Samurai Gunslinger Wargame Review: AT-43

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Publisher: Rackham
Distributor: Fantasy Flight Games
Genre: Science Fiction / Space
Type: Table Top Miniatures Game / Pre Painted
Rating: 4 out of 5 4-bullets.jpg
Description: A skirmish level table top miniatures game set in a dark future universe.

Awards: TTGN Wargame of the Year.

Review:

Like most old school gamers, I was very skeptical of the concept of a pre painted non collectible miniatures game. In addition, past experience with Rackham games has not left me with a great love for the company. Known more for its amazing art and sculpting, than it’s quality rules, Rachkam has always been the company for the serious painting hobbyist. With AT-43 they have shown that they can present a game with excellent tactical elements, good balance and interesting factions that is easy to play and quick to learn.

Two things that really sets the game apart from 40k are the alternating card based movement system, and the leadership point mechanic. For the card system, each turn both players choose the order which their units will activate in by placing the unit cards in order, but hidden. The players then alternate activating units in the order they placed their cards in. As simple as this sounds, it can lead a nice addition of tension because you have to guess which unit your opponent with activate next and plan your activations accordingly.

The second unique feature, the leadership point system, works hand in hand with the card based movement system to further ramp up the tension. Each player has a certain number of leadership points they can spend on special abilities each turn. These can be things like going into over-watch, taking an extra movement, making a double move or changing the predetermined movement order in mid turn. Each faction has their own special abilities as well such as the Therian ability to actually spawn new units in mid turn, or teleport units across the board.

It is the combination of these two unique features along with a simple and elegant combat dice mechanic called the universal resolution table, that makes AT-43 a fun and simple game, without becoming stale and predictable. As the number of factions and unit choices grow I can see this game becoming a true threat to the seemingly unbreakable domination of Warhammer 40k in the serious tournament scene.

Three of the four existing factions are fairly derivative and honestly not all that original. The UNA is your basic future Anglo-American army with well trained well equipped troops, high technology and good morale. They have nice looking walkers and cool powered armor units, but they all have a somewhat generic feel to them and the troops look like they stepped off the set of Starship Troopers or Aliens with little more than a different paint job. Rules wise, the UNA are a quality over quantity force with good troops, good armor and good weapons. They are probably closest in feel to a Space Marine army in 40k, without being quite as elite in function.

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The Therians are really just a variation on the Necrons from 40k, a cybernetic army with an undead look. The walking cyber skeletons look has been done before and even the amazing art direction of the Rackham sculpting team cant change the fact that this is a tired look. They don’t look bad, in fact the models are very good looking and look truly amazing when re painted by a master painter. They just lack any sense of originality. The Therians play more like 40k Tyranids than Necrons despite the look, and they are definitely fun to play and very different in feel from either the UNA or the RED BLOK.

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The third faction, The RED BLOK are in at the same time the most and the least original. By giving their walkers and tech an almost steam punk like retro look combined with a red and brown camo scheme they invoke visceral memories of the soviet hoards translated into the near future. The problem with this is that as cool as they look they are just a combination of tiered themes, and even though they are combined in a new way, they are still based on themes we have seen many times before. This army plays very much like the 40k Imperial Guard, with cheap troops and tough powerful armor units.

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The final faction, The Karmans are one of the first truly unique races I have seen in a sci fi game in over a decade. Basically giant talking gorillas in powered armor, they simply look crazy cool and if you can get over the ridiculous aspect of the idea this could be really fun to see on the table. Having not read the book in detail or played them to date, I cant talk on the quality of the rules, but I am looking forward to buying a set of the figures for sure.

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The most controversial feature of the game is it’s presentation and packaging. The very idea of pre-paints is almost religiously heretical to some old school mini gamers. I have to admit to being on the fence about this. I am not a great painter and enjoy playing the game far more than painting the figures. However I will admit to the feeling of pleasure and pride when someone compliments you on your awesome army that you created and painted yourself. AT-43 does not allow for that experience and changes the nature of the hobby completely.

Dedicated fans of AT-43 point out, that to them the hobby is about actually playing the game, not painting. This is more than a legitimate point, it represents a different point of view entirely. Chess or Poker or Magic the Gathering are no less hobbies because they don’t require you to hand make your board or hand draw your cards. To the dedicated AT-43 fan, the fun is all in the depth of strategy and game play, as well as the simple fun of the table top battlefield.

The old guard fans of painted miniature games have often expressed the fear that these kinds of games will take players away from their side of the hobby and prevent new gamers from finding it. I think that this is an unwarranted fear. I belive that, in fact they will be a boon for such games, by bringing in people who never would have considered a table top game due to the intimidation factor of having to assemble and paint your army. Some of those players will then discover the different experience of painting and modeling and move over to the painted figures camp, most will not but they would never have been interested in the first place.

I can only see this as a win for everyone, and the sooner that we all accept that new is not bad, and different is not inferior and just enjoy AT-43 for what it is, the more everyone will benefit.

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