Shell Case Shorts 12 – Winner 2

The second winner of Shell Case Shorts 12 has written a superb story set in the Dystopian Wars universe but with a far more…domestic twist to it. Enjoy…

The Circus – by Al Phillips

The crack of the gunshot made people scream and scatter in every direction, women scooping up their children and running for the nearest place of safety as the report of the pistol echoed all around the buildings of the Strand. The bullet impacted squarely in the back of the fleeing Prussian spy, pitching him face first on to the cobbled frost covered street with a thud as loyal subjects to the Crown scattering in every direction.

Special Investigator Barclay Pensworth holstered his service revolver his breathing heavy and fogging in the winter air. Pulling his jacket closed, he approached the man lying in an expanding pool of blood, cursing himself for going for the kill shot rather than wounding him. Dead men can’t talk. Wounded men do, especially once the interrogators get hold of them. And the interrogators he knew weren’t the kind of men to let a little blood and a bullet hole put them off.

Crouching down Pensworth rolled the dying agent on to his back. The man, in his thirties, in a cheap tweed suit and messy curled hair took a swing for him but in his weakened state Pensworth batted the fist aside easily enough and pinned the spy down, knee rested firmly on his chest.

‘What was your mission?’ He asked in faultless Prussian. The man didn’t have long left and the analysts back at the Circus had already confirmed his identity, wasting time asking him about it would only benefit the Prussian’s plans, not his.

The agent started to laugh but it degenerated into a hacking, choking cough as blood began to fill his lungs.  ‘We spend half our time looking over our shoulders,’ the agent gurgled in perfectly pronounced English. ‘Convinced that Special Branch is about to spring a trap and kill us all.’ More coughing and blood boiled up out of the agent’s throat and joined the spreading pool beneath him. ‘But you don’t know anything. You think we’re just interested in stealing documents and fucking your secretaries for secrets.’ The spy shook bodily and his face drained of colour, his eyes taking on a glassy look.

Pensworth had seen it a dozen times before and started to stand. The agents hand shot out and pulled him down, bloody hands smearing his shirt with gore.

‘Dies ist nur der Anfang…’ He said before his breath gave out and his body went limp.

Barclay Pensworth stood, his face set with a grim distaste as Clement Barrington arrived on the scene, panting, hands on his knees and sweat seeping through his jacket.

‘What did he say?’ Barrington gasped.

‘This is just the beginning.’

***

Pensworth sat at his desk at the Internal Securities Department, 12 Millbank, London, staring at the coroner’s photo of the dead Prussian spy. The man’s last words were still ringing in his ears as all around him teams of analysts and researchers scrutinised documents, listened to wire taps and deciphered messages from every corner of the Britannian Empire and beyond for some shred of an indication of what the many enemies of Britannia were plotting.

Pensworth knew that there were dozens of spies operating in England alone. Everyone of them hell-bent on learning anything they could about the Britannian war effort and feeding it back to their superiors. Pensworth and his fellow Special Investigators knew this because the Crown had sent hundreds of its own agents around the world to do exactly the same thing. But unlike the thuggish tactics of the Yanks or the sadistic streak of the Prussians, the Internal Securities Department had a remarkable success rate when it came to turning those enemy agents to the will of her Majesty’s war effort.

Setting the photo aside he opened the file that had been hastily compiled as the pieces of the puzzle concerning the Prussian spy’s duplicity had fallen into place. Nothing jumped out at him. Pensworth had learned the man’s real name was Moritz Schweiger, not James Kendal as his impressively convincing counterfeit documents stated. Schweiger it seemed had built a quite unremarkable cover which, from experience, was the best kind.

He had led an unremarkable life as a waiter in some of London’s nicer restaurants, always paid his rent on time, had friends which he visited regularly and even donated money to the Royal War Orphans Trust. He was even seeing a rather pretty young thing, judging by her picture, who was the daughter of the mining magnate Lord Gerald John Richardson the fifth. A veteran of the Crimean and personal friend to Prince Albert, after he was discharged from service he had made his fortune in mining raw materials and after Albert’s death had stayed in close contact with her Majesty.

The funny thing was, Pensworth thought, it wasn’t his connection with the Lord, and therefore her Majesty, that had set alarm bells ringing but Mister Kendal’s parents. The family had, apparently, repatriated from Hong Kong eighteen months ago yet his parents were nowhere to be seen and their beloved son was slumming it waiting tables. Furthermore he would make a phone call every Sunday, regular as clockwork to a West London phone number and, according to the wire taps, spoke to his father. Yet despite the apparent closeness he never once went to visit them or them him which didn’t sit right for parents that would pay hundreds of pounds to transport him from the other side of the world. Pensworth’s instructor when he joined the ISD had always told him; the devil is in the details.

Flicking through the dossier he knew this to be true more than ever with Schweiger. Both the address he had phoned and Schweiger’s home had already been searched. Both locations had turned up very little other than enough transmission and cipher equipment to keep the boys in Technical happy for weeks. Regardless there was nothing to indicate a wider plot beyond the usual espionage and clandestine activities.

Pensworth’s superiors had told him to close the case and move onto a suspected Russian spy network operating out of a Gentlemen’s Club in Soho. The Russians weren’t subtle; it was an easy collar and could wait. Besides these things always went down the same way and he didn’t relish the thought of a protracted gun battle.

But more than that, the dying man’s last words still nagged at him. He took out the photo of the dead man and stared at it once more. He looked past the peaceful expression, the pool of blood, the overly white tooth that contained cyanide that the agent didn’t get the chance to use. He relaxed his eyes and let the entire image sink into his mind.

He blinked as he noticed for the first time a familiar lapel badge pinned to Schweiger’s jacket. He yanked open the top draw of his desk, his hand snaking in amongst the files, half eaten bags of boiled sweets, the cigar tin that contained his last Cohiba as his hand closed around the handle of the looking-glass something heavy slammed into the desk draw, trapping his arm. He yelped in pain and surprise yanking his arm free.

Looking up irritated he saw that the something heavy was Clement.

‘Sorry about that old boy,’ He beamed taking a bite from a sandwich. He leaned over his partner’s shoulder. ‘I thought the Ringmaster had already told you to put Gerry to bed.’

‘He did Clem, but something doesn’t sit well with me.’ He poked the photo. ‘What do you make of that?’ Indicating the lapel badge.

Clem leaned closer, the smell of tuna ripe on his breath. His small eyes, surrounded by a flushed and podgy face, squinted.

‘Looks like the membership badge for the Beefsteak Club on Irving Street.’

‘How on Earth do you know that?’ Pensworth asked. Clement smiled and turned his jacket lining outwards so his partner could see the small round badge.

‘Because I’m a member Barclay old boy.’

‘So how does a waiter, earning three shillings and nine pence per week afford a club membership?’ Clement shrugged as he pushed the rest of the sandwich into his mouth. Pensworth shook his head at his partner. ‘Well grab your coat fatty, we’re going to find out.’

***

The Beefsteak Club was like most of the other up market Gentlemen’s Clubs of London: wood panelling on every wall, tall back leather chairs, thick cigar smoke and burlesque shows three times a day. Had Barclay Pensworth’s mother still been alive she would have been mortified that her eldest son was in such an establishment.

He and Clement walked through the club, noticing fellow members of Special Branch, her Majesty’s crown court and seventeen members of parliament all enjoying the show. Pensworth ignored them all; he wasn’t interested in how the political elite got their jollies, so long as they didn’t break the law in doing it.

It didn’t take long for them to attract the attention of the maitre’d who hurriedly intercepted the pair as the systematically and deliberately opened the door to every private room in the club. By the time the tall, wiry and weasel faced man with slicked over hair caught up with the pair and hurried them into his office they had walked in on four private dances, seven card games or various types, two illicit acts that Pensworth would be referring to the local constabulary and what looked like the shadow education minister lashed face down to a bench and having his bottom whipped by a women clad in a peculiar leather get up. Pensworth didn’t understand it himself but was smart enough to let it lie. Political currency was valuable in his line of work.

‘What can I do for you gentlemen,’ Fussed the maître’d after both men showed him their identification. Pensworth leaned against the oak desk. Like every other room in the club it looked as though a small woodland had been felled to deck out the office. Even the red leather, riveted desk chair was the same cut as those the rich and the fat currently wallowed in. Pensworth nodded at Clement Barrington who dutifully pulled out the photo of Schreiger taken at the scene of his death and handed it to the man.

‘Do you know him?’ Pensworth asked, reaching into his jacket and pulling a pencil and small notepad from his jacket pocket. The man opposite him stared at the photo before handing it back, nodding. ‘That is Mister Kendal, a regular here.’ The man’s tone was disapproving.

‘You didn’t like him?’ Pensworth probed. The maître’d shook his head.

