September 15th, 2010
In Focus Review - AE Bounty from Darkson Designs
AE Bounty is the latest effort from Darkson Designs, the very same company responsible for AE WWII. While I'm not that familiar with AE WWII, I am told that AE Bounty utilizes many of the same rule mechanics found within AE WWII.
The rulebook is quite a bit smaller than the standard size rulebook. From what I've gathered this rulebook is considered A5 size, and it's about half the size of most other rulebooks. I actually like it, because it's not so small that reading it is an issue, but it's not so big that you can't find a spot for it next to a gaming table as you play AE Bounty.
At a glance it's roughly the size of a standard DVD case, only about an inch longer from top to bottom. It's just the right size to pick it up and take it with you most anywhere. My biggest gripe about the tome-size rulebooks is trying to find a spot to set them during games, with this book that should never be an issue.
I previously took a very in-depth look at the Crew Composition side of AE Bounty in the preview article I posted back on July 3rd, based on the final pdf version of the AE Bounty rulebook. So when it comes time to talk about that, instead of repeating myself and wasting more virtual space, I'll just link to that article.
In a nutshell, AE Bounty is a sci-fi skirmish game utilizing as little as 2 models per side, but with usually no more than 15 models per side. The AE in AE Bounty stands for Alien Encounters, and this game is all about aliens. There's three factions to choose from, Bounty Hunters, Mercenaries and Pirates, and there's 14 alien races, plus 13 unique hero types to also select from. The game scale is 28mm, and they claim it supports 1/48th scale models as well.
This game is also supported by a range of 28mm scale models from Darkson Designs, but you are also encouraged to use your own models just the same. I've seen some claim that they've even used a couple of boosters worth of the plastic pre-painted Star Wars Miniatures from Wizards to play AE Bounty. You certainly can't say AE Bounty isn't flexible. All that you need to play AE Bounty is the rulebook, a ruler in inches, a 4ft X 4ft playing surface, a single D6 die and a handful of models for each player. That's it.
The one thing I find most unique about this game is the points-free Crew creation system. There's no point costs to make an army, and there's truly so much flexibility with this system. I'll point you now to the earlier article detailing Crew Composition to cover that in-depth. Once you're done you can finish reading the rest of the review here via the link provided at the end of that article.
AE Bounty Crew Composition Article
Now that you have an idea of how the Crew Composition works, let's talk about combat and the basic mechanics. Here's a rundown of the stats AE Bounty makes use of...
Movement is how many inches you can move, per each AP (action point) spent. Ranged Combat is represented by the value RC, and the lower this value the better. If none is listed then that model doesn't have the ability to engage in ranged combat. Close Combat (CC) is used for offensive and defensive CC encounters. Armor is represented by simply A. Strength is S, and is used to determine how much damage a model inflicts in CC. Drive is represented by DR, and this value represents a models motivation and the ability to continue fighting on, or not. If DR ever ends up zero, you stand the chance of surrendering to the enemy. Wounds is simply W.
There's a slew of Special Abilities as well. While most of these abilities are granted by default if you have them, some cost APs to use them. The ability to spend multiple AP on some of these abilities is quite slick too. For instance the ability Aim. If you spend 1 AP to use Aim, you can select from a list of bonuses, and if you spend another AP, you can select another one of the bonuses, effectively stacking them.
The only limitation is that you cannot select a single bonus more than once. However I could effectively end up with increasing the weapon's Strength by +1, and to ignore the +1 penalty for long range shooting, or instead select to shoot a passenger of a vehicle, or to shoot at a model in close combat, both without the normal penalty/limitations.
Pistoleer is rather sweet too. For models equipped with dual pistols, you can spend 1 AP and move and fire both pistols at once, even selecting two different targets as long as they're both within range and LOS. That's so Jango Fett-like, and it's rather cool that it was modeled in-game that way. Walking Fire is another really cool ability, it reflects a models ability to walk across a battlefield guns blazing essentially. So Walking Fire grants the Move & Fire trait. Steady Hands is also a rather nice sniper ability, as models with it can fire at Long Range without incurring the penalty. I counted 28 Special Abilities in all.
