What ho, chaps and chapettes! The glorious 19th Century has brought forth technological marvels hitherto undreamt-of, but also advanced the cause of mysticism and the powers of the supernatural. As the dawn of the 20th Century approaches, there is talk of a coming storm as the great powers collide.
But the Great War is still to come. For now, the secret powers of the world play the Great Game: individuals of courage, talent and ambition fight in secret to control resources, artifacts and – most important of all – the hearts and minds of the common folk.
In Her Majesty’s Name is a 28mm miniatures skirmish game that seeks to provide players with a way into this secret war. Steam power, mysticism, adventure, colonialism and the playing fields of Eton are all wrapped up into a dense package.
Originally published in Osprey Games’s variably-regarded “blue book” Wargames series, In Her Majesty’s Name attracted a lot of attention on its publication. It was one of the first of Osprey’s books that resulted in a collaboration with then-up-and-coming manufacturer, North Star Military Figures. But it rapidly fell off everyone’s radar with subsequent supplements failing to really gain much more traction.
I played it at the time of the first edition’s release and my impression was of an incomplete game. It unquestionably worked. The mechanics were straightforward and provided a reasonable tactical challenge that, without being too crunchy, still felt like an engaging skirmish experience. But… there was definitely something missing.
The mechanics themselves were fine, but… there was very little in them to really capture that sense of boisterous technological hubris that characterises the steampunk genre. The individual heroes and their accompanying miniatures had bags of character, but the game itself did very little to invest that character back into the gameplay.
The game also struggled from a lack of narrative. Like most Osprey games, the assumption was that the players would do the work of writing the narrative, which is reasonable. But a pseudohistorical game, in my opinion, has to work that much harder to make the player suspend their disbelief and establish a narrative in which the players need to invest.
Fundamentally, there was a lot in INHM to make people pick it up and give it a go. But there was very little to make them want to come back and do it again.
And so, with that lengthy preamble out of the way, we come to the new edition of the rules.
First of all, the book is new: from Osprey’s minimalist paperback blue series, the Ministry of Gentlemanly Warfare (the authors’ independent publishing imprint) has gone for a lavish hardback finish in a period-appropriate leather-bound look. They have also given thought to embedding the contents into the setting, with new fonts and bullet point markers, and page numbers framed in gas-lamp silhouettes. This is a great step forward, aesthetically.
Less successfully, they have a cog-themed page background that I find distracting and which – in my opinion – actually detracts from the theme, because nothing says “21st century” like royalty-free clip-art.
They have also, however, gone for a new structural layout, with each paragraph being numbered in a manner reminiscent of a government legislation document. Now, I need to admit to having done the exact same thing with a failed game I tried to publish years ago. It has a lot going for it, in a tournament-focused context. And it could even have really tied in with the theme of IHMN if they had embraced it in full. But given that this really isn’t a game designed for or likely to result in tournament play, and given their use in the body of the text of a distinctly non-Victorian sans serif font, my overall feeling is that it doesn’t work. However, your mileage may very well vary. Some people have been crying out for well-structured rulebooks with clear reference points for years. I understand where the compulsion comes from. I just… well, suffice to say that none of my games since Skrapyard used this structure.
But enough on the aesthetics, Robey! Tell us how it plays!
Yes, I’m getting there. But one more thing: art. Or rather, the lack of it.
The book is well-populated with photography from the talented desk of Kevin Dallimore, and from other, less talented but equally worthy contributors. The scenery is terrific in many cases and the minis are always winners. The designs by North Star have aged well and are still projects worth anyone’s time that are very well matched to the game.
But there is, otherwise, no art. There are no black-and-white, Punch Magazine-style engravings of steampunk derring-do, or bombastic tracts warning of the dreadful threat of the supernatural upon society. There’s no attempt to engage us visually beyond the tabletop.
And I understand why, because art… OMG, original art is so expensive for independent publishers to create. But it’s definitely an absence worth noting, because the book still struggles, aesthetically to engage in full with its subject matter.
Fine. Now let’s talk about the rules.
IHMN is a skirmish game, so each 28mm miniatures on the tabletop represents a single character, with their own set of stats. Nothing about these will surprise the experienced miniatures wargamer, but Pluck is worth noting both as a key mechanic involved in the narrative aspects of the game and for its thematic nod towards a tale of adventurous Victorian gentlepersons. All of the main stats are given in the format of +X, from +0 (bad) to as high as +5 (very good) except for Pluck which is given as X+ (from 7+ (bad) to 2+ (very good).
This is mildly perplexing at first, but the special status of Pluck helps it stand apart from the other, more conventional stats.
