Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tomorrow's War - Today's Headache

Cover of "Tomorrow's War" - new skirmish rules that are generating a ton of buzz
A couple months ago, TMP member "Osprey Joe" kindly offered to send us a review copy of Osprey's hot new SF skirmish ruleset, "Tomorrow's War".  As a Scotsman and a Winnipegger (our motto: "if it's free, it's for me") I could not help but take him up on this generous offer.  The book drop-shipped and arrived directly from Amazon, in good condition except for a razor-cut on the cover near the spine.  Not sure how that happened but it doesn't really affect the condition of the book.

Wanting to familiarize myself with the rules and host a game in a timely fashion, I read a bit of the book each night in bed before going to sleep.  Certainly a pleasant way to pass a few minutes at the end of the day - the book is beautifully designed, laid out and executed. The paper is glossy and heavy, the binding feels like quality, and the pictures are pretty. There is tons of background included, which some readers will enjoy, but to me is of marginal relevance as we use our own models and factions in our SF games.

Unfortunately the book worked rather better as a sleep aid than I had expected. As I said, I'm not too interested in the "TW Universe" (especially as there aren't model ranges specific to the factions) and I found the rules to be rather... dense as well.  And keep in mind I spend my days reading stuff like this. There are just a lot of fundamental rules points where questions still exist. For example: what happens when there are no active models in a unit (i.e. they are all "tipped over" potential casualties) and no First Aid check can be made at the start of the next turn?  Does the unit disappear, or just stay tipped over? (we think they remain on the table). Do "tipped over" models contribute to a unit's armour saving rolls when they are shot at? Can hits be allocated to wounded or tipped over models before active models? And my favourite, when reaction fire causes models in a moving unit to be tipped over, do these tipped over models "follow" the rest of the unit as they complete their movement? (Unbelievably to me, this basic question regarding a situation that will happen in virtually every game was answered on TMP by the designer with a "do it whichever way you like, in agreement with your opponent")

In any event, we were still eager to give the rules a go so we set up the "Rescue the Downed Pilot" scenario from page 96 of the rulebook.
An overhead view of the table - the USMC faction can be seen advancing through the open on the right side of the pitcure, while the DPRG squads wait in ambush
The game pitted three teams of d8-quality USMC rockstars (repped by Greg's IG Kasrkin Stormtroopers) against four teams of somewhat less rockstar-ish d6-quality DPRG (my Pig Iron Kolony militia), waiting in ambush.


The sturdy conscripts of Futurkom played the part of the DPRG in the game
The game started with USMC having the Initiative and needing to retrieve the pilot from the building near the centre of the table. I was thinking that the mission should be cake from the DPRG perspective as we were set up in ambush... however our effective "ambush range" was only 12 inches and the USMC retrieval lanes were mostly outside this zone of death.

Greg B's GW Kasrkin Models stood in for the USMC side in the scenario
The downed pilot - always a source of trouble for the REAL fighting troops...
However, as always, the best laid plans... etc. etc. As the USMC advanced towards their objective I succumbed to the temptation to get "trigger happy" and light up the attackers... which didn't go so well.
My d6 firepower rolls were no match for Greg's hot-rolling Reaction Fire with d8s.

The Futurkom grunts wait in ambush...
USMC troops wait on Overwatch in the woods
The game turned into a bit of a gong show as, turn by turn, my squads were whittled down by accurate USMC fire. Towards the end I tried to move some teams into the building with the pilot to induce some close combat with the USMC (faint hope I know) but the intrepid Kommers were lit up before they knew what had hit them.
The Futurkommers try and visit with the downed pilot...

What happens in "Tomorrow's War" when one side has a better troop quality...
It was all over by about Turn 6 as all of my troops were tipped over with no active models left to make First Aid checks.  I suppose technically we might have declared a "Thorpian Moral Victory" since the USMC couldn't have retrieved the pilot and made it back to their table edge by the end of turn 8... but it hardly seems like much of a "victory" when you have no models left to fight with.

We set up the models again and the DPRG tried a more patient tactic, which worked somewhat better at first, lighting up a USMC team advancing in the open, working some angles to try and cover the objective, and mostly JUST NOT MOVING. We didn't finish the second run through but I suspect it probably would have finished similarly to the first, albeit with more USMC casualties.

Summing up? Tomorrow's War has some great points - turn interruption and Reactions are very cool.  However it's easy to get mixed up as to who's got Initiative, who's reacted, and who can react, as well as the plethora of markers required to denote wound status and other things. The rulebook desperately needs some editing and organization. It's a beautiful book but some more attention to detail is warranted. For example, in the sample scenario we played, the terrain includes a stream and small lake. Referring to the "terrain effects" section in the book (also not easy to find), we see a statement to the effect that "the scenario will specify the game effects of the water feature on movement". Guess what?  It didn't, so we had to agree on that ourselves. Not a big deal in this case, but if the scenario was designed with a specific water effect in mind, it was a well-guarded secret. Likewise the maps for the scenarios - the text listed table sizes as anything from 3x3 to 6x4, but the maps all show 4x4 layouts!

