Archive for the ‘Historical Fiction’ Category

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Osprey Publishing continue their successful run of ‘blue cover’ wargame rulebooks with En Garde! a swashbuckling skirmish game based on Renaissance-era combat, covering settings ranging from The English Civil war, through The Thirty Years War, Spanish conquests in the Americas, and pretty much anything else from the period; though the thing that excited me the most was the somewhat-historical exploits of The Three Musketeers, who perfectly encapsulate the spirit of these rules.

The nuts and bolts of this game are carried over fairly intact from an earlier release, Ronin, which focused on skirmish combat in feudal Japan a la Seven Samurai. What En Garde! does is take the basics of these rules and blow them wide open in terms of potential settings in which players could utilise them, with army lists covering the various historical eras mentioned above; a preposterously wide range of times places and characters, only made wider by appendices giving rough rules for magic and fantastical characters!

Of course though, what I tried out was the The Three (Four?) Musketeers, and those were the miniatures I assembled to playtest this, including Cardinal Richelieu, The Man In The Iron Mask, and a load of pirates I already had which would serve for canon fodder henchmen.

The game plays pretty smoothly once you’ve got the rules down. Moving and shooting are combined into one phase, followed by close combat. Shooting is dispensed with  fairly briefly; the only part that puzzled me was a need to turn your models and worry about their facing, with what appears to be no major discernible effect in game.  There’s no bonus for attacking a guy from behind or anything.  This isn’t that usual for skirmish level games I’ve played in the past, and in the end my opponent and I quietly dropped it, for expedience. If we were doing it wrong, then I hope the developer forgives me.

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Shooting is, oddly, folded into the movement phase and given fairly short shrift, decided by one roll.  If you succeed, then you hit and wound your target, and there’s nothing they can do about it. I suppose this is actually more true to life than most games, but in a different set of rules such a thing might break the game a bit. Here, guns are quite rare, and reloading is awkward, so the streamlined rules are pretty much spot on in terms of balance.

Of course the reason for this is the focus is on hand-to-hand fighting, there are loads of weapon possibilities, with different bonuses, but swords give you the most options in a duel.

There was a very satisfying moment while playtesting, where the game completely changed.  After a good deal of maneuvering and dancing around each other, The Musketeers closed in with a knot of pirates and got stuck into a great big ruck. The game requires you to more or less ‘pair off’ belligerents on opposing sides into a succession of one on one fights, to be resolved one at a time, conjuring images of old fashioned, Errol Flynn style duels. Perfect.

This continues as you actually resolve the fights, with players using their characters skills to amass counters, and assigning them to attack or defense in secret, to attempt to out-manoeuvre the opponent. Spending attack and defense tokens to allow your character to lunge, parry, riposte or feint, which either give you attack or defense bonuses, If you get past your foe’s guard, then you inflict a wound, and combat continues until both fighters have spent all their tokens. This is a great mechanic, and absolutely key to the game’s appeal for me.  It’s at this point that everything suddenly zooms in, and the player has to think tactically for each fight, rather than moving his models up to the enemy’s, and then just rolling a bunch of dice and crossing his fingers – though you will still be doing that to an extent of course.

The focus on relatively small warbands is pretty relevant to my interests, and lends itself to really investing in a small group of characters over a campaign (or simply a continuing series of games). While En Garde! does cater to this, the campaign section is a tad brief and feels like mere lip service. I’d have liked to see something with more than just rules for leveling up characters between games, such as income, and gaining new weapons and abilities, more in the vein of Frostgrave, or my old favourite skirmish level game, Legends Of The Old West. Of course, one can always do that oneself , and the stupidly broad scope and level of possibility offered by this game leave me with little room to complain.
For fans of this level of wargame, who haven’t played Ronin, En Garde! offers something a bit different, very engaging, and stuffed with potential uses, pretty whatever your historical (or fantastical) area of interest, these rules could be put to use for it.

In fact, I’ve just had an idea.

Lightsabers….


Review by Spike Direction.  En Garde! is available now from Osprey Games; and you can follow Spike on Twitter.

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After the fall of the Roman Empire, Rome has been stripped of its former glory and left desperate to recapture its past.  Prima schemes with all her cunning and spite to see her son declared the new Emperor.  In her way is her husband, a Roman general, who has forged his own deadly path to fulfil his ambitions.  The Lost Legion is a violent tale of manipulation and debauchery in the quest for ultimate power.

The Lost Legion is not, as its cover makes it out to be, a sword-swinging, hack-and-slash action-fest, but rather a slow burning, political thriller, with occasional bursts of extreme sex and violence.  Imagine if Rome did a crossover with Game of Thrones, and you’d be in the right ballpark.

The acting style is a little odd, but not bad.  It seemed at first as though the cast were overacting, but as it progressed it didn’t feel so much overblown, as more if it were stage acting.  In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that The Lost Legion were originally a stage-play, adapted for the screen; or perhaps that the directors had their background in the theatre.

The bursts of sex and violence when they occur are bloody and explicit.  This is by no means a bad thing, as it looks pretty cool on the screen, and that’s what the aim is; although one can’t help but feel some of it is a little childish and merely inserted for titillation.

Production wise, the costumes are excellent and the set-design – while limited by budget – is very good.  Again, this gives it a theatrical minimalist feel, adding to the feeling of adaptation from the stage.

The Lost Legion is an interesting movie if you’re into the senatorial side of Roman history, or just enjoy some Dune/Game of Thrones style political manoeuvring.  Don’t expect to be blown away by anything that’s on offer here, but it’s worth a rental or catching on a digital streaming service to fill a lazy Sunday afternoon.

The Lost Legion is available on DVD in the UK from 20th October 2014 priced £14.99 (Rated “18” for strong gory violence, sex, and sexual violence). 

“Wolf’s Head” by Steven A. McKay

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After viciously assaulting a corrupt but powerful clergyman, the young Robin Hood flees the only home he has ever known in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Becoming a member of a notorious band of outlaws, Hood and his new companions – including John Little and Will Scaflock – hide out in the great forests of Barnsdale, fighting for their very existence as the law hunts them down like animals. When they are betrayed, and their harsh lives become even more unbearable, the band of friends seeks bloody vengeance. Meanwhile, the country is in turmoil, as many of the powerful lords strive to undermine King Edward II’s rule until, inevitably, rebellion becomes a reality and the increasingly deadly yeoman outlaw from Wakefield finds his fate bound up with that of a Hospitaller Knight.

“Wolf’s Head” – the first in the “The Forest Lord” series opens up feeling like a fun, Errol Flynn-type Sunday afternoon swashbuckling adventure, but before long, one realises that this is not the story we thought we knew.  Several aspects of the tale are much darker and more violent than we have previously seen them. 

The phrase “gritty reboot” has become something of a joke these days, but it seems to apply here.  In fact, the violence sometimes seems to border on the extreme – this is certainly an 18+ novel!  It is, if you will, a story for kids who have grown up. 

The characters are all engaging and interesting, with old favourites such as Will Scarlet and Little John, meeting up with new and lesser know names and faces.

The plot is very well presented.  Whenever you think you’ve got a handle on where it’s going or what is going to happen next, it throws you a surprise, and heads off in a totally unexpected, though always credible direction.  The ending feels conclusive, but still leaves you keen to get onto the sequel.

A fun historical fiction adventure that’s well worth checking out.