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Subject: A Great Game With a Dim Future rss

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Tim Capps
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INTRODUCTION


I bought one of the full boxed games, then added another, and have played them with my adult sons, gamers all, with varied tastes in games, tending toward Warhammer Fantasy Battle and role-playing. All enjoyed Leviathans, which is a rare consensus. You just really can't say anything bad about the game (well, actually you can; more anon), the rules are easy to get into, and there's so much flavor I can't keep my dog from licking the box. It isn't cheap -- about a hundred bucks at your game store -- but when you compare Sails of Glory pushing $90, you are getting a lot more with Leviathans for a measly $10 more, starting with twice as many pre-painted plastic ships with superior detail, not to mention a box built for the ages.

Leviathans = Titanics?

I'm not going to dwell on Leviathan's failure to float, but it just seems strange to me that a clever, well-made PPP minis lite naval wargame with a steampunk veneer and tons of fluff would not push enough buttons to be a hit. It ought to be the kind of game someone would spring for at the local game store and generate buzz. But obviously not. I guess I fall into a narrow category of gamer who loves naval games, but doesn't mind a fantasy element and doesn't view a 3-digit price tag as a psychological barrier. (As usual, a lot cheaper on line.) The lack of follow-up didn't help, but there is so much play in what is out there already, I'm baffled. I hope they get Leviathans airborne again, but I've got everything I need. The most pressing issue are more factions, not bolting a bunch of new rules onto an elegant system.

COMPONENTS


The things you CAN complain about in components: (1) the PLASTIC is on the brittle side. I haven't broken a ship, but I have broken one of the bases. I tried to pull out the elevation stand, and the base was too brittle to take it. Out came the stand with a plastic "plug" leaving a ragged hole in the middle of an otherwise undamaged base. Seems elementary that the fitting should not be so tight as to exceed the strength of the base! (2) FLAGS. Not a big deal unless you painstakingly attach all the little suckers only to find them falling ingloriously off the masts of your fleet because someone forgot the glue. Do I really want to take brush in hand and apply my own glue? No, I do not. (3) DICE: the heart of the combat system is a collection of different colored dice, so it is useful to be able to read them. But my batch came with some recessed numbers smeared with white paint over much of one side, while others were completely innocent of any paint whatsoever. That lack of quality control is just tacky.

Ships

Those are the only complaints I have. Otherwise, the ships are big enough to show detail, well-designed to give a distinctly different feel for either faction that matches their different approach to combat. They're just plain cool. Each of the British and French sides get a "Leviathan," essentially a pre-WWI dreadnaught, which most would call a battleship. The ships are recognizably from our own pre-WWI historical era, which adds to the appeal for naval wargamers, and helps in the suspension of disbelief.

Each also has two destroyers, and one each light cruiser. The scale feels right, with a Leviathan dwarfing a destroyer. The "painting" puts appropriate colors on various parts of the ship which does not look messy up close, and looks quite nice at table-top distance.

Board

Two sections of hard mounted board provide an attractive playing surface over sea and land. The good news is that you can play on a fairly small area (our dining room table is fine); the bad news is that it looks a little cramped, and, rarely, can be cramped. The rules turn a sweeping battle in the clouds into a battleship cage match in which a vessel disintegrates if it edges off the board. Hmm. This sounds worse than it has proved in play, because weapon ranges tend to bring ships in close, but it has forced unrealistic choices on a Commander once or twice. One of the reasons I bought the second box was for the extra boards. (The extra boxed set is a much better deal than buying one each of the two factions available. Now I have not only more flexibility in putting together opposing fleets, but all the extras, too.)

Ship Cards

Each ship has one or more laminated damage cards which depict the information the captain must know about his weapons, speed, maneuverability, and damage. (There are a couple options for the light cruiser, giving you two very different ships to choose from for your game.) You mark damage right on the card with erasable markers. I have never seen a problem with a clean wipe-off.

It packs a lot of info into a handy size, and represents a good example of the way the game system builds in factors you don't have to worry about. For example, when you fire, you will always get a die from your opponent's card. It will be a better die for targeting factors in your favor, and not so good when your target is harder to hit on account of speed or whatever. This is so much more elegant than looking up different factors on a table like in most naval wargames. This sort of -- I have to use the word again -- elegant method of handling the non-fun stuff of gaming behind the scenes is what I love most about this game.

Keeping track of damage could not be easier. Each "location" (a major aspect of the ship, say, the entire starboard side of a light cruiser) will have six "slots." Each slot has a "breach number" which an attacker must meet or beat to destroy. (Surviving armor slots in a location -- if any -- are added to the breach number.) If your attack punches through, that slot is destroyed, with various consequences depending on what that slot contained (e.g. gun knocked out, loss of crew, etc.). Lost slots are just marked off the card with your marker.

Another example of clever use of a card to translate "real world" action into the game is that some smaller, speedier ships will have "missed" slots. So your Leviathan can to all appearances land a devastating blow on a destroyer, but it was actually a near miss, or perhaps punched right through without detonating.

Fluff

I have never seen so much fluff in a board game. Ship recognition cards, a nice-looking poster, and two novellas are some of the totally unnecessary items that got put into the box. The artwork is very nice and the writing is entertaining. A lot of work obviously went into world-building. It enhanced my enjoyment of the game and added to the perceived value.

Dice

Quality control issues aside, the dice are peculiar but work perfectly in this game. They're all 12-siders, but numbered so as to make them work like different polyhedron dice. You can substitute regular D4, D6, D8, D10, and D12, but the dice are coded by color on the ship cards, so you would need appropriately colored dice unless you can remember "green means D4." Having the dice be physically the same (while giving results as though they were different polyhedron dice)lubricates the combat, and was a good call on the designer's part.

