Saturday, 22 October 2011

Review: Dust Tactics

Its a beast of a box with a shed load of stuff inside
The Dust universe created by Paolo Parente is pretty darn cool if you ask me. I've always liked alternative history themes. What if the Nazi's won, or the USSR invaded the USA or going further back what if the Confederates won the America civil war or if Jesus had of bottled it and decided being a martyr sucked? The world we live in might look very different to the one we see today. The premise in Dust if I'm correct is that the Nazi's found some alien tech and managed to prolong WWII, and... its still going.  This has led to a world with genetically enhanced killer Gorilla's and big walking mech tank thingies, they look great they really do. So with time on my hands I thought I'd better occupy myself with some hobby related stuff and seeing as Fantasy Flight Games are also giving us a Dust related true wargame (Dust Warfare) I thought it was time to take the plunge.

Paolo Parente's artwork adds a certain 'vibe' to proceedings

Official Promo shot
Product description

This is the older 'unrevised' edition of the game in the mammoth HUGE box. I wanted to try these 'old' rules out before the revised edition pops onto the shelves anytime soon, mainly because there has been a little bit of controversy over the switch to the 'newer' rules. Admittedly by a very small, if vocal minority who are determined to announce Fantasy Flight Games as the next reincarnation of Satan and all that is wrong in the world... yeah the feelings have run that high for some people. However moving onto the box contents the undoubted stars of the boxed set have to be the 4 Mech's, the two Allies and two Axis mechs are fantastic and are as good as any plastic vehicles or walkers you'll see produced by any company out there, they really are. There are also a fair amount of troopers as well, some 30 troopers split equally between the two forces. There are also two special characters, one for either side. There are 6 pieces of plastic terrain, 12 special D6's (more on which later), glossy unit cards, 18 two-sided card floor tiles, a rulebook and a campaign scenario book. There's also a card sheet with some quick-start rules on it. There's no denying i think that its a hefty amount of stuff to fit in a box!!!

Game Play 6.5 out of 10
Gameplay Potential 8 out of 10

I never really played AT-43 so I'm not really an aficionados of that particular ruleset. Some people tell me AT-43 and Dust Tactics are the same game... mainly the people who are gutted Rackham blew it all big time and no longer exist it has to be said. However, there is no doubt that AT-43 started its life as Dust Tactics... or should that be the other way round? Either way AT-43 original stood for Alternative Timeline - 1943, and was very heavily influenced by the artwork and designs of Paolo Parente, the same guy who is behind the visual styling of Dust Tactics. The reality is that the two games do share much of the same visual DNA, even though AT-43 eventually evolved into a sci-fi game rather than remaining the Weird War II game it originally started out as. Beyond that I really don't know enough to comment, besides I really don't want to get involved in those debates because it's pointless, all I want to do is judge Dust Tactics on its own merits and whether or not  I enjoy playing it, because at the end of the day that is all that really truthfully matters surely?

So then how does it play? Well I'm going to be honest and say it plays weirdly at first. There is a really strange visual and game mechanic relationship going on that I didn't quite like at first. What I mean by that is this, You have a flat board divided into large squares with circles in the center. Yet you have 5 man squads and these huge walking tanks, and you place flat 2D scenery on the board to block line of site. There is not getting away from it, the game looks funny on the board. Honestly, I don't like the visuals of the board game with the flat scenery at all and it takes some getting used to as you play. Once I got over that initial visual hump though the mechanics are quite straight forward, and there really isn't anything too taxing.

Everything is based  around those squares, and the dots in the center. If you can draw a line from one dot to another without any intervening scenery or troops getting in the way, you can see stuff and shoot it. Straight forward. And initially, that was the games biggest problem. You see the first 3 or 4 games I played the risk and reward mechanic was all out of kilter. Seriously out of kilter. There seemed to be no logic to being the guy that showed his hand first, sticking your head around the 'scenery' invariably saw it blown clean off. So the tactic that developed next was using your heavily armoured walkers as mobile walls or scenery. Except, that the same thing happened, the person to show their walker first invariably had it shot to pieces and was at a huge disadvantage. To an extent I still think that is a HUGE major fault with the game.

The balance between being aggressive and trying to make things happen, and sitting back and waiting for your opponent to run round a corner with a big target on his head is all wrong. It just doesn't feel right. However, as you work your way through the various missions (of which the game supplies you with 12), the game doesn't necessarily give you reward for taking those risks. It just gives you an imperative, insofar as if you don't attack you'll definitely lose by not achieving your objective, it's not a great driving force though is it? I mean, attack or else and when you do attack you're likely to die! It's a forced risk and once you get your head around that, it's not so bad really, and there is a fair bit of tactics in there, just much of it around baiting, switching and biting on those baits, I found it to be all very basic stuff. It's enjoyable enough for a while, but for me in its current state it really isn't good enough to tempt me away from other things right now. Which is a shame, because those miniatures are awesome.

