As a child, one of the first books I read when I learned to read (look at my dyslexia story here on Gamers Web) was Jules Vernes 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a fantastical tale that pitted one man against the war machines of the world in an attempt to bring about world peace. The man was Captain Nemo and with his fantastic submarine The Nautilus I escaped into a world of danger and peril and adventure.
Come full circle and while the book remains a firm favourite of mine almost fifty years since I first read it. Back then, of course, it was just a novel and wasn’t really classed as any genre other than perhaps science fiction of children’s literature. It was only a few years ago that the word Steampunk came into common parlance and now it’s taken seriously. After an absence of a couple of years its time for an old girl to get a new makeover and with a whoosh of spray and a head of steam, Warcradle Studios unleash Dystopian Wars into the wild.
Dystopian Wars is a brand new imagining of a naval combat game of the same name by the now sadly defunct Spartan Games, a game that is set at the turn as the 19th Century beings to draw to a close and the world seems caught in endless wars that rage on every continent and affect every nation on earth. Now after months and months of waiting Warlord Games are ushering in Dystopian Wars as part of the Dystopian Age games, which already features Wild West Exodus and coming soon Lost World Exodus.
So a bit of a brief background for those who have not heard about Dystopian Wars or know of its history. The world is at war (as mentioned above) with every nation rising against each other. Former allied states and nations are at each other’s throats to get their hands on strange new elements. With these elements, ships can be made lighter than air, travel vast distances in record times and become armoured behemoths of both the seas and skies and whoever controls Sturginum and RJ-1027, in essence, controls the fate of the world.
Dystopian Wars captures this fantastic tale of huge ships fighting epic battles on the world’s oceans, while spies plot to bring down rival nations leaders, all in a bid to control this strange and wonderful resource. Of course, nothing is exactly as it seems on the surface and there is a price to pay for this powerful material and not just only lives, the fate of the very planet could be hanging on a razor’s edge. It is all very Jules Verne and H,G. Wells and so steampunk it is only missing an Abney Park soundtrack!
When Spartan Games folded back in 2017, it was a difficult time for players of Dystopian Wars, not knowing if the game they loved so much would just die a quiet death and be remembered as that cool ship game we played. But thankfully it didn’t entirely disappear without a trace into the waters of oblivion, instead, the property was picked up by then-new studio Warcradle (an offshoot of games distribution giant Wayland Games) and along with Spartan Games other title Firestorm Armada, Dystopian Wars was saved.
Now finally after two years of development and playtesting a brand new version of Dystopian Wars is finally here. Check out my video unboxing of Dystopian Wars: Hunt for the Prometheus below.
So what do you get for your money? What are the changes? Will I be able to use my old fleets? I will try to answer those questions right now as I delve further into the murky depths of Dystopian Wars.
The first thing you notice about Dystopian Wars: Hunt for the Prometheus is that its a hefty beast of a box. The thing weighs a ton and made a very loud thud when I placed it down to do my filming. That’s down to the sheer amount of models (both in hard plastic and resin) that come with the two-player starter set, as well as the rules, tokens templates and every else that is needed to get started. In fact, all you really need to play is just the two-player starter set, but I digress.
Dystopian Wars: Hunt for the Prometheus starter set contains everything you need to play Dystopian Wars, containing;
- 30 Highly Detailed Plastic & Resin Miniatures
- 1x 14 Ship Covenant of the Enlightened Fleet
- 1x Descartes Class Control Ship
- 1x Hypatia Class Generator Ship
- 3x Copernicus Class Heavy Cruisers
- Each Cruiser can alternatively be built as either Antarctica, Chatelet, Lovelace, Stiletto or Ulysses Class
- 9x Merian Class Drone Frigates
- Each Frigate can alternatively be built as Germain Class
- 1x 16 Ship Commonwealth Fleet
- 1x Borodino Class Battleship
- 5x Kutsov Class Cruisers
- Each Cruiser can alternatively be built as either Norilsk, Oleg or Sineus Class
- 10x Rurik Class Frigates
- 1x 14 Ship Covenant of the Enlightened Fleet
- 1x Rule Book
- 1x Campaign Book
- 2x Victory & Valour card Decks
- 60 Cards in each deck
- 1x Template Set
- 40x Action Dice
- 12x Critical Dice
- 2x Condition token sets
- 1x Iceberg & Physeter Construction Token Set
- 3x Medium Bases
Here are a few images of the contents of the boxed set!
Its a lot to unpack so lets hit a full head of steam and get right into it.
