I've always been a fan of VSF - I particularly liked Space 1889 and it's expansion Ironclads & Ether Flyers, which incidentally made quite a reasonable set of real world Ironclad rules. The problem with Space 1889 was the models were either unavailable or ridiculously expensive, so it never went very far. I tried Aeronef from Wessex Games. They were fast play but were clearly lacking in some elements - the damage system particularly meant very soon larger ships were condemned to moving in straight lines - not great to be honest. The core rules were solid enough, but there was still a lot of rough edges and the overall result was ok but not great. We did however buy a fair few ships (Nefs technically) from Tony at Brigade Models but these have on the whole gathered dust, which is a shame as they are nice models.
So along came Imperial Skies - announced as a Kickstarter last winter with an expected delivery date of April this year.
The Kickstarter was reassuringly simple - just the rules, with a few add ons and stretch goals, so hopefully not one of these that manages to kill itself by promising too much (I'm looking at you Baker Company and Prodos). The project was a joint effort with Brigade Models and would tie in with their Aeronef range, so I thought it was worth a punt. Of course like all Kickstarters, you have to take the expected shipping date with a pinch of salt, and this was no different, arriving in the first week of September, but it is finally here - so is it worth the wait?
I think so. Production quality is good, with lots of pretty pictures, diagrams explaining rules, an alternate history time line, some associated fiction and the now obligatory painting and modelling section. All well and good. The rules are brief but comprehensive, and well written. Those diagrams I mentioned earlier at first seemed to be a bit overdone as explanatory diagrams, however I soon realised they are actually an integral part of the rules rather than an attempt to explain the text elsewhere, and once I grasped that they were VERY clear and easy to understand. The basic rules bear a resemblance to Aeronef, but with some nice additions and much of the rough edges smoothed off, plus the addition of some very nice command and initiative rules, plus some optional stuff for a more in depth game, topped off with design and construction rules. They read and play fast.
The timeline \ history section is pretty standard stuff, but I was interested to note they had pushed the setting back to what would be WW1 - so I suppose that's Edwardian SF (ESF) rather than VSF. This is a good move, as it makes the inclusion of fixed wing machines much easier to understand and justify.
I do have some gripes - none of them major. The fiction sections are interspersed through the rules. They are not bad as far as they go, but are not at first glance easily differentiated from the rules sections - ideally I prefer this sort of thing in obvious text boxes so they don't interfere with reading the core rules. More problematical is the data card section. Each ship has a corresponding data card, and they are all printed in the book. The problem is you can't copy them without folding the page all the way over, risking breaking the spine. Robin is working on a set of printed and pdf cards which will fix this. The quick play sheet is the same - it has everything (just about) you need, but you can't copy it without risking damaging the book - another pdf needed I suspect. Additionally the data cards don't get fully explained in one place, which is a bit strange as the following page appeared on the facebook page (I hope he doesn't mind me repeating it here - copyright Rob Fitton etc) but didn't make it into the rules, which is a shame because it helps explain stuff quite a bit. On the other hand once you do understand the layout the cards are very easy to read.
However, all that aside these are an excellent set of rules with a lot of scope - I heartily recommend them.
Next post will be a quick battle report, so watch this space!