‘He was a common sort, a waiter for a footman if I were to guess. It’s the shoes you see.’ The man cast his eyes down at Pensworth’s own scuffed Policeman specials before continuing. ‘But we had to suffer him as he was a member by another man’s graces.’

Before Pensworth could ask further questions the man continued. ‘And he certainly made use of those good graces. He ran up bar bills into the hundreds attempting to brown nose his way in with our more exclusive members. I even caught him harassing Lord Livingstone Melbrooks-‘

‘Wait,’ Pensworth cut in, ‘Lord Melbrooks as in the new ambassador to the Covenant of Antarctica?’

‘The very same.’ Said the maître‘d.

Suddenly a bad feeling settled in to Barclay Pensworth’s stomach, heavy and brooding.

‘Clem, call the Circus, get as many men as they can spare over to Lord Melbrooks’ residence on Upper Grosvenor, I’ll start the carriage.’ Pensworth darted from the office the door slamming behind him.

The maître’d dropped to his chair startled. Clement smiled down at him.

‘Don’t worry old boy,’

***

The carriage growled and chugged its way through the streets as fast as Pensworth could make it go. Unlike the newer combustion engines now available, Pensworth still used a steam-driven model. It was far better of long distances but perambulating through the cobbled streets of London it was a hateful device and made the 2 mile journey all the more intense for fear the contraption would simply breakdown.

By the time the pair pulled up outside the Lord’s home the sun was starting to set and lights were coming on all down Upper Grosvenor Street. The Melbrook’s residence was shrouded in darkness. Both men disembarked from the carriage, the boiler whistling and clucked as the furnace was turned down to idling, and drew their weapons.

‘Where are the others?’ Pensworth asked. Barrington shrugged. He’d produced a bag of humbugs from somewhere and was cheerfully and noisily sucking on one.

‘They said they were on their way.’ He mumbled.

‘Well we can’t wait.’ Pensworth bounded up the stone stairs of the grand abode and without breaking stride kicked the door in. The black lacquered door splintered from the impact sending splinters of wood in all directions. Before Barrington could stuff his humbugs into his pocket his partner was through the door and sweeping his gun side to side for targets. By the time he’d joined him, Pensworth had already skulked his way through the impressive living room and was now stood in front of the hanging corpse of Lord Melbrooks, in the main dining room.

Pensworth holstered his gun with a curse and surveyed the scene. The body had been there for a couple of days judging by its stiffness and stink. There was a chair over turned below the Lord’s feet and the room itself was largely untouched, the table still set for dinner. Walking back into the main hallway Barrington was the first to break the silence.

‘Looks like the old bugger topped himself.’

Pensworth shook his head. The hallway rug wasn’t straight, something unheard of in a home such as this. Folding the carpet back he could see the parquet flooring was scraped and scuffed.

‘Look,’ He said pointing at the floor. ‘There was a scuffle.’ He turned and walked slowly back into the dining room scanning the floor for more clues. He crouched down next to a drinks table and picked something up.

‘What is it?’ Clement Barrington asked.

‘A small sliver of what I suspect was a crystal decanter. I’d say the Lord put up quite the fight. Little wonder, he was career military and boxed for his regiment.’ Setting the sliver down he moved to a small blood spot. ‘Someone took a nasty sock to the mouth.’

He heard Barrington sigh behind him. ‘How do you know all this?’ He asked.

‘Research, Clem, old chap. When Melbrooks was announced as the next ambassador to the Covenant the Circus did a full work up on him to make sure he wasn’t going to sell all our secrets for his very own snow fortress.’

‘Don’t they all live underground?’

Pensworth rolled his eyes as he pulled himself upright and dusted down his trousers. ‘Come on Clem, we need to report this and make the Foreign Minister he’s going to need a new ambassador.’

Then the window and everything around him exploded. The air was filled with noise, shattered glass and bursting wood. Both men dropped to the ground as the dining room and the hanging corpse of Lord Melbrooks was torn to pieces.

Pensworth and Barrington crawled out of the room, glass and splinters raining down on them from above as the fusillade from outside continued. Making it into the hallway Pensworth risked a glance out of the side window. Three men, nondescript suits, all armed with auto repeating rifles. Military hardware.

Pensworth edged round the shattered door and took aim at the nearest shooter, slowly pulling back the firing hammer with a practised hand. He was about to fire when a hand grabbed him by the collar and yanked him backwards. He span instinctively reversing the grip on his pistol ready to use it as a club on his attacker but it was Barrington pale-faced, his hands held up defensively.

‘What are you doing?’ Pensworth growled, ‘I had a clear shot.’

‘At the first one, yes. But what about the other two? That door affords you no protection old boy, they would have cut you to pieces.’

Pensworth scowled but knew his partner was right. The shooting had stopped and Pensworth spied the shooters jumping into a auto-carriage and sped away. ‘After them!’ He shouted, running down the steps, reaching his own conveyance only to find that the shooters had been thorough and riddled the boiler with holes.

A thought surfaced in his mind but before it could formulate a crumpled bag of humbugs was thrust under his nose. ‘Want one old boy?’ Barrington beamed at him.

***

The following morning Pensworth stood in his best suit and smartest shoes, and ram rod straight as the foreign secretary, Lord Cornelius Blackwood, read his report. It wasn’t much and it was inconclusive at best. Pensworth was unable to pursue the gunmen and so was yet to determine who they worked for or how they knew he and Barrington were there. Only the weaponry was identifiable as a Lee-Enfield Auto-Repeater ARLEIV a British made weapon and one found as a support weapon in every squad, in every regiment bearing the Britannic flag.

Blackwood turned over the last page and folded the report closed.

‘An interesting work of fiction Mister Pensworth.’ Said Blackwood leaning back against his overstuffed chair and steepling his fingers.

‘Pardon me my Lord?’

‘All this nonsense about Lord Melbrooks being found hung.’ He said waving a dismissive hand at the report. ‘A load of poppycock.’

‘My Lord, I saw the body with my own eyes.’

‘Then tell me,’ Blackwood stood and stared out of his window of the Houses of Parliament, staring down at the dirty waters of the Thames, ‘How is it that Lord Melbrooks departed these shores for Antarctica three days ago.’

‘What?’ Pensworth’s surprise overrode his sense of propriety. ‘That’s impossible.’

‘Impossible or not, when plod finally arrived at Melbrooks address all they found were bullet holes and bloody great mess. If you weren’t a Special Investigator I’d have you charged with breaking and entering and criminal damage.’

‘I don’t understand, my lord. Melbrooks is dead and I believe a Prussian spy is behind it.’

‘Enough,’ Blackwood raged. ‘That couldn’t have been Melbrook.’

‘I know what I saw!’

‘You forget you place Investigator! That couldn’t have been Melbrook because the damn blasted fool arrived in Antarctica yesterday and subsequently provoked the Covenant in to declaring war on the Kingdom of Britannia. His body washed to shore on the Falkland Islands this morning.’

Pensworth mind was reeling. Nothing was making any sense.

‘Now if you’ll excuse me, I have Lord Richardson waiting for me in the other room.’

‘Richardson?!’ Blackwood’s irritation was almost tangible at Pensworth’s lack of respect.

‘Yes, Investigator, now we’re at war with the Covenant as well as every other damn fool nation we’re going to need raw materials like never before.’

Pensworth felt numb as he was ushered out of Blackwood’s office.

What did it all mean? Melbrook, Richardson, Schweiger, what did they all have in common?

***

Clement Barrington sat in one of the private rooms of the Beefsteak Club on Irving Street and waited for the showgirl. He liked the burlesque shows as much as the next man but he found it all got a bit awkward when the show got to its racier parts. He’s much rather looking at ladies in a state of undress be a private experience. He reached for the scotch he couldn’t afford and took a long and lingering sip.

The door latch clicked behind him and he smiled. Rose was his favourite, and not just because she offered extras. The door closed and he adjusted, making himself comfortable.

‘Come on Rose my dear, don’t keep me waiting.’

‘I’m afraid Rose will be a while longer. Old boy.’

Barrington froze as he heard the familiar click of a gun cocking.

‘Barclay,’ Barrington said slowly, ‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m doing my job Clem.’ Barrington felt Pensworth move closer but he stayed behind him. ‘Or do you prefer Udo Herzog?’

Barrington let out a sigh.

‘Bravo Barclay old boy, you finally figured it out.’

‘I understand the Prussians wanting to provoke a war between the Covenant and Britannia, we were the only power left that they had remotely cordial relations with, but I don’t understand what Richardson has to do with all this.’

Barrington rose and turned to face his partner.

‘You presume too grand a plan Barclay old boy. Richardson came to us. Gave us the means to infiltrate the Circus. Even offered up his daughter to help maintain Schweiger’s cover.’

‘But why?’ But Pensworth already knew the answer as he said it.

