About Me

My photo
My name is Gavin McClements. I am a wargamer and family man, living in Los Gatos, which is a suburb of San Jose, CA. Building terrain is one of my favorite aspects of the wargaming hobby - in fact, lately I've become more interested in making my battlefields "pop" than in actually playing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tomorrow's War gets put through its paces

I got a chance to finally play the game that compelled me to get into 15mm in the first place: Tomorrow's War by Ambush Alley Games. We prepped all week, making sure our cheat sheets were in order, the scenario rules and forces were jotted down on reference sheets, that tokens and Fog of War cards were cut and ready...and then the night arrived and I was very excited.

Having read the TMP forums over the past few months, Ive gotten to see what other people have to say about the game, and so I deliberately chose to play Scenario 1, "Lost and Found", because a) its the first scenario (Duh!) and because it has received a lot of attention by naysayers for its imbalance. I wanted to see for myself.

I played the US Marines, using my Khurasan Federal troops, while my opponent and friend used his Quar as the DPRG. In this scenario, a USMC pilot is down and hidden in a building surrounded by an enemy patrol. The Marines must get in, make contact with the pilot, and escort him off the table by the end of turn 8. We imagine that the DPRG have called in reinforcements, and if the Marines dont get away, it'll be too late...


TURN 1: With the DPRG hidden per the scenario rules, the Marines had no one to engage, and the first turn was spent advancing cautiously towards the pilot. No reactions were revealed by the ambushers:

After the Marines advanced, two units of DPRG appeared, sprinting for cover behind the pilot. No shots were fired at them, as the Initiative units (the Marines) could only react to being fired at.

TURN 2: Initiative is rolled for the second turn, 2d8 vs 3d6. The DPRG take the initiative with 3 successes vs 2 by the Marines. One of the units that dashed behind the center building open fire at the Marines by the bridge.

No, we didnt need to measure the range, but old habits die hard...

The Marines won the opposed Reaction test, spot the Fire action, and bring their own guns to bear. I threw 8d8 (4 models, 1 SAW +1, 1 SLAM +2, 1 for a Tech Level difference) vs 9d6 (5 models, +2 armor, Intervening terrain +1, +1 for "In Cover") and scored 4 unsaved hits vs the DPRG. The one soldier remaining threw a few dice back and bounced all shots. The DPRG succeeded on his Morale Check for taking casualties, rolling 5d6 (one for each model in the unit, not just the 1 for the sole standing model) and getting 4 successes.

His second unit that moved last turn then opened fire on the same unit of Marines, and the results were similar: Marines won the contested Reaction roll, and throwing 7d (-1 for the second reaction) managed 1 unsaved hit. The DPRG have better luck with their shots, and score 1 hit of their own.

Finally, the hidden unit on my right open on the Marines by the bridge, inflicting no wounds and taking 2 in return. This is the third reaction test the Marines won...and in fact, the rest of the game, the Marines won every contested reaction test when they were fired upon. d8 vs d6 with hot dice is not fair...

After the firefights die down, the Marines in the field make Rapid moves into the woods near the pilot's bridge.

TURN 3: 1d8 vs 4d6 for Initiative results in 1 success for both sides, but the Marines' 7 beat the DPRG's 6, so the Marines go first.

Casualties are rolled, and the Marine shot over by the bridge died to head trauma. His unit, shocked at the loss, hunker down and sweat (they could not act that turn, except to return fire).  A number of wounds was spattered among the DPRG units.

The 5-man Marine fireteam on my left threaten one of the enemy units by the house, lose the opposed reaction test, and watch in frustration as their intended targets scurry out of LOS behind the building. This leaves the other Marine fireteam to advance over the bridge to meet the pilot.

As they broke cover and moved low over the bridge, the final hidden DPRG team on the left opened up and inflicted a hit on the Marines. Because the Marines didnt declare a "Move and Fire" action, we didnt have the Marines return fire in the Round of Fire, but I have a feeling this was wrong.

