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

September 20, 2011

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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After Action Report on gaming at “Recruits” Gaming convention in Lee’s Summit, Missouri

September 12, 2011

Greetings everyone!

I am back home, relatively rested and have transferred the pictures off my Droid.  Time to write up how things went at “Recruits”.

It was great!

Okay, maybe a wee bit more detail is required… 😉

We (my son Thomas and I) made the 9 hour drive to Lee’s Summit from Elkhorn, Wisconsin.  The drive was blessedly uneventful.  We met up with Shawn, Peggy and Jim of Ambush Alley Games and followed them over to the event site, Lee’s Summit High School.  There Thomas and I helped them haul stuff in so they could get set up.  Peggy had the amazing timing to have us haul the stuff in during a strong rain shower that stopped moments after we got the last load inside.

Shawn and Peggy of Ambush Alley Games hard at work getting their tables organized

My slightly damp son Thomas, after hauling stuff in the rain.

Of course there was method to my madness! The sooner the AAG folks got set up the sooner I could buy my copy of “Tomorrow’s War” from them.  Hee-hee, it worked!

A very happy Walworth County Wargamer. Got my copy of "tomorrow's War" and a set of "Tomorrow's War" Fog-of-War cards.

Later on that evening I spent time and money by “Combat Wombat’s” table buying 15mm scale sci-fi vehicles.  Now I have some future projects.
Saturday came bright and early and we had a frustrating time trying to get to the darned high school.  There was a marathon being run and the police had blocked off all the routes we knew to get to the site.  Geez, wouldn’t the marathoners get much better times if they were running away from cars?  Oops, that was not my “inside voice“… 😉  Anyway, we finally made it and I got my game set up.

My "Tomorrow's War" game layout for Saturday at "Recruits"

The “Tomorrow’s War” scenario I was running was one of my own design, based on material from David Drake’s book “Paying the Piper”.  It is one of his many books about “Hammer’s Slammers”,  a future mercenary armored regiment.

The book is available as an e-book for free from the Baen Free Library:

http://www.webscription.net/p-316-paying-the-piper.aspx

To keep it simple, the scenario involves a platoon of Hammer’s Slammers heavy hovertanks, known as “blowers” and a short platoon of Hammer’s Slammers “Combat Cars” all trying to make it to a river crossing.  The blowers may be air-cushion vehicles but they are too heavy to cross the river anywhere except a ford.  The combat cars are light enough to cross the river directly or go over the river bridge.  Sounds simple, right?

The opposing forces are locally-manufactured armored vehicles in the service of the city-state of Solace on the planet called “Plattner’s World”.  These vehicles are built by slapping an armored frame on top of a mining crawler chassis and mounting guns and/or turrets to them.  They have one gunner/commander and an Artificial Intelligence unit to drive the vehicle.  Though mounting fairly strong guns they still epitomize the concept of “a hammer, protected by an eggshell”.

River Crossing Scenario

Hammer’s Slammers Forces – Tech Level 2 – Troop Quality: D8/ Morale: D10

3X Blower Heavy Hover Tank armed with a 20cm Energy Gun

Heavy Energy Tank Gun – AP:4/AT:6 (Heavy) (Slow) (Heavy Hitter) – Turret
Mounted

Against Armor: Roll 6D8 plus 1D8 for Heavy Hitter plus 1D8 for Tech Level
Shift, Ignores 2D of Defender’s Armor (Defender rolls 2D less on defense roll)

Against Troops: Roll 4D8 plus 1D8 for Heavy Hitter plus 1D8 for Tech Level
Shift

Slow Firing – Loses 2D8 each time it fires after 1st time – 8D8, 6D8, 4D8, 2D8

Front Armor: 4D12 Side Armor: 3D12 Rear Armor: 3D10

6X Combat Car, 4 armed and 2 “Trucks” hauling infantry

Three 2cm Rotary Energy Guns, Combined Firepower AP:4/AT:4 (Medium)

Against Armor or Troops: Roll 4D8 plus 1D8 for Tech Level Shift

Front Armor: 3D8 Side Armor: 3D8 Rear Armor: 3D6 (Open-Topped vehicle)

