Gen Con 2022: The acclaimed Leviathan steampunk miniatures wargame returns

Leviathans, the ambitious steampunk airship miniature game, is relaunched more than 11 years after its first debut. With a crowdfunding campaign slated to go live on August 2, just prior to the Gen Con tabletop gaming convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, publisher Catalyst Game Labs (the tabletop home of the BattleTech and Shadowrun franchises) sort of cleared the deck and broke through a decade’s obstacles to bringing the epic game to market in a fitting way. Polygon spoke to co-creator and company founder Randall Bills about the project in late July.

Hobbyists probably know Catalyst from 2019 BattleTech: Clan Invasion Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $2.5 million to remake a line of plastic miniatures based on the shared library of vintage BattleTech units (also part of games by Harebrained Schemes and Piranha Games). With millions of mechs floating around now, Randall says it’s time to expand the company a bit. His son, Bryn Bills, is the Leviathans line developer.

A crowd of German and Italian warships backlit by a setting sun and a thundercloud. Ships burn in the distance as explosions hit the battleship passing in the foreground.

Image: Catalyst Game Labs

“Over COVID, to entertain ourselves, we probably played 70+ different miniatures games, just to get a better feel for the industry, and Leviathans is still one of my favorites after going through all this, after all this time,” said Bryn Bills. “I love this universe, I love the art style, the ships. There really isn’t anything I don’t enjoy from head to toe.”

The starting point of the historical wargame is in 1878 with the discovery of the lighter-than-air substance known as Electroid. Seagoing warships are quickly becoming obsolete, and the European colonial powers are now fighting for the airspace itself. In this way, the franchise is reminiscent of the 1920+ universe, the basis for the successful strategy game scythe, but without pastoral kitsch. This is total war. The game itself opens in 1910 with a full engagement on the Franco-German border.

Clockwise from left: Tao-so Togo Takeshi, Camilla Romano, Anastasia Romanov and Amil Dhar. Images: Marco Pennacchietti/Catalyst Game Labs

Leviathans, in its simplest form, is huge battleships that fly in the sky and blow each other up. Most of steampunk revolves around steerable things with their flapping wings on the side. Kinda skinny things, which is a really cool aesthetic. Leviathans is unique because you literally take WW1 and WW2 battleships, imbue them with some magic and throw them in the air. So these are huge machines with huge chunks of metal falling off each other. This version of steampunk warships just has a whole different dimension than what’s out there.”

Contents of the proposed starter set will be crowdfunded. Ships shown here unpainted.

Four ships, a selection of dice and dry erase cards and cards.
Image: Catalyst Game Labs

Leviathans remains largely unchanged since its 2011 debut. It uses a proprietary system of color-coded dice to streamline combat based on concepts such as armor stats and penetration (a holdover from the BattleTech Universe). Like modern skirmish games such as Necromunda and war cry, it only takes a handful of miniatures to get started. The rules include basic and advanced levels with momentum, altitude, firing angle and torpedo systems, creating a unique and dynamic three-dimensional tableau on the tableau. The final product will include a $70 starter set with four ships, cards, dice, stands, and giant 4-inch pre-painted miniatures. Pattern making is still ongoing, but the goal is to have miniatures off the shelf with the same level of detail as the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game and Star Wars: Armada.

A game by Leviathans set up to play.

An early pre-production sample of the ships as they will appear with their final livery.
Photo: Catalyst Game Labs

“We decided to have a smaller starter box, without a full set per side, so people can understand and get into the game without committing to the $100 coffin box. […] The dice are simple, the cards, the whole thing – everything is meant to make it simple,” Bryn said. “And that was just another goal, to make this an entry-level product for people who are getting into the tabletop.”

Ships will have different sizes and stats, starting with slower and more heavily armored Leviathan class battleships, then armored ships of the line with faster cruisers of roughly the same size as these, plus nimble destroyers. There will also be smaller attack aircraft in the game – at least not as miniatures at first. They will use tokens for now.

Issues related to colonialism are addressed to make the game appealing to a wider audience. But while the newly announced updated version of Puerto Rico von Ravensburger, among other things, adjusts its timeline to refocus gameplay on local farmers instead of colonial governors, Leviathans keeps its original timeline largely intact.

“The world [of Leviathans] It’s not a great world,” Bryn Bills said. “We don’t necessarily want to avoid that, but we definitely want to deal with it. […] Especially in Europe, the whites were in power [at the start of WWI]; it was all the men in charge of the nations.” Other fictional departures will be included throughout the game’s narrative timeline. The British monarchy will not be the only one to have a woman at its head.

“For the Brits in particular, India is a big part of who they are and trying to make Indians a bigger part of the British Empire – not by ignoring the fact that they shouldn’t be, but by ignoring them nonetheless give power to do things. One of the main characters we have for the Brits is an Indian captain who comes to terms with the fact that he actually can’t be a captain. But he’s good enough that they just let it slide and deal with what he has to overcome because of those prejudices during this conflict.”

The finished game also comes with a scoring system for competitive matched and campaign play. An anthology of fiction has already been published in 2021. It includes work by alternative history writer Harry Turtledove — as well as key artwork by the late Doug Chaffee. Gen Con 2022: The acclaimed Leviathan steampunk miniatures wargame returns

Charles Jones

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