Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Learning Dystopian Wars

On Saturday, we made it to Giga-Bites to meet with David Boeren, who graciously agreed to show us the Dystopian Wars ropes.

I've got the rulebook, and have read it, but it is always good to have someone who knows what they are doing around for the first few games. It is one thing to read a mechanic, but I find it easier to see it in action. I learn better by doing than by reading.

David and I had exchanged messages on the Spartan Games forum, and were able to agree on a Saturday afternoon. I brought Iya and Lucas with me, as they were both interested in finally getting a game in. Lucas has been excited about this since the first time he saw a Samurai rocket trooper in the book. Iya is a bit more reserved, but is always game to try something new.

We got there right on time, and David was finishing up a game of Warmachine. While he did that, the kids were able to get something to eat. One of the very cool things about gaming at Giga-Bites is the food! It is always great, and not having to worry about where to feed the kids when they are gaming with me is priceless.

We soon got out a flat, blue board to represent the sea, tossed some islands on it, and got down to learning the game. Since Lucas is planning on collecting an Empire of the Blazing Sun fleet, and I am going to go with the Federated States of America, we decided to use those models for our game. That's another advantage of having David show us the game - he has four fully painted fleets! As usual, my children decided to team up against me, with Iya and Lucas playing the Blazing Sun fleet and me taking the FSA. Each of the opposing fleets had a battleship, three cruisers, six frigates, five tiny flyer fighters and five tiny flyer bombers.

David started off by doing a quick rundown of the rules for the kids. He was extremely patient, and explained the turn sequence, movement and basic firing. As mentioned, I was familiar with the rules from reading them, but it makes a world of difference to actually put them into action.

The kids ponder the rules.

The Blazing Sun fleet was deployed in a very geometric, symmetrical pattern. Oh, and when my son finished his Gatorade the empty bottle was placed in the corner as additional terrain - some sort of steampunk nuclear reactor cooling tower!

Lucas places the cooling tower.

Initially the Blazing Sun frigates came up and were able to sink one of my frigates using rockets. It helps, and David can corroborate this, that my kids rolled exceptionally well all day, being able to score multiple hits over and over again. In the meantime, my fortune was running true to form, and I was unable to inflict damage even when rolling ten or so dice at a a time...

The battle developed slowly, with the frigates exchanging fire, each side suffering some casualties, but nothing major.

The kids moved their cruisers up, and turned them to face my ships with their powerful broadsides. They were able to cause a fire on the shield generator on my battleship, but the damage was not too bad, at least not yet.

The kids plan their next move.

Blazing Sun cruisers turn to fire their broadsides!

Meanwhile, Blazing Sun aircraft came in to mop up the last remaining small FSA ship. My bombers also went in, and were jumped by enemy fighters. While they disrupted my attack, it was costly, as my fighters swooped in to protect the bombers, wiping out the Imperial fighters in the ensuing dogfight. At this point, all my frigates were gone, and I had managed to destroy three opposing frigates.

Frigates engage.

The FSA frigate "screen" is reduced to one ship!

David offers advice to the kids.

With the FSA cruisers having such strong main turrets, I steamed straight into the teeth of the enemy line, managing to sink one of my Blazing Sun conterparts. Meanwhile, the battleships exchanged some shots, but were unable to do more than scratch each other's paint.

FSA cruisers steam into the attack!

How do I sink the FSA battleship?

Since it was a learning game, the game play was a bit slow, and we decided to make the third turn our last since we had to get going. Now the Blazing Sun fleet unleashed its full fury on my cruisers, managing to sink one. In return, I think I was able to send one more Imperial frigate beneath the waves. After another round of ineffectual firing from our big ships, the turn ended.

FSA cruisers take a pounding. The center ship is mortally wounded!

The battleships square off.

Final tally: I sank four Blazing Sun frigates and a cruiser, and destroyed all the enemy fighters, and a pair of bombers. The kids managed to completely wipe out both my squadrons of frigates (six ships) and a cruiser, and shot down a pair of fighters. The battleships each took some damage, although mine was burning as well. All in all, although close, we agreed that the victory went to the kids. Without screening frigates, my cruisers were very exposed, and the best option for my wounded battleship was to slink off for repairs.

Final fleet positions.

So, what did we think of the game?

I loved it! I cannot wait to get my own fleet for this game. It was a ton of fun, and although it was not simple it was very streamlined. The basic mechanic of "exploding" dice is terrific. (i.e., if you roll a six it counts as two hits and you can roll again. Theoretically, if you continue to roll sixes you can do unlimited damage.) And it is consistent - it is used for shooting attacks, torpedo attacks, rocket attacks, boarding attacks, bombing attacks, air combat, etc. Once you have it down, the rest of the game falls into place beautifully.

David used small colored cubes to indicate damage, crew losses, and fuel status for the flyers. I liked it, but it was a bit clunky to move four or five cubes, for example, each time you moved a tiny flyer base. I think there are other options out there for recording fuel consumption that I think will work better for me. Whether that will be using small dice, flight stands or dials attached to the tokens themselves, I am not sure yet.

What I am sure of, is that I am hooked on this game! I am already looking at when I can free up some time on a Saturday to get together with David again. In the meantime I will work on assembling a fleet of my own. Speaking of David, I cannot thank him enough. As I mentioned he was gracious and patient, and very encouraging with the kids. He'd seen some of Lucas' drawings on the Spartan games forum, and made sure to compliment him. Lucas was very excited to meet someone who had seen his pictures online.

As for the kids... Iya thought the rules were a little complex, but thought it was interesting that you had such a variety of offensive options from which to choose, and that you could use multiple weapons to attack on each activation. Lucas liked it quite a bit. He says the only downside is that they didn't get to sink my battleship, although the highlight of the game for him was wiping out my frigate squadrons! He thinks the game's complexity is "just right" - not too difficult too learn, but not too easy either. His favorite thing in the game are the Samurai rocket troopers. (Which is why he did not miss an opportunity to attempt to board my ships, even when his assault troops were seriously outnumbered! Both assaults proved to be suicidal, as all the attacking and defending troops were wiped out each time.)

And, Lucas was inspired to draw another scene - this one depicting a dogfight between Prussian and FSA planes:

Prussian and FSA flyers dogfighting

So the verdict is in, and this game is a winner! Apart from it being a terrific miniatures game, the richness and depth of the background that Neil and the Spartan Games crew have managed to cram into just the first rulebook is astounding! So, thanks to Spartan Games and David, my family now has a new obsession - steampunk naval combat!

'Til next time.
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