Wargame Wednesday – Tomorrow’s War Really is Yesterday

Courtesy BGG

Product:Tomorrow’s War: Science Fiction Wargaming Rules (Ambush Alley Games/Osprey Publishing, 2011).

System: Force on Force. The game is self-touted as “a science fiction military miniatures wargame with emphasis on “hard” science fiction rather than “Space Opera” or “Science Fantasy” (p. 5).

Appearance: Mid-size (9.6”x7.7”x0.9”) full-color hardcover. Cover art is a bit dark but evocative of setting. Content is 260 double-column pages with border art. Inset text-boxes and tables use a darker shade of green-gray for offset which is easy to distinguish from the core test. Interior art is a mix of color miniature photos and artwork.

Content: Twelve (12) chapters along with Introduction, five Appendix, Fog of War Cards and Index.

  • Introduction (5 pages) – The true introduction is written by Jon Tuffley, designer of my favorite future skirmish rules Stargrunt II. Here is where you also find the time and distance scale (both undefined) as well as Designer’s Notes (in two sections – core text and an inset box)
  • Tomorrow’s War: Interstellar Combat in the 24th Century (24 pages) – Introduces the “optional” setting. Can be a bit confusing since several game concepts (such as Tech Level) are discussed without any game reference to assist in understanding
  • Commonly Used Terms and Concepts (2 pages) – Not an index but a compilation of 20+ items; interestingly most do not appear to be cross-referenced with the index
  • The Turn Sequence (3 pages) – Details the Sequence of Play for “Equivalent Forces.” Through experience I have discovered this chapter covers only a very basic game and does not cover many of the other rules
  • The Basics of Play (10 pages) – Covers “the basic, recurring mechanics” though “the actual application of these mechanics is explained in more detail later” (p. 38)
  • Units & Leaders (8 pages) – “…explains the structure and characteristics that define the nature of units and leaders” (p. 48)
  • Infantry Combat (44 pages) – The heart of the game and in many ways the “basic rules.” This section ends with a 3+ page “Putting It All Together: Lost & Found” scenario that attempts to showcase the rules just introduced
  • Mechanized Combat (25 pages) – Rules for vehicles and interactions with them. Ends with the “Putting It All Together: Tigers by the Tail” scenario
  • Close Air Support and Interface Operations (12 pages) – Rules for airstrikes and VTOLs and paradrops; no “Putting It All Together” scenario provided here
  • Off-Board Artillery (6 pages) – Artillery fire mission rules. Ends with the “Putting It All Together: The First Battle of Vallin Farm” scenario
  • Special Unit Types (23 pages) – I call this the sci-fi special rules section; robots and drones and aliens and (most importantly) the Grid – or network centric battlefield rules. Ends with the “Putting It All Together: Bugs in the Reactor” scenario
  • Asymmetric Engagements (7 pages) – An obvious nod to asymmetric warfare of today (and a legacy of the Force on Force rules), this section covers rules for irregular units. The scenario “Putting It All Together: Ambush at Bonaventure Crossing” is found here
  • Tomorrow’s Campaign (17 pages) – Designed to make your games more than just “one-shot” scenarios. Adds an “After Action Sequence” as well as rules for developing your combat team and combat fatigue. Even talks about how to build an insurgency
  • Appendix 1: Common Unit and Vehicle Attributes (8 pages) – Defines attributes for squads and vehicles
  • Appendix 2: Organization Examples (16 pages) – Uses the “optional” Tomorrow’s War setting
  • Appendix 3: Vehicle Examples (8 pages) – Again uses the “optional” setting
  • Appendix 4: Scenarios (20 pages) – Lays out five scenarios yet again based on the “optional” setting
  • Appendix 5: Artwork (1 page) – Credit where credit is due
  • Fog of War Cards (16 pages) – Actually eight sheets since each is printed front-back. Not made to be cut out unless you do it yourself
  • Index (2 pages)

Comment: I have already stated my bias above; when it comes to sci-fi skirmish games I love Stargrunt II as well as Striker from the Traveller game line. I am also a long-time RPG player where in many cases combat is basically a skirmish rule set.

