Tuesday, 5 March 2013

A Testing Engagement...


This weekend past hostilities between the Russian Coalition and the Covenant of Antarctica began.

My brother and I managed to get our fleets to the table, and muddle through the rules (even if that was in the wee hours Saturday eve/Sunday morn) enough to play a simple learning game of Dystopian Wars.

For those unaware, Dystopian Wars is a table-top miniatures game that manages to incorporate land, sea and air units into one seamless system.  It is set in a steam-punk 19th century uchronia, which provides the opportunity for some wonderful models of high tech zeppelins and other steam-punk goodness.  Players will have an army that may include mighty land units, sea-borne juggernauts and immense air-ships, or any combination of all three.



We started simple - a couple of ship types, no special rules, nothing that flies... as it turns out this is a good way to learn the rules - but you can’t take the results too seriously.  The devil is in the details as they say, and while the basic rules for Dystopian Wars are simple, easy to grasp and a lot of fun, the nuances added by the extra stuff make the game so much more tactical, interesting and generally richer.  My battleship managed to chew through my brother’s fleet with some harrowing (for him) and devastating broadsides and turret fire.  Had we been using the model assigned rules (MARs), it wouldn’t have been as simple as all of that!

The Covenant - a simple set-up for the first game

The Russians...

Nonetheless this first chance to tackle the game, this first blush, this testing engagement was a great way to familiarise ourselves with the rules enough to allow us to tackle a bigger game, and while we didn’t have the time to finish this second attempt, I certainly feel that the rules are less of a mystery and I am (mostly) ready for a full engagement.

All in all the rules are really solid.  The game is tactical and highly enjoyable, with plenty of opportunities for narrative and heroic events.  Ships can manage to hang on despite a withering assault, or put a dent in even the largest ships with some fortune.  There are plenty of dice rolled, and this means the luck feels more or less even across a game - there might be patches where every gun seems to miss and every shell from the enemy seems to find it’s mark, but these run both ways during a game.

First blood - a barrage of torpedo fire and a broadside sink a Russian frigate...

Some of things I really enjoyed about the game:

Movement - nearly all the ships and air-craft in the game use turning templates when they want to turn, many also have minimum moves they must make prior to beginning any turn.  This means that players need to think a little about the movement of their ships, and where they want them to be in several turns.  Because ships are fielded in squadrons, and squadrons must stay relatively close together, even a slight turn by one ship can have longer term consequences, especially when terrain and enemy ships are also involved.  In both games I played I had ships that pushed too far forward, and in both cases I had passed the point of no return, I had to run the gauntlet of explosive broadside and turret fire to try and get some space.  Planning effectively makes a huge difference, and adds a lot of interesting choices to the game - can I get my squadron through that gap before the enemy arrive? Can I get to that point and turn so my broadsides will be facing the enemy as they come through? There are many considerations that make the game very interesting and highly enjoyable.

No room to move, the oncoming Russian battleship will rain fire on my poor Covenant squadrons.
He had to ram everything. Everything.
I go - you go - Not anything groundbreaking here, but it is certainly a game mechanism that I enjoy, and it’s well implemented in Dystopian Wars.  I activate and use a squadron, then you do the same, rinse repeat until all have been activated and then end of turn.  This system makes the game feel fast, you’re always doing something, or at the least, wanting to do something.  There is much tension to be found in this simple system as well - timing when to activate a unit can mean the difference between a devastating turn and a waste of a turn.  Getting within range at the right time to unleash that barrage of fire, or moving just out of range, or getting into a position for a perfect strike next turn (if you get the initiative) all adds to that something that I really liked about Dystopian Wars.

Game two... a bigger fleet

The Ruskies... and the Lithuanian/Polish allies...

MARs - Model Assigned Rules or MARs - In most games these are called special abilities, and the MARs serve exactly this purpose, they give individual models a special way to break or bend the normal game rules in a particular way, and in so doing they give each nation, and each model, a very different feel and tactical potential.  These add a huge amount to the game, so much that I am more than willing to write that they add a depth I haven’t begun to grasp yet.  Even so I can see that using the models to their potential means taking full advantage of the ways in which their MARs give you options your opponent may not have access to.  They are not overly complex (though there are many of them), but they add enough to make you think about how best to take advantage of them.  A very good layer to the game.

The islands are incomplete, but the game is afoot!

Add the cards, the different combat arms (ground, sea, air), the different weapons, generators, and other options and the game has a huge amount of variability and individuality.  Despite this Dystopian Wars plays fast and feels tactical, there are a lot of choices to make and they all feel important.

There is plenty that I am leaving out, but I have written enough for one evening - if you’re still reading all I can say is that the games we played were fantastic fun, with moments of heroic luck and tension.  All in all I am very impressed with the game and look forward to playing more.  

Special mention should be made of the models, which are fantastic.  Spartan Games has done a wonderful job of designing and producing the miniatures for the game, they are large and imposing models and are wonderfully detailed.  I am looking forward to painting them, and somewhat apprehensive about doing them justice!

I am really looking forward to the next opportunity for my Covenant Fleet to tangle with the Russians.  Cry havoc! and let slip the dogs of war...


Cheers,
Giles.



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