Troops: TL2, Hard Body Armor (+2D), TQ/Morale: D8/D10

Slammers Fireteam Alpha

3X Rifleman, 2cm Powergun (TL:2, AP:+1) Ignore 1D of armor or cover

Gunner,  2cm SAW Powergun (TL:2, Ap:+2) Ignore 1D of armor or cover

Slammers Fireteam Beta

3X Rifleman, 2cm Powergun (TL:2, AP:+1) Ignore 1D of armor or cover

Gunner,  2cm SAW Powergun (TL:2, Ap:+2) Ignore 1D of armor or cover

Combat Drones assigned to the Slammers (TL:2): (not in the novel)

2 Hover Drones, Troop Quality D8, “Dumb” Bots (-1 Reaction Roll)

Cautious move 8”/Fast move 16”  Hard Armor: +2D

Armed with Advanced SAW and Grenade Launcher: AP: 4D8, AT: 2D8

All Bots survive on a 4+ of a 1D6 roll.

————-

Solace Government Forces – TL1 – Troop Quality: D8 / Morale: D8 Troops/D10 Vehicles

6X “Trencher” Light Tracked Tank (Medium Vehicle) armed with a Medium Gauss Cannon

Medium Gauss Cannon – AP:2/AT:5 (Gauss) – Turret Mounted

Against Armor: Roll 5D8,  Ignores 1D of Defender’s Armor (Defender rolls 1D less on defense roll)

Against Troops: Roll 2D8

Front Armor: 4D10  Side Armor: 3D10  Rear Armor: 3D8

Also armed with 3 Gauss SAW Machine Guns: AP:2/AT:0 (Gauss)

Against Troops: Roll 2D8, Ignores 1D of Defender’s Armor (Defender rolls 1D less on defense roll)

2X “Stalker” Tracked Tank Destroyer armed with fixed mount Heavy Gauss Cannon

Heavy Gauss Cannon – AP:4/AT:6 (Gauss) – Fixed Mount

Fixed Mount requires successful Troop Quality roll for every shot after the first. Front Arc Only.

Against Armor: Roll 6D8, Ignores 1D of Defender’s Armor (Defender rolls 1D
less on defense roll)

Against Troops: Roll 4D8

Front Armor: 3D10  Side Armor: 3D8  Rear Armor: 3D8

1X Stalker with an “Ultra-Class” Heavy Gauss Cannon

Ultra Class Heavy Gauss Cannon – AP:4/AT:6 (Gauss) (Slow Firing) (Heavy
Hitter)

Against Armor: Roll 6D8 plus 1D8 for Heavy Hitter, Ignores 1D of Defender’s
Armor (Defender rolls 1D less on defense roll)

Slow Firing – Loses 2D8 each time it fires after 1st time – 7D8, 5D8, 3D8, 1D8

Solace Troops

Troops: TL1, Soft Body Armor (+1D), TQ/Morale: D8/D8

Solace Fireteam One

3X Rifleman, ACR (TL:1, AP:+1)

1X Rifleman, Buzz-Bomb Rocket (TL:1, AP:2/AT:2)

Solace Fireteam Two

3X Rifleman, ACR (TL:1, AP:+1)

1X Rifleman, Buzz-Bomb Rocket (TL:1, AP:2/AT:2)

Solace Combat Drones (TL:2) (Off-Planet Purchase): (Not in the novel)

3 Walker Drones, Quadruped

Troop Quality D8, “Smart” Bots Cautious 6”/Fast 12” Hard Armor: +2D

Armed with Gauss Squad Support Weapon: AP: 3D8, Ignores 1D of Opponent cover

Also armed with RPG: AP:2D8/AT:2D8

All Bots survive on a 4+ of a 1D6 roll.

———–

Those are specs provided for the gamers to use.  The “Hammer’s Slammers” vehicles are from Old Crow Models in the UK.  http://www.oldcrowmodels.co.uk/

The Solace vehicles are from Proxy Models.  http://proxiemodels.com/

The infantry is all from Khurasan.  http://khurasanminiatures.tripod.com/

The combat drones for both sides were modified from WizKids “Mechwarrior: Age of Destruction” miniatures.

The Slammers forces

The Solace forces

One may notice that there are COWS in with the Solace forces?  What’s up with that?  Are we playing “To-moo-row’s War”? In the words of Inigo Montoya “Let me asplain…no, that will take too long.  Let me sum up.”