Verdict:  BLUF – There is a good game here…somewhere.

I bought this game as an impulse buy at Barnes & Noble. I saw the beautifully illustrated hardback on the shelf and was sure that the association with Osprey Publishing would guarantee the inside to be lavish and interesting. So what if it was $34.95 retail? I get my 10% off as a B&N member! Surely it is worth $31.50, it’s Osprey! I have to say the package is a bit disappointing. Inside you don’t find the nice Osprey 3-D maps or the Osprey uniforms that are so wonderfully detailed. Instead you get pseudo-computer display maps and artwork that is evocative but not the “Osprey style” that I associate with the name. I do like the miniatures photos (actually I am jealous of all those nicely painted models).

I was also drawn in by the promises in the Designer’s Notes. The authors boast:

“This isn’t to say that Tomorrow’s War is just a modern or WWII wargame dressed up in a space-suit. The battles you’ll see unfold on your table will have some things in common with those fought today or even sixty plus years ago (tactical skill and human factors of morale and confidence will always make themselves felt as long as men are present on the battlefield), but you will see significant differences. We’ve gone to great lengths to model the presence and impact of realistic advances in technology with these rules. You’ll see robotics used to support (and sometimes replace) human troops on the field and the impact of a truly networked command structure. These and other “futuristic” developments will make your games of Tomorrow’s War unique in flavor, both from other science fiction games and from historical games in general.” (p. 8)

Unfortunately, I think Ambush Alley misfired with Tomorrow’s War. I expect more from a system that costs over $30 and claims it is going to be a “unique” experience. Indeed, for a game that draws on their Force on Force roots I expected more finished package. To begin with, the order of rules is horrible. Everything from Terms & Concepts through Infantry Combat is essentially the basic game but some rules are introduced before other dependent rules and there is little cross-referencing. This makes it hard to follow. Fortunately, you can play this part as the Sequence of Play is (generally) complete.

Mechanized Combat to Asymmetric Engagements feels more like bolt-on modules that can be added or subtracted from the game. But even doing that is hard because there is no overall Sequence of Play beyond the very basic one introduced early in the book. So many rules state that they take place at the nebulous “beginning of a turn” without further detail. I cannot help but feel that each of these “modules” was built in a vacuum from one another or even the basic game. The “Putting It All Together” scenarios are a great idea but fail in execution. For example, the “Tigers by the Tail” scenario at the end of Mechanized Combat focuses on infantry versus vehicles only; for vehicle versus vehicle combat you have to use “The First Battle of Vallin Farm” which doesn’t have any artillery though it is located in that section. “Vallin Farm” also uses the Grid which is not covered until the next section! Indeed, only one other scenario (Scenario 4) has anybody on the grid.

Nearly 20% of the book (closer to 25% if you count the scenarios) is devoted to the “optional” setting. This is not as bad as it seems since I find the “optional” setting quite well thought out and interesting enough. I especially like the stories in the flavor text. This focus does make me think Ambush Alley missed their chance to try and make the game a “generic” system. Why not show us a mercenary tank regiment? How about two armies with one based on genetic replicants and the other on Smart Bots? What about humans against a force of bots and synthetics? Oh by the way, synthetics are talked about in the flavor text but there are NO RULES!

Then there are the Fog of War cards. First off, these are not cards or even sheets but pages. There is no clean way to cut them out. Sure, Ambush Alley says you can go to their webpage and download a version. That is what I want to do after spending over $30 – NOT!

The two items that the designers hang their hat on as the core of the “unique” gaming experience, bots and the Grid, are covered in 11 pages,or less than 5% of the overall content. The Grid appears in only two of 10 scenarios. Bots actually do not appear in ANY scenario though you do get one scenario with bugs (aliens) and one with powered armor.

I don’t think Ambush Alley achieved their goal of avoiding a modern game dressed up in a spacesuit. Nice concept; poor execution.

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