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Thursday, May 29, 2014

All Quiet on the Martian Front: Rules and Rulebook Review

Scott and Steven here, and we'd like to talk to you about Alien Dungeon's new offering: All Quiet on the Martian Front.

The hardback rulebook in all of it's glossy covered glory

All Quiet on the Martian Front takes place in the era where World War I would have occurred. It's 1914ish, and the Martians are back after their first failed attempt as foretold in the non-fiction historical account The War of the Worlds. The first invasion was going well until (spoilers!) the Martians' immune systems defeated them as they couldn't deal with the common cold. But now they're back, and they've come prepared! But we've prepared too. The industrial powers of the world have been feverishly producing machines of war- massive tanks powered by steam and firing the finest conventional weapons available- and a few unpredictable, emerging technologies as well! Though the tanks are individually no match for a Martian Tripod, human ingenuity, leadership, and willpower are often enough to carry the day.

The world is consumed by interplanetary war. Will you conquer it or save it?

Steven: To be honest, when I first saw the kick starter I thought it looked neat, but not enough to buy in. The models were cool, but I just didn't need another game system to occupy my time! Like Alien Dungeon's previous offering: Fanticide (see our review here), I thought it was a unique, interesting game, but not one I could see myself playing for long. As time went on, and the KS closed, I found myself often thinking about All Quiet- and eventually that grew into regret for not backing the KS! By the time the game was released, I was incredibly excited, and anxious to paint some of those gorgeous models.
Scott: I'll echo Steve's comments about kicking myself for missing the Kickstarter. But hey, now that it's here, time to catch up! With a sprouting interest in WW1 gaming combined with an inert love of all things sci-fi and alternate reality, what could go wrong?

The Game's Presentation: Rulebook and Marketing
Miniature gaming is a cottage industry. The cost of entry is low, and the competition is fierce. Miniature game companies compete not only with each other, but with every other distraction that would take up their customers' precious painting time: video games, board games, movies, being processed by a martian harvester to feed the red weed. In 2014, having a set of rules just isn't enough. Their products need to be presented in aesthetically pleasing, polished forms to be taken seriously- and especially to grab any market share.

Increasingly, smaller companies like Alien Dungeon are figuring that out, and creating products that look very professional and compete with the best on the market. All Quiet on the Martian Front is a fine example of a rulebook and game system demanding to be taken seriously. With all-star writing credits (Alessio and Priestley) and an obvious passion behind the project from Ernie Baker, the presentation of All Quiet adds to the enthusiasm admirably. The rule book is full of fantastic photographs, artwork, and "fluff", and also features complete army lists for the US, The Martians, and The British Expeditionary Forces.

A lot of the fluff pieces are written in the style of period newspaper clippings
Scott: I'd just like to say that the rulebook is QUALITY.  Hardback, nice glossy covers, and clocking in at 176 pages, it's certainly had a lot of work and design put into it. The first 30 pages are chock full of fluff and Martian war-themed propaganda, which makes excellent reading material. The narratives, rules, and descriptions are well written out, spacing is gracious, and theres enough pictures, both photographs and artwork, to keep it from feeling like a boring rulebook. There are a few typos and errors that we've found, and a few rules questions that seem to be missing, but you find these with most rulebooks, and are easily addressed with FAQs and erratas if needed.
Steven: Yep! This is a nice quality rulebook. Aside from a few minor, easily fixed errors, it's really standout. I went from being interested to being all in by the time I made it through the book on my first read. Top notch graphic design, wonderfully doctored historical photos- it's got everything you need to really get into the history of it all.

They also have some period photos, and including some that have been....altered....

The theme and "fluff"
The setting of the game is interesting. Either you like it or you don't- chances are if you don't, you wouldn't have read this far. While the game is about Martians and humans battling it out for Earth, at its core this is a game about asymmetrical warfare. The Martians are clearly technologically advanced, possessing nearly impenetrable armor and heat rays that melt the thickest steel; while the humans must rely on numbers and ingenuity to overcome their foes.
Steven: For me, any game that can successfully capture an asymmetrical battle automatically has my attention. It's what I think Flames Of War: Vietnam did so well, and I don't think a comparison to that particular game system is that far of a stretch. I love the setting! 
Scott: The game is visually pretty stunning. Walking by a game in action is likely to see a conversation like:
"See those gigantic Martian tripods towering over buildings, and these little tiny things running around on the ground?"  "Oh, wait, those are the humans?!"  "Those tripods must be massive - humanity is doomed!" The epic struggle of humanity to overcome this superior threat just draws you in. If you love a good underdog story, AQ is for you. And if you love giant stompy alien robots, well, how can you miss them?

The Rules (Overview)

-Basic Stats and Concepts
All Quiet uses a modified "I-go, You-go" system, and utilizes d10s for dice rolling. Individual models (or bases of infantry) are referred to as "elements". Sometimes multiple elements group together into units. The stats for elements are relatively simple. They have
  • Speed - how far in inches you move
  • Defense - the score your opponent needs to roll on a D10 to hit the unit
  • Armor - the score you opponent needs to roll on a D10 to damage the unit
and their weapons have
  • Range - range in inches
  • Power - a penetrating modifier applied to the roll to damage the unit
A sneak peek of some of the stat lines.
Many entries have some special rules in addition, such as the Tripod's special damage table, or tanks that cannot move and shoot in the same turn.

