Saturday, 10 August 2013

In Her Majesty's Name - 28mm VSF/Steampunk Skirmish Rules Review

Steampunk and Victorian SF/horror has been on the rise lately:  I've reviewed Empire of the Dead, Chaos in Cairo/Carpathia, Strange Aeons, Rippers: The Horror Wars, and the weird wild west Deadlands.  Since IHMN has its own integral miniatures series, I am going to primarily contrast it with Empire of the Dead - the most "high profile" of the steampunk games which also has a miniature line from West Wind.  

A slim book, with rather dated layout, iHMN is packed full of more content than larger, more polished hardback rivals
 The Shiny
IHMN is put out by Osprey and is similar to the thin softcover "Men at Arms" series, at a slim 65 pages.  With colour pictures  and art throughout, it has good production values.  At only $11 it is cheaper than most pdf rulesets.  I do like pictures of miniatures in game and the rulebook is quite inspiring.

I did not like the internal layout and text style - it uses the rule 3.1, rule 3.2, rule 3.2b 1990s style rules format and a small font.  More subheadings, use of bold or coloured print and coloured captions for rules would have been good.  Considering the huge page margins a larger font could have been used. I found myself re-reading a page several times to find key information which is never a good sign. It did have a good table of contents and quick reference sheet so a tick there.  Considering the price, it is excellent value for money as it is very "complete."
Face Off: EotD is better laid out and is much easier to read and use, and as a large hardback is far more "shiny." However iHMN is simply much, much better value for money ($11 vs $45). You can buy a complete warband for the price difference in the rules. Winner: iHMN

The servants of Ra - definitely a nod to "The Mummy" - available from Northstar
Unlike EotD, IHMN is notably free of the vampires or werewolves and seems less "gothic/occult" in tone.  It does have mad scientists, undead Prussian soldiers, yetis. magic rules and a warband to play the Mummy, but it seems aimed at more "VSF" than "horror." I suspect the omission of vampires et al has been done deliberately, but avoiding them completely seems silly - "Dracula" is a Victorian classic.
Faceoff: iHMN has far more options, but seems to deliberately handicap itself by avoiding legitimate "Victorian" monsters like vampires and werewolves. Tie.

The Stats
 iHMN trims the "stat line" to 4 areas:
PLUCK - an interesting mix of guts and toughness, used to resist hits and take morale tests

SHOOTING VALUE - bonus to shooting rolls
FIGHTING VALUE - bonus in close combat
bonus to "normal" 6" move, modifies some attack rolls

Also relevant is:
ARMOUR - used to block hits

MYSTICAL POWERS - i.e. magic & mad science - only a few factions and characters have this

TALENTS - or "special abilities"

Scotland Yard Company. While I think of it, here is iHMN's official blog link

I found this rather interesting. Each player alternates moving one model each, then each player alternates shooting with one model each, and each player alternates fighting melee with one model each.  I'm used to "alternate moves" but usually each model moves, shoots and/or fights before moving to the next model. This breaks the turn up even further.  It's simple but ensures there is very little "down time" for each player.

Each model can move 6" + their speed bonus.  A running model can add 3" but forgoes any shooting. Generally pretty standard.

When shooting, the firer adds his "Shooting Value" + d10 + any weapon bonuses, and tries to beat the target's "Armour" rating.  If the target is hit is must make a "Pluck" roll or it is out of the game. There are modifiers if a firer moved or not, or if the target ran. Tracking this is a bit of a pain and using markers clutters the board a bit.  Rapid fire weapons and flamethrowers for example, can engage multiple targets.  Groups of models may "volley fire" - they can only inflict one hit but they can get a bonus to defeat a heavily armoured target or one in heavy cover. 

Fighting works much the same way, except the target can use his Speed bonus against the attack. Players with a high Fight Value can split the bonus between multiple foes.  When you outnumber a foe you can choose to "Mob" him - similar to volley firing, there is a bonus against the armour, but only one hit can be scored.

Pluck rolls are used if a model takes a hit, or if faced with a morale test (fighting a terrifying foe, for example) - and the Pluck rating must be beaten on a d10.  Many weapons modify the Pluck rating - two-handed sword would be -2, for example. If the roll is under the Pluck rating, it is out of the game. If it is equal to the Pluck rating, it is Knocked Down, cannot act again, and suffers significant penalties. Medics can revive fallen models and help Knocked Down ones recover.
Face Off: iHMN takes "alternate activation" a step further. EoTD is stuck with IGOUGO and is basically GW's-LOTR-with-d10s. Keeping track of movement is a bit annoying in IHMN, though.  Winner: iHMN
I thought the absence of werewolves and vampires was a deliberate avoidance of monsters/occult... until I saw the Black Dragon Tong's yeti... 
Weapons & Gear
The "armour" of a model can range from none, to lined coats, brigandines, steel breastplates etc - or even repulsion fields or anti-electric suits.The armour rating is the score "target number"to beat when rolling  hits with shooting or melee.

