A long time ago in the midst of October 2011 I reviewed the beta rules for Sedition Wars and concluded that I had something rather special on my hands. Since then I kept a weather-eye on the Studio McVey website and was pleased to see Mike and the team launch a Kickstarter. I think it speaks volumes that of the £20,000 they asked for they raised £951,254.
This rather hefty lump of wonga enabled Studio McVey to produce the boxset Battle for Alabaster.
In a nutshell the game represents the prologue of a galactic conflict between the forces of the Vanguard, the rebel Firebrands and the Strain a sentient nano-virus of alien origin unleashed by the Firebrand in an effort to destabilise the Vanguard’s interests in the region. Needless to say it all goes a bit tits up and a team is sent to Alabaster to investigate what the falangy is going on and contain the threat.
So what we have on our hands is a campaign driven strategy board game with a twist of, wait for it, horror. Now unlike a certain other ‘horror’ boardgame I reviewed not so long ago, the guys at Studio McVey understands that to encapsulate horror unpleasant things have to happen on the board beyond drawing a card and moving a counter. In Battle for Alabaster corpses get reanimated and the living experience a violent and agonising transformation into cybernetic beasties.
And the other big difference is that BfA has the toys to go with it. Aside from the box being crammed full of models they are all, without exception, gorgeous. All of them are superbly designed, sculpted and cast. And you get like 50 of em. We’ve not seen that many toys in a box set for quite some time… And it’s really nice to roll my sleeves up and have a play around in a straight up sci-fi world without any silly apocalypse or a grim dark future that’s only full of grim dark war.
You also got data cards which are actually well laid out for a change, lots of counters and beautifully illustrated, double-sided gaming tiles. Chuck in a full colour rule book and you get a heck of a lot for your RRP of £59.99. If I’m honest the rulebook could be a little bit more premium for my tastes. For the money and the amount in the book something a bit more robust would have been nice. There’s also a few typos and term confusions but those are all minor niggles especially when you consider the game is, well, awesome.
Rather than gush over the rules I’m going to skip straight to the back of the book and gush over the scenarios. Much like a video game, BfA offers players to choices, a quick play version which gives you 10 stand alone missions to play or a campaign. But what makes it good is that rather than the standard fare of in scenario X player 1 takes squad Y and player 2 takes horde Z, it gives you a points limit that you can spend more or less how you choose. This means that you can have a huge amount of fun tinkering with your units across various scenarios and it rather aptly allows not only every game to be different but the experience one gamer has from another to be significantly different. Especially with all the tomfoolery to be had with the Strain Exo-forms and their damned inconvenient evolving.
Again, if I’m honest, I would have liked a lot more fluff in the rule book than you get as I think world Mr McVey and his cohorts created is an interesting one. Instead you get almost short stories at the start of each scenario which do flesh things out a bit but not enough that those people completely fresh to the Sedition Wars Universe would fully understand what’s what. Don’t get me wrong, the stories are cool and elegantly explain what’s going on within the story but the game relies on the rules to explain who’s who and what they’re up to and that leaves the world a little cold in my opinion. But by no means boring. It’s still interesting, it’s still a grim old place by the sounds of things but, more importantly, the Vanguard are still badass and the Strain fucking horrible.
Overall the rules are well laid out. There’s a few instances where a rule could have been explained following on from another rather than 10 pages further along but, again, it’s a minor niggle and at least it doesn’t jump about a bit like some games I’ve played in the last few months. As I say, my only gripe is I could have done with a book a bit more substantial but I’ll get over it.
The game itself is brilliant. Aside from the intelligent campaign and scenarios the mechanic works surprisingly well. At first the way damage was inflicted seemed a little fussy but it’s just a new way of doing things and it walks that fine line between rolling fistfuls of dice and a balanced game. That aside, the mechanic is just easy. Turns have two stages: A tactical stage which allows both sides to prepare their forces but in profoundly different ways which almost adds a Risk-like element of thinking ahead and laying down plans. And an action stage in which faces get manged. And they will. And in good order because the mechanic concentrates on the action over anything else.
That’s not to say it’s not without it’s fiddly bits as there’s various status and weapon effects that you have to remember to use and keep track of. Then there’s the many sorts of unpleasantness that can befall your models: like being knocked prone, bleeding, corrosion and, in some cases, getting stuck. The comedy thing about corrosion is, if that’s what kills you, you don’t place a corpse marker. Because all that’s left is a small puddle. But the corpse markers themselves are important as the nano-spores – also markers can reanimate them into Necro-forms. All that said the game still flows and although for the first couple of games you’ll do a bit of rule flicking it falls well within the ‘let me just double check’ bracket rather than the ‘I have no idea what happens next’ one.
What’s really clever is the total difference between the tactical decisions the two sides have to make, on top of selecting their forces in the first place. Vanguard teams are all about combined arms and always knowing where ones medic is. The Strain it’s about getting all up in people’s shit. And ripping said shit off. But more over it’s about how you spend your tactical points allocation once those forces are on the ground that impacts on how that team performs. It’s all really rather good.
Battle for Alabaster is a superb game and as close to perfect as I’ve seen in a while. The little niggles are exactly that and I couldn’t care less about them. The models are brilliant – and there are loads of them – the artwork and tiles are excellent and it’s the perfect introduction to what I suspect to be a thriving wargaming universe. The only negative, if it can be called that, is that with 5 double-sided tiles in the box there will inevitable be add ons/supplements which could get pricy. But you know what? I don’t really care. If it means I get to play more of this game then I’ll happily hand over the readies.
Additional models are also available from Firestorm Games from £5.39