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Dust Yourself Off: Dust Tactics Reviewed

Jeff reviews the revised Dust Tactics Core Set

Game Name: Dust Tactics Core Set – Revised

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games

Designers: Paolo Parente and Olivier Zamfirescu

Year: 2011

Genre: WWII/Science fiction combat board game with miniatures

Players: Two to four players

Ages: 10+

Playing Time: 60+ Minutes

MSRP: $79.95

I have to say one game I’d really been looking to get my hands on was Dust Tactics. As I’m a nut as far as miniatures (come on you haven’t figured this out yet?) I had seen various expansions or figure releases on the FFG site and was licking my chops to tackle the title. I’ve mentioned before why I think games with miniatures have a big appeal for gamers of all stripes and Dust Tactics is mighty appealing.

It’s important to note Dust Tactics is truly a board game utilizing miniatures as opposed to a straight out miniatures system ala Warmachine or Malifaux. This means games play out within an hour or so and the fighting is fast and furious. An alternate Cold War is the setting for Dust Tactics (DT) as it’s based upon the world of Dust created by Paolo Parente. This is a world in which alien technology was discovered by both the Allies and Axis, during WWII, and they have now continued the war into the late 1940s with no end in sight. I know I’ve pointed out the Nazis just seem to continually be recycled as the big baddies but given the back story to the game, and the fact this is a continuation of WWII, I don’t see it as an issue with DT. There’s a bit of a science fiction angle but it isn’t over the top and not as if we’re talking about Space Nazis in the year 2142.

Upon opening the box you’ll see there are loads of figures included as you receive one each of the opposing forces mecha “walker” units as well as fourteen Allied troopers and a dozen Axis soldiers – all in plastic. These look to be true 28mm figures and I could easily see there was much more detail to the miniatures than the smaller scale minis that came with Mansions of Madness; this will make the figures more interesting to paint as well as making a painter’s life a bit easier too. They sort of reminded me of Tamaya model figures, although a bit larger. These figures come unpainted but are supposedly primed in a base color (they don’t feel primed to me) and have a decal attached to determine what sort of unit it is.

The walker figures are very well done as well although they do need to be assembled. If you decide to glue the walkers together you’ll find you’ll have a hard time getting them back in the box along with the other components. None of the miniatures, whether they’re humans or mecha, arn’t completely out there “style-wise” so you could easily incorporate them into any other WII alternate timeline game you might have on the shelf or cooking in your head.

I’ll have a bit more about painting the figures at the end of the review but the minis are mighty impressive.

You also receive the rulebook, a scenario book entitled “Victory Bridge”, two folded terrain maps, nine double sided terrain tiles, four 3D pieces of terrain cover, six unique combat dice, as well as unit cards and a “loaded” token. The six sided dice have four faces which are completely black and two opposing sides sporting a targeting reticule. This means you have a one in three chance of rolling a success on each die. Both books are nicely presented and, seeing this is a revised edition, didn’t present any serious head scratchers on the first read through.

The unit cards are in full color complete with a photograph of studio painted units. These cards are a nice size and include all of the info you’ll need about how many dice the unit rolls, what weapons they use, and so forth.

The 3D terrain is boring to the extreme. You receive two sort of crate things and a couple of pieces of what appear to be tank traps. These almost seem to have been tossed into the box as an afterthought. It’s a bit strange to see terrain tiles that are two dimensional, and can block line of sight, while also including these lame 3D pieces.

The fold out terrain maps (FFG calls them posters) are nice enough but I highly doubt they would hold up very well to repeated play. The terrain tiles, which are made of fairly thick cardboard seem as if they would hold up but are pretty *meh* all in all. So far we have some really sweet miniatures and unit cards but the rest isn’t all too spectacular. This isn’t a huge issue as the selling point will be the figures and the gameplay so this review is going to teeter on the gameplay no doubt.

As I pointed out earlier in the review, this is not a miniatures game. If you approach DT as a new rule system to utilize for another range of figures you are going to be sorely disappointed; DT is a board game that includes miniatures for visual effect. The rules are fairly simple and the options available to each unit on a given turn break down into taking actions, of which two are available to human soldiers.

Each turn begins with an initiative roll in which each player rolls three dice and the player with the most successes (target symbols) goes first. There may be modifiers to the initiative roll but whoever goes first gets to perform actions with a particular unit and each side alternates activating a unit for action there on out.

You can move and fire, fire and move, move twice, or perform a sustained attack which doesn’t allow for movement but allows one reroll for each missed die roll. That’s pretty much the meat and potatoes of it all. Each unit can take one hit (heroes and walkers are a bit tougher than the average grunt) and then they’re toast. Line of sight is determined by the circle located in the center of the map square or terrain tile.

