Review: Tomorrow’s War

Rating: 4 stars

Tomorrow’s War is the much-anticipated Sci-Fi skirmish rulebook from Ambush Alley Games and Osprey Publishing. You may have seen a PDF-only version of these rules appear in 2010 – these were very much the pre-cursor to this final book.

The introduction to the book is written by Jon Tuffley, which is very fitting as Tomorrow’s War and indeed Force on Force and Ambush Alley, owe something of a debt to some game mechanics that were originally seen in Stargrunt 2, from Ground Zero Games (which, up until know, in my opinion, have still been the best set of sci-fi skirmish rules available)

Tomorrow’s War picks up the torch from Stargrunt 2 and brings future warfare into the 21st Century…rather an ironic statement if ever there was one!

Rather than Space Opera or Space Fantasy, TW is very much based in the realms of “hard” science fiction against a background of the colonization of planets in the near future – the 24th Century, to be exact. Man is far too busy fighting fellow man to worry about any other aliens – most of the time, anyway.

The book is very well organised, and methodically takes you through several different sections as the game is explained.

First of all you have the introduction to the rules and the ‘Interstellar Age’, giving you the background to the universe in which the game is set.

Next there is a step-by-step guide to the turn sequence, followed by an explanation of the basic game mechanics. Following that, we learn how units work in the game.

Then there are two sections which cover Infantry and Mechanized combat in detail. At the end of each of these sections is a scenario that you can use to ensure that you are familiar with the game mechanics.

The next sections cover close air support, off-board artillery, special units (like robots & drones) and asymmetric engagements.

Finally, there is a guide to running a campaign.

Following that, there are 4 appendices which cover basic unit and vehicle stats, examples of unit organisations, vehicles and some example scenarios.

All in all, a pretty comprehensive package.

So how does the game work?

Without going into too much detail, TW is aimed at platoon level games, with forces typically having 15 – 30 men per side, plus 2 or 3 vehicles (although you can obviously play with more). The smallest unit that can manoeuvre or fire is the fireteam. Everything is done at this level, and not by individual figures, so the game can be played using figure that are either individually based, or based in squads.

The turn sequence works by one side having the initiative – this side may activate one unit at a time. Non-initiative units may react to any unit which perform an action in their line of sight, so the turn sequence is very fluid and both players have very little downtime.

The game uses a ‘universal’ mechanic that any dice has to roll 4+ to be successful, and must also beat an opponents roll if the dice roll is ‘opposed’ (such as, when firing). Modifiers are applied by changing the type and number of dice rolled, rather than changing the target roll. Therefore, you can be trying to roll 4+ on either a D6, D8, D10 or D12, depending upon the situation – you could also be rolling a multiple number of dice.

It is assumed that the gaming table represents only a very small portion of the battlefield, and that weapons ranges will cover the entire table – although they are more effective when used at shorter ranges.

With this being a sci-fi game, it is assumed that you will be dealing with different technology levels of weaponry, armour, stealth and sensors – each of these levels of technology can have an effect on the game, but that effect is kept very intuitive simply by using the difference in tech levels as a modifier dependent upon the situation – so it is perfectly possible to have a unit armed with 21st century firearms (tech level 1) taking on a unit equipped with power armour (tech level 3) and model the results simply and effectively.

Given the very wide range of sci-fi vehicles available, these rules use a generic system so that you can effectively ‘build’ vehicles based on their capabilities.

Despite TW being a ‘hard’ sci-fi game, and it is admitted that you will, at some point, want to fight aliens. To this end, they do provide a system for designing aliens…and show you how to use it by introducing you to everyone’s favourite xenomorph. Nice.

In short, TW assumes that whilst the theatre and technology may change, combat remains essentially the same, and the same considerations that you have in modern warfare would be needed in the future – and to this end the rules are pretty comprehensive. Anyone who has previously seen or played Ambush Alley or Force on Force will be familiar with much of how TW works, from a game mechanics point-of-view.

Production wise, Tomorrow’s War is an excellent looking book. They have decided to use a very dark blue/green page background with a lighter ‘technical’ overlay. Although this looks very ‘sci-fi’ and hi-tech, it does cause a few issues as the book pages do generally look very dark. A couple of the title type-faces, which again look very military and futuristic, when put against this background, aren’t the easiest things to read. So although the book has a very atmospheric ‘look and feel’, I can’t help thinking that this comes at the price of some user-friendliness.

The book is not lavishly illustrated, but does have a good number of pictures. Here I think is another problem area. The photos of wargaming models – be they in 15mm or 28mm – are generally really good. However, the quality of the other artwork (many being full page drawings) is decidedly mixed. Some are excellent, other much less so, and I can’t help thinking that the book would have looked better with only model photos.

In summary, Osprey has done a very good job in bringing Tomorrow’s War into print. The book looks good, is easy to navigate, with both an excellent table of contents and a good index (so many publishers forget these), and is actually a very entertaining read – even if you don’t play the game.

However, the rules themselves are easy to learn, fun to play and give a good, tactically challenging game.

I certainly hope that given the extra publishing clout of Osprey, these rules will bring a lot more players into sci-fi gaming, without having to worry about Orks in Power Armour.

Rest in Peace Stargrunt 2 – Tomorrow’s War has your back…

Disclosure: A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher

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