TGN Review: Torn Armor From SoulJar Games
What is that you are ripping?
For regular readers of TGN, you no doubt remember the rather rocky road that SoulJar Games had gone through in order to get Torn Armor out to the world. Well, the base game has finally been created and shipped out to backers. The Roman and The Elf of SoulJar were kind enough to give me a copy of it to check out. I was rather excited to get one, so let’s tear into another TGN Review. This time, it’s Torn Armor from SoulJar Games.
In Torn Armor, players command forces of either the Roman/Greek-esque Sisk or the anthropomorphic Maychians in bloody conflict against one-another on large hex-gridded maps. The starter box contains all that you will need in order to play an entire campaign. I must say, for a moderately-sized box, Torn Armor gives players quite a lot. Inside the box you will find: 1 rule/scenario book, 8 double-sided terrain maps, 8 double-sided hex tiles, 32 cards (16 equipment, 16 spell), 25 dice (five each of 5 different colors), 12 double-sided stat cards (6 for each faction), and 39 cardboard punch-out minis (with plastic stands). Everything fits very neatly in a vacuum-form tray that sits in the box. All of the components I would say are a good quality.
The spell and equipment cards are a standard size and thickness. They’ll fit into regular card-game sleeves, if you so choose. The cards contain 2 pairs of 8 magic items and 8 magic spells. The point cost, as well as all the rules for the associated spell/equipment are right on the cards. No cross-indexing is required, which is nice. The artwork is rather bright and colorful.
The cardboard minis didn’t tear at all when punching them out. They pieces range in size, depending on the unit represented on them. I will say that if the minis are the same size as the photos on the pictures on the cardboard, they’re going to be small minis. They’re closer to 28mm than the 32mm we’ve sort of gotten used to. But that’s for later on to worry about. The plastic stands fit snugly, so much that I wouldn’t recommend putting them on and taking them off too often if you can avoid it, as it might damage the cardboard and cause it to fray.
As for the dice, the swords on them are engraved and painted (more on how the swords work later on). Being engraved and not just painted on, there’s no worry about the swords smudging off with repeated use. Getting 5 of each color is a good start, but during the course of the game, you’ll often end up rolling more than that at once. If eventually offered, an extra dice pack that gives you another set (bumping you up to 10 of each) would be nice.
The paper for the maps are akin to high-thickness poster paper (which keeps it from being torn easily, no pun intended, though it does tend to leave deep creases when you unfold them). They fold out to be 33” x 22.5”. The hexes are a touch over 4.25” across (remember, you’re going to be putting units inside of them). The artwork depicts various scenes, from a rocky ridgeline, to a coastline, to a farm, to a mostly open field. It’s different on each side of the map, so you really get 16 different terrain maps. I like the artwork on them. It doesn’t feel like a map, so much as an actual terrain board. Many of the maps can be linked up to former larger game boards. The individual cardboard terrain hexes are also 4.25” across so you can customize the maps a little further by changing up bits of terrain here and there. Though the individual pieces are double-sided as well, they depict the same terrain on both sides.
The rulebook paper thick with a very mildly glossy feel. The book is rather long (68 pages in total), going into detail about the rules of the game (obviously), but it also contains a full campaign. The campaign is 5 scenarios long and takes you from the landfall of an invading force through a mission where the armies are converging on an ancient artifact that both have been looking for. Each scenario comes with a suggested map setup, points total for the forces, any special rules for the scenario, and win conditions for each side.
Torn Armor does its best to balance simple mechanics with the ability to give players a lot of options for their strategies. Plus, things die quick. I wouldn’t recommend getting too attached to any particular model or unit, because if your opponent wants it off the able, it’ll be taken out. The only saves in the game are from ranged attacks and a few magic items, and melee can cause damage to all parties involved. So let’s dig a little deeper into how the game works.
The Stat Cards
The large stat cards for a model/unit give you pretty much all the information you need to know about it. Models are broken up into two main types: Infantry and Assault. Infantry units are smaller in scale and may contain multiple models in one unit. Assault are larger scale and come one per stat card. The main stats for the game are Movement, Armor, and Health. Movement is how many hexes the model/unit can move with a standard “move” action. Armor is how resilient a model is to an attack. Health is how many hits a model can take before it is removed. In the case of units, each model in the unit has 1 health. So every time a unit takes damage, you remove one of the models from it from the table. When the last one is gone, the unit is destroyed.
The stat card also contains the weapons grid. This is a list of all the weapons available to the model as well as how many and what type of dice it rolls versus all the different types of armors in the game. The weapons are listed vertically starting with ranged weapons that have the longest range, then moving down to melee weapons at the bottom. Moving horizontally across, the matrix tells you how many and what type of dice you would roll, starting with Infantry 1 and going all the way to Assault 7. The numbers are color-coded to let you know what color die it is referring to.
If there’s one thing I think the stat cards lack, it’s a long-hand definition of any special rules the unit might have. The cards tell you what special rules a unit has, but not what those special rules mean. While the bit of fluff on the cards is a nice intro into how the unit fits into the thematic world of Torn, I’d much rather not have to go back into the rulebook to remember what a particular special rule does. Or even leaving the fluff in place, a little reconfiguring of where information is located, they could have still fit the special rules on the cards (even if a shorthand form).
Players take turns activating either an Assault model or a Unit, fully resolving the piece’s two actions before the other player starts theirs, in an alternating activations style. When activated, a model can use its two actions to move, attack, or a little of each. Moving twice is called a Double Time movement (some special abilities come into effect only when taking a Double Time movement). If you choose to attack twice, you don’t actually make two attack actions. Instead, a model that chooses two attack actions (called a Concentrated Attack) gets a single reroll all their misses. If you want a little of both, a model can move and attack. This is done in any order, so you can move-attack or attack-move if you so wish.
