Anders is in the process of converting his mechs, quite extensively.
Hence the plasticard and weird I'm-taking-a-shit pose.
This post was actually going to be about the newly revealed company Planetary Resources and their plans to mine near Earth asteroids, but since I'm still reading up on that it'll be about... Dust Warfare!
Today I met up with Anders and we gave the game its first test run. Anders bought the book earlier this week and had read it while I had only leafed through it, trying to pick up the basics. The core rule mechanics (moving, attacking etc) are mostly the same as for Dust Tactics but the way the game plays has changed quite a bit. There's a new reaction system in place and suppression plays a vital part as well. In addition your commander(s) have become a lot more important as they can issue special orders that your opponent can't react to. Those are the three main new things, the rest are mainly tweaks here and there (like adding an armour save and vehicle crits).
My BBQ squad taking cover behind some AT-43 containers.
We rolled for initative and started to move our squads onto the board. For the first couple of turns nothing much happened as we moved cautiously forward, hugging cover and playing it safe (again, Infinity). It wasn't until turn three when the mechs entered that we actually saw some action. With almost everything in cover there weren't any casualties though. Hehe!
I think this table needs some hills...
The special orders available during the command phase seemed important to both of us when reading the rules, but as we played we couldn't quite figure out how to use them effectively. Basically they allow you to take either a move or an attack action but at the cost getting a reaction marker, meaning you get one less action during the unit phase. In that way it evens out, except the opponent can't react during the command phase. We really struggled with it though and many times simply skipped it, choosing to be able to use sustained fire later. However, this is not a fault of the game I think, but rather a fault of ours - we simply need to figure this out. It felt a bit strange, but in a good way; "this is strange, but it feels like it has tactical potential!" rather than "this feels strange, this rule sucks!!".
EDIT: There are other orders available as well. Like the regroup action which actually allows the unit to make a free bonus move and still having two actions later (and removing all reaction and suppression markers). There are also some other platoon specific orders; the one I had allowed me to call in off-board artillery while the Axis one allowed him to use "blitzkrieg" (although that seemed far inferior to a simple regroup).
Three of my squads and a mech finally managed to do some serious damage.
The Axis reaction fire proved ineffective against the mech armour.
Having played lots of Infinity reactions wasn't a new concept to any of us. They're a bit more limited in Dust Warfare though as you can only react if you have a unit within 12" of the acting unit. This might seem like cripplingly short range (I'll never get to react!!) but bear in mind that a standard rifle has a range of 16", and a shotgun only 6"! You can react by either firing back (simultaneously) or moving 6". You can't react if you're suppressed and if you do you get a reaction marker, meaning you can't react again and you'll only get one action next time you activate that unit. Again I think because of how reactions work in Infinity we had a different mindset when we started playing and we didn't see many reactions during the game and the ones we did see were mostly of the move variety as you can often simply move back 6" out of range of your opponent and cancel his attack! Just like the command phase this felt interesting but that we needed more plays to grasp how to use it effectively.
One of the Axis squads with a reaction marker and two suppression markers.
Meaning it can't act at all!
Whenever a unit is hit it receives a suppression marker, regardless if the hit scored any damage or not. A suppressed unit gets one fewer actions (cumulative with reaction markers) and can't react to enemies. If the unit has more suppression markers than models it starts to retreat. Also a suppression raises the units cover value by one step (hit the dirt!). You remove one marker at the end of the turn and roll to remove more each time the unit activates. You can also remove all markers on one squad with a special order during the command phase. This was a lot more straight forward and easy to wrap your head around as suppressing units had a real in-game effect. Even though an attack didn't cause any actual casualties inflicting suppression effectively pins the unit down, allowing your other units to advance/attack unmolested. Simple but effective rules!
At one point my Pounder managed to inflict three points of damage to Anders' Ludwig
and set it on fire(!), meaning it would die after its next activation.
However, he had a nearby engineer who managed to fix it. Boo!
There are more additions like the vehicle critical hit system which I liked (I put a Ludwig on fire!), the additions of armour saves which I'm of two minds about but think might be necessary if you want somewhat longer games. The way army construction works where you have three thematically different platoon structures to work from is interesting and should give different platoons a distinct flavour. Looking forward to the Sino-Soviet book to see what kind of stuff they have available.
In our game we only got into serious scrapping in the fourth and fifth turn when my BBQ and Ranger squads backed up by the flamethrower mech closed in on Anders' laser grenadiers and regulars. There was a bit back and forth but during the fifth turn I caught both squads in the open and reduced them to a man each effectively winning me the game.
I think we both liked the rules but felt we hadn't used them to their full potential. We really advanced slowly, while we probably should have tried charging ahead. While cover is a distinct bonus the squads are fairly resiliant just using their armour as well, so running in the open might not be so bad. The short range nature of most weapons also mean that you need to close fast with the enemy. It's kind of nice change of pace I must say!
Towards the end of the game the Axis tried to get their Lothar in position to attack
the Allied left flank, but it was too little too late.
Bottom line, I'm really impressed with what Andy Chambers have managed to do with Dust Warfare considering the rigid set of tools he had to work from inherited from Dust Tactics. Combat resolution is quick and painless while the actual gameplay holds quite a lot of tactical depth - a very nice combination! Overall this (150 points) game took about 90 minutes, with a fair bit of rules checking. I can easily see even larger games clocking in around the hour when we have the rules down pat.
Looking forward to exploring it more! The wait for the Russians has certainly become much more gruelling...
EDIT: Made a follow-up post to this article with some Additional Thoughts and a full on, comprehensive After Action Report of our lastest battle as well which might be of interest.