But, that isn't to say that Dust Tactics is without merit. Not at all, because from looking at the trooper profiles for other options not included in this box, and indeed the scope the troop profiles provide for new troopers and variance, gives me great hope that this game could have many hidden depths and layers. That as a system it could potentially breed many different types of tactics and ploys. However, I can't be certain of this, as although that's what my research has hinted at, I haven't played the game with these other options. I've only played it with what is in the box, and for that reason as a game it gets a 6.5 out of 10. The potential it has though as a game is easily an 8 out of 10 (hence the second score). Much like say the new Warmachine starter or the Warhammer Fantasy ad 40k starters only really hint at what is possible with those games, so too does this box just tease at what the game might offer. It could possibly be worth more than a 8 out of 10, but I don't deal in possibles or maybes. So as it stands on playability and the games this box produces, it remains a 6.5 out of 10.

Detail 8 out of 10

I don't believe that Dust Tactics actually started life as a Fantasy Flight Games product. Indeed I'm sure it was first released by the Alderac Entertainment Group (or AEG for short), and trust me its route to market is way more complex and convoluted than that! However, I think it's fair to say that it exhibits many of the qualities of recent Fantasy Flight products I've purchased. The card components are all very well constructed, and the unit cards in particular are of a very high quality. Although I personally might prefer smaller sized cards, I have to say once I got used to their larger size I actually warmed to them. There is no doubt that they're very detailed and have high production values, and are arguably the glossiest glossy cards I've ever seen! The imagery on them is clean crisp and characterful. The terrain tiles and floor tiles are also produced on a fairly thick and sturdy card stock. They certainly look like they've been designed to take the rough and tumble of a daily life of gaming. The only gripe I would have with them would be that although the images are detailed and the print quality quite good and the images sharp, they are also exceedingly bland, and don't really do much for me in terms of helping to create an atmosphere for the game.

However, it's those lovely Mech's that steal the show, the Luther and Ludwig for the Axis powers and the Pounder and Hot Dog for the Allies. They are simply put, bloody brilliant! The surface detail on the Mech miniatures is really quite surprising given what I'm used too from other board games, and are easily comparable to the best plastics that I've seen from Games Workshop. In fact it would be fair to say in such comparisons these Dust models might compare favourable with much of twhat Games Workshop is currently producing with their admittedly fine plastic range. They are very lovely models with plenty of texture and surface detail to them and that qwirky Weird War II look. They look big and imposing, and totally believable. I could imagine such machines wandering around a battlefield, thudding and thumping their way through bunkers and buildings  and smashing defences to pieces. Gloriously destructive images spring to mind when I see them

The same can kind of be said for the troopers, but they're not as impressive as the mech walkers by a long shot. The irony is that while I thought they weren't all that bad, Jake Thornton, who writes the Quirkworthy Blog didn't like them one jot at first glance from the pictures. Now while I think the surface detailing isn't too bad on them the poses are very weird in some cases, and certainly aren't as dynamic as I'd perhaps like. So while my opinion of them has gone down somewhat, Jakes opinion of them has improved slightly, and we've probably met somewhere in the middle. The one really weird thing about them though is that although they come pre-assembled and indeed pre-primed, they all have 'moving parts', as do the mechs as well I should point out. However, on the mechs this allows for some subltle variance in poses between them. While on the troopers it proves pointless, mainly because the sculpts mean that the figures pretty much only look acceptable in one pose any way, so what's the sodding point? Still they're a big step up from usual board game fair!

Quality 9 out of 10

As I've mentioned before the card components are very well constructed and compare favourably with other board games I own. They've proven to be very study and very well produced and more than suitable for the games I've played. The plastic scenery pieces while a welcome addition aren't the best produced things in the box, and I think they actually look quite ugly, and the surface detailing isn't of the same great quality of their other products in the box. They look more like kids toys than high quality gaming pieces, but really that's the only downside in this box and it is such a minor one. Where this boxed set really excels is with the miniatures. You see I was concerned about whether or not Fantasy Flight and Dust Studio's would be able to compete with the bigger more established wargames companies, when it came to the quality of the miniatures produced. I needn't have worried, their plastic miniatures are already better than most and comparable, in many ways with the best on the market from other leading manufacturers, and those mechs are something else. At first I wasn't sold on the pre-primed nature of the miniatures but again I have to say even that has grown on me now, and I actually quite like the fact that with a bit of gluing and assembly they were ready to put on my painting desk and have some paint sloshed onto them. It's a top quality product all round it really is.

Service 6.5 out of 10

This is the first board game I've had turn up from OG Games where the box hasn't been in great nick and where it could have done with a little bit more packaging. Because lets face it the numpties who work for Royal Mail are the biggest bunch of cack handed cretins to have stepped forth onto this planet. What I'm trying to say is that the box was a bit bashed in the one corner, which was a bit regrettable and puts a bit of a dampener for me on OG Games otherwise flawless delivery service so far. I think it might be time for them to consider looking at perhaps how they package some of the heavier or bigger boxes now, because a few corner card protectors some bubble wrap and a plastic envelope aren't quite enough to ensure that these sorts of bumper sized products get to their destination in perfect condition. Still it was sent out in good time and got to me in one piece, just with a few bumps and bruises and after talking to the guys at OG Games I can confirm they've upped the standard of their packaging in subsequent shipments.

