, Scouts4) is equipped with Boltguns as well as a sniper rifle (light support weapon) and a missile launcher (medium support weapon) each. They have a Troop Quality of d6 which means that they use six-sided dice for all checks they roll.
UM Scouts victory conditions: The Scouts get victory points for either killing, seriously wounding or capturing any CSM. If the psyker is still on the table by the end of turn8, they win.
Just a quick note: What happens in the game will be written in normal font. Notes about rules of the game to clarify why things happen the way they do will be written in italics.
Here you can see the two armies involved. The top row is the Ultramarines Scouts squads with the red markings indicating the squad number and the red-and-white stripes indicating squad 1. The lower row is the Renegades. Again, squad numbers are marked on the bases and a Rhino was used to indicate the position of the leader simply because I didn’t have any more appropriate figure around. In games terms, the CSM Leader works like a unit of one model who can attach himself to friendly units.
The reason why I chose Chaos Space Marines and Space Marines Scouts was because the scenario required forces of the same morale and confidence as well as very similar equipment but the Troop Quality and Overall Tech Level of the ambushers to be a bit lower. Apart from that this is basically all (and a bit more as you can see) of the 6mm epic miniatures I got painted so far. I think that the scenario would also work well with Imperial Guardsmen and Eldar Guardians or Dire Avengers, Chaos cultists versus Imperial Guard and so on. As long as it’s similarly strong models with the army that is to retrieve the objective having a slight edge it’s okay. Of course it wouldn’t work with a bunch of Gretchins ambushing a squad of Grey Knights Terminators or something like that.
Due to space constraints I decided to play on a 2′ by 2′ board using 6mm Epic 40k miniatures and halving all distances. The game lasts for eight turns.
As per the Scenario’s rules, the Scouts squads lie in hiding around the psyker’s meditation spot (indicated by the cardboard marker) and may not be shot at unless they do something (like moving or shooting). If an enemy unit gets into their ambush range the Scouts may ambush the unit in question which in broad terms means that they get a very good chance to fire at them before they can react. If a CSM squad gets really close they may attempt to discover the Scouts.
The CSM get the Initiative and move onto the board from their table edge. They advance cautiously while the Scouts stay in hiding. The CSM Commander attaches himself to CSM1 and will remain with the unit until the end of the game.
Turn 2: First roll for Initiative which the Scouts force actually win but they want to wait until the enemy is closer and then open crossfire so they stay hidden while the CSM advance slowly. CSM2 and CSM2 decide to abandon the left flank in favor of taking position in a patch of green that used to be a park and now is used by the wise man to grow exotic herbs and a few trees. The CSM enter and take position. This spot would give them limited cover as well as a good view on the surroundings to provide cover fire if necessary. CSM1 advance to a similar position behind a bunch of rocks to their left.
Despite winning the Initiative Check again, the Scouts stay hidden. CSM1 stay put and scan for threats while CSM3 advance deeper into the park. CSM2 drew the shortest straw and quickly advance to the Psyker’s position to pick him up.
Just in time for things getting tense, the CSM regain Initiative and promptly CSM1 and CSM3 go into Overwatch. If something would happen, it would happen now.
Overwatch position can only be taken by units that have the initiative and allows them to interrupt enemy reactions.
CSM2 advance to the psyker and make contact. This very moment Scouts4 attempt to ambush CSM2 as they advance which would allow them to fire at CSM2 even before any of the Overwatch fire takes place! Scouts1 and Scouts3 also declare reaction fire to CSM2’s movement action to which CSM1 and CSM3 answer with overwatch fire.
In short – all hell breaks loose within a second. First Scouts4 attempt their ambush but fail to catch CSM2 off guard so their attack will be worked out as regular reaction fire instead of an ambush. This means that CSM1 behind the rocks can try to counter that with their own Overwatch Fire and manage to do so. CSM1 open fire at Scouts4 from behind the rocks and despite the cover and the Scouts’ carapace armour four scouts hit the ground. The only remaining combat-ready Scout, Quintus, must take a Morale Check but stands firm.
As soon as a unit takes hits it must take a morale check to see how they react to this traumatic experience. Other possible outcomes than standing their ground would be either being pinned or, if they take too many casualties, they start routing. Morale, as well as Confidence, and Supply Situation, are stats that are not linked to Troop Quality but still can affect the game greatly. Elite Forces can still suffer from starvation or oppose to the ideas of their leadership while an armed mob in the street can be completely convinced that they fight the good fight and are on the winning team and therefore will be less prone to retreat.