I wanted to try a different mechanic for “hidden forces”.  In most miniatures wargames each side sees all the other forces already on the board and can react to their presence by how they deploy and move.  I wanted to present one side with a different tactical problem: you know something is there but you aren’t sure what it is.  It could be a tank, a squad of infantry, a tractor or just nothing.  So the Solace forces deployed numbered markers on the game board.  Their minis were placed behind a wall on boxes that were numbered matching the counters.

The Markers for the Solace Forces are placed on the battlefield

The Solace minis were placed on the sheets with the numbered boxes.  Cow miniatures were used as “nulls”.  We decided the cows were wandering around with small radio transmitters on collars around their necks.

The Solace minis are hidden from the view of the Slammer's players

For the markers to be “hidden” they had to be placed out of line-of-sight of the opposing force, either behind a building or hill or more than 3 inches inside of the forested areas.  The trees placed on the gameboard outlined forested areas in the battlefield.  These areas limit visibility and provide cover.

In order for a Slammer’s player to “reveal” one of the hidden markers they had to move a unit to within 8 inches of the marker and then make a successful troop quality roll.  Alternately, they could simply move into line-of-sight of the marker.

To keep the markers from “revealing” themselves the Solace player could move them no more than 3 inches.  The markers would also be revealed if they moved into line of sight or performed any combat activity, like shooting.

So, some markers would be revealed as combat units and others would be revealed as cows.

The four players, 2 on each side, figured out their strategies and the game started.

The Slammers forces enter the battlefield

The Slammers forces entered the map and made a right to check out the woods.

The Slammers forces enter the forest and uncover a cow.

The Slammers uncovered their first “blip” only to reveal a cow.  They had a beef with that.  They considered it a cheesey maneuver.  Some of the infantry deployed, either to sweep the woods or to milk the cow…

A Solace tank reveals itself to try and get a jump on a Slammers combat car

A solace tank popped out of the woods to take a shot at a Slammers combat car.  They exchanged fire…

The exchange of fire goes poorly for the combat car

The Slammers combat car receives a “Destroyed” result when hit by the gauss round from the tank.  It did knock the tank down to 1/2 firepower in the process.

The deployed Slammers infantry gets the jump on some Solace infantry advancing up the hill

A nasty firefight flared up in the woods on the forested hill when the deployed unit of Slammers infantry intercepted the Solace infantry that was advancing up the hill.  The Solace forces got the worst of that deal.

A Solace tank destroyer crests the hillside to get a shot at the oncoming Slammers armor

The Solace player brought forward another unit and crested the hillside with his one tank destroyer that mounted an Ultra-Class Gauss Cannon. He was trying to take the armor column in the front to disrupt it.

A Combat Car gets brewed up by the Tank Destroyer

Disruption achieved.  A Slammers combat car gets brewed up by a shot from the Tank Destroyer.

Another solace tank comes around the hill. The tank gets hit for a mobility hit and being suppressed - but it survived 2 shots from 2 Slammers blowers

Another Solace tank came zipping around the hill to exchange fire with a Slammers blower.  In a 2-for-1 deal it got to be shot at by 2 Slammers blowers.  Miraculously it survived 2 hits. It was suppressed and hit for half mobility, but it was not blown up.

Much carnage - leading to the Slammers deciding to withdraw

After much battlefield carnage, the kicker comes for the Slammers when, during a simultaneous fire exchange between a blower and the Solace tank destroyer, the Slammers tank lost its main gun.  The Solace tank destroyer was brewed up.  This was on top of more battlefield losses of combat cars and made the Slammers player decide to withdraw.

The "knife-fight-in-a-phone-booth" battle of tanks in the forest

The small wooded section developed a nasty little battle between two Solace tanks, a tank destroyer and a Slammers combat car.  The Slammers combat car was destroyed as was one of the Solace tanks.  The Solace tank destroyer was gun damaged – 1/2 firepower.

The Slammers infantry overruns the Solace infantry

The deployed Slammers infantry overran the Solace infantry but had to redeploy when the Slammers pulled out.

A reasonable victory for the Solace forces.  Painful, but reasonable.  They couldn’t afford to win like that again.

