Last week I finally managed to get in a few ‘learner’ games of Beyond the Gates of Antares at the HATE Club.
We started out with a simple 500pt Concord Versus Algorians game (essentially the contents of the Kar’A Nine Starter Set plus a few extra bits) in order to get a hang of the barebones basics of the rules and then followed it up with a slightly larger 750pt game of Algorians versus Ghar.
Despite the fact that HATE has wide selection of terrain and themed mats, all of my 30k/40k games have tended to be on suitably desolate grim dark wastelands. This was the first occasion that I deliberately picked something different since the background of BtGoA is so contrasting hard sci-fi and almost utopian by comparison – so we went with rolling hills & woodlands which wouldn’t have ben out of place his a historical or fantasy game – an unexplored verdant world to act as the battlefield 🙂
We managed to play the first game through to conclusion in an hour which I thought was pretty good going for a first learner game given I had only skimmed the rulebook previously. I have found that the core hardback BtGoA rulebook is a bit hard to digest as it doesn’t have a proper index and some of the rules seem to jump back & forth in a couple of places, so I was pleasantly surprised at how intuitive the core game is after playing through a few turns. I’d strongly recommend doing as I did and try to get a more experienced player to walk you through the rules, also there are some good indexes and rules summaries sheets which have been made available from Warlord’s new extranet Antares Nexus web portal which gathers together both official and 3rd party content. Also for some discussion of the rules and factions, then I’d recommend listening to the Freeborn Shard podcast which provides a good overview. While the reaction system is awesome once you get up to speed, it might be a bit much to take in when you are just learning the basics, so you might want to start within trying out the free cutdown, Antares Base One rule set.
The Ghar are simultaneously a good and bad faction to learn with: good because they tend to have smaller & more elite armoured forces with a relatively simple core tactic – advance shoot and try to get into close combat (they are very much the ‘orks’ of Antares in terms of play style). However, as they are the faction that diverges furthest away from the standard/core rules of Antares they are probably the least representative of how the game generally plays when compared to the other factions. We managed to get around 80% through the 2nd game before we both had to call it quits for the night, but I definitely got a good sense of the difference in play style and flavour of the Algorian, Concord and Ghar factions overall.
In terms of gameplay, I really think Antares is something of diamond in the rough – it was really great fun to play and the bolt-action style dice bag mechanic along the pinning/fire suppression rules combined with the use of d10 rather than d6 for the core dice tests really adds up to something unique and flavourful.
If you aren’t familiar with Bolt Action already, then essentially you have a bag filled with colour coded order dice (usually 1 per unit on each side) which are pulled at random in order to determine who activates their unit next. I love the pseudo alternating activations as this gives you a very fluid back and forth play style which is missing from 30k/40k games. I’d be really tempted to see if I could adapt something like this for 30k/40k narrative games with friends to mix things up a bit. Even with relatively small point games, the way in which you make decisions about choosing reactions or how to allocate your ‘lucky’ hits means you always seem to be making interesting tactical decisions in Antares. I’m not sure how well this would scale up to larger games, but I think for smaller scale games it is much more engaging and fun than playing a similar size game of 30k/40k. I think it is an especially good fit for me for playing my quick ‘school night’ games at HATE. It is ironic that BtGoA seems much simpler & intuitive to play than 30k/40k 7th edition – while the old school finger prints of Rick Priestly are still in evidence, the core game design is so much cleaner than old 40k as it addresses most of the things that I so disliked about the accumulated rules baggage of 40k. While Antares initially appears at first glance to be more complex than 40k 8th edition this is something of a rules slight of hand by GW – the ‘Datasheet’ style approach to rules of 40k 8th edition means while the core is simple, most of the complexity has simply been moved to the individual army lists rather then being in the core rules.
So is it time to burn all my 30k/40k figures and more over to BtGoA? No not really for quite a few reasons:
- Investment – I already have several fully painted large scale armies for both 30k &
- Lore – GW win hands down in terms of the 30+ years of lore/’fluff’ and inspirational artwork which has been generated, Antares is just a few years old. Some might find that ‘green field’ potential of Antares refreshing, but in my case I love the depth and richness which comes with 30k/40k that allows me to move easily from roleplaying games set in the universe up to epic titan & spaceship battles.
- Community – There seem to be a small, but growing number of Antares players but that is a drop in the ocean compared to the GW community. Of the nearly one thousand players associated with HATE club there are easily around 200 that play 30k/40k with some regularity. By comparison I have found only a handful of Antares players at the moment.
- Miniatures availability & material. Last and probably most significant, as I have discussed previously, there are lots of 30k/40k armies I love the miniatures for and for the most part these are all readily available in plastic. By comparison, in Antares only four factions have just the basic troopers available in plastic with the rest being combinations of resin & metal vehicles and metal infantry. Of the factions I only really love the aesthetics of the Ghar battlesuits – the rest I am pretty luke warm on. Since, kitbashing & painting is actually the mainstay of my hobbying more than playing, this is the thing that is likely to keep more of my time, focus and money on GW games for the moment.
So in conclusion, I am going to keep dabbling with BtGoA and will probably start a small Ghar force with a view to trying to play maybe once a month. I really hope that it continues to grow and develop a community and I will be interested to see how the first official alien faction (the Vorl) comes out as it is rumoured that they will feature in the next narrative supplement and the core figures are the next release to come out in plastic.