Thursday, December 17, 2015

Beyond The Gates Of Antares

by SandWyrm


There have been a number of games released lately that hope to capture some of the disappointed 40K players out there, much as Mantic's Kings of War has made major inroads in sucking away WHFB players who (rightly) hate GW's new Age of Sigmar rules. 

None of these projects though, including my own, have the legendary name of Rick Priestley behind them. The very same Rick Priestley that helped design the original Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and Warhammer 40,000 games. So it was with some trepidation that I picked up a copy of the Antares rulebook some weeks back. Would it blow my project away? Would it be the next big thing in wargaming?

Well... Let me put it this way...

Do you remember how you felt when Star Wars: Episode 1 first hit theaters?


There was that opening scene with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, which was a little slow but still kind of cool. Even though something felt a little off about how it played out. Still, YAY STAR WARS!!!


But then they found [Expletive-Expletive] and things got all goofy and needlessly talky/political. And you kept hoping that it would get better, but apart from the pod race and one lightsaber fight at the end it never did?

Yeah, Gates of Antares (GoA from here on out) is a heck of a lot like that.

I mean I have to be forthright here and admit (again) that I'm working on a competing game of my own, so I'm not exactly an unbiased observer. Remember that when you read what I have to say.

But on the other hand, having been working on a similar game for a number of years now, and also having experience teaching design subjects, I'm kind of uniquely qualified to talk about what I see that both does and doesn't work in GoA. In the same manner that I would if a student of mine dropped it on my desk as a final project.

That is why this article isn't so much a "review" of GoA, but a "critique". A blow by blow of the major areas where I think it succeeds and fails in its attempt to build a better 40K. I won't be talking about its miniatures, or running test games. Instead I'll simply be giving you my thoughts on how it's been designed overall.

So What's Wrong With It?

There's lots of nasty details to go over, but what I think it boils down to is the following:
  1. It's a product of the overly-insular Nottingham wargames development community.
  2. It cannot find the right balance of complexity vs. simplicity.
  3. The rules are not presented well, and actually insult the reader constantly.
  4. There is no character, no feeling, to the fluff at all.
Let's take it section-by-section and I'll explain...

Credits

The main writing credit for GoA is given to Rick Priestley, and three names... Wojtek Flis, Andrew Chesney, and Nick Simmerson are given credit for additional testing and rules development work. Some other names in the credits, like Paul Sawyer (Fat Bloke) are recognizable as being ex-GW people from the early 00's.

Who's noticeably missing? Alessio Cavatore. The creator of Kings of War, and Priestley's co-author on Bolt Action. Why?


Maybe Alessio decided to concentrate on KoW, as it's gaining traction right now. Or maybe Mantic didn't want him working on a competing Sci-Fi game. Maybe Rick wanted to take a more front-seat design role on GoA, and not rely (as he described in a Bolt Action interview) on another designer like Alessio to do 90+% of the work with some input here and there from Priestley, who has mostly been working in producer roles since his early days at GW.

Whatever the reason, Alessio's simplifying (to a fault sometimes) influence is gone, and it's felt. In that, by and large, there was not an idea thought of for this game that didn't make it into the book.

Forward

The Forward to GoA hits all the right notes... in the first paragraph.

It then goes 3rd person in its writing style, which tries to evoke a presenter telling you what "our" game is, and what races/foes "we" will encounter. Which is... off putting... to a reader. Like you're listening to a carnival barker attempting to lure you into a tent show that's likely better in the telling than the showing. It breaks the 4th wall and keeps you from suspending your disbelief.
"Beyond the Gates of Antares was originally conceived as a game and that is where our journey begins. However our game is only the first step upon a path that promises to take us to new stars and undiscovered worlds."
Are they also planning a TV series? Movies? Comics? Is this just overly-flowery writing? I don't know, but I really wish they would concentrate on presenting the game right now.

But we do get an idea (not so well stated) of what the game is supposed to be.
  • It's a Tabletop Wargame
  • It can be played with relatively few models.... or a lot (very non-committal).
  • Possible to play with no more than 30 models a side (good!).
  • Should take experienced players no more than an hour per game (questionable).
  • The game is constructed to be easily scalable (still feeling non-committal).
  • All the army lists are in the book (Yay!).
  • You can play everything from a scouting force to a "full army of conquest" (hem...).
  • Antares is a game of primarily infantry combat (yay!).
  • Larger vehicles and machines play mostly a supporting role (yay!).
There's a very real sense in the forward to this book that the design goals were not clear from the start. It's a smaller game than 40K, unless you don't want it to be. It's designed to use 30 or fewer models per side, unless you want more. It's designed to be played in an hour if you're experienced... until you realize later how ridiculously intricate some of the rules are.



I mean smaller battles, vehicles as support-only, one hour games, and scaleability are all good things to shoot for in a post-40K world. Essential even. That's what I know from my own research that potential players are after. But my gut tells me that Priestley and his team weren't confident enough in making a smaller, simpler game than 40K to actually commit fully to doing it.

Game Rules Introduction 

There's lots of interesting stuff in the introduction.
  • The game mostly uses D10 dice, but also some D4, D6, and D8 dice too.
  • All rolls are lower-is better. So 1's are auto-pass, and 10's are auto-fail.
I'm a bit disappointed in the D10 system overall. In this M42 post I talked about rolling D10's vs. D6 dice, where I pointed out the following:
"Rolling 3D6 in series has (to-hit, to-wound, save) has 216 possible combinations, but only 42 unique results.

Rolling 2D10 in series (to-hit, to-wound) has 100 possible combinations, but only 40 unique results."
So by going with a 1-always-passes, and a 10-always-fails system, they've actually got no better than, and possibly a bit worse than, the number of possible test outcomes in 40K. So there's no real advantage there, except for rolling one less die (most of the time).

But using D10's is also about having more room for modifiers in each roll, as these charts show:




In a D6 system like 40K's, where ones always fail, and sixes always pass, you have a 4-point spread within which to establish a base roll, and add or subtract modifiers (if 40K had any). Which gives you a useful modifier range of +/- 2 points from the average of 4.

In a D10 system like GoA's, where ones always pass, and tens always fail, you have an 8-point spread to work with. Giving you a useful modifier range of +/- 4 points from the average of 5.

But here's the kicker:

If your D6 system (like Flames of War and my project) only auto-passes if you need a 1+ to hit (or whatever), then you have a full 5-point spread to work with, and a useful modifier range of +/- 3 points from your average roll of 4. Or a full 75% of what you get from GoA's D10 system.

So for all the trouble of moving from D6 dice to D10's, GoA loses a bit of unique result range vs. 40K, while only gaining a 1-point improvement (+/- 4 vs. 3) in the number of modifiers they can use versus the D6 system of a game like Flames. I consider that to be kind of a marginal gain really.
  • Minimum table size is 4'x4', while they assume we have 6'x4' tables.
More lack of commitment here. Note that they're "assuming" you have a 6'x4' table. They're not requiring it, or even saying that the game was designed for 6'x4'. It's this kind of persistent ambiguity that's going to keep this game from being embraced by the competitive community.
 Order Dice

Love it or hate it, GoA uses the same dice-in-bag system to determine unit activation that Bolt Action does. I guess it's considered a 'Priestley' mechanic now. But in any case you draw a die from the bag, and if it's your army's color, then you pick a unit to activate, turn the die to the order you want, and then carry it out.

And in case you're wondering... Yes, this is a single-activation system that's similar in many respects to Epic:Armageddon; as so many alternative 40K games are. There are plenty of fans of E:A (Nurglitch is probably jumping for joy), but I was hoping for something more original myself. Priestley is old-school GW though, so I can understand the choice he made in adapting one of their better designs.

 Pin Markers

Yep, in true Epic Armageddon fashion, you put pin markers on units when they're hit. The ones included with the GoA box sets do have some nifty dials on them that range from 1 to 12, but the numbering is so small that they're almost impossible to read. I got these from a local shop owner who said he'd never use them because of this.
    Can you read these? This is about life-size on my 17" monitor.
This is likely more Warlord's fault than Rick's rules team. But it speaks to the general lack of quality control everywhere.

