Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Review: Horizon Wars- Osprey Games

Horizon Wars is another title by Osprey Games.  Like Frostgrave, this one has a stand-alone hardcover rulebook and is not part of the Osprey Wargames Series.  Unlike Frostgraveit has not generated any “official” new content, but I know the author Robey Jenkins (PrecintOmega) has put unofficial content on his Facebook page.  Mr. Jenkins is relatively active online and is more than happy to talk about Horizon Wars with you. 

I remember being on the Warseer Forums when Robey started building and selling the “Mech” portion of this game.  At the time, I was also working on a Mech game with JUGS, so I followed his work closely.  This was part of his “5 Pound” (as in the currency) wargaming efforts.  After finishing the mech game, he made an air frame and conventional forces game.  They could all work separately or together and were sold independently at the time.  Horizon Wars seems to be all of these works combined together into one source with some additional scenario and background content added. 

That’s a long enough stroll down memory lane.  I am sure if I mis-remembered any of the above Mr. Jenkins will be along soon to sort me out.  Let’s dive into the review. 

What I Liked
The game uses a rather innovative mechanic for resolving shooting attacks.  You measure the distance to the target, add modifiers, and that becomes your Target Number for success.  The unit firing rolls its firepower dice and adds them up.  Every time you can create a combination of this Target Number it is a potential hit.  The defender can roll his Defense dice, and any roll he makes that matches the roll of an attacker is cancelled. 

So, If I am shooting at a target 12 inches away in the open, my TN is 12.  If my unit has Firepower 3, I happen to roll a 9, 8, 7.  That would be 24 but would only be a single hit, since 8+7 exceeds 12, but 9 does not.  In addition, let’s say the defender rolls two defense dice and gets a 2 and 7, then I would have 9+8 which still exceed 12 and gives me one hit. 

This is a pretty clever mechanic as longer range shots are automatically more difficult due to the range, but there is theoretically no range limit.  This is a much more “active” way to deal with advanced weapons on the tabletop and much more elegant than giving each weapon system a “range” stat.  Very clever! 

I also really enjoy the “Adventures” system. It is essentially a method to create a set-piece battle that reflects the effects of previous engagements on the forces.  You roll up three categories, a situation, mission, and purpose to help you define the reason for the battle and that impacts the forces involved.  Based on the situation, mission, and purpose it changes your force selection, deployment, and mission objectives.  This means as a commander you no longer have “perfect knowledge” and must work with the “friction” of battle before it begins.  Very clever again!

Conventional, Mecha, and flying units all seem to be fairly well balanced against each other.  You do not have to take Mechs to be competitive.  They are just another unit type with some fun add-ons, but a tank can blast a Mech just as easily as vice-versa.  The same goes with aircraft.   

The size of the forces involved is also interesting.  For most 6-10mm scales games you see them focused on what I would call “battle” scale games.  In Horizon Wars the forces are almost “skirmish” scale.  You do not need dozens of tanks and infantry stands to play.  When I mocked up a couple of average sized game forces, they clocked in at 7 and 8 units respectively.  That is smaller than a game of Blood Bowl!  The game is intended for each “unit” to be a single model for vehicles and 3-5 infantry models on a base.  Wow, that makes playing this game super affordable!  The engagement ranges are also relatively short with 2x2 to 4x4 tables for game play.  This rulesets seems to hit the sweet spot for scale and price.    

Things I Do Not Like
With the aircraft rules, some of the seams start to show in the game.  The aircraft rules would work just fine as stand-alone rules for an aircraft vs. aircraft duel.  However, they start to get a bit muddier when you are trying to integrate them in with conventional ground forces as their movement is a bit different than that of ground forces.  This is a common problem when trying to make a combined arms game, and the aircraft rules combined with the Conventional rules add just a bit more complexity than I like.  This is the only part of the game where you can see the independent design of its components start to show a bit. 

Damage in Horizon Wars is based on attrition.  What does this mean?  Well, units all have a base set of stats.  As you take damage, the stats are reduced.  When the stats go to 0, a unit may not be able to move, shoot, or is destroyed.  The defender chooses which stats get reduced, unless a critical hit was rolled, in which the attacker chooses.  I am not a fan of this approach as it tends to increase “tracking” in the game.  Some level of this is unavoidable, but in a 6-10mm scale game I prefer either disabled/destroyed or not.

Every unit gets two activation a turn.  They can use this to move, shoot, engage in close combat, etc.  It is possible to use them up all at once or to save your second activation to potentially “react” to an opponent’s action.  I really like the nature and concept of this mechanic, but it is essentially an “action” point system.  I am not a fan of the system presented here for two main reasons. First it relies on counters on the table to track, and I tend to dislike those.  Second, it leads to more tracking and at 6-10mm scale I prefer to reduce the tracking. 

Both the action/reaction system, and attrition damage system are less of a problem in Horizon Wars as it is more of a scaled down skirmish game than a typical 6-10mm battle game.  These same mechanic with a larger unit count would be a deal breaker, but with the number of units present it works well enough. 

Meh and Other Uncertainties
The book has some really great artwork, including full page artwork.  I love the cover and think it captures the feel of the game really well.  There is a couple great full-page pieces of art inside as well, especially page 14 and 32.  However, some of the “in game” photos are a little less inspiring with boring terrain.  However, I recognize some of the models from PrecintOmega’s painting log from back in the day, and that made me smile.

There are several scenarios in the book.  They are pretty standard stuff, but when combined with the Adventures details they can shine and do the job.

There are also four “pre-packaged” sci-fi backgrounds that you can set your games in as well.  The first is a hypothetical future conflict where the British decide to attack the French essentially for the LOLs and because the French needed a “good kicking”.  This is my favorite of the backgrounds as it makes no sense, and even the people describing it “in-universe” are baffled by why it happened in the first place.  I could make some preposterous comment about how it mimics the absurd nature of modern warfare, and amplifies the general mood of Post-Brexit Britain to satirical levels; but that would just be a bunch of tosh.  The others are a Venus/Earth/Martian civil war, Mech obsessed E-sports-nutters, and truly advanced/grimdark/future of Galactic expansionism.  All of the pre-packaged sci-fi universes are a bit tongue in cheek and I appreciate that. 

Finally, the index provides a number of sources for 6-10mm models to fill your armies.  There is also a handy play summary sheet and army stat sheet for tracking. 

Final Thoughts
Horizon Wars is a nice little game.  It covers combined arms nicely and has some innovative and creative mechanics to model such "advanced” warfare.  The scale of the conflicts represented also makes this a great game for small spaces and the forces are affordable.  There is a bit more book-keeping than I typically like in a 6-10mm game, but the small number of units makes it manageable.  It is a nice bit of design work and I look forward to playing it more.  

As I said, Mr. Jenkins was working on this game when I was building Jugs.  Truth be told, I think his efforts are much more innovative and deal with combined arms much better.  The aircraft pieces feel like their own game to me, but they are perfectly serviceable if a bit complex to be integrated into ground warfare.  His Mechs also scale nicely together.  I think we had different design goals, as the big, stompy robots of Jugs were supposed to be the pinnacle of warfare where in Horizon Wars they are just another tool of the military trade.

It looks like Osprey has been on a roll with their rules.  Add this into the “Hit” column.


  1. I don't know how I missed this when you first wrote it, but thanks for the review!

    Only thing to really add is that the supplements on my website are 100% official... But some of them are still in beta, so YMMV!

  2. I figured you would pop in. You have a great web presence. I look forward to Zero Dark next!