Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tomorrow's War ~ Osprey's Sci-fi Miniature Battle Rules

If your a history buff of any sort or paint historical mini's I'm sure you've heard of Osprey who publish's some of the finest military history books on the market. Osprey is the goto for what happened and what it looked liked at the time.

Not to long ago they released their own miniature battle rule set, Force on Force, which allow you to battle it out in the Modern or WW2 era (I've heard lots of good things about but have yet to have a chance to play). Even better then battling it out today or during WW2 is battling it in the future! Osprey's now taken that step and Force on Force will been followed by a sci-fi miniature battle rule set named Tomorrow's War, due to be released in October 2011.

Dropship Horizon has recently posted a review on this much anticipated rule set. See if it sounds as cool to you as it does to me....

The Book

With a few notable exceptions, table top wargaming generally has been predominated by rules publications which, whatever the quality of the actual rules, have had comparatively low production values due to the relatively high costs of publication and the comparatively low numbers of rule sets sold. In contrast, and as you may have come to expect from Osprey, Tomorrow’s War is a very professionally produced and visually appealing rule book.

Following an introductory section (and a forward by Jon Tuffley which was also included in the pre-release PDF edition of the rules), there is a 24 page Background section which provides a potted history of the (optional) Tomorrow’s War universe and both humanity’s expansion into space and its continued warlike nature. For me, this was one the least interesting sections of the book, but I understand that many readers may require that a rulebook also provides a setting and it is therefore a necessary part of the book.

Similar to Force on Force, the book provides sections looking at the Turn Sequenceand The Basics of Play common to all Ambush Alley Games rule sets. Larger sections then go on to look at Infantry Combat and Mechanised Combat and then Close Air Support, Off-Board Artillery, Special Unit Types, Asymmetric Engagements and aTomorrow’s War Campaign. There are then several appendices that provide unit attributes, organisation examples, vehicle examples, scenarios, fog of war cards and finally that all important index!

If you've seen a copy of Force on Force, you'll know what to expect. This is a publication that really sets the bar in terms of quality. Tomorrow's War is a 260 page, full colour, hardback book. Tomorrow's War features specially commissioned maps and illustrations, as well as a good quality color photographs of 15mm and 28mm wargaming figures - just as we previewed on the blog back in June. There may be slightly fewer pictures and illustrations in Tomorrow's War then in Force on force but this is likely due to the space taken up by the additional rules content.

The Rules

Like Force on Force, from which it is derived, Tomorrow’s War will not be for everyone. This is not an ‘I go you go’ rule set; it seeks to capture a fluid combat situations through a creative and imaginative initiative system that hands one side the momentum in a battle, but at the same time keeps both players actively playing the game and allows all units to act (or react).

Initiative is determined by the scenario being played or by an opposed dice roll at the begining of each turn (with the player controlling the best trained force most likely to win the roll). The player with the initiative can have each of his units carry out actions (moving, shooting, etc.) and the player without the initiative attempts to interrupt or counteract each of those actions with his own units as they take place (firing first, returning fire, moving out of the line of sight, etc.).

As with Force on Force, the focus is on platoon / reinforced platoon sized engagements and (when scaled for 15mm sci fi) is played on 2 foot by 2 foot or 2 foot by 3 foot table.

Like Force on Force, Tomorrow’s War abstracts some elements of warfare (such as relative qualities of similar weapons such as assault rifles) in order to emphasise other aspects such as unit type (regular, irregular and robotic), troop quality, morale, confidence, supply and (new for Tomorrow’s war), tech level (weapons vs. armour and stealth vs. sensors).

The relative qualities of different units are reflected in different dice (d6, d8, d10 and d12) in opposed dice rolls giving a significant advantage to troops with better characteristics. You may need a few more of these dice than you currently own as you could be rolling one for each member of a fire team + additional dice for bonuses, etc. Throughout Tomorrow’s War the rules are illustrated with examples explaining how rule mechanisms work in a clear and concise manner.

Tomorrow’s War differs from Force on Force in providing additional sci fi specific elements, but this isn’t simply Force on Force with lasers and robots tacked on. I get the impression that the authors have carefully thought about how to integrate sci fi elements into the core structure of the game in ways that really work. The rules cover elements such as power armour, exoskeletons, combat drugs, advanced weapons such as energy and gauss weapons, anti-gravity vehicles, walkers, gigantic vehicles, dropships, robots and drones as well as advanced command and control on the battlefield.

One thing that may be lacking is a separate set of detailed rules for aliens. Tomorrow’s War essentially treats aliens and humans the same and a 4 page section suggests how to tailor alien forces for the rules based on their characteristics. Whilst this seems to work, it may not satisfy everyone. The other thing Tomorrow’s War does not include is a points system. This is a scenario driven wargame and not designed for tournament style play. Some wargamers like points systems and others (like me) don’t.

In summary this is a very well designed and well balanced set of rules and, for me at least, it sets the bar in terms of the quality and originality for science fiction wargaming rules. No rule set will please everyone, but I’d be surprised if Tomorrow’s War doesn’t come to dominate a large chunk of the sci fi wargaming market for some time to come. The very accessibility of the rules (distributed by Osprey to good bookshops around the world) may make it a great ambassador for sci fi wargaming and, potentially bring new gamers to the hobby.

There are, of course, lots of free sci fi rule sets available, but at £25.00 / US $34.95 a copy Tomorrow’s War offers good value for money given the price charged for other, often less well produced, commercial rule sets.

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