The Great War – Mars Intervenes01 Mar 2017 2
Who knew? It was all propaganda: World War I never happened, or at least not the way we thought. Thank the Almighty that we have the BBC to correct this informational injustice and set us all straight. Here I am talking about The Great Martian War 1913 – 1917, a BBC produced docudrama that imagines a world that never went to war with each other, but instead united to defend the planet from a distinctly H. G. Wells type invasion from Mars. Backed by Mark Strong’s narration, reviewers called it “gripping and not only fascinating to watch, but very realistic right to the very end." Think Wells meets Steampunk, very similar to the 1988 War of the Worlds PC game by Rage Software, a little gem I wish someone would re-release.
Thanks to Ironclad Games, however, all is not lost. Independently developed from the above, and purchased from Robot Peanut Studios last year, these folks have brought all of this to the tabletop via a complete, one-stop shopping package. It’s called All Quiet on the Martian Front (AQMF) and includes rules, miniatures, terrain and accessories. Bottom line up front (BLUF), the results are amazing. So grab a good brandy, turn up the volume on Jeff Wayne’s War of the World CD (yes, you can still get it via Amazon) and let’s take a peek.
What’s the single best thing to like about these rules? Everything. Seriously. First the rules are free. Yes, there is a $40 US hardcopy edition, but otherwise the rules are a free PDF download from the firm’s Website. The rules come in two packages, the first being a shorter simple play edition that consists of the actual rules of play only. The other download – did I mention this is free? – is a drop dead gorgeous 176 page full color glossy tome that not only contains the rules, but everything you could possibly want to know about the AQMF universe. Production values are extremely high with excellent color photography of games in session, along with excellent and highly detailed technical drawings, not to mention spiffy looking maps by which to track the Martian campaign here on Earth. All of this is held together with printing on an attractive parchment type background, interspaced with faux newspaper clippings and an efficient index at the end.
Actually, the rules account for only 34 pages of the book, and they are not so much complex as they are complete. The other portions of the book include 24 pages serving as a complete history of the Martian invasion. There are another 66 pages on the three armies fighting, specifically the US Army, the British Expeditionary Force and the Martians themselves. Information on these three forces included technology data, unit organizations with line and block charts and specifics on artillery, tanks, other vehicles and a few unique to army special rules. There are 14 pages devoted to point based scenarios, not only how to set up and play, but 11 ready made engagements to use are included as well. Finally, there are yet another 12 pages of painting instructions for the company’s supporting miniatures line. Again, this section is very complete and not only gives the specific colors to be used for the various forces, but also the best technique to use for painting, decorating and shading the various models needed to play. Outstanding, because let’s face it, no matter how many Public Domain books Google digitizes, references on this conflict are scarce. I know, I tried to look up the stuff myself.
I don’t know if this will beat something like a Warhammer 40K Codex, but I gotta tell you, Ironclad Games has given it one Hell of a shot.
Playing the Game
Playing AQMF is deceptively simple. Sure there are going to be special rules, exceptions and a host of die rolls modifiers, but the actual playing process is easy and fun. The game sequence has an Initiative Phase whereby 10 sided die are used in a roll off to determine who goes first. There are some die roll modifiers here, but never for the Martians as they are totally devoid of emotion. Then side A may proceed, first with Initial Movement, then Firing and then a second Movement Phase. Units in actual physical contact with the enemy at the end of the first Movement Phase may also close assault. Once Player A has finished, Player B repeats the process, the turn ends, and then comes the next turn starting with Initiative and so on. The forces in play are divided into Elements and Units. An Element is something like a single Steam Tank or a single Martian Tripod. A Unit, on the other hand, might be a squadron of three or four Steam Tanks. In a unique touch, Elements are required to stay in various types of formations and may not voluntarily wander more than a few inches away from their Unit compadres.
Both movement and combat are pretty standard with the latter very reminiscent of classic miniature micro-armor games. The process is uber simple. Each Unit has a defense or armor rating. If the Unit can be targeted and is within range, you roll a modified 10 sided die. If the die roll is equal to or greater than the defensive rating, a hit is made. Roll the die again, and if successful, one Element in the Unit is destroyed. Tripods and some of the big human machines are a bit different in that a hit doesn’t destroy them, but reduce their defensive/armor rating down one point, with subsequent hits doing likewise until the thing is dead. However, there could be secondary effects in cases like this. In an interesting twist, the game makes clear that you are attacking a Unit, not an Element within the Unit. Thus, if one Element is within physical range, all the other ones are as well regardless of their location. Likewise, there are also associated morale rules, but here again; the Martians are exempt because they are emotionless, alien slugs (very nasty emotionless, alien slugs mind you, but slugs).
It seems pretty evident that Ironclad makes its money off their line of models specifically produced to support AQMF. Like the game itself, the models are in HO or 15mm scale, designed that way to allow players to use model railroad terrain as part of scenarios. The miniatures are well detailed and come in plastic, resin or metal. Like the rulebook a huge plus is the fact that the line is so extensive to begin with, and more models are on the way. Sure there are infantry, tanks, Tripods, artillery and the like of every possible Steampunk – you really gotta love the US Land Ironclad and even Nikola Tesla makes an appearance – machine one could possibly imagine, but also such esoteric stuff such as civilians, automobiles and much, much more. The latter includes things like artillery emplacements and other terrain, decals and lots of accessories such as templates, Blip and Blast Markers.
Costs vary, but here is a sampling. A pack of three Assault Tripods will run you $40 US, a pack of three Steam Tanks or three heavy guns with crew $25 US, a BEF Coil Artillery Gun with crew $ 17 US and that bad ass Ironclad, $195 US. There is also a starter set right now on sale for $ 60, reduced from $100 US. About the only thing I did not see was aircraft, something oddly absent from the game though there are forum rules for their use. Kinda sad, really, because the BBC docudrama showed them so I know they were there (ahem)!
AQMF has one other point in its favor – H. G. Wells. Based on his classic science fiction novel, the father of miniature tabletop gaming is honored yet again and this is a good thing. I swore I’d never buy another figure in my life, but with AQMF I think I am about to renege on that promise. The subject is fascinating, the rules streamlined and fun, the miniatures top notch and the HMGS Cold Wars convention is but a couple of weeks away. I think it’s time to crank up Jeff Wayne and sing “UUUULLLLAAAAAAA!”
All Images courtesy of Ironclad Games. Apart from the ones from the TV program, obviously. Those are from the BBC.