If you have played Dystopian Wars before, many of the rules will seem very familiar, yet have an air of newness to them. The rules allow players to build up their fleets from their chosen nation (and there are a lot of nations to choose from) which range from small frigates that are light, fast and highly manoeuvrable but in turn sacrifice their armour and often their guns, to the huge behemoths of the sea, some are so big that they can hold other ships in their cavernous hulls and not only take copious amounts of damage in battle but can lay down enough firepower to destroy a city with relative ease. Its not really how many ships you take in your fleets, it’s more a question of knowing what to take and when and why sometimes speed is more important than firepower and vice-versa.
The layout is very much in the same style as Warcradles other baby Wild West Exodus and fits in perfectly with that other rulebook. A contents and index are a must for a miniatures game and the book has both making searching for that rules query that much more easy on the new player. While not packed with dozens of images, there are some really wonderful illustrations that show the grand scale of the worlds of the Dystopian Era
The rules are laid out in a very nice A5 softbound book that comes in at 144 pages, with the first 38 of these being the acutal game mechanics, talking you through just how to play the game, how things work and other mechanics such as shooting and defending, all in clear detail that makes it simple to follow and understand. The remaining 100+ pages of the rulebook are given over to the background setting of the game, the various nation factions that make up the protaganist and just exactly what is going in this brave new world. I will cover more of that in a moment but first lets look at how the game acutaly plays.
So you have assembled your fleet for your chosen nation (all the assembly instructions and unit cards are available on the Dystopian Wars website for free download, link at the end of the review) and are ready for your first encounters on the high seas.
Each vessel in Dystopian Wars is assigned its own unit card, which details everything you need to know about that vessel such as its speed, how manoeuvrable it is and what firepower it has, etc and all this is laid out in an easy to read format with the attributes of each unit being displayed as an old fashioned style ships wheel in the top corner of the card. Unit cards are double-sided and feature the vessel in its Battle-Ready format and once enough damage has been taken the card is then flipped to reveal its Crippled side which will in most cases be unable to use some aspects of its card. Each of the factions within the game has its own ORBAT (Order of Battle) which contains all the information for that faction, its unit cards, ranges and damage of weapons and special faction rules (I will touch on ORBATs later)!
Unit Cards are broken down as follows:
- Unit Name: The name of the vessel that the card represents
- Faction Symbol and Ship Image: Each card represents a particular faction within the game and as such is featured on the card along with a pictorial image of the vessel
- Points Cost: This is the amount of base points you need to spend to take this unit before any modifications are added where possible. All units cost a specific base amount and if you take more than one of the same vessel, for example, a frigate; then you simply multiply the base amount by the number of vessels you have taken for your Battlefleet.
- Traits: These are very important keywords that are associated with the vessel and or faction, these keywords such as Aerial Unit mean that this unit can fly, if it hasn’t got the keyword then it can’t do it!
- Special Rules: Many of the units have special rules that come into play once the vessel meets certain situations or conditions. Some vessels are difficult to target due to their size or special screens that protect them from incoming attacks
- Armour (A): Each unit has an Armour rating which indicates when its taken enough hits to reach or exceed its value. Once this is done its considered that its suffered a Damaging hit and takes a point of damage if it takes enough hits from a single attack that equal or double its Armour rating then it takes a further point of damage for each extra point.
- Citadel (C): This is the heart of each model and represents the bridge, engineering and weapons control sections of the vessel. There are numerous Citadels to chose from within the game
- Defence (D): This gives us the units ability to counter an enemy attack. It has three values Shooting, Aerial and Submerged and each attack is resolved using the relevant stat.
- Fray (F): This is the opposite of Defence and is used when attacking an enemy unit or vessel.
- Hull (H): The number of damage points a vessel can take before it goes from being Battle-Ready to Crippled.
- Mass (M): This is how big the unit is, units with a big mass are more difficult to destroy than those with a smaller mass but will find it difficult to turn quickly, models must always move forward a number of inches equal to their Mass at the start of their turn unless indicated on the units card
- Speed (S): This is how fast the vessel can move each time it is activated and is measured in inches
- Turning (T): This is how quickly the unit can come about and change direction, while some small ships and vessels are able to turn very quickly making them difficult to target, some of the large vessels are very difficult to turn quickly and if an attempt is made to do so, it will add stress to the vessel’s hull which could be catastrophic for the vessel.
Armed for War
In addition to the details found on the profile card for a unit, you will need to be able to damage other ships and each unit has its own weapons and defences that are dotted around the vessel, with each of these having its own set of rules such as its range and damage and also its fire arc. Shooting is broken down into four main fire arcs those being fore (Forwards), aft, port and starboard and some weapons such as torpedos or turreted weapons have their own rules that allow them to fire in a specific arc, mostly turrets can fire 360 degrees unless stated otherwise.
