On the afternoon of the Friday after Thanksgiving, after a nap to recover from helping my wife shop at 4:30 in the morning, my son Thomas and I tried our first game of “Tomorrow’s War”, the sci-fi version of “Force-on-Force” by Ambush Alley Games. Since most of our miniatures are from Warhammer 40,000 (by Games Workshop) we decided to set up a game around those. So I laid out a small urban area on our gaming table and we tried a sort of ” Ambush Alley” using Tau vs. Orks. As a test/learning game it proved an interesting experience in game balancing (or at least trying to learn *how* to balance the game).
For those who don’t know much about “Ambush Alley”, “Force-on-Force” or “Tomorrow’s War”, they are they are miniatures based wargames that try to abstract many of the details of combat so that the players can concentrate more on fundamental strategies and enjoy the gameplay instead of paging through tons of rules and “army books”. One of the base principles of the Ambush Alley games is that there are no “points” for the forces, i.e. you cannot say “I am setting up a 500 point force of Marines so you need 500 points of insurgents”. Instead, you are expected (and encouraged) to use common sense in setting up the forces. In other words you might say “Okay, I will be fielding 4 standard squads of 5 marines each, riding in 4 hummvees. They will be facing mixed groups of insurgents armed with AKs and RPGs.”
This ties in with the other critical way the games work: These are “Scenario-based” games. Each force has a specific set of goals. Victory conditions are based on accomplishing those goals – not just wiping out the other side. Your goal might just be to wipe out the other side, or it might be to rescue someone, destroy something or just get across the map alive.
That being said, the scenario Thomas and I set up was that the Tau (a blue-skinned alien race possessing very advanced technology) had to enter a section of the city to recover a damaged scout drone (a hover-robot). Their opposition were random bands of Orks (large, barbaric green-skinned brutish aliens) and Gretchin (weedy, whiney, short barbaric green-skinned brutish aliens). The Tau had to collect the damaged drone and exit the other side of the game map. The Orks goal was to prevent this from happening.
Our difficulty came in trying to balance the forces. We set the Tau up in groups of 4 Fire Warriors wearing unpowered armor and carrying advanced combat rifles, each led by one Pathfinder, wearing powered armor and armed with an assault weapon. This gave each Tau squad about 9 dice for defence (10 sided dice for Troop Quality). Their attack maxed at 10 dice (also 10 sided).
We set the Orks up as a lower troop quality, using 8-sided dice. They had no armor and a lower Tech Level. This combination made the Orks far too easy meat in the game, as the AAR will show. I have since figured out how to improve and better balance this scenario and will discuss that at the end of the AAR.
This is the urban area we set up for the game. The Orks are scattered around the town in small groups. The Tau are entering at the left side of the photo. The objective “broken” drone is in the middle of the town watched over by a group of Gretchen who are trying to figure out how to disarm the booby traps on it.
One of the Ork mobs waits behind an industrial building. Led by a larger Ork known as a “Nob”, they carry large-bore primitive firearms that make up in size what they lack in sophistication.
The mob of Orks above, while shown on top of the building, are actually taking cover inside of the building. The Grots outside are hard at work trying to disarm booby traps on the Tau drone.
On turn 1 Thomas deployed his three squads of Tau onto the map, all working together and taking advantage of the cover provided by the trees and walls of the upper left corner.
The Ork mob advanced past the industrial building in order to get a better shot at the Tau when they came out of cover. Orks…”strong like bull; smart like tractor”. I did not realize the disadvantage I was operating under…
The Tau advance out of cover. They have the initiative and I try to interrupt them but they win the test. Thomas has his Tau shoot and rolls nothing lover than a 7 on ten 10-sided dice. My Ork defensive roll was…unspectacular. The entire Ork mob is wiped out.
One of the other Tau fireteams blasted the Orks in the building who also lost the combat test to “interrupt” the Tau movement. Once again Thomas rolled amazingly well and I…didn’t. My minimal return fire did not even scratch their armor. Another Ork mob bites the dust.
At the beginning of Turn 2 I rolled for Ork reinforcements and got another mob. They showed up where the previous mob had been mowed down. Note the lone Ork Support Weapon gunner who survived the Tau fire earlier. He is in a supressed state and is effectively useless.
The Orks in the tall ruin have line-of-sight on one of the Tau fireteams. However, of course, the reverse is also true.
The reinforcing Orks lost their test to interrupt the Tau fireteam. Lost it badly enough that they had to draw a “Fog of War” card, which provided a random battlefield event that could be hurtful or helpful for either, both or neither side. This card made one of the Ork warriors to have increased morale. We decided that it would be the lone Support Weapon Ork in the building across the street.
The reinforcing Orks lost all but two members, who both failed their morale check and faded away. The Tau were still not scratched.
The Orks in the tower actually successfully interrupted one of the Tau fireteams and shot first. The Tau suffered one minor casualty. The Tau return fire wiped the Ork mob out. This clearly indicated I had messed up the game balance but I wanted to play things out to see what would happen.
At the end of Turn 2 my forces were almost nonexistent, just the Grots around the downed Tau drone. Tau victory was a foregone conclusion. I just wanted to see whether I would get any reinforcements at the top of Turn 3.
The Grot position had good cover for quite a while. The Tau fireteam advanced and fired on the Grots and Thomas had the poorest roll of the game. He actually left a Grot alive. The Grot got to shoot back and actually seriously wounded one of the Tau fire warriors. The other fireteam moved up and turned the Grot into a thin green and red mist in the air. The best part – the Grots were troop quality 6 – they had to roll 6-sided dice against Thomas’ 10-sided dice. Quite a parting shot…
Obviously the Tau won. I learned a good lesson in game balancing that I will take to heart this weekend when Thomas and I replay our game of “Ork Alley”. When we play again the forces will be set like so:
Tau – Troop Quality 10 on shooting, Troop quality 8 in close combat, Morale 10 (8 in close combat), armed with Advanced Combat Rifles. Fire Warriors armored with light unpowered armor. Led by one Pathfinder Tau in Powered Armor. Pathfinder carries squad support weapon (one extra die).
Orks – Troop Quality 8 in shooting, 10 in defense (Ork toughness), Troop Quality 10 in close combat, armed with normal shooting weapons, one Ork per mob armed with squad support weapon (one extra die).
That ought to be more even, I think. I am still reading through and studying the Force-on-Force and Tomorrow’s War books so my ideas are subject to change. Thomas and I ought to have fun with it, though.