After that, the regular interaction between CSM2 and Scouts4 (which at this point consists of valiant Scout Quintus only) is worked out. CSM2 win the opposed reaction check and may finish their action whilst Quintus may not react at all.
Now Scouts3’s declared reaction fire at CSM2 is being resolved but CSM3’s Overwatch Fire at Scouts3 intervenes. Scouts3 and CSM3 roll for reaction to see if Scouts3 manage to fire at CSM2 first or if CSM3’s Overwatch Fire is quicker to react. Scouts2 win the roll and get to react before CSM3. On top of that, CSM3 lose their Overwatch status due to the failed check and will only react normally. Now that this is out of the way, Scouts2 have to roll for Reaction to be able to fire at CSM2 but fail to succeed.
At this very moment, one of the wounded Scouts from Scouts4 clumsily leans on his missile launcher and accidently fires it in the direction of Scouts1! The ensuing explosion downs two of the Scouts, pins the whole squad and preventing them from firing at CSM2 that turn.
As you can see, all kinds of stuff were happening at once at this point and due to this being the first firefight I rolled but also involving Ambushes, chains of reactions and Overwatch it got a bit chaotic and I’m fairly sure that I got a few things wrong so bear with me. Now about this mishap with the missile launcher: Each time a 1 is rolled on a Reaction Check the player who did so must draw a Fog of War card and play it immediately. These can be good or bad for the player and this one, called “There’s nothing Friendly about it!”, definately is bad and indicates a friendly fire incident.
Now CSM3 fire at unlucky Scouts3 on the building to their right, downing three of them but the unit stands their ground.
The end of turn4 (orange markers indicate Overwatch [yes, I forgot to remove the one from CSM3], pink ones indicate casualties and the yellow one the “Pinned” status):
After all this was done I actually could have activated Scouts2, who hadn’t done anything that turn, but decided not to so they wouldn’t be exposed to CSM3’s Overwatch Fire. Or so I thought because, as written above, CSM3 had already lost their Overwatch status, I had just forgotten to remove the marker. D’oh.
While the dust of the first eruption of firefights settles, Scouts1, Scouts3 and Scouts4 look after their wounded to determine “how bad it is”. Scouts1 have an Apothecary with them which makes First Aid much easier but still of the two victims of “friendly” fire one proves to be seriously wounded while the other only took a light wound.
If they weren’t pinned anyway they’d only be allowed to react this turn and all units with wounded in them suffer from Casualty Penalty which hampers their movement quite a bit until their wounded are either escorted off the table or evacuated by some other means.
Scouts3’s casualties come out to be one killed in action (KIA), one seriously wounded and one lightly wounded. They pass all checks though and may act as normal this turn.
Scouts4 suffer one KIA, one seriously wounded, one lightly wounded and one Scout’s wound proves to be just a scratch. Let’s hope it’s not the one who triggered the missile launcher, otherwise he’d have a lot to answer for lateron. They pass all checks though and may act as normal this turn.
The situation on the battlefield didn’t prove to be too satisfactory for the Scouts so far and a certain amount of distress started taking its toll with Scouts1, Scouts3 and Scouts4. The CSM fireteams all keep their cool.
At the beginning of each turn after the first you do stress tests for all units on the table. This is a check representing the general level of stress each fighter is exposed to as the battle goes on. It builds up, gets harder to pass each turn and is modified by various factors like being under fire, having achieved any of the victory conditions so far and so on. If failed, the unit loses confidence which in turn may force them to do morale checks more frequently, thus being more prone to losing their nerve over the duration of a combat situation.
CSM keep the Initiative and have CSM1 and CSM3 go into Overwatch again whilst CSM2 started to retreat towards the building corner to their left, along with the distressed Psyker. Scouts4 and Scouts3 declare reaction fire as soon as CSM2 are out of cover. CSM3 open Overwatch fire at Scouts3 who, again, are too slow to react faster. Scouts3 gets mowed down by CSM3’s accurate Overwatch Fire and, being far off the medic and any other friendly squad, don’t have much hope left to get any medical attention any time soon.
Scouts3 rolled badly on their reaction check, triggering another Fog of War event. This time it was “It’s a good Day to die” which improves a randomly determined fireteam’s morale and confidence level permanently.
“It’s a good day to die”, Quintus of Scouts4 tells his comrade as they get up and aim their weapons at CSM2 who are running out in the open. CSM1 fail to get their Overwatch Fire in before Scouts4. They open fire at CSM2 but fail to do any damage as the renegades cross the open and get out of Line of Sight.
