Tabletop Review: Tomorrow’s War

Tomorrow’s War
Publisher: Ambush Alley Games
Page Count: 260
Release Date: 10/18/2011
Cost: $34.95 hardcover
Get it Here: Amazon

It should have been a massacre. Thirty Formicidae were more than enough to take out ten filthy humans, that was the prevailing wisdom. The Formicidae were giant, six-limbed aliens with advanced technology. How could they lose to the vastly outnumbered simians? Things did not go as planned. The initial wave of Formicidae found themselves isolated and were wiped out, only managing to wound one of the humans. The tension ratcheted as the Formicidae reinforcements were slow to arrive and the humans proved to be superior marksmen, wiping out bug after bug. The ruined streets ran yellow with ichor that day. My first game of Tomorrow’s War ended with a human victory and all of my Formicidae allies dead. As far as first impressions go, Dave did a fantastic job introducing me to Tomorrow’s War.

The first thing you will notice about Tomorrow’s War is how beautiful the book is. I gushed about the similarly well-appointed Force on Force book, but Tomorrow’s War manages to one up it. Osprey Publishing’s fingerprints are all over this book. The cover is thick and heavy, with a matte finish that helps communicate the gritty tone of the setting. Since a war gaming book will be flipped through and left open on a tabletop, quality binding is essential. Osprey really outdid themselves with the binding of Tomorrow’s War, lying perfectly on the table without any break in period. The paper is as nice as the cover, satin finished and thick.

There are no Osprey uniform illustrations like those in Force on Force, since this is a science fiction game. The paintings in the book are half or full page pieces, with the added bonus of being titled. I found these paintings to be as good as I have ever seen in a war gaming book, expressing how war has changed in the Tomorrow’s War setting. “ËœSmoke “Ëœem if you got “Ëœem’ depicts a power armored soldier taking a much needed smoke break and is my new favorite piece of gaming art.

The remainder of the art in Tomorrow’s War are photographs of miniatures. While Ground Zero Games, a fantastic miniatures manufacturer based in the UK, have the license to produce Tomorrow’s War miniatures, TW is a miniatures and scale neutral game. This is illustrated throughout the book, with Khurasan and Combat Wombat miniatures alongside Micropanzer and GZG. Not being tied to a miniatures line or scale means that I am free to use my Warhammer 40k army for 28mm play or my Micropanzer armies for 15mm play with the same rulebook. As a bit of a gaming dilettante, not having to marry any one miniatures line appeals to me greatly.

The mechanics Tomorrow’s War are based on will seem very familiar to some and very alien to others. If you have played Ambush Alley Games’ other games, Force on Force or Ambush Z, then the Action/Reaction system, Fog of War cards, and huge handfuls of dice will seem very familiar. For these veterans of the Ambush Alley milieu, the rules covering robots and aliens and the Grid will be new to you. Do not mistake these additions for simply being SF drag for Force on Force, though. The gritty, near future feel is integral to Tomorrow’s War.

For those new to Ambush Alley’s mechanics, Tomorrow’s War is very different from any other war game you have likely played. The traditional “ËœI go, you go’ rhythm has been superseded by the Action/Reaction flow. Basically, the player with Initiative activates their units one at a time. The activated unit can move and fire, but enemy units can choose to react to these actions. Since players are constantly making decisions and die rolls, the down time that can slow other games to a grind is absent. Even in a game with multiple players per side, Tomorrow’s War has a more lively feel than any other war game I have felt.

The dice rolling mechanic is anther departure from the norm. The quality of each unit is reflected in the type of die assigned to their Troop Quality (TQ). A group of rabble will be classified as Irregulars and will have a TQ of d6, while a team of stone cold veterans will be d10. All of the die rolls in Tomorrow’s War are opposed, so both players will roll the appropriate number of dice and compare them. Dice that come up 1-3 are failures and are removed. Rolls that exceed the maximum of the other player’s dice, in this case anything over 6, are automatically successes. The remaining dice are lined up, high to low, and compared, with ties going to the defender. Within a few turns, this process becomes second nature and goes very quickly. The opposed die roll mechanic makes even routine exchanges of fire into tense gunfights.

The other thing that really separates Tomorrow’s War from the majority of science fiction war games is the use of asymmetrical scenarios. The norm is for players to use an army list and a point total to create a seemingly even playing field. By dispensing with the notion of symmetry, Tomorrow’s War does a better job of reflecting a realistic battlefield. The downside to scenarios can be the lack of new scenarios to play. Luckily, Ambush Alley Games has a thriving community online that is constantly creating new scenarios. In addition, joining Ambush Alley’s S.O.G. nets an exclusive scenario pack as well as several for Force on Force that would be a snap to adapt to Tomorrow’s War. Judging from Ambush Alley’s line of Force on Force theater of operation books and the enthusiasm surrounding Tomorrow’s War, I would not be too surprised to see a scenario sourcebook in the near future.

While Tomorrow’s War does not have an official or default setting, there is an example setting in the book. Based on the designer’s house campaign, the setting is one in which familiar Earth governments have taken to the stars and started colonizing new worlds. There are no aliens to speak of, but the various human factions have enough tension between them to supply endless strife. I was particularly taken with the idea of the Catholic Church claiming worlds the way they claimed continents centuries earlier. While the chapter describing it is well done, it is the flavor text, spread throughout, that makes the setting feel alive. The feel is one that is gritty without sliding into grimdark silliness.

For those not using the example setting, there are literally hundreds of sources of inspiration. Marines in a cramped spaceship hunting, and being hunted by, aliens is a classic film scenario, but it is easy to do in Tomorrow’s War. Hammer’s Slammers, with its futuristic tank battles, has already become quite popular among Tomorrow’s War players. Modern soldiers fighting off an alien invasion, anti-human cyborgs, or a giant robot would be an easy enough scenario, or series of scenarios, to create. Not to mention, there are plenty of games with proprietary miniatures that can be repurposed for Tomorrow’s War.

Rare is the game that makes you rethink your hobby. Tomorrow’s War has done just that. It is a quick, elegant game that brings the realism of a historical war game to a science fiction setting. With one book, I can use miniatures from a variety of manufacturers, in any scale, without much mathematical heavy lifting. Before I played Tomorrow’s War, I wondered why people drove as long as sixteen hours to buy it a month early. After playing it, reading it, and digesting it, I wonder why more people didn’t.



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