The Spartan Age

It gives me great pleasure to present to you the first Shell Case Contributor article. So without further a do, Chris offers up his thoughts on the recent rash of news from Spartan and it’s impact on the market.

August has seen an almost volcanic explosion of exciting news from Spartan Games. To start with there has been a flurry of previews for both Firestorm Armada and Dystopian Wars. This has included a fantastic variety of new minor faction units for DW including Canadian and Indian tanks, Polish sky fortresses, Belgian land ships and Danish minelayers and destroyers. Each is a fantastically characterful and detailed model (as you would expect from Spartan) and the very existence of these models wonderfully expands the world of Dystopian Wars and really helps bring the world to life by making the game about more than the struggles of the ‘big’ nations and helping give the impression of a full, living world at war. The rules for these models should be in the Hurricane Season/Storm of Steel expansions, though I notice that these expansions are showing on the Spartan online store at a higher price than the core rulebook. I can only hope that this means they are packed full of cool rules and exciting fluff.

Meanwhile we have seen a lot of previews of new Firestorm Armada ships for the upcoming Marauders of the Rift expansion. These have included ships for a whole range of pirates, raiders, gangsters and other kinds of low life and ne’r do well as well as a very interesting prison ship design. Marauders of the Rift will be out soon and is a snip at £10 compared to the DW expansions.

But these previews, exciting though they undoubtedly are, were eclipsed by last Thursday’s announcement of Dystopian Legions, a 28mm battle game set in the world of Dystopian Wars. This came as a huge surprise to many observers, but overall the buzz on the interwebs seem to be optimistic. The previewed images look pretty impressive, especially in terms of detail and there are some very characterful designs such as the FSA tread bike and the Prussian Lucifyre walker.

Dystopian Legions could be a big hit. Victorian steampunk games are not new but most of the existing ones lean much more towards the Gothic and the macabre end of the spectrum(Empire of the Dead for example), while Dystopian Wars and Dystopian Legions are much more toward the sci-fi end. Dystopian Legions is also a full-scale battle game rather than a small-scale skirmish affair. The closest competition for Dystopian Legions are probably Warmachine (though again, that is very much towards the fantasy end of the steampunk spectrum) or something like dieselpunk war game Dust Warfare by Fantasy Flight.

When the news about Dystopian Legions broke, I immediately wondered what the chances were of a similar game being introduced for Spartan’s Firestorm Armada universe. Just a few hours later the Spartan announced the formation of their Studio Sparta subsidiary and their Firestorm Invasion project.

While one certainly wonders why this project has been assigned to a subsidiary – and we all have to wonder if Studio Sparta will turn out to be Spartan’s Forgeworld, or their Fanatic Press – this is certainly going to be an ambitious project, and certainly the one I am most excited about. Simultaneously developing 10mm, 15mm and 28mm games including all the assorted factions of the Firestorm universe is an enormous project and one I sincerely hope Spartan Games/Studio Sparta are up to. So far all we have seen images of are them ideals from the Dindrenzi and Terran 10mm starter sets which are already available from Studio Sparta’s online store, plus a few previews of 15mm Terran infantry. The previewed models so far are a fairly limited selection, but what we have seen so far looks pretty good.

I find it interesting, that stuff for Firestorm Invasion – Planetfall is already available, in contrast to the Dystopian Legions announced the same day which are still some months hence. Perhaps this is the advantage of having a separate division working on the project or maybe a cunning way of helping the new division make a splash from the get go.

Spartan are certainly throwing down the gauntlet with Firestorm Invasion. Each sub-game (10mm Planetfall, 15mm Conquest, and 28mm Special Ops will be competing with other manufacturers. Special Ops for example will have to contend with both Warhammer 40,000 and Warpath (and also to a lesser extent, Warmachine) although as Spec Ops will be skirmish focussed it may escape direct competition from 40k.

Planetfall however will taking on the recently released Dropzone Commander by Hawk Wargames for the lions share of the 10mm market. Somehow I doubt it is coincidental that this particular 10mm game has been launched so soon after the other, especially as 10mm is a relatively little used scale. Maybe the hype surrounding Dropzone Commander proved that there is a market out there. Certainly, the fact that Planetfall has been released with no lead up and only a very limited model range could be taken as signs that Spartan is jumping on a bandwagon. Though realistically, even Spartan can’t conjure a project like this out of nothing, so even is they have opted to accelerate plans they must have had the foundations of this laid for some time. The fact that Hawk are currently struggling to meet demand while also maintaining their quality control is as good an example as any about how you shouldn’t overreach or rush into anything in this industry.

It would be difficult to judge which of the two games might come out on top. Spartan has the advantage of lower prices and having the rule book included with the starter forces, but Hawk has the benefit of a much more comprehensive range of models being available across four distinct factions and a separately available rule book. The rulebook will be available separately in the near future for Firestorm Invasion but for now it’s only available in the starter sets. And there’s certainly an advantage to being able to see if you like the look/sound of the game without having to invest in a full starter set.

A lot of people are likely to hold off on Firestorm Invasion until they know when their favourite factions from Firestorm Armada will come out. Hawk, on the other hand, have everything from the rule book already for sale. However in light of the severe supply problems, unfair pricing strategy and keeping the bigger army deals exclusive to the Hawk website it’ll be interesting to see which game ends up on top. And while Hawk models are more expensive, they are made from a more flexible resin mix which mean they will stand up to wear and tear better and in theory makes them better value for money. Whether that counts as a deal maker or breaker probably comes down to personal preference.

Anyway, the news over the last few weeks show that Spartan are clearly a company with big ambitions and the potential to make good on them. I’m looking forward to adding some Firestorm Invasion stuff to my collection come pay-day. With luck I’ll eventually be able to carry through a campaign with my Terrans (and their allies) from the orbital battles all the way to the final ground campaigns and decisive city fights.

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5 thoughts on “The Spartan Age

  1. So with firestorm Invasion the 3 different scales are different models? Or the same at different scale? Because i know Neil at Spartan games doesn’t believe you should be restricted in scale by the company and a dream of his was to be able to
    produce the same minis in different scales… Also i have a feeling that dropzone commander and firestorm invasion are from the same concept pool…

    1. There will be some cross over across the scales yes. Dangerous ground if DzC is from Dave’s days at Spartan as it strictly speaking would make it their IP.

      1. That is what I was thinking (not that I am saying it is) Could be interesting hopefully it isn’t though as that would be a shame as I think there is space for both games. And if it was I’m sure Spartan would have done something before now if it was their original idea.

  2. Even if the games end up playing with similar mechanics there shouldn’t be any problem as they both have their own universes to play in. You can’t really tm a game mechanic, or GW would have tm’d rolling D6 by now 🙂

    I think both are competing in a pretty small market area, time will tell if Spartan are willing to spend enough to promote invasion enough to get a toe hold. DzC is still running on the high from Salute. If they managed to get through the shock of demand on release they seem to have the march on Spartan right now. Big if there of course.

    1. Actually, yes you can. It’s not a TM issue, it’s copyright, which Spartan could lay claim to if Dave developed the idea at Spartan but withheld it. If they rejected it then it’s all fair game.

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