Monday, 8 December 2014

Westwind's Empire Of the Dead - Game Review

High level overview:
Empire of the dead (EotD) is a skirmish game, set in a steampunk universe, expanded to include horror elements such as werewolves and vampires. EotD uses a modified version of the necromunda ruleset published by Games Workshop with some additional mechanics.

Setting is one of EotD's strong points. This is exposed mainly through an enjoyable introductory piece within the core rulebook.
EotD depicts a world set in the late Victorian era, where the discovery of a material known as Infernium has allowed for the development of wondrous inventions - such as mechanical servants known as clickers. This discovery, compounded by general human expansion, has brought formerly fringe groups such as Vampires and Werewolves into action. Action EotD hopes to bring to your tabletop!
Fluff is  EotD's main strong point!
Official Miniatures:
West Wind produce a range of 28mm heroic scale miniatures intended for use with EotD.
These can be grouped into three categories:
  • Starter factions: Vampires, Werewolves, Gentlemen and Brotherhood, who have rules printed in the core rulebook.
  • Secondary factions, who currently have no rules published.
  • Individual characters, most of whom have no published rules.
My vampire gang out in force!
Each faction within the game has a starter box containing 7 or 8 miniatures, consisting of a faction leader, 2 heroes and some henchmen. The Gentlemen, Vampire and Brotherhood factions can be expanded beyond their starter boxes through the purchasing of blisters of henchmen.

Core Game Mechanics:
EotD uses a reskin of the Necromunda ruleset.

  • EotD uses ten sided dice (D10) primarily.
  • Each model within the game has a statline, reflecting their skill at movement, shooting, fighting etc, newly added is a magic stat. Higher stats are better.
  • Each player activates each of their models in turn, choosing to walk, run, charge into Close Combat (CC) or remain stationary. Models that did not run or charge may then shoot or cast spells - models that remained stationary receive a bonus to shooting.
  • After both players have activated all CC is resolved simultaneously. Each combatant rolls a D10 for each attack they have and selects the highest. The player with the higher result rolls each of their attack dice again to attempt to wound the target model. Ties are resolved by comparison of weapon skill (WS)
  • Models that are injured lose wounds until they have none left, at which point they roll on the injury table with varying results.
  • Players may elect to play a series of games forming a campaign; in between games players may spend gold generated by the game on leveling their characters (resolved by rolling on a table) or purchasing additional equipment
  • Players may also spend campaign gold on purchasing influence tokens which can be used in game to generate certain events such as changing day to night or summoning reinforcements such as zombies or angry mobs.
EotD's rules are serviceable, the move to D10 is a good step, as is clearing up the issues regarding what a model can be equipped with and the removal of experience points saves a large amount of post game paperwork. There are some minor negative points such as double handed weapons remaining demonstrably inferior to taking a pair of melee weapons.
Mostly there feels to be something of a missed opportunity to progress the ruleset forward to a greater extent. Melee between characters for example could be much more than just rolling more dice than normal.
The vampire starter box

Support from Creator:
Release Schedule
EotD's release schedule is not publicly listed and does not seem to correspond to any particular time scale. Customers would do well to assume only what is available will be available and not make purchases based on expected releases.

Community interaction
An official forum exists and is linked to from the West Wind site, (free) membership is required to view posts.
West Wind staff post a few times a year on said forum however these posts fall short of keeping the community usefully informed and fail to address key questions raised.
West Wind have neglected to respond to (polite) requests for information that I have emailed directly to them, they did respond promptly to an email relating to the ability to purchase their products.

West Wind do not seem to manage releases in a manner designed to promote EotD.
The game was initially released with the rulebook and starter boxes for the first four factions. The subsequent EotD Requiem kickstarter funded a large expansion of the available models. Only the gentlemen, Police and brotherhood factions, however, received blisters to allow expansion beyond their starter box. A second vampire faction was released allowing vampire players to expand somewhat. Given that campaign play is clearly an intention of the rules having a situation where players cannot expand their gang as it grows over the course of a campaign neatly curtails that element of play.
The back of the box shows some of the models included, the models are shown on scenic bases which are not supplied, less than honest!

EotD is a fun game to play; as a skirmish game most of the fun comes from the scenarios - which the rulebook helpfully provides several of. Creating additional ones and testing them out is a great way to play the game!

Not depicted on the vampire box are the bat swarms, here is one of mine.
Prolonged play:
EotD's simple rules allow for it to scale well with larger numbers of models. This plays into the attached campaign system. The problematic availability of models to expand your collection with, punches several holes into this element however.

EotD is fun to play and has attractive models. My lack of faith in its creator, stemming from a consistent absence of transparency and support, makes me wary of recommending it.
This is especially so, as there is no word, as to if the next book released will supplement or replace the one currently in publication.  I have spoken directly to westwind who confirmed the next book will supplement the current one.

The fact that only the first four factions released have any rules published should be taken into heavy consideration, as if you want to play any of the other factions, you can't!