iHMN has wide range of (41) weapons, ranging from bullwhips to sabres, revolvers to Nemo-style electric rifles, as well as weird science such as the revivivfiers and electric burst generators.  In addition, iHMN has vehicles such as walkers, rocket cycles, ape howdahs, ornithopters

iHMN has 25 special abilities or "Talents" characters can possess, and although less "occult" than EotD, it has more "magic" or "science" powers (18) ranging from "clouding mens' minds" to levitation and throwing fireballs - as well as having a system to create and point up your own special powers. 
Face Off:  iHMN has double the weapon, equipment, and special ability options. That said,  EoTD's more prescriptive approach would make competitions more balanced and be less open to abuse than iHMN - but 40K-style min-maxers seem pretty rare in VSF.  The addition of vehicles tips the balance firmly to iHMN. Winner: iHMN

There the AAR's on"Matt's Gaming Page" has fantastic terrain.

iHMN has 6 distinct human factions, ranging from Scotland yard to a British rifle company, as well as the Tong, Mummies, cowboys, the USMC and  Foreign Legion, and anarchists. Again, the absence of Victorian horror staples such as vampires and werewolves is notable.

Where EotD has tables for casualties, advancement, recruitment etc iHMN simply uses VP's earned in scenarios as universal currency for buying new recruits or "leveling up" others.   They both work in similar fashion.

Face Off: iHMN has far more variety than EoTD, which only has only werewolf, vampire, inquisitor, and 4 almost identical human factions.  Most importantly, iHMN allows you to create and stat-up individual random models while EotD only fits to a template. Winner: iHMN

There seems to be a sequel in the works which includes Vatican monster hunters, darkest African, Russian spies and Asian secret societies. Sounds good - and if it's also $11, a no-brainer purchase...
There are standard scenarios: Retrieve a a VIP, "breakthrough" to the opposite end of the board, assasinate enemy leader, discover secret documents/relics, hold the fort, escape, king of the hill, catch the pigeon, and destroy the escaped mutant.  These can have "complications" added such as fog, minefields, night falling, local police arresting, earthquakes, etc.  There also is a wide range of locations ranging from London back alleys to the Orient Express.
Faceoff: iHMN offers more options, but EotD lays out their 5 basic scenarios more clearly.  Tie.

TL:DR - The Matchup
Despite being a much smaller, cheaper production, iHMN edges its more polished rival, by having an more involved turn sequence offering more involvement than vs a rather staid IGOUGO.  EotD is pretty much a d10 version of GW's LOTR or "Legends of the Old West" which is a plus or minus depending on how you look at it.  Further, the wider range of warbands and equipment (and the ability to "stat up" random models from scratch) means iHMN offers more flexibility.

Recommended? Yes.  A more flexible, involving game than it's major rival, iHMN is a steal at $11.
It's my "new best" VSF skirmish ruleset.


  1. Good morning, and thanks for the objective and balanced review.
    Although Charles and I have avoided the distinctly gothic in the core rules, in the supplement (which shall be published in November) there will be a bit more of this.
    I met one of the authors of EotD at Warlord Games Day and we discussed the similarities and differences between our rule sets. We agreed that the two sets complement each other nicely and do cater to slightly different audiences.

  2. I belong to a 'Steampunk Alert' on Google and was intrigued by your review. I've little knowledge of Miniatures Gaming so I was pleased to read a well written review of the games mentioned. Well done.

  3. Just started reading my IHMN rules and very much liking what I see!
    The extra Horror bits could always be a neat expansion to fill the gap between that and EoTD

    1. I think the expansion "Heroes, Villains and Fiends" is actually out now. Be interested to see what it is like.

  4. Just posted my own review of the game today

    PS the expansion was officially launched today, but my own copy has yet to arrive. Will review that also in due course

    1. I'll add it to my holiday purchase list!

      Good to see you back from deployment. Enjoying the break?

  5. My copy's due any day now - yes, I've come late to it, but on the other hand I've got hold of Dragon Rampant before official publication - and I look forward to delving into it.

    I've never been hugely entranced by Steampunk, either for reading matter or gaming, preferring gothic horror - as long as it's happening to someone else, of course - but it seems the first expansion addresses that deficiency, so will probably be an essential addition for me (there's now a second, whose focus I am unaware of, but I'm sure I'll get around to it).

