Welcome to the Dark Age……review, today I am going to be looking at the rules for the CMON system inspired by Brom artwork. If you haven’t seen any Brom art (where have you been?) then you need to, but the slightly atmospheric bizarre bonkers feel of it all should give you an idea as to how this translates into a miniatures game. In other words everything is messed up but in an amazing way.
We only get the basics in the rulebook (which keeps the page numbers down), about a planet abused by the powers as it was just far enough out-of-the-way and of no strategic use to anyone. That when people started experimenting an eyelid was not batted..
Then it all goes wrong and the humans left behind fall into gang/tribal wars and we then fast forward a few 100 years. To present day in which humanity has found God again and people can call themselves Saints. While we have splits into different factions as well as aliens arriving and flesh-eating robots and…..you get the idea.
I am going to be doing a review of the models very soon, but for now it is fair to say some of the original sculpts from the 90s look well like they came from the 90s! But the newer stuff appearing is looking pretty nice indeed.
First things first the rules are available free as a pdf, as are all the stat cards and templates etc. So you can try this game with no cost involved to you. I, however have been able to get my hands on an actual rulebook and it is a great piece of hardback colourful goodness.
I have to say the quality of the book is top-notch, pages are well laid out, text is nice to read good mixture of art and photos. Plus, from the initial look of things the binding is going to hold up pretty well as well.
Well it weighs in at a tiny roughly 130 pages, all in glorious FULL colour pages we have the usual sections in the book. What is even scary is the core rules for the game only covers 25 pages of the book, so going to be pretty easy to grasp hard to master.
No fluff beyond an introduction to the world and the factions but this is made up by the source books that are available and they are literally packed to the gills with stuff. So the fluff monkeys out there will not need to worry too much on that part.
The rules are well written and this sounds odd but not heavy, there is a lot space in this book for pictures/artwork. It is very easy to read the rules in one sitting without too much effort and with 1 cup of tea.
You are allowed to pre-measure in this game at any point so you can make sure those gribblies get to the right place. It also uses D20s and rolling low is good and rolling high is bad (very bad), so out of the window goes those carefully work out odds of the D6😉
The game is played on a 4×4 board and the number of models you are going to be using is around the 10 mark roughly, assuming you don’t just use all the big expensive stuff…
It is worth mentioning that force creation is pretty free-form the only limits are points of the battle you are playing and availability total of a certain model (some troops you can only have x number of). Now this can change if you decide to use one of the sub-factions.
For instance the Saints from the Forsaken faction can be followed which means you gain access to other models you couldn’t otherwise use in a generic force or if you used a different Saint.
It is also worth pointing out that this game comes alive if you use the scenarios rather than just a pitched battle. Very much in the same vein as Malifaux and Warmachine.
They are a few stats/characteristics you will need to know in the game although nothing to stressful.
Action Points – How many actions a model can take in their activation, average is around 3, with more important stuff getting more.
Defence – A model’s defence (surprisingly) how hard they are to hit
Armor – The level of Armor a model has how well protected they are.
Movement – A model’s movement, unusually in this game the levels are lower than you expect due to the number of AP models on average have. Humans on average for instance are only moving are around 3” which is low for anyone who has played most other systems around but as they get to do more things in general it evens out.
Psych – This is a models bravery/willpower, but it is also used in replace of their DF against Psychogenics (magic) attacks.
Hit Points – A models wounds..
Squadlink – This allows models of the same type to move together as a ‘squad’ (see later).
Size – These are generally the size of the model and affect things like cover and LoS they range from Small to Gigantic.
You may notice that I haven’t mentioned weapons, well they are handled by something know as Assault Groups. These are dictated by a separate set of stats, what you need to know is that for each AP spent you can use one of the Assault Groups on the models card. This means you can’t do all the attacks available and usually it is only 1 shot or one slice. However some models have more than one attack in an AG which means they can do all of these for 1 AP, for example a particular model may get to take a swipe with its claws and also a bite as well. It is pretty clear on the cards so don’t worry..
So the stats you will see for these are;
Number of Attacks – Can you guess?
Assault – This is how good a models skill is with the weapon.
Rate of Fire – This is the number of times a weapon can be used in a round (limited by AP of course). So an infinity sign means you can keep hitting but some of the more nasty weapons may need powering up to swing and as such can’t be used as often.
Power – The strength of an attack.
Range – This gives the range in inches of an attack
Malfunction – The world is messed up so things don’t work well all the time, this number means if you roll equal or above it. It has backfired and you take some damage from the exploding weapon.
Now onto the phases in your average game;
- Preparation – Any special effects that triggered in this phase are well triggered in this phase…
- Initiative – Every turn there is a roll off and player with lowest roll gets the initiative, they can then choose to activate first or make their opponent activate first (picking the model that has to go). This can be pretty powerful in some circumstances and is an interesting take on this sort of rule as it adds a lot more tactical thinking into the process.
- Activation – This is a I-go-you-go activations play in which you alternate activations like in a lot of other skirmisher games.
- Lingering Effects Phase – Clear up phase with any special effects etc. being sort out before the end of the turn.
This rule deserves its own little bit as it can be seen across many different troops types. Basically it allows you to activate similar troop types together as 1 activation. So allowing you to achieve more with your troops before you opponent can react.
What this means is that the troop card will let you know the type of troops it can activate with and also the number of models that can be included. Which is simple enough, now there is another limit beyond that number and it is all troops you want to activate need to be within 4” of another model in the link.
This adds some serious tactical conditions as you can activate x number of models and achieve and good chunk of the mission. However, it means you will have fewer models to activate later in the turn and so can’t react to your opponents troops. A tricky balancing act sometimes
As mentioned that all weapons in the game fall into Assault Groups.
