Dystopian Wars is the latest offering from UK games developer Spartan Games, and one of the very few games with a steampunk setting. The game is set in an alternative history, where a horde of technology discovered in Antarctica unearthed previously-unimagined wonders. The technological advances that this discovery offered soon created an arms race, as each nation created advanced weapons of destruction. Soon, each nation began to distrust their neighbours, flinging the world into an all-consuming war.
For a reasonable £20, the core rulebook offers a complete ruleset needed to run a game of Dystopian Wars. The rulebook is logically structured with each section dedicated to one aspect of the rules system, and breaks down the rules into a series of easily-digested segments. I especially appreciated an index at the back of the book, which eased several instances when clarifying rules.
Scattered throughout the rulebook are several panels of atmospheric artwork, setting the tone of the game. This artwork also breaks down the text, ensuring you are never overwhelmed with pages of bland rules, which can be off-putting to the occasional gamer.
The core rulebook also refreshingly provides a system in which engagements on land, sea, or air can be played out. Of all the games of Dystopian Wars that I have played so far, naval engagements have proved to be the most popular. Even so, having a complete rule-set for land, sea and air engagements at your fingertips fires the imagination. Like many players I know, you will soon find yourself planning a land and sea engagements, such as a D-Day style landing or a battle waged through the canals of Venice.
The rules themselves are intuitively structured, and operate in a logical way. Each player takes a turn to move and fire either a capital ship or a squadron of smaller units. Unlike many games, where each unit can only fire once, squadrons in Dystopian Wars can fire multiple weapons at different targets. Another key difference is placing your units into an enemy’s rear arc doesn’t offer you any bonuses. Fire arcs and effective ranges are instead the key elements within Dystopian Wars.
I have found that a standard tournament-sized 1000 point battle will approximately last three hours, depending on your familiarity with the rules. Naturally, the more squadrons you have, the longer a game will take.
Each of the nations within Dystopian Wars possesses their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Covenant of Antarctica possess unique abilities but are particularly vulnerable to boarding. Factions within Dystopian Wars each have a unique look that carries through into their units, visually differentiating them from other different factions, without any having a homogenised look. I particularly liked the Covenant of Antarctica’s battleship, the Kingdom of Britannia’s dreadnought, and the Prussian Alliance’s fleet carrier.
Ground and naval starter packs are currently available for each of the major factions, and can be found for approximately £30. The naval box set includes a battleship, two bombers, three cruisers, nine frigates and ten tiny flyers. Meanwhile, the ground forces box-set comes complete with a large walker, three medium vehicles / walkers, nine smaller vehicles and ten tiny flyers. Each of the box sets includes data cards for each of the units contained within. With one set per player, and the aforementioned core rulebook, you will have everything you need to play Dystopian Wars at your disposal.
The campaign source-book Hurricane Season has been released, providing details on how to run a series of related engagements. This source-book has some interesting additions to the rules, such as nation-specific rules for Fleet Commodores, as well as an explanation as to how to run a campaign in Dystopian Wars. It only becomes a necessity for those who okay with the Covenant of Antarctica, as it contains the latest faction rules for the Covenant of Antarctica, and supersedes the A5 booklet that came with the Ground and Naval box sets.
The future of Dystopian Wars looks promising. Spartan Games are releasing the Allied Nations factions, which operate alongside the existing major factions that have already been released. A second source-book called Storm of Steel will also be released in the near future. Meanwhile, Spartan Games are constantly teasing players with the possibility of an Aerial box-set, and the soon-to-be-released 28mm scale skirmish Dystopian Legions.