    One thing that does puzzle me in all the threads I've read here about VSF in its various forms is that I have not seen a single reference to Wolsung. There's not much on BGG either. I see it comes in both RPG and skirmish forms, the two being intended to complement one another, though I assume this is not essential. It doesn't seem to be notably gothic, and perhaps occupies the same rather whimsical territory as IHMN in its initial incarnation appears to do, but someone who just loves all things Steam-related has presumably at least inhaled some of its vapours, and might perhaps be prevailed upon to share something of their flavour with the merely curious. It's the gentlemanly thing to do.

    1. I can't answer for others, but my reasons for not involving myself in Wolsung
      (a) already have IHMN and EoTD
      (b) a perhaps unmerited caution dealing with East European companies/mail

      ...but most damningly,(c) use of named models. I want to make up my own warbands, not have a specific hero forced on me. This is a reason (among others) I don't enjoy Malifaux - besides the lack of creative latitude, I find it jarring when two identical "Lady Justices" fight, accompanied by identical henchmen.

      Bushido (I quite like the rules) was dismissed on similar grounds.

  6. Sir, you may be a colonial, but you are a gentleman all the same.

    As for the problem of 'named models', I assume this means that each comes with its own stat card, forcing the player to buy the official figures. That does indeed rankle. I almost added a Wolsung figure of a butler to an assortment of figures I've just ordered, but didn't in the end, even though he looked like just the sort of gentleman's gentleman I'd want bringing me my ironed copy of The Times with breakfast. (This one actually had a pistol on the serving tray - just the ticket for a day's gallivanting, though it could be he's dropping a discreet hint about suicide.)

    Back to the game, if it indeed takes away all latitude from the player, in the shameless manner of the GW behemoth, it's quite beyond the pale. I do hope that's not the case, however, and will see what other information I can glean. I now have my copy of IHMN, though, and hope it puts some fire into my loins. (There is an official figure range, of course, though the sets come without cards, so there is, as far as I can tell, no crass commercial compulsion to use them.)

  7. As for the problem of 'named models', I assume this means that each comes with its own stat card, forcing the player to buy the official figures.

    ...if it indeed takes away all latitude from the player, in the shameless manner of the GW behemoth, it's quite beyond the pale.

    Basically, if I see this it is an instant "no thanks" no matter how appealing the models, fluff and rules are.

    Nowdays there's simply too many companies competing for the skirmish market. I'll play the way I want, thanks!

    It's a bit sad, as for example the Bushido rules and minis are good enough to stand on their own, without any stat card named heroes nonsense.

  8. I bought a few Bushido figures recently, as well as two sets of cards, all for the same faction, as well as a pack of general (combat) cards. This was in a Black Friday sale, at 40% discount, but was still hardly an insubstantial outlay for an impecunious hobbyist such as myself. On receipt I was most disgruntled by the scant contents of the card packs, the faction ones containing barely a dozen each. If I'm going to collect more than a couple of factions, this is going to become severely annoying, though I have no intention of paying full price, for the cards, at any rate. Of course I can hardly argue if you point out that I've shot myself in the foot by buying cards which, unlike the figures, have no conceivable use outside this particular game. A cocksure cynic might well be unable to resist the added jibe that with customers like me, it's hardly any wonder that companies adopt these marketing strategems.

    1. Not a fan of buying cards. Miniatures, yes, cards no. If I wanted to collect cards, I'd collect Magic cards, or something that has a chance of appreciating in value.

      At least you have a choice to buy an independent card pack.

      Worse - I don't like being forced to buy cards that come packed with and somehow add 150% more cost to the price of a mini.

  9. If you like the concept and quality of Bushido, but not the unnecessary expenditure, may I put before you an alternative on a similar theme? I confess that at present I know little about it, other than that, from what I've seen, the miniatures are of a similar quality to Bushido's.

    The game is called Kensei, by Zenit Miniatures. It does not appear to use cards. The rules can be downloaded free:

    They also have a game called Nemesis, which likewise has freely downloadable rules (as well as purchasable printed ones). I have recently acquired some of the miniatures in this range (I only know the Kensei ones from images) and consider them equal to any I have seen.

    1. I was under the (incorrect) assumption they were 20mm (there is another Russian company that makes a 20mm range)

      They are indeed 28s =

      That said, I have for years had plenty of Perry Samurai and the Legends of the Rising Sun rules. I'm just too lazy to make Oriental terrain. And also painting scale armour looks not fun...

  10. Zvezda is the Russian company that makes the plastic 20mm figures (and a game using the Commands & Colors system).

    Zenit is a Spanish company, though if you follow the fine game of football you may have unconsciously associated it with Zenit St. Petersburg...?