" AE-WWII is definitely worth your time. "
Title: AE-WWII by Blackball Games
Format: Skirmish-Level Tabletop Strategy
Reviewing Monkey: Dungapult
What This Monkey Thought...
So, let's talk about this upfront: writing this review is a bit weird for us. The reason, as anyone who frequents tabletop forums will know, is that AE-WWII is hopefully a scant few months from getting a second edition released. Moreover, as regular readers of this site can tell you, after being burned far too many times by overpromising PR worms we don't do previews.
So why are we bothering?
The reason is simple: AE-WWII, a 28mm skirmish-level wargame that combines sci-fi and horror in a World War II setting, is a game we--and you-- want to talk about. It's one of those really rare independent titles with both an awesome concept and triple-A production values that the market, being the market, unfortunately swallowed whole. Because, despite making a real splash at GenCon several years in a row, and getting some pretty solid reviews from the publications that took a look at it, AE-WWII just wasn't able to get enough attention to stay standing.
And that sucked.
But now the original designer and developer is back in control of it and, thanks to Kickstarter, is trying to give it another go. And since they have to resurrect it anyways, they're also taking the opportunity to fix a few of the relatively minor problems the original game had.
All of which made us damned happy when we found out.
So while, technically, this review will be out of date shortly after we publish it, we're doing it anyway in hopes of driving some attention their way. Because this is a game that we desperately want brought back, that should never have been allowed to die in the first place.
Alright, so all that's the background. Now here's the review.
Like most strategy games, AE (which stands for Alternate Events) WWII is sold separately as a series of rulebooks and blisters of miniatures. This, as most of you know, irritates the hell out of me. Don't expect me to buy the book, go home and read it, then drive back to the store with my army list, and then get home to play my first game just to figure out my army's all wrong anyways. Give me a 2-player core starter with the things you know I'll need--enough to play my first few games--and be done with it. Then let me fill out my army once I have some idea what the hell I'm doing.
Still, that gripe aside, the rulebook is damned solid. The artwork, flavor, and rules presentation are all top-notch, and the background given on the alternate history is actually really interesting.
Set in a world where the Nazis were able to repel the US at Normandy, AE depicts WWII as a conflict that has ground on long enough that forces on all sides have turned to both science and the occult to seize advantages. Thus you have Tommy-gun wielding Rangers fighting alongside gas-powered mechs against werewolf soldiers of the SS and vampire-led German cyborgs. It's a damned cool setting, and one that lends itself far better to squad-level, skirmish-scale combat than it would to overly-large company warfare.
Gameplay itself feels very similar to most of what is already on the market and the learning curve is fairly short for anyone familiar with strategy games. Ranges are measured in inches, to-hits are resolved with single D6 rolls, then attacks are compared to armor and a saving-throw is made. Play balance tends to be armor-roll heavy, so it's saving-throws, rather than misses or wounds, that keeps play going. Still, single-squad games tend to be fairly short, and two non-rules-lawyery players can wrap one up in a half-hour to an hour.
Jumping back to the rulebook, the core includes everything you need--including a broad range of weapons, vehicles, and army lists--which is really nice (and far too rare). But what's most intriguing about it, and the system in general, is that army creation does not use points. Instead, each army gets a fixed amount of choices from a series of tiers, generally determined by character type. So, for example, a game may have you fielding 1 hero, 2 elites, 3 veterans, and 6 greens. Then all each side has to do is choose from their list of heroes, elite troops, veterans, etc., until they have their force filled out. This means that games are, as a rule, inherently balanced; since there is no real way to game the points-system into creating massively unbalanced armies. It also means that each side will field roughly the same number of models, since a single choice (i.e. elite or veteran) is generally never more than 3 individual units.
And speaking of models, the miniatures for AE-WWII typically range from good to great. Perhaps a little small for people used to Warhammer and other "heroically" scaled 28mm figures, the designs are fun and the sculpting tends to be solid. They are, perhaps, a little less detailed than I would like, and frequently come with an excessive amount of flashing, but once you get them cleaned up and painted they're a lot of fun--and easily usable in any other sci-fi or modern game you might be playing.
Add it all up and, in the end, AE-WWII is definitely worth your time. The game is quick, fun, and easy to pick up. The minis are cool. And the setting is outstanding.
I'd definitely recommend it.