These are minor niggles, of course, next to the Big Unanswered Questions in the rulebook (like "what happens to tipped over figures?") but it bespeaks what many have complained about of late - an emphasis on rulebook form over function.  There are a ton of beautiful looking rulebooks out nowadays and aesthetic appeal in game books is no longer the exclusive realm of Games Workshop. But I get the feeling with TW that more emphasis was placed on the physical product than on the guts of the thing - cogently laid out rules that are lucid and easy to find. The lack of a quick play sheet, for example, is inexcusable, especially when considering the number of pages devoted to background fluff. We'll certainly try TW again but we are increasingly skeptical of the "love bombs" (thanks Greg) for TW being dropped in carpet-fashion all over the web. Grade: B-.

Dallas

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Dallas has summed things up very well.  My two cents - the book looks great, but was written as though you already knew the rules.  At the end of the day, I think there is a great set of rules in there somewhere.  It was neat to play a game knowing, for instance, that you could cover the advance of your own troops, and it made you plot out different approach paths etc. 

But the rulebook itself is inexecusably baffling and incomplete - the lack of clear information on what happens to a casualty is the most galling example, but in general, the rules the read out like you should already just know them.  Do you still exchange fire when you are fired at while on the move? How many times can regular units react?  What is the difference between ambush and overwatch? The book implies the the answers are obvious. Sorry - they're not. 

I really want to play TW again - so at that basic level, I would say the rules are a success.  But to do that, we'll have to pile through all sorts of forums etc just to ascertain the basic mechanics of how the game is supposed to work.  I look forward to an edition of these rules that contains the rules.

Greg

15 comments:

Greg B said...

Let's get something about "General Insurance Agreements" into the next scenario we play...

Curt said...

I don't think you guys are alone in your assessment of TW as I've been hearing a few grumblings around the blogoshere. Here is one that sounds very similar in tone to yours:

http://johnstoysoldiers.blogspot.com/2011/11/tomorrows-war-first-impressions.html

Noel said...

I am glad I read this. I have my self been wondering, after all the buz. I got suckered into the pre order farce, and luckily they gave me my money back (I donated it to the red cross). Going through the pre order mess was just that a mess. I was reading how it all came together in to one great book, my self I doubted it would condense well. I will stick to Gruntz, and USE ME.
Noel

GJD said...

More or less the same feelings here. My review is at http://glueinthecarpet.blogspot.com/2011/10/tomorrows-war-aar-and-review-part-2.html

G.

Mike A said...

I had fun playing, even if we spent more time rummaging through the rule book than moving minis around. I think the system has potential, but as Greg and Dallas have pointed out, the rulebook is in dire need of a second edition, with everything clearly laid out. Hopefully next time we play, it will go a bit smoother.

Ken said...

"For example: what happens when there are no active models in a unit (i.e. they are all "tipped over" potential casualties) and no First Aid check can be made at the start of the next turn? Does the unit disappear, or just stay tipped over? (we think they remain on the table)."

I don't have TW, but I do have FoF. If it's like FoF they stay on the table until another unit or medic can get near them and do a First Aid check.

I don't know what happens if all the models in all the units are "tipped over" but if that's the case does it really matter?

Ken said...

"For example: what happens when there are no active models in a unit (i.e. they are all "tipped over" potential casualties) and no First Aid check can be made at the start of the next turn? Does the unit disappear, or just stay tipped over? (we think they remain on the table)."

I don't have TW. But if it's like FoF, then I believe the models are left on the table until another unit or medic can get near them and do the First Aid check.

If that's the worst "omission" you found I don't think it's too bad.

Dallas said...

Thanks for the comments - I can see this is a popular topic for discussion.

Ken - good comments as well. But no, it's not the worst omission we found. The morale check rule (where wounded and tipped over figures continued to contribute dice to morale checks) was a howler too. I don't have my rulebook nearby right now but there were a bunch like this.

I think your familiarity with FoF is definitely a plus for you. As Greg said, TW seems to assume that you're a gaming buddy and just naturally understand the way the game plays through years of experience. Never having played FoF before put us at a bit of a disadvantage.

Yeti said...

Hi Dallas, this is Bruce from Osprey. I've run about 120 TW demos and can tell you that the core system is very, very simple. A free 4-page rules summary is available on Ambush Alley's website. Having said that, here are answers to your rules questions:

As Ken said, if an entire unit is hit then it remains on the table until either friendly troops make contact for a first aid check, or enemy troops make contact to kill or capture.

For demos I've been playing it as: hits are always allocated to uninjured models first, though for regular games common sense dictates that it is more realistic to include lightly wounded characters as well, since they're still fighting. Seriously wounded soldiers aren't fighting anymore, so I don't include them, though you could argue that they might be hit, I doubt any enemy troopers are intentionally shooting at them.

