Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Another look at Dark Age

Below is an article by a new guest authoer, Cdodson.  It is a great review of the Dark Age Apocolypse rules and mechanics, which received praise from the infamous Mr. Black (the DA rules guru).  Please read, and if you like it, leave a comment.  Hope you enjoy! - LXG

Dark Age Apocalypse is a skirmish style miniature game whose setting is the planet of Samaria, a dark post apocalyptic world suffering from the remains of the disintegration of organized corporate activity involving biological and chemical experimentation. Though the corporations have long since left the planet, centuries later the fallout has lead to a wide range of inhabitants. Amongst the factions are settlements of survivors attempting to maintain some semblance of civility (the Forsaken), renegade wasteland wanderers (the Outcasts), cults of mutants twisted by the secrets discovered in forgotten labs (the Skarrd), bio chemical life forms who emerged from the waste of corporate genetic experiments (the Brood) and even the appearance of the original race who inhabited the planet prior to its corporate exploitation (the Dragyri).

 The rules can be found within two books: the Core Rules and the Forcelists books. The Core Rules book covers all the basic mechanics of game play and interaction, and the Forcelists book army construction rules and special rules for each of the army factions. The game consists of the five major factions mentioned, as well as the addition of two new ones since its release (Kukulkani and the C.O.R.E) Each faction has its own interesting background and visual style, all inspired by the artwork of artist Gerald Brom. (As a former game illustrator, I have to say this is extremely cool.) The full narrative universe and background stories of these factions are expounded upon in the Forcelists book and the game’s website ( for those who wish to learn more about them. For purposes of this article, I will focus on a discussion of the game’s mechanics and resulting play dynamics.

Army Construction

Each player chooses an army, defined by a set of model choices called a Forcelist. Though there are multiple factions, Forcelists are actually subsets of these factions, and create a great variety of options from which to choose. Each miniature has a set of statistics as well as a purchase cost, all of which can be found on the unit’s respective card. (The cards come with the model, and can also be conveniently found on the website for download). Some units act alone on the battlefield, called individuals, while others are grouped together in squads. It is important to note, however, that even though models have such a designation, every model is considered a unit whether is it grouped or not. The ‘unit’ keyword is important because it is used in many abilities and rules to make a clear distinction between single models being affected versus multiple models.


Once Forcelists are chosen, the game begins with two players facing off on opposite sides of a 4’ x 4’ table and then determining one of twenty scenarios from the Core Rules book. These scenarios are critical for winning the game, as the primary condition for winning is scenario completion. The company also publishes a tournament document on its website called the Extreme Tournament rules which it recommends for competitive play. After choosing a scenario, players next place a set of objective markers on the table. These objective markers have very specific rules for placement, but essentially the rules are designed in such a way as to keep them spaced apart within a 16” middle band across the table called “no man’s land” Objective markers play an important role in the game, as they serve both as physical terrain and potential locations where Scenarios must be completed. Finally, players place their Forcelists one individual or squad at a time on their side of the table into deployment zones, thus starting the armies on opposite sides of the board.

Game Mechanics

The core mechanic of the game involves models taking a variety of actions that require the use of action points (AP). Each unit has a set amount of action points listed as a stat on its card. These action points can be used to walk, attack, or use various abilities. Attacking and using these abilities is executed by rolling a twenty sided die and with the intent of rolling equal to or below a target number (TN). So, yes rolling low is good and rolling high is bad. In fact, a roll of 1 always means a critical hit and a roll of 20 always means a critical failure. The most common target number is a roll to hit the enemy, generated by taking the Assault value (AS) of the attacking model and adding the defense value of the target, and applying any variety of modifiers.  Thus a unit attacking with an AS of 6 against a target with a defense of 5 would then have a target number of 11. If a hit is successful, the defender then makes an Armor roll, another stat on the unit card which acts as a TN. If this roll is failed, one HP is removed from the target. When a target has 0 HP, it is considered dying. Generally this means it is out of the game, but there are abilities which can prevent death such as regeneration.

“Everything Dies”

This simple straightforward TN mechanic is where the game really comes into its own. If the attacker rolls a “1” (critical hit) on his attack, the defender gets no armor save and takes an automatic HP loss.  In addition, it turns out that roll of 20 on an armor save results in the target losing 2 HP! At a 100% increase, and considering most average units have 2 HP, this results in the death of a great many units. More expensive units can have 4 or more wounds, but when taking two at a time they can go down fast. These game mechanics when put into motion create a bloody, aggressive style of game where it’s not uncommon for only one model to survive the game. I am a big fan of mechanics that when put into motion result in an aesthetic play style that lives up to the designers intent, which in this case is clearly a bloody, quick and violent game that can be played within an hour, which perfectly manifests the designers’ implicit promise that “everything dies”.

A side note here-- you might think from doing some simple math that a 5% chance of rolling a 20 wouldn’t come up all that often, but when it does, it has a huge impact on the game. Criticals actually represent a 10% chance when you consider both failure and success. Taking into account the number of times you end up having to roll the die, you are going to see those extremes a lot more than you might expect.

This mechanic has another interesting effect on game play. Player’s just don’t seem to get as frustrated when they lose a unit in Dark Age as other miniature games. Expectations are clearly managed from the start. There are various psychological effects at work here. The first is management of expectations—if a player know anything can be killed, they are ready for it and don’t mind so much the loss of any one model. The second factor is that the game doesn’t rely on any one central figure or character for success, an element that allows for a “comeback” factor. Even that lowly last remaining low point model can inflict the last needed HP to kill off an already wounded enemy unit.

This game dynamic has an interesting effect on game play. It means you can’t simply send in your most powerful models without some fear of losing them. At the same time, aggressive play is rewarded by sending in even the most lowly inexpensive model. The result is often a moment of “breathe holding” when the 20 sided die is rolled as the player hopes not to lose a key unit, or sees a chance to take out an opponent’s key model and tip the game in their favor. Dark Age is a game I would recommend for anyone who likes a fast and furious, easy to learn quick style miniature game.



  1. I have to agree with this article. I came from a transition of 40k to Warmachine background. I still love Warmachine but i wanted a hand to scratch my sci fi itch while offering a unique game mechanic. I have to say Dark Age as lived up to these expectations in spades.

    1. I agree, it's an incredibly solid game. What faction were you looking to play? We actually have an "escalation thing" stating up soon, so you'll see more battle reports and painted models in the near future!