String

Torpedo resolution requires a meticulous determination of line of sight. A long piece of string, ideal for stretching over the board, is provided for this purpose. I'm not joking. Whenever anyone brings up the price, "the string" has become the standard rejoinder. Since it is necessary for game play, and string being no longer something many of us keep around the house, I like my string. Easily worth 15 bucks right there.

Box

If ever a box deserved its own mention in a review, this is the box that does. Let me speak for a moment of some ghosts of boxes past, and they are ghosts because they have long since departed before their time. Please observe a moment of silence for Twilight Imperium, and Tide of Iron. Alas, the games deserved better than their boxes. The mighty intergalactic fleet of conquest has long since been scattered by the cat and sucked up into the vacuum cleaner, and half of TOI fell down the heat vent. How demoralizing. These tragedies could have been prevented if only the boxes had not been made of construction paper.

Leviathan's box exceeds minimum construction standards for schools in 32 countries. It keeps everything together, and cradles your precious ships in custom, form-fitted recesses. Between the string and the box, I don't know how they could have sold this for less than $150. (Catalyst is probably saying the same thing.) Seriously. there's something scary strong about this box.

GAME PLAY


I am not going to be comprehensive, since you can download the rules (and a whole lot more) from: http://monstersinthesky.com/download/ These are not intended to be examples of play, but to give potential buyers an idea of how it plays. I want to show you how easy, and, ironically, realistic it is.

Shooting

I am on the bridge of the Leviathan, indeed a monster in the sky, and the biggest thing up there. The French Jean Bart, the pride of their fleet, is ahead, at a distance of 16 hexes, just within range of my mighty 12 in. forward turrets. I see on my ship's card that gun's long range color code is red, so I grab a red die (equivalent to a 10-sider). I have a crew in that location, so I add a green die (D4). The Jean Bart is a big target heading straight for me, so I take the target dice colors from the forward location on her card, in this case a red (D10) and a blue (D6). To this, I add a normal six-sider to determine which of six "slots" in the forward "location" my attack strikes.

The 12" gun thunders. It is the largest gun in the sky and a decided advantage for the British. The normal six-sider gives slot "2" -- one of Jean Bart's 274 mm gun. The "breach number" for that slot is 12, and she has two slots worth of armor in her forward location, which add +1 each, making a total breach number of 14. This is the number my other dice have to equal of beat to destroy that slot. Leviathan's breach roll adds up to 15, which destroys slot 2 on the forward location, and the 274 mm. gun! Leviathan's other 12 in. fails to damage.

The French captain frowns as he circles that location. (Firing guns is considered simultaneous, so he does not cross it out yet.) When it is his turn, he fires each 274 gun (the one in slot 2 for the first and last time) at Leviathan's forward location. Reading off his ship card, he gets a yellow die (D8)at long range, and a green die (D4) for a crew slot in that location. From Leviathan's card, he gets a red (D10) and blue (D6)for target dice. To these he adds the normal six-sider for location. The first 274 mm. fails to breach, rolling a 14 on the Tesla trim tank. (Since that slot's breach number is 14, this would normally be a breach, but Leviathan has two intact armor slots, so the French player would have needed a 16.)

The other 274 mm. gun is more successful. The six-sider yields the same slot -- 5, the Tesla trim tank again. This time the breach roll is 18, more than enough to destroy slot 5. Leviathan will now fire at -1 to his breach and Break the Keel (more later) rolls as it will be a less steady gunnery platform. Both players frown and mark off their destroyed slots.

And that's just how smooth combat is.

I'm pretty sure you're supposed to "call your shots," but that seems rather tedious, so we let each ship choose its target when it shoots. There are also rules for different types of guns, such as saturation fire.

Torpedoes

Firing a torpedo is easy. You put a numbered launch counter next to the firing ship, and a target counter with the same number up to 18 hexes away. These counters are both placed face down. NOTE: We played with them face-up at first, but the game bogged down into excruciating calculations of every possible torpedo track and plotting moves to protect your ships. It is much better to keep the counters face-down so there is an element of uncertainty. Now captains do their best, but usually can't be sure which target counter is associated with which launch counter. There is a certain "Damn the torpedoes" attitude required to preserve your freedom of maneuver. While torpedoes are nothing to laugh at, they're not ship-killers either. Besides inflicting damage, torpedoes can channel an over-cautious enemy's movement and inflict psychological pressure.

Again, the Leviathan trademark of deceptively simple and dramatic combat is reflected in the torpedo game. Flipping over the torpedo counters and seeing who got hit is always an exciting moment.

Torpedo fire involves trying to predict where enemy ships are likely to be after they move. Everything gets resolved after movement, and if a ship is on a track between two counters with the same number (the STRING remember?) it takes an attack. (It is embarrassing when you forget where your own torpedo tracks are and eat one of your own fish (birds?). Sometimes a brave little destroyer has interposed itself between a likely torpedo track and your Leviathan to take one for England.

Again, an elegant way to handle what has often been a pain in games. Notice the hidden torpedo targeting without any bookkeeping, and that it is not necessary to actually move torpedoes across the board.

Some ships are heavy on torpedoes, and some have none at all. When you have a choice of assigning a model to one ship card or another, it is usually the choice between torpedo-heavy or gun-heavy. Torpedoes are nicely balanced. Nothing seems broken in this game. Sometimes I have taken as many torpedoes as my ship cards would allow, but guns are surer. Often, torpedoes fly harmlessly through the sky until they drop, because the player failed to guess where his target would be after his move.

Destruction of Ships

I love the way ships get destroyed. It is simple, realistic, original and adds a lot of drama to the game. As a ship takes damage in an individual location (as in our Leviathan's forward location we used in our gunnery example) it is losing its slots in that location, one by one. Meanwhile, it may very well be taking damage in other locations, too. (Note, taking damage and losing slots means the same thing.)

