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Thursday, 24 March 2011

Dust Tactics

I ran my first game of fantasy flight's 'Dust Tactics' last night, using my brother Jamie and our friend Scott as test subjects!

The first thing that my willing victims commented on, was the mechs, (Curiously referred to as 'robots' in the fluff, but to each their own) and the lovely trooper models. Not being wargamers per se, they immediately grabbed for the nicest toys from the box; heedless of stats, abilities, or any other boring, strategic considerations of that ilk.

Scott opted for the Allies, Jamie the Axis powers. They played the first scenario from the box, which allows for two squads and a single robot. The Yanks fielded a squad of gunners and recon boys, suported by a pounder, while the Jerries enlisted battle and laser grenadiers with a mighty Lothar!

We were still learning the game, (I read the rules during my lunch hour that day) but were pleasantly surprised by how streamlined and simple the rules are. The mechanic is such, that the dubiety and potential squabbling caused by range and line of sight - which so often plague traditional tabletop wargaming - are neatly sidestepped by the clever use of grids. For movement and shooting, simply count the squares. For line of sight, draw an imaginary line between the centre dots in each square.

Can't draw an uninterrupted line? Can't shoot.

Don't have enough squares? Can't move there.

I love warmachine, 40K and fantasy, but I have been unfortunate to play against people with a very loose definition of measurement when it comes to moving and shooting with their models. That simply can't happen with Dust.

The combat was similarly intuitive.

A simple table tells you the range of your unit's weapons, how many dice to roll against a particular class of enemy and how much damage is subsequently caused by each successful hit. Anyway, onto the interesting bit: the battle.

It began in a fairly sedate manner. Both players used their initial alternating activations to bring their forces onto the board. It costs a movement point to enter the board. That, coupled with the dense, impassable terrain, meant that there was no shooting in the first game round.

The second round saw things start to heat up.
Scott won the initiative roll and first blood went to the Allied forces. The pounder unleashed a monumental volley of fire at the battle grenadiers, leaving them with one trooper and even that was only due to a lucky light cover save, (the cover system works in conjunction with the game's target dice. Hit saves are the weakest protection. They allow models to roll an opponents hit dice, matching the symbols in order to prevent a wound. Battle grenadiers receive a hit save when in light cover). Scott's face fell, however, when he realised that Jamie had opted to remove the squad's regular troopers as casualties, leaving him with a very angry 'Panzerschrek' toting grenadier. Jamie's return fire in that activation reduced the pounder to a single damage box!
The allied Gunners squad opened fire on the laser grenadiers, but failed to cause any casualties. Jamie's activation saw them retaliate and burn a hole clean through the squad's sergeant.
The recon boys moved up to reinforce the damaged pounder and that ended the eventful second round.

The third round saw some desperate manoeuvring on the side of the allies and a ruthless, speedy advance by their opposition. The only combat action was a laser grenadier being killed by the gunners and the final battle grenadier being vapourised by an angry pounder. The gunner's missile launcher took a shot at the German Luther, but missed. Round four was an altogether more bloody affair...

The mighty Luther advanced on the unsuspecting recon boys and annihilated three of their number between its flak gun, cupola weapon and enormous battle claw! They quite sensibly used their activation to engage in some heroic 'running away'. The laser grenadiers gave chase and opened fire, but their hits were saved by the allies' light cover, (At this point, we were still learning the rules and didn't realise the full, terrible potential of laser weapons in the game. Basically, each successful hit is added to a pool, then re-rolled with each subsequent hit being added until a miss is rolled!).
The damaged pounder seized its opportunity and the true extent of Scott's clever manoeuvring became readily apparent. The Allied robot's main gun had range on the Luther, but was not at risk from the German robot's main weapon. The pounder blasted its German counterpart, causing two damage points. The remaining gunners moved into position in an attempt to flank the laser grenadiers in the following turn.

Round 5 began with a bang, as Scott sent his recon boys into the laser grenadiers; killing two in a flurry of blades, machine gun fire and underslung grenade launchers. The laser grenadiers used their activation to scorch their opponents to smoking husks before being flanked and annihilated out in the open by the allied gunners squad. Incredibly, Luther stomped backwards in an attempt to outdistance the pounder's main weapon(?), but it was to no avail, as the damaged allied machine obliterated its German opponent with a single, well-placed shot that didn't even require the re-rolls offered by sustained attack.

Game highlights:

- Jamie's laser grenadier rolling an incredible 6 hits on a single recon boy with sustained attack, (Scott didn't manage to save them).

- Scott's wordless cry of exultation when Jamie's Luther MOVED BACKWARDS(!?), setting himself up for the kill-shot.

Points to remember for next time:

- Self repair and charge are what make the Luther a terrifying prospect for the allies. Remember to use them!

- Targets are allowed to retaliate when suffering a close combat attack, so long as they have a close combat weapon themselves.

- Lasers re-roll their hits, continually adding to the total until a miss is rolled.

Like grindhouse games excellent 'Incursion', it appears that Dust takes moments to learn, but a lifetime to master. If you're on the fence about Dust, then I recommend it to you wholeheartedly. Chip in with someone else if you're worried about the cost. Anything over and above the boxed set contents is window dressing that will enhance the experience for you, but the core set has a serious amount of mileage and replay value in and of itself.

That said, I spent almost £70 buying the new expansion set and robots yesterday in Static games, but do as I say, not as I do!

The next battle report will have pictures. At the moment, I've only painted up one allied BBQ squad.

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