15 November 2020

Review: Gamma Wolves - Post-Apocalyptic Mecha Warfare

 Hello wargamers and thanks for checking in. 

It's time to write a few words about Gamma Wolves - a game of post-apocalyptic mecha warfare. Osprey Games has been kind enough to send me a PDF version of the book, to have a look at it. So let's do that! 

Gamma Wolves will officially be released on November 24th. 

So what is Gamma Wolves? 

Humans build big robots, genetically engineered people and AI automatons. Then they blew up the Earth and turned it into a wasteland 'The Sea of Destruction'. Now only a few large archologies and smaller free stations exist. 

Wikipedia describes an archology like this: Arcology, a portmanteau of "architecture" and "ecology", is a field of creating architectural design principles for very densely populated, ecologically low-impact human habitats.

In the game players control up to six mech units in various sizes, they fight for salvage and old tech in the wasteland - hoping to bring great stuff back to their archology. 

How's the review?

I've asked in the official Facebook group, if there was any questions. We'll try to answer those. And the review will then feature five sections, three inspired by the book. 

  1. Art and editing
  2. Assembling your crew
  3. Playing the game - mechanics
  4. Campaigning
  5. My final thoughts

Art and editing

I've come to expect a lot by the art and setup in Osprey Games hardback rule books. Gamma Wolves feature nice graphics, a good table of contents (book is easy to get around in). There's plenty of examples throughout the book of how rules work. Where needed there's top down photos / diagrams of mechs for showing rules. All this is very good. 

Photos of mechs. There's some decent photos, showing some differently painted frames and warbands. Ash Barker does good painting and has a nice collection of miniatures. Not too many actions shots, but good photos of crews. 

There does however seem to be a disconnection between the miniature photos and the mech artwork. The book has some nice paintings of frames - and most look really post-apocalyptic. Scrapped, junkers, graffiti or clunky military. Where the photo of miniatures are more clean sci-fi in look. 

For me it creates a bit of an unbalance in the look shown in the book. And I'm really missing the artwork telling stories. Frostgrave, Zona Alfa, Last Days - the artwork is amazing. So many stories told in those photos. My imagination is running wild after seeing artwork like that.

Unfortunately Gamma Wolves doesn't have it. Give my artwork of the veteran crew members hanging out (not a human in sight in the book), the crawler base mech bay or the archology sending off a team. Give me art of a battle raging. But there's nothing like it. 

And to me that's disappointing, because reading through the book I didn't get the story hype I'm used to. Good craftsmanship, well written rules. But it's missing something in the art - for me at least. 

Assembling your crew - models needed

In Gamma Wolves each team has a base, a crawler. This base doesn't take part in the game, but it can hold a maximum of six mech units. Mechs come in three different sizes, based on different base size. 

Small frames: 2-3 meters high, 40-50mm base. Think of a heavy power armor suit. 
Medium frames: 3-4 meters high, 75-100mm bases. Dreadnought, Matrix Revolutions, Avatar sized mechs. 
Heavy frames: bigger yet, 125mm-150mm bases. Huge, heavily armored mech units.

Depending on your archology choice, there's some min-max you can choose of the different frames and pilot types. Small frames are cheaper to arm, quicker and easier to hide. Heavy frames can carry more stuff, are slow and heavily armed. 

You pick out 6 cool mech / robots / tanks for your team. Then you hire on some crew members. These come in rookie, trained and veteran. Better crew, have better stats for doing dice tests. You don't have enough resources to bring an all veteran crew. 

There's a huge list of weapons to chose from, covering all from projectile weapons over laser lances. You can WYSIWYG arm whatever mech model you come across really. 

The crawler
Your base is a high tech machine, able to recycle lots of stuff. So between missions you can freely rearm, change gear etc on your mechs - it's not like you need to buy something for weapon locker. You always have a 500 credit pile to equip you mechs with standard stuff. 

There's some different factions to choose from, with a bit of fluff. Continuation of Government north america types, AI robots from space, genetically enhanced clones from South Africa, Soviet style faction, feudal types from Mt. Fuji and the ronin warriors of free stations. All have different quirks. ... For my test crews I picked ronin - to have fitting models. 

And it's an interesting choice, making very distinct and described factions - instead of going more general like 'militaristic dictatorship', 'science enclave', 'communist regime', 'AI overlords' (and having the others as examples).

The list of weapons you can chose for your light frames. There's similar list for medium and large frames. These will mostly be the same types of weapons, but have different stats. 

A character sheet for a medium frame. We'll get back to this one later. But the lighter frame has fewer boxes for damage and fewer hardpoints for installing gear. Heavier frames have even more.