For example, later in the battle, Leviathan has continued to take a pounding. The British captain has grown silent as he has marked off slot after slot destroyed. He has lost seven slots elsewhere, and four slots in his forward location -- including slot 5, which knocked out one of his Tesla trim tanks, if you recall. Only slots 1 and 2 -- Armor and a 12 in. gun turret -- are spared.

His nemesis, Jean Bart fires his remaining 274 mm. gun and the six-sider slot die indicates 3. Since slot 3 is destroyed, Jean Bart rolls again to determine a new slot. The French captain is hoping for something other than a 1 or 2, the slots that have not been destroyed. While it would be nice to further degrade Leviathan's combat effectiveness, he is hoping for something bigger: breaking her keel.

The next roll yields slot 5 -- the old Tesla trim tank that was knocked out in the first exchange of gunnery. Since the re-roll gives a destroyed slot, the Leviathan is in grave danger of a catastrophic failure that tear her in two and sink her from the sky: Breaking the Keel. The French captain will roll two red dice (D10). He is trying to meet or beat Leviathan's Structural Integrity value of 30. Obviously, that's not going to happen with two 10-siders, but he gets to add one for every slot destroyed anywhere, and another for every slot destroyed in the targeted location, in this case the forward location. So... +7 for slots destroyed elsewhere, +4 for slots in the forward location, and +4 again for those same slots in the forward location, it being the one currently under attack. (In other words, all slots destroyed in the location targeted by the attack that triggered the Breaking the Keel roll give +2 each, while all other slots are only one each.) The total of modifiers is thus +15.

The French Captain needs to roll 15 on his two red dice. He shakes the pair and they tumble onto the table. The British Leviathan shudders, throwing crewmen to the deck, and even over the side, their fall arrested by safety lines. An explosion deep within the vessel's hull sounds like thunder from within, followed by a shriek of metal like a live thing in agony. Slowly, Leviathan lists to starboard, and a shout goes up from the French crew. Yet the movement is arrested. The shout dies as Leviathan -- somehow -- rights herself and maintains her forward momentum: directly at Jean Bart.

The roll was 13.

That's the kind of drama I look forward to in a game. Leviathans has many such cinematic moments.

At first, you have almost no chance of killing any ship, let alone a Leviathan with a structural integrity of 30. But as damage accumulates, your plusses increase, as we saw, until every Breaking the Keel roll is potentially decisive. Additionally, the rolls themselves become more frequent as more slots get knocked out, because there are more destroyed slots for that re-roll to hit, triggering a Breaking the Keel roll.

In the play of the game, ships gradually lose combat effectiveness as guns and other systems are knocked out, but they don't necessarily go down from mere accumulated damage. When sufficiently weakened, however, they are vulnerable to a catastrophic failure. Also, while unlikely, a lucky Breaking the Keel roll can take out a ship fairly early in the game. Also, the examples have used Leviathans. Smaller ships have lower Structural Integrity values, and are much easier to take out.

This is far better from the old naval wargame method of marking off hull boxes until your ship sinks, big surprise. Again, a simple, superior game mechanic that is dramatic and fun.

Movement

There is nothing too original here, but Catalyst has borrowed mechanics from some of the good games. First the class of biggest ships move, the player who lost the initiative roll first, then the other player. (This gives the player with initiative the advantage of reacting.) Then the next lower class of ships the same way, and so on down to destroyers. The board has a hex grid and movement is easy. Each ship card shows how many hexes a ship may move, and how many hexes it must move before turning a hexside.

There are some rules for special moves, too. Ships are also able to screen other ships to protect them. This makes destroyers useful in one of their historical roles. I don't believe I have ever seen this satisfactorily represented in naval wargame (at least not one aimed at a popular audience). Destroyers also pack a punch with their torpedoes. It is nice to see them portrayed as something other than just very weak versions of battleships. There was a reason navies built lots of destroyers, although you wouldn't know it from most games.

Damage can knock out steering and engines, leaving ships less useful and more vulnerable.

The French are much faster than the British, which allows a different style of play.

Playing Time

We have spent half a day playing a game with full fleets, but the more familiar we become with the rules, the shorter a game is. Even so, game play is measured in hours. I suppose you could play a short game between smaller fleets, but, hey, I bought two boxes so I could have more ships. I want to try things like four destroyers on picket duty runs into a lone light cruiser, and see what happens. (I suspect the light cruiser would come off the worse.)

FACTION CHARACTERISTICS


As everybody knows, only the British and French are available. Each faction -- I don't really like that term, but everyone seems to use it; I think I'll use nationality, instead. Each nationality has an identical fleet in the complete game box: a Leviathan, a light cruiser, and two destroyers. The different fleets reflect different design philosophies, however, which are presented nicely in the game.

The British have heavier guns and armor, but are slow. The French are fast, but don't pack the same punch or have the same protection. The modelers have done a good job making the ships look like their characteristics. The French ships are sleek, while the British ships look more like the blunt instruments they are. The difference in play for the British and French nationalities are significant, yet don't feel "bolted on" for the sake of difference. The French are famous for their elan, and the British for their bulldog determination.

It's nice to see a game with different nationalities (or "factions" if you must) where the characteristics are organic to a story line in a world very much like our own around 1910.

SO IS IT WORTH IT?


Given the price of games these days, it is hard to look at what you get in the Leviathans box and say it isn't worth it. If you have any interest in early 20th warships with or without a steampunk vision of flying versions of them, I think you would enjoy this game. It has the most satisfying naval rules I've ever met. With little effort, you could probably make a fine WWI naval wargame out of it.

