A First Look Review, in which Shiny Games’ Operations Overlord provides his thoughts on why he paid little attention to Beyond the Gates of Antares when it came out a year ago, and why one year on his opinion is very different.
It has been just over a year since Beyond the Gates of Antares was authored by Rick Priestly and released by Warlord Games – about the same time as I was setting up Shiny Games in fact. At the time I was looking for games that would be a good fit for Shiny to stock – particularly those that avoided grim-darkness and were underexposed or difficult for gamers to get hold of. I looked at Antares briefly and considered whether it would be suitable, before deciding that it didn’t quite meet my criteria.
One year later, I played my first demo game of Gates of Antares at Warlord Games HQ at their fortnightly Antares Club and was hooked. Before progressing past my first game I wanted to write about two things: my first impressions of having actually played the game, and why I made the terrible mistake of passing over this game a year ago when it was first released.
Luckily for this article, my criteria for playing and stocking a game have always been pretty similar. If I don’t think a game is worth playing then I’m unlikely to stock it, and if I stock it then I’m going to want to play it (time permitting). Below are the five reservations I had about Beyond the Gates of Antares until recently, and why on closer inspection they’re incorrect or irrelevant.
1. It looks like Warhammer 40,000
My first experience of Antares was the image below, as seen on the cover of the rulebook and starter set. This no doubt helped form my first wrong assumptions about the game. Despite being more vibrant, it was extremely reminiscent of the cover art for the original Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader rulebook. I suspect many British wargamers who’ve been playing that long likely had a similar thought.
I’ve owned Warhammer 40,000 since it first came out. I can’t say I’ve played much since 1987, but like many gamers it’s an important part of my gaming history. My spare room is full of 40K miniatures I’ve never used and I’m more likely to play 40K Roleplay than the wargame by a long shot.
I could certainly understand if Warlord would want to take on modern 40K with a fresh perspective from Mr. Priestly. However, a game similar to Warhammer 40K didn’t appeal to me much at all. Many of my concerns about the game were based on this central bad assumption.
It’s wrong, because…
It only took one demo game to discover that Gates of Antares isn’t like Warhammer 40K at all. It owes more to Warlord’s WWII game Bolt Action than 40K, although neither is it just a science fiction adaptation of that; Rick Priestly has definitely worked for his tea and biscuits on this, and it is very much its own game. Despite the fantastic technologies your forces use in Gates of Antares, it retains a realistic tactical feel.
Units that take fire are given ‘pin’ counters – even if their armour protects them from damage – representing being under fire. The more pins a unit has, the more likely they are to not act as you want; they may even just dive into the dirt and ride things out there. This is a huge contrast to how 40K felt to me, especially more recently, where units stomped fearlessly across the battlefield until some mega-cannon breached their armour, at which point they dutifully died. This felt a lot more like a game I could play tactically; not that I’m great at tactics, but it felt more like a game and less like a set of rules to go with my cool miniatures.
2. I’ve had enough Grim Darkness to last a lifetime
As both a player and a retailer, I’d been searching for games that weren’t so grim and dark. Even WarMachine felt a bit too grim (I had been playing Cryx at the time) and a game that can brutally punish a single mistake wasn’t what I was looking for. Again, drawing assumed comparisons with 40K, Gates of Antares didn’t seem like a breath of fresh air to uninitiated me.
The world of Gates of Antares couldn’t be any more different to 40K in tone. It paints a generally positive future, with great technological advances (which haven’t been lost or forgotten). Also, the different factions trade peacefully most of the time – with the exception of the Ghar. The background is relatively hard science fiction, which feels quite fresh in a wargame; simultaneously, it loosely reminds me of sci-fi stories I read in my younger days. The Ghar feel like H.G. Well’s Martians or Doctor Who’s Daleks – warlike weaklings who use awesome war machines to terrify and overwhelm others. Despite the Ghar, the general feeling of Antares is not a world of despair, but one of accomplishment and hope.
3. You’re going to need big armies to play
My focus a year ago was very much on skirmish games; games that needed more exposure tended to be smaller in miniature-count. A low miniature count was more affordable for a games company to get out, and also less of an investment for someone looking to try it out. As a retailer, it meant less stock to buy in; as a gamer, it meant less miniatures needed assembled and painted. I’m terrible at the ‘hobby’ aspects of gaming – painting and even model assembly does not come naturally, so games with larger model counts are not going to get played.
Antares didn’t seem to fit into the skirmish category at all. The starter set had a solid model count and the artwork seemed more battle than skirmish-focused. A comparison to 40K again probably played a part in this; assumptions were made.
After playing a demo game with a relatively small Concord force of three units (each containing 6 models or less), I can honestly say the game plays brilliantly at that size. If I only ever played games of that size, I’d be quite happy and unlikely to get bored. That’s less Concord models than the starter set contains. Also, the other side of the Antares starter set – the Ghar – contains only 6 models, although they are large battle suits. Six models!! The bad hobbyist in me loves the idea of a faction with such a low model count.