The afternoon gaming session was lively.  I had 4 teenagers, 2 boys and two girls, who sat down and wanted to play.  They had not played this kind of game before but they were sincere about wanting to try and played very enthusiastically.  I didn’t get any gameplay pictures; the players needed more of my attentions.  The end result was a marginal victory for the Solace forces.  The kids seemed to have a lot of fun playing.  In know I got a real kick out of two giggly teenage girls controlling the “Hammer’s Slammers” hardened mercenaries.

The aftermath of the second game - the Slammers got caught in an infantry crossfire

The kids seemed to get a real kick out of revealing the cows!  They found them udderly hilarious.

The “hidden unit” mechanic I used seemed to work pretty well.  The players did not have a problem using it and it didn’t appear to slow things down much.  In the first session the Slammers players commented favorably on the “tactical surprise” element the mechanic generated.  I will have to try it again.

I did more shopping in the evening, buying some 15mm scale alien miniatures so I can put together a very different kind of force.  I will show y’all when I am ready with it. 😉

“Recruits” was great fun, I am glad my son and I went and I am thankful for the folks who ran it.  I had a great time and want to go again.  I want to thank Shawn and Peggy and Jim for their hospitality as well.  They are very cool people!

Thanks for reading this and I hope to see some of y’all soon.  Have fun gaming!


Road Trip – Gamer Style!

September 8, 2011

Greetings all!

I will be hitting the road tomorrow morning for a 9 hour roadtrip to Lee’s Summit, Missouri, to attend and run some “Tomorrow’s War” at the “Recruits” gaming convention held at Lee’s Summit High School.  The con runs Friday, 5:00pm to 11:00pm, Saturday, 9:00am to 11:00pm and Sunday, 9:00am to 2:00pm.  I plan to be there for Friday evening and Saturday.  I will be running a “Hammer’s Slammers” based scenario of “Tomorrow’s War” in the Saturday morning time slot.  It ought to be fun!

http://recruits.mtswebsites.com/index.php

I hope to see some folks there!

Mark G.


Very Brief Musing on 15mm Scale and Game Board Size

August 15, 2011

Hello all!

I was play-testing a “Tomorrow’s War” scenario on Sunday that I intend to run at the “Recruits” gaming convention. http://recruits.mtswebsites.com/index.php

The game was played at 15mm scale and I was explaining to a new player about the fact that in the Ambush Alley gaming system most weapons have “unlimited range” at least as far as the game board goes.  There are a few exceptions but those are mainly due to the amazing difficulty in hitting something at further ranges with, say, a pistol.  Anyway I explained that an M1 Abrams tank on the table would probably land a shot into the next block from the game store.  I decided to check my math today during lunch at work and it turns out I was over estimating a bit, but still…

For 15mm scale I worked out:

6 feet = 15mm (general assumption for scale)

5280 feet = 13,200mm = 13.2 meters = 43 feet 4 inches for 1 game mile.

Kill range for a M1 Abrams is = 8200 feet (more of less) = 1.55 miles = 20.5 meters = 67.25 feet

Yeah, less than a block – but it would have damaged the “Dollar General” store across the street.  However, it would be a humungous game board.  Longer than the store we were playing in and taking a bit more terrain than I could fit into my Prius.

By comparison, we were gaming on a 4 foot by 4 foot game board.  Let’s see here –

4 feet = 48 inches = 1219mm = 487 game feet = 162.5 game yards = about 1 1/2 average city blocks long.

We carried out a battle involving multiple armored vehicles at a (game) range of less than 2 football fields, basically the size of a small American neighborhood.  Deadly knife-fighting range for these powerful war machines.

Unrealistic engagement ranges?  Heh – go read  the book (not the game) “Ambush Alley” or the book “Heavy Metal: A Tank Company’s Battle to Baghdad” or many of David Drake’s “Hammer’s Slammers” novels.  Lots of short range engagements occurred during the drive to Baghdad.  The “Hammer’s Slammers” books are replete with them (as well as 10-mile long powergun shots and the occasional satellite being shot down).

