Tuesday 6 August 2013

By Dagger or Talon Review (Tomorrow's War Supplement)

"Deadly Aliens and Enhanced Special Forces" said the blurb. Since differentiating between humans and aliens was one of the weaker points of Tomorrow's War, one of my all-time favourite rulesets, this seemed a no-brainer purchase.

I like the new layout a lot more than that of it's predecessor, Tomorrow's War
The Shiny
Well I am only operating off the pdf, but I am presuming my book will be hardcopy, similar to Tomorrow's War (I think I read somewhere it will be a different size i.e. A4 vs B4 or something). At $30, add on $23 postage (!) and the supplement is an eye-watering $53. That is a LOT for a rulebook (probably the 2nd most expensive in my collection), let alone a supplement. The first 13 pages are fluff about the "Tomorrowverse", a near-future hard sci fi setting that the authors are happy for you to use or avoid as it suits you - sort of a generic toolbox of ideas.  The dark green page background from Tomorrow's War have thankfully been removed and By Dagger or Talon is much easier to read and use than its predecessor. It has a solid table of contents and the pdf I used was bookmarked to make it pleasantly easy to find things. 

"Making Alien Races" & Special Forces
This was the bit that excited me most as I felt that the use of aliens was the weakest link in Tomorrow's War.  It's inherent in the game design -  there is a single stat "Troop Quality" which is either d6 (conscript) d8 (trained), d10 (elite) and d12 (superhumanly heroic).  Each mini gets a dice to attack or defend with - heavy weapons add extra dice on attack, and armour adds extra dice to defensive rolls. Not a lot of differentiation, but at least it's super simple, right?  Well no. Troops can also differ in Morale, Confidence (sounds similar to Morale, right?), Supply (lots of ammo to burn or not), Armour and Tech Level as well as weapons and equipment - so they DO have a "stat line" almost as complex as say GW's LOTR (Shooting Skill, Melee Skill, Strength, Defence, Attacks, Wounds, Morale) whilst being less "descriptive" and thus By Dagger & Talon requires more rules to learn.

While Tomorrow's War works fine for vanilla humans, it does not differentiate between alien forces particularly well and By Dagger & Talon adds more "Special Rules" to make them "alien-er."  This part of the book lists some questions to ask yourself as you make up an alien race. There is an example of race design, but really this is more a bunch of generalisations than a "character creator."

Special forces humans include the nanite enhanced, synthetics, cyborgs, genetically modified - there are recommended special rules for each of them.  There are force lists for GZG Crusties and the new "enemy" race, the horned Darghau. GZG are making an "official" line of Tomorrow's War minis and there is also stats and sample unit lists and weapons for the US Army, Republic of Arden, the DRP, and the Foreign Legion - all of which are available as GZG minis. 

As usual, the lack of a "points system" is a glaring omission. I know the zillion arguments for and against, but it helps balance pick-up games better than blind guesswork, and if you don't like em, don't use em. (I know there was an attempt to make a basic points system on the forum but it withered on the vine.)

Khurasan Felids deploy from an APC in a game of Tomorrow's War
Special Rules
There are about 43 new "special rules" to make your aliens and special forces "special" and to add a modicum of difference between your d8 average human marine and your d8 ravening space ooze fiend from Uranus. So yes, we do get ways to better tell aliens apart from "humies" - but that's 43 new special rules to remember. 

Perhaps I'm a little jaded - in the dozens of games I trial each year, I notice current game design tends towards super simple stats (maybe only one, like in Tomorrow's War) and a zillion exceptions to the rules, in the mistaken belief this is simpler overall. No, actually having to learn dozens and dozens of extra rules does NOT make the game simpler. 

Some of these are quite interesting and add quite a bit of flavour - beserkers, teleportation, burst movement and psionics add quite a bit to the overall game toolbox.

These are pretty good, but also kinda hard to translate to "different" forces as there is no points system. I.e. the scenario might be perfectly balanced for the precise forces and weapons given, but I'd have preferred points lists and generic scenarios, perhaps with random secondary objectives or secret side missions.  The sort of thing is done well by Malifaux, Muskets and Tomahawks, and Dropzone Commander which are streets ahead of By Claw and Talon, especially in terms of replayability and generating interesting random scenarios. The scenarios might be awesome to play, but they're kinda prescriptive.  I'd label them more a interesting source of inspiration than anything else.

Finally there is a list of miniatures suppliers. I find it interesting that although GZG is the "official" supplier many other 15mm companies are listed, such as Critical Mass, Khurasan, and Brigade.  How different from GW's practices!  I can recommend them all - I haven't had one bad expererience and they all had prompt delivery and superb customer service.

GZG UNSC-L advance through Dropzone Commander 10mm Cityscape terrain
A dozen pages of fluff, some generalisations about race creation, 43 new "special rules" to customize your aliens and human forces (some quite interesting), and 9 rather specific scenarios.

Recommended?  Maybe if you live in the US where postage is reasonable.  If you are a "Rest of the World" purchaser I'd give this a miss or grab the pdf if you're super keen. For me, it simply does not have enough content to warrant the price tag. If it was a $20 softcover or a $10 pdf, great, but as it stands I'm not overwhelmed by the "content for money" factor. Tomorrow's War is an excellent game, and I highly, highly recommend it - but for me (perhaps with overly high expectations) By Dagger & Talon was somewhat disappointing. 

Note: Before AAG fanboys send in angry comments, be it known I'm a big Ambush Alley fan - Force on Force and Tomorrow's War are some of my favourite games and I admire the success story of the family-style business and the way they conduct themselves and operate. If you buy the book, it's going to a very worthy business. However, just like Infinity's Paradiso supplement this one, for me, falls a little short.


  1. Thanks for the heads-up on this one!

    1. Dropship Horizon gave it a "two thumbs up" review, so maybe read that as well