Sticking with the Ghar faction as an example, of course they do have smaller models too that cost less points. These, however, are great examples of the other brilliant aspect of this model range. A significant number of the unarmoured Ghar are single piece models; just add a base! Single piece models are my Holy Grail!
Now don’t get me wrong; I love the idea of an army of cleverly posed unique-looking models as much as the next gamer. But in the real world I know that if I have to do that before I can play it seriously reduces my chance of ever getting into a game. With an army like the Ghar, I can have my cake and eat it; there are single piece infantry and multi-piece posable battle suits worth plenty of points all in the same army. So long as there’s at least one faction like that, I know I can get into a game quickly enough.
4. I Don’t Need Another Science Fiction Wargame
There are a lot of good games around at the moment – possibly more than ever before. There are too many good games for one person to play, and some of them demand all your time and focus if you’re going to do well at them. So I felt like I didn’t need another sci-fi wargame, and my Shiny customers probably didn’t either.
Count them with me…
So while watching Antares being played for the first time, I tried to list out all the other sci-fi games that stood between me and Beyond the Gates of Antares. I didn’t get very far. Warhammer 40,ooo, obviously. Well, it’s not really sci-fi for one. I love the background, but then that’s what roleplaying is for. I haven’t played it in years and nothing I’ve seen recently makes me want to. So, not 40K then. Relic Knights is more anime than sci-fi, so that doesn’t really count. Infinity must count – although that is anime-inspired too. It does have similar themes of humanity’s progression and human-focused factions despite the presence of aliens. So, that’s one then.
Antares vs. Infinity
As a game, Infinity plays completely differently to Antares. It is very individual-model focused and is very much a skirmish game and not a scaleable wargame. It does have similar concepts – AROs (Automatic Reaction Orders) sound similar to Reactions in Antares (which I’ve not played with yet), but overall it’s a very different game. Comparing them is like saying Blood Bowl and Guild Ball are the same because they’re both about sports.
Actually, playing Beyond the Gates of Antares felt like I was coming back to wargaming for the first time in years. It felt very different to anything I’d played for a long time. It also felt like a game I could play and make tactical decisions without understanding all the troop types on the table, something you can say about fewer and fewer games these days.
Now I’m sure there are other science fiction games out there, good ones even. As always, I’d love to hear what they are, and what others recommend. However, they’re going to have to get in line behind Beyond the Gates of Antares now.
5. The Antares Miniatures Don’t Do Anything For Me
When I first looked at Beyond the Gates of Antares, the miniatures didn’t grab me. The Ghar were obviously quite different and might have piqued my curiosity if I’d looked closer, but the vast array of Concord troops in the principal artwork and contained in the starter box got in the way. I do remember looking at the larger range of options available, and the Freeborn sounded like an interesting faction, but again the aesthetics didn’t do it for me. At the time, having focused on small model count games, a prerequisite of any new game seemed to be miniatures so awesome you really felt the need to own.
Then, I actually played the game…
The appeal of one miniature or another is a very personal thing. I’m not going to tell you that if you look at the full range you will see miniatures you find both beautiful and awesome, even though it’s probably true. If your first look over the range didn’t get you interested you’ll probably need a good reason to look again, like I did. So here’s mine.
After playing a demo game as the Human Concord, I felt that if I enjoyed a game that much when I didn’t identify with the faction or miniatures at all, then it was definitely the kind of game I wanted to play more. The aesthetics of the Human Concord infantry still don’t excite me – although their drones are very cool-looking. If Concord was the only faction I was ever able to play I’d still want to play Gates of Antares; the game is that good.
Of course, when you look further you will find models you love. The Algoryn have especially great-looking models; all the factions do, although like any game some will appeal more to each individual than others. I really love the Ghar – they’re a great looking faction, once you get used to their unusual appearance. In fact, I’m developing a bit of an obsession with Fartok, but that’s definitely another story.
Long Story Short
So, to summarise, Beyond the Gates of Antares is a great game that is not at all like Warhammer 40,000. It’s unfortunate that we feel the need to compare the two, but that’s how we gamers often work I suppose. Antares is very tactical and feels very representative of how small units act and react to enemy fire – they don’t always do as their leader wishes once the bullets/plasma bursts start flying.
The game world feels very bright and fresh, but reminiscent of classic sci-fi too. You don’t need a lot of models to have fun, but I imagine it scales up pretty well. It’s not just another sci-fi wargame, it’s the one that others will need to beat in the future. The miniatures reflect the setting, which means they’re not necessarily what we’re used to seeing, but they’re perfect for this great game and there’s a lot to love in the range.
Want to know more?
The game also has a great community on Facebook, which is a great place to get a better sense of how it looks and plays. If you’re interested in finding out more I suggest checking it out.