The short-range fights tend to be brutal and quick in real life and in the novels.  They also tend to be that way in the games, too.  It makes for nightmarish reality but for very interesting gaming scenarios.  I’m just glad no stray firing from the tanks hit the front of the game store…


Pictures from Ambush Ally Games at Reenactor/Military History Fest on February 19, 2011 in Wheeling, Illinois (just north of Chicago)

February 20, 2011

I spent a very pleasant Saturday hanging around the gaming area (new this year) at Reenactor Fest…well now known as “Military History Fest” held at the Westin Hotel in Wheeling, Illinois – a town just northwest of Chicago.

Here is a link to the event:

http://www.reenactorfest.com/Reenactor_Fest/Home.html

Ambush Alley Games was sponsored by Osprey Publishing to run some of their games there.  Some other local gaming folk also ran some games.

Skip Petersen of Legends in Time set up an amazing looking table to run “Battle of Britain” aircraft battles.

Dogfight over the British countryside

Skip’s minis were very well painted and his table just really drew you in.

This is ten or twelve feet long (3 to 4 meters)

I didn’t get a chance to play in this game because I was drawn to this game instead:

Iraq in 2003 - The road to Bagdad

Jim Roots and his son had set up an amazing looking Middle East board, representing an outlying urban sprawl like that in areas of Iraq.  I didn’t get there in time to join in this game but I observed and took pictures and spent a very pleasant time talking with some US veterans of our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  One was playing in the game, taking the Iraqi insurgent forces side and another was just observing and hanging around.

A "Fog of War" card drawn by the Insurgent side gave the US Marines a sniper team

This picture shows a US Marine sniper team overlooking a target rich environment.  The Marines in this game were supposed to push a convoy through the town but got bogged down by the Insurgent forces.  One of the “Fog of War” cards drawn by the insurgent forces provided the Marines with some sniper cover.

The insurgent held side of town - the Marines were supposed to get through here

The Marines were supposed to get their column through here.  You can see several mobs of insurgents in various spots, waiting for a chance to attack and hoping to not get shot by the snipers who were picking off RPG-armed insurgents.  In Force-on-Force a sniper can target specific, individual members of enemy squads.

In the afternoon I did get to join in a game.  This time, using the Force-on-Force rules we played out combat in the jungle between the Japanese and the US Marines on Guadalcanal during WWII.

A section Guadalcanal - gamed in 28mm scale

While the Iraqi conflict table was set at 15mm scale, the battle on Guadalcanal was set at 28mm scale.  Jim Roots and his son had an amazing setup here too.  The minis for the Japanese soldiers were breathtaking!

One of the Japanese Squads at the start of the game

I joined a couple of players in controlling the Japanese side, while some new players were trying out the Ambush Alley Force-on-Force rules while controlling the US Marines.  The game balance favored the Japanese forces in this scenario.  Dice rolling at first was also amazingly good for the Japanese side.

Using the heavy cover the US Marines moved up to the edge of the canal

The US Marine forces (on the right of the picture) used the heavy cover of the jungle to line up along the canal edge and prepare to cross it.  Their mission was to disable “hot spots” where Japanese reenforcements could join the battle and then escape the area to the left.  The Japanese forces had the mission of stopping them.

The Japanese squads with the yellow rings by them are hidden and could not be targeted.

A Japanese squad prepares to charge the US Marines

In this game the strength of the Japanese forces was in their charge and close quarters combat.  The rifles they were issued were inferior weapons and was reflected in the game by lowering their “troop quality” dice  when shooting from a D8 to a D6.  They got a D8 troop quality die when engaged in close combat and got extra attacks as well.  So the whole Japanese strategy centered around setting up a charge.

"Hey, we got 'em! Uh-oh..."

This picture shows the remaining Japanese soldiers after their squad successfully charged and eliminated a 4-man US Marine fireteam.  This was a mixed blessing for the Japanese squad, since they now were taken under fire by two US Marine fire teams, a sniper unit AND a machine gun unit.  The Japanese survivors did NOT survive that…

Japanese squads pinned by Marine fire and bad morale rolls

The shooting from the US Marine side was very effective.  In this picture you can see a couple of different Japanese squads with blue markers by them, indicating the squads were “pinned” by the fire from the Marines.  This result happened because the Japanese soldiers had to make a morale roll every time they were taken under fire.  These squads were pinned when they failed their morale rolls.  Some reallly bad dice rolling…

Another Marine squad across the canal

The middle lower part of the picture shows the Marine squads that made it across the canal with one squad starting to advance.