The miniatures are great in design and execution, the painting looks nice and clean. I admire the way the rules and cards handle factors in combat so you never have to think about them. The depths of the system are opaque, so you can concentrate on tactics. It is not a hard game to learn, and there are plenty of examples in the rules. There are quick-start rules, then the full set.

If there's one downside, it might be all those boxes sitting on shelves. That means you are probably going to be a one-man band in your local gaming group. And it is hard to generate enthusiasm for a game that has no discernible future.

Since it ticks all my boxes, yet hasn't done well, I'm wondering if I have learned I am just an atypical gamer. There probably aren't many people wandering into a game store who know who Sir "Jacky" Fisher is, or what the Dogger Bank incident is. This is the very game I would have made if I made games, which is why it gets 10 stars for me. (The string is worth 2, in case you're wondering.)

The one-sentence summary is: If you think you might like this game, you will.

Catalyst: Quo Vadis?

Right now, Catalyst has a great game on its hands. That's something, but apparently not enough.

Most people are attributing its lackluster sales to Catalyst's poor post-release performance, especially its failure to release additional "factions." But I have to think the failure of a game that was, after all, complete, that also had additional ship sets from the two original nationalities, cannot be attributed to a "lack of factions." Of course, now there are plenty of reasons to worry about Leviathan's future, but I'm not sure there were early in the distribution.

Historical-type wargames can be good sellers. Memoir44 did not become popular by appealing only to grognards. Battlelore is pretty much the same game with the addition of fantasy elements. So lite wargames can sell, and fantasy is not the kiss of death to a lite wargame.

Now we have Sails of Glory out. (Just bought it today.) The box is interesting. It puts the actual ship miniatures on display in the packaging. Would Leviathan have done better showing those appealing miniatures? How much extra does that cost, I wonder? I think another route would have been much better.

Look what Privateer Press did for Warmachine: complete demo sets for game stores with painted minis and a small terrain board on a free-standing display. That sold tons of starter sets for PP. They, too, had to get peoples' attention about a new fantasy world and concept of play. I was a Press Ganger for PP and they did everything right at first. I think Catalyst would have been smart to have put together demo kits with one ship for each side, simplified, one-sheet rules that included the coolest parts of the game, and done some real marketing. Granted, a Warmachine demo could be played really fast, but I bet you could demo the basics of Leviathans quickly, too.

Maybe in the end it was a case of people balking at a Benjamin for a high-concept game they didn't know anything about, from a company not known for board games.

This is the one thing I hope Catalyst doesn't do: push paper instead of plastic. The appealing thing about the game is its relative ease of play. We don't need a bunch of new rules cluttering up the game "to keep interest up." I have stopped playing games I was heavily invested in just because companies could not resist adding so many new rules (and special rules for newer, more powerful, characters) that you literally had to download the latest errata before your Thursday night game. (And even then it was impossible to reconcile some mutually-interacting abilities -- bah.)

Altitude was planned from the start, and that's bad enough. I can say I have never seen an aerial or space game improved by elevation rules. They invariably wind up being a clunky, frustrating waste of time. Please, Catalyst, please don't blow whatever chance this game has by needlessly complicating it. There are a few things that might be done -- additional ship cards, for example -- that would truly enhance the existing game, as long as they did not introduce power creep. Maybe scenarios -- plenty of historical ones to pick from, and they have obviously done their homework.

So, like I said: Catalyst has a great game on its hands. But right now, it is a game without a future, and they couldn't make another run now if they wanted to. I am not much a fan of kickstarter, but I might make an exception. In the meantime, is there a reason they couldn't make a quality hex and counter boardgame with identical rules to keep the concept alive? I don't see any reason you couldn't port it over rule-by-rule, and then we could see not only British and French, but Germans and Italians, and Russians (!) and Japanese. I really hope this is what Catalyst ends up doing.

Fortunately, I have never seen a game disappear from my closet because a company stopped supporting it. I will be playing Leviathans for as long as I'm playing anything. Leviathans has all the earmarks of a labor of love, and I suspect Catalyst is not going to want to abandon it.

--St. Corbinian's Bear
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Excellent review - could have been really amazing had you taken a moment to include just a picture or two. Considering this is very much a visual medium, I wish you'd provide some to illustrate several key points (Ship sizes, broken pieces, poorly painted dice...) I gave you some thumbs but would've given Geek Gold had you included pictures, too.

My main issue with the game is two-fold: 1. Price (triple digits or near triple-digits will always be a deal-breaker, for me - just can't see myself paying that much for a board game, ever), 2. The Rules (just looked WAY too complex and daunting, though I only got to see a pre-release version of them, perhaps they ARE better now?)
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Jake Rose
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Nice review.

As for the rules being WAY too complex, this is mitigated by inclusion of a 'beginner' set which is not too complex, and then the ability to add in parts of the advanced rules as you want/are ready to do so. The Lieutenant's (beginner) rules are fun to play and will decrease play time and complexity.

Catalyst seems to keep the hope of a relaunch for the game as a kickstarter project. I hope they do so and that it is successful enough to get some new nationalities added in.
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Leo Zappa
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I think you've hit on the reasons that this game appears to be still-born:
1. Much of the initial buzz was squandered with significant delays to the initial release. I know this was on my "Must Buy" list for some time, but as time wore on with no release, I went on to other things, such as Star Trek: Attack Wing.

2. The horrendous lack of marketing by the publisher. There was little done by them to market this game either pre- or post-release. There should have been publisher-driven press releases, previews, and reviews. Especially given the delays in releasing the game, the publisher really needed to go into overdrive to recapture mindshare of the target audience.