Stats

A unit's stats are as follows:
Agility (used for difficult moves)
Accuracy (how well you hit)
Strength (close combat hitting power)
Resistance (basically your armor save)
Initiative (similar to E:A's usage)
Command (Leadership)
Nice and simple. Nothing to complain about here.

Units

For unit types you have Infantry, Light/Heavy Weapons Teams, Drones (various types), Vehicles, Mounts (both bikes and beast), Beasts, "Humongous Beasts", Commanders, and Probes.



The additions of drones and probes are very welcome and long overdue in a Sci-Fi Wargame, but "Humongous Beasts"? Just wait, because this is but the first example of Priestley doing verbal somersaults to avoid using ANY term for something that GW also uses. Such as the much less silly "Monstrous Creature".

Formations

"Units" is used earlier to refer to groups of models, but "...units of two or more models are always arranged into a formation." Which is needlessly confusing. Is the term "units" interchangeable with "models", or "formations"?


Don't cry Mantic space dwarf!
Models in the same formation are allowed up to a 1" gap (don't call it coherency) from other models in the formation. And if your models wind up further apart, they're not out of coherency, rather they've become a "Compromised Formation". You also have to keep your models 1" or more away from enemy units that they're not assaulting, and doing that is called "moving into touch".

Word silliness aside, a 1" coherency (yes I said it!) is ridiculous, and will lead to the same movement-tray unit movement mentality as Alessio's struggling Warpath. Flames of War has a 4" - 8" coherency (depending on the unit type), and this allows models in the same unit to separate out a bit and hug cover much better.  Leading to a much more cinematic feel overall.

But that begs the question... Has ANYONE in Nottingham played a popular wargame (X-Wing, Flames, Warmachine, Infinity, Malifaux) that hasn't been designed in Nottingham? Alessio is the only one who seems willing to demonstrate new ideas there, though for all we know they're the exact same ideas he had for 40K when Jervis Johnson pushed him out of GW.

Shards

The term "Shard" is used quite a bit in the rules, but it's never really given a concrete game definition. In the fluff it's a term used to denote a breakaway part of the universal machine consciousness that permeates everything using nanotechnology. If you travel off-world, then the nanite-infused matter you bring with you forms a sub-consciousness called a "shard", which will merge with the machine-consciousness of whatever world you travel to, or whoever you meet along the way. This is how the consciousnesses of the worlds communicate and share information (yes really).



But in-game it seems to be a rule that applies to certain kinds of probe units, wherein they are issued orders slightly differently, or can join other units and follow their orders. I'm really not sure.

The Turn

The turn sequence is pretty simple, and is similar to Epic:Armageddon's.

Orders Phase
  1. Draw an order die from the bag.
  2. The player whose die was drawn assigns it to a unit and picks an order.
  3. If need be, the player tests to see if they can follow the order.
  4. The player's unit performs the order.
  5. Return to the first step.
Turn End Phase
  • The dice are put back in the bag and a bunch of upkeep stuff happens.
Now as I've said before, there are plenty of people who like how E:A plays, but I personally don't feel like there's enough back-and-forth in a single-activation system to be all that interesting.

The Orders

Get ready for some more verbal silliness...
  1. Fire (shoot at stuff with a bonus)
  2. Advance (move, and then shoot at stuff)
  3. Run (move double without shooting)
  4. Ambush (don't call it Overwatch)
  5. Rally (get D6 pin points removed)
  6. Down (don't call it Go to Ground)
There's two and a half pages of rules on what to do if you've ordered a pinned unit to do something.

And Then There's Clippy Hansa

Way back when Priestley was pitching his failed GoA kickstarter, one of the first sculpts they showed off was a mercenary-ish looking bloke who they later named Hansa Nairoba.

A nice sculpt to be sure, but somehow between then and now this somewhat generic looking foot soldier became the mascot for GoA, and periodically shows up to offer 'advice' to you as you're reading through the rules.

 Which is sort of similar to how Flames of War's rules use little cartoon officer heads with word bubbles to help explain rules.

This is useful to learning the game.

Except that Hansa doesn't actually help you. His 'advice' is either incomprehensible gobbledygook, or simply outright insults.

This is not.

That's right, they're explaining Indirect Overhead Fire, but Hansa and the paragraph after him are both there to insultingly tell you you're too dumb to try and use those rules yet.

Here's a hint guys: PUT THEM IN AN ADVANCED RULES CHAPTER INSTEAD!!!

As a counter-example, X-Wing does a wonderful job of explaining the basics first, and leaving the more complicated stuff for later in their rules. That GoA needs to put in these kinds of "whoah-there-young'n" bits everywhere is evidence of an incompetent structuring and layout of the GoA rules. If we're not ready to use something, then wait until later to introduce it. Even 5th Edition 40K does a better job of presenting its rules in easy to swallow chunks than GoA does.

(Oh, and Hansa's hand-drawn illustrations make him look like a young black man, but whenever you see pics of his miniature, he's painted up like a pasty old white dude. Classy.)

But in any case, he's just as annoying as Microsoft's "Clippy" ever was, and has shown up in "macho" posters for the local FLGS that the owner promptly discarded because he felt like they'd drive customers away from the game. Not good.

And Now The Craziness Really Starts...

Hansa aside, we've just talked about the basics of the game so far. But now we're going to get into the meat of the rules, where everything quickly goes off the rails. How? Let me give you some examples.

No Pre-Measuring, Even For Movement

This is really an interesting choice, as Priestley had (during his Kickstarter videos) said that he'd come to favor pre-measuring as a way to avoid arguments during a game. But instead he went even more restrictive than GW and decided that you can't even pre-measure for movement.

That's right, when you move your models, you have to describe to your opponent where you intend to move them in detail. Then you get to measure how far they can actually move toward where you said they would go.

Did they play-test this?

Movement/Shooting Distances



In what appears to be yet another example of Priestley going out of his way to avoid doing anything the GW way, he has standardized movement on 5" multiples instead of 6". In fact, all of the weapon distances are also based on multiples of 5.

But why? You can't divide a 48" x 72" table cleanly into 5" lengths. Which means you'll have trouble defining deployment zones that your enemy can't immediately shoot into, and any attempt at mathematically quantifying the value of a particular movement or weapon range in relation to the table's dimensions will be extremely frustrating.

Does he not know that abstract game rule mechanics cannot be copyrighted? That GW cannot claim to be the first or last game to base movement and shooting distances on 6" multiples? Even if he didn't want to use 6" as his base distance, he could have chosen 4" or 8", which is what Flames mostly does (it still uses 6" for infantry). Both of those numbers will divide evenly into the length and width of a 4' x 6' table.

Plus there's the issue of asking players to perform fractional math in their heads during a game, which is a big no-no. This (and other stuff that follows) really has me wondering if they did any real testing before releasing these rules, or whether they just winged it and published their first set of rules concepts instead.

Lucky Hits & Dud Shots



Rolls of 1 are "Lucky Hits", and rolls of 10 are "Dud Shots", which each have needlessly complicated special rules attached to them. Dud shots can't be re-rolled (among other possibilities), and lucky hits will have target-specific rules like possibly blowing up the plasma reactor strapped to the backs of one of the faction species.

Does a competitive wargame that's meant to be played in an hour or less have room for such Jervis Johnson like random nonsense? No it doesn't.

Moving In Area Terrain



There are, and I am not making this up, TWENTY-EIGHT different types of area terrain in GoA. Each of which are defined, from the "Wild Whortleberry Patch" on page 51, to the "Enclosed or Domestic Yard" on page 55, with a full paragraph of description, stats, and maybe a special rule or two.

Twenty-Eight? Are they on crack? Now I'm almost sure they never play-tested this game.