Units have to maintain cohesion distance (1" or 2" depending on terain), so 'hit' figures go with the unit...this fits the spirit of the rules in that they could have been hit at any time during movement, unit cohesion is required, and we want to keep a fastpaced fire-team game here, so avoid breaking up a fire team before you know if there are casualties.

Your game sounds as though it was unbalanced because the D6 fire teams were rolling the same # of dice as the d8 fire teams. I've found that for play-balance in a small intro scenario like the one described, it is best to have D6 irregulars have an extra 1 or 2 guys per fire team. So three 4-man D8 teams are a good match for two 5-man, and two 6-man D6 teams IMHE. Of course, if you're making realistic battles there's no need for them to be balanced...plenty of real combat is pretty one-sided.

Anyway, I hope you print out the rules summary and give the game another chance.

Mike A said...

@Ken- I have both TW and FOF, and I can say that Ambush Alley dropped the ball with this book. Sure, it's very nice to look at, but the rules are not clearly laid out. FOF, seems to have all the relevant rules in the appropriate sections of the book. Don't get me wrong, I really like TW. It just needs to be tidied up. Cheers.

Dallas said...

Hi Bruce, thanks for taking the time to comment, much appreciated. We actually used the exact forces and deployment from the scenario on page 96 of the book, so any balance issues are pre-existing ones- the d6 teams mostly had 5 men while the USMC had four.

I guess a great deal of my frustration with the rules is captured in your third paragraph where you talk about "how you play it". With a set of rules like this (relatively complex and simulational in nature) I'd like to be able to discern clearly what the designers intended and not have to rely on interpretations or house rules for common situations. We will sure check out the rules summary you mention and you can be sure we will play the game again with that assistance. Thanks again and I do appreciate receiving the review copy.

Barks said...

Good review- I'm a fan of the core concepts, but agree that the rulebook layout leaves much to be desired. I actually plan on running this scenario today with a mate, we'll see how it goes.

Yeti said...

You're quite welcome Dallas. I taught myself the rules, and though I did discover across many demos that at first I didn't run the game exactly the way the designers intended, the play-quality was constantly high from the first time I played the game. I think that's because the game's most basic element of using fire-teams instead of individual figures speeds play, and the ability to react to your opponent's moves reflects reality better than IGO-UGO systems...it gives the game a more organic appeal.

Also, I re-read the casualities section again last night and found that it does answer the 'whether casualties can be hit' question: keep in mind that lightly wounded figures are still actively fighting, so they add Defense dice, whereas seriously wounded do not, and are considered Dependents who might be hit if more than half of Defense dice are failures,...here's the long version of that on page 68:

FIRE AT UNITS WITH
DEPENDENTS & CASUALTIES
If a unit with Dependents or Casualties is fired upon, it
makes its Defense roll as normal. Note that only combat
effective figures contribute a defense die – in other words,
Casualties and Dependents do not add dice to the unit’s
Defense. However, if the unit rolls more failures (scores of
3 or less on their Defense dice) than successes and it is
determined that they have suffered casualties, then one (1)
of the casualties must be counted against a Dependent or
pre-existing Casualty.
Casualties are only subject to the most serious injury
result they’ve received thus far. A casualty that was
determined to have Serious Wounds in earlier play would
not suffer any additional effects if they received an
additional Light or Serious Wound later in the game. If the
unit received a KIA result, however, it would be KIA.
Example: A Marine fireteam is escorting two wounded
contractors to safety when it is fired upon by Martian
rebels. The Marine player rolls 4D8 for Defense and scores
a 1, 2, 3, and 4. The rebel player rolls 4D6 for Firepower
and scores a 2, 3, 5, and 6.
The Marine player allocates his Defense dice and determines that the unit will suffer 2 casualties. Since more than half of the Marine players Defense dice were failure
rolls (with scores less than 4), one (and only one) of those two casualties must be a Dependent. One of the contractors is hit and a First Aid Check must be made to determine his fate.

Dr Vesuvius said...

Good review - it almost perfectly matches my experience of trying to learn Force On Force, especially the feeling that the rulebook was written with the assumption you already know the rules. I love a lot of what FOF/TW does, and think there is a great game in there somewhere. Unfortunately that somewhere isn't on the printed page.
Greg@Osprey - agree with you that the core of the game is very simple, however it's the specific cases that aren't explained clearly on the page. Is it possible your familiarity with the game makes it difficult to judge how well the book explains the rules to someone coming in cold?

sureshaker said...

Very good review, very fair and honest.It mirrored our club's experience. Our club playtested TW and it was difficult. We have played Ambush Alley, Ambush Z, and Ambush Valley, but we had never played FoF so our learning curve was steep. I bought the TW rulebook because it was better than my last edition of playtest rules. TW is still my first choice for 15mm SciFi gaming, I wish I understood the rules better.