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Retro Review: For Faerie, Queen & Country

April 15, 2013

Having been overshadowed by Castle Falkenstein, it is inevitable, if unfair, that this review will be comparing the two games, despite For Faerie, Queen & Country actually having preempted Castle Falkenstein by a year.

For Faerie, Queen & Country has much the same premise as Castle Falkenstein – a world much like our own in the Victorian era but inhabited by Faerie, with the Unseelie Court waging a proxy war with humanity. That they draw upon the same history and folklore, it should come as no surprise that there are distinct similarities. Where they are different is that Castle Falkenstein embraces steampunk and Victorian literature, whilst For Faerie, Queen & Country sticks closely to history and folklore, explicitly rejecting Victorian SF and steampunk embellishments. Where Castle Falkenstein works in broad strokes and attempts to set mood, For Faerie, Queen & Country works to recreate the Victorian world with accuracy and a dash of (faerie) glamour.

In some ways, the volume is a decent enough primer to Victorian Britain for the unfamiliar, although it falls somewhat into the nomansland of neither quite enough of the reality (and accuracy) to be truly useful for historical games, whilst failing to provide enough detail on the fictionalised side of things: like Castle Falkenstein, it is rather light on how history has changed in this alternate world, although what we do learn – such as a semi-independent Scotland, Faerie-backed pagans clinging on in Ireland, powerful spirits thwarting the British in India and Africa and the defeat of the USA in the war of 1812 – is intriguing, although it does prompt some awkward questions – if the Faerie have propped up paganism in Ireland, why has Christianity evolved much as it did in reality, save for some name changed? And, if the spirits of Africa and India could keep the British out, why have those of the Americas seemingly failed so poorly against them and other colonial powers? And, equally, what about the spirits/non-British Faerie of Europe?

Unfortunately, whilst its description of the Victorian world is quite good, For Faerie, Queen & Country has its flaws. For example, the attempt at an introduction to the Welsh language is laughable – not only is their pronunciation guide bizarre (somehow I doubt that this was an attempt at depicting an alternate evolution of the language!) but they even mispell Eisteddfod. Welsh is only a difficult language to learn if you insist on rewriting it and mangling the way it is spoken! Equally, whilst they are more sensible than the authors of Castle Falkenstein in deciding that the British have gone metric – 100 pennies to the pound making far more sense than 200! – the change is given no mention and I was left uncertain as to whether they hadn’t realised that decimalisation had only occurred in the late 20th century or if the authors just thought the math too hard for delicate American brains… A decimal Pound was unlikely then as not only was the decimal system regarded as dangerously foreign and revolutionary, but the Shilling was the unit of currency at the heart of the system (and closest in value to the Dollar and Franc) – even when decimalisation did occur, the Shilling rather than the Pound was strongly favoured. I just feel that, if you are going to play in a specific nation or era, then you should seek to emulate what made it distinct, not turn it into your home town with funny accents.

Although the greater adherence to reality does perhaps mean a great similarity to the real world is plausible, the changes that are mentioned should probably have had a far greater effect than they are credited with. Unfortunately, it does seem that the Faerie Victoriana genre doesn’t receive the treatment it deserves.

For Faerie, Queen & Country uses the Amazing Engine percentile system and requires the rules booklet to play. The system has never particularly excited my imagination and doesn’t really capture the feel of the period or genre in the way that Castle Falkenstein does, although it doesn’t impede it, either. Certainly, it will be favoured by more traditionally-minded gamers than the rival game’s system is likely to be.

The volume is significantly thinner than its rival and, whilst it has some good ideas and includes a great map of the UK, it fails to supply anywhere near as much inspiration or world detail – just compare the half-dozen NPCs in the back of it with all those in Castle Falkenstein! In fact, it is almost as if Castle Falkenstein is a reboot of For Faerie, Queen & Country, putting flesh on its bare bones. Like the other Amazing Engine ‘Universe Books’, it presents a brilliant idea and then fails to deliver more than a cursory look at it. Strangely, despite their proximity in date, this feels much older and more amateur than Castle Falkenstein.

Overall, it has some merits and provided me with a nice sense of nostalgia as I reread it, and it is likely to be a fraction of the price of the other, but, overall, For Faerie, Queen & Country doesn’t really live up to expectations.

From → Retro Reviews

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