Playing the game - key mechanics

I'm no rules expert, and will not go into too much detail on rules. I will however try and list some of the key mechanics in the game. 

Dice mechanics
Shooting, evading and other actions all start with a dice pool of 3d6. Then dice are added for weapon bonus or skills. So you end up with a handful of dice. The target number to beat will often be your pilot's skill level (that's depending on experience level). Then there will be modifiers to your roll. 

A mech will be vulnerable if shot in the side of back for example. 

Setup and initiative
When setting up a game, you roll a dice to decide the type of battlefield. All various versions of wasteland, with the rolled scenario describing if you're playing amongst broken sky scrapers or on the flat wasteland with low cover. 

When setting up your force, you start by placing only a base in the correct size (and imagine a box with height equal to your model). The miniature remains hidden until an enemy 'base' is placed with line of sight. Then both models are set on the table. 

So when playing with lots of big ruins, you can end up the a mostly secret deployment. You even move the flat bases around until there's Line of Sight to an enemy. To represent fog of war. 

Pilot stress, reactor stress and war clock
This is one of the main things to stick out of these rules. And they are directly affecting the turn phases that we'll get into in a bit. 

Whenever a pilot fires weapons, maneuvers or evades, he'll get stressed. It's hard to steer a big mech. If he ever reaches maximum stress he is out for the round and can't do anymore. 

Same goes for the reactor in the mech. Some weapons are putting strain on the reactor (lasers and plasma), when the mech moves around or takes damage. If it's stressed enough, it's out for the turn. 

At the end of each turn, players roll some dice and can remove that much stress from their frame and pilots. So it's not guaranteed that a mechs reactor is completely cooled down by the next turn.

The war clock defines how much time the warband has in the Sea of Destruction. The size of the war clock is determined at the start of the game. When the war clock is empty, the warband has to redraw to their crawler - to refuel, reload, etc (they're out of resources for a field trip). Whenever you remove a reactor stress token on a mech, you remove a token from the war clock. This is a super interesting mechanic. 

The more you use your mechs be it movement or firing - the quicker your war clock will empty and you will have to leave the field of battle (letting the opponent claim the rest of the salvage, win if your objectives are not complete etc). 

So there's a real essence of resource management in the strategy here. The more you move around (do unnecessary movement) or the more mechs you field - the quicker the war clock will empty. You need to have a strategy. 

The game turn has three phases (moving, shooting, end phase). For each phase, the player with the least amount of frames on the table gets an amount of 'passes' equal to the difference. 

In this phase the players alternate moving their mech. Each mech has to activate once, but a mech can chose to do nothing and end its part in the phase. Mechs can't shuffle around on the spot and there's rules in place that movement will always force a mech to end up in a new position. 

Here's the kicker of the system - a mech can activate more than once! As long as it can still take the stress. That's why 'passes' are really important. You can stress the reactor to reach an objective or get into cover. But that will leave less reactor power for shooting. 

'Overwatch'. If moving into Line of Sight of an enemy - they can take a hasty shot. It's harder to hit shooting like this - but it can prevent an enemy from getting into cover. Taking these shots of opportunity also puts more stress on the firing pilot - so perhaps it's better to wait for the shooting phase. 

Much like the previous phase. Players alternate firing a weapon from a mech, but can end up activating more than once - if they can take the stress. So a light frame will only have one or two weapons - but a rookie in here. Lots of movement and a single shot. 

A heavy frame will carry a ton of weapons - you need a pilot able to handle a lot of stress (a veteran). Because you want to be able to fire lots of weapons. And perhaps save on the movement. 

Whenever a mech is hit by damage, you roll to see which part is hit (and tick off boxes on the mech sheet). So weapons will end up broken, movement and shooting will be hard from destroyed legs or sensors. And the body will take damage. 

The campaign

What I love about all skirmish games is the campaign. I never really plan on one-off games. I always do warbands with campaigning in mind. And the campaign section for Gamma Wolves takes up a lot of the book. 

When running a campaign a crew will pick six frames and a crew of pilots. You'll rarely have enough pilots (some will be banged up in the infirmary) to deploy all your mechs (and some might be needing repairs). So you basically start by building your toolbox - and then bring tools for missions from what's available, but never using all. 

In campaigns your crew will get experience and injuries. The mechs will need constant repairing. A crew goes into the wasteland (there's 6 different scenarios, many with attacker / defender) in hunting for salvage (catch-all for money, repair and upgrade ressources) or valuable old-tech (special weapons and loadouts for mechs). 

