After a few games of Dust Tactics, I think it’s safe to say that I’m pretty happy with the results. But that statement bears a word of caution to my fellow minis enthusiasts out there: Dust Tactics is not a tabletop miniatures game. As I noted at the end of my last post, it is first and foremost a boardgame. As a standard of comparison, it has more in common with a game like Memoir 44 than a tabletop game like Command Decision, or even Warhammer 40k. The very nice mini figures aside, it is not in any way an attempt at alt-history simulation. But it is a lot of fun.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Dust Tactics has plenty in common with many tabletop rules sets; it’s much more than a military “themed” boardgame. Sound wargaming tactics will win games more often than not, but there are elements of stylized boardgame play that you have to account for in order to succeed consistently. “Classic” fire-and-maneuver play, for example, is certainly viable in the game, but it depends on what the terrain allows and your style of play.
The board layout in some scenarios keeps the LOS pretty short, such that fast units can get to grips with the enemy pretty quickly. In those games, it’s really close quarters combat. Reaction fire (basically opportunity fire) is unreliable in most cases — a typical unit has a one-third chance of activating in reaction — so “maneuver” is much more important than “fire.” Once your guys get in contact, those scenarios are over pretty quickly. Very wild and wooly.
The scenarios where the board is more open and you have longer sight lines are where things play out a little more according to classic tactics. The main consideration is that in those game, if you want to build a base of fire, you need to include a walker with a big gun in your lineup. Infantry weapons are too short-ranged in general, four squares most of the time. Big guns like the German 88 and the Allied 17-pounder, along with artillery, can hit anything on the board. Those are the guys that park and bark. Heavy MG and autocannon, also mounted on walkers, typically have a range of 6 squares.
If you do the math of weapon ranges vs. movement rates, though, Dust Tactics isn’t that much different from something like, say, Warhammer 40k. “Shooty” units generally get a turn or two if somebody “stompy” is coming at them, which is more than enough time to mow down most attackers. The math works more in the favor of fast units, or units with the “Charge” skill (which get a free close combat attack after a double-move). When the terrain limits LOS to just a couple of squares, close combat units become absolutely murderous.
Which highlights another factor important to enjoying Dust Tactics: You have to constantly be aware of every unit’s capabilities — both your’s and your opponent’s — at all times. That familiarity likely best comes with experience. As an example, in one of my games (the “Patrol” scenario), the Germans focused their attention on staying tight and moving down one side of the board for maximum impact. They ignored the Allied “BBQ Boys” squad several squares out on their left flank, figuring their longer-ranged guns and lasers could whittle it down before it got into the 1-square range of its flamethrower.
Three turns later, the BBQ Boys had swept in from that flank and eliminated all three German units on the board. Ooopsie. They used their “Fast” skill to close on the first German squad, which had already activated that turn. Five flamethrower attack dice and 12 shotgun dice finished off that squad. Then they swept in behind the Germans and opened up on the Laser Grenadiers at 2-square range with their shotguns. The grenadiers flubbed their reaction roll, and 12 shotgun dice produced five hits to take them out. Next turn, they used their fast skill again to move adjacent to the remaining German unit, a Ludwig walker with twin 88mm guns. The Ludwig, already damaged by a bazooka hit, succumbed to the BBQ Boys’ flamethrower.
Hey. Nobody told “Sgt. Steiner” to keep his distance from that stupid flamethrower. Some stuff you just have to learn the hard way. Toastie!