‘Money. Richardson wants to be the exclusive provider or raw materials to the Britannic war effort and a war on another front, especially one as seaborne as the Covenant would hundreds of new warships.’

‘All this over money?’ Pensworth spat taking a step closer to his former friend.

‘Don’t be nieve Barclay. This war will burn out eventually and when it does Richardson will be the only man left standing with any credibility left. And the fortune to silence anyone who knows different.’

Pensworth nodded. He had pieced it altogether after his meeting with Lord Blackwood. He’d subtly investigated Lord Richardson’s holdings and finances and noticed not only aggressive expansion in mines but steel production. He’s also identified Richardson as Schweiger’s benefactor at the club. And for one other.

‘Just answer me this one last question Clem.’

Barrington shrugged, finishing off his scotch with practised ease.

‘Why did you kill the maître‘d?’Barrington smiled. It was a cruel smile Pensworth had never seen on the man before.

‘He gave me up. He didn’t realise it, of course, but as soon as he mentioned Schweiger and the ambassador I knew it would only be a matter of time. I knew my own movements in the club would eventually come to light.’

‘And the gunman outside Melbrook’s house?’

‘Necessary. I had to silence you but when the bullets started flying and they hadn’t killed you in the opening volley I found myself unable to do the job myself. We’ve been through a lot you and I these last two years.’

Pensworth nodded. ‘We have.’ He smiled at Barrington. ‘Which is what makes this so hard.’

The shot was swallowed up by the burlesque music and bellowed laughter of dozens of drunk and happy businessmen. Barrington’s body wouldn’t be found for another three hours by which time Rose had been paid off to say that he’d attempted to rape her and an unknown patron, hearing he screams for help, had shot him in her defence. The constabulary were currently unaware of the shooter’s whereabouts.

The following day the papers ran a headline story about mining magnate Lord Gerald John Richardson the fifth being tragically killed in an automotive accident whilst travelling to his country residence. He had been planning on spending time with her daughter following the shooting of her gentleman friend by muggers barely two days before.

Eye witnesses reported hearing what sounded like a gunshot before the auto-carriage lost control and collided with an oncoming lorry but they were unconfirmed.

Lord Richardson’s business holdings were currently frozen by the treasury while a will is found. However, due to the looming threat of war with the Covenant, sources close to the PM suggest that the assets may be nationalised until the crisis of war is over.

Pensworth folded the paper and tucked it under his arm tossing coins on to the news stand before joining the rest of the commuters on their way to work.

The Future of Spartan

This Christmas I was very lucky to get a huge Terran Alliance fleet for Firestorm Armada from my folks, and some Covenant cruisers to make my fleet for Dystopian Wars even bigger. As I sat filing, trimming and gluing last night something dawned on me. I don’t understand my Spartan hobby any more. Or at least the direction in which it’s going.

That’s not to say that I don’t understand the rules – although I do (barely) – or what I need for my fleets – the big shit – but Spartan Games are churning out so much stuff at the moment I don’t know what I’m supposed to be looking at. One of my main reasons for getting a Terran fleet is to tie in with games of Firestorm Invasion. Except that no one plays it. Because nothing has come out. I’d have got into Dystopian Legions if the models were cheaper and the entire faction ranges were available but instead we have to wait for the decent stuff and even then, without a proper rule book, I wouldn’t know what to get anyway.

It’s all so frustratingly half arsed.

One of my biggest issues with the Spartan rule books, aside from the confusing lay out, was the lack of scenarios and campaign rules. It doesn’t give you anywhere to go in terms of playing games unless you fancy coming up with scenarios on your own. But without a basic scenario to work off it means gamers are going to find it harder than normal to get the balance right.

Spartan Games have started to address this gripe with campaign books that also, according to the blurb about Storm of Steel, incorporate significant rule changes. So now not only do we have to spend money on something that should have been in the rule book in the first place, but now have multiple books just to play the game at all. And I’m not entirely clear why there’s a sudden emphasis on armoured units when the land based element of Dystopian Legions is already armoured units. Plus the game was meant to be combined arms…

And there’s new fluff too!

It strikes me that Spartan Games are doing exactly what Games Workshop did all those years ago: which is publish compendium after anthology after expansion so you needed three or four books just to play the fecking game. And if someone doesn’t have all the books you’re forced to revert back to the original rules, so it’s fair.

I’m all for expanding the universes of Spartan’s IP. In fact, I really think it’s needed especially on the background front, I just don’t understand why they’re doing it with expansions – other than the commercially motivated reason – as those that don’t want or can’t afford the extra books lose out.

Throw in the scattergun approach to releases and I just don’t know where to start or, more to the point, what to do next.

Something I’ve never understood about other wargaming companies, not specifically Spartan Games – is the reluctance to follow Games Workshop’s approach to writing and structuring games and releases. There is a very good reason they’re the behemoth they are and it’s not just because they charge the most money. Rule book. Army book. Core release one faction at a time. And more than just a starter set as it doesn’t give gamers anywhere to go.

It’s an immensely frustrating position to be in as a gamer. And it’s another barrier to playing the games. Confusing core rules and then a whopping £40 for two books that improve and clarify the book you’ve already spent £20 on. And at the end of it all you still don’t have the whole picture on exactly who’s who and what’s what! It’s mental. I so desperately want to take charge of the studio and can the supplements and sort the rule books out. Re-release the lot so they make sense, the fluff is rich and coherent and campaign rules are actually included. And put an end to the random extra units and the endless supplements to use them. All the factions have their own book or the rules have the lot all crammed in at a GW comparable cost.

I do love Spartan, their games and models. This isn’t a bashing, hating, rant. I just feel like they’re going in too many directions without doing any one game to the best of their ability. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

Dystopian Legions – A Review

Well spit spot and a stiff upper lip, the plucky Brits are rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in. No, I haven’t had a stroke, I’ve just finally got my hands on the Britannian starter set for Dystopian Legions by Spartan Games and it’s all very exciting.

So, what do you get in the box? Well aside from a very generously proportioned quick start rule book, some card, dice and counters you also get 14 blokes including some line infantry, a chap that looks suspiciously like Lord Flasheart from Blackadder and the completely and utterly fantastic Sky Hussars.

First of all I have to address the elephant in the room. These models aren’t 25mm. Not even close. I have no idea why it was billed as a 25mm game when the models are 30mm. A line infantrymen stands as tall as a Space Marine. In fairness, I have no problem with this at all. I like the bigger scale. The models are more substantial and that extra 5mm can mean a lot of extra detail. However, it just seems daft to have called it a 25mm game when very early on it would have been apparent it wasn’t.

Something that came as a surprise was the fact that the models are metal. Considering Spartan is a company that cut its teeth and made its hay with resin, and with the spiralling cost of metal, it doesn’t seem all that logical to me. Especially as the casting quality on a couple of the line infantry wasn’t to the usual standard I know Spartan reach. It wasn’t catastrophic and it’s all fixable with a file and bit of time but it’s just a bit of a disappointment. The models themselves, however, are superb with bags of character and once painted will look gorgeous on the board. I must admit my Brits will be the green jackets.

The line infantry are actually a really nice blend of history and the steam punk science fiction. The armour is obvious but not overly sexed up to make it too obvious. The rifles, again, are subtly sci-fi which emphasises the industrial crudity with which the Britannians approach the business of war. All the while being terribly nice chaps and keeping ones uniform clean and neatly pressed.

Lord Flasheart aka Captain Gilbert ‘Bertie’ Smethington II leads the force and is every bit the blustery grinning noblemen that has become so iconic of the Imperial Britain.

It’s a cool model and is terribly British. However, my one gripe and this applies to other character models I’ve seen is that they border on the comical. They’re just that little bit too exaggerated. Too comic book. Too cheesy. And they stick out against the rest of the faction but not in a good way. They, for me, don’t fit in the superbly crafted steampunk world we’ve come to enjoy with Dystopain Wars. Don’t even get me started on Scattergun Sam for the FSA.

However much of the damage is made up by the completely brilliant Sky Hussars.

I got to see these models back in September and they are just inspired. This is Spartan getting the steampunk influences exactly right. The plumes of smoke are such a cool touch and although between those and the Hussars being single cast bodies the room for variation is limited they still look fantastic. Because the plumes are resin and the rest of the model is lovely heavy metal I think it’s reasonable to assume that they’ll fall over. A lot. So save yourself some heart ache and weight the base.

In total honesty, I’ve seen a lot of models over the last 23 years and these have to be some of my favourites. It’s a perfect synergy between the militaristic simplicity of the Hussars combined with the ‘ray gun’ like weapons and the billowing clouds of smoke shooting from the rocket packs telling a story of just how experimental the technology is. They are superb.

