by Peter Anderson
pub. Piquet, Inc.
160 pp. and includes two helpsheets and an uncut deck of cards
I have some nit-picky things about reviews for wargames, namely the most important things need to go first, just to make sure that they are in there. So, without further ado:
- 28mm scale, with 15mm rules conversions.
- Basing is stands of figures on 60mm by X bases, with X being a distance in millimeters based on the type of figure. Four stands per unit.
- No rules regarding table size, looks like 4' by 8'.
I don't know why some review don't bother listing these very crucial details, but there you go. Hostile Realms is the fantasy variant for the historical wargame Piquet. I've never read or played Piquet, but for what I understand it tends to generate strong feelings one way for another. Perhaps the most controversial element of both Piquet and Hostile Realms is gameplay, which I'll get to in a bit.
In Hostile Realms, players can create fantasy armies using a pretty straightforward generation system, either from scratch or from one of the many army lists in the back. Most of the army lists are thinly-veiled versions of Warhammer Fantasy Battles or Lord of the Rings armies (e.g. Lizardmen, Rat-men, and "Realm" which is clearly the Empire. There's even the "Kingdom of Gonfor.") Units are determined by type, quality, and equipment, all of which then impact its melee, missile, defense, and morale abilities. There are also Heroes and Champions, which include wizards, and monsters of all types.
Where Hostile Realms breaks from the pack of "Igo-Ugo" games is the use of a deck of cards with various actions upon them. Each turn the Active and Reactive player draws a number of cards depending on the initiative die roll, and then the player must act upon the cards as they are drawn. Cards include basic things like Move or Melee Combat, but can also involve rare things like Favor of the Gods. The deck is based upon your army composition. What this means is that you can move your unit into another one ("engaging them") but not actually attack them until a Melee card is drawn. For players who are used to being able to move, shoot, cast spells, and engage in close combat each turn this is a big change, and is perhaps the biggest tactical element of gameplay.
There are some criticisms that I have of the game. First, the photography is sub-par. I understand it being black-and-white, but many of the shots are grainy and add little to the layout. Some just seem to be random miniatures. In these days of cheap digital photography and photoshop software, this seems amateurish.
Second, there's two glaring typos, both the same. On page 14 it says "This may be found on page XXX." On page 15 it says, "see Appendix XXX." I get not knowing where pages will fall as you're composing a work, but an editor should have caught this before it went to print.
I bought Hostile Realms looking for a fantasy wargame that wasn't a derivative of WHFB. The random nature of gameplay, plus the number of variables in army composition that aren't revealed in advance (is that a group of soldiers elite or just a levy? You don't know until you meet them.) adds that degree of mystery and anticipation that I've begun to lack in games of Warhammer. I will admit I haven't played the game yet, but I will try to find an opponent and perhaps revisit this review.