3. The apparent inability of the publisher to commit to supporting the game with a steady stream of follow-up expansions and starter set reprints. For a miniatures game to gain momentum, people want to know that they will be able to flesh out their fleets with new and exciting models down the line. Three of my favorite systems committed to multiple follow-on expansion waves early on, Star Trek: Attack Wing, with 9 expansion waves already announced, and Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures: War at Sea, which had 5 huge expansion sets issued after the initial set of models. Heroscape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie , the third system in which I was heavily invested, had expansion waves and sets numbering in the teens.

From everything I've read, Leviathans seems like a great game, something I'd really enjoy. However, I don't want to invest in a miniatures system that isn't strongly supported by the publisher. It really appears that the entire project was under-capitalized, and as a result, as a potential customer, I have no confidence in the company's ability or will to support the game long enough to produce sufficient sets of expansions to truly provide a rich, epic, immersive experience in terms of the variety of models, scenarios, and so forth. It's a shame.

*EDIT* - One thing I would add. I think for most people who are in the target audience for this game, price is NOT the problem. Most people who invest in miniatures games know going in that they are much more expensive than boardgames eventually, because the game is never really ready to go unless you buy not only a starter set, but a bunch of expansions, and ofter multiple starters. In terms of the three systems I bought into, I'm sure I spent around $500 total on Heroscape stuff, $900 on Axis & Allies War at Sea, and I'm already up around $500 on Star Trek Attack Wing, and I'm not done with that one yet. When it comes to miniatures game systems, I know I'm not alone in terms of spending money. I don't think Leviathans starter set price point is really the problem, as much as the apparent lack of support that I noted earlier.
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Noel
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I would just like to mention that Catalyst has actually sold out its stock of the game, so in general the game sold well.
They are looking to relaunch the game with different packaging to emulate that of X-Wing, but it takes time and money to do that.

This is just a slow developing game. I know that in this age where things move fast and people have stopped playing a game system faster than they've removed the shrink wrap from the box because of a lack of constantly released Shiney, a slowly developed/released game is going to suffer.
But I don't think it is dead and it can still florish.
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Jake, thanks for explaining about the rules. That makes it more interested to me.

Shame they botched the release of this game so badly. I hope that there's a Kickstarter for it because I think that would generate massive sales with the right add-ons.
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John Peterson
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I remember reading - probably on their blog - that they determined their release strategy was unsustainable (i.e. unprofitable), so they were re-evaluating their release approach (I think going towards single ship releases like X-Wing and Star Trek and away from "Fleet boxes").

I went to GenCon in 2011 (?) with the main goal of buying the game, but it was unavailable for sale (but was there for demos) due to some issues with China and customs (the story was that a map in the rulebook showed Taiwan/Formosa separate from China proper). I ended up pre-ordering through Thought Hammer shortly thereafter and it was a FULL YEAR plus before it finally released. The delay was a HUGE disappointment, but the game is VERY COOL.
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I have to admit that the delay also cost them a sale from me (along with the rules worries I had and the huge price). I did have a few periods where I had the funds to acquire it but it was constantly in delay.
 
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Barry Kendall
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I would have bought such a game had it been about the early steam-steel naval era from pre-dreads through WW I, but this is just too farfetched a notion for me.

Sadly, history, vs. fantasy, doesn't seem to do so well with the lots-of-plastic-in-a-box approach.
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William Gaskill
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It's really a great Game but the lack of additional factions
have at this point left it dead in the water(well air).

This was buzzed out as an 8 faction game but after the core set
(which took forever)there was no 2nd act just excuses.
This game has been in development for several years but now
they can't even get the next 2 promised factions out.

OD
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FACTIONS, not fractions.
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Old Dwarf wrote:

It's really a great Game but the lack of additional fractions
have at this point left it dead in the water(well air).

This was buzzed out as an 8 fraction game but after the core set
(which took forever)there was no 2nd act just excuses.
This game has been in development for several years but now
they can't even get the next 2 promised fractions out.

OD


Yes, factions not fractions... How about just delivering the advanced/full set of rules?
 
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scubadawg1 wrote:
FACTIONS, not fractions.


Oh, man! I wanted my FRACTIONS! I thought this was a MATH game about REALLY BIG math problems! Totally not interested now.
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Read the rulebook, plan for all contingencies, and…read the rulebook again.
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Thanks for the review!

I've played Leviathan twice and currently own the base and both expansions—strictly for the models, which are superb.

I think if this game had come out 10 years ago with this level of lush production and style of play, it would have been a big hit. As it is, there are now fleet/air/space games that do this sort of thing in less time and wristage. (And I am not including Sails of Glory in this!)

Basically, I think the combat system needs to be "snappier." The mechanics for torpedoes are great. The rolling and hitting and saving and box checking on gunnery turns me off.

However, there are plenty of gamers that love just this sort of game and its theme. For Catalyst's sake, I hope those gamers jump on it!
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About the rules complexity. Naval games have traditionally had some extremely complex rules. (Even as we broke out Sails of Glory last night it was clear it was not Wings of War, although some of the mechanics were familiar looking.) The Leviathans rules do look daunting, but I hope the review demonstrated how many to-hit factors are handled by picking out four or five colored dice and rolling them to see if you beat destroy the past you hit.

Most games would have you consult a modifiers chart for target aspect, for speed, for range, for steadiness of the firing platform, for crew, and so on. But since everything is driven by color-coded ship cards and dice, it is simple and fast. It is literally just determining if the gun can be brought to bear, short or long range, target's aspect, then pick out your dice. You make one roll. The normal six-sider gives the slot and the others are totalled against the "breach number" of that slot. If the breach number is 14, and your side add up to 12, your do no damage. Roll 14+ and that slot is destroyed. Actually firing a gun normally takes 60 - 120 seconds if both players are on their toes.

I have played a lot of naval wargames ranging from Wooden Ships and Iron Men to Seekreig. I don't think you could trim the gunnery rules without dumbing down the game. BTW everything is online, even "miniatures" (to fold). So if you're at all interested, you ought to be able to get a pretty good idea. (You're on your own for string.)