But what of the rules? Well, in a nutshell, they’re essentially the same as Firestorm Invasion, as I expected. This isn’t a bad thing as I really liked the mechanic. Like all other Spartan games the game works with alternate activations allowing for a more organic gaming experience than other more traditional turn based wargames. I like both systems but mechanic Spartan use for Dystopian Legions works best with alternating activations.

However, like F:I, it uses a deck of cards to determine the order in which you activate your units. This can obviously go horribly wrong but it’s actually an ace rule that forces you to play your opponents hand which adds a real element of risk to the proceedings. It’s ever so slightly like playing poker. With models. Which I think is what’s been missing from poker this entire time.

Statline are similar to that of F:I and Dystopian Wars in so much as models have a fixed set of statistics that represent their battle prowess as well as the number of dice they roll in a fight. And like Firestorm Invasion it uses the coloured exploding dice mechanic. Allow me to explain. If you’re rolling black dice a roll of a 6 is a single hit. If you’re rolling blue dice a roll of a 6 counts as two hits. If you’re rolling red dice a roll of a 6 counts as 2 hits and you get to roll again. An evolved mechanic from the one we know and love and one I can see being rolled out as the full second editions of their other core games come out. It’s straight forward enough and can be augmented up or down depending on certain factors such as range.

Models have Injury Rating which is akin to DR if Dystopian Wars, and a Kill Rating which is essentially a critical hit that causes instant death. If I’m honest it seems slightly unnecessary as few models have a KR and it’s tough to justify for the ones who do considering they usually have greater Life Points which are essentially wounds. An armour save seems to be an easier way round it but I suspect that it was as much to keep it similar to the other Spartan systems as anything else.

There’s also force building in Dystopian Legions which not only makes sense but is done in such a way to ensure that you take balanced forces that vaguely represent the forces of the 1800’s. Which I like a lot. It’s also needed as the percentage limits in Dystopian Wars is far too open to abuse and had Spartan done the same with Legions it would have just been everyone buying tanks and big armoured dudes.

The rules are a big improvement on Dystopian Wars, being written in phases rather than leaping about the place. Diagrams match up with their explanations too. There are still a few rules that I don’t get, like formations. As far as I can tell having your unit in one formation or another has no bearing on the game what-so-ever other than being in Line formation makes you a sitting duck for anything that goes boom. So why would you bother? There’s the usual heavy-handedness with the bold button which makes paragraphs harder to read, and some sections are over explained but over all its easy enough to read.

The book itself is very nicely put together with lots of lovely photography and is comparable in approach to the quick play book you get with the 4ok boxset. The thing that’ll make punter buy the main Dystopian Legions rule book is if it includes not only bags and bags of fluff, which is the one thing I think Spartan really need to get nailed down, and full faction lists.

For both a model and gaming perspective I think Dystopian Legions is superb. The mechanic is solid and easy to pick up. The models are completely brilliant, slight casting defects aside, and each range boasts some real gems. As more models become available I can see Dystopian Legions from being a big hit.

Dystopian Legions is available from Firestorm Games, the starter sets priced from £36.00

Dystopian Legions News

Yes, that’s right, another DL preview post. But in my defence there’s a lot going on in Spartan towers at the moment.

For a start  the quickplay rules are now available to download. Click here to get them.

In other news there’s some more Kingdom of Britannia previews…

“It was a bit of a sticky wicket. The Suns had us on the ropes. If we broke, the road to Burma was open. But then we heard the bugles. The men of the 15th dropped into the enemy ranks behind a great sheet of flame and steam and scattered the Suns like wheat chaff in a gale. I knew then that we were saved.”

Sergeant Roger Coker, 6th Cumberland, describing the intervention of the 15th Hussars at the Second Battle of Taiping

Horse-mounted cavalry has all but vanished from the Britannian army’s order of battle since the flood of technology from the Covenant of Antarctica began to change the world in the late 1850s.

The cavalry regiments, however, did not disappear but instead radically altered their training regimes and equipment. Like the more heavily-armed garrison troops of the Land, Air and Naval Armadas, they are equipped with the sturdy Sturgicite-fuelled Brunel-Fosdyke Rocket Assisted Transit personal flying machine – nicknamed the ‘Ratpack’.

Britannia’s Hussar Regiments retain their role as daring, fast-moving assault troops. Many a hard-pressed regular platoon has had reason to thank a timely intervention by a Sky Hussar squadron at the key moment.

They are nicknamed ‘Flaming Angels’ by the Britannian press, thanks to their main armament – Ricardo MkII Flamebelchers, pistol-sized weapons capable of spewing great sheets of fire over opponents and sending them scrambling away in blind panic. These weapons are relatively new, being issued alongside more conventional arms and giving the Sky Hussars an exceptional edge in the shock assaults they favour.

The Sky Hussars have a much more glamorous reputation than the line infantry, second only to the pilots of the Air Armada’s fighter squadrons. Much of this stems from the risks that they are required to take in the execution of their duties. Their battlefield role is that much more rigorous, often involving fighting at perilously close quarters.

Hussar specialists, like the regular infantry, carry Ricardo flamethrowers to give them the edge over superior numbers of enemy troops. The combination of these weapons and the standard Flamebelchers make Hussar assaults even more terrifying for those on the receiving end of them, as well as acting as a great morale boost for other Britannian soldiers.

The Hussar squadrons prefer not to get involved in grinding combats of attrition if they can avoid it, specialising in fast and hard strikes at key points in the enemy line, before jetting back out of reach of retaliation and regrouping for their next assault.

Tactical Use:
The Sky Hussars can be a little tricky to use right, but once you know how to get the most from them they are a game-winning asset for any Britannian Commander.

Sky Hussars can put out a great deal of damage at close range, going to close quarters and burning the enemy down at point blank range. If it is totally essential, they can draw their sabres and go in with the old cold steel.

However, this comes at a cost in terms of protection. Sky Hussars go into battle in nothing more than their perfectly tailored uniforms and a pair of good riding boots. They most definitely cannot take as much punishment as they can dish out!

But to compensate, the Sky Hussars have their ‘Ratpacks‘, gifting them with the power to move like lightning across the table. Their skill makes them difficult to hit with gunfire at range.

When paired up with a Line Infantry Section, Sky Hussars excel. Let the Line Infantry whittle the enemy down as they move forward, then let loose the Hussars to send whatever remains of them to oblivion.

Alternatively, they can advance with the line and play their Special Game CardFirestorm, at the opportune moment. This will flush the enemy out of hiding just in time for the entire line to open up on them. This tactic can make for a fearsome outflanking gambit against a defended position.

“Fall back now? No, no, no! Look at them…on the verge of shattering like glass, I tell you! To me, lads! Let’s show ‘em how Britannians fight! Hurrah!”

Although the bulk of Britannia’s aerial strength falls under the remit of the Aerial Armada and the Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, the Kingdom’s regular army retains its own small integral aerial force, known as the Royal Flying Corps. Although they only operate conventional aeroplanes, as opposed to the great Sturginium Age flying engines of the Air Armada, the RFC is proud of its traditions.

These date back to Wellington’s great victory over the Prussians at Waterloo, when Royal Flying Corps’ pilots, manning perilously fragile Masaulle V biplanes contributed to the defeat of Emperor Heinrich Otto’s armies.

RFC officers are often attached to Britannian infantry formations. As well as being pilots and liaising with local air support, they are also fully-trained infantry officers in their own right.

Captain Gilbert ‘Bertie’ Smethington II, Distinguished Flying Cross, is undoubtedly the most famous of the RFC’s officer class. The scion of a noted aristocratic family – his father, Lieutenant-General Baronet Gilbert Smethington I, served with the army in southern Africa – Bertie saw action in the Far East before being transferred back to Britannia to take part in the Kingdom’s offensive operations against the Prussian Empire.

Brash, loud and flamboyant, Smethington’s presence is always welcomed by infantry units on the ground, despite – or sometimes because of – his propensity to rub regular infantry officers up the wrong way. His mere presence can inspire ordinary troops to great feats of courage in battle no matter the odds. Apart from his undoubted charisma, the Captain is also noted for having a lucky streak that often seems to land him, and those he leads, on their feet.

Captain Smethington favours a customised automatic pistol as his personal arm, a piece of extraordinary quality and effectiveness made by the prestigious Egg gunmaking house in London. However, ‘Bertie’s Blazer’ as it has become known to troops serving alongside him, has far more significance to Gilbert than just its effectiveness as a weapon.

Bertie acquired the pistol from Captain Ian ‘Spinner’ Spencer, a long time friend and colleague of his from their days of service in India. Spinner lost his life during the first Blazing Sun attack on Burma, when the scout aircraft that he and Bertie were flying was shot down by enemy fighter aeroplanes.

Both men survived the landing, deep behind enemy lines, but despite hauling the badly wounded Spinner more than ten miles along with him, Bertie was unable to save his old friend’s life. Spinner’s last act was to bequeath his pistol to Gilbert, who eventually found his way back to the Britannian stronghold at Georgetown after a gruelling two-week hike. Bertie privately believes the weapon to be the source of his good luck, and has carried it into battle in honour of Spinner ever since.

