I purchased the game at GenCon and I'll give you my thoughts after playing only two games with my friend there at the con. I did not sit down and do the demo but I did watch one to make sure we were doing things correctly. There's still the possibility we are playing something wrong and I'll admit that ahead of time.
I'll just say this up front: I regret buying this game.
The miniatures and artwork look great. I wasn't planning on getting the game until I saw them in person. When I saw some of the preview pictures on the internet ahead of time, I thought "well, great... that looks like a mini-van walking on four legs with a tank turret thrown on top". That is definitely not the case of the robots when you see them up close. Great levels of detail and really neat looking figures. The infantry is so-so. Painted up they look great. Unpainted they look decent and it's still hard sometimes to tell at a glance what the different weapons are.
The board components are great quality. I'm not worried about the map pieces getting bent or damaged because it's very heavy duty stuff for cardboard. They are two-sided with outdoors on one side and indoors on the other. I did not try any indoor maps.
The ammo crates and tank traps you get are ok. The tank traps look like big plastic caltrops with the bottom cut off so they sit flat. The ammo crates are functional. For anyone who played AT-43 and enjoyed the level of detail on those railroad containers you got, prepare to be disappointed.
From a component standpoint and what you get for your $100, I can't really complain.
I come from a background in other miniatures games. I've played all the GW games, Warmachine/Hordes, AT-43, most iterations of Confrontation, Malifaux, etc. I'm trying to appreciate the differences between the massive rulesets of some of these games vs. the 22 pages of rules that we get with Dust. I don't always want to sit and play a 2-3 hour game of 40K and have to look obscure things up in the rulebook and/or separate army codex.
But the problem I get to is that in the two games that we played, there was very little that actually happened. We may have used a bad scenario but there was very little to make this game stand out and make me want to play again. I really felt disappointed after playing. Was there some strategy involved? Maybe. But it wasn't deep or interesting enough for me. I'll walk you through the game and try to show you while I feel this way.
In both missions, we played "General Assault", which is where both sides get to use all 16 of their build points (AP). Each side ends up with two walkers, 3 squads of 5 dudes, and a hero model that should be assigned to a squad (but doesn't have to be). This scenario has an open corridor down the middle of the map and the attacker's goal is to get a unit behind a wall on the defender's side of the table in 8 turns. The attacker has the ability to come down the board edges and try to breach the wall instead of walking down the corridor of death.
Pieces walk on from the board edge. To determine initiative, you roll 3 of the dice (or 4 if you are the allies because of their hero's special rule). Whoever rolls the most hits wins. The winner gets to choose who moves a unit first. In each game, it seemed like we double moved all of our squads onto the board, delaying the walkers as much as possible. The Defender in this scenario gets a little jammed up because he only has three squares in which to exit his base but if he doesn't, he doesn't have LOS to the side of the map, allowing the attacker to move up unmolested.
So then the robots come onto the board and here's where I have a big problem with the game. Each side has a robot that is good at anti-armor and another that is better at short-range. What we found happening was the long-range walkers would basically annihilate each other. Whoever got the second round of shooting off first would win that battle. Basically, a robot would walk on the table and shoot it's range Unlimited gun in turn one. The allies get 6 dice at unlimited range and the germans get 7 (because all the robots are the same armor class). In turn two, whoever wins initiative activates his big gunner first and then uses "Sustained Fire", which allows you to re-roll misses. Walkers only have 4 health and that pretty much guarantees a kill.
7 dice with sustained fire averages out to be something like 3.8888 hits. 6 dice with sustained fire is 3.3333 hits (if my math is right). Whoever manages to get sustained fire off first blows up the other robot. You can move and then attack or attack and then move... but then you sit there playing a dull waiting game until someone makes a move or gets a good roll. Damage has no effect on the robots until they die. There's no weapons getting damaged or movement penalties or anything else.
The allied robots both have the "Jump" ability, which we never used. It basically will take up your entire turn and allow you to leap a squad or a tank trap. The germans have one robot with self-repair (roll a die for each point of damage taken and get a health back for a hit roll) and charge. Charge gives you an extra square of movement but you have to get adjacent to your opponent. With the german robot, you only get 4 dice to attack with. Unless you're going up against a heavily wounded robot, he's just going to sustained fire and kill you next round.
When you're attacking vs. infantry the problem with sustained fire can seem even worse because squads get decimated very very quickly. Each normal soldier only has a single point of health so even average turns of shooting will leave a squad with only 1 or 2 guys left standing. The defender gets to choose casualties so it seemed like most of the men in the squad were just ablative wounds for your special weapon. The allied "Pounder" robot can throw 10 dice against a german squad at range 4 or less. Without sustained that's 3.333 casualties. With sustained it's 5.555. Ouch.
Now the cover mechanism for infantry is pretty neat. If you're in soft cover, you roll the amount of hits you've taken. Any hit you roll is a save. For hard cover, any misses you roll is a save (because there are more misses than hits on the dice). It's quick and easy.
We also had some issues with the squad balances. Each infantry squad in this basic game is worth 2 build points (AP). They each have the same movement, armor, and number of guys. Each has 4 basic troops and 1 special weapon. Sometimes you'll get some other special weapons like panzerfausts or under-barrel grenade launchers but we never even used them.
The Germans have laser weapons which allow you to re-roll successful hits. You continue to re-roll until you miss. This can combine with the sustained fire rule. It can also be combined with the German hero's Berserk rule which allows her and the squad to re-roll failed attacks once per game (and it combines with sustained fire, too). This is basically an instant-kill turn if the Germans can pull it off (and it happened in both of our games with no problems). The allied had a similar instant-kill squad armed with shotguns and a flame-thrower but they had to be at range 1 to get it to work.
I don't know. Maybe I'm being too harsh on the game. Maybe we didn't maneuver around enough to appreciate the strategies of the game. Maybe we didn't play the "cool" scenario. Maybe the game will get better when there are more units and armies available. They have a ton of special rules in the rulebook that aren't used (command squads, snipers, etc.).
But for $100... I regret it. I wanted a game that could stand on it's own, not require expansions to keep me interested. I wanted a game with deeper strategy than I'm seeing here. I don't want "battle checkers" and I feel like that's what I got.
And that's a darned shame too because when I bought the game, they introduced me to Paolo Parente and he's a great guy. I only shook his hand and then he autographed my copy of the game, but you could just tell he was actually happy to have someone buying the game and interested in the world he's created.