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.

Topographic Art

I’m on a bit of a scenery kick at the moment provoked by the discovery of Amera and they’re excellent plastic terrain – the review of which can be read here –  and I’ve since bought the Dreadstone Blight terrain piece from the Games Workshop for use in Mordheim. I’ve even painted, yes painted, a resin cottage I was bought almost a year and a half ago for my birthday.

Since making the decision to get a Necromunda campaign going amongst the chaps I’ve been looking at things that would work well as Necromunda scenery, my original stuff having long since gone in the bin because, well it was crap. I’ve got an abundance of the new plastic multipart scenery from the Games Workshop and it is thoroughly excellent but Necromunda needs to be more than buildings. It’s gantries, towers, heavy industry, sewers, generators, pumps etc etc etc.

There’s no shortage of scenery out there. And there’s some real treats too like Micro Art Studio; a Polish company that are producing some quite tasty stuff. Aside from some pretty sexy scenic bases and some green stuff moulds, they do quite a bit of resin and hardfoam scenery that really is quite nice. I’m not totally sold on the value for money side of things but there’s no denying what they produce looks good and they’re probably the only ones doing it to such a high standard.

But the real treat was the re-discovery of Ainsty Castings. These guys have been knocking around for ages and it’s a company a mate of mine has thrown hundreds of pounds at over the years. I can say categorically that the quality has come on in leaps and bounds.

For one thing there’s no shortage of industrial looking sets  and, considering it’s resin, for a pretty reasonable price:

This ‘Flameblade’ compound is £45 but for an awful lot of barricades, a shack and a couple of other bits. From what I can see the detail is there but in a nice little touches rather than overly fussy sculpting. At the end of the day it’s the models cowering behind the barricades you want to be paying attention to.

Overhead piping is something I never thought I’d see in a wargame beyound sprayed McDonalds straws (other straws are available) on the side of coke cans and Pringles tubes. It looks like a cracking set and it lends itself to the narrative and feel of Necromunda wonderfully. £40 might make you wince but it’s quite a decent amount of resin in the box and by the looks of things you don’t have to stick the pipes down which gives it some flexibility.

The final set that really caught my eye is the Silos. Not a lot to say here other than they look brilliant and add something extra to the upper levels of the game – i.e. sweet sniping points but narrow gantries making camping a risky business should you come under fire. They look nice and robust too which makes me feel happier at the thought of trying to store them. At £30 for the set it’s actually pretty good value as they’ll occupy as much as space as a couple of sets as a Games Workshop Manufactorum kits bit offer something a bit original, albeit without the choice. But, to be honest, sometimes you don’t need your scenery to be multipart and dripping with detail. And as you can see there’s enough detail to have some real fun with this stuff.