Friday, April 15, 2011

Flying Battleships? Leviathans gives Steampunk the game the genre deserves

How could you NOT want to play this game now?
For the last two years or so I have been working with the gang (and virtually the extended gang) at Catalyst Game Labs on their new game Leviathans which should be coming out sometime soon.  I know everyone is wondering about the game in some degree of detail, but I am under an NDA so I can’t go into it at the level you want.  Suffice it to say, however, I think that this is going to be THE big game this summer.  Everything here has been cleared by the powers that be…
Steampunk has emerged strong in the last three years but the gaming industry has been struggling to wrap its hands around the genre.  A number of role playing games are out there covering the concept of Jules Verne-ish technology in the late Victorian era – but many have not seemed to capture the true feeling of Steampunk.   Goth has been replaced by Steampunk but for some reason the gaming industry has struggled with the genre for years. 
Personally, I have had my foot in the Steampunk door for a long time.  Back when GDW released Space 1889 I wrote one adventure that got published for the game (More Tales from the Ether).  That game, and the boardgame Ironclads and Etherflyers, tried to capture the spirit of Steampunk but it just didn’t seem to hold.  The games were okay – not great – and a good universe alone can’t carry a game system for more than a few years.  Ironclads and Etherflyers had some potential as a game but it was relying more on the concept than the game mechanics.  In the game industry, game mechanics and production quality are king. 
My involvement with Leviathans has been minimal but very enjoyable.  As someone that has written history books (naval and aviation) around the period of the Great War, I was deeply honored when Randall Bills reached out to me to lend a hand.  It has been a long time since I was involved with game design and fleshing out a new universe.  I manage to bore the designers with references to weapons and events in our timeline.  I’m always copying material out of Jane’s Book of Fighting Ships, 1918.  Yes, I am THAT level of geek that I own that book in my library. 
Leviathans does a great job of straddling that line between historical accuracy and fun play.  Yes, I have played Jutland, Fear God and Dread Nought, Seekrieg,  and other games.  The problem with some of them is the classic struggle between realism and playability.  Basically the more realistic the game is, the more the game drags in terms of game play.  Leviathans starts with a good sound historical base but has as game system that allows you to play a fast moving game. 
To cut to the chase; “So, how does the game play?”  Having playtested the game early with my son Alex, I can say this – this game rocks!  First off, it has new mechanics which makes the concept of flying battleships come alive (so to speak).  I won’t go into details but suffice it to say that this game as a distinct play that will make it stand out.  Each fleet/government has their own “feel” to them.  These mechanics are sound.  Trust me, nothing makes you bring the ship hard about faster than a salvo of French torpedoes.
The second major cool thing is the universe.  “How would things change if, prior to the Great War, all sides had flying armored ships?”  Answer – some things change dramatically – some less so.  The universe is very robust and offers a lot of opportunities for not just game play but for pure entertainment.  There is no dominant super-power.   Having worked on the French and the Italian background material I can tell you that the histories and fleet information are, well, neat.  I’m quite proud of the fact that I made the French “cool” to play.  Having written a lot about the French Air Service and the Foreign Legion, this seemed to be the best approach.  This game universe is going to be something that people are going to be talking about once the game is out. 
Third cool thing – the technical accuracy (so to speak).  There was many evenings spent pulling up naval artillery charts and tables to ensure that the weapons and armor used worked and made sense.  Sure we had to bend some rules, but even the most serious wargamer is going to find Leviathans to be incredible.  How often does a science fiction game actually bring in the regular hard-core wargaming crowd?  It’s been a long time coming guys…
Fourth cool thing…miniatures!  Yes, very cool flying battleships, cruisers and destroyers.  Light pre-painting for those who don’t want to paint minis but want to play.  Lightly done for those out there who live to paint up their vessels. 
Am I excited?  Damn right I am!  Steampunk is finally going to be getting the game that it deserves.  Leviathans is going to redefine Steampunk and up the ante in the gaming industry.  I am looking forward to GenCon this year just to watch the crowd’s reaction to the final product.  ‘Til then…”Bring her to port Mister Rivenburg…steady as she goes.” 
Want to know more?  Go to and you can take in a bunch of free fiction  and see some of the production photographs and stuff. 

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