But it gets worse. Here is the procedure for moving through Area Terrain:
  1. Roll an agility test (see specific type modifier) to see if you can actually enter the terrain.
  2. Step #1, in a feat of terrible editing, is repeated again on the next page. 
  3. Even if you're already in area terrain, you still have to test to move.
  4. Pass the test and you move your full normal movement through it.
  5. Fail the test and you move half your normal movement through it.
  6. Unless you rolled a 10, in which case you can't move.
  7. Pass the test with a 1, and you've found a "way through". Meaning you'll pass any further rolls.
  8. Moving through Area Terrain is harder for large models, not easier.
Again, this is supposed to be a simpler, one-hour play experience?

Typical Woods In The American Midwest

Plus, have these guys ever been in a real wood? In anything short of a tropical jungle, the only potentially impassible part of a wood is generally its outer edge. So slowing a unit's movement by a set or pseudo-random amount makes sense. But this D&D-like fixation on "realism" is not something that works in a wargame where movement needs to be quick and simple to do.

Blast Weapons


Now, there's a couple of ways that you can handle blast weapons in a tabletop wargame. You can have a scattering template, where everyone underneath is hit automatically (40K). Or, you can have a non-scattering template that just defines how many troops/things can be hit using an attack roll that might or might not ignore cover modifiers (Flames). Or, like Warpath, you can just say that blast weapons do D6 (or whatever) hits to the unit targeted.

Well, Priestley's GoA doesn't pick any of those methods. Instead it uses an unholy union of all 3. Here's how it works:
  1. You declare that you're using a blast weapon and place it where you want to hit.
  2. You roll a D10 to determine where it scatters, using the pointy end for direction.
  3. You then roll the D4, D6, or whatever the weapon type defines to see how many models are hit.
  4. Any model in the unit can take the hits, but those under the template must take them first.
Besides being needlessly complicated and time consuming, the use of a D10 for scatter direction is BAD. Because in developing our game, CaulynDarr and I tested this, and within 5 minutes we'd figured out how to throw the D10 in order to game the scatter direction the way we wanted.

Buildings

I won't go into the details of how buildings work, because it gives me headaches. But suffice it to say that they're more complicated than 5th Edition 40K, and just as in 40K nobody will ever bother using them.

But there is one rule, tacked on at the end, that makes me scratch my head. Because as an idea it should have been much more front-and-center and developed in the game as a whole.

This rule applies to "Instant Transporters" that allow models to move instantly from one room in a building to another. If there's a unit between the section you're moving from and the section you're moving to, you can't use them. That's it.

The Armory

My primary complaint with the weapons of GoA (besides the odd ranges and blast rules) is that there's precious little that I, as an Earth citizen of the 21rst century, can relate too. Which is also a fault with the fluff of the game as a whole.


The rules go into much loving detail about "compression technology", and how it allows for nearly unlimited ammunition loads (think of the movie Ultraviolet). But when the most recognizable weapon is a "Mag Pistol" that decompresses its ammo, and then magnetically fires metal spikes or plugs at an enemy... Well, like the movie above, this is a world that you may not understand. And like Ultraviolet it becomes hard to care about the world we're shown.

Because while such advanced weaponry would be fine for an elder race, or a super-advanced faction, there is no low-tech faction to which I can identify. GW's Imperium of man has some wild, weird shit in it. But the Imperium is still recognizably human in a way that we can relate to. Their guns go boom, and lasers are still something we can understand today. They have missiles and whatnot. They have feelings that are affected by what goes on around them.

But "X-Sling"? It's a type of micro-grenade launcher. Not to be confused with the "Micro-X Launcher". Then there's the Mass Compactor whose description is more impressive than it's simple cover-denying effect.

The Frag Borer (a "Fractal Cannon" sub-type) is the best idea, in that it's a heavy weapon that once locked on a target hits it with increasingly powerful blasts each turn. So there's some good stuff here to be sure. But where are the weapons we have and know now, and to which we can relate? The wild and crazy stuff would seem all the more wild and crazy if we had a simple laser-rifle or an RPG to compare it to.

The Missions

There are 12 missions in GoA, split between "Matched Scenarios" and "Narrative Scenarios".

The presentation of the missions is, in a word, horrible. The first two scenarios don't even have deployment maps, and the diagrams that are provided for the others are ugly and unhelpful. Flames of War remains the gold standard here for presentation and clear wording.

Much of the text seems to be someone's attempt to expand a shorter set of development notes into something far too wordy for the information it actually conveys, and there are constant references throughout to rules on other pages. Ridiculously, some of the rules reference (with a page number) rules on the same page. While the "Game Duration" rule inexplicably references itself (with page number). Even GW isn't this sloppy.


Beyond the first, basic scenario, there's not a whole lot that looks interesting. Most seem like half-developed ideas. But there was one mission that I found amusing, as it's quite similar to one I outlined a few years ago for our game, WarStrike. It's called (in both games) "Bridgehead".

Here's our (rough) deployment map:


Since I've had some contact with one of the assistant GoA designers on LinkedIn before, I know that they are at least aware of our project. But while I don't mind them trying to improve on one of our ideas, I am sort of insulted that they obviously did zero testing on it.

Why? Because they just plopped the Transmat Portal right down in the middle of the table instead of considering the need for some distance between the portal, its defenders, and the attacking forces that would arrive. Or the fact that they're essentially wasting all the space behind the portal opposite the table edge where the attackers will come on. Their kind of setup would only make sense if the attackers could enter from all sides. Come on guys!


And Finally, There's The Fluff

As we all know, Warhammer 40K hasn't survived for 25 years now because of the perfection of its rules. Mostly, we all just like the world GW has created, and as long as the rules aren't unplayable, and the prices aren't too high, and other people play too, we'll give it a go.

But part of making a compelling game world is finding a way for us to care about the people in it. In 40K you have hundreds of very human stories of mystery, treachery, joys, sorrows, prophesies, and all the things that we find easily relatable as humans.

This is where GoA really falls down. Hard.


The basic premise of the game isn't all that bad. Sometime in the near future, humans discover a stargate in our solar system and figure out how to open it. Our ships are then transported near-instantly to the "Star" Antares (there are actually two stars in that system, but they say it's a red giant), which isn't actually a star but a giant machine that acts as the nexus of an intergalactic set of stargates. On its surface, you pop out of one gate, and then head for the gate of the system you wish to travel to. Most of the time spent in a journey is on the surface of Antares (which is almost as big around as our solar system) traveling from one gate to another.

So empires rose, humans specialized into a variety of forms, and then Antares started glitching. For long periods the gates wouldn't work at all, and when they did work again their positions on the surface of Antares were shifted around. This happens every so often now. Mixing up the territories of the empires willy-nilly.

Cool. But that's as deep as it gets. The fluff describes the two major powers, the various sub-species of human, and how nearly every human lives in a Libertarian post-scarcity paradise where they don't want for any basic need.

So... um... why do they go to war?


The fluff goes on to describe how every civilized planet is crawling, inside and out, with nanites; and how these form the basis for global computer networks that all humans and AIs can access easily (some better than others). It talks about how when you get on a spaceship your isolated colony of nanites creates a shard, which then merges with the world-brain of your destination... blah blah blah.

The Earth and all of Sol's inner planets were destroyed long ago, but they don't say how or by who. They go through the history of seven ages and how this or that race did X, Y, and/or Z. They talk about the character of the races and what they value most.

Then they go back to describing technologies. Such as how the gates open, and what "Critical Depth" is. Which is about as interesting as the last 15 minutes of technobabble in every episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Finally, in the last few pages, we get some stories centered around Hansa (the rules bully), and his friend Bovan Tuk. But they're not all that well written and your brain is already fried from everything that came before. Which reads like a historical timeline of events absent any real human story about those events. It's like reading the drier parts of Tolkien's The Silmarillion.

There's nothing that compares to 40K's immortal Emperor, his conquest of the galaxy, and his ultimate betrayal by half of his own children. There's nothing that tugs at the heart like the fall and racial shame/sadness of the Eldar. Or the inevitable doom presented by the Orks or Tyranids.  There's nothing that, against a backdrop of grimdark, gives you some hope for the future like the Tau do.

