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Stealthy Spider Publishing

United Kingdom

Battlelust Rules
As Delivered

Long Review:      To quote from the rules:
Occult Wars is a set of rules that allow you to fight battles of good versus evil. You can recreate many of your favourite horror characters portrayed in books, film and TV. Be they blade wielding day walkers, or Muffy slaying vampires with the aid of her crew. If you wish, you can even choose to fight on the side of darkness; have your own werewolf clan or vampire coven. Be a warlock or witch. You choose the legends and background to Occult Wars. If your vampires laugh at crosses and silver then make them that way. If a silver bullet should send them back to hell then build that in to your background. The choice of what traits and vulnerabilities your characters have is up to you. These rules are designed for flexibility and will not tie you to one person's view of what a monster should be like.
Build your group and watch them develop from game to game or weep as your tenderly nurtured characters die in the maw of some unspeakable monster. Learn the dark arts and become a master of the occult.

Occult Wars is a tabletop skirmish game for 2 or more players using from 2 to 50 figures per side. Use realistic tactics to take on vampires, werewolves, zombies, angels & demons. It is an easy to learn system that enables you to turn your favourite horror films or role-playing games into tabletop battles. The simple step by step instructions will allow you to create groups of slayers or monsters that grow in power from game to game. All the skills, equipment & weapons your group will need are listed. Simply create your characters, collect your gear & head on into the Occult Wars.
Well, after having spent some time reading through the rules, as well as a quick solo game over the weekend, I feel I can make a much more informed review. I'll be listing my main dislikes at the beginning, so the end result will leave a positive feel, because the rules are actually quite good, and provide a fun game.
The rules are presented as a soft-cover staple-bound booklet, with the title in comfortably large red letters above a photograph of one of the authors (wearing a Matrix-like outfit) surrounded by a bevy of scantily-clad ladies, all wielding various weapons. There is a similar photograph on the rear cover, as well as another page with more photographs inside the back cover. This presentation, while not "bad", does have a slightly embarrassing look to it- something that is definitely not PC in today's world, where many of us would only get a chance to read the rules while travelling to and from work or similar. I'm not saying that I dislike the cover (the girls are quite attractive), but I would not want to read this in public for fear of being labelled as a "dirty old man". Definitely also not something to read in your lunch-break at work. That all said- none of the pictures are particularly revealing or suggestive, and they don't detract from the rules content.
The inside is printed on a greyish paper, with many sketched illustrations. The greatest part of the text is black, with a few instances (the examples) being white text on a darker background. This dark on grey printing, coupled with a slightly small typeface makes it difficult to read at times (and, I'm sure) probably quite pricey for the people who have bought the rules in pdf form to print at home. The rules are, however, very well laid out, in terms of location of items on the pages, as well as the order in which the items are presented. In my initial skim-through I noticed a few spelling errors, but this is a minor quibble, as the actual rules themselves seem to have been tested fairly thoroughly for balance and such. After my first proper read-through I already had a pretty good idea of how the rules would work, and I can honestly say that I wasn't disappointed, but more of that later.
The first third or so of the book contains the rules for creating your group of characters- with 3-4 pages per group (the groups being human, vampire, werewolf, demonic and angelic characters), with the non-human groups having an additional 1-2 pages each detailling special rules for their use. Groups are accepted as consisting of about 7 characters, but there can be as few as 2 or as many as 10. The final bit of information in this part of the rules is a section dealing with zombies. These can be the standard zombies we all know and love (think original Day of the Dead, shambling along towards their victims, or they can be the newer fast zombies as in 28 Days Later, rushing in for the kill.
Once you have chosen your group, you need to roll some dice to get the statistics for the group. The authors have gone with the D12 (12-sided die), which may be a problem for the non-D&D crowd, as most players will have D6 and D10s available, but may not have D12s. Anyway, you need to roll a D12 for each of five stats (Reaction, Courage, Shooting, Fighting and Intellect), applying the resulting modifier to the basic stat. After this, another set of rolls is applied to three more stats (Physical, Stability and Manna). Next, you need to determine skills and abilities for your group, whether human or other. All groups have certain bonuses and weaknesses, which can, to a certain extent) be adjusted to give a pretty good equivalent to any version (be it book or film) of the protagonist or opponent of any of the horror genres covered by these rules. The authors have definitely managed to make such an "open" system of character generation easy to understand and use, and the way everything is laid out, with all the information presented neatly on various tables, is very concise and clear.
