Rick Priestly a while back had a Kickstarter campaign going for a new sci-if wargame that he eventually pulled. It was out just about the time Bolt Action was hitting its stride and I expect he decided to throw his design talents into BA and let his sci-if game ferment a bit. I think that decision paid off as his new game, Beyond the Gates of Antares took some flaws in Bolt Action and improved on them to make for a great game.
Beyond the Gates of Antares (GoA) is a skirmish game for a force of several squads but could be expanded up to a few platoons if desired. It’s a one model-one man system in 28mm scale (although I can’t see any reason why it couldn’t be played in a smaller scale). It is a unit based system where commands are given to groups of 3-10 figures or single vehicle models.
The order system is lifted right from Bolt Action. Each unit is given a single, colored d6 die which is pulled individually for unit orders. If the color matches your force, you select a unit to activate giving it an order to run, move and shoot, hold position and fire, wait in ambush, hit the dirt, etc. It’s a system I like which is a little chaotic and random. Layered onto this is the effect of fire. Units which have been shot at take penalties (pins) to its leadership. This results in pinned units having to check and see if they can activate. If successful a pin marker is removed and the unit commits to its action, otherwise they hit the dirt and hold position (but a pin marker is still removed).
Units have a simple profile of a few stats for movement, effectiveness at shooting and melee, defense, leadership, and initiative. This last stat being representing how likely they can react to the enemy. This is one divergence from Bolt Action. Units not previously activated may potentially react to units within their line of sight either moving themselves or taking an opportunity to fire. Along with committed orders like ambush, this makes GoA a rather fluid game.
Shooting is a pretty simple affair. Depending on the type of weaponry a roll to hit is made with modifiers like for cover and range. Units hit then have a chance to shrug off casualties rolling to resist the attack (again modified by the type of weapon or being in heavy cover). If failed casualties are removed, while for vehicles and larger weapon systems a roll is made on a damage table. Some weapons have ranges that would cover the tabletop but most top out at 30” which seems enough for the typical game of a 4’ x 6’ table size
Regardless of any casualties, a pin maker is placed on a target unit if a hit is scored. Pins not only degrade combat effectiveness but also are markers to indicate penalties to leadership that’ll affect morale and command. As pins slowly accumulate if they ever exceed the command stat of a unit, the unit is destroyed outright.
Assaults are a little more involved. Units have to move into base to base contact. Afterwards each side has a round of simultaneous fire. This is followed up with a round of hand to hand combat that is resolved in a similar fashion except each casualty inflicts a pin. The side with the most pins loses the battle and will likely be destroyed outright. It’s worth noting that all die rolls are made using d10s. This allows for some more granularity in modifiers and troop stats that you might not see with using d6s. Also adopting some chaotic outcomes seen in engagements, GoA embraces the idea of a 1 succeeding (or offering a small bonus) while a 10 fails and usually these will trump the modifiers to a particular dice check.
Movement is a flat rate for models which are halved in rough terrain (with 5” typical for infantry troops). A nice wrinkle to GoA is that some units can push their movement up to 3 times their normal rate with a command check. So if needing to really get a heavy weapons team into position or advance onto an objective, you have that option. However the unit will take a pin after doing so.
A few rules are provided for vehicles and usually revolve around using a type of anti-gravity technology for movement. Additionally, most vehicles have multiple order dice allowing them to take several move and fire actions. This gives them a lot of opportunities to engage several units along with rapid movement and is a nice way of handling the improved mobility of vehicles.
An interesting concept with many of the troop units are the use of robot drones. There are several different types which provide additional defense, or improved modifiers for shooting, along with some that can act as a spotter for the unit. This is especially important as LOS and shooting are based on what models can see with intervening models and dense terrain blocking sight (and lines of fire). Coupled with this are quite a few special rules for ammunition and weapon types, along with varying armor equipment. All of this contributed to differentiating units and alien races that go beyond simply changing some base stats of troops.