Each weapon within the game has its own details such as damage and range and any special qualities that it may have that will do extra damage to other ships when successful. There are three ranges for weapons Point Blank (0″-10″) Short (10″-20″) and Long (20″-30″) and some weapons are ineffective at point-blank or long-range due to their nature, Weapons are mounted in hardpoints on the vessel and your vessel may have several dependant on its size. If we look at the Descartes class above, it has a Particle Beamer which can fire in the arcs F/P/S and its range band for that weapon is Point Blank 6 (5), Closing 4 (3) and Long 3 (2), the weapon can fire Fore, Port and Starboard against a target in any of those arcs and the numbers represent the weapon being used as a lead weapon or secondary weapon used to supplement an attack, these are the numbers of dice that you initially add to your dice pool to roll.
Victory and Valour Cards
A brand new aspect to Dystopian Wars: Hunt for the Prometheus is that of Victory and Valour cards which have been borrowed from Warcradles other IP Wild West. These are a set of cards which can be used in two ways. If you meet the victory conditions after destroying a ship then you can play the victory side of the card (all the cards are printed with both conditions on opposite ends of the card) and if you meet those conditions then you gain bonus victory points. Victory cards are discarded after play.
Valour cards are the no guts no glory card that can be played to augment attacks or reroll dice, etc, during the turn but do not give out victory points to the player like Valour. Its a strategic choice of the player on when and how and even if they should play their cards and wise planning or bold use of the cards can turn the tide of the battle very quickly.
Playing the Game
If you have played the previous incarnation of Dystopian Wars then much of the following will be very familiar to you, with a few slight changes. Your games of Dystopian Wars: Hunt for the Prometheus follow a set structure in each game round which is as follows.
1: Iniative: Players determine who will go first and draw Victory and Valour cards
2: Activation: Split into three segments.
- Operations: Will see the vessels launch their recon units or SRS (Short Range Squadrons) which are used to scout out enemy battlegroups and units, under-take any special operations as detailed on the Unit card, and check for reserve.
- Movement: Vessels are moved using their Move stat as found on their unit card, all vessels unless stated must Drift forward a number of inches equal to its Mass stat, which could result in a collision with another unit or terrain feature.
- Shooting: Declare Targets, enemy vessels are chosen to be the target and it must be declared which ship is shooting which weapon at a targeted ship. Shooting Resolution, shooting takes place and is resolved.
- Assault: Launch Assault, boarding actions against enemy vessels are attempted and resolved
- End Phase: SRS resolution takes place, ships may attempt to repair damage (some types of damage can not be repaired and will be indicated as such). Check for victory, if the conditions are met then a victor is declared and the game is over, Maintenance, counters are removed such as condition tokens and the board tided up for the next turn.
Each turn play will alternate between the players in a YGIG (You Go I Go) mode of play, making choosing which unit to activate first a very important decision during the game. The turns follow the same structure until someone meets the victory conditions as detailed by the scenario being played.
The game is a constant too and fro for dominance and one player may look like they are dominating the game from the off, but this could all change down to dice throws and good tactics and use of the Victory/Valour cards.
Speaking of dice.
Dystopian Wars: Hunt for the Prometheus comes with two different sets of dice that are used in the game. Anyone who has played the older incarnation of Dystopian Wars will know that it was a ‘bucket of dice game‘ which literally had you throwing many standard six-sided dice each turn, the aim of which was to get as many 6’s as possible as these were exploding dice when meant that you could keep re-rolling them and adding them to the damage pool until you ran out of dice to roll. This often meant rolling thirty or forty dice at a time and was a great fun aspect of the game.
Now we are given specialised D6 dice that feature unique faces to them, but still include the all important ‘exploding’ symbol that again allows you to re-roll dice for every single one you roll. The other faces on the dice are a blank, a miss, a hit a shield, and two hits. The objective again is to get as much damage against your opponents vessel and hope that you double the amount of damage it can take. If you do manage to pull off this feat and do double the damage capacity of the ship, then we come onto the next dice that are unique to the game.
The Critical dice do just that and are used to represent critical hits on specific areas of the ships, from the reactors or engines that power them, to munitions and weapons and critical hits are not a plesant experience for the poor crew of the vessel. Each of the symbols represents a different hit location and even if your normal roll had been enough to sink the ship, you still roll the criticals as it could lead to the ship exploding and causing damage to other nearby vessels in a cascade or domino effect.
Of course that is only a tiny amount of detail in the rules, which go into far more detail than I can do with a review without rewriting the rule book out in full. Needless to say almost every contingency has been thought out and placed in a simple enough way to understand and have you playing in no time at all.