Price 8 out of 10

There is no question that the £79.99 RRP they're asking for this is expensive. It's a lot of money to have to drop on a game from the outset, and to begin playing Dust make no mistake. It certainly stopped me looking at it seriously for quite a long time. However, OG Games sell it for £71.99, which is slightly more reasonable but still a heavy hit on your bank balance. Oddly though I actually think for what you get in the box its really quite good value for money if you ask me. It's quite a good asking price when you think Games Workshop are asking £28 for a Space Marine Dreadnought that would be £112 for the Mech Walkers alone. Add in that it is roughly £20 for 10 plastic miniatures in 40k now and you can start to see the value of the boxed set quite easily, although perhaps the £61.50 Black Reach would be a fairer comparison. Although you don't get the other card components like you do in the Dust Tactics box, plus Dust Tactics really is a game in a box and if you so chose you really don't need to get anything else... the same certainly isn't true of Black Reach! You will however struggle to find a copy of the larger Dust Tactics box now on sale. If you do and it's a reasonable price it's stil probably worth it for what you get in the box alone. I'll be comparing the second edition to this first edition at some point in the future.

Overall 8 out of 10

I think I've been genuinely surprised by how much fun I found Dust Tactics to be, after my initial misgivings. I still have a few of those nagging misgivings, but I can see its potential and I have half wandered why I didn't take the plunge sooner. I guess it really was the price that did it for me, and there's also the fact that for some bloody reason I'd forgotten how much I loved Board Games. So as a board game it didn't interest me on account of my own blinkered ignorance for such a long time. I'm really pleased to have the miniatures in hand to paint, if I ever get round to it! I'm also pleased that I've seen the game prior to the revised version coming out, so I'll be able to judge for myself how good or bad the changes are without having to listen to tiresome internet warriors on both sides of the debate. While I think the entry price point for this beast of a box is indeed steeper than a steep thing, you know what? I actually think it's all round worth it, it is a fun little game and I think it deserves more attention than I've given it so far, the universe is great and with the release of Dust Warfare later on this year it'll be like having two games for the price of one, except you'll need to buy the rulebook... erm... yeah, you knew what I meant. Peace out!


  1. I still really wanna play this I had an order for this for £68 that got refunded as the game was suddenly out of stock....:(
    I love the mechs, and the thought of playing a wargame with them! I loved Starship Troopers so I think Andy Chambers will do a bang-up job! :)

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  2. I too think AC will do a good job on the Dust Warfare rules. I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes. However, for me this set of Dust Tactics doesn't really create exciting games. Well in my experience any way. I think there is scope there, but right now out of the box the games aren't great, you'd definitely need other option to make it exciting and I'm not too sure right now I'm inclined to bother right now. I'll take a look at the revised rules though at some point.

  3. This...has me interested.
    I guess three things strike me as odd-

    1) the flat nature of the tile set and board as a whole. The cool minis seem to wanna run around in...genuine terrain.
    Tiles are...kinda lame.
    Will Rev. 2 have terrain?

    2) It's nice to have 'unit cards' for quickly accessing stats and such. But why are pictures of the models on them instead of this incredibly sexy artwork by Paolo Parente?
    The two pics of his stuff shown here are awesome (and really hot)...

    3) I'm going to need translations of terms like 'great nick,'numpties,' and 'cack handed,' although I'm pretty sure I get the jist.

    Another excellent review, Frontline, and I'll definitely be keeping an eye on Dust Warfare.
    Sexy, alternative WWII weirdness?
    Sounds good to me!

  4. It can be expanded though yeah? And those awesome walker s, what sort of size/scale are they?
    Nice review, love the art...

  5. @SinSynn, those are the things that me and my test subjects found just a little bit weird TBH with you as well. As for translations:

    Great nick = Very good condition
    Numpties = silly idiots
    Cack handed = Poor Job

    I have my eye on Dust Warfare for a number of reasons too. The main one being I love the mini's and setting but am still not 100% sold on the game, although it does show promise. The Dust Warfare rules are written by Andy Chambers and I have A LOT of time for him as a games designer. Always have, and always will.

    @Ven, yeah the game is expandable. There's plenty of different troop choices and characters and walkers etc. etc. etc. for both the Axis powers and the Allies. There is also a third faction on the way in the shape of the Russians. They've also done 3 actually expansion sets already, you can find more out about the product here:

    The troopers are 32mm scale give or take 1mm. That places the walkers in the box as being slightly bigger than a Space Marine Dreadnought in Height and Width. And yes Paolo Parentes artwork is ace, there's plenty more artwork where that came from as well as there are comic books. Dust Studios themselves also operate a bit like Forge World do as well, providing even more detailed fine and whacky miniatures in resin:

    It's all shaping up to be pretty cool.

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