In Her Majesty’s Name
Greetings, salutations, and other platitudes as appropriate – El Guapo, here with a review of In Her Majesty’s Name for your consideration.
First, a note on what I mull over when reviewing a game.
Rules – Are they clear? Are they flexible? Indexed properly? This category is more of an unemotional look at the mechanics and a description of the system.
Models – Proprietary? Detailed? Conversion/Modelling potential?
Depth – The ‘meta’ behind the game. What does the game turn into once the dice start rolling? What’s too small, what’s too large, and what’s the intent between the lines? Also considered are background, fluff, and art in the associated literature.
Community – This is pretty straightforward, as it represents the crowd of folks that play the game, which in many aspects can become the most important part.
I tend to weigh each of these four categories equally, or at least I’m going to try to. My background might help you understand where I’m coming from, and will either support or refute my opinions on games that I review, so here we go. From about 1990 to 1996, I was into Dungeons and Dragons, though I only played in a few campaigns. I didn’t have a dedicated gaming group, so I spent a lot of time coming up with characters, painting figures from the D&D lines, and in general just immersing myself in the creative process. In 1996 I went to college and found Games Workshop and a group of gamers that were very much into the hobby. I played 40K and a little Fantasy from ’96 onwards, until about the advent of 6th edition 40K. During that time I especially enjoyed the smaller types of games, from Combat Patrol to the Movie Marines to Necromunda and Mordheim. I dabbled in Warmachine before Mk II, and I even bought a few Confrontation miniatures. Eventually, I found Malifaux, and I honed my passion for skirmish level games. I played Malifaux for about three years, and I found a new gaming group that plays a lot of games that I hadn’t considered before. I began going to gaming conventions, not just Games Workshop conventions, and I discovered a vast world of models and miniatures beyond the Red Shirts. Fast forward to today – I currently own forces for 40K, Fantasy, Warmachine, Malifaux, In Her Majesty’s Name, Blood Bowl, Saga, and I could probably dig out my old Mordheim models. I’m currently playing In Her Majesty’s Name, Saga, and I’m getting into Anima Tactics, albeit slowly, as the pocketbook allows. So! Now that I’ve guaranteed a TL::DR response, onwards to the dress of the day – In Her Majesty’s Name.
In Her Majesty’s Name (IHMN) is a rules set designed around skirmish level conflicts between small bands of figures. It is published by Osprey Publishing, and was written by Craig Cartmell and Charles Murton. More specifically, it’s a Steampunk Skirmish Wargame set in the year 1895, pitting Companies of heroic and nefarious individuals (and their underlings) against each other in variety of scenarios.
First impressions of the game? The rulebook is 64 pages long. It costs approximately $15, and you can download it as a .pdf for a little less than that. Compare to the latest rulebook for another company which comes out to $75 (and that’s just for an expansion, not even the main rules) and you can see a clear difference right off the bat. This is not a book to go squashing spiders with, but as I get into the description of the game, it wasn’t meant to be. Games last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, hour and a half. The model count is low, generally you won’t see more than 15 models on a side, and that’s for a rather large game. The equipment and characters in the book ensure there are plenty of cinematic moments that provide that crucial bit of “my word, what a thrilling adventure!” that is necessary for repeat games. Enough generalizations – on to the meat of the review!
