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Dystopian Wars 101: Game Introduction

7 Minute Read
Sep 1 2011
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an overview by BDub

So you may or may not have heard of Dystopian Wars, but, if you’re at all curious, sit back and I will attempt to give you the bare-bones summary of what its all about.

What’s it all about?
Dystopian Wars, by UK company Spartan Games, is a steam-punk/sci-fi genre game – table-top and miniatures based, it consists of models and rules for land, sea and air combat. The emphasis is on combined arms machines of war.

It takes place in and alternate history Earth in the year 1870. The world has entered a technological revolution building on an industrial renaissance with newly discovered marvels and minerals hidden on the continent of Antarctica. The nations of the world are poised on the brink of world war with the most powerful weapons yet seen.

The Factions
So who are the factions involved? Being 1870, the nations of power and their borders many not be entirely familiar, but for the most part they are recognizable to us all the same. Below is a list of the 1st wave major factions and the 2nd wave minor factions (which is about to begin arriving later this year), as well as the smaller allied factions.

The Majors. These are the Established heavy hitters of the world. Everything turns on their movements.
Kingdom of Britannia (KoB) – A colonial powerhouse and the birthplace of the industrial revolution, the greatest maritime empire in the world. There is no place on Earth the KoB does not have an interest to defend.
The Prussian Empire (PE) – From its origin as a tiny European province to the a continent dominating empire and economic giant, The Prussian Empire now exerts huge amounts of power and influence on its neighbors.
Federated States of America (FSA) – The second largest territorial power in the world, the FSA has risen from the ashes of a great civil war to dominate is hemisphere.
Empire of the Blazing Sun (EoBS) – Once an insular medieval society the EoBS has burst into the world arena reinvented as an industrial super-power.  Their Empress intends to hold her own against the world’s other powers.
Covenant of Antarctica (CoA) – The world newest nation, and most technologically advanced. The CoA are the self-appointed stewards of the world, intent on checking the great powers before they destroy themselves and the earth.

The Minors. Either not as powerful or not fully realized, but no less ambitious.
Republique of France (RoF) – A shadow of its former might and scarred by war, revolution and failing empire, it none the less has ambitions to take its place on the world stage once again.
Ottoman Empire (OE) – Once thought a fading empire, it has recently reinvented itself as a modern power. With immense borders, influence and resources it is poised to make its move.
League of Italian States (LoIS) – A confederation of independent duchies excelled in the arts of war and intrigue, it wars for Mediterranean supremacy with the OE while playing one power against another on the continent.
Russian Coalition (RC) – In truth one of the greatest powers on Earth, but only recently divested of the its isolationism and superstitious nature. Its new Emperor stands ready to mobilize its awesome strength.

The Allies. Either from allegiance, geographic proximity, or fear, they will all have to choose sides in the coming conflict.
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (PLC) – Struggling to maintain its identity, even its Statehood, it unfortunately sits between Prussian and Russian interests and whatever pressures the two giants may exert.
Chinese Federation (CF) – A sleeping giant, on the verge of awakening, if it can recover itself form constant encroachment by the Russians the Japanese and the occasional Mongol horde.
Republic of Egypt (RoE) – Born from the unstable aftermath that followed its war of independence from French colonialism, the RoE is a key player on the African continent.
Socialist Union of South America (SUSA) – Formed on the principles of Karl Marx and in response to the annexation of Mexico by the FSA, they are eager to assert their right to exist.

There you have it, a quick summary of the nations in the world of Dystopian Wars. At some later date we may explore the nuances of all the alliances and disputes between them all, but for now I would recommend you read through the excellent fiction on the the Spartan Games website.  Also take the time to examine the beautiful world map as well.

The Mechanics
If you are not already playing any of Spartan Games’ products you may not be familiar with the ‘exploding 6s mechanic that lies at the heart of all of their games. Simply put some number of “hits” is needed on a d6 to meet or exceed a damage(DR) and/or critical rating(CR), typically a 4,5,6, in which any naturally rolled 6 counts as two “hits” and confers and additional d6 roll – this continues until no more 6s are rolled.  And that’s it. The system is simple and makes for some very dramatic successes and some humiliating failures – both great fun.