Action Points are granted based on the Experience Level of a model. There's Elite, Veteran, Regular and Green, and the AP allotted for them are 4, 3, 2, and 1 respectively for each level. There's also three Unit classifications Squads, Individuals and Heroes. Acting in a Squad requires maintaining cohesion of 4-inches at all times. As a Squad you share a single Squad-based Drive value, which is good for the most part, but can be bad at times too.
However under normal circumstances being in a Squad is beneficial, because you get to use the highest Drive value of a single member for the entire Squad, until one member of it is reduced to zero. Individuals act independently, but they can join and leave squads, and Heroes are the uber class, but most Crews don't have but one Hero usually to keep things balanced.
The movement rules are straightforward. While facing is important for your front and rear arcs, you are allowed to change your facing for free once per turn, but any additional changes in facing will cost 1 AP. Moving up or down a level is 1 AP, obstacles and terrain can slow movement, and you can also Sprint, Charge and even Fall in AE Bounty.
There's no pre-measuring allowed in AE Bounty. Therefore once you make it to conduct Ranged Combat, if you select a target that's in Line Of Sight (LOS), but if the target ends up out of range, you still spend the AP to fire, but can do no damage to the target. The shot is carried out by rolling a single D6, using the RC value of the firer as the number to equal or beat for a success. Next the Strength of the weapon is factored in to determine a wound. The Strength of the weapon can be as simple as 1 plus a single D6 roll, or as high as 6 plus a 2 D6 roll. This is where at first it seemed tricky to me. Now you take the Armor value of the target, and subtract that from the Strength of the weapon.
If my weapon has a Str of 4 plus 1 D6, and I roll a 4 on a D6, the total Str of my weapon is 8 now. The target has an armor value of 3, so I now subtract that from MY weapon Str of 8 leaving a value of 5. So the target needs to roll a 5 or better for an armor save on a single D6. The more powerful the weapon, the more Wounds it can inflict. If the final Str of an attack is 11-14, it inflicts 2 wounds, if it ends up 15-19 it can inflict 3 wounds, and every attack that's 5 points over 15 inflicts an additional wound.
Instead of making a normal Ranged Attack, models can also perform a Special Action called Suppressing Fire. No roll is needed to conduct this attack, but instead the target model has to pass a Drive Check, rolling equal or less than their current Drive value. If they fail, they're suppressed.
Close Combat is simply a roll off, where each combatant rolls a single D6, adds their CC value to the roll, and the player with the highest combined result scores a hit. A interesting twist is that if a player rolls a 6, they roll the die again, and add that result to the value of 6 and the CC score, and if they rolled another 6, they get to roll yet again. Once there's a clear winner of the combat, a single D6 is rolled, and the Str of the model is added to the result to determine the total Str of the attack, and then any armor saves are worked out the same way as Ranged Combat armor saves.
Charging allows for a triple speed movement to a target, and if you reach the model you charged then the single attack is given a +2 modifier to the CC and Str stats for that single attack. If you fail to reach the model, it's considered a Sprint. It also will cost all of your AP to make a Charge or Sprint.
A similar attack but one you can perform while engaged already in close combat is the Focused Attack. This attack allows you to boost your Str and CC stats up to equal to the value of your CC value, but after the attack is made that model ends up negative the same value to the CC that they boosted. So if you boosted the CC and Str by 3 points, you're now at a -3 to your CC value until that models next turn to activate.
The game rounds are played out in a you-go-then-I-go alternating order. The player with Initiative goes first by activating a unit, then once they used all their APs, it's now the 2nd players turn, and the alternating goes on until both sides have activated all of their models. Then another round begins, and initiative is decided again. There's no clean up or strategy phases to deal with, just figure out initiative before each round begins, and play until both sides have activated all of their models in an alternating fashion, rinse and repeat. It's that simple.