From the detailed army list in the back of the book

Each turn, the players roll off for initiative to decide who goes first. When you activate, you move all your models, fight with all your models, and then move them again. Next, the other player does the same if they haven't already gone this turn. On the next turn, you roll for initiative again. What this does is allows the possibility of having two turns in a row. The initiative roll is also modified by how much stuff you destroyed in the previous turn, so if your army is making sweeping advances on the tabletop, that plays into the initiative roll as well.
Steven: Having not played a game yet, I am very interested to see how the "move, shoot, move" paradigm works. It seems like being able to step out, snipe, and step back behind cover (the shoot and scoot) could make for a static game, although most scenarios require one or more side to be aggressive. Having not seen this play out on the table top yet, I think it can absolutely work. Two movement steps does seem to steer the game towards a highly mobile engagement, and I hope that plays out!
Scott: The "move, shoot, move" definitely helps the humans more than the Martians - it's not easy to hide those giant tripods! I also really like the initiative system. It gives a bit of randomness to the activations, but since you only would ever get two turns in a row, it's not something that you can really run away with.

During your first move phase, you move all of your models that you wish to move. Pretty much any kind of hindering terrain reduces your movement by half. Infantry move through most terrain without penalty. Elements within a unit must maintain a 2" cohesion (3" for vehicles).

After the combat phase, you get to move again! The classic Flames of War "move, shoot, stormtrooper away" is a valid tactical maneuver available to everyone. Of course, you can also use this second move to move even closer to the enemy of you want to get stuck in up close.

Human infantry units can move as "stealth blips", allowing for lots of decoys to be placed out. For every infantry unit, I can deploy three numbered "blip" tokens, one being real, and two being fake. All three of these blips can move around the map and act like normal infantry, only being revealed when the time is right. This adds a unique element of psychological warfare to the game.
Steven: I love the hidden movement. Most scenarios also allow tank units to be hidden (though unlike infantry they cannot move while hidden) meaning you could really mess with your opponent! Besides that, movement is straightforward and works fine.

During the combat phase, you shoot and fight in close combats. Shooting (and close combat) is simple - you roll a D10 for each shot and hope to meet or exceed the targets defense. Then all the dice that "hit" are rolled again, this time against the targets armor, to determine if you damage the target. Weapons have a power stat - this modifies the "to damage" roll, and allows you to punch through armor values higher than 10.
example: A human Mk II Steam Tank has defense 5, armor 8 and a 4" gun which features Power +2. A Martian tripod has defense 6, armor 11, and a heat ray that is power +3. Obviously the tank is no match for the tripod! Thankfully, it has strength in numbers.
Steven: Now seems like an appropriate time to praise the simple stat-lines. Combat is simple, and easy to teach anyone in just a few seconds. The combination of "defense" and "armor" combined with differing cover bonuses does a good job of differentiating units' capabilities without having an enormous statline.

Many units shoot with templates, such as the Martian tripods with their sweeping heat rays or human artillery pieces. Simple place the template anywhere within range, and then roll to hit against each target under the template. Unlike many systems, the template doesn't have to be centered on any particular model, so play away for maximum effect!

Only units with close combat weapons can actually fight in close combat, but it's done at the same time as shooting, so it's one or the other. In addition, units never stay "locked" in close combat - if you do not destroy the enemy in an assault, you must use your second movement phase to pull back.

In the event of units consisting of more than one model (such as a unit of three steam tanks), if one of the elements is destroyed, the unit must take a morale test. The test starts off at 60% (5+) chance odds of success, but is lowered 10% for each element lost in that round of combat. If the test is failed, the remaining units rout. Unlike failing a morale check in some games, they're not immediately destroyed - you can run them off the board and allow them to regroup and return, or perhaps rally them with a command unit.

There are no strict army-list building rules, but some sample force org charts are given for guidance.

As mentioned in movement, most pieces of terrain slow movement speed down to half. Terrain also confers positive modifier bonuses to targets either within, or on the other side, of it. A relatively unique aspect to AQ is that modifiers are counted separately for terrain the target is within, and intervening terrain. If you're shooting some infantry that are within the woods and your line of sight also crosses some obstacles, you take both penalties. In the event of line of sight crossing multiple pieces of terrain, you only take the highest modifier, but still take the additional modifier for the woods they are standing in.
Check out this sweet all-in-one terrain chart. All rulebooks need this!

Check out that sweet list of scenarios to choose from!

Rules Review and Analysis
Scott: The rules are simple enough that the game is easy to teach. This is wonderful news if you're trying to spread the good word to all your friends and clubmates. In fact, I'd venture to say that you could probably stumble through a simple game with just the overviews provided in this article! There are some more meaty aspects, such as commander rules, reserves, rules for buildings, etc, but you could jump right in and start playing without them and have a satisfying gaming experience. There are some rules questions that are not easy to answer with just the rulebook, but Alien Dungeon seems to be forthcoming with answering questions and addressing issues on their forums and such.
Steven: Again, agreeing with Scott. This game's strength is its relatively straightforward mechanics- but don't let that fool you! There is a potential for a very meaty game here, and I think with just a few tweaks and some online support (which Alien Dungeon have said will be forthcoming) this game could easily hang with the best of them in a tournament environment. I have yet to play a game, so take my opinions with a grain of salt- but I know my way around a game system! I think AQ will meet a lot of gamers' needs from the casual to the hardcore. Check back soon as we start posting more of our painting progress and Battle Reports!

Rulebook provided by Alien Dungeon

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