Tactical Use:
Captain ‘Bertie’ Smethington the Second DFC may not be the best shot or a boxing champ, but somehow he always appears to end up on top. Though he has fairly average stats for an officer of his rank, he is incredibly Lucky!

Smethington has a finite Pool of Luck Points that must last him the entire game. These can be spent at any time to re-roll dice – every commander’s dream come true when it comes to passing a vital Command Test, pulling off a key Ranged Attack or winning a Duel!

Although this makes the Captain very effective, remember that even Bertie’s good fortune has its limits – good management of your Luck Points is essential. Captain Smethington II is also a very competent leader. He provides plenty of Command Points to the Force’s Pool, and can be relied upon to keep your force in line with his unique Britannian Bulldog Command Ability, using his natural charisma to anchor the forces around him.

Finally, Bertie has his Special Game Card – Come on Chaps!”. This card allows any Sections near to ‘Smeth’ to make a special additional move at any time, perfect for escaping a dastardly Prussian charge!

Even More Dystopian Legions Previews

How much can I get for a kidney? 30 years old, reasonably good condition…

“Prussian infantry advancing on the left? Splendid! I thought we wouldn’t get a chance to thrash them before sundown.”

-First Lieutenant Arthur Wickes, 28th Regiment of Foot (Suffolk), Her Majesty’s Army of Flanders

The officer corps of Britannian regiments has traditionally been drawn from the nation’s upper class. Many old Britannian families have a long and honourable tradition of military service.

Britannian field officers are mostly still seen as a breed apart by the troops under their command. What comes as a surprise to outside observers is that this often serves to strengthen the bond between commissioned officers and the regular soldiers.

Britannian officers, aware of their reputation, go to great lengths to remain absolutely unflappable even in the face of the worst tribulations. As far as they are concerned, a panicking commander is of no use to anyone. In turn, the regular troops harbour great respect for their leaders that stems from more than mere status.

Trained in prestigious military colleges such as Sandhurst, Britannian officers command with a combination of easy confidence and unshakeable self-belief. Junior officers in particular, the lieutenants and captains are also noted for leading from the front, never hesitating to put themselves in the line of fire if their presence is needed.

However, as the war progresses a new breed of officer is beginning to appear in the Britannian army, especially the newer regiments. These men, hard-bitten veterans, have been ‘raised from the ranks’.

At first, this was a controversial move. Some of the more traditional Britannian generals feared that the troops would not hold leaders who came from their own ‘sort’ in the same kind of respect as officers drawn from upper classes.

However, for the most part, these fears have not been borne out. Although they might lack some of the awe in which their upper-class peers are held by the soldiery, these rougher-edged leaders make up for it with sheer grit and battle experience. A slight lack of etiquette in the mess is now seen by even the stuffiest of military traditionalists as a fair price to pay for battles won for Queen and country!

Tactical Use:
The Kingdom of Britannia is famous for the quality of its officers, and their Lieutenants are no exception. In combat the main value of a Lieutenant is to influence their men with their powerful Command Abilities,Focus Fire and On My Mark.

The Focus Fire Command Ability represents an officer co-ordinating the musketry of a nearby Section, making them much more likely to hit their targets. This ability is incredibly important to any Ranged Attack-heavy Britannian force.

The On My Mark Command Ability is a rather different tool, allowing a Section to react immediately if they come under attack from enemy fire. Beyond the obvious advantage of being able to hit back before having your firepower reduced by the incoming attack, this ability can have a terrible psychological effect on your opponent. Would you really want to fire on a section if you well know that you’ll be taking more punishment back in return?

A Britannian Lieutenant can do more than just shout orders. A lifestyle involving shooting, fencing and horse riding means every officer is fighting fit and handy with a sabre and a pistol. Additionally, most officers buy their own weapons before heading out on campaign, meaning Britannian commanders can rely on a good deal of personal firepower.

A common choice for officers heading out at the moment is the powerful Windshear Ray Projector, a weapon able to shred a man or machine in moments. This allows the Lieutenant to pack a surprisingly powerful punch at point-blank range – perfect for finishing off any dazed stragglers who escaped the wrath of rifle and flamethrower!

“Every shot needs to count, my lads. Can’t go wasting Her Majesty’s ammunition now, can we?”

-Sergeant Albert Trieves, 33rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Berkshires)

For centuries, the armies of Britannia have relied on a solid core of well-trained, professional Riflemen. Since the unification of the British Isles as the Kingdom of Britannia, its red-coated soldiers have fought on nearly every continent, and their battles have taken them to the very ends of the earth.

From tiny islands in bleak oceanic fastnesses to the searing deserts of Africa and the dense jungles of South Asia, Britannia’s soldiers have marched to battle in the name of monarch and country. Through all of this, the Britannians have maintained a reputation for battle skill and resolution that far outweighed their relatively small numbers.

Prime among these attributes is their sheer stubbornness and will to win. Many times Queen Victoria’s forces have emerged from campaigns in triumph through their sheer unwillingness to accept defeat. Dogged endurance has seen even small expeditionary forces overwhelm many foes that should have beaten them.

The modern Britannian army is one of the most heavily mechanised forces in the world o, but large numbers of foot soldiers still form its beating heart. These days they are almost always furnished with specialist support weaponry and armoured units. However, there is still a tradition of rigorous – sometimes harsh – training that turns out hardy and resolute soldiers. This has ensured that Britannia’s infantry are still a formidable power in the field in their own right.

Although supported by soldiers from all over Britannia’s vast imperial territories, the core of the Kingdom’s forces are the English, Welsh, Scots and Irish regiments of the home army. The majority of them are well-trained professionals in the tradition of Wellington’s armies of the Prussian Wars. Often tied into twenty-five years or more of service, many are skilled veterans of battles all over the world to protect and expand Queen Victoria’s empire.

However the outbreak of the World War, especially the London Raid, has seen vast numbers of volunteers sign up for military service. Nicknamed ‘Short-Shrifters’ by the old professionals, what these new soldiers lack in experience they more than make up for in energy and patriotic fervour.

Rigorous musketry drill has always been the hallmark of Britannian regiments. Even now, all regular soldiers still use breach-loaders rather than repeating rifles, but thanks to their training they are able to put up walls of fire so ferocious that enemy troops assume they have additional machine-guns in support.

Although never quite as numerous as the conscript armies of other great nations, Britannia’s ‘thin red lines of heroes’, held firm by the bellowing exhortations of their sergeants are more than capable of holding their own against any opponent.

The Britannians have a well-earned reputation for fighting on in the face of even the most impossible odds. This attitude is exemplified by actions such as the 3rd Northamptonshire Rifles, who defended the Falkland Islands almost to the last unwounded man against Blazing Sun forces who outnumbered them more than ten to one.

Just recently, Britannian regiments have been issued with the fearsome Mk III Ricardo portable flamethrower. These specialists use the fiery fury of their weapons to keep the enemy away from their comrades in the firing line, allowing the riflemen to keep up their deadly torrents of lead as long as possible. On the attack, they are even more formidable, burning enemy troops out of fortified positions as the riflemen advance in line.

Tactical Use:
A Britannian Line Infantry Section has a clear-cut and simple job; to take up a secure position, preferably in cover and then hurl volley after volley of shots into the enemy ranks.

Line Infantry Riflemen simply cannot be matched at range by any of the mainstay Sections of the other Great Powers. The Martini-Metford rifle and its users’ marksmanship skills means that a section of Redcoats can fire accurately out to a distance from which most enemy small arms cannot respond.

The Britannian Line Infantry will never be lacking for able leadership either, as each Section may include a Sergeant for no additional cost. This gives them limited ability to function independently.

Furthermore, if a Section benefits from the Focus Fire Command Ability of the Britannian Lieutenant an opposing section in open ground could feasibly be wiped out by a single volley. If the Line Infantry use their “Volley Fire Present – Fire!” Game Card, you can expect to see the enemy stop dead in their tracks, unable to draw any closer.

Although your Riflemen are vulnerable if you get them involved in a Melee, a Britannian Line Infantry Section needn’t worry if the enemy draws near – a hosing from the Specialist’s Flamethrower will soon send them packing!

Dystopian Legions Quickplay Rules Incoming

Curious how the upcoming Dystopian Legions will play? Well on the 25th October Spartan Games will be releasing a free to download quickplay version of the rules. Because they’re that damn nice. Here’s what Spartan had to say about it…

Our 80-page Quickplay Rulebook covers all areas of the game mechanics you will need to play a full game of Dystopian Legions, along with descriptive examples and colour diagrams to aid your understanding. This book can be used as a step-by-step guide, taking you from building your forces and setting up yourGame Board, through each phase of a Turn Sequence, and how to work out who has won once the game is over!