Evidently, nobody thinks that Antares is some sort of god/demon, and worships it. There are no cults, no legions, no meta-story of interest. The fluff section reads like a universe primer for a sci-fi show like Battlestar Galactica. Where later writers are expected to write human-centered stories within a well-defined setting. And if they need to know what Critical Depth is, or how a gate is opened, they can look that up so as not to contradict an earlier or later episode in the series when it comes to the details.

Conclusion

Well, the game sucks, and not just a little bit. It's high on aspirations, and is more interesting than average because of that (and Priestley's name), but it fails to deliver a compelling experience IMO.

The gameplay can be summed up as a D10 version of Epic:Armageddon with WAY too much complexity in certain parts to meet its stated goal of 1-hour games. Frankly, it's too complicated to compete with skirmish games like Necromunda or Infinity, where you expect more detail.

The presentation of the rules is shoddy, ill-ordered, uninspired, and at times insulting. Making me think that they rushed this thing through production as fast as possible just to get it out there. Which reminds me of an industry saying... "A game can only be late once, but it's bad forever."

The fluff is bland and generic, being more concerned with the technology and social structure of the game's factions than in telling a compelling history that would make me care about them. As a result, when I look at the models for sale in the shop, I feel nothing about the races/characters they represent.

All of these dioramas are beautiful.

On the bright side, the illustrations are ok, and many of the diorama shots of models are fantastic looking. Somebody really went to a lot of trouble to make these look good. It really shouldn't be the best part of the book, but it is.

From a marketing perspective, they've got the box sets figured out properly, as you can buy a starter force with a hardcover rulebook inside for $112. If the rules were decent, that wouldn't be a bad deal at all, and certainly is better than anything GW offers its beginning players.

But overall I'm disappointed, and maybe that's because I always liked Rick Priestley during the early days of GW. It's easy to look back and see his sidelining within the company and eventual ouster as a big reason for GW being in the sorry state it is today. Like he was the creative soul of the company trying to keep it grounded in its pre-IPO roots.

But when I read this book, I don't see the work of a long-neglected genius. His design basically builds upon a prior GW property (Epic:Armageddon), lacks the confidence to use everyday gaming terms that we're used to seeing, and he seems almost as prone to needless narrative random LoL-sies in his designs as Jervis Johnson is. Really, he's not that different in his design approach to his then-peers as maybe I liked to think he was. And maybe he's worse at certain things, like world creation, then some of them were. That's a curtain that I really never wanted to peek behind. It makes my inner 16yo self tear up a bit.

And... Maybe this is Warlord Games failing to support his work properly with a good editor, but there's been no obvious effort to pare the game down to its basics, to discard the silly and insulting bits, or even to organize the presentation of the rules properly. Or even to see to it that the diagrams don't look like they were created in Microsoft Paint. Seeing certain bits like the dioramas excel while so much else fails really speaks to a lack of product leadership in the form of a good producer. But seeing as how Priestley has spent most of the last 20 years producing rather than designing, I don't know whether he tried to do both at once, or what his balance between those responsibilities was.

But in terms of this being a competition-friendly game, it's a no-go. If you're willing to discard the more time-consuming nonsense and create some house rules, it could be an OK casual game. But frankly there are just better options out there for casual play. Including Dust and, I'm sad to say, Warhammer 40,000 or (cough... cough...) Age of Sigmar.

Peace.

55 comments:

  1. I'm starting to think maybe there's a law or royal decree in Nottingham that bars all editors from entering the town.

    Man, half inch ranges, seriously? My guess is he's had a lot of ideas in his head for the perfect game from the last decade or so, and he wen to far down the auteur path. Basically, he pulled a George Lucas.

    And as much as they bend over backwards to appear superficially original, the fluff looks like it was mostly lifted from Mass Effect or the Expanse series.

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    1. Yeah, he pretty much did pull a Lucas.

      As for the fluff, I'm not familiar with either ME or Expanse, but it wouldn't surprise me much if they were similar. Their post-scarcity society isn't quite Ian M. Banks' Culture, which is the best set of stories for that sort of thing that I know of.

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    2. Looks like you're spot-on about them lifting the FTL-hub idea from Expanse...

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Expanse_(novel_series)

      And the wikipedia entry for Mass Effect has weapon descriptions that sound a hell of a lot like those in GoA.

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    3. I'm kind of tired of the trope where humans reverse engineer FTL from alien artifacts. I rather like stories where humans make their own way and don't get a convenient short cut.

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    4. I kind of like the idea of some humans getting a short cut, while others have to figure it out on their own. :)

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  2. Honestly I wish they would have just adapted the bolt action ruleset to a grimdark setting of their own. I honestly don't care about their setting ... for me anymore I am more just looking for decent quality minis that I can use for home grown campaigns, and/or with systems like Brink of Battle, Dragon's Rampant, etc.

    Well written and thought out piece here. Thanks for a really good review, I've been on the fence about this and the D10 swing worry was keeping me from taking the plunge. I might buy minis from GoA but I think I'll pass on the rules as well ...

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    1. You're welcome. This book sat on my table for weeks as I got a bit intimidated by the flurry of Warlord emails about the game. Then I actually read it and was like... WTF?

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  3. Great review, thanks for taking the time to put it together.. I wasn't sold on the mini's and now I don't think I'll bother grabbing a copy of the rules either. My wife will be very happy!

    Cheers

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    1. You're welcome. I just wish I could get back the $40 I dropped on my book. :)

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  4. The interstellar warp gates remind me an awful lot of the jump gates in EVE online.

    I was in the GoA FB group for awhile, but was turned off by the OMG THIS IS AWESOME!!!GW fanboi-like replies to anything posted (and all the more so when Priestly replied to a comment). Especially as I was scratching my head thinking 'this looks, feels and reads like its supposed to be generic sci-fi from the start.'

    The unarmored Ghar minis look kinda neat, but the rest are just meh. No worries there as I could just use my horde of Hasslefree miniatures' Grymn minis as Pan-Humans (my intent before I got bored with the generic, no point cost for units play test rules).

    Oh, and whilst reading the above, I was wondering: why agility tests to move thru a "Enclosed or Domestic Yard"? Are futuristic armored soldiers afraid of stepping a little bit of dog crap or something?

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    1. Yeah, I can imagine that it's hard for Priestly to break away from the fanboi-ism and find some honest dissenting opinions. You have to have those, or your work just becomes piles of whatever random ideas you have. I had a friend who worked on the Star Wars prequels, and he was always frustrated with how Lucas only surrounded himself with Yes-men. If you talked to him without him talking to you first, it was a firing offense. So he always had to bite his tongue at all the stupid crap.

      As for the dog poo, yeah it makes no sense. Especially considering that the "Enclosed or Domestic Yard" is considered Difficult Terrain (subject to Agility rolls), while "Low Scrub", "Rocky Pinnacles", "Fissures or Potholes", and "Low/Tall Crops" are not.

      We have a lot of Tall Crops here in Indiana, and I can assure everyone that they're more difficult to move through (and not get lost in) than a yard with some dog poo in it. We even make corn mazes in the fall for fun. :)

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    2. Oh, and I should mention that the army lists in the book do have point values for the units. They're just a bit hard to spot at first due to the incompetent graphic design that places them in tiny print in the top-center of the stat area instead of the upper right or left corner of the entry.

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    3. The initial play test PDFs lacked points, and game balance was determined by each side taking an equal number of units (but numbers of models in said units was a free-for-all I guess). It didn't make any sense at all to me. Makes me wonder if the Age of Smegma's lack of points, and all of the issues that 'that' has lead them to change their stance on that...

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  5. Rick Priestley is a big time historical battles fan and wrote the Black Powder rules. This smacks of Black Powder. The idea of describing your intended movement and then seeing if it can work out afterwards is adapted from that system.