Game play is fast. Obviously, certain situations can complicate things, but it is a snappy game, especially for a semi-serious naval game.

$73 is what they are going for online. But even at the $200 I spent I feel I'm getting a decent fun value, and there is enough there to keep me playing if the never make another model. The minis are just gorgeous, with or without flags.

I am a historical gamer. I play stuff like Avalanche's WWI games. The WWI ships and tactics sucked me right in. It is a better WWI naval game than Many of the WWI naval games out there. Great potential for a crossover game. If anything, it feels more like WWI than fantasy. I would love to see old salts and the steam punk crowd get together over this game.

I may be wrong, but having sold out your first run does not necessarily mean games sold and in gamers' hands. In the game stores I visit, I am pretty sure I'm the only one that bit (and bit again: I may even pick up the expanships sets). I think there are a lot of boxes sitting on shelves.

Like I said, compare SoG and Lev and tell me you don't get a lot more in Lev for a difference of ten bucks.

Thanks for the feedback, and watch those Tesla trim tanks!
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Thank you for this excellent review. I do hope that the word gets out about how good this game really is so that the eventual re-release ( probably thru Kickstarter as a way to fund production via quasi pre-orders ), so that it doesn't flop completely and get abandoned like some of my other favorites (i.e. The Lord of the Rings: Combat Hex Tradeable Miniatures Game and Heroscape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie ). Your description really nailed the amazing quality of the often overlooked and underappreciated "BOX" issue, as well as all important "STRING" as a major fluff factor.

I only have two minor points to critique...

StCorbiniansBear wrote:

Shooting

I am on the bridge of the Leviathan, indeed a monster in the sky, and the biggest thing up there. The French Jean Bart, the pride of their fleet, is ahead, at a distance of 16 hexes, just within range of my mighty 12 in. forward turrets. I see on my ship's card that gun's long range color code is red, so I grab a red die (equivalent to a 10-sider). I have a crew in that location, so I add a green die (D4). The Jean Bart is a big target heading straight for me, so I take the target dice colors from the forward location on her card, in this case a red (D10) and a blue (D6). To this, I add a normal six-sider to determine which of six "slots" in the forward "location" my attack strikes.



The French captain frowns as he circles that location. (Firing guns is considered simultaneous, so he does not cross it out yet.) When it is his turn, he fires each 274 gun (the one in slot 2 for the first and last time) at Leviathan's forward location. Reading off his ship card, he gets a yellow die (D8)at long range, and a green die (D4) for a crew slot in that location. From Leviathan's card, he gets a red (D10) and blue (D6)for target dice. To these he adds the normal six-sider for location. The first 274 mm. fails to breach, rolling a 14 on the Tesla trim tank. (Since that slot's breach number is 14, this would normally be a breach, but Leviathan has two intact armor slots, so the French player would have needed a 16.)

* FIRST: The range of the British 12" guns is (8/16), while the range of the French 274mm (almost 11" for the metric system impaired)... is only (7/14). SOOOoooo, IF the Jean Bart was just within the maximum range of the Leviathan (at 16 hexes), THEN it would not have been able to return fire, since it would have to move at least two hexes closer during the next turn for it to be within range. However, I thoroughly enjoyed your dramatic story telling which is typical of the games I've played and adds much to the fun factor. Period costumes can also enhance the role playing effect.

* SECOND: At the end of the Shooting section you stated, There are also rules for different types of guns, such as saturation fire. In your example above comparing the BIG British 12" guns and the BIG French 274mm guns, you should have been using SATURATION FIRE during these attacks. The BIG GUNS get to roll two (2x) white d6 Target Dice to potentially damage two separate slots on your opponent's vessels every time they shoot. I believe that you were probably thinking about the Bracketing Fire rule that allows you to Link two or more of the same, but smaller caliber guns together to shoot at the same target location ("slot"). Thus increasing the chances of exceeding the Breach Number to do damage.

scubadawg1 wrote:

I went to GenCon in 2011 (?) with the main goal of buying the game, but it was unavailable for sale (but was there for demos) due to some issues with China and customs (the story was that a map in the rulebook showed Taiwan/Formosa separate from China proper). I ended up pre-ordering through Thought Hammer shortly thereafter and it was a FULL YEAR plus before it finally released. The delay was a HUGE disappointment, but the game is VERY COOL.

I had not even heard of "Leviathans" until I played a Demo of it at GenCon 2011. But two of my buddies were all excited about it and very frustrated when they could not buy it that year. The following year it was available, and by then I was convinced that it would be my one major ($100.00) purchase at the convention. I do enjoy this game very much, in spite of it's flaws and I have been able to get in a casual game session with it about every other month. So I do consider that I have gotten a decent return on my investment.

I also visit the http://www.MonstersInTheSky.COM web site frequently, seeking news and strategy insights, while participating in the general discussions. I would have to say that the general mood of the community that supported this game initially is - utter frustration with this extremely long delay. Therefore, Catalyst Game Labs had better do something VERY SPECIAL when this ball gets rolling or else it might be Dead On Arrival.

So many former players, including myself, have already purchased and are playing other aerial combat game systems (such as Wings of War/Wings of Glory, Star Wars: X-Wing, Star Trek: Attack Wing, A&A: Bandits High/Angels-20, Eclipse, etc.), and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of even newer designs like Sails of Glory.
 
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I was just trying to keep the basic mechanics as simple as possible and demonstrate how so much is handled with a single dice roll, but thanks for the additional information on gunnery. I am probably in a bit better shape than most people in having my own family gaming group. If I didn't, I would have zero opponents, which would probably drain away some of the enthusiasm. Unless you're willing to play solo, the best game in the world isn't much good to you without gamers around to play with. Also while I haven't broken a mast yet, I would be concerned demoing my own copy with just anybody.

