Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Empire of the Dead: my first try at it

West Wind Productions released a new game not long ago, a skirmish game in a Victorian Horror setting:

Empire of the Dead

I'm unashamed that I'm a sucker for skirmish games: I'm addicted to planning and starting, and occasionally finishing, small theme projects. If it wasn't for skirmish scale, I'd have 20 army scale projects, all unfinished.
I also like Victorian, classic horror, vsf, cthulhu, and such, so this sounded promising.  One of the guys in our Friday night group is going to run an event of this at an upcoming Con, so wanted to test it out.
You can check out more of his progress on the developing city at his site, Rot and Drivel.

The game has 4 main factions: Vampires, Werewolves, Holy Orders, and Gentlemen's Clubs.
The bats & wolves are pretty self explanatory, Holy Orders are the inheritors of the Templars (though nothing says you couldn't develop a theme around a different order or different religion), and Gentlemen's Clubs are subdivided into types such as explorers,cultists, military orders, etc. each with a slight different advantage and a few unique troops types: if you're familiar with how Mordheim treats the various human factions, you're not far off: all basically the same with a different bonus ability, like plus to leadership or combat or magic.

The warband creation is pretty simple.  Vamps & wolves are similar: 1 powerful leader, 1 secondary leader and two types of troops, though vampires can also have a bat swarm.  Werewolves are probably the most powerful in combat, but lack access to 'modern' firearms and the characters, and pure wolf troop types can't use weapons, so it balances.  The human groups can have an extra secondary leader, are cheaper and have access to more gear. Since no character has more than 2 wounds, this balances it just fine from what I could tell. Don't expect Warhammer Vampire Lords, you won't find them here.  The campaign system allows for gaining skills, to fine tune your list and see it increase in power. Since we only played the one game, I haven't experienced it yet, but it looks good.

On to the game!
We had 4 players: Werewolf, Vampire, & 2 explorer Gentlemen's Club.
I ran the wolves: a Main werewolf, secondary werewolf, 2 wolves and 3 humans, all with daggers, one with a bow and the other 2 with throwing knives.

The Vampires had the two vamps and 4 humans, a couple of the humans had rifles and the vampires had swords.

Both Gentlemen's clubs had a lot of firearms.  The one I faced had a personal gatling gun on one.

All the terrain and minis in these pictures are owned and painted by Rot & Drivel.  None are mine, I can't take credit for any of them, I just played, but I'd be lying if I said I'm not planning some teams!

I adjusted the photos I took to set the mood... enter a chill night in London, 1888....

Book st. with it's bookshop & papermill is quiet and peaceful.
A perfect night for a stealthy hunt. The packleader in center leads his pack into the city.
The local chapter of the Intrepid Chaps lead by Lord Blackstone take to the urban landscape for a night hunt
The still of Book Street is interrupted by the howl of a wolf
But the call is heard not just by man, but by creatures of the night, unfriendly to the wolfen: Vampires.
Spotting the Vampires and their human thralls, Clara stays behind as the wolves circle around the building and aims her bow at an unsuspecting thrall.
The wolves stalk around the building, but the smell from the coffee house masks the scent of their prey.
Her arrow having missed her mark, the thrall's attention is drawn to the wolf clan girl, he raises his rifle and kills her, the shot a small crack of thunder, which begins the storm of carnage to follow.
The first born vampire leads Ward and Spanner into the fight against the wolves.
Neither vampire nor wolf is able to get the better of each other, while further up the street the minions of both engage.
Blackstone's Chaps close in on the sounds of snarling combat.
Sensing the humans approach, the vampires call a truce with the wolves and head back to the woods, to circle around and hunt the other group of mankind that are trying to entrap them.
The wolves prepare to take down the explorers. Their guns reach the wolves first, wounding the secondary werewolf, who draws back momentarily, the rest rush the men.
Only the pack leader has the speed to reach them, but his ferocity is enough to give them pause as one of their number is brought down, his throat ripped out.
Hearing the snarls and cries of anguish in death, the other Gentlemen's Club is reluctant to close with the vampires they are tracking.  With the lateness of the night, the groups retreat back to their mansions and lairs


I enjoyed this game a lot. The combat mechanics are very straight forward and were very easy to pick up. 
The addition of campaign-earned skills will make it more complex, but that is a good way to do it in my opinion. I was surprised at how fragile the leaders are.  Though they are tougher and have 2 wounds, it is still just a 50% chance to wound the toughest vampire or werewolf with a hunting rifle, so facing several of them is anything but a sure thing.  The dice mechanics are on a d10, which I like- it gives a lot more granularity than a d6 system.  When a model is wounded, if it is their last wound you roll on the wound result: a 10% chance to just shrug it off, a small chance to just be pushed back momentarily, a decent chance at being knocked down, and a 30% chance to be taken out of action. If you're knocked down, you roll again on this chart at the beginning of each turn to see if you recover or are taken out. There is a far greater chance to be taken out than recover. My initial instinct is I'd like to see a better chance to recover, but time and more game play will tell.  There are also skills that can help this, so that might be all that is needed.  