Once you have picked the group you are going to use, its time for some simple maths;
Adding your Assault stat with your targets Defence and that number is what you need to equal or roll under to hit.
This is the same method for both range and melee weapons, (Quick note in the paper copy there is something called range penalities the FAQ does away with them now so ignore it). You can also counter penatlies like cover by aiming (costs an AP) which adds 2 to your Assault stat.
Although after all these modifiers if you roll 1 than it is a critical pass (auto-wounds) while a 20 is a critical miss (you lose an AP as you really fluff your hit). Which is a way to show that anything can happen in the game and worst model can kill something much better than itself and the greatest heroes can slip up?
Now as well as critically messing up with that 20, there is another stats to worry about and that is the Malfunction value (generally high number 18/19).
If you manage to roll equal or above this value than the weapon has……well malfunctioned which means you have missed your target and hit yourself (meaning you have to take the armour save).
After hitting (hopefully) your opponent, they will need to take an Armour save.
So some more maths but the other way, you subtract the weapons Power from the targets Armour value. Again giving a target number to roll equal or less than to pass. You may notice that some PW values are giving as 4×2 this means for each hit then 2 Armour rolls are needed and you need to pass both rolls to not take a wound (you only ever take 1 wound regardless of the failed rolls).
The only time these multiple save rolls is discounted is if you roll a critical success (1) which discounts all other saves for that attack, even a critical failure is ignored.
Speaking of failure if you crit. Fail then you are looking at 2 wounds taken…OUCH!
So that is all the basics covered now for a quick look at some of the other stuff.
All the rules you would expect for terrain (LoS, slowing players down etc.) is here something nothing major to add. We have already touched on that cover will affect the Assault of an attacking model (as you would expect). What is interesting is that if you control the terrain piece you can ignore the penalty. Which means if you are within 1 inch of the terrain and no enemy models are in that area then you can ignore it for cover purposes.
What is also interesting that like models you need to assign size to terrain, this will affect what can see over the terrain (needs to be bigger than it). So the example from the rulebook is a large base model can’t see over a large piece of terrain. Although if the target on the other size was bigger than both you would be able to see it.
Even in a world as mad as this one, people still get scared!! Be it from the model or the gory way it kills. When a model gains Panic it loses both Assault and psych while its defence goes up. Generally they get much worse at anything, however it can be removed by using an AP (from the model in question OR a friendly model can spend the AP) to make a Psych check. If it is passed then they lose Panic and gain Resolve, which means they can’t Panic again that turn.
Now I have noticed that there is a lot of stuff that ignores this for various reasons (robots don’t panic for instance) but also stuff dies so quickly in the game that if Panic does come up it wont be around for long.. Possibly one of the rules easily forgotten.
The “Magic” in this game, which can be shown as something like magic or mental powers or strange technology. They are split into 2 different types which are;
Offensive Psychogenics – Treated very much like an attack (can even aim and suffer distance penalties as well), with the spell card having an assault group style look to it. There are also possibilities not to do damage but have an actual effect be it freeze someone to the spot or something similar.
Augmentation Psychogenics – These are buffs/abilities for friendly models. This must be able to see the model it is targeted if it is required. But unlike the offensive ones, you need to roll under the target number set by the card. Aiming is still possible to increase the target number and Malfunctions are still possible with what happens noted on the cards.
There are a few options in the rulebook and all seem like good fun. I would say that if you are interested in giving these ago make sure you check out the tournament pack March To Immorality. As that gives you a few more options and also the secondary mission deck as well looks like it can add even more fun to the game (all free to download).
There are a fair number of special rules in the game, but these are held before in the rulebook and on the cards. This does mean sometimes there needs to be a lot of tracking of these rules as markers on affected models, but as mentioned they die that quickly it’s generally not too much of an issue.
Finally there are two model interactions that will come into play pretty often, Prone and Holding;
Basically a model my go to ground for 2 reasons they choose to, to make themselves harder to hit from range (or hide) or they get put on their backside by an attack. As you would expect this plays out pretty simply in the game. They become slower (half movement), they count model size as a category lower, they are harder to hit at range but easy to hit in melee. They also become worse at hitting as well. Expect to see this condition a lot during the game
This is like overwatch in other games, it costs 2 AP to go into the condition (must be your last 2 of an activation you can’t do anything afterwards). This stays until they next activate or use it, and you can use it in 2 ways;
- Get the Jump – If an enemy model moves while you engage them you get a free hit. If however this is triggered off a charge then you both roll a dice lowest number plus Defence gets to make the attack first. (range attacks can also be made which is a very cool visual )
- Evade – If targeted by a range/template attack, they can make a physical check and if they pass then they can move the move stat or go prone. Then on the final placement your opponent has to check to see if your model is still a legal target (or if they avoid the spray).
Final thoughts on DA then;
- Compact easily to learn rules , that allow for some interesting tactical choices . While the special rules may turn some off it allows for some very characterful models in the range.
- The model count is pretty low, even if you max out on the cheapest models around 500pts will only give you 20 models, while the other way you can easily just have 3 big models to your name.
- The fluff I have managed to read is pretty good, giving a very human outlook on how messed up the world is, as well as adding in some humour here and there.
- Free everything but rules and fluff!!!
- If you like your gaming area to be clean with only the odd dice about, then some of the factions might not be for you. There can be a lot to track and so lots of tokens, this doesn’t bother me but I know others it will.
- The older models look their age and the accessibility to newer models can be problematic if you are outside the US (like me), but hopefully this will improve greatly. Although obviously supply and demand comes into play but CMON is on a drive to get the game out there more so did the egg or chicken win?
There is a lot of skirmish games out there, but Dark Age scratches a very unusual itch both in mechanic and look of the game. It is worth giving it a go, simply because it is free and remember;