Rules – IHMN is a d10 system. Everything you do is governed by a d10 and modifiers based on equipment and skills. This is both easier and more challenging than other systems, because while you technically only need one die to play the game, the modifiers can be conditional, so remembering exactly what you need to roll can be something of a math problem if you haven’t planned ahead. By “planned ahead,” I mean it’s a good idea to have each of your characters written down with all of their usual equipment and the bonuses lined up for quick referral during games. It’s not an eye chart, just a handy tool. The rules themselves are divided up into chapters and sections, and often when something in the text refers to a rule, it’ll add a (3.4) so you know which chapter and section to refer to. That is a huge help, though it still falls a little short of being a true index. Still, that’s not to stop the creative from putting tabs on their printouts for easy navigation to the main sections. The mechanics themselves are simple enough to grasp after a couple of activations. Models take turns moving, and then shooting, and then in combat, based on which player won an Initiative roll. A nice facet of this set up is that it adds a layer of complexity to a scenario. You can’t just walk up to someone and blast them straightaway – every model gets a chance to move before the shooting starts, which makes for a more careful positioning of valuable characters. Close Combat is where most of the killing gets done, but the rules set it up for more of a one-on-one fight rather than a huge brawl. If a character is getting mobbed, multiple combatants can add their weight to a single attack, making it possible to take down heavily armored individuals. Still, it’s not uncommon to see combats go for three or four turns because of fortuitous rolls. Something we’ll come back to in the Depth section are the custom company creation rules. This, I think, is where the game shines the most. There are tables for Pluck saves (the closest equivalent would be an Invulnerable save from 40K) and how much they cost, point spreads for a huge variety of weapons, armors, mechanical horses, flying contraptions, and electric dynamos, and breakdowns of skills and how to make your own Mystic Powers. The only (possible) flaw, or perhaps the inherent genius behind this, is that it’s integrated throughout the book. While it’s not immediately apparent that you’re encouraged to create your own Companies (at least not as much as if it were in a section called “Creating Your Own Companies”), the fact that the points are listed everywhere in every table makes it sort of evident that the whole system is designed, as one friend of mine put it, as a ‘sandbox’ system. That simple statement justifies the slimness of the rulebook, and the perceived need for house rules. Just like how Warhammer was born when some fellows had Citadel models on hand and made up some rules for them, this system is designed to let you grab models from any manufacturer, equip them, and field them how you see fit. And speaking of models…
Models – This is a particular strength of the game. Through a partnership with North Star Military Figures, several of the pre-designed companies in the game are available for purchase. The especially nice thing is that the box sets include leaders, specialists, and enough grunts to go beyond the recommended encounter size, letting you play larger games without having to go buy more models. This is in contrast to other game systems that require you to buy, for a non-specific example, an HQ unit and two Troops choices. Most games should fall into the 250 point range or smaller, and even at 250 points you’re only using about 75% of the box contents. Speaking of which, the contents are all metal, 28mm figures with lots of character. They’re surprisingly fun to paint, and since the game relies so heavily on individual characters, each model has a particular personality once painted. They may not be as dynamic as other models, but I haven’t seen any that require assembly (so far). This makes for a very durable, transportable model, and is a huge selling point for me. The conversion potential is a little more limited with the available models, at least in comparison to plastic figures, but again, with the ability to choose models from any number of manufacturers, that shouldn’t really be an issue.
Depth – Steampunk is an increasingly popular setting. What’s great about this system is that you can make it as heavily or lightly themed as you like. In addition to the Companies in the book, which include resurrected Pharaohs and cultists, Big Game Hunters, English Rifle Companies, US Marines, and Old West cowboys on steam powered horses, I’ve seen the French Foreign Legion, Imperial Russians, and Electric Automatons, beings that look suspiciously like Daleks, and everything in between. The scenarios are also rich in character. On the surface, there’s your usual objective grabs, breakthrough scenarios, and control of table quarters set-ups. There are also scenarios like “Bad Jack,” in which an evil independent character (ostensibly Jack the Ripper) is in the center of the board, and you have to eliminate him for the win. There’s a mad dash for safety from an inexorable tide of lava or a tidal wave or something like that. There’s catching a moving objective in the form of a pigeon. In addition, there are optional modifiers that can add complexity to the mission – for example, if you take a shot against your target and miss, there’s a rule by which you may hit an innocent bystander. Accrue enough innocent bystander kills, and you lose the scenario as you’ve become too much of a liability for your employer. Otherwise, the scenarios are pretty open form. In