Monday, December 27, 2010

Dystopian Wars, and updates

Well, it's been a while since my last post, and I thought "What better time to update than right after Christmas?" So, what did I get this year on Jesus' birthday?

First, God gave us a wonderful white Christmas, with about four inches of snow falling on Christmas Day. Not enough to make live miserable like they are getting in the Northeast, but enough to make everything look like a postcard and for the kids to be able to sled in the backyard! Thanks God!

My kids got me a Nerf gun (the Deploy) and a bandolier with extra clips and ammo, to take our Nerf wars up a notch. I had been quite outgunned before that, as my daughter has the Nerf fully-automatic machine-gun while my son has several Nerf rifles, while I was limited to a single six-shot Nerf revolver. But now I was able to give as good as I got as the foam dart gunbattles got downright ugly! Of course, my advantage was short-lived as my parents got my son true nightvision goggles for Christmas! So now my favorite tactic (Death from the Dark tm) is rendered ineffective! Arrrggghhh! (Though I have to admit the goggles are incredible – nightvision technology made into a toy! We tried them out at my parent’s house, and from about 50 to 60 feet away you could clearly see someone hiding behind a tree in pitch darkness.)

And lastly, for Christmas this year I broke two of my gaming vows:

1. I asked for a new set of rules before completing an army for my last set of rules (Malifaux).
2. I asked for a new set of rules that had just come out, rather than wait for the next edition to be released and all the mistakes to be fixed.

You’re probably wondering what set of rules would be so tempting that I’d break not one, but two of my gaming guidelines. Dystopian Wars by Spartan Games!

I’ve been curious about Spartan Games since they came out with their Uncharted Seas fantasy naval combat game. I’d read and listened to several reviews of the game, and I was intrigued, but not enough to dive in and get the rules and a fleet or two. Spartan followed up with Firestorm Armada, a space combat game. I thought the models looked cool, but I was not even tempted as I am not a fan of spaceship battles. But seeing pictures of the ships for Dystopian Wars grabbed my attention very quickly.

Victorian-era sci-fi a la Jules Verne? Giant aircraft-carrying dirigibles unleashing death from above against twin paddle-wheeled behemoths on the ocean’s surface? Gargantuan walkers with Japanese temples on top crashing through the jungle to scatter smaller tanks and vehicles? These were more than enough to get me interested, and a review of the game on The D6 Generation podcast (Episode 70) was enough to push me over the edge. So I asked for, and got, the rules for Christmas from my awesome wife! Dave at Giga-bites CafĂ© got in an order just before Christmas and was kind enough to hold a copy for me that I was able to pick up on Christmas Eve.

I have not yet played a game (I am now in that wonderful stage of picking out my army, where everything is possible and I am not yet locked into any decision), but here’s my first impressions on the book. First off, the production value is extremely high. It is a perfect-bound soft cover rulebook in full color. The front and back covers are great, showing scenes of huge tanks, ships and aircraft battling. Inside, almost every page contains some sort of illustration to flesh out the background, or an example of play or a photo of a beautifully painted model.

The background section immediately sucks you into the alternate world in which Dystopian Wars takes place. The year is 1870 and the great empires of the world are at war, facing off with enormous war machines on land, at sea and in the skies. History in that world has several significant changes from ours, aside from the discovery of a new element that has enabled the construction of giant airships and weapons of tremendous destructive capacity. For one, the South has won the Civil War, resulting in the Federated States of America (FSA). In the east, Japan has emerged as the Empire of the Blazing Sun, while they Empire of Britannia holds colonies around the world. The Prussian Empire holds central Europe in its steel grasp, and prepares to face the Russia. Each of these powers has its own style of war machine, loosely based on historical fact. The Germans use massive dirigible aircraft carriers to ferry their attack planes into battle. The Japanese have sleek warships capable of firing waves of destructive torpedoes. And the FSA ships are reminiscent of the Civil War ironclads, with massive armored paddle wheels for propulsion.

The rules themselves are well-written and seem quite clear on the basic points, which I suspect comes from the fact they are, in essence, the third iteration of the same basic ruleset (following Uncharted Seas and Firestorm Armada). Once I get the chance to put together and army and take it to battle I’ll have a better idea of how the rules fit together as a whole and how the game plays. At the moment I am leaning towards the Prussians – that dirigible carrier is THE flagship model of the line, and is an instant centerpiece for a terrific-looking force. I usually try to collect two forces for my games (so that there is one for me and one for my kids if they choose to play), but here is where I am stuck between two options – the FSA and the Empire of the Blazing Sun. Both have great-looking models, and both have their strengths in the game, so I am quite torn. Stay tuned for updates on that front.

As far as other updates, my Malifaux jail has been languishing, with all work halted as I dealt with holiday preparations. Between making sure everything got done for Thanksgiving and then Christmas, and it being busier than normal at work, I am still stuck on painting the jail. I have been able to get some gaming-related tasks completed though. My son has decided to field a Gremlin crew, and I did get Rami LaCroix painted up for him. I'll post some pictures next time as soon as I get him based. I began the process of painting a Cult of December crew, but that is still in very early stages. And I did build a 3'x3' gaming table for Malifaux which just needs some finishing touches to be complete.

The Reading Table:

I finally finished Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J. E. B. Stuart. A very good book that explains in detail the causes and effects of Stuart's disastrous "disappearance" just prior to the Battle of Gettysburg. It is a balanced look at Stuart, describing his strengths as well as his weaknesses, and most of all showing how much more difficult it was to wage war in a time of uncertain communications. A bit dry at times, but a very enjoyable read.

After that I read Munson's biography, Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain, which went very quickly. This was a very interesting book for me to read. Growing up in New York, Munson was my hero. He was and is my favorite ballplayer of all time. But I was a kid, and much of the drama and tension of the clubhouse and in his relationships with George Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson did not register at the time. All I cared about was watching him get another game-winning hit! So finally reading the whole story, and learning more about Munson the man, in addition to Munson the player, was very enjoyable.

Following that, I polished off Robert Leckie's Helmet for My Pillow, his account of being Marine in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. I've read many, many books about the European Theatre, but not nearly as many about the Pacific. Leckie's story is both unique and common - his experiences mirror those of countless young men of that time, yet his views on it and how they impacted him are his alone. For me, this book took a little getting used to, as Leckie's writing is a little more flowery and descriptive than I am used to in a military account. But it is definitely worth the effort, and I was very moved to read of the sacrifices that Leckie and his comrades made for our country.

Next up: Easy Company Soldier by Sgt. Don Malarkey, made famous by Band of Brothers. And before you start thinking the name of my blog is totally misleading, after that I have a pirate novel lined up: The Blackbirder by James Nelson. It is the second book in the Brethren of the Coast trilogy, after The Guardship. It's been a while since I read the first one, so I may have to go back and re-read it before I start The Blackbirder.

That's it for now - hopefully next time I'll have more pictures of current and completed projects to share (especially if I ever get my Malifaux jail completed!).

'Til next time.
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