A busy month

First game of 2021: Horizon Wars!

Kicking 2021 off with a bang, I managed to play Horizon Wars: Sci-fi Combined Arms Wargaming (to give it its full title), a minis agnostic 6mm-10mm set of wargame rules. I got this early 2020, but didn't play it for lack of suitable mech minis. Everything else can be proxied with Dropzone Commander stuff, but the whole point of playing this game is the big, stompy mechs. Otherwise, what's the point? (Yes, there's Heavy Gear Blitz, but it's pricy and hard to obtain for me; Battletech... again, pricy and I'm not going to track every single hit point and heat sink damage etc.; and CAV Strike Ops (which most of the minis came from in this battle) but again... too fiddly bookkeeping.) 

Lacking suitable 10mm minis, I finally decided on CAV Strike Ops minis and ordered some in November 2020. They arrived on New Years Eve. So I quickly assembled them, mustered up 2 opposing forces at 9 point each, and had a go. 


The mission was Deliberate Attack, where "In the early stages of a larger conflict, two sides are manoeuvring for advantage. The attacker in this scenario has planned an attack against an enemy position they believe is vulnerable with a view to driving a wedge through it and deep into their opponents’ lines. The defender has been forced to spread themselves thin, leaving a small contingent exposed. However, they have mobile reserves on-call to respond to any aggressive incursions by the enemy."


Attackers win if, at the end of any turn after the first, the defender has two or fewer effective elements on the table. 


Defenders win if, at the end of any turn, the defender has at least four effective elements on the tabletop (not hidden or in reserve) with a combined P of twice that of the starting advance force or more. 


Because I couldn't decide on which one of the 4 background fluff pieces in the rulebook to use, I just labelled my units (A) for Attackers and (D) for Defenders for this first game. 


TURN 1 


Defender deploys with Heavy Infantry A in a building, and 3 hidden Deployment elements around the field. 


Attacker deploys all elements except the Recon element (which can perform a Deep Deployment anywhere on the table from turn 2... basically an airdrop on the table). 


Attackers move up but fire is inconclusive with Heavy Infantry A being dug in, giving the attackers an effective +9 penalty to all shoot rolls. 


TURN 2 


Defenders bring in their Heavy Cav. A element (heavy tanks, think M1 Abrams etc.) and they trade fire with the attacker's Light Cav. A (anything less than an MBT) as well as another Heavy infantry B element in the other building, which promptly digs in as its first action. The Attackers push forward, and inflict some damage on Heavy Inf. A despite them being dug in. 

Attacker's Mobile Infantry Command HQ (CHQ) attempt some guided fire using the missiles on the Heavy Mech, but this is less than successful on the dug in Heavy Infantry. 


TURN 3 


A lot of action this turn. All Defender elements have been brought in (2 medium mechs and their Heavy Cav CHQ). (D) Heavy Cav. A finally finishes off (A) Light Cav. A while taking a beating from the attacker's Heavy Mech. The (A) Recon element drops in and attmepted some guided fire... which again is less than successful on (D) Heavy Inf. A. The Attacker's Heavy Inf. slog up the table, taking a beating as they advance. They are only saved by digging in as a reaction. 


TURN 4 


(A) Light Cav. B moves up and charges the dug in (D) Heavy Inf. A, taking damage along the way in. (D) Heavy Inf. moves out of the building as a reaction but the light tanks follow up and managed to finish off the infantry element who are caught out in the open. The Defender's Medium Mech A and Heavy Cav. CHQ finish off the light tanks. But the (A) Recon slip in and occupy the vacated building, then dig in. 

Meanwhile the (A) Heavy Infantry charge (D) Heavy Inf. B and despite taking heavy casualties in reaction fire fom both the Defender's Heavy Infantry and Medium Mech, manage finish off the defenders in the building. 


The defenders also chip away at the attacker's Heavy Mech, damaging its armour with critical rolls. (When an element's armour is reduced to zero, it's gone, even if other stats reamin above zero). The Heavy Mech focuses its fire on (D) Heavy Cav. A. 


TURN 5 


The (D) Heavy Cav. (CHQ) element moves up, finshing off the badly damaged (A) Heavy Inf. element, then turns its fire on the (A) Mobile Inf. (CHQ) as does the (D) Medium Mech B. 

Meanwhile, (D) Medium Mech A and a badly damaged (D) Heavy Cav. A trade fire with the (A) Heavy Mech while the (A) Recon takes surprisingly effective pot shots at the defender's Medium Mech A. 


TURN 6 


The attacker's Heavy Mech finishes off both (D) Heavy Cav. A and the (D) Light Mech A, fulfilling their victory conditions. The Attackers win! 


AAR: the gameplay is pretty straightforward since the rules are mostly clear and simple. Except for elements (units) in Hidden Deployment. Since activation is alternating, do you "waste" an elements's activation, not bringing them in this turn, or...? 


My take on it is, I suspect the actual gameplay is quite straightforward. It's the way the rules are written that brings in the obsfucation, something I've also observed in Zero Dark by the same designer. 


What I liked: 


• The shooting system, obviously. Does away with min/max effective ranges. If you can see it, you can shoot it. Doesn't mean you can hit it. Also different element types will have better/worse chances of hitting. Obviously an infantry unit won't be as good as say a heavy tank armed with heavy weapons. One thing this game avoids doing is defining specific weapons types and just let's you use your imagination as to what your units are armed with. 