As you play through a campaign your pilots gain new skills and better abilities and your mechs will get better armaments from the old tech. Depending on the status of the crew, they can either visit a free station - to sell salvage and buy special items. Or they can be forced to return to the archology. This is if they can't field enough frames (from damage or being completely lost after a fight) or having to hire new crew members. This will be really expensive - as an archology leadership demands tribute in old-tech! 

This is also the goal of the campaign, for the crew to successfully return home with a ton of technology. Freely paid technology that is (not the tribute paid for new frames). ... this means you have to return home with you best gear to get campaign points - the longer you use it in the field, the higher the chance it's blown off your mech. So decisions - decisions. 

So what do I think?

It wouldn't be much of a review without giving a few thoughts back. 

I really like the mechanics of stress and war clock. First it's fitting for the mech genre, pilots flat lining from neural feedback and mech frames overheating from getting off that extra shot. I love mech combat from Matrix to Pacific Rim. And the mechanics goes to show this. 

I haven't played a real game yet (only trying mechanics while reading), but it does seem like there's a fair amount of stuff to remember. Stress on pilot and frames. Debuffs depending on which areas are broken (small laminated sheets would be good for this, to place on the chart when relevant). It's a bit hard to tell. The rules seem pretty straight forward. But the management part might slow if down - at least until you get a real good hang of it. 

Mechs and frames
The game is obviously written for a love of big robots and those Gundam bots. And the game embraces both full sci-fi AI controlled robots and Soviet dieselpunk clankers. But for me at least it's hard to wrap my head around the size needed for the minis. 

I get the small size. 40 - 50 mm base. I can use space terminator marines, deadzone Mantic peace keeper enforcers, Dust Tactics soldiers. 

Medium sized is just a bit bigger. So I would go for dreadnaughts, Dust tactics walkers or the Reich Busters mech suits or Deadzone striders. I have all these and they could work on a 75mm base. 

Large frames... no idea. The height is unlimited (could be a crawler tank). But I have no models fitting that size. A 125mm base is huge (I'll be using CDs though they're only 120mm). 

So in the end I might go full post apocalypse on my builds. Not going for a clear style. But make scrap build robots - from Ramshackle Games bits, scrap material etc. And go for a Ronin crew or Soviet style clankers. And that might be the way I go for large frames. I have enough stuff for medium and light frames.

I'm also considering going 15mm scale for this. The game seems perfect for it. But I have no terrain for it and lots of wasteland terrain for 28mm. ... it'll be up to whatever opponents I end up with.

Ash Barker is pretty much up front about (with multiple mentions in the book) - this is your (the readers) game. Do as you want. That being said I'm going 40mm, 60mm and 120 mm (CDs) for my bases. There's some good photos in the book, but some photos with rulers would have been good. Side-by-side miniatures with height measured - to get a better feel of the intended range in light, medium and large frames. As an inspiration for the gamers.

What's the verdict?
Gamma Wolves is a nice book and the rules seem very solid. I like that the mechanics work to build the theme. The rules are tailored around getting a feel of mechs fighting. And it does a good job at that. The post apoc / scifi mix, seems a bit off for me as mentioned above.

Am I up for playing Gamma Wolves? Sure. Most likely in 28mm. Looking past the scifi part. And going full on diesel, scrap, Mortal Engines - post apocalypse. Build some crazy conversions with some magnetized weapon systems. Build some models working around the look of my This Is Not A Test warbands.

Will it work for fans of the pure sci-fi gundam mech fights? Sure it will. The rulebook has another kind of look (toned down colors, scrap mech artwork), but the rules sure make it possible - no doubt. 

I'm really looking forward to following the Facebook community on this one and seeing what builds people come up with. 

Last words
Thanks for reading this review of Gamma Wolves. If you enjoy this read or other like it. Please take a moment to help my bloggerverse. Share the review around (they're best when read). 

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  1. I had heard mention of this, but hadn't really paid much attention until now.

    Probably one I'll pass one, as I don't see much chance of getting a game. If I did go for it, then I think I'd try downscaling slightly, so the small frames are 25-32mm bases and something like a 40k Terminator would be medium.

    1. That would definately be the cheap way of doing the game. Biggest problem would be building lots of new terrain.

    2. I don't know if that would be necessary.

      It just occurred to me that this could be a way of using some old Robogear kits, but I'm still trying to resist...

  2. Thanks for the review! There are interesting mechanics (stress, war clock), and the fog of war system is downright brillant. I dont have fitting models for it, but if I would, I defenietly would give it a try!

    1. Yes. I need to find someone to play the system with first, then we'll jump on a scale for it and get going.

  3. If anyone wants to see some of the builds people are doing, there are a lot of examples (photos) in the FaceBook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/158801855034089