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For several months now, we have been busy developing Dystopian Wars Third Edition. Though we knew that the new edition would be a complete overhaul of the game engine, miniatures, and the narrative, we wanted to make sure that this new edition still felt like it was Dystopian Wars. 

As the Alpha testing is well and truly underway, we are pleased to reveal two key members of the rules development team; Derek Sinclair and Josh Le Cheminant, two games designers with a long pedigree with Dystopian Wars and who are now part of the Warcradle Studios team supporting the development of the Third Edition. 

With Adepticon underway, Derek took time out from his day job of fighting dragons in the Scottish Highlands share with us some of his thoughts as he returns to the roiling seas of Dystopia! 

Derek: “Following the sad closure of Spartan Games, I and the rest of the design team from the company have always endeavoured to keep in touch. Everyone involved in Spartan’s Design Team are extremely creative individuals with a passion for wargaming and writing rules, and I was lucky enough to make a number of really good friends within Spartan’s community in my time as the lead designer for the games. 

For a week or so after the closure of the old company I personally went into a bit of a gaming-funk, avoiding wargaming of any sort. All the while I was looking forlornly at my thousands of Dystopian Wars models within my gaming cabinets and sighing in melancholic loss. You see, Dystopian Wars was my re-entry back into wargaming all those years ago (as it was for many people I think, once all the ‘having a family’ and ‘collective mortgage responsibilities’ become less pressing…), and so I felt its departure most keenly - Dystopian Wars was part of my gaming blood, and without it I felt empty. Of course, the rules and my models hadn’t gone anywhere, but for one reason or another I was worried I had lost the heart for it.

When Warcradle bought the licence, I was more than a little surprised. I had no doubt somebody would buy the game as the  models and its universe are fantastic. But I must confess I never really thought Warcradle would be interested in the game, given it was a departure away from the skirmish-game-focus they have had with their new edition of Wild West Exodus. 

I’m sure some were thinking:

  • What do Warcradle know about Dystopian Wars?
  • How will the game I love change under their stewardship?
  • Will they dumb it down?
  • Will my Kingdom of Britannia changing to the Crown make them the unstoppable force I always wanted but couldn’t have because the other members of the Design Team stopped me beforehand!” 

*cough* 

Moving on, I recognise the concern from some in the community in the early days of the acquisition – we were all hurting after the loss of Spartan (both in terms of our gaming and in some cases financially due to the Kickstarter) after the previous company wound up. Lashing out is part of the loss of such an event, especially given how quickly it all transpired. I know, because I felt the need too and wanted to join in. But other than selfishly blowing off steam, what would I really accomplish?

So rather than wading in, I reserved my judgement until I had heard more from Warcradle regarding their direction and delivery regarding the future Dystopian Wars. Not that I expected to hear anything from them directly, since they didn’t have any contact details for me (and because I so rarely use my Facebook page that it has dust on it!)

Imagine my surprise when within a week of the acquisition, I was approached by Stuart and the Warcradle team asking if I would consider getting involved with their new Dystopian Wars project. In truth, I must confess to a degree of mixed feelings at this. On the one hand I felt a wrench of guilt regarding a ‘betrayal of the Spartan Games memory’ tempered with the intense desire to keep the Dystopian Flag flying. After discussions with my friend Josh (one of the Core Design Team from Spartan Games), I felt it was important to talk to Stuart to get a clarity of vision from him as regards where he wanted to take Dystopian Wars in the future. Most importantly I wanted to understand where he saw our interaction in that vision and if all this was consistent with both Josh’s view and my own – there would be little point in starting a process like this if we fundamentally disagreed with the direction they were looking to head in.

Following a number of conversations, it became clear he had lots of thoughts on the game and where he and his team were looking to take it. A large number of these observations were viable, coming as they did from an external view rather than our normal design sphere. Some comments were rules orientated (he IS a gamer after all) and we were able to have a good discussion as to the reasons why existing rules-situations existed and what changes Warcradle were aspiring to. 

This served to allay some of the trepidations I had regarding Warcradle’s knowledge of Dystopian Wars. But the thing I found the most reassuring was that nothing he or the Warcradle Team said was dictatorial and that there was a good atmosphere of collective thinking with no areas of their thinking that were fenced off by ego.