    Historical wargaming and especially Black Powder has a very informal feel though. That's the charm really. You issue orders to your commanders. If you're vague units can end up advancing really far out of position. On the other hand complex orders can break down half way through execution and units lag behind their comrades and critical charges fail to go in.

    GoA looks like they tried to take what was good about BP and make it a tighter and more formal system.

    As for Alessio, I would imagine he's involved with Warpath for Mantic so there was a conflict of interest.

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    1. Good points.

      Last I heard, Alessio was still working as a freelancer, so that would have given him more freedom to jump around from system to system. Unless Mantic finally manned up and hired him full-time.

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  6. Nice to see an update ;)

    I assume with KoW potentially going gangbuster he's keeping on their good side. He's got the Terminator game thing too so maybe there's lots of reasons keeping him away. It's weird that he's be involved in Bolt Action and not in Antares though so there must be some reason behind it.

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  7. You've misspelled Priestley continuously, in addition to getting several other things wrong. Interesting, though, I went into it not expecting much and walked away with the impression of a vastly superior sci-fi ruleset than any I've played in quite a while. Thankfully, that turned out to be the case after I got several games in under my belt.

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    1. I'll check and correct the spelling issues once I get back to my laptop.

      But please, give us all three reasons why you think this game stands out from any other war game (name a few too) that you've played.

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    2. Well, (and by the way I'm completely new here so, hello) I've got to say, I agree with Judge Doug. Mostly when you talk about the fluff, and you're all like, “feh, all this newfangled technology, there's nothing that I, as a 19th century farmer, can relate to!” No offense, but you just sound old. You sound like my 65-year-old father who hates “the computers.” If you think the technology or the stories of evolved, transhuman and posthuman people of the distant future in GoA are hard to relate to, then you'd really hate the game I'm developing, because it's easily ten times, maybe a hundred times, more pronounced in that! Like, sorry, but you just sound old by saying you want your science fiction to not have so much nanotech or to still have the weapons we have and know now, millions of years in the future. That makes no damn sense. I mean I love 40K, but let's face it: logical, it is not. It's like saying we should still be living in grass huts because that's what we were doing in the past.

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    3. You're entitled to like whatever you like, but I've got enough experience in movie and game development to know that fantastic worlds still need something in them that folks can relate to. Go too abstract and your potential audience will shrink.

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  8. Interesting read, and perspective. Totally disagree with you but hey, c'est la vie. The "borrowing" of mechanics from other systems that work is fair enough in my eyes. The comprehensive terrain descriptions (28 is definitely comprehensive) is a major plus I feel.
    But anyway, best of luck with your system

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    1. Borrowing mechanics from other systems is no big deal, but in adapting Epic:Armageddon, they've chosen a path that many others have followed previously. So that makes it less distinct in terms of design.

      The line between comprehensive and excessive is a fine one, but I think that a similar level of variety could have been achieved in a way that would take far fewer pages to explain.

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    2. The Order dice mechanism doesn't not look like Epic:A. It's ported from Bolt Action, which is by the way a successful game. And I never read that BA was inspired from Epic:A.

      I was -once- also expecting a replacement for 40K in the grimdark. Basically another game to play with my Space Marines. But that's not going to happen. I mean writting rules for someone else miniatures?
      Now the Antares universe, you may like it or not. But it's better this than yet another "grimdark". It may also seems bland, but it's a start.



      I agree with your remark on the editing and Hansa but that's all.

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    3. Yes, there are some aspects carried over from Bolt Action. But I don't know Bolt Action well enough to say how similar or not it is to either Antares or Epic:Armageddon. I can only recognize what I see as distinct parallels between E:A and Antares in terms of Actions, Reactions, etc. Because I've studied E:A as well, and I see them.

      I'm still writing a miniatures-agnostic ruleset, so to me it's not unthinkable at all.

      There are a LOT of other games out there that attempt to do something other than Grimdark. But people always flock back to the Grimdark.

      Since CaulynDarr first mentioned the Expanse series as an obvious Antares influence, I'm 3 books into it right now, and while it's a more realistic space-opera universe over-all, there is PLENTY of grimdark in that world. Hell, the alien jump gate that appears in the third book "Abaddon's Gate" (a name which could be ripped right from 40K) is the direct result of human genocide perpetrated by certain humans trying to figure out how to control an extremely dangerous alien replicator molecule. One which turns anything it touches into something akin to a Khornate/Tzeentch wasteland of twisted bodies and roving zombies. I love it.

      What's HBO's hottest show right now? A pseudo-midevil grimdark world where the good guys get slaughtered at every turn, and only those willing to coerce and lie seem to flourish.

      But both stories (Expanse now has a show too) don't just drone on about what happens like a history teacher on Ambien. They (like 40K) pull you into the action using everyday RELATABLE people reacting to extraordinary things. Nobody in The Expanse, or Game of Thrones is entirely right, or entirely wrong. Hell, the main character in the Expanse has started 3 wars with his idiot idealism. But he's also done great things that nobody else with a more calculating political mind could. He's both an idiot and a genius. You both love and hate him, which is REALLY damn interesting.

      So that's what Antares needs. Someone (or many someones) to care about. We can argue about game mechanics all day long, but 75% of a game lives or dies on the quality and appeal of its fluff.

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  9. Wow... I mean, well, wow! That's barely a step short of a character assassination. I'd suggest the better counter to a game you don't like would be to complete your ruleset and offer it as an alternative, letting the gamers out there vote with there pockets.
    As it is I think you may have too much time on your hands to write such a long winded diatribe...

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    1. Character assassination? Nah. I've got no reason to hate Priestley. I just expected something better, that's all.

      In fact it's my fondness for Priestley that led me to want to write up a detailed critique (and not just a short review) in the first place. If you come from a design background like I do, you don't see critiques as attacks. You see them as an opportunity for honest feedback. Art/Design students always start out hating critiques, but as the classes go on, they end up loving them, because getting honest feedback improves your work immensely.

      That's why everything I write on my game is thrown out there for anyone to tear apart. Because the alternative is to shut everyone out, and then start thinking that any idea you have is awesome. Which is how George Lucas gave us 3 shitty movies instead of good ones.

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  10. I think I've read all of it - that was a lot of words. As someone has followed your blog for a while from back when I was super into 40k, I was a disappointed at this for a few reasons. I will say I love Bolt Action - it is my favorite game at the moment - and I love what Warlord does. I also interviewed Rick Priestley for our blog. You do have a few valid points but it is lost in a mess of smug, snark, and math nonsense. This post seems like it would be more at home on that blog from the dude who had to gofundme his way to the NOVA then got his ass kicked and always posts butthurt posts =/ It also seems like you never actually played a game of BTGOA.

    To begin, it was weird to continually compare BTGOA to Epic. Epic is a dead game and has been dead for many years. Most people aren't going to grok the comparison. BTGOA is 100% way more comparable to Bolt Action. Buy that rulebook for cheap digitally and play some games and you'll see that comparison. It is a 28mm skirmish system, like BTGOA, not a 6mm? army-scale system.

    It also seems like you consider this a successor to 40k which it is definitely not. Most of the people buying into this game (it has already gone for a 2nd printing before it even launched due to pre-orders) are likely not coming from 40k - they are likely coming from Bolt Action. Most people are not looking at this as a system to use their now pretty much useless 40k models, rather a system to start new and use WLG's models. Bolt Action has exploded in popularity over the last year or two and those folks are going to look at this and give it a try.

    You did have a valid point that this game is definitely more complex than some of Alessio Cavatore's offerings (like BOLT ACTION). This was Rick P's game from the start, not Alessio's. The musings of why he wasn't involved are weird - he is a consultant, not a paid WLG employee (like RickP is, who I believe owns part of WLG). It is definitely more in-depth, though, than say Bolt Action or Kings of War which are nicely streamlined. It is more focused on narrative (a trigger for some 40kers) than competitive play, although the forces are all pretty balanced.