• The reaction system. It's a modification of Infinity's infinite ARO's (which is, to me, a bit broken... can't imagine ONE model being able to ARO so many different moving models in a turn but that's the Infinity I-GO-U-GO system for you). Here, your element can react .. and it uses one of your action tokens... and while you can still activate that element later, it can't react again. Much better suited to an alternating activation system. 


What I'm "meh" about: 


• Mustering or building your army lists. It's normally quite strightforward, as your P value i also the cost of your units... then it gets complicated by what type of unit your CHQ is. I get the reasoning, and in practice (once you wrap your head around it) it works. But that's what makes the "cost" of a 9 point army very different as some units will cost more (or less) than it's normal cost depending on the type of CHQ you have. 


• The damage levels per unit are surprisingly high, with light infantry being able to take about 8 hits before going down (more or less). This can be mitigated with critical hits of an unmodified roll of 12 on a d12 which allows the attacker to decide where the damage goes instead of the normal defender choosing. This allows the damage to be placed on the Armour stat line... which is desirable because once an element is down to zero Armour, it's gone no matter how much other points it has left in other stats. Otherwise, you'd choose to degrade your movement/firepower over your Armour. That's all actually straightforward. I was just hoping for a faster playing game where units didn't need so many hits to go down. As it was, my initial game using the bare minimum 9 points took me about 2 hours to play... just from the number of hits it takes before a unit is eliminated. 


• The background fluff. There are 4 provided in the rulebook for you to choose from, and while they are decent, they don't exactly spark the imagination. But I suppose it's better than nothing and having to provide my own. As it was, in my game, I just had to label my forces the Attackers (A) and Defenders (D) just because I didn't know who was fighting and why. So yes, this is definitely something I need to work on if I wanna play more Horizon Wars. 


What I didn't like: 


• The way some of the rules are written. The initial basic missions have suggested force levels and table sizes with which to play. That's good. Then there's a table with "Loss", "Adv" and "Res" with NO explanation until another section where you play campaigns and that's where it's explained... and even then it's less than clear. Again, I suspect if the designer were to make a short video explaining just how to use these items, it's actually pretty simple and straightforward. But the way it's written right now in the rule book? Nope. Sorry. I think the designer does need an editor or a writing partner that can work together with him to clean up and simplify the way the rules are written, so that the actual elegant simplicity of his game system can shine through. 


TL;DR: Overall, I like Horizon Wars as it allows me to play battles using big, stompy giant mechs using a relatively clean and elegant system with a minimum of bookkeeping. The downside is: there's no fluff to ground the game in, unless I use one of the provided 4 in the rulebook. They are OK, but don't spark my imagination. 


In my game, (maybe also caused by the units I chose) the game was a bit of a slugfest instead of the quick playing skirmish the scenario promised. In part again, I think this was due to me not sticking to the recommended 2x4 table size, opting for a 3x3 instead. Serves me right. If it was 2x4, the forces would've come to grips much faster, the ranges would be shorter (and more deadly) etc. 


But all that pales besides the fact that I can now have my dream force of giant mechs and hovertanks and infantry and (later on) air assets fighting on a small(ish) battlefield. 


Comments

  1. Thanks for taking Horizon Wars out for a spin in 2021!

    To answer some questions:

    First, to how to handle not "bringing in" an element in hidden deployment - that's one use for the rarely-remembered "do nothing" action.

    I'll take the hit on the "mustering" issue. Compared to army building in most mini games, I think HW is incredibly straightforward even when one has to take into account cost alterations arising from CHQ choice. There are issues with it, but I think it remains solid in principle.

    On damage levels - this is, as they say, a feature rather than a bug (in most cases). Elements are hard to destroy, but their utility to the player rapidly diminishes as their stats decrease. And, in practice, the odds are that most elements will suffer at least one crit before you attrit all of their other stats. That said, I do wish elements other than infantry could be more reliably one-shotted.

    The background was written in a bit of a rush, tbh. That said, I am building upon it as a foundation and the 500-year-long setting of Horizon Wars is being expanded in its sequel, Horizon Wars: Zero Dark (a 15-28mm skirmish game) and this year's planned release, Horizon Wars: Infinite Dark (a spaceship combat game). I hope the setting will mature along with the games range to become more interesting. That said, I stand by the notion that Britain will spark the apocalypse by invading France. ;)

    I absolutely own the point about the writing of the rules. I was still a comparative novice when I wrote Horizon Wars and indulged too many poorly-conceived ideas. I now have an active Patreon and my patrons are fantastic at play-testing and proof-reading new rules and giving me useful feedback on layout and formatting. I've also said an amicable farewell to Osprey Games and am currently self-publishing through Wargame Vault.

    Horizon Wars will receive a full "second edition" treatment in 2022, with a release date penciled in for late 2022 or early 2023 which, I hope, will deal with most of the issues the original had and incorporate some of the feedback as well as the best of the rules you can find in the Over the Horizon supplement.

    If you'd like a copy of Horizon Wars: Zero Dark, do let me know!

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    1. Thanks for your comments. Always a treat when a games designer notices my humble efforts 🙂

      Yes, as you say, the mustering is pretty straightforward, but I had to watch your video to get a good handle on how to do it.

      I'm also sort of OK with the amount of hits it takes to finish off an element. I just tell myself it represents a squadron of 4 armoured vehicles or something and the squadron's effectives degrades with time. I was just hoping for something a bit faster playing but then that would take it into Dropzone Commander territory.

      As for Horizon Wars: Zero Dark... it's actually my #1 solo skirmish wargame for 2020. And there are several batreps already here. But I wouldn't say no to the Nemesis expansion 😉

      PS. Yes, the British invasion of France is my favourite fluff.

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