To give a quick overview of the Book’s contents:

Introduction: An Introduction to the game, and the world of Dystopian Legions
Game Basics: A rundown of the basic mechanics used throughout the game
Game Cards: How to use the deck of Game Cards that come in your Starter Set, and how to expand it
Game Set Up: A guide to how to get started with a game of Dystopian Legions
Force Building: How to pick your models and assemble a fighting force
Terrain Rules: A rundown of the effects of Terrain on the way that models can move and shoot
Sequence of Play: An overview of the order in which each Turn’s events take place
Command and Morale: The effects of Morale on your troops, and the role of your Officers and Characters
Movement Segment: How different sorts of models can move, and the different sorts of movement they can perform
Ranged Attacks: A full description of how models can shoot at one another from range, and the effects that these attacks have
Melee Phase: How to resolve close-quarters Melee combat
End Phase: How to wrap up each Turn, and how to check if the game has ended
Victory Conditions: How to decide who has won the game
Model Assigned Rules: A list of the special rules and Abilities used by certain models and weapons
Index: A comprehensive index to quickly reference any part of the rules

Pages from the Dystopian Legions Quickplay Rulebook

From our website you can download a digital PDF version of the rulebook and also Army Lists and Model Statistics for the first four nations. Don’t forget that each of the four initial Starter Sets all come with an A5 printed version of the Quickplay Rulebook.

Over the coming months, leading up to the release of the 196-page Hardback Dystopian Legions Master Rulebook in the early part of 2013, the Army Lists will act as living documents for the Statistics and Rules of the numerous new models we will be adding in the coming months.

Pages from the Dystopian Legions Quickplay Rulebook

The exciting arrival of the Master Rulebook will bring you a bunch of key new additions to the core rules, including a campaign system, modelling and painting guides for different units, variant Army Lists for each of the nations, new troop types, an extensive armour combat section and much more.

For now grab the Quickplay Rules, build your force and enter the ground war… you can download the documents from Thursday, October 25th.

More Dystopian Legions Previews

Man oh man I’m going to be so broke. Damn you Spartan!

Empire of the Blazing Sun

“The lives of your men are a valuable currency, and only by care and prudence will they buy us our rightful place in the world. Use this wealth well, for Her Divine Majesty abhors the spendthrift.”

Tetsuo Kojima, High General of the Crucible Army, ‘Reflections on Military Life’, 1868

The junior officers of the Blazing Sun are well-versed in the combined arms military doctrine of the Empire’s Three Armies. They are well-trained with a combination of traditional battle techniques combined with the latest in military thinking from armies around the world. This has proven to be a particularly deadly combination.

The Empire’s military academies in Edo, Osaka and Niigata turn out classes of officer-graduates trained in these combined philosophies. These new officers then receive additional training from the ‘finishing schools’ of the Sword or Shield Armies, if they are assigned to a Division in one of these institutions.

During this additional period, officers of the Sword Army Divisions frequently receive more specialised tuition in offensive storming tactics. Conversely, Shield Army officers are often given extra training in defensive warfare techniques, such as creating trench-lines and effectively garrisoning fortifications.

Blazing Sun infantry battle plans typically rely on keeping the opposition off-guard with feints and deceptive thrusts. These are aimed at attempting to manipulate the enemy’s actions as much as to marshal the Blazing Sun commander’s own forces. Only when the enemy has been left totally unbalanced does the killing blow fall, the officers leading their troops to strike hard and fast with devastating force at the point of decision.

The field officers of the Blazing Sun are very flexible in their tactics. Blazing Sun infantry frequently adopt looser formations when carrying out general manoeuvres, the better to take advantage of cover and minimise casualties from enemy counter-fire, especially when advancing across open ground.

However, unlike the Americans, who also employ such tactics, Blazing Sun troops who come under attack will often choose to mount a ferocious blitz in response, sweeping aside their enemies with fierce short-ranged firepower and gas attacks.

Blazing Sun field officers are well versed in exhorting their charges onwards with timely forced marches, bringing the full strength of their forces to bear on the enemy’s weak points before a strong defence can be mounted.

Unlike other nations, the appearance of Blazing Sun field officers can vary somewhat. Some more traditionally minded individuals, notably those with samurai connections, go into battle in ancient regalia redolent of an earlier age. However, the majority of newer lieutenants and captains choose to dress in more modern uniform, often with styling modelled upon the fashions of foreign armies – a living embodiment of the Blazing Sun’s determination to secure its future as a great power in the Sturginium Age.

Tactical Use:
Blazing Sun Commanders place considerable importance in their Lieutenants, as their Ashigaru Sections do not have access to NCOs like their foreign equivalents.

This means that for these Sections to use Command Points to fight to their fullest potential they must stay near to their Officers. For this reason it is a good idea to keep your Lieutenant near your Mainstay Infantry – leading the charge from the front! However, remember to keep them close to their charges, to prevent dishonourable and unscrupulous enemies from picking them off!

Keeping your officers close to their infantry Sections also gives the Ashigaru access to the Lieutenant’sCommand Abilities. The Forced March Command Ability is invaluable when it comes to pressing the advance, whilst the Focus Fire Command Ability makes the Infantry’s weapons even more deadly, allowing them to totally annihilate their enemies at Effective Range!

The Blazing Sun Lieutenant is also a powerful warrior in his own right. Although not able to combat entire Sections by himself, by adding the firepower of his Kappon pistol to a Ranged Attack, or Charging in alongside the Ashigaru, his aid can often tip the balance in the Blazing Sun’s favour. His equipment can also give him the edge in honourable duels with enemy leaders, but be careful not to risk him too often in seeking such glory – his Command Abilities are too valuable!

“Though we command the power of many mighty machines of war in the service of Her Divine Majesty, always remember that it is still the humble Ashigaru who forms the beating heart of the Three Armies. By his skill and courage are battles won, ground held, and enemies kept at bay.”

-Tetsuo Kojima, High General of the Crucible Army, ‘Reflections on Military Life’, 1868

Many years ago, the term ‘Ashigaru’ or ‘Spear Carrier’, denoted a rather humble soldier in the armies of Japan. Not so in the Sturginium Age. The modern Ashigaru infantryman is a tough, highly trained and supremely motivated fighting trooper.

As with their large war engines, the infantry and light armoured forces of the Empire of the Blazing Sun represent a unique combination of an ancient martial traditional paired with some of the most cutting-edge weaponry in service anywhere in the world.

Although not wholly eschewing conventional rifles, most Ashigaru are armed with the Kawachi-Kanpon Type 4 automatic shotgun. Nicknamed the ‘Dragon’s Breath’, this fearsome drum-fed weapon fires a hail of shells filled with incendiary materials developed by the Imperial Alchemical Institute. The ‘Dragon’s Breath’ is very short-ranged compared to conventional rifles. However, within that distance, it is one of the hardest-hitting infantry small arms currently in service anywhere in the world.

The limited range is not normally an issue in the circumstances under which the Ashigaru are most often employed – namely, supporting more heavy armoured units in close terrain or urban areas. The Type 4’s burst fire and destructive projectiles make it very forgiving of being fired from the hip when the soldier is moving. This means it is perfect for the kind of hard-hitting assaults favoured by Blazing Sun military doctrine.

Like the Americans, the Blazing Sun military also favours high mobility warfare, but they prefer a far more aggressive approach. They are not berserkers, however, and attack with a great deal of cunning and foresight, making maximum use of terrain and environmental features to win out over their opponents.

Blazing Sun infantry attacks frequently consist of simultaneous assaults on multiple fronts. Some of these attacks will be feints, intended to draw the enemy’s attention away from the true objective at the key moment, allowing the true attack to break through.

The Ashigaru, like many other Blazing Sun units, also bring the most deadly of the Imperial Alchemical Institute’s offensive weaponry to the fore, in the form of poison gas grenades. Although infantry-issued gas bombs cannot match in any way the terrifying destructive power of massed gas bombardments by heavy artillery, they are certainly capable of causing localised panic amongst opposing infantry, light vehicles and gun crews. The insidious vapours give the Ashigaru a vital edge, especially against well dug-in or heavily armoured enemy troops.

Blazing Sun troops have traditionally fought in many areas where heavy armour has not played a key role. Although increasingly equipped with armour of their own, Ashigaru are taught to face enemy tanks without fear, even when lacking their own armoured support. Ashigaru sections almost always contain specialists trained in the use of the notorious Type 7 Rocket Projector.

Called the ‘Okha’ or ‘Cherry Blossom’, this tubular weapon projects a powerful explosive warhead capable of cracking open a tank or blowing apart a machine gun nest. Combined with the Dragon’s Breath and gas weaponry, this allows well-led Ashigaru to make short work of most opponents.