Resolving both ranged and melee attacks are essentially the same, though for ranged attacks you get to make cover saves and with melee attacks you get counter attacks. I’ll describe them separately, to keep from causing confusion, but there’ll be a lot of similarities. Now would be a good time to get into a bit more detail about the dice, themselves. There are 5 different colors: white, green, blue, red, and black. Each one has 1 or more swords on them. As you go through the colors, the number of swords increases. White have 1 sword, green have 2, and so on with black having 5. When rolling the dice, you want to roll swords (either when attacking or making saves).
For ranged attacks, first you must establish line of sight. This is pretty easily done. Connect the center point of the attacking unit’s hex with the hex of the target. If this only covers open ground and doesn’t cross over any other units, you’ve got line of sight. Now, both the attacker and the defender could be occupying some sort of terrain. This only matters for the defender’s cover saves, but it does not block LOS. After you’ve checked LOS, you must make sure your target is in range. This is done simply by counting hexes between the attacker and target. Use the shortest distance between the attacker and target to establish range. Ranged weapons have their range listed on the stat card. Next comes rolling attack dice. First, see how many dice are to be rolled. The defender’s armor and model type come into effect here. For example, if it’s an Infantry unit with Armor 2 that you’re targeting, you would go to “Infantry 2” on your weapon’s chart and see how many and what type of dice to roll. In the case of infantry, you then multiply this number by the number of models in the unit (for example, Mu Slingers roll 1 green die against Infantry 2. If there are 5 models left in the unit, you will roll 5 green dice total for the attack). Assault units simply use the number listed (since there’s only ever 1 in the unit).
Now roll your dice and total up the number of Swords you roll. Each sword counts as a hit and a potential wound inflicted on your target. The opponent has a number of possible saves they can make, though. There are 4 types of saves in the game and a particular order in which you roll them. In order, they are Terrain, Magic Items, Special Abilities, and Spell Affects. For Terrain saves, the color die you roll is based on the terrain feature you’re occupying. There are four degrees, from Light to Fortified. The die type steps up one degree for each degree of terrain, with Light giving you a white die up to Fortified rolling a red die. You roll one die of the appropriate type for each Hit your opponent rolled. As for the other save types, the number and type of dice rolled is based on the ability in question. Simply refer to the source of the save and they’ll tell you what to roll. Like with attacks, you want to roll swords. Though this time, you’re negating damage instead of inflicting it.
Melee attacks work much the same as ranged attacks, but melee attacks can only be directed at enemies who are in adjacent hexes to the attacking model. Just as before, melee weapons have a grid that shows you what type and how many dice you’ll roll against the various types of enemy armor. While cover saves do not apply in melee attacks, the other 3 types do. The other major difference with melee attacks is that the target gets to make a simultaneous counter-attack. The counter-attack doesn’t count against the target’s activation limit, so they could potentially counter-attack multiple times before getting their own activation. Since the attacks are simultaneous, it means that both sides will potentially suffer losses, even to the point where they wipe each other out! I generally like combats that work this way, as it feels more “realistic” and it gives a defending player something to do other than just sit there and take it on the jaw when their opponent swings. It also means that units that are good in melee should be engaged at range whenever possible. It adds a bit of tactical depth to the game, making a player really have to weigh the benefits and consequences of engaging certain units in combat.
It should be noted that when a model uses the attack action they get to use all the weapons listed on their card, both ranged and melee. You don’t have to if you don’t want to (for example, if you don’t want to make a melee attack because you don’t want to be counter-attacked), but the option is there. When resolving these attacks, you separate them by weapon, and you can attack different targets with each weapon group. So if a unit has a ranged attack and two melee attacks, it could direct each of those 3 at different enemies. But since counter-attacking units get to use all the melee weapons at their disposal, I might suggest concentrating fire for that type of attack. But you may find situations where it’s best to split all your attacks at once (against a significantly weakened foe or one that has very poor melee skills, for some examples).
Lately I’ve been coming across the term “tactical board game” a lot. In the upcoming issue of Ravage, I have a review of Mars Attacks from Mantic Games. It lists itself as a “tactical board game.” Torn Armor does as well. The term is used to describe games that aren’t quite board games but aren’t quite skirmish miniatures games, either. Instead, they take elements from skirmish minis games and place them in a format closer to a board game. This isn’t entirely a new thing, now that I think about it. Many fantasy sports games would also fall into such a category. So Blood Bowl and DreadBall would really be tactical board games.
As I think more on the subject, I really like these styles of games. As I’ve gone through my gaming phases, I’ve progressively moved away from large-scale, mass-battle games in favor of skirmish-style ones. Those that have gamed with me know that I prefer flat felt-based terrain to 3D terrain. I like relatively simple mechanics that offer a wide variety of play styles. If these sound like things you prefer in gaming as well, I think you’d really enjoy Torn Armor.
And I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that though the game is meant to have plastic minis… I don’t really think it needs them. I think the cardboard pieces do just fine in the role of game pieces. Plus, they help keep the game having a “board game” feel, which I think would be a great way to get board game players into trying it. Sure, most of us can appreciate a good mini, but in the case of Torn Armor, I don’t think anything is lost by using the cut-outs. I’d like to see other expansion packs with stat cards, possibly some equipment and spell cards, and the cut-out cardboard piece be made available. Those, along with extra dice packs (actually, looking at their site, they have extra green dice available, which is a good place to start), are what I’d like to see come out next for SoulJar as they expand the game.
The game is currently available on SoulJar’s website. Perhaps go pick yourself up a copy.