It is 1895 and things have gone awry…
Let me begin by saying that I have always had a fascination for the late Victorian period. Think about it, the British Empire was at its zenith, yet the cracks were beginning to show. The Great Powers had pretty much expanded as far as they could and the friction between them was reaching ignition point. And two energetic newcomers, the USA and Japan, were beginning to challenge their dominance.
Science and Engineering was at one of those tipping points between the dreams of mad geniuses and the real, just as it had been a century before at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This is the time of Nikola Tesla, Michael Faraday, Marie and Pierre Curie and Thomas Edison amongst others. Yet people still believed in the spiritual and the mysterious.
Social revolution was in the air. Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky were on the streets and arguing in the salons of the new intellectual bourgeosie. Every Empire feared the spectre of popular revolution on its own streets.
Add to this the emerging science romances of such giants as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, H. Rider-Haggard and Arthur Conan Doyle. Now give this a small twist and you have raison d’etre for In Her Majesty’s Name. A game of small bands of heroes and villains fighting to make a difference in a rapidly changing world.
The rules were initially inspired by discussions amongst the stalwarts of the Forge of War Development Group. We had been very successful with our free publications FUBAR and In the Emperor’s Name (a W40K skirmish system). We had been looking for new genre’s and game types to work on. The VSF version of FUBAR had been doing quite well and someone suggested a VSF version of ItEN.
Shortly thereafter Phil (of Osprey fame) offered me the opportunity to create a set of VSF skirmish rules for their new wargames range. After I got back off the floor I said yes. The rest, as they say, is history. I picked up this offer and began to run with it. I quickly realised that there was too much work for one man and asked for collaborators. One chap stepped forwards but just as quickly disappeared – such is the curse of the interweb. So then I approached my old friend Charles who, after a short delay, agreed to become my co-conspirator.
The rules themselves were based on the philosophies that:
- They had to be simple enough to learn in an evening, but have sufficient tactical depth to keep us playing for a long time. Not quite KISS, but damned close.
- The rules must reflect the spirit of the period. For example; Colonialism was seen as a civilising influence and there was considerable dismay at home when those being colonised chose to not cooperate.
- We wanted to stick close to the science and engineering of the period. Yes, we would have some unusual technology, but it would be logical extensions of that being experimented with in that time.
- We would include some of those mysterious powers so popular in the penny dreadfulls and dime novels of the period. However, no power would be allowed to dominate a game.
- It had to be a game we would enjoy playing ourselves. With these in mind we began drafting the game.
IHMN is a game of covert action between small Adventuring Companies. Sometimes these groups are motivated by patriotism, sometimes by baser ambitions. They are often used as a deniable tool of foreign policy.
To play it you need no more than a dozen figures and a single die. It is designed to be played on a surface three or four foot square – so a normal kitchen table will suffice. This is all deliberate as we wanted people to be able to play the game with the minimum of resource.
One thing you will need is terrain. Figures die easily and cover is an absolute must. A game played on an open table top will likely last just a couple of minutes otherwise (a bit like ‘The Gunfight at the OK Corral’). Unlike many skirmish games IHMN puts a lot of effort into terrain, cover and Victorian period landscapes. Terrain can obstruct, channel, move and even be dangerous.
Imagine having a shoot-out in a busy steam engine shunting yard at night, or amongst the gas bags in a huge dirigible. The rules cover this and we actively encourage people to experiment by giving them a number of classic landscapes to play across.
The game itself has been designed so that no-one is sitting on their hands for long periods waiting for their turn. With an alternating action system you will never be bored and the tactical situation in the battle space can change in seconds.
Turns in the early stages of the game, when the two companies are manoeuvring for tactical advantage or to secure vital objectives or lanes of fire, can take just a couple of minutes. Once people begin firing or getting up close and personal it does get a little longer, but not much. Shooting or fighting takes but a single die-roll, and if a figure is hit they may be able to make a Pluck roll to resist the effects of their injuries (Pah! It was naught but a flesh wound).
Games vary from half an hour to an hour on the average. So you easily play two or three in an evening’s play. We encourage a narrative form of play, and thus there are guidelines for running campaigns. As well as rules for improving your heroes and their companies during them. This is a game where your figures will become the subject of stories told in the bar long after the campaigns themselves are over.
To get people’s imaginations going we wrote up ten adventuring companies from an initial list of over a hundred. Each one is full of the flavour of the period and has its own strengths and weaknesses. To support this we created a fully-featured points system. This allows people to put together balanced forces to increase their enjoyment on the table top.
There was another reason though. Charles and I are both lifelong gamers. We want a game to give us the freedom to play the way we want and to give us the options and guidance to do so. The points system allows you to design your own companies, figures, talents, powers and equipment.
Also to support players in creating their own companies based upon themes from the period, we put in far more weapons, armour, weird science, unusual forms of personal transportation, talents and mystical powers than would be used by the included companies.
Like many games we have included a number of ‘standard’ scenarios, to which we added a selection of scenario complications. If you also consider the listed landscapes there are almost nine hundred unique games you can play straight out of the book.
All through the process of design, play-testing and writing Osprey was supplying us with sketches by the contributing artists and then their fully realised work. This was pretty amazing and inspired us to up our game and even include an entirely new section.
Then Northstar came on board and this gave us a whole new set of challenges. It is one thing thinking up an entertaining company list, but a whole other thing to test this by creating balanced lists for a sculptor to work on. Fortunately the points system worked fine and soon we were getting pictures of greens and finally fully-painted figures.
As those of you that have followed my work at the Forge of War Development Group know, I am a stickler for giving credit where it is due. To that end we must thank the following:
- Phil Smith at Osprey. Our long suffering Editor and IHMN enthusiast.
- Nick Eyre and Steve Saleh at Northstar for realising every small boy’s dream of having our own figures to play with. And for providing playtest feedback, it made a difference.
- Kev Dallimore for the incredible paint jobs on the figures, and the photographs of them that you will find throughout the rules.
- Jesse McGibney for the inspirational internal artwork and Fab for the cover.
- And of course all the stalwarts at the Forge of War Development Group.