Review: Dust Tactics

Dust Tactics is a pulpy, alternate history game set in a world where WWII didn’t end so rapidly and is, in fact, ongoing after the date it ended in our world. Access to strange technology has advanced all sides forward – perhaps most especially the Germans – to the point where there are now walking tanks, laser weapons and where the more esoteric weapons of the genuine war are far more common. It’s a boardgame/skirmish game hybrid, with simple, accessible rules based upon the ‘Dust’ world of Paolo Parente.Background
The Dust world is one where WWII has ended up in, essentially, a stalemate and the world has settled into three blocs. Allies, Axis and the Sino-Soviets. Thanks to discovered and exploited alien(?) technology things are more advanced than the late 40’s setting might lead you to believe. The world is still at war, but it is a war with lasers, rocket planes and other pulp-science apparatus as well as zombies and genetically engineered gorillas. Yes, it’s a little gonzo, but it’s also pretty bloody wonderful for all that. You take the part of one side or another (US Rangers or German soldiers) in the basic set, battling in Antarctica over the research bases the Axis have there.


Dust Tactics uses a very, very simple system. Troops are organised into squads of 5 (or 5+Hero) and vehicles are treated independently. The board is made up – usually – of 9 boards, each of 9 squares. Each square houses a vehicle, or a squad. The terrain is broken up with wall sections and with crates and tank traps that provide cover.

You take turns to activate units and each unit can – normally – take two actions. Move, Shoot and any combination thereof. Certain units have special abilities that they can use – such as berserk which lets you reroll an attack – or disposable, limited use weaponry like underslung grenade launchers that you can use in a pinch.

Attack and defence is handled by 6-sided dice, divided into four blank sides and two ‘target’ sides. To resolve attacks you roll dice and the targets, if they come up, qualify as hits. So it’s essentially a very simple dicepool system.

The world is well realised, though being a skirmish/boardgame there’s not a huge amount of explanatory text and a lot is skimmed over, though the information is out there to be found. A bit more text on background/world-setting would have been nice to have, but I’m sure more will be coming along with expansions. Much of the atmosphere comes from the artwork.

The artwork is universally excellent though, when it comes to terrain, the flatness of the wall tiles is a bit of a disappointment, especially since all the photographs in the book show 3D terrain. It’s easy enough to print out and fold your own wall sections/bunkers if you’ve any facility with photoshop and, indeed, that’s what I’ve started to do for my own game. The miniatures themselves are well designed – though being plastic some of the guns end up looking like they would shoot around corners. It’s a damn shame you have to pay a premium for pre-painted and I would draw comparison with Rackham’s AT-43, but since Rackham appear to have gone bust, perhaps FFG are on the right track by not offering them pre-painted as standard. Still, for someone with little/no time to paint, it is a disappointment.

Having played a few games now it feels that the two sides aren’t particularly balanced – as presented in the base game. The German ‘bots in particular seem much more powerful than their opposite number and the US hero’s ability is nowhere near as useful as that of his opposite number. I can see how this could be offputting to some people coming to the game, though this may just be my experience.

There are expansions coming out, though whether they’ll fulfil the promise of the basic game and the stated aims/expansions of the booklet (the game’s been through at least two developers) remains to be seen, but I hope so. I’m a little worried to see the more esoteric and high-tech expansion units coming first, I’d rather see some more basic unit options.

Personally, I’m really holding out for the Sino-Soviet mecha and soldiers – always had a weakness for Communist design and iconography – so I hope the game succeeds and continues to expand, at least to the point where I can get some Soviet and British troops!

The Antarctic setting of the base game is also a little disappointing, bleak and uninteresting visually and I’d rather not paint my figs in arctic camo, as it will make the troops hard to distinguish from one another. This is all nitpicking.

The game is simplistic, but that also means that it’s fast to play and for someone with limited time to game, that’s a boon. Now I just need people to play against!

On the Plus Side

  • Good sculpting.
  • Solid construction, good pieces.
  • Fast/brutal to play.

On the Minus Side

  • Card terrain is a little disappointing.
  • Lacks depth/info – at the moment.
  • Antarctic setting is bleak and makes for samey looking figs (if you paint them that way).

Style: 4.5
Substance: 3.5
Overall: 4