Review of the Fall 2011 release of “Tomorrow’s War” by Ambush Alley Games and Osprey Publishing

Greetings All!

I have had my hardcover copy of “Tomorrow’s War” by Ambush Alley Games for a little over a week now.  I have read it, referenced it, waved it around and used it in the games I ran at the “Recruits” gaming convention.  I recently read that some folks are looking for some reviews on the “Tomorrow’s War” rules – it being a couple of weeks before it is officially released.  So, here goes my review of the Fall 2011 release of the “Tomorrow’s War” rules.  I hope my tens of readers of my blog will like it! 😉

“Tomorrow’s War” – Review by Walworth County Wargamer

So…where to begin…well, first the Earth cooled.  And then there were dinosaurs!  But they all died and became oil…oops, that was the movie “Airplane”.  Let me try again.

About a year ago I was intrigued by the Ambush Alley Games talk of “Tomorrow’s War”.  I found a local gaming con last November where I had a chance not only to try it out but to meet Shawn and Peggy of Ambush Alley Games and to also meet Jim Roots, one of the developers.  I lucked out in that Jim is somewhat local to me.  Okay, about an hour drive to game with him at a friendly local game store, but I have a Prius and an iron @$$, so it works. 

I liked what I played enough to immediately purchase the “expansion” version of “Tomorrow’s War” that they were bundling with a copy of “Force on Force” if you bought them electronically as pdf files.  Within a week I created my first horribly unbalanced scenario involving Warhammer 40K Tau and Orks.  I got better at balancing things after that. 

I also got to game somewhat regularly with Jim Roots and his son Wil, who taught me a lot more about the game.  Being an enthusiastic glutton for punishment I joined the development group as a playtester and have played quite a few really cool scenarios.

So, what do you get if you purchase this Osprey Publishing version of “Tomorrow’s War”? This is not an expansion or a supplement.  This edition of “Tomorrow’s War” is a stand-alone game. The basic print quality of the hardbound book is excellent.  The photographs, artwork, tables and such just explode off the pages.  It feels like it is worth what you paid for it.  The printing of black text on the often blue backgrounds can be a little hard to read at times but that is a fairly minor fault.  I can still read everything.

After getting my hands on my very own hardcover copy of “Tomorrow’s War” I dived right in with it at the “Recruits” gaming convention.  Having the *real* book as opposed to my “big honking binder” with my playtester’s copy was very nice.  The tables were easy to flip to, the table of contents was nice and having an Index is awesome.  I wish the Index was a little more extensive but it is not bad.

Well, that’s the book, but what about the game?  I’m getting to that, okay? [mental note: when you are writing a blog and you start hearing your readers in your head, perhaps it is time for a vacation]

“Tomorrow’s War” – The Game

Whether somebody likes, dislikes or just doesn’t care about a game is a very subjective thing.  Me, I like the Ambush Alley Games products a lot.  “Tomorrow’s War” is turning out to be *that game* that I have been looking for.  It works for me.  Very obviously your mileage may vary.  So let me go forward with what *I* like with “Tomorrow’s War”.

Top of the list is the concept of “Action – Reaction” that is the basis of the AAG gaming system.  It goes roughly like this: Player 1 (who has the initiative) activates a unit.  That unit could be infantry, like a Marine fireteam, or it could be armor, like a tank or an APC. Player 1 could choose to Move, to Fire, to Move and then Fire, to Fire and then Move or a few other special options. Player 2 happens to a have a unit within “Line-of-Sight” of this activated unit.  Player 2 *may* choose to attempt to “React” to the action of Player 1’s unit.  This is done by declaring the Reaction and stating what you are going to do, i.e. Fire or Move.  The players then roll Troop Quality dice to see whether the Reaction was successful or not.

I love this basic “Action-Reaction” game mechanic.  If you are the non-initiative player you are never just sitting there waiting for your opponent to move and then to fire on your immobile forces.  You *always* have your head in the game.  You are always looking to perform that perfect maneuver, to line up that great shot or to successfully take cover so as to spoil the other guy’s great shot. By its nature the mechanic emphasizes mobility and fluid combat.  It encourages it.

This is well-polished in “Tomorrow’s War”.  I find that the book guides you through the sequence of play and provides decent examples of how to perform the basics.  The rulebook is divided up into several sections, each section capped off with a sample scenario that “puts it all together” for what was covered before.  These are good scenarios too!  They are fun to play.