Tactical Use:
The Blazing Sun Ashigaru are at their best in a well-defined role: getting up close to the enemy, and letting rip with their mighty “Dragon’s Breath” shotguns!

These weapons, when in Effective Range, are the most deadly of the standard small arms currently employed by any nation’s Mainstay Infantry. However, their raw power is offset by their very short-range.

Therefore the main tactical focus for any commander is to get your Ashigaru into close range fire-fights with the enemy without taking too many casualties on the way in.

Thankfully, the Ashigaru go into battle with the best armour protection of any Mainstay Infantry, making them quite resistant to long range pot-shots by the enemy.

However, no matter how well protected, if a Section of infantry takes fire every turn it will quickly lose potency, and so making effective use of terrain and movement bonuses is vital.

Using their ‘Banzai!’ and ‘Double Time‘ Game Cards, Ashigaru Sections will soon make their way across the Game Board. Such speedy advances will quickly confound opponents who rely too much on hunkering down.

When they have closed to Effective Range, the Ashigaru should blaze away with their shotguns, brutally eradicating exposed targets. However if they find their enemy loitering behind Hard Cover, or a useful combination of Game Cards presents itself, a supported Charge using their Gas Grenades can be decisive.

“They are our hidden blades, invisible until the deathblow falls. They march with us unseen, bringing terror to the enemy, and reminding us of our duty. Honour and fear – they are worthy of both.”

Ashigaru Odo Hanamura to his troops, during the march on Havana, 1871

Wherever the armies of the Blazing Sun march, they are accompanied by teams of deadly Shinobi infiltrators. The guardians of an ancient tradition of stealth, spying and assassination, the Shinobi Houses of today are the personal servants of the Her Serene Majesty the Empress Shinzua, and their loyalty to the throne is absolute.

The Shinobi Houses serve as the Empress’ silent enforcers and secret service, both within the Empire of the Blazing Sun and beyond its borders. That they hold enormous influence is undoubted – one of the seats on the Empress’ Council of Seven is reserved for the de facto representative of the Shinobi Houses, known as the ‘Faceless Lord’.

However, none but the Empress Shinzua herself and her aged great-aunt and predecessor Empress Maya, know just how far this influence and surveillance extends – and this is just as it should be. To emphasise this, the Faceless Lord’s seat is perpetually left empty; a powerful symbol to the Council and visitors to its presence that the Empress’ deadliest servants could be anywhere, or indeed anyone – no one is beyond their scrutiny and, by extension Her Majesty’s knowledge.

The skills of the Shinobi are without a doubt, almost the last word in espionage and infiltration. Virtually no target, no location, no security measures, are beyond their ability to breach. Shinobi agents are even thought to have successfully infiltrated the inner organisations of nothing less than the Covenant of Antarctica.

However, given the extreme secrecy of both the Shinobi themselves and the near-unbroken silence of the Covenant in recent years, the truth about this potentially masterful feat of infiltration and whether or not it continues must remain a matter of conjecture.

Near-invisible and silent as death, Shinobi Strike Teams infiltrate hostile ground ahead of conventional Blazing Sun forces. There they will sow terror and discord, assassinating key personnel, ambushing unwary units and committing acts of sabotage that can cripple enemy forces even before they are brought to battle.

Once full combat is joined, the Shinobi continue their deadly harassment, picking off stragglers, shaping the battlefield with well-placed smokescreens to conceal friendly troop movements and generally creating chaos amidst the enemy’s lines with misdirection and confusion.

Shinobi are lightly equipped, as befitting their role as agile and deadly insurgency troops, armed with the traditional blades and other weapons of their deadly trade. Expert martial artists and unequalled in their ability to stalk targets and evade capture, the Shinobi have a reputation for almost supernatural skill in combat among foreign troops.

No enemy commander can sleep securely, and no sentry can afford a moment’s peace when fighting the forces of the Serene Empress, for the death’s shadow may fall over them in an instant in the form of a Shinobi’s deadly blades.

Tactical Use:
Shinobi Assassins are one of the most interesting and tactically flexible Sections available to any player in Dystopian Legions.

As you would expect from a ninja, the Shinobi are physically powerful, fast, hard to kill and blessed with an almost supernatural skill-at-arms. They also have some very influential Model Assigned Rules that allow them to manoeuvre around the Game Board with unparalleled ease – virtually invisible to the enemy. All in all, if you can get a band of Shinobi Assassins close enough to charge , don’t expect the enemy to last long!

However, Shinobi are worlds away from a simple blunt combat unit. They can be used in a great multitude of ways. If they want to advance with the Bulk of the force they can – using their Smoke Pellets Model Assigned Rule to support their comrades advance, laying Smoke Screen Markers that will impede the enemy’s fire.

If they want to go it alone that is an option too. Used with subtlety, they can cross the Board at high-speed to attack the more vulnerable elements of an opposing force. Playing their Special Game Card, Ninjitsu, they can even attempt one of their legendary assassination attempts and potentially take out an enemy Officer!

“He is as inscrutable as a statue, cold as an icy dawn – I doubt that anyone has ever named him a friend. Yet few are deadlier with a blade, and his deft plans and curt orders lead us ever to victory. For these reasons, I march with him gladly.”

Captain Kensuke Sato, on Master Kozo Okinawa

The senior officers of the Blazing Sun land armies are almost invariably Samurai – warriors who owe their loyalty to their superiors in a strong chain of command that reaches right up to the Empress herself.

As fighting men steeped in the traditions of bushido, many Samurai even in the Sturginium Age disdain most conventional modern firearms, preferring instead to take to the field armed with more traditional implements – the katana and wakazashi blades that are their most potent status symbol are also their most common war implements.

Master Kozo Okinawa exemplifies this tradition. The son of an ancient family whose antecedents go back centuries to the dawn of the old Shogunate, Kozo was raised practically from birth to eventually assume the mantle of high military office.

Though he came from considerable wealth, his upbringing was harsh, with virtually every waking moment dedicated to the study of swordplay, military philosophy from inside and outside the empire, and the core tenets of bushido by which he would live.

This intense and rigorous upbringing for such a singular purpose left little time for cultural pleasures or other distractions. While Okinawa’s martial expertise was beyond question even as early as his mid-twenties. He acquired a reputation as a bleak and joyless man, aloof and distant from even his most trusted colleagues. Nonetheless, his skill at arms assured him of rapid success in the field for which he spent so long honing his mind, body and spirit.

Holding the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel of the general staff of the Blazing Sun Sword Army, he is regarded with awe rather than affection by the soldiers under his command. A calculating rather than an inspiring leader, he treats his forces like the cogs of a finely-engineered machine, enacting his complex and subtle battle plans with the detached assurance of a chess grandmaster.

However, when the time is right for the enemy to fall, Okinawa enters the fray himself with the force of a stroke of lightning. A swordsman of fearsome skill, dressed in fine armour of traditional style but thoroughly modern materials, he transforms himself in an instant from shrewd tactician into steel whirlwind, scattering before him any enemy soldiers fortunate enough to avoid his killing blades.

But even those who escape death upon the end of his sword are not safe, for Okinawa, like many of his peers, is adept with the dread poison gas grenades so beloved by the Samurai of the Sturginium Age.

Okinawa is part of the Army of the Sword’s general staff, an adjutant and close ally of High General Uematsu himself, and a former staff officer to the infamous General Oni. He was transferred from the old Wani 3rd Division of the Sword Army only two months before Oni’s fatal mission to Singapore. Since that time, he has spent most of his postings with the Sword Army 5th Division, now based in the occupied Malay Peninsula and heavily engaged in fighting off Britannian counterattacks in the region.

Okinawa has relished testing his skill against the Britannians, and views the widening of the war with perhaps the greatest enthusiasm he has shown for anything in years – soon the whole world shall be an arena, where Kozo Okinawa can measure his skills against the best and brightest of the enemy’s military minds on the fields of honour.

Tactical Use:
Master Okinawa is quite possibly one of the most physically intimidating characters in Dystopian Legions – a great asset for a Blazing Sun forces, and a deadly opponent for their foes.

Although a superb Commander, he does not have any Command Abilities, though he still contributes to the Force’s Command Point Pool.

Although this may appear to be a disadvantage, it is more than compensated for by his battlefield effectiveness as a fighter. Okinawa is without a doubt one of the most powerful Characters out there for sheer combat ability. Leave the bulk of leadership to your other Officers, and use the Master as the warrior he is. Leading an Ashigaru Section charge, he will rip the enemy apart.

However, the Master is not just a deadly weapon in his own right. Rather than simply hacking up a few common line soldiers this character is a superb duellist. When Master Kozo Okinawa challenges an officer in the midst of a Melee, they have two equality undesirable options. Accept and face the mighty Master, or cower behind their own men, weakening their resolve as they do so.

