Sunday, 10 January 2016

New Year, New Rules

Just before Christmas these two new (to me at least) rulebooks landed on my shelf: Osprey’s Frostgrave and Warlord Game’s Beyond the Gate of Antares.

First Frostgrave: This is Osprey’s latest offering: a fantasy skirmish games pitting wizards and their warbands against each other, set in a ruined city. Sound familiar? Yep, distinctly Mordheimesque. Thats not a bad thing in my eyes – Mordheim is an old favourite of mine but its rules mechanics are showing their age. I kept a watching brief during the crowdfunding phase of Frostgrave’s development, and when the positive reviews of the published product and interesting game reports started flooding in, decided to buy it.  And it didn’t need a huge buy-in – the background and list-building are generic enough to use (or adapt to use) pretty much any fantasy figures, so my existing fantasy miniatures (from the Hordes, Mordheim and Warhammer ranges) will provide the bulk of the manpower (and womanpower) for future warbands.

I have yet to have a game of this, but at first reading the rule dynamics seem to be a blend of old-school D&D combat and Mordheim. Looking forward to rolling some Frostgrave dice…

Now Beyond the Gate of Antares, or GoA, or Antares, or some other way of dealing with the verbose game title.  This is Warlord’s science fiction release – and is the result of quite a tortured development process. It was initially launched by Rick Priestley as a crowdfunded game, with community-driven campaigns and backstory elements, but that process failed spectacularly. Priestley took it back under his direct control at Warlord, and developed the figure range and rules using more traditional writing and funding processes.

Having seen some of the early game play videos released during development, and noting that GoA used the Bolt Action order dynamics, I was interested more in the game dynamics than in the sci-fi aspect. I figured it would be a more nuanced sci-fi iteration of Bolt Action, and that I could adopt elements of the GoA rules to patch up some corners of the Bolt Action rules that I don’t particularly like.

However, even a cursory reading suggested that GoA is more of a new game than a grown-up version of Bolt Action. Yes, it certainly is more nuanced and has more depth than Bolt Action. Almost every aspect of the game has a more granular mechanic. However, almost every aspect of the game also has a different mechanic. After PWG stalwart Anthony van Dijk and I ran a first playtest, we were wondering whether knowing Bolt Action well had helped or hindered our learning of GoA.  While there is clear Bolt Action DNA in the order dice mechanism, and in a broader Warlord Games approach to rule-writing, everything else feels very fresh. (Caveat – I didn’t ever play Rogue Trader, so I am not sure if there are clear echos of Priestley’s earlier sci-fi offerings in this set).

Anthony's Boromites deploy. Anthony also kindly supplied a full Algoryn OPFOR for me to use.

My initial impressions (after just one infantry-based game) are favourable. Yes, GoA has sacrificed a lot of the abstraction, simplicity and speed of game play that makes Bolt Action popular. But play moves along at a good pace, and the detail in the rules feels like it creates options and opportunities, rather than a tedious overhead of detail. While no expert on Infinity, in my opinion it reads and plays as a lot less finicky than the Bella Corvis game. And Anthony suggested it was a lot more nuanced than 40K (a game I have never played).

(Note: GoA is less of a skirmish game than Infinity – designed for a minimum force of around 30 figures plus a few vehicles., and designed to scale up from there, rather than down to smaller engagements.)

I really like the GoA reaction mechanics  - units can respond to opponent activations with a range of actions – which together with the dice-based activation mechanic make the game feel very immersive. No waiting to play your turn – you are almost always involved in decision-making, even if you have not drawn the current order dice.

I am looking forward to my next GoA game.

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