The Number 2 thing I like about “Tomorrow’s War” is how the rules are “layered”.  You can play perfectly fun games with just the very basic rules and not miss much of anything. 

I am *not* an expert at the game but I was able to get groups of people playing a moderately complex scenario with about 20 minutes of convention time.  After the first couple of turns they needed very little guidance.  The only charts I had to keep referring to were the Vehicle Damage charts and the First Aid charts for casualties. They didn’t miss Morale and Bail-Out rules for tank crews or deck attacks from infantry-launched missiles.  Those could certainly have been included but I didn’t see a need to add the complexity to the scenario.

The rulebook is *replete* with examples and explanations.  It makes it seem like there are a lot more rules than there actually are.  The explanations guide you through things pretty well.  If you still have questions, the Ambush Alley Games Forum on their website has lots of friendly people.  Shawn and Peggy both post there frequently (many times daily) answering questions and making comments.  People will help you if you don’t understand something.  More importantly, if you just plain don’t like a rule then Shawn will happily advise you to change things to your heart’s content when you play.  It is *your* game, after all.  You’re supposed to have fun with it.  😉

The rulebook is written with 15mm scale miniatures in mind.  However, if you want to scale up or down that is no problem.  You may just have to adjust move distances up or down accordingly.  I have used 6mm, 10mm, 15mm and 28mm scale minis in TW games.

There is no worry about weapon ranges.  With a few exceptions all weapons are assumed to have unlimited range on the game boards we are using.  If you consider that at 15mm scale an M1 Abrams has a range of over 40 feet (over 12 meters) then you can see why this is.  There are “optimum’ ranges, based on Troop Quality, where troops have an easier time hitting their targets.  Nothing too complicated.

Okay, now does “Tomorrow’s War” deliver a “sci-fi” feel to the rules and gameplay?  You betcha!  This is not just an add-on for “Force on Force”.  This is written from the ground up to be a hard Sci-Fi wargame.  From basic body armor rules up to full powered armor, from low-tech slug-throwing combat rifles to laser rifles to energy weapons that project streams of plasma, from track-laying tanks to air-cushion hover tanks to grav vehicles – it’s all there, fully integrated.  There are rules for combat drones of all sorts, how to fight in a vacuum and even how to deal with a unit that is overstressed from being on the sharp end for too long.

You also get asymmetric engagements (we have them today; we’ll have them tomorrow), Close-Air Support and Off-Board Artillery.  A full 3 dimensional combined arms battlefield awaits.

The first thirty-two pages of the “Tomorrow’s War” rulebook are taken up with the author’s “game universe” describing events and places for about the next 200 years.  Some folks have commented that this is the weakest part of the rule book.  You can certainly ignore it and play the game to whatever background you wish.  Me, I have gamed David Drake’s “Hammer’s Slammers”, things from Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe and even just scratch games of no particular background.  It all works.  BUT, the “game universe” the authors created for “Tomorrow’s War” is actually kind of cool.  There are some good ideas there that can lead to creating some great scenarios and campaigns.  Read it, digest it and think about it.

What does “Tomorrow’s War” not have?

If you look through what I have discussed so far you might notice something lacking.  How do you set up a game?  Are there points so you can have balanced forces? Well, the rule book and core mechanics for the game are NOT written with “points” and “1000 point armies” in mind.  Like “Force on Force” and “Ambush Alley”, “Tomorrow’s War” is a scenario-driven game.  And the scenarios are mission-driven.  In a scenario the goals of each side can be wildly different than just “kill all the opposing side”.  More importantly, just as in real life, the forces available may be quite uneven.  In war you fight with the army you have, not the army you want.

How does this equal fun games? How do you set up a scenario that is going to be fun to play?  Well, the creators of “Tomorrow’s War” have promised some sort of basic “points” system to be available for download by the official release time for the rulebook.  I think it will help people get started with the game but I also think that most folks will “outgrow” it.  For one thing I know that many people are developing TW scenarios of all sorts that will be freely available.  These will take place in various science fiction backgrounds from movies, books and video games.  For another, if you play a few games of this you quickly get the feel for how to balance a scenario.  They play quickly enough that if you figured wrong it is easy enough to adjust things and try again.