Okinawa’s Special Game Card is perhaps his greatest asset, however. Playing The Divine Blow gives a great Melee bonus to every Section nearby. Using this card at the right moment can turn a losing battle around, or transform a close victory into an utter enemy rout!

Dystopian Legions Previews

It seems that Spartan Games is determined to take all of my money in exchange for large piles of awesome looking toys. I can’t complain too much, it’s a fair exchange I suppose.

Below is a couple of previews for, the soon to be released, Dystopian Legions. I rather suspect I’m going to have to sell a kidney…

Empire of the Blazing Sun

The Imperial Alchemical Institute is well known for its bizarre creations, made all the more unbelievable by their exceptional and reliable performance, even in the heat of battle.

Of all of these, amongst the most astonishing are the Ryuma Steambikes; mechanical steeds which can skim a few feet above the ground on steam jet enhanced repulsine gyros, and propel themselves at astonishing speeds. Although some have questioned the efficiency of these ‘hover’ machines, the ability to traverse almost any ground, no matter how treacherous, is proving invaluable in battle.

Once perfected, these unique engines were quickly adopted by the armies of the Empire of the Blazing Suns, as their advantages over more conventional cycles or traditional horse cavalry were evident. Samurai, already adept at mounted combat, quickly began adapting their tactics and techniques to take full advantage of the machine’s potential.

Empire of the Blazing Sun Ryuma Steambike

The armies of the Empire of the Blazing Sun have long been famed for their shock assault tactics – be it from the renowned Ashigaru regiments with their Type 4 ‘Dragon’s Breath‘ shotguns, or the Shinobi Assassins who use stealth and infiltration to conduct brutal lightning raids.

However, now that the Ryuma Steambike-mounted Cavalry are growing in notoriety, the Empress’ enemies have a new threat to fear. Faster, and more manoeuvrable than anything else on the battlefield, these Samurai are expert at hit-and-run attacks.

Cutting through enemy formations at breakneck pace, they scythe down their stunned targets with a combination of Katana and ‘Firefly‘ Quad-Barreled Kanpon Type 12 machine guns. Whatever foes remain after these blitzkrieg attacks are often too shocked to react, and easily dealt with by the Ashigaru advancing in the cavalry’s wake.

Kingdom of Britannia

The Knights Templar are an ancient Order, which traces its origins back to the 12th Century. However the Society today is a very different entity.

Since its expulsion from continental Europe several centuries ago, the Order has receded into the shadows somewhat. Most of its efforts have been focussed on furthering the expansion of the Britannian Empire, and it is a common belief that they are the real power behind the ‘Knights’ faction within Britannian politics.

Kingdom of Britannia Knights Templar

Since the outbreak of the World War, the Order has galvanised its military arm. Equipped with the finest technologies that the Royal Society can supply, the distinctive tabards of the Knights Templar are becoming an increasingly common – and ever welcome – sight amongst the ranks of the Line Infantry.

Kingdom of Britannia Knights Templar

The Knights themselves are very different in aspect to the feared Teutonic Order Armsmen of the Prussian Empire. They are patriots to a fault; fighting for the safety and prosperity of Britannia with a fervour and dedication that sets them apart from others on the battlefield.

Kingdom of Britannia Knights Templar

The Knights Templar are an intimidating presence on the battlefield. Although smaller than the hulking armoured suits of the Teutonic Order, with their personal Shield Generators they are nearly as well protected, but with a much smaller sacrifice in agility.

Their offensive comes primarily in the form of the Adams No. 10 Auto-Revolver, an immensely powerful weapon which only the Templar’s in their motorised combat suits could hope to fire with any degree of accuracy.

The Adams No. 10 Auto-Revolver lacks the long range capacity favoured by the Britannian Line Infantry, but compensates with close range devastation. The weapon is even powerful enough to punch holes through the more vulnerable side or rear armour of some Ironclad vehicles.

“See, lad, that there officer is Colonel MacDonald VC. Legend in his own lifetime, that chap. He might be gettin’ on, but he’s seen more battles in his time than every man in this platoon and lived to tell the tales, so mind your manners around him.”

-Sergeant Reginald Chaplin, 18th Royal Somerset Rifles, to a young recruit

Colonel Samuel Horwood MacDonald is one of the Kingdom of Britannia’s most celebrated soldiers. A descendent of Anglo-Scottish gentry, his first stint on a battlefield was as a 13-year old drummer boy at First Waterloo itself, but his first military service for the Kingdom was as a young subaltern in the last of the Britannian-Burmese wars in 1826. Even at this early stage, he already displayed the attitudes that would become his hallmark – leading from the front, bellowing encouragement to the men under his command and apparently heedless of danger.

Colonel Samuel H. MacDonald

In his lengthy career, he served all over Britannia’s vast empire, serving as a captain in the crown’s forces during the Australian mutiny of 1842 and French-sponsored Portuguese rebel mercenaries in south-east Africa in the 1850s. It was during this rather obscure campaign that he would earn the highest honour, the Victoria Cross, for leading an ambush of an enemy column approaching the Limpopo River, and routing them with a force only one third their size and composed mainly of local militias.

Promoted to Colonel of the 18th South Staffordshire Fusiliers in 1857, MacDonald’s last official action took place during the Britannian intervention in the American Civil War. The then sixty-two year old Colonel MacDonald led the South Staffordshires on the ground during the Britannian offensive into the state of Michigan in 1864 to threaten one of the North’s key industrial heartlands.

Colonel Samuel H. MacDonald

Following the end of that war, Colonel MacDonald returned to Britannia to take up an appointment with the General Staff, regarded by Horse Guards as a purely ceremonial post. He was expected by most to do nothing more trying after so many years’ service than to settle down in well-earned retirement on his country estate. However, the General Staff were in for a rude shock.

Colonel MacDonald refused to go quietly to pasture. He became a constant feature at Horse Guards, trundling up and down the corridors in his specially adapted Brunel-built bath-chair. He submitted endless demands and suggestions to the war planning department, especially after the tensions in South-East Asia boiled over in the late 1860s.

Colonel Samuel H. MacDonald

Eventually, his insistent ‘advice’ grew so aggravating that Lord-Admiral Tillinger, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, became personally involved. There was no question of sacking MacDonald, with his fame and immensely popularity among the common soldiers, especially the thousands of ‘Short-Shrifter’ volunteers who had signed up after the London Raid. His public appearances and speeches had drawn audiences of hundreds and vastly increased recruitment numbers wherever he went.

So Tillinger hit upon a plan. He offered the old Colonel a field commission. To the joy of the Kingdom’s regular infantry – and the abject relief of the General Staff – MacDonald eagerly accepted. Since then, he has seen extensive service, leading once more from the front from a special armoured wheelchair, roaring out his orders. The troops under his command never fail to rise to any challenge, scything down the enemy with torrents of hot lead!

Colonel Samuel H. MacDonald

Tactical Use:
Although Colonel Sir Samuel ‘Big‘ MacDonald has only recently returned to active service after a leisurely decade in retirement, his presence is being felt all along the Britannian Line – but not always for the right reasons.

Only a fool would underestimate this great man, although perhaps past his physical prime, his mind is as sharp as it ever was – making the Colonel a superb commanding officer.

Although his tactics are firmly lodged in the pre-Sturginium age, they ring as true today as they ever did. His Focus Fire Command Ability makes a Line Section even more deadly at range, and his Mad MinuteCommand Ability can lead to a section putting out as many dice as a full Machine-gun Battery!

Despite his age, the Colonel is still a fair combatant. Although he’s not able to put up ‘the old fisticuffs‘ like back in the old days when he helped to build the Empire, which was when he acquired the moniker of ‘Big MacDonald‘ because of his huge physique. Instead he now goes into battle with carrying his trademark Blunderbuss – a huge weapon that will soon see off any enemy that comes too close.

The armour of his plated bath-chair (and many layers of blankets) provide enough protection to the Old Colonel to ensure that he’ll be around to fight many more battles to come.

Even if he does rub other officers up the wrong way from time to time, few officers can hope to match Colonel MacDonald’s abilities to keep his men in line and fighting at their best.

Dystopian Legions Release Details

Dystopian Legions will be shipping on the 31st October. Initially just the Prussians, Empire of the Blazing Sun, FSA and Britannians but fear not the Covenant won’t be far behind (hooray!). IT’s all very exciting and finally I have something to put on my Christmas list. Starter sets will be going for around the £40 mark which and will include a quick play version of the rules. Not indications yet how much the rule book will be but I suspect £20. Unit boxes will be £15 for 6 and musicians £7 for 2 so not bad really. It’ll be interesting to see how much the tanks go for. I suspect around the £30 mark a they’re solid resin. And massive.

Full release info for each faction can be found via the links below.

PE nation intro

EOTBS nation intro

FSA nation intro

KOB nation intro