Double "Banzai" charge at the US Marines

To get past the large amount of covering fire from the Marines the Japanese forces had to stage one charge after another, with the leading charges soaking up the Marine firepower so the later charges could make it in.The numbers were against the Marines in this instance.

The Japanese charge captures two US Marines

It took three charges by the Japanese units and the cost of over 20 Japanese soldiers to take down six US Marines and capture the remaining two wounded survivors.  The players on the US Marine side did very well considering the scenario was balanced against them.  Discussions with the game referee were that in the future, the number of Japanese soldiers per squad would be reduced, making it easier to take down a squad.  We thought that might make enough of a difference.

I enjoyed meeting Shawn and Peggy of Ambush Alley Games and got to drool over some advanced copies of Osprey Publishing’s “Force-on-Force” and its companion “The Road to Baghdad”.  The gaming was fun and I got to meet some really cool and impressive veterans.  A very good day indeed!

http://www.ambushalleygames.com/

http://www.ospreypublishing.com/

http://www.legends-in-time.com/


AAR (After Action Report) from “Legends in theFall”, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010

November 26, 2010

Grettings all!

Last Saturday I attended “Legends in the Fall”, a regional “Games Day” hosted by the game store “Legends in Time” and held in the Doubleday Hotel in Mundelein, Illinois.  Skip Peterson, owner of “Legends in Time”, put together an excellent gaming day.

My focus that day was on the “Ambush Alley” games system, particularly “Tomorrow’s War”.  There were open games being run all day and evening, with Shawn and Peggy Carpenter, the creators of “Ambush Alley” there to run the games along with Jim Roots, one of the game design contributors.

When I got there they had one table set up with two separate terrain sets side by side – one for “Ambush Alley” and one for “Tomorrow’s War”.   The morning was dedicated to “Ambush Alley”.

Ambush Alley Table

The Ambush Alley map

A section of a small Iraqi town was laid out.  On a rooftop in the middle of town was a squad of 4 U.S. Marines who had been scouting the area.  They were cut off and surrounded by several groups of insurgent forces.  They needed to be rescued…

The Marine rescuers arrive

The main force of Marines arrive at top of picture...

The main force of the Marines arrive on the map.  However, during turn one the trapped Marine squad was overrun and captured by several squads of insurgents.  Around 20 insurgents were lost in the operation.  The captured Marine was of course exhibited on Al Jazeera…

The main force had exchanged fire with a couple of small insurgent squads, wiping them out.  The delay caused the mission of the main force to change from “rescue” to “get out of injun country”.

The Marine advance starts

The Marine advance starts

The Marines started advancing down the street, “dealing” with the insurgent forces in the way Marines do best.  Note the lone RPG gunner on the rooftop center left in the map.  His entire squad perished around him, yet he passed his morale die roll and stuck around with fanatical determination.  This would prove to be a key occurance.

Bad things happen...

A disabled marker is put on a Hummvee. The IFV had its Bushmaster cannon damaged and another hummvee burns in the background.

As the Marines advanced they were attacked by two squads of insurgents wielding AKs, Machine guns and RPGs.  Also, the lone RPG gunner made his play, damaging the Bushmaster cannon on the IFV, reducing it to 2 dice firepower.  While the Marines eliminated the two attacking squads, it was at a cost.  One Humvee was disabled and the other was reduced to a flaming wreck.  The Marines incurred several casualties at this point.

View from other side of map

Viewed from the other side of the map. Marines continue their advance, moving their casualties at best speed. Insurgent reinforcements move onto the map at lower right.

One Marine Hummvee made it off the map with a squad – performing a recon under fire.  The other squads were moving at best speed with their casualties while under the protection of the damaged IFV.  The insurgents have some reinforcements coming on the lower right side of the picture.

The Cavalry arrives!

Just when things were looking very grim for the Marines a Fog of War card comes to their aid

The newly arrived insurgents took cover in the building with the tower and took the Marines under fire. They had a bad reaction roll ( a 1) and drew a “Fog of War” card.  This card provided reinforcements for the Marines.  In this case, the Army arrived to rescue the Marines.  While one of the Marine squads took more casualties the Army vehicles prepared to do some shooting of their own.