Armour Rating also stands apart somewhat as being on a scale of 0 to 17, with 7 being the default for a regular human. Mechanically, it’s less “armour” than it is an amalgam of how hard a target is to hit as well as how hard it is to hurt if you do hit it. In this respect, I have to give The Ministry a tip of my deerstalker, as I used very much the same approach in Horizon Wars.
On top of that, characters may have Talents, Mystical Power and Equipment, all of which act as force multipliers over and above the character’s basic stats.
IT’S JUST A PHASE
Each turn is split into phases for Movement, Shooting and Fighting, with each player sharing each phase to do all of their relevant actions before moving on to the next phase.
Movement rules are pretty conventional, although the Ministry also deserves points for including swimming in addition to flying and climbing as forms of movement. The base movement rate for most things is 6”, plus their Speed stat (+0 to +3), but characters can also obtain mounts to increase their speed.
In the Shooting phase, the principle dice mechanic comes into play and we see that IHMN is still a d10-based system. This strikes me as a missed opportunity, as either d6s or d12s would have seemed to fit better with an “Imperial” system of measures, but I can be biased, I know, when it comes to d12s.
The broad mechanic for shooting will be familiar to anyone who’s ever played Dungeons & Dragons, as you roll a d10 and add your Shooting Value stat and any bonus conferred by your choice of weapon and if the final result exceeds the target’s Armour Value, congratulations! You hit.
Range doesn’t really seem to affect this, except that weapons have an absolute range limit, beyond which they will automatically miss. Again, this feels like a missed opportunity but it will at least be familiar to anyone coming to IHMN from a more mainstream offering such as Warhammer 40,000 or Bolt Action.
There is, however, an impressive armoury with a characterful selection of ranged weapons from which to choose, which summon up the spirit of the age, from historically-respectable military rifles to the more eccentric arc pistol, to the positively pulpy throwing star.
The shooting rules cover off a lot of niche options that arise from different talents and equipment choices and permit for things like blowing up and damaging structures and for volley fire at targets out of line of sight.
It’s worth noting that, whether a target has moved more than 3” will affect how easy it is to shoot. This mechanic strikes me as a frustrating detail of the game. It’s not a bad idea at all. But because all the movement is done before any shooting, it makes it quite important to have a marker to identify any character that has performed fast movement in its movement phase so you don’t forget this modifier. When taken in context with the lack of range differentiation, this detail feels clumsily executed.
Did you get your head around the admirably simple approach to Shooting? Well, you’ll be glad to know it repeats in the Fighting Phase. You roll a d10, add the characters Fighting Value and any weapon modifier and if it beats the target’s Armour Value – tada! You hit.
Again, the authors don’t stint with anticipating the options when it comes to fighting, including rules for being outnumbered or, conversely, for outnumbering your opponent.
Many characters in the game – especially the heroes of certain factions – can call upon mystical powers. These basically match across to whatever phase they are relevant to. Teleporting? Movement Phase. Firing lighting from your fingertips? Shooting phase. Summoning ghostly blades into a whirling tornado of death? Fighting phase.
Mystical Powers are one way in which Pluck is used, as characters must roll equal to or greater than their Pluck stat to “cast” their mystical power. If you fail, you can’t use the power and lose your activation. If you roll a natural 1, you have to roll again and if that’s also a 1, you can’t use the power again in this game.
Powers are, therefore, pretty predictable but, oddly, come at a fixed cost irrespective of the character’s Pluck. Pluck, meanwhile, has a number of other uses – the most important one being the ability to avoid damage. So it seems like a no-brainer that you should focus your expenditure in Mystical Powers upon those heroes on whom you have already conferred the highest levels of Pluck. This, of course, is consistent with the idea that only the heroes should really be casually wielding forces beyond human comprehension. After all, what else are heroes for?
Ah, yes. Heroics.
Being a “hero” is a talent – literally, in this game. And it confers some major advantages. The first is a pool of hero points that can be used to re-roll d10s rolled to perform actions by the hero. Once the pool is gone – no more re-rolls. So much, so familiar. But a feature unique to Heroes is the ability to perform a “Last Heroic Act”. That is, if a hero gets killed before they would have been able to activate in that phase, they can perform a last action. Generally, this is going to be a last attack (because it’s the Shooting and Fighting phases in which people usually die). But the rules do allow for a bit of player initiative to permit a thematically-appropriate last act, such as tossing the Idol of the Yellow-Eyed God to an ally, or throwing out some witty last words for a reward of victory points. But these options are entirely at the discretion of your opponent.
