Wolsung – A Review

A little overdue thanks to the blessings heaped upon me by Grandfather Nurgle, but I finally bring you the review of Wolsung SSG (Steampunk Skirmish Game) by Micro Art Studio.

Still in the Beta stage, Wolsung is a, as the name suggests, steampunk skirmish game. Steampunk is an increasingly popular genre, which is great as it’s nice to see games out there other than historical, fantasy and science fiction. Good steampunk walks the tightrope across all three, borrowing elements from each. It’s the quantities, as with a recipe for a delicious cake, that really determine its success or failure.

For one thing, there needs to be a big dollop of historical. Victorian England seems to be the staple, although Spartan Games have upped the ante on that front. There also needs to be lashings of science fiction whether it’s bionic limbs or exosuits, it matters not as long as it’s all tied in with the setting of the game. Fantasy is the equivalent of the chocolate frosting or the hundreds and thousands. Too much and it ruins the whole damn thing.

Wolsung comes very close to doing just that as along with the mechanical ride on fleas (no really), steampowered bat-mobile-esque cars and hot chicks with giant monkey wrenches, there’s elves, undead and magic. There are also dwarves but they’re not dwarf types dwarves, they’re just short people. However, what the creators were shrewd enough to do was not make the elves their own faction or heavily play up to the fantasy elements. Elves simply live amongst us. Yes, they’re lanky and have pointy ears but if you’ve got a problem with that then you’re racist.

The background itself is nicely done and rather than opting for an over arching international story line, it chronicles skirmishes between exclusive clubs with conflicting ideologies. An extreme and violent conclusion to secret societies in the real world, mixed together with upper class gentlemen’s clubs. As in oak panelling, scotch & cigars. Not strippers.

These diametric camps results in some distinctive factions and therefore some very cool models including the aforementioned mechanical flea, a dude with a steam-powered bionic arm (and some exquisite creases in his trousers) and a chick whose a cross between a hooker and a gunslinger. Which isn’t a complaint, just an observation.

But anyway…

Wolsung SSG as a game is very straight forward to play. Models when activated can perform two actions which include the usual; move, stab people in the face and shoot people in the face. The latter two are smoothly done with two simple rolls to hit and inflict damage with minus modifiers for armour. There’s also some reactions available which will make for a very cinematic game. Models won’t stand there politely waiting their turn to stab someone in the face, instead they can choose to fend off their attackers, albeit at the cost of retaliation. But better smeg than dead.

My only worry is that the rate at which wounds can be sustained may make for a short game if you’re not careful. But, in fairness, Wolsung constantly highlights using terrain to you advantage – both elevation and cover. It also supports the rules with some nicely done examples. And I suppose the point is that skirmish games are meant to be quick.

As mentioned earlier, Wolsung does have rules for magic and the only reason I’m forgiving it for this fact is the utterly cool way in which you cast spells, perform heroic deeds and a few other things. And that’s with a deck of cards. Not fancy or expensive custom-made cards that cost a fortune (are you listening MERCS) but a standard deck of cards. Aside from adding a real element of chance it fits in with the narrative of the game wonderfully and I find it utterly charming as, more often than not, high card wins. It raises the stakes in the best possible way, and makes you feel a part of the action which, in a skirmish game, is everything.

Another nice feature is that parties are formed based on the heroes you select. The number of heroes is agreed before hand, like the more common points system, but heroes entitle you to henchmen depending on available funds. So forming your team is as much about the bank roll of your heroes as their fighting prowess which is unique and way cool.

The down side is that every single hero or henchman in the game is a named character which leaves no room for creating your own clubs or parties within those clubs which may impact on replay value. That said the models are hugely characterful as are the profiles attached to them so games will always be fun if perhaps run the risk of being samey. But I suppose it falls to the gamer to come up with the narrative. Although I still would like to see warband creation rules and campaign progression to go with it.

The rules are still in Beta so there’s bound to be some changes as at the moment there’s a couple of points where the rules seem vague but it doesn’t impact hugely and it’s still a pretty slick and entertaining game. Go here to download the rules and here to get you hands on some very shiny toys.

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