Rules Review

Horizon Wars: Full Review

Headline score: 3/5. Good ideas, heavily flawed implementation.

You may remember that I recently posted up a review of Robey Jenkins’ Horizon Wars. Well, I’ve done some follow up gaming with the system, and my conclusions are sadly more critical of the system than previous.

The benefits of Horizon Wars are immediately obvious; the simple initiative system which allows for limited reactions, the attempt to make basic missions which are modern military scenarios, not the pitched battles and meeting engagements of the linear age of warfare, and it’s emphasis on building the force that you want to play. The flaws in it’s design, to the credit of the writer, are not immediately obvious, until the game is put into practice.

(Apologies in advance for the photographs; the light in the room was appalling, and getting decent snaps was a nightmare.)

To start with, Naomi and I began playing Failed Ambush, with her taking the role of Defender. Her force composition remained pretty much identical to our last game. I, meanwhile, tweaked my force of Kuritans, to showcase my new Wasp and Phoenix Hawk.

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Warrior House Naomi
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13th Sword of Light

And Naomi set the board up like so:

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Turn one rolled around. Naomi won initiative; promptly activated the Vindicator, and sent it sprinting off the top board edge, double rapid-moving to the requisite 24 inches from her deployment to the board edge.
I responded by bringing in the Longbow, with it’s 12″ extended range and Firepower of 6, and opening up on one of her Hatchetman. I savaged it, but she wisely took the option of tanking the hits on Firepower and Armour, reducing both but keeping the unit effective.

Her activation, and she double rapid-moved the Hatchetman off the board.

I brought in the Marauder (FP 5, 6″ extended range), and opened up on the Flashman, dinging it up. Naomi responded by moving up and firing said Flashman, knocking a point off the Marauder’s Movement.
With her third activation, she sprinted the Rifleman off the top board edge.  Mission accomplished.

Okay, so, not a particularly auspicious start. I decided to take the role of the Defender in the next test game. We checked if mechs are even allowed to Rapid-Move, and, while the rules are entirely unclear on the subject, there was nothing prohibiting mechs from Rapid Moves, nor any option upgrades for mechs to buy rapid movement upgrades. This is not clear.

All the same, we decided to plough on.

I reset the table to my liking, and deployed my Kuritans.

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Circle the wagons…

That was over even more quickly, with my having sprinted my formation off by the end of the first turn. This was possibly assisted by the preponderance of fast-moving light mechs in the Kuritan lineup, but given the debacle of the last game, I’m more inclined to conclude it’s just a badly balanced scenario.

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…ah, what the heck. BANZAI!

Failed Ambush is a busted flush: the Defender just has to sprint their units off the board at breakneck pace and avoid the temptation to get into a punchup with the Attacker. Now, perhaps this is a touch unfair; it’s possible that Mechs aren’t actually allowed to Rapid Move, though Light and Heavy Cavalry (tanks, not horsemen), are. Given this, there’s certainly nothing stopping a tank-heavy force simply sprinting off the board, waving both fingers.

Naomi considered that perhaps a wider table was in order, but the scenario is recommended for a 4′ by 2′ table at the smallest scale; where it just won’t work, and even on 4′ by 4′, it breaks down. Forces in HW are  too mobile, and reaction fire is  too limited, to make this kind of breakout mission any kind of a contest.

Reconnaissance in Force turned out for the better. This scenario works where the Attacker, with a smaller force, is trying to hang around until the Defender deploys their entire formation from Hidden Deployment, ostensibly to gather information. The victory conditions are, again, appallingly unclear, though I’ve managed to break them down.

The defender splits his force into two sections; one, which is deployed in Hidden Deployment, and the other, in Reserve.
The defender isn’t really required to preponderance one over the other; a numerically smaller advance force will lessen the amount of time they have to inflict losses on the attacker. Victory is decided by the proportion (again, unclear whether this is by Presence or numbers) of Defenders vs Attackers.

Should the Attacker keep his force level the same as that as his advanced force, and survive until the last Defender is deployed, then the Attacker wins.
Should the Defender reduce the Attackers force to below the starting size, but more than half the starting size, they have fought to a draw.
Should  the Defender punches the Attacker’s force to the point it’s below half it’s advanced strength, the defender wins.

We set the table up as so

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The attacker picks a board edge and sets up on it. The defender’s advanced force (yes, both sides have them!), is deployed from Hidden Deployment, anywhere 6″ from the markers laid on on the table ,all of which are to be 6″ from the edge and each other.

This was the scenario which saved Horizon Wars from being returned to Amazon.

Despite the incoherence of how Hidden Deployment works, and the general incoherence of having the victory conditions spread across three paragraphs, Reconnaissance in Force proved an interesting, tightly-fought battle between Naomi’s Liao Warrior House and my 13th Sword of Light. Such a tightly-fought battle, that I forgot to enough pictures.

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The game towards it’s conclusion, as my original forces withdraw and hunker down behind a bunker, and the Jenner emerges from hiding to savage the Rifleman, the Longbow moving up the field and just unloading volley after murderous volley of LRMs, knocking out the Liao Stinger and Hatchetman.

It provided me with a serious tactical challenge of trying to drip-feed in forces to not immediately end the game, but also to not allow Naomi to immediately gang up on my isolated mechs. In the end, the Longbow saved me; sprinting on from reserve and launching volley after volley of long-ranged death into the oncoming Capellans. My Black Knight fared much as it had in the Deliberate Attack scenario; rushed into melee, immediately crippled itself and it’s foe.

To conclude; two out of three scenarios tested are heavily broken, it’s unclear whether the key units (mechs) can rapid-move or not, and we still have no clue as to how Deep and Hidden Deployment works.
Charging is too random to be a viable option for damaging opponents, making close combat upgrades fairly pointless for mechs, whereas Range upgrades are incredibly useful, and the book is missing it’s entire set of rules for cover.
Another flaw is the lack of a distinction between anti-personnel and anti-armour firepower. While I can appreciate a desire for simplicity in a wargame, I do feel that keeping fire capabilies abstracted to an overall number, without any acknowledgement of the massive differences in capabilities needed to engage small, concealed but soft (or not so soft) infantry, and fast-moving heavy armour and mechs, is not a good design decision.

It makes me sad to knock a game that’s clearly had such heart and effort put into it, but I just don’t think Horizon Wars , in it’s current format, is sufficiently polished

We are going to do individual assessments of Safe Corridor, Rescue and maybe try out a couple of the narrative missions, which look like they have promise. I may also post up some potential revisions to Deliberate Attack. We’ll also be trying out these scenarios using Classic Battletech.

We’ll also be testing out Ambush Alley’s Tommorow’s War, despite it being designed as an infantry game with Mechs in a supporting role. So stay tuned for more glorious robotic violence!

 

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