One of the questions about Dust Tactics that I encounter most often is, understandably, an important one to most of the wargamers I know. While many folks have read by now that it’s a board game, what exactly does that mean? Is it a highly stylized “board game” with a wargame-like theme layered on top along with some nice plastic bits, or is it a wargame squeezed into a board game format?
My two cents is that it sits pretty firmly in the latter category. It’s a wargame that takes advantage of many of the conventions of the board game genre to regularize play and create appeal for a cross-over audience that otherwise might toss it off as just another tabletop figure-pusher.
The square-gridded gaming surface does indeed stylize play, but no more so than a hexgrid stylizes play in games like Memoir 44 and Tide of Iron — or ASL, for that matter. Important details like weapon ranges may seem contrived and “board game-y” to tabletop purists, but when you compare the interaction between weapons and movement in Dust Tactics to the same dimensions in popular game systems like Warhammer 40k, the numbers aren’t out of line at all. And has anybody noticed that the 4-hex range of the basic Soviet rifle squad in ASL is exactly equal to an infantry squad’s unaugmented one-turn movement allowance of 4? In Dust Tactics, “standard” rifle fire has a 4-square range and the average squad of grunts can move a maximum of 2 squares in a turn.
At any rate, the best policy is to let smart gamers decide for themselves how the thing works. So I’m going to provide a fairly detailed AAR of a Dust Tactics game to let folks see the system in action. My earlier posts gave some hints and showed some scenes from a game, but that was just the first scenario from the original starter box — pretty much an introductory game with an obviously contrived board arrangement and no additional terrain types.
On the Big Table, then, I’ve got “Standing on the Beach,” which is the first scenario from the “Operation Cyclone” expansion box. It’s an Allied amphibious landing that uses a larger map layout measuring three map tiles deep by four tiles across. The Allies enter from the three “landing craft” tiles provided in the expansion, while the Nazi defenders enter from the opposite side of the map, behind a line of structures that represent the outer works of their extensive Antarctic fortress of evil-osity.
The scenario lasts 8 turns, and the Allied goal is to end any turn with a unit surviving in one of the Axis entry squares. It’s a classic hurry-up vs. build-up scenario. Axis units enter in drips and drabs each turn, while the Allies storm ashore with their entire force. The Allied problem is that they have to cross the whole map to win — and they have to cross a bunch of it just to start shooting at somebody. They have to move fast, or their numerical advantage will be entirely wasted.
Forces for this scenario are built using the “new” Army Points method. The Allies begin with a hefty force: Up to 180 points in infantry and up to 120 points in armor. The Axis counter with 40 points of whatever each turn.
The map setup is straightforward. Inland from the landing craft tiles, the first row of terrain tiles is designated the “cover zone,” where the players take turns placing either tank traps (hard cover) or ammo crates (soft cover). Four of each type are set up. The next row of tiles is all open terrain, beyond which loom the walls of the Axis fortifications. There are three openings in the row of “wall” terrain overlays, one opening in the middle of each tile.