Funny how you class Lev as an aerial game. Technically, of course, it is, but it scratches the naval game itch for me. I think Wings of War when I think aerial games.

Whatever is in store for Lev, if anything, we have almost certainly seen the last of the deluxe presentations. What is the minimum number of ships for a starter box? (I'm thinking Warmachine). Then there is the complication of the board. With WoW, two airplanes is all you really need.

Cruisers operated independently as raiders, so could you effectively market a basic game "Raiders of the Sky" with one nationality's light cruiser (or better, cruiser) and card. one mounted (?) map section, and basic rules? Players would supply their own polyhedron dice, and markers. Have British, French, German and Italian (or would American and Japanese sell better?) Russian and Spanish (flip card for Brazilian, etc.) for later expansions. Then (a) sell the basic set cheap and (b) make sure it is getting demoed and promoted. An don't make the same mistake twice: have a good production company and get 4 nationalities released at the same time, along with the "Greyhounds of the Sky" expansion with two destroyers and cards; and light cruiser and "Monsters in the Sky" expansion sets.

You could also sell a "Commander's Edition" with special dice, original rules, string cloud overlays, extra elevation stands (boo), and whatever else. This way a person could get a useful ship and, adding some dice from the local game store, all they need is an opponent. The price for two different nationalities' starter set should be low enough for a person to feel like they cold pick up two to start playing right away.

And I don't see how they're going to get away from a point system.

Like I said in the review, they have a good game on their hands. That's a start. Maybe the biggest problem is that it is a niche product without a big enough base to support it. If that's the case, they need to increase their base. Which they've pretty much alienated.
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StCorbiniansBear wrote:

I was just trying to keep the basic mechanics as simple as possible and demonstrate how so much is handled with a single dice roll, but thanks for the additional information on gunnery. I am probably in a bit better shape than most people in having my own family gaming group. If I didn't, I would have zero opponents, which would probably drain away some of the enthusiasm. Unless you're willing to play solo, the best game in the world isn't much good to you without gamers around to play with. Also while I haven't broken a mast yet, I would be concerned demoing my own copy with just anybody.

1. Yes, I totally agree that the color coded polyhedral dice mechanic is fantastic and I applaud you efforts to describe "how so much [weapon type, target size, range, extra crew, etc.] is handled" with each roll. I was first introduced to color coded polyhedral dice to differentiate the characteristics of individual game pieces in Battleball, and always thought that this concept could have wider applications. Well, here is one for sure. I'd love to see the spreadsheets and formulas that back up the stochastic combat results. I find the multiple dice method much easier than referring to tables and charts.

2. You are very fortunate to have a local gaming group. My family gaming partners seemed to be stuck in the worker placement and resource management genre and would never consider a game that simulates anything as violent as blowing up battleships. So, I am in several "clubs" and twice a month will drive 50 - 150 miles (each way) just to scratch my Grognard-istic itches.

3. I know what you mean, and I am also careful whom I choose to play what with and there are certain board games in my collection that my grandsons are not allowed to touch - at least not yet - until they can appreciate their ($100.oo+) value.

Quote:

Funny how you class Lev as an aerial game. Technically, of course, it is, but it scratches the naval game itch for me. I think Wings of War when I think aerial games.

4. That is one of the neatest things about Leviathans and actually the hardest obstacle for me to overcome was the whole "Steam Punk" alternative history theme. At times I have wished that the ships could be glued to their bases and just perform as a WW-I Dreadnaught naval game, but the pedestals and new elevation rules definitely make it an aerial dogfight. I love the look of "Wings of War" and "Wings of Glory," but I am currently playing "Star Wars: X-Wing" and can not afford two simultaneous money pits. A long time ago, I similarly had to choose between medieval fantasy and historical scenarios, so Lord of the Rings - anything, BattleLore, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Galaxies far, far away, won out over Memoir'44, Flames of War, and Axis & Allies mini's, and A&A'40. I am presently thinking about either "Sails of Glory" or "Sail Power" as the "Naval War Game" addition to my collection.

Quote:

Whatever is in store for Lev, if anything, we have almost certainly seen the last of the deluxe presentations. What is the minimum number of ships for a starter box? (I'm thinking Warmachine). Then there is the complication of the board. With WoW, two airplanes is all you really need.

Cruisers operated independently as raiders, so could you effectively market a basic game "Raiders of the Sky" with one nationality's light cruiser (or better, cruiser) and card. one mounted (?) map section, and basic rules? Players would supply their own polyhedron dice, and markers. Have British, French, German and Italian (or would American and Japanese sell better?) Russian and Spanish (flip card for Brazilian, etc.) for later expansions. Then (a) sell the basic set cheap and (b) make sure it is getting demoed and promoted. An don't make the same mistake twice: have a good production company and get 4 nationalities released at the same time, along with the "Greyhounds of the Sky" expansion with two destroyers and cards; and light cruiser and "Monsters in the Sky" expansion sets.

You could also sell a "Commander's Edition" with special dice, original rules, string :D cloud overlays, extra elevation stands (boo), and whatever else. This way a person could get a useful ship and, adding some dice from the local game store, all they need is an opponent. The price for two different nationalities' starter set should be low enough for a person to feel like they cold pick up two to start playing right away. And I don't see how they're going to get away from a point system.

5. I have been following the blogs and discussions on the Monster-In-The-Sky web site for two years and even though I'd love to see the new fleet expansions published in the same or similar "DELUXE" presentation style boxes - I have to agree with you that the general consensus is: "It ain't gonna happen!" Personally, I don't like the idea of having to BUY the extra stuff like string, and dice, and clouds, etc. separately. And finding the right opponent isn't always the easiest thing to do. BUT CGL had better get their act together and be prepared to offer LOW enough price points, AND ubiquitous demonstrations, AND phenomenal support for competitive (point system) tournaments if they want this game to succeed.