Ambush Alley map at end of game

At the end of the game, no significant insurgent forces are left. However, the Marines payed a frightful price for that. Game decision: clear Insurgent victory

The Army unit and the Marines laid some devastating firepower onto the remaining insurgents – at a cost of another Marine casualty.  The Marines then made it off the map under the protection of the Army forces.

The Insurgents definitely ruled the day, disrupting the Marines’ mission and causing significant casualties and equipment damage, as well as capturing a prisoner.  While the Insurgents paid a high price for this – approximately 60 casualties – their casual disregard for their own forces lives worked in their favor.

“Ambush Alley” as a game is fast playing and full of action.  With two of us running the insurgent forces and one person running the Marines we rarely had any “down” time.  Lots of fun and an amazingly good recreation of asymmetric warfare.

Now in the evening the game was “Tomorrow’s War”, Ambush Alley Games near-to-median future wargame. The scenario that was laid out was a tank battle game – only armor units.  In this case it was units of “Hammer’s Slammers” vs (I think) the Neu French.  The game quickly taught us a lesson in achieving game balance – we did not have things adjusted right at first and the Neu French tanks commenced to slaughter the Slammers forces.  A quick reset and adjustment of troop quality dice led to a much better and more balanced game.

Beginning of reset game of Tomorrows War

The starting setup for the "rebalanced" game of "Tomorrows War".

So, we began the “reset” scenario with three Slammers hover tanks and four Slammers combat cars on the left side of the river.  Their job was to repel a rapidly advancing force of Neu French hovertanks. The Neu French forces were at Tech Level 2 and the Hammer’s Slammers forces were at Tech Level 3.  The Neu French forces thus had a lower troop quality die.  To balance things out the Neu French forces would have the initiative for the entire game – the Slammers couldn’t just sit back in overwatch and pick them off as they emerged from the trees.  Slammers had somewhat limited mobility, with fortifications behind them and the river in front.  The Slammers tanks could only cross the river on the bridge, while their combat cars could cross the water anywhere.  The Neu French hovertanks were light enough that they could cross the water anywhere but the bridge was still strategically important to both sides.

The Neu French advance with losses

The Neu French forces advanced slowly out of the woods on the left side of the map.  The initial fire exchange took out a Slammers tank almost immediately (bad defense die rolling). Then the exchanges got more brutal, brewing up two of the Slammers’ combat cars, immobilizing one of the Neu French tanks and brewing up two others.  Not a good trade for the limited Slammers forces.

More fire exchanges and the Neu French advance stalls

The Neu French advance begins to lose momentum as another tank goes "Boom!"

The Neu French continued to advance, immobilizing a Slammers combat car and losing another tank in the process.  Their overly cautious advance was really costing them.

Now the Slammers tanks (called “Blowers”) were really living up to their reputation, shrugging off shot after shot and hitting hard in return.  One downside for them was that their main guns are considered “slow firing”, so that they lost 2 firepower dice for every subsequent action shoot after the first.  If the enemy forces could survive the first couple of shots from them during a turn then the following shots were far less worrysome.

The Slammers combat cars were special – a “medium” gun in a “light” vehicle.  They epitomized the concept of  “a hammer protected by an eggshell”.  This scenario did not allow them to employ the mobility they normally enjoy.  Taking on main battle tanks in an open-topped hovercraft is not the normal choice for soldiers who want to retire with a pension.

The Neu French try a road run

The Slammers lost another combat car while halting the Neu French force attemp to make a run down the road.

The next turn went poorly for the Neu French forces.  One of their tanks lost its main gun.  Another pair of them charged down the road, taking out the damaged combat car but losing a tank in the process. Not a good trade for them.

End of game

Force deployment at end of game

The game came to a conclusion when the last Neu French tank took out the last Slammers combat car only to suffer a main gun destruction in the return fire.  This left the Neu French forces unable to advance, with their tanks either destroyed, immobilized or de-gunned.  The Slammers paid a high price to accomplish this, losing one tank and 4 combat cars.  Game result: marginal Slammers victory.

The “Tomorrow’s War” rules made for a fast and furious game.  The rules were pretty straightforward and gameplay focused on fire and movement – not pouring through tables and diagrams.  I had a lot of fun playing.

http://www.ambushalleygames.com/

http://www.legends-in-time.com/Main.jsp