In the vein of For Fairy, Queen and Country and Castle Falkenstein, which I reviewed last years, the Victoriana roleplaying game posts a nineteenth century rich in magic, fantasy and fantastic races; unlike those games, it presents a more D&D style of fantasy rather than borrowing from faerie lore.
The Core Rulebook opens with a look at the world, society, nations and religions of the fantastic 1856 in which it is set. The presentation is reminiscent of Shadowrun (a definite pro!) and, overall, comes across rather like a nineteenth century version of that setting, too. Unfortunately, whilst tantalising, this is actually something of a flaw as it doesn’t quite work as presented. Apparently, earlier editions were set in a more overtly fantastic 1867, and whether it worked or not, this sounds a better proposition than this version. Had they taken a Shadowrun approach with magic manifesting in the Victorian period or gone further with the fantastic being something that happened mostly in the past, it would probably have worked better. Unfortunately, making the fantastic so intrinsic and hinting at historical changes, whilst largely keeping history as it was in reality creates a setting which, like Castle Falkenstein, only works if you don’t think too deeply about it or ask too many questions (such as why there are no fantastic racial nations given that the various sapient races have been around for millennia and at least some would surely have clustered together). The background is full of excellent ideas and would benefit from being mined for those you like and given a rewrite that makes more sense.
Unlike earlier editions, the third edition of Victoriana incorporates as much technological innovation as it does sorcery, having a strong steampunk feel that includes clockwork zombies and necromancers offsetting their frailty with clockwork prosthetics – even mechanical angels! But, magic isn’t shortchanged and there is a modest bestiary, too. There is enough here to play a campaign with whatever emphasis you desire and effort has been made to give everything a distinct in-setting feel rather than just porting-in fantasy stereotypes all the time.
Finally, the rules. From a cursory glance, these appear serviceable, using dice pools of six-sided dice, and ‘black dice’ (representing difficulty) that have the potential to take away successes. Nothing too outstanding, but simple.
Overall, Victoriana is an enjoyable read, full of great ideas, but doesn’t quite mesh as a setting. It could work if your group doesn’t care about details and just wants to get on with their adventure, but will require a lot more work to accommodate other groups. Recommended.
Following our diversion to the 17th century, we headed for a galaxy far, far away and a long, long time ago with Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game, playing a quick dogfight with the basic rules.
This is an interesting little game that makes use of maneuvers, chosen prior to each turn, that allows for a sort of ‘space ballet’ (albeit in two dimensions) as you attempt to place your fighters to shoot at the enemy. The game gives a great feel of what space combat ought (from our earthbound position) to be like in a way which squares or hexes cannot through the use of cardboard measures that represent straight moves and sharp and gentle turns, as well as the occasional flip. The advanced rules sound as if they should add even more tactical thinking into what becomes an absorbing game in which not much, save repeated circling and maneuvers, seems to happen for a while before that magic moment when you have the enemy in your sights and are praying that you will score a hit.
If it sounds a little boring when I put ‘not much seems to happen’, don’t worry – the tension of trying to second guess your opponent and the desperate hope that you have chosen the right maneuvers to make (as well as the amusing moments when you discover that you didn’t!) makes for a tense game of cunning. I would definitely recommend this!
Despite having owned a copy of the Warhammer English Civil War rules and an intense interest in the era, I’d never actually played a battle. That all changed when one my friends purchased some figures and suggested we restage the battle for the future of the monarchy.
We decided upon fighting a flanking battle and, as I was playing the Royalists under the command of Prince Rupert with a decent cavalry force, I agreed to send them off the table till turn three. Before we set up, I was a little nervous about having around half my force offtable, but seeing the not-much-bigger Parliamentary force before me, I wasn’t too worried. Sure, in terms of quality, their infantry was better than mine, but I felt I had a fighting chance of holding out till Rupert and his chums could arrive to save the day.
As it was, it quickly began to look as if they wouldn’t even need Rupert, after all, as a mortar shot took out most of the Parliamentary pikemen in the first turn and an agitator convinced a unit of shot to march away from the battle, depriving the Parliamentary forces of a substantial chunk before the battle had even really got underway!