As mentioned above, the game doesn’t come with any Unit Cards or ORBAT’s and you will need to download these directly from the website (link below), and each of the factions will feature its own unique Unit cards and ORBAT’s for free download. This is much the same thing that Warcradle has done over the past few years with Wild West Exodus and allows them to not only keep the game as a living product and update it very quickly, but also keeps down costs to both the company and the gamer in general, sure you need to print them out but that is far cheaper than paying the extra for ready printed glossy cards. A good idea is to download them onto a phone or tablet so you have them at your fingertips when you need them, this also helps keep the battlefield tidy I guess.
Players and Movers
Okay so I have very quickly touched on the rules, which only take up the first thirty odd pages of the rulebook, the rest of the book is the real gem behind Dystopian Wars, its rich history and the factions that make up the world in which you are plunged into.
There are currently eight factions in the worlds of Dystopian Wars; The Hunt for the Prometheous, with each representing various countries or ideals around the Victorian era set game background. Some changes have been made from the previous version to help meld the game with Warcradles Dystopian Age settings and many of the details from Wild West Exodus have made their way over into this brave new world.
The factions are detailed quickly below and don’t worry if your favourite is not a core faction, they will most likely be now covered by another and still be in the game.
Of course, a game as in-depth and rich as Dystopian Wars needs to flesh out its players and that it does and in spades too. The world is at war and on the edge of a precipice that it may never recover from as it falls into chaos or is destroyed by forces beyond the understanding of mankind.
You see the world is just a doorway and there are other intelligences out there who regard this small blue ball floating hopelessly lost in the void with very envious eyes indeed. Demons make pacts with power blinded men who wish to rule the Earth, while aliens from far across the universe watch and observe us in much the same way that a child may watch the germs that swarm and mulitpliy in a drop of water with a microscpe (okay last War of the Worlds reference I promise).
Dystopian Wars is a world that has many marvellous and wonderous technologies in it. Giant airships the size of small cities fly dozens of miles up in the atmosphere, while battleships many times the biggest craft we have ever built rage war on the worlds oceans and behemoths of metal fight on land for supremacy, all powered by mysterious elements that allow for huge strides in technology and advances in science!
With all this going on the nations of the world try to carve out what they can and stake their own claim to the future of mankind and as such the world has become a series of state factions that are made up from various nations and each relies on the science and mysterious technology to make the super metals and engines of war it needs. In this world Victoria is still the ruler of her soverign country Great Britain, the jewel in the crown of the Imperial British Crown. Her vessels are among the best in the world and though she is small her navies are vast and well trained to take the fight to anyone foolish enough to rise to the challenge.
On the other side of the world, the war between the north and the south had a terrible cost on the once-great nation as terrible war machines were unleashed for the first time and changed what was once the United States of America into what is now known as The Union of Federated States! In the previous incarnation of Dystopian Wars, the Civil War turned out much differently and the South won, this has been changed to keep in line with the events of Wild West Exodus.
In Antarctica, a conclave of the worlds best scientists have formed together to create the Covenant of the Enlightened, dedicated to unlocking the mysteries of the strange new elements Sturginium and RJ-1027 and mastering them, for to understand them is to control the destiny of the world.
The Immortal Celestial Empire is a gathering of the countries of Japan, China, Korea into a huge powerhouse of war. The mystical easts forces are very fierce of their sovereign territories and defend their waters aggressively against anyone foolish to venture into them,
The Latin Alliance is a gathering of the countries in the Mediterranean that share common ideals and cultures which includes Italy, France and Spain
One of the biggest forces on the planet is that of the Commonwealth, a banding together of Russia, Lithuania, Poland and the other low countries into a mighty force that is extremely proud of its heritage.
Another major player is that of the Imperium which is dominated by Prussia, Austro-Hungary, Scandinavia and some of the other countries in centeral Europe.
A miniatures game wouldn’t be anything without its models and Dystopian Wars: Hunt for the Prometheus has quite a few to make even the most ardent miniature gamer salivate when they open the box. This is, of course, a two-player starter set and as such comes with enough ships to make two fleets, one Commonwealth and the other Covenant of the Enlightened and both fleets can be built up in a wide variety of ways to represent the vast majority of ships found on their factions Unit Cards over on the Warcradle website portal.
The ships come in two flavours, hard plastic, that come on the traditional sprues and cold cast resin that you can add extra components from your plastic sprues to round them out.
The resin ships are all fantastic casts with no visible mould or pour marks and none of mine at least had any visible air bubbles, which is something that often happens with cold cast resin kits.
