So far in my explorations of Dust Tactics, I’ve written at length about just one element of the force a player has at his disposal — his grunts. But the infantry units in the game, whether protected by heavy armor or not, aren’t the whole focus of the game. To play well consistently, and to get the most enjoyment out of the game, you also need to work the game system’s vehicles and individual heroes into your battle plans.
Reflecting a World War II era style of classification, both sides have light, medium and heavy combat walkers. A single “chassis” is available for each class, but they feature a number of different customizable weapon fits. The Allied medium walker box set, for example, ships with four different configurations: a 17-pounder tank-killing long gun; a short 75mm howitzer; a wicked short-ranged napalm thrower and a nasty artillery version with a rack of bombardment rockets and a “petard” mortar. The weapons easily interchange by snapping on and off the walker’s turret.
So Phase 1 of figuring out vehicles is deciding which weapon configurations best suit the mission at hand. Unit point values will likely play some role in the decision, although many times it’s best to pick which vehicle (or vehicles) work best, then build the rest of the force to fit the remaining army points. Combat walkers have good armor ratings, can withstand multiple hits and pack a load of firepower. Note, though, that as a general rule they aren’t any more mobile than your squaddies. In fact, medium and heavy walkers can be outpaced by squads with the Fast skill, or by the Allied “jet pack” squads like the Tank Busters who have a Move rating of 2.
Allied players have a bit easier time configuring walkers because their weapon fits are more well-rounded. The Allied “Pounder”, for example, is primarily a tank killer with its 17-pounder gun. However, it also packs both a .50-cal and a .30-cal machinegun for anti-infantry work. In comparison, the Axis “Ludwig” with twin 88mm guns is 1 die deadlier against other walkers, but it also has just a single light machinegun. The Pounder’s .50-cal adds 3 dice against most infantry, which makes it much tougher to confront for Axis tank hunter squads.
Specialist configurations like artillery fits or the Allied napalm-thrower, are more situation-specific. Artillery doesn’t come into its own unless you have a squad with the Artillery Strike skill (basically a radio guy) in your lineup. Napalm weapons are close-range, which can make them sitting ducks against tank killers in open terrain. In scenarios with lots of restricted LOS, however, they can be positively deadly.
Heroes add yet another dimension to the game. In a lot of minis systems heroes, or individual figures, are super-charged killing machines. In Dust Tactics they seem more of a finesse element, or at least so far. All of them can suffer multiple wounds before taking a dirt nap, but their weapons typically aren’t that over-powered.
Heroes are more useful for how they can provide more punch to your squads of grunts. Under the DT rules, any special skill that a hero may have — say, the “Charge” skill, for example — can be applied to the squad he joins. Making use of that rule is the key to getting the most out of heroes. Adding a hero with Charge to a Fast squad, for example, allows them to use their full movement and then get in a free close combat attack. Assign a hero with the “Badass” skill to the BBQ Boys, and suddenly they have an unlimited supply of extremely deadly demolition charges.
The restrictions on which squads a hero may join help keep things in balance, and resolve some of the sticky issues that come up in other rules sets. A hero must have the same armor class and speed rating as the squad, or he can’t join up. Simple, and perhaps a bit restrictive, but it avoids a lot of problems with mixed armor ratings in combat and goofy issues like what to do about movement when assigning a standard “foot” hero to a jetpack squad.