Lately almost all of the gaming I have been doing has been Beyond the Gates of Antares. When I first started looking into the game I wrote a short article about some of the elements of the rules that I liked. Now after getting in a few games, reading the rules more and watching others play I have some more insight into what particular aspects of the game I like and why it has captured my imagination.
Dice and auto-fail
As I mentioned before, the game uses a D10 instead of a D6 but still provides an auto-fail and auto-succeed mechanism. While the human-derived factions in the game don’t have a wide range of different stats the D10 makes those small differences meaningful. It also means that you can provide a very fine level of difference in stats like Command to provide a very significant difference between factions and units. My Ghar Rebel Command Squad has a Command of 7 and is used in a much different way than a Concord C3 Command Squad where the leader has a Command of 9.
Where I think the D10 system really works well is in the application of the concept of automatic success or failure. One of the things that ultimately turned me off of Blood Bowl is that the number of automatic failures or successes were too frequent and also far too unlikely. Given the small number of results on a D6 it means that 33.3% of the time there is some automatic result generated. Since there are only four other dice results on a D6 it compresses the possible results in the game and means that the model’s stats aren’t as important in the game. Trolls could intercept a throw from an Elf Thrower on a 6 even though they’d be unlikely to even catch a pass normally.
Compared to a D10 system this means that you can stack dice modifiers and still have possible results that are not automatic failures or successes. My Ghar Rebel Support teams were often rolling to hit and requiring 3s to hit. In D6 system I would have been looking for auto-hits to succeed. Meaning that the actual stats in BtGoA have more of an impact on the game.
Where Beyond the Gates of Antares makes this automatic success or failure concept even more intriguing is that it ties the results into the game to provide additional results. Ghar Rebel Bombers have a Low Ammo rule that is triggered on automatic fail rolls. Failing a Break Test with a 10 is bad news. Succeeding on an Order Test with a 1 can remove more Pins from the unit. An automatic success in a fire roll is a Lucky Hit that can be applied differently or even potentially cause a Ghar armoured suit to explode. It is another level of the rules that you need to remember but it adds a lot of interesting possibilities to the game without having to add another mechanism to the game
Order dice in BtGoA provide a random activation mechanic, which is a good thing, but it also provides several other effects. Vehicles in Beyond the Gates of Antares often provide multiple Order Dice to make them more flexible (imagine being able to move and shoot twice with a land Raider?) and provide vehicles with a potentially larger impact than in similar games. Vehicles can Rally to shrug off the effects of Pins even if they have a Down order since they have additional dice to activate with.
Order dice are also part of your army building plans since dice are provided by a unit but not assigned to the unit. Adding Shard units like Targeting Probes or Ghar Flitters to a force not only gives you the benefit of that unit but also adds an inexpensive Order Dice to your army that can be used to activate a different, and perhaps more critical, unit.
Dice are a resource in the game that can be effected by several factors such as Army Options that can be spent to remove dice from the bag or drones such as the Subverter Matrix which can be used to cause your opponent to dice off for control of their Order Dice. You are not only spending your pool of dice to activate your units but you may also end up in a competition with your opponent for control of Order Dice.
Further to this there is the impact of the Down order and how it affects the game. Down is a reactive order that you give a unit in response to enemy fire or as a result of Break or Order test failure. The Down order has the potential to take a unit out of your control since all units are required to make a Recovery test at the end of the turn to put that Down order dice back into the bag. The Ghar have an assault weapon that can force a unit Down and the Isorian Phase Armour allows them to change their current order to Down or take a Down order in response to enemy fire.
There is a distinction that has to be made been complex rules and deep rules. Advanced Squad Leader is a complex set of rules. While Beyond the Gates of Antares is certainly more complex than Age of Sigmar it has a basic set of rules that you are required to learn but there are a significant number of options that provide your with many options when playing your game or building a list. X Launchers, for example, can come with a basic blast ammunition but you can also get additional ammunition types that provide new capabilities for that X Launcher to allow it to dislodge units, add Pin markers or disrupt weapon fire.
My Ghar Rebel Command team is actually very mediocre at commanding other units since they almost all have the same or higher Command value but it can use the Follow ability to allow units to activate out of order and enable multiple units to Fire, move or assault. This can influence your army choices since you can now plan to use Follow to link the fire from support units or create human wave tactics.
I am just at the point where I am beginning to explore those game options and it feels like having an entirely new game suddenly become available to me.
Small games rule
The BtGoA rules have army lists that you can use to build forces from 500 to 2500 points. And even larger if you want. The sweet spot for games appears to be the 1000 -1250 point where you can afford some Support and Strategic options but the required Tactical choices (your grunts and command units) mean that you don’t have a lot of points available for vehicles, support weapons or heavy weapons.
Its difficult to fit everything into your army at this point level but you still have a decent force that has some tricks and strategies available to it. And the game plays quickly at that level. Many of the tournaments and events that I have seen reports from also play at that point level as well. It keeps your games quick, lowers the number of minis you need to bring out and really makes you focus on your list building.
Larger games are still possible and still fun but even at 2000 points the number of Tactical options still increases so you still can’t take a minimum number of troops and then fill out the rest of the army with vehicles and heavy weapons. Depending on the army you may need five or six Tactical choices at that level. Despite all the cool toys in the game you still need your infantry and it stops the game from escalating into a ‘biggest wallet wins’ situation.
One of the best features of the Beyond the Gates of Antares rules are, as I have mentioned, how simple game concepts are expanded upon to create effects and opportunities in the game as you play. There is a certain amount of randomness in the game but since it is based on existing situations like a Break test or being given a Down order they appear less random and more the result of the actions taken in the game. Your vehicle unit fails a Break test with a 10 and flees the table but it does so because of damage it took. This also helps build up the narrative of your game and ultimately that is what gives you a great gaming experience, the story you tell as you play and that you relate to your friends later.