The Dogs & the Dust Homebrew Sci-Fi
Last week Mattias and I huddled up in his apartment to try out The Dogs & the Dust, the homebrew sci-fi game that he is writing. Though it's still a work-in-progress, Mattias (pictured above) plans to publish the completed game one day in the not-too-distant future. The "alpha" version that we playtested gave a good overview of the main rules engine, combat and crew creation.
The game itself is inspired by any number of sci-fi and post-apocalyptic milieus where desperate fighters clash over priceless relics, ancient technology, territory, bragging rights, much-needed supplies or whatever else you could imagine. Here is Mattias's introduction from the rulebook:
The Dogs and the Dust is a fast-playing science fiction/science fantasy miniatures skirmish game. It is easy to learn, but satisfyingly crunchy (or it’s intended to be, at least). It is a narrative game, and the narrative can take place in pretty much any setting. The model count is low (but flexible). And -- this should go without saying, but whatever -- you can use any models you like.
In TD&TD you play as the leader of a ruthless Crew of scavengers, scrappers, enforcers, marines, assassins, aliens, robots, soldiers of fortune, vigilantes, space pirates, regular pirates, or anything else you can imagine - so long as what you imagine involves a small group of heavily armed and desperate men, women, creatures, and/or things fighting for survival in the distant or the not so distant future (or the recent or not so recent retro-future).
Before the game, he told me to bring over an assortment of sci-fi figures, which is exactly what I did ... a bunch of assorted Pig Iron, Shockforce and Necromunda dudes led by a Reaper Chronoscope commando. Mattias fielded his sci-fi punks, and we faced off on a dusty, windswept battlefield dominated by a big ol' shanty compound surrounded by wreckage, rubble and weird trees.
In TD&TD, you roll 1d6 for each figure in your warband at the start of the turn. You'll keep these dice together to form your activation pool, which is used to activate your figures throughout your turn. Each time you nominate a figure to activate, you must use one or more activation dice from your pool ... the higher the number, the more activations you get.
Since your activation pool is public information available to both you and your opponent at the start of each turn, there's a complex interplay between these two mechanics. Do you spend that six to get extra actions for your henchman? Or do you save the six and spend a lower dice so you can have a chance to react with your leader later in the turn?
The game has a reaction system not unlike those featured in Tomorrow's War or Chain Reaction (though not nearly as complex). The reaction system in TD&TD is robust enough to keep the inactive player on his toes when it's not his turn, lest he miss an important chance to react and swing the tide of the battle.
We played a typical "seize the table quarters" scenario, which turned out to be a great way to experience the game. Weapons in TD&TD have infinite range, but each different type of ranged weapon gets a bonus if it is within its "effective range," which encouraged players to get in close for maximum damage. In the pic below, my sniper was perched atop the shanty compound trying to pick off Mattias's armadillo-man.
He succeeded, but in doing so he neglected the flank, where Mattias was able to move up a pair of goons, one of whom killed this nice chap who was just sitting in the back of this wrecked truck, minding his own business with an assault rifle in his hands.
We improved and clarified various rules on the fly as we went along. One bit that we enjoyed was the rule for evades. These are special short moves that are imposed upon figures based on the outcomes of various dice rolls, mainly ties in ranged and close combat. Basically, the evading figure dives for cover, which can really impact your strategy if it happens at the wrong time. But it's a fun, realistic mechanic in a game that doesn't have a true morale system.
When a figure dies, the player is faced with a choice: he can "burn" an activation dice by permanently removing it from the pool he rolls at the start of each turn to revive a dead character. But of course this reduces the effectiveness of his crew for the rest of the game, and it begins to offer diminishing returns ... do you burn dice to keep your guys around, or do you soldier on with the remaining few and attempt to complete the mission? Both are viable strategies, as we found in our game.
By the end of the game, we agreed that I had squeaked out a victory by claiming one table quarter, while Mattias and I contested the other three.
The rules themselves seemed ripe for expansion. We imagined all sorts of special rules and abilities that could expand on the core of TD&TD, including rule for psychics or magic users! Mattias was taking notes as fast as he could for the inevitable update to the alpha rules.
We expect to play more games of The Dogs & the Dust in the future. It's a solid game that definitely fills a niche for quick-play sci-fi skirmish gaming. We hope to share more about these work-in-progress rules in the future.
-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member