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An Age of Steam

Steampunk tabletop gaming

I suspect that if I whispered the word “Steampunk” in your ear, any number of images might spring to your mind.

Top hats, airships, goggles (lots of these), weird inventions, corsets (even more of these), and so on.

Taking inspiration from Victorian writers of speculative fiction like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and H. Rider Haggard, and pioneered by modern writers like Michael Moorcock, Steampunk began as an upstart literary genre and now, for some, has evolved into something of a lifestyle. Its combination of postmodern criticism of colonialism, a striking visual style, and a focus on alternate history make it a fascinating concept to conjure with that’s been included in movies, TV, comics, and a host of other media.

It will no doubt come as no surprise, then, that the Steampunk genre is also pretty strong in the wargaming community.

Probably the best well-known Steampunk-inspired wargame is Warmachine (and its brother, Hordes), which incorporates fantasy elements with “warjack” walking fighting machines and Steampunk iconography. Wyrd Games’ Malifaux combines the Old West, Tim Burton films and horror to create a striking Steampunk-style world. Osprey Games’ In Her Majesty’s Service is an out-and-out Steampunk skirmish game. Heck, a Steampunk influence can even be detected in Warhammer 40k, whose use of gothic-industrial terrain and a focus on a soul-crushing, Dickensian workhouse-style vision of the far-future are absolutely in keeping with the genre’s aesthetic. The Warhammer Age of Sigmar faction of the Kharadron Overlords, with their airships, firearms, and even top hats, resemble nothing so much as well-armed, robotic 19th-century gentlemen. And these examples just scratch the surface of the various wargaming offerings available in the genre.

The thing is, Steampunk works incredibly well as a genre for a wargame. Usually incorporating concepts of Victorian-era technology, this means that your forces can utilize both long-range firearms and usually melee weapons like swords in the fight without seeming out of place. It also allows for a wide mixing of terrain and locales that you can use, because Steampunk literary stories frequently take place in all manner of settings, from the moon (a la Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon”) to a forgotten temple in the heart of Africa (Haggard’s incredible “She”). And it wasn’t uncommon to meet up with creatures from beyond (for instance, Wells’ “War of the Worlds” and its infamous invasion by the Martians).

There’s also the fun of running wild with Steampunk and making minis really interesting. Frequently, in previous Victorian stories and in those of today’s Steampunk, science found itself meeting up with myth, magic, and even alien beings. I’m building a Victorian-inspired warband right now that so far includes Jack the Ripper, a ghostly evil clown, a gravedigger and his monstrous servant, and a South Asian pirate; none of these characters would at all be out of place in a Steampunk story (and, in the comic “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” would actually fit right in). I recently backed a Kickstarter project which sent me a squad of 10 Victorian English fusiliers – all of them female! – and a large steam-driven war tripod. Perfect Steampunk wargaming fodder.

Steampunk is a great way of taking a fresh look at your wargaming and allowing your imagination to run wild. I recommend it.

About the Author;

Peter Kuebeck is a writer, gamer and award-winning mini-painter living in the Midwest. He wages a constant battle against the ever-growing tide of unpainted minis in his basement, and occasionally GMs role-playing game sessions with friends. Catch his hobby shenanigans on Twitter at @popculturecube

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