While I was in Poland last week I was lucky enough to play a demo of the upcoming game "Anno Domini 1666" by Wargamer.pl at the By Fire & Sword tournament.
I knew very little about this game beforehand, I had seen some artwork and minis posted on the facebookpage but no info on what it actually was. So while Konrad from Wargamer.pl showed me the rules of the game I also took the opportunity to ask about the theme, concept and planned release.
The story and the background of Anno Domini 1666
Anno Domini 1666 is as the title suggests set in 1666, but in an alternate universe where historical and fantasy elements blend with those of literary characters such as the Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas with the Polish heroes of the Trilogy by Sienkiewicz just to mention a few.
The story of the game is that the holy German emperor dies and elections for a new German emperor are being held in Vienna. Countries from across Europe send their envoys, spies, diplomats and military retinues to Vienna to ensure that their favored candidate wins the election. The skirmishes played in the game are "illegal" cloak and dagger actions where small bands from different countries clash on the streets of Vienna to secure various objectives. Those objectives lean towards bribing important people, extraction of secret documents, securing prisoners and not so much towards just plain killing the opponent.
Too much loud shooting in the streets, acts of violence and overall chaos will attract the attention of the city guard, which will show up and end the game/scenario if that happens, with both sides dispersing to avoid arrest.
Tabletop or boardgame?
The demo I played in Wilanow, Warsaw, was played on a board. Konrad told me that the beta release will have 4 different boards for download along with the rules - and the game was presented as a boardgame because it is easier to demo. But the game is supposedly playable as a regular skirmish game. The board used at the demo used 1" squares and the rules that we played were geared towards a boardgame set of rules, with distances being measured in squares, special movements etc being affected by board features.
Personally I would favor a boardgame approach if enough maps and scenarios are released as I felt it was a mix between Malifaux and a very good boardgame/miniature game hybrid.
There will be several factions, such as French, Poles which will most likely be split in two sub factions of loyalists to the crown and those of prince Radziwill, Spanish, Cossacks, Ottomans etc.
Each faction will be made up of named characters (heroes) which have individual stats, special rules and gear - and henchmen who are regular troops such as dragoons and who play a support role. Konrad said each side should have roughly up to 10 models per game.
Characters have very flavorful profiles and rules that make them stand out from the henchmen, for instance the lovable drunk and rogue Onuffry Zagloba is a poor fighter but still provide your side with multiple benefits. His special rules includes "call me uncle" which means that he has been drinking with several of the opponents on the night before, the result is that several opposing characters have a hangover and slightly decreased abilities, and they cannot willingly target Zagloba unless he attacks them. He can also draws extra cards each turn. Beside the faction specific models and characters there will be mercenaries, such as thieves, soldiers etc that you can hire for your warband.
There are no dice involved in the game, instead results are generated by a deck of regular playing cards. Basic rules use cards of the 4 suits and values 2-8 as well as a red and a black joker. Players have small hand of cards at the start of the game, and can refill their hand or draw randomly from the deck when performing attacks or actions that require passing a certain test. Attacks in the game are based on the character skill level with a certain weapon, for instance "Sword fighting: 3" to which you add a card value from your hand or the deck. Player make opposed "rolls" by revealing cards at the same time and the highest result wins and wounds are dealt.
There is finesse to this however. First of all wounds and damage can be affected positively or negatively depending on the suit of the card played. Some gear prevents damage if certain suits of cards are used, other items such as weapons maybe do extra damage if clubs or hearts are played. Second of all, all characters have a number of wounds, when they drop below a certain level of wounds their attributes suffer. Furthermore the characters that are skilled swordsmen come with "parry" abilities. This in particular I wound to be a great addition as it gave the game a bit of sword fighting realism and also made close combat more exciting.
In Anno Domini 1666 if you manage to beat your opponent by scoring a higher result then an opponent with a parry token (max 3 per turn from what I saw) can spend that token to deflect your blow if he flips a card that is equal to or higher than the difference in combat results. Say your opponent lost by 4, then he needs to flip a 4 or higher card to successfully parry and deflect the blow. After a successful parry both fighters continue their melee by revealing new cards. You can go back and forth until someone fails to parry, runs out of parry tokens or passes the opportunity to parry.
Firearms are very deadly, but take 2 turns to reload, which makes them a tactical element to be used at the right time (and distance) for full effect.
The full rules will supposedly include the possibility to throw furniture and objects such as bottles and mugs at your opponent.
Konrad also told me that the game will have factions divided into "light" and "darkness", the former will be able to use prayer while the latter will be able to use dark magic. Magic and spells will also be using cards to play spells, but you will be required to prepare casting of spells by playing cards in a specific sequence rather than just snap your fingers and throw fireballs at the enemy. I am very interested in seeing how this will be done rule wise as it was not shown in the demo, but I thought it sounded promising.
The rules were easy to grasp and kept simple, but without being boring. Most of what you needed to know to play or for reference was printed on the unit cards and weapons/gear cards.
The game was first shown and demo'd at the Wilanow By Fire and Sword tournament, but Konrad said that core rules along with maps/boards, and unit and item cards will be available for free download soon as part of a "beta phase". Wargamer.pl wants to see what people think of the product before they decide how to proceed and go into production.
There was talk about a possible Kickstarter, that warbands will be sold in faction boxes with 7-8 models in each covering named characters + a couple of henchmen (for the French for instance it would be the 3 musketeers, D'Artagnan and some kings musketeers). There are some 40+ models sculpted at the moment, with more on the way. At the moment they are being cast in metal, Konrad would like to have them in plastic but that would require manufacturing them in equally high quality as the crisp metal castings are. "Worst case scenario" they will be in metal and maybe resin only.
I look forward to the beta phase of the game with the downloadable releases. From what I saw and heard this could very well be a big hit as it blends a bunch of very good tabletop and boardgame ideas along with a (at least to me) very appealing setting.