Of course, my mind is racing with ideas for different teams. I have 3 ideas that are yelling at me to make them, and I think 2 of them I will. 2 ideas are different themes using the werewolf list, and I think I will make just 1 of the 2.. don't really need 2 different teams that use the same list.  I suspect werewolves will be tough to run: if someone has a lot of guns, that could be very tough to face, when you only have some human chumps with bows or crossbows for missile fire. But the theme idea I have is just so very fun, I must do it!  
But I will say no more on those plans until I have the minis to show you. 

I'm anxious to play this again.
If you like skirmish games and like the thematic setting, I'd recommend giving it a try.



Clint said...

This game has been suggested at my club so it was great to get another persons perspective on the rules and game in general.

I also enjoyed the battle report. Many thanks

Anne said...

That is one nice table with some fabulous scenery. Those trees with the lights are a perfect touch too. Also you've done a great job in photographing this, making it look properly creepy and late 1800's foggy England. I could see myself getting into this game.

Why am I not surprised that you like Mystery Science Theater? My daughter turned me and The Hubby onto this a couple years ago and we love it.

Amanda Heitler said...

So sorely tempted to clear the Faustus costumes off the dining room table and break out the scenery to play some skirmish stuff.

The Angry Lurker said...

Tempted but maybe in a smaller scale, nice atmospheric batrep ....

Laughing Ferret said...

Thanks Clint, glad it helped :)

Thanks Anne, I had fun with the photos. Yeah, I think skirmish games are a good way to get into minis gaming. I love MST3K! Been a big fan since the first time it appeared on Comedy Central. Brilliant hilarious show. Not surprised you like it, that was a noble deed your daughter did!

Amanda, could make for a good break from or addition to an RPG session.

Angry: thanks! yeah, this would be good in a smaller scale too. Blue Moon has a lot of 15mm horror minis that would work nicely,and khurusan have some nice stuff too. if I had good terrain in this scale I'd be tempted by that too

Blue Moon:

Mr. Lee said...

Wow.. very thematic with the changes in the coloring there.. more terrain would be nice.. as from a gaming perspective it is more leaning to ranged combat ( or so it seems ).. but I would prefer a CC grouping still.. Just the thought of having some guys stalking around for their kill is just too tempting.. especially with such great terrain!

Dr. Willett's Workshop said...

These pictures are so cool! To quote you: "If it wasn't for skirmish scale, I'd have 20 army scale projects, all unfinished."...yep, same here.

Michael Awdry said...

You do make this look so tempting! I actually had a copy of this in my hand at ‘Salute’ the other day but put it back! (About the only sensible thing I did do that day!) I have no doubt that I will ultimately weaken especially seeing such a wonderful set up here.

styx said...

Great looking game there. The pictures and minis looked amazing...I will have to keep my eye on this game.

Paul of the Man Cave said...

Just wonderful!

Tristan M said...

damn you for making this look so cool - I don't have the $$ to drop into this! ;)

Lead Legion said...

Mecha Ace and I have been playing this game too. Our group ran the introductory Holmes vs the Ripper scenario at Carronade earlier this month. We'll be running it again at Wappinshaw and Claymore in the next few months.

My warband is the London Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I'm using Black Scorpian wild-west figures rather than Westwind mini's as a way of setting them apart from the other dozen or so Gentleman Clubs, Brotherhoods, Vampyre Broods and Werewolf clans in the gaming group. Just so we're not all using the same few dozen mini's all the time.

Impcommander said...

Rot and Drivel got me into steampunk, when i discovered it a few years back. Plus this game looks awesome.
im in !

Coronado said...

Very awesomely done. The pictures are all thematic, the writting is riveting, and the models are gorgeous. You really have outdone yourself.

Laughing Ferret said...

Mr.Lee: yes, I think you're right, more terrain, for more cover, would be good. When I've played Mordheim the table would be choked with terrain and multiple levels of playing fields.

Dr.W: not that i don't still have about a half dozen large scale projects that are unfinished, but at least skirmish does help reduce them ;)

Michael: Yes, I'd think this game might appeal to you ;)

Thanks Styx & Paul!

Tristan: find someone with lots of terrain & willing to make it, buy the book and has a lot of minis already.. that's what I did! ;) Well, baring that you can split the book cost with interested friends and nothing wrong with playing games in the countryside or rural town, using fantasy terrain, or whatever is on hand- games don't have to be in the center of London.
Then it';s just a matter of 6-12 minis.

Lead: Awesome! that's what I like about games like this- the lists are open enough for wide interpretation: a Mormon mission in London: perfect!

Imp: nice, sure you'll enjoy it :)

Thanks Coronado! Very kind of you to say

Fitch Face said...

Awesome review old chap. As a Blood Bowl player too, I was looking to branch out perhaps to Mordheim and this game looks like a very promising alternative.
I love the atmospheric pictures too!

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