First, a little backstory. I didn't announce it here but I've been on vacation (hence the lack of posting). I usually don't share that kind of information because I'm a little paranoid that someone would go rob my house while I was out of town, but I'm back now so the risk has passed. I went to Florida to take my kids to see my grandparents, and by pure coincidence ended up being in Orlando at the same time as MegaCon 2011.
Side note: if you go, bring an 11 year old boy with you like I did. That way people won't think of you as a creepy 40-something leering at scantily clad youth but instead figure you are letting your young son try to find that rare Nightcrawler action figure, which was actually the case.
One of the vendors at MegaCon was selling copies of When the Navy Walked, and since this was the only wargaming item I could find there (unless you consider bustiers or anime-themed knit hats wargaming items) I bought a copy. I have been a fan of Victorian-era wargaming since The Major General Tremorden Rederring actually updated his website regularly, so a new VSF game sounded particularly interesting.
So to start the review, the basics. $29.95, 68 pages perfect bound, some color photography. 15mm scale (although it is flexible), variable basing (see below), 4' by 4' table recommended. d6 and d12 die. Each game lasts 2-4 hours.
Side note 2: why can't reviewers share this information as a general matter of course? For me, things like scale make or break a game for me. Anyways...
There are several kinds of units: ground units (infantry and cavalry, of 4-6 stands with 3 infantry or 2 cavalry figures), command units (one stand), artillery units (two stands), "machines" which constitute small mechanized ground vehicles, small flying units, and "capital" vehicles which are your large tanks, etc. Basing for vehicles is varied and largely left up to the player and the model.
Each unit has a number for its rate of movement, shooting and shooting range, close combat, command, morale, and espionage or sabotage, depending on the type. WtNW has a point-buy system which allows the player to design whatever kind of unit or vehicle they desire, although they have several sample army lists from the rather typical alt-history VSF timeline, which like so many has the Confederacy gaining their independence during the American Civil War. It must be to allow for two American-based armies.
Gameplay has each side generating command points from a combination of set numbers and die rolls, from which commands are then written (moving, charging, shooting, etc.) Each turn then has all units first moving, shooting, charging, melee, sabotaging, and rallying in the order of their command value. This a change from the IGOUGO model and would take some rethinking for those more familiar with turn-based models.
What do I like about the game? I love the point-based build system which allows the player to conceive of their own army composition. I could also see scratchbuilding 15mm VSF vehicles becoming a hobby unto itself, like Tony over at Dampf's Modelling Page used to do with Aeronef.
Side note 3: I miss Tony's Flash Gordon stuff, but he's clearly working the Flintloque end of his hobby right now.
The game system seems pretty straightforward. Not a lot of ground-breaking material there. For units, hits remove stands which in turn affect their offensive ability. Vehicles suffer various breakdowns using a list very similar to Warhammer 40K's rules.
What do I dislike? In order of nit-pickiness, from greatest to least:
1. Various basing. Infantry units are 1.5" wide by .75" deep. Cavalry are 1.5" by 1". Command are 1.5" square. Why the variance? What possible tactical significance could occur with a difference of a quarter of an inch, when the rules don't put much emphasis on base-to-base interaction? Ground units have the most rules, with the typical column-line-skirmish-square-disordered variability. For those of us who have to special order bases, this seems to be an unnecessary (and simple to house-rule over) problem.
2. Typos. The obvious ones occur to me in the sample army lists, I suspect the culprits of cut-and-paste errors. Some might just be bad math.
3. Photos. In a word, grainy, which is too bad because I would think that one of the real appeals here would be the cool look of the VSF vehicles. The drawn illustrations are crisp, so it isn't a printing issue but a photo-quality problem that could also have been easily avoided.
Now, those three items are pretty minor and really have little to do with the rules themselves, which seem well done and look like fun. 15mm is a change from my typical Colonial-era scale, so I would have to start a whole new line, but when did that stop me?
Final word: recommended.