Sedition Wars: Battle for Alabaster – A Review

headerA 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Studio McVey will be at Salute this year so if Battle for Alabaster isn’t on your shopping list it really should be.

Additional models are also available from Firestorm Games from £5.39

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Sedition Wars – First Look Review

Studio McVey, as in Mike McVey, as in one of the founding members of ‘Eavy Metal, is currently working on a cracking  game called Sedition Wars. In its at the beta stage at the moment so you can expect the finished article to be rich and visually beautiful. For now the beta rules can be downloaded for free from the Sedition Wars forum.

Sedition Wars, in a nutshell, is about a conflict between the Vanguard and the rebel slaves and clones called the firebrand. Throw in techno-phage exforms called the Strain and you’ve got yourself a barn dance.

Before I get on to the game proper I have to talk about the models. Aside from being beautifully sculpted, dynamic and wonderfully styled, I’ve never in all my 22 years of gaming come across metal models that didn’t have mould lines. I have no idea how they managed it but Studio McVey seem to have casting down to perfection.

Below is the images from the Sedition Wars website of the samples I received. I know I promised I’d put up the images of my own paint job but I was too excited about the game to wait. I’ll put mine up in a separate post once I’ve finished them.

I especially love the corpsmen above. With a different paint job he’d make a cracking Bounty Hunter and he’d have to be called The Doctor.

The game is, essentially, a board game, the factions fighting over maps a kin to Space Hulk. And like Space Hulk the movement and shooting mechanic uses squares. Unlike Space Hulk, Sedition Wars uses, rather sensibly uses three different range bands which presents a variety of tactical choices, especially as the Strain – the force used in play testing – has a variety of grizzly weapons that do their thing at short-range. Sedition Works hard for you to take the fight to one another rather than the Space Hulk method of one side running head long into the others incoming fire.

The various troops/strain have skills available to them at the cost of tactics points which can do useful things like heal troops or hack networks…or just cause general untold misery to their foes. And as certain skills are only available to certain members of the team it does force you to keep the victory conditions in mind because if key members of the team get slotted then it’s game over.

Sedition Wars is excellent for two very simple reasons. The first being that the game mechanic is so straight forward. The turns flow smoothly. Combat is quick to get to grips with and works incredibly well considering both myself and my opponent were coming to it cold. It’s also assisted along by the Sedition Wars forcing you to complete each model’s actions in full before moving on to the next . It gives the game a very cinematic feel. Combine this with brilliantly balanced forces and spawning rules for the Strain and you feel like the Vanguard are constantly under pressure. Even with the relatively high strength of weapons the Vanguard have you only ever feel like you’re buying breathing space.

At one point in our play testing, 2 Phase 1 exoforms flanked my team (thanks to a nasty little move the Strain can do with nanos) and tore my trooper to bits. Not only was I forced to react but losing 1 member of a 5 man team forced me into an all or nothing assault. It paid off but only 3 of the team lived to tell the tale.

Although at an early stage, Sedition Wars is already shaping up to be a really good game. The rules are refreshingly simple to get to grips with meaning you spend more time breaking stuff to look tough than rulebook flicking. The weapons are varied and fun – try the grenade launcher and you’ll see what I mean – the factions are diverse and interesting. And the models and map are awesome.

With such strong models and accessible game mechanics, Sedition Wars deserves success, although I’d also be really intrigued to see how many maps will be included in the game and how they’ll be produced. And whether or not Studio McVey will go down the box set route at all.
I’d love to see maps done as tiles to allow for a degree of customisation and additional rules for writing your own Sedition Wars campaign. Whatever the finished article will be like, I can safely say I’m really looking forward to the full release of Sedition Wars.