His second unit lurking behind the pilot's refuge declared a Close Assault on the Marines who have drawn close, but failed their TQ check and stayed put. At this point, his unit on my right advanced to the river and opened fire on the Marines nearby.

As happened every time this game, the Marines anticipate the gunfight and fire first, inflicting 2 hits. The DPRG unit fails their Morale Check, and being pinned, lose their opportunity to fire (their d6 TQ die dropped below d6 from being pinned, disallowing fire this turn).

His last unit on my left sprint out into the open, staying out of LOS of the Marines and attempting to cut off their eventual retreat. (My unit in the woods on the left advanced at some point to fire on the sprinting unit, but I dont remember exactly when...)

An overview of the end of Turn 3:

TURN 4: DPRG wins Init again. He declares a charge, successful this time, against the Pilot's escorts. My Marines failed their TQ check and so got no Defensive Fire, and with their Dependent in tow, were prevented from fleeing as a reaction. Thus, it got bloody really quickly. When the scuffle was over, 4 DPRG scrubs were down, the Marines had taken no wounds, and the DPRG were pinned/surrendered, and thus captured and were now under armed escort as POWs.

Not wanting to suffer a similar fate, the other DPRG unit behind the central building open fire on the depleted Marines by the right bridge. The Marines inflict 3 hits and take 1.

The Marines with the grip full of POWs and the Pilot move slowly over the bridge.

Over the next few turns, a few things happened: My Marines kept the DPRG outgunned in every firefight. The Escorts moved slowly towards the board's edge...

And finally:

TURN 8: My marines move to within ONE INCH of the table edge...

The Team Leader is the unit on the left. One inch from victory, and we checked...there was just no way they could have gotten off the board. Not being able to move rapidly with the Dependents made it hard, and the POWs just made it worse.

Overall, the DPRG took a POUNDING but won. Go figure. Im actually glad they did, because the pounding they took made it really unfair. The Tech difference on all Marine shooting AND defending? I had a 5 man squad tossing 10 dice a number of times!

My thoughts?

There was WAY too much record keeping for a game of this size. "Record keeping? There isnt any record keeping!"  Sure there is. Each individual soldier matters, their equipment matters, and you have to know who has what. Beyond that, though, I peppered certain DPRG units with shot after shot. Wounds started adding up...then when one died, which soldier died? Why does it matter? Because a unit with 5 soldiers and 2 Serious Wounds and 4 Light Wounds...one dies...which wounds go away? EVERY time I hit a unit after the first, we diced off to see which model took the hits...

At 15mm, that's a lot of bookkeeping. It is easily as much, if not more, than I need to keep track of in your average 28mm game.

I was also surprised that for a 15mm game, I had fewer models on the board than a typical 28mm skirmish game. Ok, maybe not LESS, but Ive played Infinity with more than 13 models. It was nice being on a 3x3 board, but it was more fiddly playing TW with 15mm than I expected. The colored dots I placed so carefully on the backs of the bases just werent that visible. My bad. I need them to be visible from the top down...oh well.

Tomorrow's War was a lot less bloody than I expected! My Marines went to TOWN on the defenders, but all in all, there were 4 deaths between our forces: I had 1, and Aron had 3. He had a ton of wounds scattered about, as mentioned above, but other than taking time to figure out who had what, it didnt do much more than keep his unit from doing anything other than reacting to being fired upon. I suppose that is a good in-game effect after all.

Once we figured out who was in our units and how to count Firepower or Defense dice, we got much faster at it. Still, there was always something we felt like we were forgetting. There are tangibles to count: Support weapons, number of models. There are intangibles: Tech level, optimum range. It was mostly the intangibles that kept us referring to the chart.

And Tech Level? The Marines had Overall TL 3 vs the DPRG's Overall TL 2. That means that every time a Marine unit fired, they added 1 extra firepower die, and everytime they were fired upon, they got an extra defense die. Every time. For free...That made a difference.