The second turn saw the mortar prove just as accurate for a second time, only for my underestimation of the range to cause the shell to explode short of the pike. Then, in the third turn, having got the range right, it decided to deviate well away and do nothing. That’s mortars for you, I guess! Sadly, my marksman was failing to live up to his name and achieved only a single hit (thankfully a kill!) in the battle.
Heavy musketfire depleted the Parliamentary cavalry by the third turn, when Rupert arrived to menace the Parliamentary saker.The remaining Parliamentary pike, steadfast in the face of their losses, were inspired by their agitator to advance with fervour, although they failed to achieve anything much…
Desultory Parliamentary musketfire caused barely any Royalist casualties and with Rupert’s horse on the board, things were looking very bad for the rebellious forces of Parliament, especially when cannister shot from the saker managed to only kill a single horseman.
Rupert’s horse then proceeded to run down the saker crew, driving them off. Meanwhile, the other unit of Rupert’s cavalry contingent moved to take up a position beside the Royalist infantry block in order to threaten the remnants of the Parliamentarian cavalry, which were wiped out a moment later by a further volley of musketfire, leaving Sir John Meldrum injured and alone with the Royalist cavalry bearing down on him!
The mortar’s final short wiped out the remainder of the steadfast Parliamentary pikemen, save for the leader and accompanying agitator, who joined Sir John in a failed attempt to charge the depleted left-hand unit of Royalist shot, who chose to fire and retreat behind their allied pike, causing the three ‘brave’ Parliamentarians to rethink their strategy when faced going up against a near-intact unit of pikemen!
Ironically, both forces had had their left flanks rendered useless – Parliament’s had been wiped out and the Royalist mortar and marksman were out of gunpowder, leaving the battle to be decided in the centre.
Rupert led his cavalry on a rather inglorious charge against the surviving guncrew, being briefly faced by a lone artilleryman willing to stand his ground and fight, whilst the other unit of horse went for Meldrum, the agitator and leader of pike, only for the three of them to turn and flee rather than stand and fight!
Meldrum continued his flight followed by the other two cowards. Other than the lone artilleryman, who was slaughtered in the final turn, the Parliamentary forces had been reduced to two units of muskets without any gunpowder left to shoot, who opted to charge the Royalist horse in one case, being countercharged and wiped out, and the Royalist pike in the other, being routed, leaving the largely intact Royalist forces victorious!
Overall, Warhammer English Civil War played as well as the various other iterations of Warhammer that I have tried and produced a fairly realistic result (and, certainly, one pleasing to me, at any rate!). The limitation of gunpowder to four turns’ worth of shooting is an interesting and historically accurate element that forces you to consider whether opening fire is a good idea or not. Muskets are very powerful, punching through what little armour is available, but once you’ve used all your allotted shots, your unit of shot becomes a rather subpar melee unit. Despite the amazing piece of good luck I had with the mortar in the opening turn, artillery proved pretty ineffective in the battle as a whole, again quite realistic for the time. It certainly made for a fairly quick, fun battle and I hope we will be revisiting the period again in future (indeed, I intend to invest in some figures myself). Highly recommended!
The real world has been getting severely in the way of doing any gaming recently, with the last month being taken up with a series of family crises for me and, when I was available, the unavailability of other players. However, now that life seems a little calmer again, there is the prospect of a retro-review or two in the near future, whilst I am currently booked to fight a battle on the last day of the month.
That’s not to say that there has been no gaming in my life recently. A friend and I have been discussing our ‘holy grail’ of a ‘one roll’ combat system for roleplaying so that games need not become bogged down in fight scenes that take longer to play out than they actually took to be fought in real time. Although a literal ‘one roll’ combat system remains out of reach (other than going for an unsatisfyingly straight roll to see who wins), my friend did make an interesting suggestion for an elegantly simple combat structure that, I hope, he will actually write up properly. Having spent too much time thinking about politics recently, I have also come up with an idea for a political board/cardgame that I hope to actually try and develop at some point, allowing players to control political parties in the cutthroat struggle to form a government.
Hopefully, September will see more activity on the blog, so please do check back at some point!