The scenarios provided offer options for setting up Planned or Unplanned scenarios. Planned scenarios allow you to know before setting up a Crew what the situation will be, so that you can attempt to create appropriate forces tailored for the task at hand. Unplanned scenarios are only revealed once both sides have created their Crews, so it's more of a blind date situation. Which type you play can be agreed upon by both sides, or via rolling a D6 and on a 1-3 it's Unplanned and on a 4-6 it's Planned.
Setting the stage for a Planned scenario you first Choose the Scenario, Determine the Battlefield Conditions, Select who's the Attacker and Defender, Select Crews, Draw Secondary Objectives and then Deployment. For an Unplanned scenario you first Select Crews, Choose the Scenario, Determine Battlefield Conditions, Choose the Attacker/Defender and then Deployment.
Rolling of a D6 determines which scenario you can end up with, if you and the other player haven't already agreed upon a specific scenario to play, or if you simply can't agree. Planned scenarios include Duel, Fair Fight, Hold the Fort, Clean Hit, Robbery and Escort scenarios. Unplanned include Ambush, Hostage Situation, Foraging, Chance Encounter, Infiltration and Roll Again.
Battlefield Conditions are determined via rolling 2x D6, with options for Roll Two Conditions, Toxic Rain, High Gravity, Darkness, Snow/Sand/Mud, No Conditions, Storm, Darkness, Low Gravity, Poor Atmosphere, and Roll Two Conditions. Darkness for instance limits range to 24-inches, and all ranged attacks are at a penalty of -1. High Gravity slows things down, and limits range of specific weapons by 3-inches, while Low Gravity adds +1 to all movement, and increases range of the same specific weapon types by +3-inches. Toxic Rain is particularly nasty, because if you're in the open and not in cover, you stand to suffer an auto hit of Str 1 +1D6.
The specific scenarios themselves are quite unique too. Ambush for instance, allows the Attacker to select where the Defender's models deploy on the table! However, the Defender then gets to choose which table edge the Attacker deploys from. Now that just covers the general Scenarios provided, but there's a whole other set of rules for Starship Scenarios provided as well, and this is what really separates AE Bounty from most all other sci-fi skirmish games out there.
These rules allow you to play within the confines of a starship, complete with rules for doors, corridors, compartments, bulkheads, and so on. Via the specified Battlefield Conditions you could end up playing in Zero Gravity, in a Failed Life Support environment, or even in Total Darkness. They really cranked things up for the Starship scenarios, because they really feel like a dramatic and desperate situation in play.
If a stray shot ends up hitting a bulkhead, you runt he risk of decompression, and then being sucked into space. While you're in that environment all of the movement and actions are put into almost a slow-motion to simulate the situation of a ruptured bulkhead dramatically. The Starship Scenarios provided include Get to the Escape Pods, Kill the VIP, Roll Off, Salvage Operation and Take the Bridge, all of which are determined via a single D6 roll. These scenarios are a real treat, and I find myself playing them more than any of the other scenarios provided.
Lastly AE Bounty also provides some rules for Campaign play, with about four pages of rules covering how to replace casualties, progression of models, credits gained and Experience Points, plus how to spend them to improve Crews. The rest of the book includes six pages of quick reference cards covering all of the crews, and every profile, weapon, piece of gear, and alien species in detail.
The rulebook itself is quite nice too. It's clear that this is a high production value endeavor, as it's full color, and includes photos and graphics throughout which set the mood. It's also laid out and presented in a logical order for a rulebook, so you almost never have to bounce around from front to back, and then back to front when you're trying to learn the game. Everything is clearly presented too, as there's very little confusion about the rules, or what's presented overall. Being an A5 size book also is a plus, because it's so easy to pick up and take with you, but it's not so small that you can't read it.
This is without a doubt one of the most flexible skirmish games released so far in 2010. Personally, I think AE Bounty may very well be one of the very best games released in 2010 period. When it comes time to choose Game of the Year for 2010, it's going to be a really close race between AE Bounty and Freebooter's Fate now, because they're both really that good.
