Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Urban War

Back in the early new millennium (2000-2003) miniatures games were seeing a pretty big resurgence. While favorites of mine like Warzone, and Chronopia were gone; games like VOR, Void, Chainmail, and Dark Age were making their way on the scene. With the exception of VOR (that came later) I played all these, and loved 'em. While my appreciation for Dark Age grew exponentially later on, at the time my favorites were Void and Chainmail.

Void was a game that took the Games Workshop game systems as a basis, and tweaked them somewhat to integrate alternative activation and range bands. I had a Syntha army and was working my way towards a Junkers force when i-Kore crashed. Thankfully, the ever persistent John Robertson and John Grant (of Warzone 2nd edition and Chronopia fame) reformed the company into the strangely-named Urban Mammoth, and retooled the Void universe into Urban War.

Now while I loved Void, I didn't much care for the universe behind it. One of its selling-points was the super-clean hard sci-fi that it presented, but for myself I was into the dark and gritty. I loved (and still do) the Games Workshop universes because of their grim and gothic styling and while the Void system was stellar, I thought the universe was too clean. Urban War kept that hard sci-fi edge but matured it to include imagery that better reflected the grittiness of urban combat. While these new models and the new art turned some of the old guard off, it made me take a second look at a universe I thought too sterile for my enjoyment.

Urban War is a skirmish game done by Urban Mammoth, a games company based out of Scotland. In it, you re-enact combats between forces of around 7-15 models a side. If you want larger conflicts Urban War has a sister game called Metropolis, which is a squad-based game utilizing ~40 models a side. The game has seven factions vying for control of the continent-sized city of Iskandria (on the planet Kyklops): the Junkers (Roman-esque penal legions); the Gladiators (an army of escaped gladiatorial slaves); the Syntha (an army of insidious androids, and cyborgs); VASA (a UN force based off Soviet imagery); the Triads (an army of yakuza gangsters); the Viridians (American-style army and environmental preservationists); and the Koralon (amphibious aliens that assimilate anyone).

Giving orders to my Junker Legionaries.

The points values and profiles are the same in both Urban War and Metropolis which is awesome, as it makes Urban War (UW) the perfect spring-board into Metropolis (Metro). At the beginning of an UW game you give your individual models orders, which not only tell you when they activate but which list of actions they can choose from. The Lock-Fire order will allow you to take more careful shots, but will restrict your movement, while the Snap-Fire order will allow you to move to your heart's content, but severely hinder your shooting.

The game also has an additional mechanic and characteristic that I've never seen in another game, called Calibre (CAL). A model's CAL can go from 0-3 and sometimes 4 with the special characters. CAL allows you to do a myriad of thing, from move faster, to avoid being hit, to taking additional actions. It represents the experience your soldiers acquire thus making them better fighters. While I'll let you in on my misgivings of this mechanic later, I think this is a great way to show experience beyond just increasing the statistics of your fighters like in Necromunda or GorkaMorka.

Gladiators moving up the field.

Other than CAL and the orders, the rest of the game works almost exactly like the old Void system. It's a d10 system using inches that utilizes charts to determine if you hit or damage your enemy. The charts are all reminiscent of the Warhammer/40,000 systems so if you know those it will just take you a little while to convert the d6 mechanic over to the d10 before you're comfortable. To hit you compare your Shooting characteristic (SH) on a table to see the d10 score you need to hit, then you roll damage which is a cross-reference between your weapons Strength and your target's Defence. There are no armor saves like in the Warhammer/40,000 systems mostly because with the probability spread with a d10 as opposed to a d6 you need less rolls to get an even flow.

Metropolis is my favorite of the three systems (UW, Void, and Metro) because I've always been a bigger fan of squad-based games than skirmish games (with the obvious exceptions of GorkaMorka and Chainmail). It doesn't have as detailed an order system, nor does CAL have as many applications as in UW, and this leads to a faster-flowing game which is a virtue when you're pushing 40 models around a tabletop. Metro also uses to greater effect these walkers called CLAUs (Capital Light Armo(u)red Units). CLAUs are also in an expansion to UW called CLAU-Team Actions but the use of them in such small games requires some jigging around of army construction. CLAUs give the game a bigger punch, as there aren't really vehicles to speak of in either UW or Metro. Therefore these big machines act as the heavy units you normally see being taken up by transports or assault tanks.

Now as much as I love these games I do have some misgivings. First of all, I think it's both great and not-so-great that they take a huge cue from the GW systems. While I have no problem with the charts used in Warhammer/40,000, it would've been nice if the games used their own systems. My one critique of the original Void (beyond the clean background) was that it seemed at times like Warhammer 40,000 with alternate activation. But like I said, I also think this is really nice because it's familiar, and it works.

I would also like a little clean-up of the orders and the CAL systems. I find the order system really unique and interesting, but it does feel a little clunky. I mean, a few of the orders allow the same things to happen but with different modifiers. I found myself having to look at the actions charts again and again even though I just got through giving the same order to a previous unit, in order to see just what Snap-fire did. I also found the same confusion with the CAL mechanic. CAL lets you do different things depending of what order you're on, and whether you're being shot at or shooting, or moving, or whatever! I think in terms of my CAL critique, a unifying of the rule would go a long way to making it less confusing. I have no doubt that after a few more games I'll have CAL and the orders under my belt, but for the early games it's a steeper than normal learning curve (though nowhere near as steep as Warmachine/Hordes. At least in those games the mechanics are the same throughout).

I've also noticed how hard it is to get into close combat, even when I played my Junkers against my friends Gladiators. Both the Junkers and the Gladiators are close-range troops, and the basic soldiers are equipped nearly the same. Not one close combat ensued in our game. We walked or ran to about 12" from each other then fired our shotguns until things died. Now granted, when setting up the table we put some weird terrain in the middle which we thought blocked line of sight when we were looming above them from our godly positions over the tabletop, but from a model's eye view we found that they did very little to obscure someone on the other side of it. I'm sure that had we put some more restrictive terrain in the middle our game would've danced to another tune.

All-in-all UW, and Metro are great games and more than worthy successors to the Void throne. I anticipate that any future games I have with these systems will be more than worth my time and effort. Hell, I can even see these games working their way into my top 10! And that's saying a lot.

Around April 2011, Urban Mammoth is coming out with a 2nd edition to Urban War which will come in a handy A5-sized paperback with full-color content (and hopefully some model pictures, which are sadly absent from both the UW and Metro rulebooks). And later this year, they're even announcing a 6mm wargame that will take place in the UW/Metro universe but back in the days of Void (so only the four galactic empires (Junkers, VASA, Syntha and Viridia) will be represented) called Age of Tyrants. Keep an eye out for this stuff. I know I will.


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