The next third or so of the book covers the actual game rules. The turn is divided into six phases. First all players must determine the initiative at the beginning of the turn for each group. After this, each group makes any circumstance-based tests required in that initiative order, and activates or moves any members of that group. This phase is then repeated for each group until all groups have taken their tests and moved. After all activations and movement are completed, all characters roll individally to determine their shooting order, which is then calculated in this order. Next is close combat, which is simultaneous. The final phase of each turn is to check for game end (or sunrise) conditions. While 22 pages might not seem a lot, all the important things are covered, and the options presented are all fairly well-thought out.
The third section of the book contains all the relevant tables for character advancement and experience, allowing continuity and a campaign-style game where the groups grow in experience and skills and abilities. The tables are all fairly well laid-out and contain all the relevant data in easy-to-understand chunks. There are also several pages of weapons and equipment, as well as blank group pages. There is a single page of pre-generated characters too, and I've been told that more will appear on the Occult Wars website or Yahoo group soon. The final bit is the two-page reference sheet, which contains all the neccessary information to play the game. I suspect that after a couple of games, this will be all that is required, with only the odd look at the book.
Now, the solo game I played over the weekend (my regular opponent had some family issues that took priority) allowed me to get an idea of the way the game works. When I started reading through the rules, I already had a mental scenario outlined. As I'd already used the same scenario to playtest another set of rules, it would be interesting to see the result when using Occult Wars. As I was reading through, I was already planning my group, a Wehrmacht squad, with a few SMGs, an LMG and rifles for the rest, facing off against a group of zombies. I had to fiddle the numbers of zombies a little (the zombies in Occult Wars are brought on randomly via a table in the book), but other than that I used Occult Wars as printed from start to finish. While going through my little mental list of things to do and arrange, I noticed one omission- there is no comment about table sizes or scenario generation. As the game is a hybrid between a tabletop wargame and an RPG, this may not affect RPGers too much, although a guide would have been good.
I used a 4ft*4ft table, with a fairly large amount of terrain (several buildings seperated by roads, as well as some walls and hedges marking out fields and courtyards around the ruined farm). I pitted my seven Germans (two with SMG, one with an LMG and four with rifles) against seven zombies who were aware of the soldiers hiding in the farmhouse. I went with the traditional zombies (slow, shambling, relentless) approaching from basically half the table. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the rules coped with this, especially once the zombies became aware of the soldiers (OK, so I shot at one of the zombies, which drew their attention) and shambled towards them. The one feature I really, really like about the rules is that there's no messing about with hit points- you shoot and hit by rolling higher than your target number, then check on a table after adding some modifiers: the results vary from unharmed to killed outright, with several steps in between. A good shot to the head will definitely kill you, not leave you with a headache, waiting for the next shot to finish the target off.
The game flowed well, with no real hiccups (better than some first games I recall), and presented a fairly plausible result. The shambling zombies kept closing, the soldiers kept firing and the smell of rotting flesh and cordite filled the farmyard. The soldiers managed to down two of the zombies before the remainder entered the farmhouse, where two more zombies were sent back to the grave in bitter hand-to-hand combat. Unfortunately they took four soldiers with them (maybe to rise again?) before I decided to call it quits for the afternoon.
Overall, my verdict is definitely favourable. I've heard that the publishers are already creating a printer-friendly version of the rules with less grey in them, which shows a certain level of commitment. The Yahoo group is also very well-supported, with lots of rapid responses to the rules questions posted. I plan to give the rules another outing or two, but based on the experience so far, they are definitely playable and provide a good, fast-flowing game with minimal headaches.

Period:       Fantasy involving demons, angels, werewolves, vampires, zombies and humans.
Scale:        Best for 28mm, but can be used for 15mm with minor modification.
Basing:      Individual.
Contents:   Paperback booklet (A4), CD containing the rules in PDF format, or as a PDF download.
Historical Accuracy: Average.
Sources: Review sample donated by Stealthy Spider Publishing.
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