A Real Pea-Souper – Unboxing Smog 1888
Ever since I saw my first Smart Max miniature I’ve been in love with their sculpts. They produce a simply stunning line of 54mm resin miniatures, the majority of which are set in a Victorian Steampunk Horror setting called Smog 1888.
Trouble is, they have been tough to get hold of and also rather expensive.
This last Salute, though, I simply couldn’t resist and picked up a couple of miniatures – bustle-gowned Miss Ticklenott (wielding a strange alien rifle), and the creepy gas-masked gravedigger Jeremiah Crow.
Now, Smart Max have released a boardgame to accompany the line of miniatures. Being a fan of such games, and something of a collector, I had to pre-order it.
What’s in the Box?
It arrived last week and, after I’d eagerly popped off the lid, here’s what I found inside:
A fold-out play map – the image on the map is a beautiful and dark rendition of Victorian cobble-streeted London. I love the image, but the map itself is printed on fairly thin paper. And sadly it is only single-sided. Would have been nice to have a second map for in game variety perhaps. The map has small icons on it to represent line of sight and movement blocking features such as windows.
A small rulebook (67 pages) – it’s concise and not much larger than the sort of rulebooks which come in collectible card games, for example. Does the trick though, and there’s more on the actual rules later.
Three decks of cards – the cards represent attacking and defensive actions in Close Combat, Marksmanship (ranged combat), and Ether (magic/artifacts), respectively. They’re nice enough, though there’s not much in the way of artwork on them. Card stock seems decent.
Character Cards – in the base game there are eight characters to choose from and these cards represent their in game stats and each has a single special ability. Again, nice enough though the stat card comes with any miniature purchased so they are not entirely necessary, beyond allowing you to play the game out of the box with the…
Character Tokens – these are printed on the same card stock and you are expected to cut them out yourself. On each card there are also some smaller tokens for representing various in game effects.
Finally, the inside of the box lid has a points track printed on it and is used in game for keeping track of hand size and initiative points.
My first impression was slightly underwhelming I must confess. The miniatures line is stunning, and the price point is certainly premium, so I expected something similarly awe-inspiring out of the game box.
The rulebook, while nicely laid out and presented, is really rather small. The cards have virtually no artwork on them, and I was dismayed to see the use of the box lid as a points tracker.
But then it occurred to me that the game itself costs little more than one of their miniatures! And in terms of value for money it works out fine, I think.
I guess I have been spoiled by the production of companies like Fantasy Flight Games, though it’s getting to the point where you’ll be shelling out £50-75 pounds for one of their fancy big box games.
Still, I was expecting and prepared for Smog to be a premium product, like I said.
How does it play?
Well I’m afraid I cannot answer definitively yet as I’ve yet to get an actual game in. I should rectify that tomorrow, hopefully.
In the meantime, though, I can reassure you that – based on a first read through – the game looks like a rather fun little beer ‘n pretzels style miniature skirmish which should be playable in less than an hour.
At the start of each turn you get to draw a number of cards specified by adding up the inspiration stat of all your models. You announce how many you will be drawing from each of the three decks, and then draw them. Each card doubles as an attack and a defence card. To make a close combat attack, for example, you will play a high, mid, or low attack card and if your opponent fails to play the corresponding parry card then you will hit them and deal damage equal to your character’s Close Combat stat.
There are no dice in the game. All conflict resolution comes down to the playing of these cards in what is termed the “action-reaction principle”. Attacker plays a card – defender attempts to counter it.
I have to say that I quite like the look of this mechanic. I suspect it could be quite random, but the randomness would be mitigated somewhat by the gamble of how many cards to select from each deck at the start of the turn. A weaker character could potentiallly draw all close combat cards and hold them in hand for defence, but this would obviously limit their offensive capability.
Should one get a decent spread of card types giving them a spread of attacking and defensive options? Or focus on their strengths but be more vulnerable to their weaknesses? I’m sure tactical situations will affect these choices also.
Characters get a number of action points to do stuff each activation – such as moving, attacking, clearing jammed guns, etc. Most actions cost a single point.
Facing is key, for calculating line of sight.
Activation of characters takes place in a standard I-go-you-go sequence but with an extra twist. Each player starts the turn with a total initiative score based on the sum of their model’s initiative stats. The player with the highest total initiative activates first and then his total initiative score is reduced. Initiative scores are compared again to see who gets to activate next. So there is a potential for a player to activate twice consecutively if their initiative scores are managed.
Again, an interesting take on the initiative mechanic. Time will tell how it works and if it is open to abusive combinations.
Anyway, enough theoretical rambling for now.
If you want to know more then the folks at Smart Max have actually published the rules as a downloadable PDF.
Despite my first impressions I am really looking forward to playing the game. So watch this space for an actual review of gameplay in the coming days, hopefully.