Now CSM1 open fire at Scouts4 and manage to down all remaining Scouts of that squad as well.
After all Initiative Units have been activated, Scouts2 finally spring into action, advance at full speed towards some cover and open Fire at CSM3. Again, no damage done.
Given the circumstances, Scouts2 get their confidence shaken, Scouts1 stay somewhat confident that they can manage to accomplish their mission if they get in some lucky shots and prevent the CSM from escorting the psyker off the table. All the CSM units keep their high confidence as well as initiative.
CSM3 are activated to open fire at Scouts2 but unexpectedly the Scouts react quicker, fire at CSM3 and manage to wound one of them, catching them off guard and pinning CSM3 who are more surprised than worried and return fire, wounding one of the Scouts but they stand their ground.
They may conclude their action despite being pinned due to their higher troop quality. If a Scouts unit (TQ d6) was pinned, it wouldn’t be allowed to fire at all.
To get rid of all possible sources of danger, CSM1 are activated and open fire at Scouts1. They win reaction and manage to down he whole rest of the squad!
CSM2, escorting the Psyker, start considering their options. There is only one enemy fireteam left and yet all they had gotten of the sweet action was getting shot at and picking up a weird old man. Beset by the allures of Slaanesh, they decided to do something exciting too. Time to dish out some pain!
At this point I noticed that I had made a mistake with the CSM. I had forgotten to take into account that they had to be off the table with the guy (via their own edge of the table) by turn 8 and that I had reduced movement values by 50% which meant that the board was a bit larger than planned and that they just wouldn’t make it off the board by half an inch or so. That’s why CSM2 decided to act like this as opposed to just getting the heck out of there. Apart from that, there was another rule I wanted to try out before the game ended and honestly, if this was just the way the game was over it would have been kind of boring.
So CSM2 activate and start running around the building to catch Scouts2 from behind.
The ensueing reaction check was quite remarkably a double 1 which meant two things. First: CSM2 win the check because Initiative units do in case of a draw. Sceond: Fog of War. I decided to have only one Fog of War card triggered and by the Initiative Unit. The card was “In the Zone” which means that for one turn, their Troop Quality and Morale are increased by one level to basically super soldier level and which I found pretty fitting for the sudden bloodlust of CSM2.
Skillfully (and possibly deliberately?) CSM2 shoot down all but one of the enemy scouts. The one fellow is too surprised to run away or go look for cover.
First Aid checks tell us that one of the Scouts was killed right away, two are heavily wounded and one lightly wounded. Understably, the combat stress gets too much for the remaining halfway conscious scouts and their Confidence Level decreases to Low.
The CSM fireteams aren’t too happy either about CSM2’s reckless behavior. CSM1’s confidence is lowered but the leader recovers it immediately.
Confidence can be recovered if certain situations occur. Having a positive leader around is one of them. Yes, there are negative leaders as well which, as I think, is a very good idea and to my knowledge something you don’t often have in tabletop wargames. Negative leaders add to stress levels and afftect morale in other ways as well.
CSM3 check for their casualty but he’s only lightly wounded. Still, their confidence takes a dent. CSM2’s confidence also suffers a bit after they discover that only one of the enemy scouts actually is dead.
CSM keep their initiative and immediately activate CSM2 to have them charge into Close Assault.
Close assault works similarly to regular firefights but is more deadly to either side. It also involves a bit more of a risk for the attacker because he has to roll to see if the fighters really make it into the assault. Then the defending player gets to check if he may react which is either fleeing or trying to stop the assault by reaction fire (albeit at reduced effectivity). The advantage of close assault, apart from being able to more efficiently kill enemy units, is that there are special assault weapons like SMGs, handcannons and so on which are less effective at range but very much more so in close Assault.
The Marines of CSM2 charge into close assault. Scouts2 desperately return fire but are quickly overwhelmed, disarmed, taken prisoner and shown around as the imperial assassins who aimed to kill the people’s holy man.
Now who won the game? Despite pretty much everything that happened, it technically is the Ultramarines Scouts because the CSM didn’t manage to get the psyker off the table by the end of turn8 but in fact it’s of course the Renegade Marines who won.
I’m aware that the lower quality troops, especially in a scenario like this, have to delay the enemy troops more than seeking to openly fight them. They should carefully look at lines of sight and pick out isolated fire teams of the higher quality troops and so on but whilst trying to wrap my head around the rules I didn’t really spend all that much time on tactical musings simply because I had to look up so much stuff in the rulebook, even with the Quick Reference Sheet at hand (which you can download from Ambush Alley’s forums).