“So, Warcradle are gamers who love Dystopian Wars, but can they actually make it a success?”

The first thing was for us to look at their production capability – Can they make 25,000 Frigates on demand? In order to find out Josh and I visited the Warcradle Studio in January and were given the tour. And the answer is yes. Yes, they can. They have a production capability that is more than equal to Spartan’s previous capabilities, with access to plastic manufacture too…. Which is really exciting from my point of view.

“OK, so, we have established they love the game and are passionate about bringing it back into the marketplace again and they can make the models and can keep up with the demand. But can they design the ships to the exacting standards that Spartan Games could?”

Some of the models that the Warcradle team have created have been really good, moving the aesthetic forwards in interesting ways, and others have taken more getting used to as they were more of a departure from what had come before.  Watching as they take inspiration from older models and reinterpret them with new 3-D sculpting techniques, I am willing to cut them a little slack. Taking risks is the only way to improve, and taking risks will always put certain types of people’s nose out of joint. So, I’m OK with Warcradle putting their test sculpts up for public feedback – although I would hope we can encourage more constructive feedback from certain individuals in the community who could contribute in a positive way. 

“OK, so, we have established they love the game and are passionate about bringing it back into the marketplace again and they can make the models and can keep up with the demand. We have also seen that they can design the ships to the exacting standards that Spartan Games could, especially if the gaming feedback from the public is constructive. But even with all this going for them can they reach the ex-Spartan Player Base?“

Well, I guess that’s where Josh and I come in. We are the ones who brought the game to you all – Josh from v2.0 and me from v1.5. We have run the statistics, modelling for thousands of ship and aircraft designs over the years and in terms of our playtesting logs alone, I would say that no group of gamers exists anywhere who can match our feedback data and design providence. I know that sounds like me saying “Trust in me….” In the sibilant tone of Kaa from the Jungle Book but bear with me.

One of the clear weaknesses we had at Spartan was the poor communication standards we had with our gamers. I think we all have to collectively take responsibility for that, as we should have driven things forwards more actively when we were at Spartan HQ. Spartan had a forum, but that should not have been the beginning and the end of our interaction/delivery to everyone. There should have been a much more cohesive delivery strategy that had to be more rigorously maintained. The delivery and interaction must be much wider. 

Having talked to Stuart at Warcradle I am much happier that the submissions we make to the community can be put up, along with (and this is most important) any submitted by our gamers themselves – Dystopian Wars was a community game when I first came to it, and it was the memory of that community that encouraged me to return. Warcradle are clear of the importance of community involvement in this modern age of joint interaction MUST be 2-way.

So, what does Warcradle want from a ruleset? And how will things change for those players moving from Spartan’s vision of Dystopian Wars into Warcradle’s vision?

I think the hardest thing for people to get their heads around is that it isn’t a Spartan Game anymore – it’s a Warcradle Game. This means change will (and in my opinion MUST) happen. But where? 

The background will have to change as the game takes its place as an important part of the Dystopian Age setting alongside  Wild West Exodus, Armoured Clash and other (as yet unannounced) games.  

Factions Names will have to change (although I am still struggling with the Kingdom of Britannia -> Crown change... but I’m working on it!). So will Factional Focus, take the Celestials who are an alliance of the Chinese and Japanese forces (as well as several new nations)– this will take some getting used to, especially for those players who exclusively played the Japanese/ Empire of the Blazing Sun (EoBS) who could be forgiven for feeling they are losing out. Of course, in time the Japanese naval forces for Dystopian Wars will be released to allow more diversity in the Celestial faction as a whole.

Game Mechanics will change. There I said it. Don’t tell me you didn’t think they would! But if change IS inevitable, will the game dumb down to? No, the aim is to simplify gameplay and extend game mechanics/statistics to allow us to move beyond some of the triple-math-locks we had in the game.

In future blog articles, we will explore what Third Edition will be bringing to the game. Until then, dust off your Battleships, find those loose turrets for the Cruisers you own, and root about for those Frigates at the bottom of your games case…. Dystopian Wars is coming back!”