Speaking of Tech level, the SAW the DPRG forces were carrying was a TST (Traditional Slug Thrower) at TL1. We ignored this because we assumed that it would only ever come into play if the SAW was the ONLY weapon firing at a Marine unit on any given turn, because otherwise the Marines would get TWO extra defense dice due to the Tech difference.

Going back to the point that I made at the top: the scenario has received a lot of negative attention, which really made me want to play it. And I have my verdict now: Ambush Alley Games chose the wrong scenario to be the intro game. The forces were too disparate. The d8 vs d6 was gigantic, but there werent any balancing features to the weaker force! Even adding 2 extra regular troopers to each Fireteam would have gone a long way to making the DPRG a competitive force. The problem in our game was that, even though they "won", the beating the defenders took was so brutal that it wasnt FUN. My opponent was a fantastic sport, and a great guy, but I kicked the shit out of him. My dice were hot...admittedly, they were. So what? He won by 1 inch, which is about the very definition of "by the skin of your teeth", and the bruises suffered along the way were nasty.

Two points to follow up on this: The DPRG cannot use Overwatch because their TQ is d6, and a d8+ is needed for Overwatch, and Suppression fire doesnt do any good against High Confidence troops unless you can reduce that Confidence. The only way I found to do that was to add Stress Tests to the game, which we didnt. This put the defenders at the mercy of firefights, having their (almost guaranteed) casualties dictate what they would or could do the following turn. The Ambush rule merely kept them alive on the first turn, assuring they werent just picked off at long range. They were, instead, picked off at medium and short range.

All in all, I WANTED to like this game. No, that's not even correct. I wanted to LOVE this game, because it convinced me to get into the 15mm craze. I am "over" playing my 28s for the most part, and while I LOVE 6mm, I just didnt see a need for yet another scale. But this game had me psyched up for 15mm, and I collected and painted and finished my force and was excited about it.  I just dont think TW lived up to the hype.

AAG really, REALLY needs to get their points calculator in place. I will play again, and likely soon, because I need another experience to have another chance to learn the rules more.

And then I will go play Gruntz like people said I should....

LASTLY: I am going to post the email that my opponent sent out last night after the game (he stayed up later than I did, apparently!) so his thoughts are recorded here as well:

Well drat, Tomorrow's War isn't exactly what I hoped it would have been.  I was looking for something a bit more like the feel I had from a single play of Ambush Alley.  Sadly TW misses the mark for me right now, couple of observations:
  • Quality disparity can be pretty devastating.  I had quality at a d6 vs an opponent with quality d8.  TW is basically an opposed roll system counting successes, with the key mechanic being the reaction check.  Target number for a success is 4.  Count your successes vs. your opponents successes to yield a result. TW is also a bucket o dice system, which is kind of fun to roll lots of dice
Here's a basic example of a fire fight that illustrates the two above points. 
  1. Declare a unit will fire on a target
  2. Firing unit and target unit dice quality and check for successes to see who fires first. Ties to the initiative player. 
  3. Firer counts the number firepower dice which vary, usually about 5 for a small or exhausted vs 10 for a large or fresh unit
  4. Defender counts defense dice, 1 per figure plus body armor and cover usually about 7 to 10
  5. Defense successes will cancel Attack success of an equal or lesser value
  • So here's what happened pretty consistently for my lower quality troops.  Declare to fire, fire second (every damn time), take x number of casualties that will reduce returning fire power, return fire and score 3 or 4 hits, which are then easily saved by the high quality defense dice. 
  • Tech level disparity (which I suffered from too) is an effective +1d modifier in my opponents favor for every opposed roll we make.  Yes, every single opposed roll . . .  and if the tech was more disparent it could be +2d or more.
  • The game feels broken with quality disparity, but maybe that's the way it is supposed to be (british paras beating up on argentinian regulars)?
  • I only killed one of those paras, vs 3 kia for my side
  • So it's not a casualty heavy game, even for all that dicing
  • The rulebook is painfully fluffy and not laid out very well, I would need to write a summary set of rules on a couple of pages to logically cover what is written in 30 or so [ed: we had 4 gamers (2 of us playing, 2 helping with cheat sheets and going through the book...and it took all 4 of us sometimes to get things answered. Yes, the index helped, but there is a lot going on in the game...]
  • That's not to say that there aren't some good rules there, they are just needlessly buried.
  • It felt a bit like playing WRG [ed: Wargames Research Group, the guys who did DBA, etc], factor factor factor factor I still need a 6 type of thing. 
What did I like?
  1. The action / reaction system is pretty cool.  The chance to respond to your oppents action either by fire or movement is neat.  However, I think there needs to be a limiter on the reaction by fire.  Maybe pooling the total available fire power for the responding unit and dolling it out through out the turn.  That means that the reacting unit if high quality couldn't lay down more fire as an inactive player than they could as the active player. 
  2. The initiative system is pretty cool too, that works well enough.  Throw 1 quality die per 2 units, plus some basic modifiers . . . but then again having initiative doesn't net you a lot, just means you get to go first and see if you get shot first in reaction. 
I'm going to have to play TW a couple of more times to make sure I'm not missing something, but I'm not looking forward to that.  I'd rather play Star Grunt or Hammer's Slammers, both of those sets seem to provide a more enjoyable game.


  1. Nice report Gavin. I've been thinking about force balancing for TW. Instead of a traditional point system maybe a fixed number of build points, sort of like what Thomoas is doinging with Starship v2.0.

    5 Man Squad TL1 = 1BP
    +1 Man for a squad = 1BP
    Overall TL2 = 3BP
    Overall TL3 = 6BP
    SAW 1 = 1BP
    SAW 2 = 3BP
    SAW 3 = 6BP

    And so on, set the total number of Build Points at something like a modern day Marine platoon and then mix it up?

  2. Thread I started over at BGG, some interesting comments so far: http://boardgamegeek.com/article/8277929#8277929

  3. I posted this at TMP at http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=255010

  4. Sorry you didn't have a great game, but don't give up on 15mm yet. Lots out there worth trying.

  5. Nice review, good AAR. I never had this much trouble learning a ruleset. I would recommend buying 'Force on Force', it explains the system more completely. I appreciate troop quality disparity concept, but never use d6 forces.

    1. Gavin - very thorough report. Your initial play through really quite closely matched our own experience: http://www.wpggamegeeks.blogspot.com/2011/12/tomorrows-war-todays-headache.html

      We have persevered with the rules, though, and reference to "Force on Force" is very helpful to understand what is meant in TW, which is a hot mess of a rulebook.

      We actually played another game of TW last night, which went much better and was quite a bit of fun. The battle report and analysis will show up soon on www.wpggamegeeks.blogspot.com


  6. Dallas, I read your blog when it was posted. It was a good reference point for my own experience. Thanks for linking it here.

    A number of people have mentioned that I need to get Force on Force for the rules. Guess I know what I am buying next paycheck...but what a leap of faith, buying more AAG materials to counteract a sloppy one. I AM going to do it, however, as I plan on staying with 15mm for a while, and TW is worth keeping in the stable.

  7. Excellent AAR! Contrary to your feelings on the game it reads as some quite exciting, Blackhawk Down-esque action. While I like quick and streamlined systems as much as the next guy, I would also like to have something with a lot more detail and "crunch".

    However, I'm dissapointed that the rulebook is that badly organized (something I've heard from others as well) and that Force on Force is almost a pre-requisite. I thought TW would be a standalone product. Hrm...

    Will be interesting to see your next attempt at Tomorrow's War.

    Also, nice blog! *follows*