A player’s force of characters in IHMN is their “company”, and this is where the latest edition of the game really shines. The original book contained a modest range of companies from which to choose. The subsequent supplements, In Her Majesty’s Name: Gothic; Sleeping Dragon, Rising Sun, and Heroes, Villains & Fiends, added a few more. But in this second edition we get all of the previously published companies (twenty-three of them), plus rules for creating your own characters and companies.
The pre-created companies comprise named characters and appropriate minions, each with their own points cost, and most have various options to choose from in addition to their basic stats and talents so, even if you decide to go with one of the established companies, your combination of characters and minions can still be unique and customized to your preferences. The published companies also act as a useful guide to the kinds of combinations of equipment and talents that can evoke a particular aesthetic, whether you want dissolute upper class occultists or revolutionary council technologists or anti-Imperialist locals turning the powers of their spiritual allies against the invaders.
If the system has a flaw, it’s that the character-creation process is complex and, although a lot of players are going to love spending hours fine-tuning their company, it doesn’t lend itself well to a competitive pick-up game. But, that said, we’ve already established that this really isn’t that kind of game. And it really does encourage players to look at miniatures already on the market and imagine how they could be recreated on the tabletop. So if you wanted to put your Reaper Chronoscope steampunk time travellers into a system, this would be ideal. Or even if you wanted to turn the clock forward and use IHMN as an alternative system for using Modiphius’s Achtung Cthulhu range, you wouldn’t be far off the money.
SCENARIOS & CAMPAIGNS
The book includes an impressive list of sixteen scenarios but each is sparsely described and the assumption is very much that the narrative of the encounter and the finer details of its resolution are up to the players to agree in genteel and collaborative fashion.
By contrast, a good amount of attention is given to suggestions and explanations on how to create a campaign by tying together these scenarios into a narrative, with a sample campaign provided with suggestions for characterful complications and terrain that can be added to give a really unique feeling to each scenario.
Although I’m yet to be able to play a campaign of IHMN, I can’t help but feel that it would be in this kind of narrative that the game would shine. And the context of the game would make a two-person campaign of five or six linked scenarios in a mutually-agreed narrative arc into a really compelling and interesting tabletop experience.
Steampunk is an evergreen genre, with classic and new miniatures available from a wide range of manufacturers – especially if one also includes cultists, pandimensional Elder Gods and gothic horror in this broadly accessible genre. When the first edition of In Her Majesty’s Name was released, a lot of people (myself included) hoped that this was going to be the generic steampunk skirmish game we’d been waiting for, but the mechanics, aesthetics and, in particular, the restrictive choices of companies, pretty much shut down those hopes.
Whilst the second edition adds very little to the mechanics, it has taken it upon itself to more full embrace the aesthetics of the genre and, most importantly, has expanded the rules for companies to open the path to players being able to adapt the game to their individual collections, visions or shopping lists. This alone makes IHMN2 the new go-to steampunk game for players wanting a game that lets them play with the miniatures they love rather than the miniatures they’re told to.
Don’t get me wrong – the minis from North Star are fab. But with the new rules, the scope for including other manufacturers is now endless. Here are some of my favourites you might like to try:
Wyrd’s Malifaux range is designed for their own game. But if it’s tournament-geared focus and competitive scene aren’t up your street, you could easily repurpose many minis to IHMN2, and mix and match your favourites in ways that Malifaux just doesn’t permit.
The Venetian fantasy setting for Carnevale is at least 150 years before that of IHMN, but that doesn’t stop many of the minis from the range being perfect for conversion to a Victorian sci-fi environment – again, especially if you want to inject a bit of eldritch horror into your steam engine.
I mentioned these guys before. Chronoscape is a very broad range of minis from Reaper, with a fair amount of pure sci-fi, but it is strong on Victoriana, VSF and steampunk. Plus, it’s emphasis on time-jumping shenanigans could permit for a really fantastic Wells-inspired time travelling campaign!
Pushing the time clock forwards to the Second World War may be out of step with the VSF aesthetic of IHMN, but a lot of the Achtung Cthulhu! characters are only just on the doorstep of dieselpunk. And you could probably adapt IHMN2 into a dieselpunk setting and draw in other dieselpunk minis ranges, like Warlord’s Konflikt 47 and Paolo Parente’s Dust.
I paid for my hard copy of In Her Majesty’s Name (2nd Edition), but the authors provided me with a digital edition for review.
The newest miniatures game from Precinct Omega Publishing, Horizon Wars: Infinite Dark, is published via Wargame Vault on Friday 28th May 2021.