    The 'fluff' part just seems like this game isn't what you want, rather than 'bad'. This IS a 'generic' sci-fi setting, as in it is more like hard sci-fi than sci-fi fantasy with tons of crazy aliens and snowflake special rules. Lots of people are interested in that.

    Recommending 40k or Dust is weird - both games are a mess right now. 40k costs $80 + $60 for rules and codex, plus $2000 for an army, and then you can get started. The game is a mess from a rules standpoint too, due to tons of formations, free points, etc etc etc. Dust is a huge mess with their failed kickstarter and fingers pointing etc - that game may actually just die. Age of Sigmar being recommended is obviously flippant.

    I would recommend re-writing the article - fix the misspellings, remove the snark and any mention of your own game (seems like you're trying to get site hits by knocking down RickP and WLG), and play a few games of BTGOA and BA so you can make valid comparisons.

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    1. I’ve head a lot of good things about Bolt Action, but those same sources also say that it’s not a competition-friendly game. There’s too much randomness in it for that.

      I’m not a fan of Warlord’s miniatures, but that’s outside the scope of this critique.

      I compare GoA to Epic because 1) I have a few very vocal commenters on my game that always bring it up, and 2) whenever I stumble across a new Sci-Fi ruleset, they almost always borrow the majority of their mechanics from Epic:Armageddon. As if it was the end all and be all of design. I mean it’s a relatively clean design (though not presented so well), but there’s been a lot of other good games released since that have interesting mechanics too.

      I think you’re kidding yourself that most people aren’t coming to GoA from 40K. Hell, I only know one person playing Flames of War who didn’t originally play 40K, and WarMachine’s whole business model is built off of attracting disgruntled 40K players. Anyone who’s not a purely historical wargamer is going to have 40K experience, and 40K has been THE Sci-Fi wargame for so long that there was almost nothing else until fairly recently… When 40K’s players started bailing for Dust and other games.

      No, I don’t expect GoA players to be using their GW models for it, but that’s because it’s designed to be played with Warlord’s models instead. Warlord wants those sales, and the game is designed to not be directly model-compatible. A weakness IMO. Especially with the 3D printing revolution coming into full swing.

      You’re also right that GoA is more narrative-friendly in its design. Like an RPG-light. But I feel that approach is precisely the wrong one to take right now, when most players want simple, fast, and balanced rules. If they want narrative, GW will give them that all day long and with better miniatures to boot.

      This is why Kings of War is gaining traction right now. It’s simple and fast to play, yet far more deeply tactical than WHFB or Age of Sigmar. While being fully model compatible with WHFB from the start.

      Look, some people are going to like GoA’s fluff, despite the weaknesses I’ve pointed out. But is the sci-fi wargaming audience in general looking for a ‘hard’ sci-fi setting? That’s doubtful, as very few hard sci-fi novels ever do well compared to those that mix in horror and metaphysical themes.

      How many people watch “Game of Thrones” versus the more historical “Tudors”? How many people watched the more serious “Ascension” or “Defying Gravity” (both of which I liked) vs. Firefly, Star Trek, or Farscape?

      Dust is a mess right now, but the game was actually pretty playable from a design standpoint. 40K is only a mess if you’re looking for something beyond a very casual narrative experience. Which is why competing games should go the other way.

      As for my own game, I mention it to point out that I’m not an unbiased observer. Hiding that fact would be less honest than mentioning it. Yes, I get some clicks out of it, but that happens anytime that I post an article to The Back 40K. Whether I mention the project or not.

      As for playing GoA, I have no interest in doing that after reading the rulebook. I don’t need to play it to see that it’s not my cup of tea.

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    2. Oh, and the "Math Nonsense" has a direct bearing on whether GoA's switch to a D10 was a good one or not. I'm sorry if I went over your head (I have other posts you can read), but not everyone has spent as much time studying D6/D10 die odds and useful modifier ranges for them as I have.

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    3. I suppose BA has randomness if you count rolling dice. It is competition friendly, not WMH tight, but competition friendly.

      I know many people who have played 40k at some point, but not many leaving 40k to play GoA - most gave up long ago. GW may have 'better miniatures' (subjective) but they cost much less.

      I do agree with you somewhat - rules light is definitely a great trend. I do still like BTGOA, though, as a once-in-a-while RPG type minis game, similar to Skirmish Sangin or Infinity.

      Kings of War is very well-written game, but it is also filling a void that GW opened with a huge train. That is why it is gaining traction right now.

      "But is the sci-fi wargaming audience in general looking for a ‘hard’ sci-fi setting?"

      Yes, absolutely.

      Its a bummer that you choose to write so much without even playing the game. Its like reviewing the plastic pieces for Monopoly and ignoring the actual game play.

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    4. Determining who gets to activate a unit first by picking die from a bag is less than ideal for a competitive game. Whereas a game like X-Wing uses pilot initiative to determine who moves, and later shoots, first. the BA/GoA system is a random LoL-sie mechanic, whereas X-Wing's adds another dimension to list building and how you play your force against different opponent lists.

      I don’t know if BA has GoA’s lucky/dud die roll results, but that’s another random LoL-sie that makes competitive play less satisfying.

      Yes, theoretically GoA is a much better buy for rules+miniatures in terms of what you get for your money. They nailed the price point. But since the game's not so great... meh. A wonderfully priced game I'll never play loses to an overpriced game I might still play. Appeal is the bottom line.

      Agree with you on KoW. If GoA had gone the same way, and given us simple, tight rules that you could use any minis with, I’d be bowing down before its greatness. My disappointment is that it didn’t see and follow the obvious trend. For which we can probably blame Alessio’s awful Warpath rules.

      We’ll have to disagree on the merits of going with a hard sci-fi setting. I really do think the Expanse series is about as hard as a general audience would be willing to go in a wargame.

      Ya know, I can read a set of rules, and either be attracted to trying the game, or not. There are interesting parts of GoA, which I mentioned in my critique. But those are outweighed by the randomness, the sloppiness, and the poor balance between complexity and simplicity.

      Nobody had to twist my arm to try out Dust, Battletech, Aerotech, Battlefleet Gothic, Starfleet Battles, Firestorm Armada, Warmahordes, Malifaux, Kings of War, Flames of War, Rogue Trader, WHFB 2nd Edition, Space Hulk, Adeptus Titanicus, Space Marine, Blood Bowl, X-Wing, or Star Wars Armada. Even if I didn’t end up playing some of those regularly, they held up to a reading of the rules just fine and got me interested.

      GoA doesn’t.

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    5. If you want to guarantee you get the first order die, bring a lot more units. There is no such thing as initiative because the game emphasizes that nobody is somehow superhuman fast. Everyone is just a human. Cries are in pretty much every game I play except maybe 40k? I wouldn't look at it so much as randomness as much as a balancer. If someone is immune to your attacks (happens quite often in 40k) you get some really dumb outcomes. Randomness of the order dice bag has been pretty universally loved by many.

      Re: hard sci-fi - it has worked for quite a few games that are blowing up - firestorm armada, infinity, dropzone commander, planet fall, etc. There are probably fewer grim dark games that actually sell anymore.

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    6. You’re stuck in Nottingham thinking. There are other ways to handle initiative.

      In the game I’m writing, we use it in the sense of “battlefield awareness”. Both sides start with set initiatives (6 for the attacker, 4 or 5 for the defender) and then as the game progresses the level for each unit will go up or down depending on their actions and how much fire/damage they take.

      Low inits move first. High inits fire/assault first. It makes the trade-offs between taking one action or another VERY interesting, and causes the move/shoot order to constantly change from turn to turn based on the actions of the players instead of the luck of a dice bag.

      As for Hard Sci-Fi…

      I saw a few games of Dropzone Commander played locally when it first came out, but interest dropped off quickly even though the rules read decently. I’d try it if I could find another player to demo it to me.

      I played a few games of Firestorm Armada with a friend to try it out, but nobody else in town plays it.