I've also found all new uses for Pig Iron Productions Models, MERCS Minis Models, and Wargames Factory Shock Trooper Models thanks to AE Bounty.
Their own models are also definitely worth checking out, so be sure to read my Review of the AE Bounty Starter Set and two of the stand alone blister packs of the AE Bounty alien models, also from Darkson Designs.
I think the flexibility of being able to use your own models, and the almost endless combination offered by the crew composition capabilities make this an outstanding skirmish level game that won't get old anytime soon. With so many sci-fi themed weapons (28 in all), dirty tricks, gear (32 in all), alien races (14 in all), and character types to choose from, if you created a new crew for each game every time you played AE Bounty, then no two games should ever play out the same.
There's really no bookkeeping to deal with either, aside from having your character sheet made out to play with. Usually I'm not very fond of miniature games that make me feel like I'm putting together a character for D&D, but the difference is, that there's no dice deciding my fate. I'm not “rolling” a character. I'm actually able to choose my character, their weapons & gear, and my Dirty Tricks based on the crew profile templates, and I don't need dice, or a calculator to do it all.
The struggle to keep enemy weapons and combat conditions from demoralizing your troops is one of the key dynamics of the game too, because the fast and furious gameplay can end quite abruptly when your troops end up in Rout running off the board, or surrendering to enemy troops. There's more to this game than just running around and shooting up, or slicing the other guys models to shreds to win. The multiple objective-based missions, combined with keeping your Drive high ensure that it's challenging but still quite interesting too.
The Starship Scenarios are also a huge plus, and they really help to set AE Bounty aside from most other sci-fi skirmish games out there. They allow you to play in a Space Hulk-like environment when ever you want to, in addition to all of the traditional indoor and outdoor planet-bound scenarios provided. It's hard to believe they packed so many options into a book that's only 99-pages long, but they did.
What's more, the AE Bounty rulebook is just $24.99! It's one of the most affordable, but high production quality printed rulebooks you can get. As far as rulebooks go, it's definitely one of the better ones I've seen in print. However it's not heavily fluff laden, quite frankly the background story is pretty weak, but it doesn't take away from it being a great game.
While I have a really hard time finding any fault in this game, there is one thing missing. There's no vehicle rules in AE Bounty. If I can fault it for anything it would have to be that. That doesn't mean there won't be any, because AE WWII recently had tanks added to it via an issue of Over the Wire, which is Darkson Designs free .pdf magazine covering their products. Darkson Designs also confirmed to me that vehicle rules will be added, they just didn't say when.
Upon reading the AE Bounty forums at the Darkson Designs website it's clear that they're definitely working on adding some rules for starship travel too. I found this quote from Darkson Designs on the topic at their forums...
"I think we'll be sharing some of this information soon. But yes, there's FTL transport in Bounty, and many options in between FTL and ion impulse drive. Which is really slow."
I also asked Darkson Designs Creative Director Robert Kingery about the future of AE Bounty just the other day, and here's what he replied...
"Well Bounty was just released so we are not going to overwhelm the fans with too many rumors of multiple books in the works for both AE-WWII and AE-Bounty. ;) Do we have plans laid out already for other books? Yes. Do we have an overall plan for deeper look into the Bounty universe? Yes. We already have weapon packs done and ready for release as well as models done and ready to go into next year"
I also learned that the first bit of new content will be revealed in Over the Wire soon called Project BANE, which will be supported by a Starter Set force of models, along with blister packed models as well. Stay tuned to WarGameGuru for more on AE Bounty, as I'll be following all further developments
AE Bounty is certainly one of the most fun, exciting and innovative games in terms of flexibility that I've played so far this year. AE Bounty could very well be the best $25 you'll spend all year long. Best of all, this is only the beginning, the future is so bright for this game at present, because there's so much more AE Bounty stuff to come from Darkson Designs.