Dust Warfare Designer Diary, Part Two
Preview Dust Warfare with insights from designer Andy Chambers
Welcome to another preview of the intense tabletop miniatures action that awaits you with Dust Warfare! In his first preview, renowned designer Andy Chambers shared some of his inspirations and philosophy for the game’s gritty, alternate-reality World War II battles. Today, Andy discusses what he considered to be the biggest challenge of adapting the streamlined board game mechanics of Dust Tactics to a tabletop miniatures system, the turn sequence…
Looking at the turn sequence
Dust Tactics uses a system where players alternate their unit activations, which is nice and clean and keeps both players engaged at all times. For Dust Warfare, I wanted to create a system that allowed bigger armies to fight with a coordinated battle plan. When it comes to creating the “big tabletop game” tempo, I like to be able to engage with several units at once, using–for example–some to lay down covering fire while others advance. For me, the ability to coordinate units like this really feeds into the idea of playing the role of high commander over a platoon or company in battle and opens up a whole new set of tactics to use in the game. As I felt that scaleability was really key for Dust Warfare, I decided to experiment with the idea of allowing multiple unit activations within the Dust Tactics alternating activation system.
One of my inspirational World War II games featured a semi-simultaneous turn sequence that was new to me at the time (bear skin boxers and flint knives were also very new back then). The phasing player would lay down preparatory fire, then move. Then the non-phasing player could execute defensive fire, and finally the phasing player could take advancing fire with his moving units. It meant defenders were horribly unpleasant to winkle out of their positions unless you had enough preparatory fire to keep their heads down while your assault force closed. It felt very “real” and was something I wanted to refine for Dust Warfare.
Initially, I tried keeping the alternating activations and introducing a system where HQ units could activate several subordinate units at once to get the kind of coordinated effort I wanted. This turned out to be pretty clunky in practice as you always activated your HQ units first, creating a default IGO-UGO sequence with an untidy tail of alternating activations afterwards. It convinced me I needed to have a specific command phase to do clever, command stuff, followed by a unit phase where all your units would activate without prompting from the higher-ups.
But all this monkeying with a new turn sequence left out altogether the nice player interaction of Dust Tactics and the idea of defensive fire altogether. Fortunately there was a solution. The basic idea was that units aren’t going to sit still while the enemy attacks them; if they have guns, they’re going to use them. Or they might choose to run away, or charge closer.
Breaking it down, there's basically two situations where this is likely to apply–when a unit gets shot at, or when the enemy gets too close. This works great in an action-based system like Dust Warfare. When each reacting unit is granted a single reactive action, it can choose to shoot at the source of its discomfort or simply move. Reactions work to keep the opposing player involved and rather elegantly handle a lot of the interplay that can be gained from system with straight-up alternating activations.
However, a reaction can’t just be a “freebie” extra action, and clearly a unit should only react once in a turn or it's going to pull off some superhero moves, counter-firing against everything that attacks it. This is solved by placing a reaction marker on the unit to show it can't take any more reactions this turn and that the unit has already “spent” one of the actions available to it later in the turn.
There's another circumstance when a unit can't react–when it's already under fire and pinned down. The military often use “suppressive fire” purely to keep the opposition's heads down, and this seemed like a good tactic to encourage by having suppression prevent reactions.
Suppression, in general, is also something I’m really excited to include, but that's a topic for my next designer diary.
Keep checking this site for more information about Dust Warfare, including more stunning images of Dust Tactics miniatures on tabletop battlefields and the next designer diary, in which Andy Chambers talks about implementing a system for suppression fire.