The Commonwealth fleet comes with 5 identical sprues of plastic vessels that will allow you to make 10 frigates and 5 crusiers which can each be armed in a number of ways to allow you to custimise your fleet options. The ships are quite straight forward to assemble, but on occasions some of them will require you to trim down various parts to fit such as coning towers or generators. This is quite simple and you can very easily assemble the entire fleet in an afternoon, the hardest part is choosing which ship options you wish to have, though if you wish to magnetise your vessels weapon mounts it makes it a whole lot easier in the end.
The flagship of the Commonwealth fleet is the mighty Borodino class battleship, a huge resin vessel that dwarves the other vessels and is naturally heavily armed and ready for war. The ship is a single cast hull with two separate resin pieces for the coning tower and a Cryo-Generator and three hard points to mount your weapons on. The Cryo-Generator and coning tower both fit perfectly into the recesses on the ship with no clean up at all, and this is one of the best resin kits I have seen in many years. Neat details such as the prow of the vessels and the star emblazoned on the Cryo-Generator mark these ships out as being Commonwealth and you can imagine this vast ship packed with hundreds of hardened crewmen preparing for war!
The other fleet in the set is that of the Covenant of the Enlightened or (Covenant in terms of the older game), the conclave of scientists who join together in Antartica to unravel the mysteries of the new wonder elements and further mankind. Of course they don’t really know what they are doing and there is a lot more to Sterginum and RJ-1027 than they understand and both are deadly beyond compare with properties that transend reality itself.
The Enlightened (using this prefix as its the main one referred to now) fleet comes with three sprues to build up 3 heavy cruisers and 9 frigates, which again can be armed as you wish giving some flexibility to the player. The vessels once again assemble very easily and again can be magnetised to allow for variation on the fly. The detail is once again fantastic and looks very sharp and crisp.
The Enlightened fleet comes with two resin vessels, the huge Hypatia Class Generator Ship which doubles for the Prometheus of the games title and the Descartes Class Control Ship.
The Hypatia is a strange ship and looks like it shouldn’t be able to float and its hull is very low to the waterline making it look almost shark-like in profile. Assembly is straight forward once again but you will need to use a superglue to get the best results and of course care must be taken when using any adhesives.
The Descartes class is also a really nice looking model and again with no flash or mould lines and I really am looking forward to getting stuck into painting all of these awesome models and playing the game.
You can find all the assets and assembly instructions, as well as ORBAT’s and Unit Cards at the link below
So if you have played Dystopian Wars before, and may already have a fleet, you may be wondering if your old stuff will still be useable with the new rules or not? Well the short answer is yes, the majority of ships and vessels will be usable with the new rules and there is even a chart on the resources that says what vessels can and cant be used.
Hunt for the Prometheus Campaign
Next up in the Dystopian Wars: Hunt for the Prometheus starter set is the campaign book, which pits the two fleets against each other in a game of cat and mouse. The campaign is set over four missions and is designed to teach the basics of the game to new players and can be easily played in an afternoon. Each scenario will add an extra element to the arsenal of the players and by the end, they should have a good grasp of how Dystopian Wars: Hunt for the Prometheus plays.
The rest of the games components are made up of a sheet of card stock icebergs to use within the game and two new items that will feature across all of the Dystopain Age games, a set of rulers and counters. The rulers are used to measure movement and turning of the vessels and will also be used in both Wild West Exodus and Lost World Exodus when it finally comes out, in much the same way that the counters will be and this will give a choesive theme across all three games and help cement them together
Well it has been a good while since Dystopian Wars last hurrah and it was a game that I loved very much and was proud to have been just a very small part of it ( with major props going to Derek Sinclar, Kenny Kirkpatrick and the main playtest crew from 6s2Hit here in Edinburgh), and I am extremely pleased that the essence that made this game so enjoyable was not only kept by Stuart and the guys at Warcradle but nurtured and expanded in a lot of ways and that the future looks safe for an excellent game .
The mechanics are pretty similar, albeit with an added Warcradle twist, and once you work out fleet construction and what vessels to take and when to take them, you are well on your way to ruling the seas again. It was really good to see that the background from Wild West Exodus has been expanded and incorporated into Dystopian Wars and the two seem to blend with seamless efficiency. While Wild West Exodus is all about the small encounter, Dystopian Wars is all about embracing the bigger global picture of what is going on in this strange and brave new world.
My many thanks to Stuart Mackaness and Freeland Costin from Warcradle/Wayland Games for the review copy of this excellent game. Dystopian Wars:Hunt for the Prometheus is available to buy right now from all good game stockists and directly from Wayland Games at the link below
All images Copyright Warcradle Studios/Wayland Games All Rights Reserved