      Infinity interests me, but there are VERY few players around. Likely because it didn’t have a definitive English rulebook until it’s latest version. But I can’t find that rulebook for sale locally.

      I’ve never even heard of Planet Fall.

      Dust had the best non-40K Sci-Fi following in town before all the kickstarter dramas. But most everyone I know plays Warmachine or Flames of War these days. Though that new Batman game is picking up interest.

      A superhero game that is… Grimdark? Say it isn’t so. :)

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  11. Sounds like sour grapes. Launch your game, and let the community decide. It takes the very successful BA mechanics and improves upon them. My only complaint is the starter is rather unbalanced.

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    1. It's not sour grapes, since I don't think GoA is a better game than the one I'm making, or that it will take over the Sci-Fi wargaming market. But then again I would think that, wouldn't I? Since I design (and critique) according to my own tastes and the feedback I get from my team and testers.

      GoA is out there now, and my game is not ready for even a beta release, but I'm not overly concerned by that either, because our designs target different customers.

      GoA/Warlord is attempting to replicate the tried-and-true GW business model with a new fictional world and model line that targets more casual players. Whereas I'm making a competition-focused game that anticipates the new reality of 3D printing and cheap garage plastics taking over the modeling end of the market and destroying the viability of that old business model.

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  12. Hey, thanks for the article. I think you have some valid points. First, "Overhead Shooting" vs "Indirect Fire". And then the term "shard". The point about the template was good -- it does seem like an unnecessary step. The background does seem generic, but I haven't finished reading it through yet.

    I laughed out loud when you compared Hansa to Clippy. That was funny. I had a different take on Hansa than you did. I took it as light hearted fun, but I know from experience that not everyone likes this kind of humor. When I taught a class that used one of the "For Dummies" books as the textbook, some of the students were insulted by the tone of the book. So I can see that some people won't like it.

    I thought the point about the pin markers was a bit of a stretch. Some one has posted pictures of the number painted, which makes the number much more visible. So the numbers can be made more visible.

    I was bothered by the comparison of GoA to E:A. GoA is very closely related to Bolt Action rules, so comparing GoA to E:A doesn't seem so relevant. By comparing GoA to E:A, I think your article may lead the uninformed reader astray.

    While the discussion of the rules was good, your article went off-topic when it started to discuss the abilities of the people involved with writing the rules. Critiques of the rules can lead to improvements to the rules ( and is a useful perspective), but extending that criticism to the people involved is not helpful or useful.

    So again, thanks for the article! I liked it, because it mentioned some things that I noticed while reading the rules. I am reading the GoA rules more closely as a result of your article. The comparison of Hansa to Clippy was worth the time all by itself. And for some reason, I feel more empowered to make my own house rules for GoA for those parts that don't seem to work well.

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    1. Oh, and three things I like about GoA:

      1) The order dice drawn at random
      2) Pins and related rules
      3) The variety of weapon types

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    2. Thank you for a very constructive reply.

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  13. I pulled out Priestly's Warmaster Ancients today(an old favorite). And while it plays nice on the table top, it's clear that even back then he was an overly verbose rules writer. If you can write a rule in 10 words, Priestly will write it in 250 and paste it into 3 different sections of the book. It helped that W:A had a "What you need to know" page with every section. You could pretty much get the gist of the game off those 8-9 pages alone.

    I think Priestly spends too much of his writing covering what he thinks are the edge cases to his rules. Only the Nottingham guys' approach to gaming is generally not universal. His edge cases are not our edge cases. It makes all that effort just end up as wasted words.

    That's at the core of the old vs new game design schools of thought. A Nottingham rules system will tell you what to do in an edge case. A Privateer or Fantasy Flight game would construct/abstract the rule so that the edge case was impossible to encounter. The latter approach I think is inherited more from CCG mechanics where precedence and order of operation resolve most issues. Guys like Priestly come from a historical gaming background, and I think that's why they haven't caught on to this change in approach.

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    1. That pretty much sums it up.

      If the Nottingham way is to have 28 types of area terrain listed in detail, then the American way is to create 3-4 interrelated rules that can duplicate those terrain types in a much simpler to understand method where you don't have to explicitly explain every possible combination separately.

      Area Terrain:
      Height: Low/Tall
      Density: Open/Normal/Impenetrable
      Canopy: Yes/No

      But of course you and I have computer programming backgrounds, and are therefore trained to think in this sort of abstracted, simplified logic. My bet would be that none of the current or ex-GW designers has ever done anything more complicated on a computer than firing up Microsoft Word.

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  14. I guess I'd be jumping for joy if your comparison of BGoA to E:A was in any way accurate. I had the same thought when the game first came out, but it's not the case as so many other comments have pointed out.

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    1. Ok, so enlighten us. What are the major differences/shortfalls between GoA and E:A?

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  15. I think you're being a little harsh, but I appreciate you making your biases (and what games you compare it to) very clear.

    The lore of the setting really isn't spectacular. In fact, it really falls flat. That's an absolute tragedy. I don't need my setting to be supremely detailed or realistic, but I need it to be interesting!

    I wish that they could have presented the game as being a stripped-down... anything. Everything. Adding in those little silly rules like duds and blasts and lucky strikes drags the game down hard. Maybe they could have had a separate section in the back, or a rules PDF that had all that junk in there.

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    1. I've noticed that since I published this, every Antares update I've received has been about stories in their universe created by fans. So it seems they heard what I had to say.

      Delete
  16. Not really. I notice you are very harsh on the rules yet your own system is a gimmickt version of 40k. More of thr same. I played 40k back in the RT days. The system he has is closer to 2e. Easily scaleable..which is what most players want these days.. what with the fact that small scale skirmishes like warmachine are popular. However some players dont want to play a rule set even simpler then Age of sigmar...like KoW which if you removed the movement rules for blocks...is WAY simpler then Age of sigmar. Some players havs been waiting for a game like this. I detect far too much bias..even inexperience in gaming in these comments. Also i read a comment thread where x wing players were crying about havinf to learn to play against 5 factions.Not everyone is a winning obsessed 12 year old or neck beard.

    The rules are actually very good, not as esteemed as your 4chan inspired redo of 3e 40k or anything. Why am I so harsh about your system though..

    Because you pulled the 4chan special and called him autistic because your ADD brain cant hold down concentration long enough for critical hits. The rules arent excessive and they are closer to 2e 40k with epic orders, then to E:A...once again let me point out that you are likely to young to remember skirmish games not designed for 12 year olds. However i have seen many battle reports where 12 year olds were playing just fine. Of course they must be autistic...like george lucas who wrote those movies for his kids .like RoTJ. The fact is you 4chan trolls call anyone who disagrees with you or thinks different autistic. Priestley didnt want a lame Cavatore game, thats why alessio wasnt there. KoW is shit.

    Seriously though...Now of course BtGAd fluff is only where 40ks was in rogue trader...news flash..renegade spehsd mahreens in 1e were good guys...they were kurt russel in soldier. Horus wasnt named...it was exactly this basic.

    However one shouldnt go around calling people Autistic when they are too close minded and impatient to not only research what came before warhammer 40k 3e, but to call people autistic because the trend to simplicity has been chasing gamers away.

    Your rudeness and willingness to insult others by calling them autistic is going to lead me to be sure that people on any group you try to advertise on will know your 4chan, childish bull shit. Im not that huge a fan of BtGA or GW...but your words are incredibly unprofessional and i hope you grow up.

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    1. Who did I call autistic Jon? Where did I do this?

      I might feel hurt by your insults to my project if you actually seemed to know anything about it. “4chan inspired” really has me scratching my head.

      The rules for GoA are clearly excessive in certain areas, as many have agreed. You can compare them favorably to Rogue Trader if you wish, but Rogue Trader was a product of its time. We all had much lower expectations back then. And yes, I did play every edition of 40K up through 5th, including RT, so I know what I’m talking about.

      I don’t hang out or post on 4chan, though I’ve taken notice of a few funny or interesting things there from time to time. But really, I don’t get what you’re going on about.

