The folks over at Ares Games are currently running a Kickstarter for Tripods and Triplanes and sent me a review copy. Being a huge fan of their Wings of Glory and Sails of Glory, this was a welcome arrival on my part. I was one of those folks that bought into All Quiet on the Martian Front when it was a Kickstarter as well. WWI mixed with Martians is a good game concept and it is clear Ares has another winner here.
Key proviso here: I received a prototype copy of the game so my comments are based on that, not the final production copy. Guys at Ares, you should feel free to send me the final product (wink wink, nod nod).
The background for this game is simple. In March of 1918 Martian tripods (ala War of the Worlds) land in Alsace. The warring powers sign a truce and start going after these heat-ray-toting war machines. Simplicity is important or you start asking too many questions; like why not go after them with tanks and artillery? Just stick to the premise – Martian tripod walkers against WWI aircraft.
One of my initial concerns about the game system was that it would not be fully compatible with Wings of Glory. Thankfully it is! So I don’t have to run out and buy new decks or new aircraft. The systems mesh perfectly. In other words, you have a whole new reason to buy Wings of Glory airplanes. Now you can use them against the bloody-damned Martian invaders!
If you are on the human side, you’re essentially playing Wings of Glory. There are not any substantive changes to the rules here. You draw three cards for your maneuvers, you move, shoot, move, shoot…you get the idea. Altitude is not much of a factor here since your targets are ground based. If you are not familiar with Wings of Glory, it takes upwards of ten minutes or so to master the game system.
What Ares Games has done though is to introduce a number of new concepts with the Martians that make the gameplay very challenging, for both players. There are four groupings of these changes. First, is the movement of the tripods. The Martian player’s tripods move just like planes in Wings of Glory. There are cards with the movements on them, you move them based on the patterns/lines on the cards. Tripods, however, can stand still, pivot in place, and move backwards. This may not sound that different, but for a seasoned Wings of Glory player, it can change your maneuvers when you get in close to target.
The second group of changes is that the Martians also have action tokens. These are things like fire your heat ray, discharge smoke (in the Standard Game), recharge your batteries, change facing (pivot). These get played in addition to the maneuvers. So there is some planning that needs to take place on the part of the Martians.
The third thing is that the Martian player has to manage power with his tripods. You don’t get to fire or use your shields if you don’t have power tokens. So you need to use your token to recharge your batteries as you go or your tripod becomes a big moving target. It’s easy to do, but if you are pressed in a heated battle (pun intended) you may be hard-pressed to keep the power levels up.
Finally, the fourth new thing is that the tripods can have shields and new weapons. Shields reduce the damage but often may not cover an entire tripod, often leaving the rear exposed. The new weapons are nasty. In the basic game you have the heat ray. The rules about the firing arcs require some careful reading, but what is most important is that the heat ray is devastating in terms of range and damage to biplanes and triplanes. While it is a smaller arc of fire than a machinegun on most Wings of Glory aircraft, it has a long reach that gives the tripods some advantage. Also the heat ray fires through side projectors as well on the tripods I played.
In the Standard Game, the Martians also get smoke projectors. Think of these are clouds that dissolve aircraft and pilots. These clouds remain on the map and make a zone that most pilots will want to avoid. Of course the humans pick up rockets as weapons, which certainly helps against the tripods.
Let me say that if these are the miniatures that will be offered, they rock. The detail on them is fantastic, especially the larger tripods. Ares Games always does a lot of fine detail work in their aircraft for Wings of Glory, and we see that here with the tripods too.
The draft rules I received were okay. You have to read some sections very carefully, such as the Action Tokens and toppling tripods. In playing, I made a few mistakes in movement that resulted in my tripod toppling. Where Wings of Glory tends to be forgiving with mistakes, Tripods and Triplanes is not. If you make a mistake as a Martian (and are caught) you will topple over and take damage.
The ultimate question everyone has is: “How does it play?” I tried a few different scenarios on my own. First, I took up Von Richthofen flying straight in against a Locust tripod. In other words, no real tactics, just fly in guns a-blazing.
It didn’t end well for the Red Baron. He went down in flames as he reached close range to the Locust. That means that tactics are important in the game.
Next I did some maneuvers to see if the outcome was different. Getting around behind the tripod is trickier than you might think because the tripod player can use a change face token to pivot. The tripods are more nimble than you might think. To do real damage, I had to keep the aircraft in close. That was no problem. Between the aircraft and tripod movements, ranges closed fast. The narrow heat ray beam arc helped the Red Baron score a victory, though it was a close match. My summary – tactics count in this game.
I played one round with a medium tripod with the standard rules. Those smoke clouds are nasty…the Martians can place them anywhere at the end of the firing arc and the clouds remain on the map. Flying and Nieuport with rockets really didn’t seem to change the balance of play up as much as I hoped.
The next test run I used a two-seater (an old Wings of Glory plane). Alright, now we are talking. Having two firing arcs on the airplane allowed me to do a fly-by of the tripod, shooting as I passed and hitting the non-shield side with the rear gunner. “Take that Martian scum!” My take on this is your choice of aircraft is very important in the game.
My summation. Ares has another hit on their hands. They have successfully (and artfully) taken an established historical game system and have repurposed it into a science fiction game. I struggle to find another company to successfully pull that off. I recommend you check out their Kickstarter to get in on the fun and carnage.