Swashbucklers invading Hell - definitely a unique wargame concept...
I really liked the idea of Helldorado - conquistadors and swashbucklers invading Hell. 70YW fantasy is refreshing for my jaded palate. Making a hell terrain table would be straightforward and fun. I got a bunch of minis on discount before the new version launched. I undercoated the minis.... .
...then they sat in the cupboard. Where they still sit, bar a few play-test outings.
Well some of the sculpts are hit and miss. Some are gorgeous, some are a bit lame. Kinda like the Confrontation metal models I have (though those have a much better gorgeous: lame ratio). Must be a French thing. The sculpts were also limited in scope; the old moulds were OOP and the new casts had yet to be produced. Maelstrom Games happily took my preorder but delays meant I had almost forgotten the game by the time it arrived. So painting enthusiasm was low.
Secondly, by then I was disillusioned with Malifaux and was not keen on another rules-heavy, 'boutique' skirmish game with no campaign rules.
Thirdly, the game endows models with multiple hitpoints. Now I really detest tracking hitpoints on vehicles at the best of times, but still less in a infantry skirmish game. Plenty of great infantry games get by without them, so I regard them as an uneccessary complication that adds little to the game besides record-keeping.
It is a lovely softcover rulebook, with an embossed title on the cover. Production values are similar to Privateer Press books. It is lavishly illustrated but IS clearly a translation from French - it is awkward to read. Quite a few typos.Slightly better than Infinity and the old Confrontation rules in readability and layout though.
There are 35 pages of fluff, 40 pages of actual rules, 225 pages of army lists (the majority of the book!) and 20 pages with 4 scenarios and unique rules for hell terrain.
I particularly like any counters and blast templates needed are included as a physical colour card push out inside the back cover. I detest having to make special props for a game and it is pleasant to have quality tokens 'ready to go' rather than have to find and print out a lame pdf off a website.
The fluff is interesting and engaging - it is certainly a unique setting!
A great quality production, but the wording can be a bit jarring.
A beautiful rulebook, but the French-to-English translation is a little lacking at times
Models have a few stats - Movement distance; Shooting Skill and Combat Skill - both of which indicate the amount of dice to roll in an attack; Defence (the attack rolls must score above this to hit); Protection (a unit's armour or toughness); Lifepoints (hitpoints) and Faith (ability to use and resist magic).
After an initial roll (modified by leadership bonuses), initiative is held by the player who killed the most points of enemies the previous turn. Interesting concept.
Any long term spells, healings and effects take place here.
Players take turns activating units. The "dominant" player chooses who activates first.
Sides with less units can nominate an enemy unit to be activated. Another interesting idea.
Actions are the usual - run, walk, charge, shoot, cast magic etc. Units have a control area which extends beyond the base of the model.
Players roll dice equal to their "Shoot" or "Combat", duly modified by relevant effects. Any dice beyond 5 simply allow re-rolls. Each dice equal or over enemy Defence hits.
Shooting is similar but attack rolls must beat either the Defence OR a number based on the range, whichever is higher. The target cannot retaliate, unlike close combat.
Each hit is noted against the unit's particular weapon type which may alter the actual damage done.
The enemy "Protection" score can reduce the damage taken. Damage is applied simultaneously.
A little unusual, but nothing special except for the annoying hitpoint record keeping already noted. Even the most basic 'minions' have about 4 hitpoints to track.
Each side has a pool of command points which refreshes each turn. Command can be lost permanently as units are lost or certain effects are caused.
These commands can be used to "buff" units by adding to shooting, combat or defence stats. A command could be used to activtate two units in a row.
This adds an interesting layer of complexity, tactics and decision making to the game.
Some magic auras might target a unit or a particular area of the map. "Lemures" are a weird twist to usual magic rules - they are weird little minis that are invoked. They then can move and cast spells specific to themselves. Each magician can control only a few at a time.
States, Traits, Special Abilities
Units can go beserk, be stunned, slowed etc and suffer various effects (magical and ability-based) . There are a wide range of special traits and abilities.
Thankfully if you lose a unit card (or have a French one like I do) all the unit data for all factions is included. Each unit has 2-3 special orders which cost Command points to activate. They might also have 1-4 traits (like "elusive" "Defensice shot" "fanatic") or spells. All the special rules make it quite complex but not so ridiculous as Malifaux or Warmachine. At least the rules are common to all factions and you don't need the enemy army book or data cards to work out what their special rules can do.
Team Toulouse have done some great hell terrain boards over on Cool Mini or Not
Scenarios & Terrain
There are 4 scenarios and terrain rules which are interesting and appropriate. "Infernal Haze" "Stalagtites" "Giant Skeletons" "Field of Laments" "Decomposing Bodies" "Rain of Larvae" which have interesting game effects. Terrain is important to add tactics and interest to a game and it is good to see it get attention in Helldorado.
A campaign system to connect scenarios and advance unit would have been appreciated but as usual, the more complicated the game, the less likely you are to get advancement rules. This hurts replayability - think how many people play still Necromunda and Mordheim campaigns centuries after their release - neither are particularly good games gameplay-wise but their campaign system does help involve you in the game.
Fascinating fluff, an interesting alt-move initiative system, different combat system but annoying record-keeping; a interesting "command" system which adds tactics and interesting magic rules. Hell terrain adds flavour and strategy and the army lists are pleasingly complete with no need for 'codexes.' However units DO have a lot of special rules and combos, comparable to Warmachine but not as over-the-top as Malifaux. There is a very wide range of special rules but they are universal to all factions and not unique to individual units. I am somewhat disappointed there are no campaign rules.
Yes, I will be getting out the paints again and finally get into my hellscape terrain board....