Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hostile Realms -- a review

Hostile Realms
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.

6 comments:

  1. I would agree with most of the comments, however I feel a review of rules should concentrate on 'the feel' of the game and mechanics, rather than the infinite detail of the rules system or actual mechanics.

    In my experience rules systems are by definition detailed and delve in to the minutia so will be intense.

    While a review that states that the game flowed and used ideas that were fun and easy may tempt me more that a statement that says - used the tried and trusted - 2 x D6 plus modifiers game mechanic and standard 40mm x 60mm base size.

    For example;
    The first edition Flintloque rules were full of mistakes and contradictions, but had loads of funny and easy to follow character development rules. Version 3, is much more detailed with page after page of character development details, flaws and traits. It takes ages to develop a character or 'section' and when you have - it is mechanical or artificial. Old School D&D was simple - two or three pages and you could play - it was fun.

    I recently read the Napoleonic rule book Revolutions to Empires. Great pictures, but the rules left me cold, I just couldn't get in to them and would be very surprised if I ever used them. They are not bad rules - just didn't 'float my boat'.

    Sorry - I know I've got off subject (quite a lot). I hope that you will forgive me.

    Tony
    PS.

    Welcome to my Blog

    ReplyDelete
  2. Easy to forgive.

    I haven't had a chance to play HR yet, but my sense of it was that it felt a lot like playing Orcs & Goblins in WHFB, namely that sense that really don't know what you can do or not do each turn until it arrives. That means sitting pretty loose in the saddle for the game.

    Now I like that because I can have a lot of fun losing, but I could see how people who are used to more control in a game could really dislike it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I bought them but I haven't played them either. I have had not experience with Piquet as well. Two things bothered me:
    1. The idea that opposing troops can come into contact, but can't fight until a melee card comes up. It almost seems like something out of Monty Python.
    2. I'd have to try them, but the mechanics of the combat rules seem overly complicated. I don't have them in front of me, but they didn't seem that straight forward.
    Nonetheless, I will give them a try. Maybe they are a lot smoother than I am making them out to be.

    Chris
    http://anotherwargamesblog.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  4. I can see how bringing opposing troops into contact and not resolving melee can at first seem bizarre. The best way I can describe it is the maxim I learned from old Piquet players; "The table lies."

    That meaning, what you see on the table is not a literal interpretation of what is going on minute by minute. Rather, each turn in Piquet models half an hour, whether you draw 20 cards and do a lot, or lose out on impetus and sit around for a long time. And what you are modeling is that 30 minute chunk very broadly.

    This has the effect of making Piquet, over the course of the game, model actual combat MUCH better than regular war games. Historically speaking, combat is filled with sudden rushes, inexplicable lulls, a unit appearing on your flank that you had know idea was there. Piquet represents that really well. It's impossible to do with a game like WHFB.

    I highly recommend it. My friends and I left WHFB for a Piquet fantasy variant years ago and have never looked back.

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  5. We played it with Peter Anderson at Historicon. We enjoyed the rules, but we are also dedicated Piquet fans, so the disjointed action wasn't a real shock for us.

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  6. I've just plucked up the courage to buy a copy from Lancashire games. Looking forward to something different than the usual norm of fantasy. I thought Armies of Arcana was going to be the new game but found out that to me it was no more than a remodelling of WHFB.

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