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Also native to Spartan Games products are “range bands”.  These are increments of eight inches (8,16,24,32) in which the effectiveness of weapons is given in numbers of d6s in each band. Not all weapons work equally well in all range bands.  These differences usually reflect weapon effectiveness as well as a factions particular doctrine of war.  Interestingly, energy weapons tend to be less powerful but equally effective in all range bands. Also, not all weapons can fire in all ‘range bands”

Movement in Dystopian Wars is handled with one of 4 templates.  These come in Small, Medium, Large and 45 Degree Turn varieties. Mechanically speaking most vessels, planes and tanks have some amount of minimum movement they must make if they move at all. With navel vessels in particular they have a compulsory move of 2″ unless under and “all-stop” order. This reflects the tendency of these large vehicles towards states of great inertia. Each template is of a different radius to reflect the relative difficulty in turning different size vehicles. For aircraft and most tanks there is compulsory movement that must be taken in a straight line before being allowed to make up to a 45 degree turn. Smaller models can usually turn any number of degrees before any movement is made.

Dystopian Wars also represents altitude in an abstract but efficient way. Models are said to be either submerged, surface, flying, or obscured.  These are mostly self-explanatory. Each elevation has a unique impact on game-play, usually in the form of modifications to dice “hits” and visibility.

Last of the core mechanics is the “MAR”, or model assigned rules.  These work in a fashion similar to USRs, or the universal special rules that most of us are familiar with. The are assigned to specific models and modify the behavior of core rules and/or explain any special effects to normal game-play that a model may be able to take advantage of.  As may be expected they add a lot of flavor and variety to normal play. Many of the effects of “MARs” include modified movement distances or behaviors, increased chances to hit, resistances to various other effects or critical table adjustments.

That wraps up the core mechanics.  Other interesting features of Dystopian Wars are generator effects such as shields, disruptors and time dilators as well as boarding actions and simplified terrain rules.

The Models
What can be said about the models other than Bravo! Each faction has a distinct and attractive style all of its own while still fitting nicely into an overall steam-punk aesthetic.  Everyone is sure to have a favorite already – and if not I urge you to visit the Dystopian Wars gallery on the Spartan Games website and have a look.

They are typically made of an off-white or gray resin and have accompanying small details, such as turrets, in pewter.  The larger ships can be 6″-8″ in length and, in the case of the Britannian Dreadnought and Carrier, some 3″ wide. The scale is generally listed at 1:1200 but I find it closer to 1:900, with a mans height falling between 1 and 2 millimeters.

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My experience of the quality of the models has been superb.  Spartan Games has come along way in increasing the amount of detail and quality of its castings. Its artists are increasingly fluent in both ability and design sense.  All of the models go together nicely with the only cleanup generally being on the bottom of the models where you might find extra thickness or flashing from mold spill-over.

In Closing
My personal experience of the game has been that of a wonderfully simple and fun game. Having had some time on Spartan Games’ other product, Firestorm Armada, I was somewhat familiar with the basic mechanics. I am however a much larger fan of Dystopian Wars for its much broader strategic elements. Line of site, Land/Sea/Air and MARs have deepened what I consider the Spartan Games core rule set considerably.

A fun casual game of 1500 points (a starter box is around 650) typically runs about 3-4 hours. I wouldn’t recommend approaching the game with a competitive mindset as a certain amount of give and take is needed where movement and LoS are concerned to get the most enjoyment from the game.

Spartan Games offers us one of three approaches in the rules where army composition is concerned – they are tournament, friendly and open.  In the first you are required to meet certain percentage criteria in each of the size classes as well as representing with at least one squadron of each class. In the second, the percentages are done away with (this is typically what we play in my group).  In the open variety all bets are off. This last type of game is probably what you might use in a scenario driven game, as the story may dictate the size  and composition of your forces.

Though I recommend sticking with the rulebook for your first several games, there are times when you may feel the need to add a house rule – we have several that either speed up play or simplify a particular rule. It should be noted that the rule set is simple enough to lend itself quite easily to “house rule” modification.

I would also like to point out that Spartan Games and its native forum are very good with any help you may need, or questions you may have. You will find the community tends to be very polite and articulate even in the midst of a heated argument, and that is to be commended.

I hope those of you unfamiliar with Dystopian Wars have found this to be a helpful primer on the subject.  Its a wonderful game with great models and I strongly encourage you to look into it. Perhaps you are already playing it – if so please share your experiences below. I look forwards to covering the topic more deeply in future articles.

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