Review: DUST Warfare: Zverograd

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The first time I saw Dust: Tactics I thought to myself, “That’s pretty cool, but where are the Russians?” The answer is here at last, but not only is the new Sino-Soviet Union a part of Dust: Tactics, but now the new Campaign Book: Zverograd for Dust: Warfare is out, making the SSU playable in the new non-grid Dust tabletop game.
The 63-Page book manages to stuff a lot into its small page count. There is a short history of the SSU that is pretty similar to that of the Dust: Warfare rule book, nothing really new there. There are a few fluff stories that, while interesting and well-written, are focused mainly on the Germans and Allies’ perspective while fighting the SSU, rather than giving you that of the new faction and its heroes.
Then there is the good stuff: the new special abilities that the SSU brings to the game. Of note here is the Commissar ability, which allows you to combine like squads together with a Commissar at the lead. This is great for keeping your unit count down while having a lot of infantry, not to mention having units that are extremely difficult to break.
The book also includes the new flyer rules. Long story short, like most Dust: Warfare rules, they allow you to make many tactical choices while remaining clear and concise. Also, you get bombs. Another thing of note is that some helicopters are an exception to the normal flyer rules, meaning that we can probably expect some fixed-wing aircraft in the future, rather than the entire world suddenly and inexplicably going all-helicopter. Strangely enough, the MI-47 attack helicopter entry doesn’t have the “Hover” special rule that the transport helicopters do. It could be an error, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it was as intended.
There are also new rules for 3-player games, along with 4 different 3-player scenarios. The concept sounds interesting, but the scenarios themselves will determine just how well this will work. I definitely want to give them a try and see if I can avoid duking it out with the whole board at once.
Then there is the real meat of the book: the units. There are a few new Allied and German walkers, some of which look like solid choices for those aiming to give their opponent a face full of laser. But really, this book isn’t about those guys, it’s about the horde of red commies coming to ruin their picnics. And in that department, this book doesn’t disappoint.
You must be this Soviet to enter.
First off, you get two different platoons to choose from, the biggest difference being a bigger selection of armored units vs. having more commissars. The Defense Platoon is my current favorite, as its command squad is a solid support unit that can still take 2 commissars, more than enough to mob up your infantry squads. It also has access to the range-focused KV-47 Aero Walkers and their optional transport helicopter.
While there isn’t a lot of variation of form in the Zverograd infantry list, there is certainly a difference in function. Each infantry unit has a well-tailored role. For example, the Fakyeli (“Torches” in Russian) are devastating in assault with their shotguns, sulfur thrower and Molotov cocktails. The aptly-named Frontoviki are versatile front-line soldiers. Chinese volunteers are available for a cheap-as-hell mobile meat shield that can sit on an objective, and hard! The only unit that doesn’t really have a role they seem strong at is the Ohotniki (“Hunters”), who carry sniper rifles in their squads rather than MGs, making them able to hit more distant targets. The idea seems interesting, but they don’t have anything to offer over regular, more accurate snipers. Any of these guys can be led by your choice of commissar, all of which have code names derived from classic Russian writers. I can tell you that as someone who has read Karamzin, it is appropriate that his namesake carries a rocket launcher.
First Stalin steals all the good units in the book, then he takes all the good clothes.
Enough of the meatbags, time to talk about armor. I have to admit that the KV47 walkers don’t seem all that resilient, but they look pretty deadly, and the close combat variants are cheap by comparison. If you have the skill to get them into grips with your opponent, you will ruin his day. I may hold back on these myself until a get a better feel for the game, or until there are some bigger threats in the SSU arsenal for a potential opponent to worry about.
The KV47 Aero is a bit more forgiving. Though it has less hit points, its ranged weaponry will keep it at a safer distance. This one will probably be great for harassing enemy armor on the flanks when the SSU gets some real heavy armor, but I’m not sure it can hold the line against the arsenals of other factions at the moment. The same goes for the two transport helicopters, the Mi-45 and MI-46. They are great for outflanking and harassment, but the SSU already has an abundance of units that are racing to get up close, with few heavy units that can draw fire from your rather expensive, highly exposed transports.
The essential SSU anti-tank unit of this book, in my opinion, is the MI-47 attack helicopter, which can engage just about anything with its “Burner” and “Airblaster” variants. You can bet your opponents will be bringing on the antiaircraft guns until the next Dust: Warfare book with all of the heavy armor comes out. With that in mind, be prepared to deal with their AA quickly (I recommend the classic strategy of shooting the crap out of it).
Because a picture of Putin would have been too easy.
Lastly, there are the heroes. Nicolai seems like a good way to get some extra hits out of a unit’s sustained fire, but otherwise I haven’t found a niche for him yet. Red Yana is basically a more expensive Koshka that can pilot any walker. I will mention the other two in my trial army list below.
I decided to make a 300 point list that reflects what I want to play with for my first few games. I included a few units whose models aren’t quite out yet, but proxies can be forgiven for now.

Platoon 1: (aka the only Platoon)

25 AP: 1x SSU Command Squad
40 AP: 2x Frontoviki
9 AP: 1x Fonvizin
42 AP: 2x Fakyeli
8 AP: 1x Karamzin
21 AP: Yakov
100 AP: 2x MIL MI-47B “Burner”
18 AP: Koshka
35 AP: Grand’Ma
This one-platoon army consists of some solid-looking combos with a few things here and there that I want to test out. For example, the Fakyeli, who excel at assault, I made into a combined unit using a commissar.  I also added Yakov for his Legendary Tactician ability as well as his close-up firepower. I think this will make a resilient, hard-hitting assault unit that can move from cover to cover while weathering quite a bit of fire.
The two Burners are pretty much just a brute force effort to see what the MI-47 with the most firepower can do. It has solid anti-tank, anti-infantry and anti-aircraft all in one package. Even if the Napalm is only 2 shots, it will still have intimidating firepower without it. The only concern is that with the lack of heavy armor in the current SSU arsenal, many opponents will eschew anti-tank for more anti-air, guessing that you will stick with the whirly-birds for now.
The Frontoviki squad was made into a combined unit using another commissar. This unit is basically the core of the infantry force, there to supplement and protect the command squad. The Fonvizin in the unit also confers the Assault ability, which may be useful when it’s time to close in, and in any case I had points left over for him.
Lastly is the real experiment: Koshka with her Grand’Ma, henceforth to be called “Babushka” (it’s just painful not to use the Russian).  She can certainly do some burst damage with her Fighting Spirit ability, but whether her walker can survive the trip is another thing entirely. Let’s throw some models at the wall and see what sticks.
I hope it isn’t planning on trampling her.
Overall, I think the book falls short on the fluff; there isn’t much and none of it really brings any character to the new faction. The new heroes are there, but as yet they have no personality. To add insult to injury, characters from other factions get development at the expense of generic SSU soldiers. More enthusiasm for the SSU could definitely have made its way into the book.
Despite the fluff, the rules and the army list are fantastic. The rules are clean and concise, and the army has a considerable number of options upon its initial release. The SSU army isn’t just playable; it has the tools to force the other factions to adapt to an all-new game. With the next book containing even more units including heavy armor just on the horizon, the SSU will be sitting pretty very soon.
What do you think of the new book? Does the SSU live up to your expectations? Have you played a few games with the SSU forces?

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