I still am sure that I made some mistakes, especially on turn 4, in which all of a sudden everybody started shooting and I had a bit of a hard time keeping track. I’m sure that when it’s two players it’s way easier doing that. I kept a word file while playing just as a sort of bookkeeping really and to run the rules I had just applied through my head once again. This word file ended up being the skeleton of my battle report here and I thinkt hat writing this very, very long battle report helped me memorizing the rules better and noticing mistakes I had made during the game.
In hindsight I think that cutting all distances in half wasn’t such a bright idea. The book suggests playing the game on a 3′ by 3′ table at the usual distances when playing with 20mm to 28mm scale figures so reducing the table by one third and distances by a half PLUS having units of four to seven have the footprint that one miniature regularly would have led to a few things that probably would have worked out better with regular 28mm figures on the 2′ by 2′ board.
What I realized during the game was that Troop Quality really makes a grand difference. The Scouts had some pretty bad luck in that game but at no point were the CSM really at risk of failing their mission. Still, the scenario was made with that in mind so the Scouts would get lots of victory points for each CSM injured, killed or taken prisoner. It definately is harder to play the army with the lower overall TQ but if the odds are a little tuned it can make for really tense, exciting games with that bit of luck and a small portion of random events thrown in. I basically grew up on GW games and just love a bit of random mischief happening during games. Those are the things that get the freeing laughs into a game at points where it might be needlessly tense between the players.
So what do I think of the ruleset itself?
I think it’s really good. Getting the game done took a long time, especially getting to understand the reaction sequences but once that’s done I’m sure that this can be played rather quickly and cheerfully. The approach the game takes (troop quality above tables of weapons, all scenario-based, more “realistic” combat, …) is something I enjoyed quite a bit. What I’m looking for in a rules system is how it’s different to what I know. There’s no reason in playing the same game with three similar rulesets.
When first reading the book I have to admit that it looked pretty daunting and so far I only really covered infantry combat between regular forces. There is a huge range of additional layers to this game in the book though like vehicle combat of course, walkers, robots, various kinds of additional rules for infantry like power armour of all kinds, jump packs, animals, mounted combat, air and artillery support, electronic warfare, aliens and so on. Just a huge amount of stuff you can do with this ruleset. What I’m really interested in though is that this book, like Force on Force, puts much time and effort into the possibility of playing scenarios of regular forces fighting irregulars like rebels, uprisings and so on. These scenarios of asymetrical warfare is what really seems inspiring to me and which is a nice break from the norm of sci-fi wargaming in a whole new way.
It’s due to this range of things you can do with is is it that I think that the scenario-based approach works really well. It’s a great toolbox full of options for your own scenarios but on the other hand it’s not too outlandish or so abstract that only people who like setting up scenarios will have fun with this because it’s not too hard making up scenarios. Apart from that, as mentioned above, there are tons of people on the internet uploading their own scenario ideas. I’ve read various accounts of people even having made up co-operative scenarios in which small groups of soldiers have to fend off hordes of aliens or zombies while getting from some point to another.
My only slight points of critizism would be the layout of the book. It’s not like there’s not everything in it and I can’t quite put my finger on where the problem is but it somehow is written somewhat unintuitive. You don’t really get a grasp on how a turn of the game is played and at times you feel a bit like you’re playing “connect the dots” whilst scanning through the pages, looking for something you want to do now, stumbling across something else you forgot to employ so far (like it happened to me with stress tests). It’s not horrible or a big problem, especially with a user’s custom made quick reference sheet you can get on Boardgamegeeks.com which not only has all the important tables but – most importantly – the page numbers that go with the section of the rules that table is connected to. But again, only a minor complaint really.
All these things considered, this clearly isn’t a “pick up and play” kind of game and definately it has nothing to do with any kind of tournament gaming. This is a wargame which is perfect for clubs, gaming groups and so on. I think that this would work very well as a demo game of some kind as well because the rules actually are really simple to pick up as long as you got someone to tell you when somebody reacts to what and in which order. Next thing I’ll do is either getting someone into playing another infantry combat scenario (probably the same) or I do a solo game involving vehicles this time or a Regulary versus Irregulars game.
I think that at this price point (about € 23,00 / $ 23.00 in the US) you can’t do much wrong with getting this book no matter what kind of Sci-Fi you’re into. At worst you’ll get out of it is some very interesting and different rules ideas and a different prospect on Sci-Fi wargaming and if you happen to like it you end up with an universally applicable, really neat ruleset for any kind of background. I definately enjoyed reading the book and playing the game.