Quote:

Like I said in the review, they have a good game on their hands. That's a start. Maybe the biggest problem is that it is a niche product without a big enough base to support it. If that's the case, they need to increase their base. Which they've pretty much alienated.

There's not much that I can add to this statement. You've nailed my sentiments exactly. Perhaps this is why the fans are so anxiously awaiting the announcement of this promised Kick-Starter project, to see what it will have to offer. I'm hoping that it will be enough to reignite the enthusiasm that I once had for this game.

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Besides a great game, they do have another asset: people who like this game really like it, I bet. I know I would be happy to demo it at the local game stores and cons gratis, as long as they supplied the kit. I don't know how many people I demoed Warmachine to who walked out with a starter box. (Of course, there were starter boxes... but I think we've beat that horse to death.) I was told Catalyst doesn't provide demo kits. Well... how did doing it their way go the first time?

I see Leviathans as the WWI naval wargame no one would ever play with me until now. I would be curious to know how many historical wargamers bought it, vs. how many were attracted by the steampunk fluff without ever realizing how closely it tracked pre-WWI history? I checked it out online before I bought it, but if they haven't specifically targeted historical gamers, they're missing a huge significant potential market. Did it fall between too stools: too silly for the historical gamers, and too historical for fantasy gamers?

You sound like a gentleman of a certain age, as am I, and painting has lost its appeal. So unless I, or some no-doubt well-paid professional artist in China has already painted it, it probably isn't going to get played. After a unpromising start, you can't automatically turn your nose up at PPP today. It's great to unbox a miniatures game and sit down and play it.

Frankly, like you, I like the concept of the "premium wargame" and am willing to pay for it, but realize I have more disposable income at this stage of my life than many. I was lucky to have three boys among my kids (and one girl who wanted to do what daddy and her older brothers were doing). So they were brought up playing GW minis games. I've played Leviathans with all three boys and they liked it. Two are in the Army (one a paratrooper with a tour in Afghanistan) so simulated mayhem is not a problem! For some reason though, they just won't play "counter games." I don't know if that is a generational thing or what.

In fact, we're going to try out Sails of Glory this afternoon finally. It looks a lot more intimidating than Wings of War. The components are nice, though. I'll post a review after a few games. Wings of War is one of our favorite games since the cards only version because of the beautiful minis, quick play, brilliant mechanics and fun.

The older I get, the more appeal small, relatively simple games have over complex games. Have you played Memoir 44? (I suspect yes.) You could make an argument that it is the best board wargame ever produced, taking everything into account, not just ASL-like complexity. Tide of Iron did much right, but was big. Odd things like that affect one's impression of a game (especially when the box wasn't up to the job).

As for tournaments, I have to confess I don't like them, because they tend to drive individual minis and special abilities, which get thrown into the tournament scene where people have no problem exploiting unforeseen interactions and loopholes. I know people expect them, and tournaments build interest and boost sales. With everyone at your local game store playing a ladder campaign, you really don't have a choice but to go along. I would prefer scenarios with levels of victory based on objectives, not one equally-matched fleet battling another every time. I guess that's the historical wargamer in me. (Plus bad experiences with tournament-driven miniatures games.)
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My reaction was, "Cool! They're airships! Wait, there are no altitude rules. Why not just have them be ships, then???"
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Altitude rules are coming (the stands are already made to accommodate them). Personally, I can't think of a game where altitude rules have been worth the trouble, but maybe that's just me liking to keep things simple. And since Leviathans are ships, not aircraft proper, they have to be trimmed and flying level, and they have guns that are constrained by elevation and depression, etc. I think the answer to why not make them ships is that the market for Dreadnaught era pre-WWI naval combat is much smaller than whiz-bang flying steampunk battleships!

I never got the fluff for the Battle of Tsushima, because I just could not envision how the Russians flying overhead could engage a surface fleet with their deck guns! Bombs would have made better sense, but then you have to have rules for models one on top of another ACK! (I suppose a long distance you could manage to hit a surface target.)
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I agree with Tim. Altitude rules can be more of a hindrance than a benefit and usually end up abstracted to some degree (altitude "bands") vs. real altitudes and then end up with arbitrary (sometimes counter-intuitive) results.

So you're going to end up with some more abstract version of altitude and you're going to find that, for the most part, it doesn't factor into the gaming except at the beginning of the game, maybe the end, and the occasional possible collision situations. The rest of the time, it just adds complexity.
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YMMV. I play altitude-driven games all the time.
 
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StCorbiniansBear wrote:
I never got the fluff for the Battle of Tsushima, because I just could not envision how the Russians flying overhead could engage a surface fleet with their deck guns! Bombs would have made better sense, but then you have to have rules for models one on top of another ACK! (I suppose a long distance you could manage to hit a surface target.)


If you roll the ship 15 degree, guns firing purely level to the deck can hit surface targets that are at least four times as far away as the altitude difference, before taking into account the curving that occurs as part of ballistics. Even if you're perfectly level, you can just stand off far enough that the shells fall onto the enemy fleet, taking advantage of gravity to keep their impact velocity up, while the enemy's shells can't reach you due to gravity going against them (we'll just ignore maximum gun elevation here).

Bombs might well have been far more effective, but it's not at all impossible to win this fight with guns.
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I also thought some of the lighter guns were mounted in sponson turrets on the side of the Leviathans.

IIRC, the fluff text did mention that the Russians flew directly overhead of the Japanese ships and fired their shells down the unarmored smokestacks. Precision shooting!
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