Monday, 2 January 2017

Conclave of Har Article Archive - A UTOPIAN DYSTOPIA - DYSTOPIAN WARS

Today I'm going to talk about Dystopian Wars, a Naval Air and Land based combat strategy game produced by Spartan Games. Set in an alternate timelines 19th Century where technology has advanced somewhat differently resulting in a fascinating mix of advanced steampunk weaponry and WWI/II era battleships and dreadnaughts. It’s an interesting and well thought out background rife with political machinations and a decent amount of historical awareness. Obviously it cannot hope to rival the background and sprawling universe of something like Warhammer but it does its own thing rather nicely.

Battleships! Giant Flying Robots! Mechanical Squid! What's not to like?

The Game itself can be played in a variety of different ways but is usually an action packed affair with the ever more popular ‘exploding dice’ mechanic usually ensuring a high casualty rate. The entry point is also remarkably affordable with £50 getting you all you need to get into the game proper and enjoy a full game lasting an hour or more. This 50 notes will net you the Rulebook (which we shall discuss in a moment) and one of the many fleet starter sets. The starters come in naval land and air varieties and Spartan have recently started providing more and more modular bundles to add to your force such as support fleets and air attack wings.

In my advice the starter fleet is the option to go for as it includes a couple of flyers anyway so you will be introduced to two elements of the game at the same time. Coming in at between £30-35 a Starter Naval Battlegroup will usually contain a Battleship, 3 Large Crusiers and around 9 smaller destroyers as well as the aforementioned flyers (you’ll also receive the resin tiny flyer tokens required for CAP and bomber wings) as well as all the tokens templates and stat cards for your models. The models are made from a hard somewhat brittle resin (should be fine if you don’t drop it though) and the detail is exceptionally crisp with very little flash that needs removing and little in the way of mould lines. The computer aided sculpting that they use is well serviced by the mechanical nature of the ships and there are a multitude of different looking factions to choose from, each of which will be featured later in this article.

Spartan Games Prussian Fleet from Dystopian Wars

However, before we get too much into the models lets discuss the rules which will take up the rest of your roughly £50 starting budget. Basically the rules to Dystopian Wars are an awful lot of fun. The aforementioned exploding dice mechanic means that pretty much anything can happen and even a weak fusillade can destroy a capital ship if you keep rolling enough sixes. The core shooting mechanic is much like that of GWs Battlefleet Gothic. Basically you take your attack value and then apply any modifiers for range, obstruction, facing which will dictate how many dice you can roll to try and beat the targets armour. Should you beat the targets CR value you’ll cause a critical hit and have the chance of causing additional effects. Squadrons of vessels can sacrifice a portion of their individual firepower to link fire for a concentrated punch which can pay dividends when attacking a well armoured target like an enemy capital ship.

One of the great things about Dystopian Wars is it scales exceptionally well. The game can be as big or as small as you want it and the modular ruleset means you can strip the mechanics down to suit you (my first games were played omitting the flyer rules completely with no impact on the enjoyment of the game) and you can have as complete an experience with a handful of ships as you would with a mighty fleet of vessels. Games can drag on a little of you play to last ship floating as the last few combatants circle round each other trying to land the killing blow but this can easily be circumvented by establishing a fixed turn length.

Yours for a shade over 30 quid if you shop around a bit.

The rulebook is fairly well presented, as I touched upon earlier, the game universe is well realised, a grounded steampunk setting with real world politics creating a fascinating alternate history. The designs throughout the book are full of character and rules for the primary factions are all included, each nation having unique tech so as to retain an element of individuality One oft cited criticism that I will level at the rulebook is its layout. The way the rules are presented is somewhat counterintuitive and far from concise and most games will involve a lot of flicking through the book trying to find a relevant rule till it all becomes committed to memory. Overall it’s a little difficult to digest in its presented format and the section on Arcs of fire in particular is cumbersome and awkward.

So, its time to talk about the models and factions: There are already a good 8 or so countries represented in Dystopian Wars and more are being added all the time, with three more due anytime now. I'll present them all in brief here.

Kingdom of Britannia:

Why not start at home? At a glance you could identify this fleet as British, wonderfully reminiscent of the Ironclad Dreadnaughts of the 19th Century, they also feature funnels that could have been ripped straight from Stephensons Rocket Steam Engine. Even their landship is basically St Pauls Cathedral on a set of massive tracks, it doesn’t get much more grandiose than that. Ship classifications such as Sovereign and Eagle complete the theme.

The detail on these models is quite remarkable.

Prussian Empire:

For a while these were my first choice when I was deliberating which fleet to collect. You could probably guess much of what is contained within the Prussian Empire list but certainly not all, Zeppelins? Check. Heavily armed battleships? Check. Giant Airfield in the shape of an Iron Cross? Oookay….. How about Giant Pcikelhaube wearing Tesla Cannon Armed Robots? Didn’t think so. Lots to like here, loads of character and the main theme is brutality and lots of forward facing firepower. If there is one thing the Prussian Empire isn’t its subtle.