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  17. thank you for this enlightening review and helping me not to waste time investing in yet another game system. please don't let the critics get to you!

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  18. Thank you for this in-depth critique. On some points can't really follow you:

    - As you said, D10s eliminate a 3rd roll, keeping about the same number of outcomes (plus adding a bit more possible modifiers). How is that "marginal"? And for me, personally, the D10 is a common thing. You might have different experiences, though.

    - I think you're being overly critical when it comes to terminology and presentation. But if that's your background, it is totally logical for you to do so.

    - Game size: The Introduction (after the foreword) is pretty clear about 20-50 models being the sweet-spot, and 4x4 tables being only suitable for smaller games.

    - Terrain features: Terrain actually is broken down into three characteristics. How does it affect Line of Sight, Movement and Saving rolls. I've never seen the huge list of terrain features as anything else than examples. Maybe there really is a difference in perception between the Nottingham "Gentlemen Gamer's" point of view ("let's be nice and give the players some ideas") and the "American" competitive gamer's point of view ("if it doesn't say 'example' on top, you have to use terrain exactly as provided here").

    - Armoury: I can't really see the trouble of relating to e.g. a mag gun. It is basically a common rifle. You point the dangerous end at the enemy, pull the trigger and little bullets start flying towards the target. As you said yourself, stories should be about the people using the gun, so how does the exact detail of how the bullets are made to fly affect your ability to identify with those people? This make me wonder if "hard-ish sci-fi" might just not be your genre. Personally, I'm rather thinking that a lot of the weapons in GoA are a bit too "WW2 in space" for my taste, probably exactly for the reason that players should be able to "recognize" them.

    - Fluff: Here I'm partly with you. Sure, the story so far lacks the epicness of what happened in the 40k universe. For now. However, while most of the epic things in 40k have already happened 10,000 years ago, the GoA rulebook presents the Xilos anomaly. A possible 2nd gate in a single system, something that has never, ever been reported in the thousands of years of recorded history. So the potentially epic stuff is beginning right now, with the players taking part. If I understood correctly, Rick Priestley wanted a "living" and changing universe right from the beginning. I don't know if that will be a success or not, but it surely is a different approach than the doomed, but very static 40k universe. But it needs a lot more "flesh" for players to identify with and care about than it has now.

    Regarding the aspects of complexity, I am mostly with you:

    - About every single dice roll giving different special effects for a rolled '1' or '10' is absolutely unnecessary.

    - Indirect fire. I play Algoryn, and I can field 2 grenade launchers per 5 model standard trooper squad if I want to. This means that up to 40 percent of my army can use indirect fire, each one of them placing a template, rolling to hit, rolling for scatter, determining models under the template, rolling for number of actual hits, allocating these hits ... individually. This can get really annoying quite quickly. The "experienced gamer" who manages to finish a game in 1 hour is probably meant to be experienced enough to not use too many indirect fire weapons.

    I do think this game has enough potential to become a regular thing at my local club. And I wonder how much "drama" there will be in future releases (including powerful and aggressive alien races like the Vorl).

    Best regards,
    Boris

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    1. 1) Here’s an article I wrote for WarStrike that discusses the useful ranges of a 2D10 (hit, save) vs. a 3D6 system (hit, wound, save).

      http://www.warstrike.org/2013/03/a-very-interesting-email-part-2.html

      Scroll down to the chart…

      “Here's more food for thought: What if we switched to a D10 system and used an auto-fail on 1 mechanic, just like GW? What would that do to the D10 curve?

      Easy. It would top out at 81%. 9/10 * 9/10 = 81/100 = 81%.

      That would chop off the 2 highest results. Making our 2D6/3D6 system superior to it as well.”

      So what I’m saying is that auto-failing on a 1, and auto-passing on a 10 (or vice-versa in GoA’s case) actually limits your range of useful rolling results more than a 2D6 system with a conditional 3rd roll (which is one D6 roll less than 40K).

      As such, the only advantage would be extra room for modifiers, and the ability for more low-skilled units to hit/pen a high-skilled unit. That’s why I called it a marginal gain.



      2) You’re right, I’m all about clear presentation. That is my background.



      3) What’s clear to you about game size isn’t so clear to me. Especially when I’m sensitive to the many ways that unclear rules can be abused for advantage.



      4) CaulynDarr and I have pointed this out this philosophical difference in design on multiple occasions.

      The problem with the “Gentleman’s View” though, is that it becomes very easy to use it as a crutch to avoid having to communicate rules clearly. Especially when the company you’re working for is cutting your design budget. GW has, for too long, been blaming the players for its failure to write tighter rules, and that has led to the whole WAAC/Casual divide that eats away at the ability to form strong communities of 40K players.



      5) Oh, I get the “Mag Gun” just fine. But when an “X-Sling” is a very different thing from a “Micro-X Launcher”, I start wondering why they couldn’t be more consistent and recognizable in the naming of their weapons.

      It’s the same problem I get reading the “Thon” rules (much worse than GoA BTW), where the first third of the book is fluff, and then they use terms from that fluff to describe things that should use normal English. Instead of “Rules”, we get “Universal Edicts” and other such nonsense.



      6) Priestly may want a “Living Universe”, but the one in the book is fairly dead. They’ve been releasing a lot of fan-written fluff lately, but that again smacks of expecting the fans to finish what should have been in the book to start with.

      And there’s nothing keeping Games Workshop from advancing the 40K timeline except laziness. They have some very good writers who could do it. Certainly Battletech had no problem advancing the timeline every few years. It was the complexity of the game that killed it, not the Clan fluff that I still bought the books for long after I stopped playing and switched to much simpler GW games.



      7) I think your last points sum up the needless complexity of the rules very nicely.

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    2. Thank you for the clarifications.

      I'm actually a bit worried by the fan-fiction. I hope it is just a one-time contest to further raise interest and inclusion of the players, and that WG is not planning to use them as official canon. That would be too many cooks, who haven't been briefed on overall and faction-specific design goals, spoiling the broth.

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    3. Well, Star Wars has shown that it's possible to mine your unofficial canon for the best ideas and develop them into official canon. Disney also does something similar with Marvel's comics, mining them for the best 1% of storylines and developing them into movie-ready plots.

      Whether Warlord is that smart (or even cares) is anyone's guess. Personally, I find them to be the sloppiest of the "good" companies out there.

      Delete
  19. There are some things I agree with in your article, but many I strongly disagree with. I appreciate that GOA isn't your cup of tea, so not trying to convince you otherwise -more so pointing out the positives of the game to others

    The pinning/suppression mechanic is excellent. It gives players the options of hampering the enemies fighting and maneuvoring potential, or rendering specific dangerous units inneffective. This opens great tactical options, as do the order options, reaction options, and alternating unit activation (as opposed to IGOUGO systems which I am coming to increasingly dislike). In my opinion,the above mechanics far surpass 40k, in which "tactics" largely boils down to the maths of choosing the right gun, right target and praying you get luckier rolls than the enemy.

    I've analysed many battlegames in depth and Antares is one of the best I've come across to date.

    You are spot on about some things - the blast markers rules are just silly. I also felt diversity was a bit lacking on unit profiles, especially the way damn near every infantry unit in the game is Resistence 7. (The naturally tougher races i.e. Algoryn, Boromites have worse armour than he average toughness guys, 5+2, or 6+1, no difference whatsoever. A bit dull)

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  20. I'm sure that many of the mechanics in GoA are superior to 40K's. That's not exactly hard. It's the sloppiness (and snark) of the execution that annoys me. I read a lot of wargaming rulebooks, and most of them are sloppy messes. I'd just expected something a bit better from Priestley. Something finely honed instead of a rushed 2nd draft.

    But of course I'm writing this not long after the release of 4th Edition Flames of War. Where the game that had once been my gold standard for rules presentation has been replaced with a new system that's about as sloppy now as GoA, and about half as fun as it used to be.

    I'll just have to keep working on my own system.

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