A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to have a new set of rules drop through my letter box that I have been anticipating for some time. Imperial Skies is a set of Victorian aerial combat rules produced by Robin Fitton, author of the excellent 15mm Sci-Fi game Gruntz and available through Brigade Models.
The rulebook is a glossy card cover with 120 full colour pages of background, rules, a ship building system and painting guides. Overall the quality is very good with a nice readable font and there are plenty of photographs of games in progress and rule examples to break up the pages.
The game is set in the year 1919 in a world where the use of Loewe Gravitation engines has allowed ships to take to the sky alongside dirigibles and small fixed wing aircraft. The background for the game is fairly light, which for me is a good thing as I like to imagine my own scenarios, but is enough to set the scene and give you some ideas for settings and campaigns.
If you want a simple to learn system with plenty of options to expand on the basics as you become familiar with them or want new challenges then this is one for you. One read through of the main rules will take you about 10 minutes and from there it’s all steam ahead (see what I did there 🙂 ) with your fleets.
The system uses D6’s throughout and ideally you will need three different colours of dice but it can be very dice heavy, especially with some of the larger ships. At least for most gamers there will already be a plentiful supply of D6’s in your dice box and they do make it a lot easier to work out hits as the maths are a lot easier.
The game uses a simple roll over a target number system with different types of guns having different target numbers and ranges. There is no damage roll to worry about, just hit and you damage so the rules are nice and fast. To make things even more deadly rolls of a natural 6 not only hit but can be rerolled, allowing the lucky player (not me currently) to do some truly horrendous damage in a single volley. Add to this there are also bombs, torpedoes and rockets to add variety to the individual ships.
Once hits have been rolled damage is taken directly off the ships damage chart, one point per hit. As damage increases the ships will start to lose guns and movement speed until they eventually die or land at an airfield to be repaired and refitted with bombs and torpedoes.
One nice feature of the rules is the addition of Command Points. These are rolled for at the beginning of the turn and may be used to increase your initiative roll or assigned to ships in your fleet to allow them to use special actions (most of these are in the optional rules). This adds an extra element of tactics (and luck) to each turn and used wisely could make the difference between keeping or losing an airship.
Movement is conducted in inches and when not flying forwards a selection of turn rulers (which you can buy or download and print) representing the different classes of ships. A lot of games are using this sort of idea these days so it will be familiar to many of you but is well explained if you are unfamiliar with it.
There are also plenty of optional rules covering things like altitude, torpedoes, damage repair and boarding actions to name a few. These are simple but effective ways to take your games to the next level and provide plenty of ideas for scenarios (boarding actions or capture a convoy spring immediately to mind).
The rulebook includes stats for vessels from a number of countries: British, American, German, French, Russian, Japanese, Austria-Hungary, Brazilian, Scandinavian, Italian and Turkish, plus various merchant and ground installations.
Each vessels stats are presented on a two sided card (these are only in the book right now but a pdf and physical cards are coming). At first these were a little difficult to understand but a page has been produced for download that explains all this very clearly. Maybe this will be added in a later printing. The ships on the cards directly relate to the models produced by brigade so you can easily buy the models you like and pick up the stats or vice versa.
With the exception of airfields which can repair ships ground targets take no direct part is the rules but there is plenty of options to include them into scenarios you design yourself. Stat cards are provided for a number of installation types from residential blocks and Cathedrals to factories and army bases. I’m planning to base my building on standard sized bases so that I can build modular towns and villages to act as targets for ground attack games. (you can get some excellent mdf hexagonal bases from Sally 4th for this)
One of the things that made Gruntz so popular was the ability to design your own squads and Robin has kept this as a core part of Imperial Skies. The rulebook includes stat cards for each of the vessels produced by Brigade Games so you can ignore these rules if you wish but for those of you who fancy some scratch building of airships or just want to swap things around a bit the rules are simple and quick. Personally I’m more likely to use these rules to build one off ships for specific scenarios as they could easily be abused to produce overly powerful designs for low costs (but all points build systems I’ve ever used suffers from this problem).
Modelling and Painting
At the back of the book are 26 pages of modeling and painting advice. These are excellent and even an experienced painter is likely to find something in here that is new or reminded of an old technique that they haven’t used in a while. As well as the usual painting guide this section has details on cleaning up your models ready for painting, super detailing (including adding micro flags), decals and airbrushing. Robin has spent a lot of time and effort on this section and it certainly shows and was time well spent.
The ship models used for Imperial Skies are produced by Brigade Models and were originally for a set of rules called Aeronef. This range is now being expanded with new ships to support Imperial Skies.
These are mostly cast in metal but the range is now being expanded to support Imperial Skies and many of these are a mixture of resin and metal.
Not only do Brigade produce an excellent range of ships they also produce an extensive range of buildings, ranging from houses and farms to factories and airfields. While these are not an intrinsic part of the game (although there are stat cards for airfields and ground emplacements) they will help to make your tabletop look stunning and can be excellent targets for scenarios.
I couldn’t finish this review without mentioning some alternative models you could (and I will be) using for Imperial Skies. Spartan Games have a range of figures for Dystopian Wars that include some aircraft and dirigibles that could work well for custom designed ships (although the scale is slightly larger) and a range of buildings that fit nicely alongside the Brigade options (although the scale is slightly larger again).
On first impressions this is an excellent game and the more I worked my way through the rulebook the better it got.
The quality of the book itself is very good and with the exception of a couple of layout issues (which even much larger and profession companies get wrong sometimes) everything is excellent.
The clarity of description of the rules is also very good (with one exception, not sure I understand bombs correctly) and the inclusion of lots of examples is excellent (sadly no example for bombs).
So to the scores
||Very well produced with minor layout errors
||Excellent with one exception
||The mixture of content is excellent with nothing being glossed over and sections that other books wouldn’t include
||The rules are excellent. Starting as a simple system there are plenty of options to add complexity
||You can get slightly more for your money elsewhere from companies with established game systems but for a small company the price is what I would expect to pay
||A great game worth considering if you want something new