Not pictured, Giant Iron Cross shaped mobile airfield 

The metzger Class robot, it wades so even ships arent safe.....

Federated States of America:

Skewed American Civil war background aside one of the most characterful of factions. In a nutshell, Paddle steamers. Totally iconic and highly distinctive the FSA was nonetheless one faction I instantly discounted. There was something about the aesthetic that just didn’t appeal to me and that was even after considering the giant flying robots. Yup, giant flying robots. More of an Iron Giant riveted design than the Prussians lumbering plated behemoth its still pretty cool and should give pause to any that would dismiss the FSAs Mississippi styling's as quaint.

Empire of the Blazing Sun:

Probably the most unconventional of the primary fleets the Empires vessels are cigar shaped affairs, all smooth lines and curves in place of turrets and towers. They do have some rather fantastic quadruped walkers though and are certainly distinctive. Oh and their unique unit is a giant mechanical squid which I am reliably informed is an absolute terror and probably the most powerful thing in the game.

I'm told this thing is VERY nasty. I've yet to encounter it myself.

Covenant of Antartica:

The Covenant were another faction I briefly toyed with for a while before Lee staked his claim (I remember words along the lines of ‘Piss off the Covenant are mine') Overall i'm glad I didn’t choose them as although I really do dig their B movie Sci FI stylings and they do have some AWESOME looking ships their flyers in particular look a little odd, not least the tiny flyer tokens which somewhat resemble miniscule penises. The background for the Covenant is rather intriguing, technologically advanced but highly secretive, a but of an unknown element. They have developed shields and teleportation but hide inside Artic fortresses, jealously guarded and which few who venture into return from. Still, phallus shaped aircraft aside, not quite my thing, particularly some of the smaller vessels. So who DID I choose for my first fleet?

Lees chosen fleet, think we must be due another game soon

The Republique of France:

I chose the French, when I choose a faction/army for any game it is always based upon aesthetics, with little thought given to how they actually play. Although I do enjoy a good game I would label myself as a painter primarily and it is from that perspective that I approach new ventures. That said the Republique of France also have a fairly interesting background. Basically they have kind of been the whipping boys of the other nations for a while, subjugated and battered and only now with a charismatic new leader are emerging resurgent, a brave and wounded but proud nation. I do like a plucky underdog. 

But the main reason I chose the French? Flying Battleships. That’s right, Flying. Battleships. The masters of Antigrav technology many of the Republiques vessels are also skimmers. Quite handy in a variety of situations I assure you. Viva la Republique indeed!

Viva La Republique!! We have flying battleships. Your argument is invalid...

Russian Coalition:

Last of the ‘Core Nations’ we have the Russian Coalition with their oddly shaped circular vessels (actually inspired by historical experimental naval designs) Their larger capital class vessels look much more conventional and their flyers resemble nothing so much as a giant eyeball complete with optical nerve. Possibly one for the future but a bit too quirky overall.

Heavily armed and a bit odd. In Russia odd is you.....

Then we have the Alliance Nations, The league of Italian States (I really like the look of these) With their narrow hulls and very realistic look. The Italians are most likely to be my second fleet. They will also ally well with the French. Also imminent are the Australians whose fleet presents a very unified look and the Chinese, with massive river barge inspired designs complete with pagoda superstructures. The Ottoman Empire have just been previewed and as you might expect look like they are straight out of Arabia, floating jewelled palaces and towers.

The Chinese. in case you couldn't tell 

The Italians, like these guys.

A fleet from a land down under..... 

Coming soon.....The Ottoman Empire.

And it doesn’t end there either, should it take your fancy there are a number of spin off games that Spartan have produced from Dystopian Wars: The first is Dystopian Legions, a somewhat misleading name given that it seems to be a squad level skirmish game, albeit with some wonderfully characterful 28ml models offering much more from a painters perspective. The other new offering is called Armoured Clash, which in all honesty looks to be more like Epic than anything else. Im a little comfused by this one as the Land aspect of Dystopian wars seems to offer something remarkably similar but i'm sure Armoured Clash has its own appeal.

Also the Dystopian Wars ruleset is available in different flavours. Should Galleons and Cannons be your thing then there is a fantasy version called Uncharted Seas (I rather like the Elven ships) and if Sci Fi battles are your thing then check out Firestorm Armada which has some rather wonderful factions available.

My very own Magenta Class Battleship. Non flying variety 

And Lee's vessel, the Soliquy of rusting at the bottom of the ocean with big holes in it......

So as you can see, Dystopian Wars offers as much or as little as you want. Embrace Land, Air and Sea and all the Expansions and settings or settle for a smaller Fleet like myself. (mainly due to time constraints it must be said) You’ll not be punished for doing less and your experience will not be diminished by choosing smaller engagements. Which reminds me, it must be time to send those pesky teleporting Covenant to the Bottom of Davy Jones Locker again……

Viva La Republique!!


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