a conversation with the creator (more about that in the Community section) about how long games should last, he sagely said that games go on until they’re over. No turn limits unless specified, no time limits beyond what you agree to beforehand. This allows for a lot of cinematic moments, since in many instances there isn’t the same threat of a limited timeframe to complete necessary actions. Now you can afford to send a peon after Bad Jack, on the off chance that something unusual happens. The game, in general, just feels more dynamic, more like a story unfolding. This isn’t, though, necessarily the best game for tournament format as most of us are used to the idea. The customizability of the Companies means it would be difficult to organize a level playing field for tournament play. It is, however, ideal for something like a mini campaign or a league. As games are played, victory points earned are added to a total that can be spent on new models or equipment for the next game. With that, though, it would probably be best to start small, and maybe max out at 300 points. Awards would have to be given on a more ‘meta’ level, with prizes for the hobby aspect, player favorites, best sportsman, and the like as opposed to simply who won the most. As previously mentioned, most games fall in around the recommended level of 250 points. That nets you up to two leaders, a specialist or two (meaning a Mystic or a Medic, for example), and about six or so regular troops. Most games end up being between Companies of about eight to twelve models, which is pretty much ideal. Any more than 15 and you really end up bogging the game down, as every model moves, shoots, and fights independently. Smaller games of 150 points gets you about five models per side, and a much faster game, but in some respects games at that size could feel truncated, as you may not have enough models to accomplish goals. As for the type of game this is, in the games that I’ve played and seen, everyone tries initially to set their models up with firing lines – it quickly becomes evident that this is only really worth it for dedicated shooters. Most folks are going to have so many problems hitting their targets when everything is moving that you realize your best chance of finishing someone off comes from close combat. Having personally attempted to shoot people with a paintball gun while they’re moving and while I’m moving and trying not to get hit, I can assure you that this is a strikingly accurate mechanic. Combat is suitably swift and messy, unless your opponent has a really great Pluck save, in which case you’d best hope to have a few friendly models around that you can pile on the attacks. Finally, the art in the rulebook is pretty good – there are many photos of North Star figures facing off in unusual locations, all brilliantly painted. Even the illustrations are good, in that they evoke the steam-powered 1890s, and yet they hint at different combinations and conversions yet to try.
Community – Probably the most important aspect of the game, in that you need like-minded ladies and gentlemen of sufficiently genteel peerage… actually, all you need is a few friends and a few “pip pips” here and there. This isn’t a game that can easily be played by showing up at your local game store, but I was happy to discover at the last gaming convention I attended that several people were interested and a few had their own Companies. The bottom line is that you have to keep these games light and friendly, but beyond that, our area is really just starting to get this fanbase moving. There is an unbelievably strong community online, most notably in the Lead Adventure Forums (if you play any sort of wargame, you can find useful information and inspiring work here). One of the writers, Craig Cartmell, also has a blog that he maintains for the game, with new supplemental content appearing regularly. Craig has even featured player-created content on his official blog, and he’s usually online to answer questions, clear up quandaries, and share stories of his gaming back in the UK. His level of presence is notable, and his attitude of ‘gamers first’ goes a long way toward making this a really friendly crowd to game with. The challenge that this game faces is the retail space in stores where the established heavyweights reign supreme, and new players balking at what looks like a rather weedy rulebook (at first) and models that come in DVD sized cases. It will take the efforts of the community to get this game out, get it played, and to showcase it for people that are looking to explore the more creative side of gaming.
So there you have it. Definitely a TL::DR post, but this is a game that’s worth writing that much about. If I had to give it a letter grade, I’d say it’s about a B+. IHMN’s only real fault isn’t with the game itself, it’s the fact that it challenges our perceptions as gamers to exist in a sandbox world where anything is possible, and it places a lot of responsibility on the individual to make the game fun as opposed to massively unbalanced. With mature gamers that enjoy just getting together and having a good time, it’s perfect as an opportunity to showcase modeling skills and to have a laugh. The drawbacks include a bit of difficulty finding specific things in the rules without the aid of an index and an awful lot of adding and subtracting every time you want to shoot something, but otherwise, this is a game I’ll be playing for a very long time.
Edit: A previous version of this review said that there were no rules governing shooting at models in cover – that was an oversight by the author of this review, as rules for shooting at models in cover do exist – just not where he looked at first. This review has been amended to reflect that.