Review: Tomorrow’s War

From Ambush Alley Games and Osprey Publishing, Tomorrow’s War is a sfi-fi skirmish ruleset detailing  infantry warfare in the future. The system is designed for 15mm but could easily be bumped up to 28mm. As a squad-based force game, the scale is man to model and allows for the incorporation of individual armor units like tanks, APCs, and such ideal for platoon-sized engagements.

The setting of the game is rather concretely set with future nations extending conflicts both on Earth and on other colonized planets. So it is very much in the theater of mankind extending the battlefield along with imperialistic endeavors, further continuing warfare for resources and territory on a larger front of different planets. Corporations are also represented in the background, allowing for some flexibility in campaign themes. This is somewhat an interesting take on the game background, as there is room to explore non-symmetrical scenarios such as including untrained colonists, or poorly equipped but highly motivated insurgents.

The game revolves around a universal mechanic of rolling different polyhedral dice and trying to get a 4+. If rolling off against an opponent not only do you need to get a 4+, but also roll higher than the other person. Different troop and tech types use varying dice that range from d6 to d12. This makes for an interesting mechanic as everything is based around a static number (4+) with discrepancies in technologies, training, and troop morale using different dice. Additionally, some game conditions can temporarily alter the effectiveness of dice being used (such as one side being able to hack into the information network of an opponent).

Play revolves around one side gaining initiative for the turn through rolling off dice. They activate any of their units, and then the opposing player may activate units which were not utilized in a reaction. For every unit activated within LOS of the opponent, they have an opportunity to react to this activation. This can be a round of fire, to movement. All it takes is a troop quality test, trying to beat the rolled score of the opposing player.

Additionally, as long as the unit keeps passing reaction tests, it can can continually react to other units taking actions within their LOS. The catch is each activation reduces the firepower and movement of the reacting unit. You end up with these potentially large chains of events, where a unit moves, another reacts and moves out of LOS, only to stumble into sight of another unit, etc. It can get hectic, but there is a set order to resolving these actions.

What further compounds the chaotic feel of these actions and reaction fire is that there is no effective range for any weapons. Units can see and shoot over the entire board. LOS is blocked by terrain and other units. One particular aspect I like about the game is that models are in a relative position. Cover and units, while represented by individual models, are entirely based on where the majority of the models are. If more than half the models are in cover,the unit has its benefits. If most of the unit is behind a building, then the unit is out of sight. I appreciate the simplicity of this and getting away from relying too much on every single model in an entire squad needing to be in cover or behind a hill.

Another optional but random facet of play are the fog of war cards. Players continually draw and play special cards that introduce all sorts of random events to the game. Most are allow for a temporary condition to the battlefield or troops, while others might allow for a reroll or additional dice being added to a roll.

Combat is based entirely around rolling firepower dice verses defense dice. Get more successes than your target and you potentially inflict casualties. At first glance it looks very streamlined, however digging further you begin to see lots of different modifiers that can either add or remove dice from this pool. This is one refreshing approach to resolving tasks and fire. Rather than continually adding modifiers to an ever shifting target number, you just throw in (or remove) an extra die or two. Potential casualties are determined by rolling on a chart to see if the figure is simply wounded or out of the fight.

While the game is for infantry engagements, there are plenty of rules for armor also. I’ll say one plus for the game is the sheer amount of varying rules available for the game. From expected artillery and air support, to more futuristic information warfare superiority via a network grid. There are rules for drones, automatons, and other types of futuristic technology. As units have a variety of troop and technology characteristics, aliens can also be easily created with a detailed example of one within the rulebook. Even though units can adopt a variety of characteristics, it is not based on a point structure. However there are several troop and army types listed within the book.

The game has several basic scenarios scattered throughout the book and also has a campaign mode with a listing of various potential engagements. It’s an interesting ruleset as the initial impression is that it’s one of a very conventional theme, but there are additional rules to allow for more futuristic engagements adding on layers of technology.

The Good – I really appreciate the universal mechanic for resolving tasks. Keeping a static number and rolling different types of dice is a nifty idea. I also appreciate the breadth of ideas for futuristic engagements. There are a lot of interesting ideas and rules for different types of potential scenarios aside from the regular ‘wipe out the other person’s forces.’ The book itself is high production with colorful art, nice thick pages, all in a well bound hardback book.

The Bad – The layout of the rules is not ideal. While there are plenty of text examples, relying on photographs for some of the cover and LOS situations is a poor choice (wish they went with a cleaner graphic instead). There are too many charts spread out. Even worse, there is no quick summary sheet. Such critical information for playing the game and it’s scattered throughout the book.

For all the simplicity of the universal die mechanic, the game still gets bogged down with lots of book keeping. It’s small things that keep adding up, glutting the flow of the game. Like units taking multiple reaction tests which have to continually reduce their firepower and movement for future reactions.

The Verdict – This is not a ruleset I can recommend. While resolution of actions appears streamlined, in practice it’s ungainly. For contests, not only do you roll over the target number, but also have to roll higher than your opponent. This means a bucket of dice rolled in an attack have to be set aside and individually paired off as the defender rolls another bucket of dice.

For all the abstract positioning and LOS issues being based on an entire unit, you still get mired down in individual models needing various conditions being tracked. Models that are broken and surrender have to be under the watch of a lone opposing model and marched off the board. It seems that the game struggles with trying to have some quick, simple mechanics, but gets wrapped up in all of these other situational rules making it more like a simulation.

There is too much information in the rulebook, and it is poorly presented. There are a lot of examples, but critical charts are scattered throughout the book. It seems there is a good game buried in between the pages of the book, hidden away. Maybe if the game strove for a core set of mechanics, with layers of optional advanced rules it might work. Definitely having a better presentation and organization of critical rules and charts, including a good summary would help. Maybe if it had these things, this game would have some potential. As it is now, Tomorrow’s War has too many scattered ideas, too many situational rules, and needing too much effort to wade through the book to be a solid game.

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