Forces are composed of units based on point costs, along with limitations on troop options. A patrol force is required to have so many tactical options, and a limited number of support options. This offers some flexibility with creating your force but also provides some structure. However I do expect that people will dive into building lists to construct the ‘perfect’ army.
GoA comes with 6 generic scenarios where most revolve around capturing specific objectives or moving into sectors on the board with defined attackers and defenders (although 2 are essentially a ‘kill more of the enemy slog fest). Along with this are 6 narrative scenarios which are objective-based having a little more detailed table setup, deployment, and force composition. Having 12 scenarios along with rules for six different armies makes for a complete rule book. Throw into this a ton of background material on the game universe and you have the foundation for a pretty engaging wargame with room to grow.
The Good – This is a bit more than just Bolt Action in space. There are some tweaks to the rules permitting more flexible orders. The reaction system is great and allows for more dynamic play. Add to this the pinning system and you have a very fun skirmish wargame. There are several army options that embrace particular technologies. Using a d10 means you can layer on different modifiers for equipment and gear (along with troop types) which have some impact on how a unit performs.
The book has a lot of background material and having complete lists for different forces along with a lot of scenarios all mean the game has some legs with providing some system longevity. Coupled with this is a pleasant layout and presentation of the rules. Not to mention the lovely artwork, photographs, and oversized pages which makes the hardback quite an enjoyable game tome to read.
The Bad – I dig the d10 dice but leadership tests fall a little flat with me. In Bolt Action you rolled 2d6 on a leadership stat, while in GoA you roll a single d10. This means you will likely get some swings in both good and bad luck with a flat probability instead of playing with a distribution of outcomes using two dice.
Some of the mechanisms for shooting and combat are finicky. Hits are allocated individually to models, along with rolls to determine casualty outcomes. In practice this means rolling casualties one at a time. I’m working with a house rule to roll individually for special units, leaders, etc. while using a single roll casualty roll for multiple hits on troopers that share the same stats, then alternate between the defender and attacker removing casualties. LOS is also based on model bases and figure centers requiring open lines to targets, so expect some more rigid players considering breaking out the laser pointers. It’s not a big deal but it gluts up play some. Nothing that will ever crop up in friendly games but I expect to hear tales of player competitive friction with tourney play.
I am disappointed some with the vehicle rules. I do wish there were rules for air support and tank assaults. I get why this wasn’t done. You likely need another 4-5 pages to cover everything and defaulting to skimmer-type vehicles makes it easier to have condense vehicle rules. While you can get different flavor of movement types via special rules, the game loses some robustness. Lastly it’s a point based game. You are going to get those min-max force lists and some units underperforming for the points spent.
The Verdict – Beyond the Gates of Antares is a great sci-fi skirmish game. There’s a lot here people are going to like. I’ve been a fan of the random order mechanism and allowing units to react out of sequence is a pleasant addition to this. There are lots of options for gear and equipment to alter the base profiles of units to allow for variety in troops. Suppressing units with fire can be an effective means to remove or lock down units.
The game has quite a few scenarios and offering some special engagements means players have a framework to make their own. I can see players digging in, tweaking current ones and creating their own to make an entire campaign (and something I suspect will be in the pipe from Warlord Games). Along with this is quite a bit of fluff. There’s 55 pages of it, all revolving around several ages where humans expanded into space, reached an epoch, and declined. This resulted in humans evolving and diverging into almost different species despite the existence of faster than light travel via inter-dimensional gates. It’s interesting stuff that’s offers some meat to spark a player’s imagination.
I can’t seem to shake the feeling they are looking at being a serious contender to 40K. The cover art obviously takes some inspiration from the original Rogue Trader 40K book. Given it’s from Priestly, you can’t blame him for trying to produce a wargame that would offer an engaging alternative to that industry behemoth. No idea how that battle will shake out but Beyond the Gates of Antares is a fun sci-fi skirmish game that offers interesting tactical play using some simple, easy to run rules.