“Tomorrow’s War” is like all the other Ambush Alley games in that Troop Quality is the most important factor.  It is not the weapon the soldier holds that makes him or her effective.  It is the training, the conditioning, the esprit de corp.  The rules as written reflect that.  Some people don’t like that focus as much.  That is fine.  This game, like all games, will not appeal to everyone.  I like the whole troop quality vs weapons quality concept.

The gaming system created by Ambush Alley Games is focused on results.  It is not focused on the precision minutia of weapons and ammo performance. It abstracts them, instead concentrating on the importance of the QUALITY of the soldiers who are using the tools.  The way I explain this is: “Give a group of U.S. Navy Seals some cornmeal, some popsicle sticks and some hot dogs and I am sure they can use them to kill the enemy.  Give a group of fresh soldiers right out of basic the same materials and they might, maybe end up with corn dogs…probably burned. Give those materials to the average third-world insurgent and they will probably harm themselves…

“Tomorrow’s War” also has a scale it works best at.  Not scale as in 15mm, 28mm or 6mm – I have played TW with minis at all those scales.  What I mean is that it best represents squad to company sized engagements.  You would get a bit bogged down with larger ones and it is not a “skirmish” game for individual characters.  In fact, the structure of the game system doesn’t have “characters”.  When played at the scale it is intended for the game plays very well.  I have had games last a half hour to about three hours. That varies with the size of the game and the experience of the players.  They have all been fun, so far.

What else “works” with “Tomorrow’s War”?

Well, the “Action/Reaction” system works really well for big tank battles. I have had two people play a 2 hour game that involved over 2 dozen heavy and light tanks, contesting a river crossing.  They were both new at it and they still had a great time. [note: I need to run that one again.  It was way fun to do.]

Finally, I have a “love/hate” relationship with the “Tomorrow’s War” “Fog of War” cards.  What are they?  Well, one of the optional rules you can layer on for great fun and randomness is the addition of “Fog of War” cards.  If one side or the other rolls a “1” when making a troop quality check during an “Action/Reaction” they then must draw one of the special “Fog of War” cards.  The results of the card usually take place immediately.  These results can be things like one of your vehicles breaking down, a random artillery round strikes one of your units, a storm blows up and visibility drops for everyone – any number of things.  It is a mix of things that will mess with you and help your opponent or vice-versa, or even things that will mess with everyone.  They really tend to flesh out the scenario and can turn it from a “game” into a “story”.

Why the “love/hate” relationship?  Because the cards seem to hate me and tend to screw me at every opportunity, that’s why! 😉  I think they are in collusion with my dice…

Should “Tomorrow’s War” be on my “I gotta have it” list?

Confession time – I am a Ambush Alley Games fanboy…sort of.  I like the games, I like the game system.  As I said earlier, it “works” for me.  I have fun while playing TW and I have noticed other folks have fun too. 

“Tomorrow’s War” is not a game aimed at competitive tournaments. It is a game for gamers to have relaxed, fun games where they question their opponent’s parentage and threaten their own dice with the microwave…well, yeah, but still having fun and laughs while doing it.  Many of the games I have played are worthy of stories because of how they turned out.  This will work for some people and not be other’s cup of tea.

If it sounds good to you then check it out.  I have had fun with it and I think that other people will too.  If it seems like it is not for you then that is fine too.  Life is short and gaming time is shorter.  Play the games you enjoy!  I will do the same.

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3 Responses to Review of the Fall 2011 release of “Tomorrow’s War” by Ambush Alley Games and Osprey Publishing

  1. Craig Welter says:

    Thank you for posting this review, it is very informative. I really like story-driven and scenario-driven games. However, I already have a lot of Warhammer 40,000 miniatures and an interest in that background. It sounds like these rules can be used to play some fun, story-driven games in that universe. I’m especially interested in what you said about the massive tank battle, because I’ve tried that before with the Warhammer 40,000 rules, and it was the most boring game I’ve ever played. So having a set of rules that make that kind of game more fun would be nice.

  2. war games online…

    […]Review of the Fall 2011 release of “Tomorrow’s War” by Ambush Alley Games and Osprey Publishing « Walworth County Wargamer[…]…

  3. Tony says:

    This is an inspiring review and similar to Craig and 40K, this seems to be a great rules system.
    The “Action – Reaction” mechanic is what I have been looking for, I hope!
    I have found the “You go, I go” turn based system, dull and unrealistic, the non active player, being bored to tears!
    I have just ordered a copy of Tomorrow’s War.
    Am looking forward to giving it a go!

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