Review: Empire of the Dead
Two wargame genres which always seem popular are Victorian Steampunk and Gothic Horror. West Wind Productions have taken these genres, put them in a blender and Empire of the Dead (EotD) was the result.
EotD is a skirmish wargame which takes place in an alternative universe, where the strange and mysterious Infernium is creating a second industrial revolution. Throw into that a world where Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies and Arcane Powers are every bit as real as the London fog and you have the world in which EotD takes place.
Looking at the nuts & bolts, EotD is a ‘warband’ style skirmish wargame, where players control a group of figures known as a faction. Typically, this starts with between five and seven models, and the faction can belong to one of several organisations including Holy Order, Lycaon, Nosferatu or the Gentlemen’s Club. Each of these factions has their own special powers and abilities.
Each model is defined by a set of 9 characteristics, which denote everything from how fast they can move, through their combat abilities, to how brave they are and what their ability is to wield arcane powers.
Games are scenario driven (more of that later) and generally take place on a 4’ x 4’ board. Rather unusually, all dice used in the game are D10 rather than D6. The turn sequence is broken down into four phases. The first maintenance phase occurs simultaneously, as players check for victory conditions and roll for wound recovery, morale and breakpoints. There is then an initiative phase, where each player rolls a dice, with the winner going first in the next two phases. Next is the action phase in this phase, models may move and perform various actions including missile attacks, use of Arcane Powers pick up an item etc.
Finally, anyone that charged during the action phase may fight in the combat phase.
Combat is straight forward. When using missile combat, you roll a dice, add the Marksmanship of the model plus some modifiers dependent upon the target and cover. If you score over 10, you have hit the target. You then roll to wound. Hand-to-hand combat is a straight dice roll, with each opponent rolling the number of dice indicated by their attack characteristic and applying modifiers. Whoever has rolled the highest score wins the combat and rolls to wound with the number of dice equal to their attack characteristic. Combat does tend to be fast and bloody, although models are only removed from play 30% of the time.
Models can also use many different arcane powers, such as Bless, Healing, Killing Gaze or Terrify, plus a number of special abilities.
The rules of the game are pretty straight forward, and actually only take up 30 pages of the rulebook.
The rulebook starts with an introduction, which takes the form of a number of diary entries. These get you into the spirit of the game. The ‘meat’ of the book actually revolves around recruiting your faction, generating scenarios and the campaign rules.
Like many of this style of games, EotD is points driven, so you buy and equip your faction with a starting number of points, and then recruit new models and upgrade your existing abilities and equipment as you play games.
The scenario generator gives a large number of different layouts and objectives. Given the variation of objective, deployment option and location, it is possible to generate 50 different scenarios – double that if you count whether the game takes place in daylight or at night. There is also a special ‘rescue’ scenario you can play, should one of your faction be captured by the local police.
The campaign rules give full details of how you can advance you faction between games, with models gaining new skills and equipment, but also perhaps picking up infirmities due to wounds suffered during play.
As with many games of this type, though the game itself is interesting, it’s the campaign system that really makes the universe come alive in the minds of the players. The universe in which EotD exists looks very interesting indeed, and given the amount of variety that is offered in the book, it would take some time for a group of players to exhaust the possibilities that are offered in this volume alone, without any possible future expansions.
The book itself is very well produced and there are many model pictures and pieces of artwork throughout. The artwork is all done by Andy Cooper. Andy has his own style – those people who have seen Secrets of the Third Reich will be familiar with his work and it can be safely said that this puts a firm and unique stamp on the look and feel of the game.
The gaming opportunities that these rules offer are certainly intriguing, and given the relatively small entry cost (a starter box of each faction costs £25) you can be up and running in virtually no time at all – especially as the rules themselves are relatively easy to learn.
Steampunk Gothic Horror may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if any part of this genre appeals, these rules are very much worth a look
This is a good game, and a lot of fun.