Units have different weapons they can use and, depending on your target and its type of armor, you’ll choose how to make your attack. Each unit card will display how many dice you’re able to roll and how much damage each hit will cause. Attacks also have to be declared before dice are rolled so you can’t be sneaky and suddenly change targets if you’ve suddenly lucked out and wiped out your initial target.

There are some special weapons and abilities but the unit card or scenario will make those clear. There are no rules for morale so your troops will fight to the last man or woman. Walkers don’t see any degradation in performance based on taking damage either.

I did point out this is not a miniatures game didn’t I?

A player can win if they complete their mission objective, eliminate their opponent, or score the most points based on casualties they’ve dished out once the number of turns of a given scenario has played out.

Out of the box, I really think DT is a lot of fun which could appeal to a broader spectrum of gamers. Yet I think FFG is dropping the ball in how they’re marketing the game and their pricing of expanding your DT experience. With an MSRP of $79.95 on the core game you receive twenty eight minis (two of which are large mecha vehicles) so even if you threw out everything else you get in the box you’re still looking at $2.85 or so for each miniature. Yet additional expansion figures come in packs that run from a reasonable $14.99 for five minis to much more insane pricing of $19.99 for three hero types and $24.95 for walkers. In fact, a recently announced heavy walker is priced at $39.95. Seriously, FFG is moving into Games Workshop territory with this pricing.

No single plastic figure is worth anywhere near seven bucks a pop! Is it any wonder why I simply adore Reaper Miniatures? I can score a quality lead figure, while saving a buck or two, that’ll withstand the rigors of gaming a lot longer than plastic and still enjoy a highly detailed figure to paint! Honestly, Dust Tactics could be marketed as an anti-WH40k with a much more realistic price structure. I’d love to have Christian Peterson as a guest and be the first to point out, “I’m very familiar with Games Workshop sir, and FFG is no Games Workshop.” Dust Tactics is also nowhere in the league of a GW title in terms of complexity, depth, or popularity.

Or, in other words, I’m not going to shell out forty bucks on a miniature used for what is really just a board game… Dust Warfare is on the horizon, which will make DT a true miniatures game, but I think this’ll only lead to even more outrageous prices for Dust minis.

I did mention I’d discuss painting your DT miniatures before I finished up the review. FFG indicates the miniatures are “preprimed” so you can just paint the figures right out of the box. As someone who has painted just about anything from 6mm to 1/6th scale made of lead, pewter, plastic, and resin this is certainly not the case. Sure, the figures have been mainly cleaned of mold release agents but they are not primed. Maybe this is what they mean by “preprimed” as you don’t have to wash off the greasy residue you always find on plastic figures. Each figure also has a decal attached so if you plan on painting the minis you’re going to have to understand that decal is going to have to go. You won’t miss them though with so creative use of Photoshop and a printer – you can easily replace the decals.

Detail is certainly solid and you’ll really enjoy painting the minis included with DT. They’re really crisp and you won’t have to spend much time prepping the figures (still not worth seven bucks a mini though!) before you get to slapping down the paint. Because these are 28mm you’ll find you can approach the minis in the same way as you would from any other manufacturer. As I pointed out earlier, the figures are top notch!

In the end, Dust Tactics really won’t jump out for those who want to get into the nitty gritty of a WWII sim or even a serious SF miniatures gamer. It won’t appeal to serious wargamers either. DT is the sort of game that will reel in those who argue Memoir ’44 is a “serious wargame” and gamers who love a great visual presentation and still be able to play out a game in an hour or so. I also have an issue with any game that in some way simulates combat between human beings that ignores morale. I don’t care if there’s a SF angle or not – thinking humans simply don’t  fight to the death.

If you’re looking for a fun game, with a lot of great minis, Dust Tactics is worth a serious look. Then again, you’ll want to check your bank account before you start expanding as the price point for add ons is fairly steep,

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Jeff McAleer

Founder/Editor-in-chief of The Gaming Gang website and host of The Gaming Gang Dispatch and other TGG media, Jeff tackles any and all sorts of games but has a special fondness for strategy, conflict sims, and roleplaying games. Plus, he's certainly never at a loss for an opinion...

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10 years ago

Superb review, and thank you for the heads up on priming the figures. I didn’t think they felt primed from my scale modelling experience, but I have others saying they are.

7 years ago

The use of posters is just shocking, especially at the high price. You know the posters won’t fold out properly, won’t work on a carpet and will get ripped immediately.

I wasn’t impressed when I opened the box, that’s for sure.

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