Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Barsoom. . . Old School to New School?

I discovered John Carter and Barsoom in the mid-70's, while in high school, courtesy of the Science Fiction Book Club's editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs' eleven "Mars" novels, complete with cover paintings and interior illustrations by Frank Frazetta. I have been an unabashed fan ever since.

In the late 70's, Heritage Models, Inc. released a series of licensed 25mm miniatures and two manuals with which one could fight one's way across Barsoom. The manual pictured above includes rules for army-level combat with both air and ground forces as well as stand alone rules for ship-to-ship combat and a simple campaign system. The other manual (which I also own), the Adventure Gaming Handbook, features "man-to-man action rules" with a heavy dose of role-play. The mechanics are very dated, but both manuals have lots of good ideas for skirmishing and campaigning.

What I wanted to game was the ship-to-combat combat. The rules are functional; there are several classes of vessel ranging from "dreadnaughts" to scout flyers, movement is regulated by hexes and "elevation" is modeled, combat uses the good old CRT matrix and damage is recorded by checking off boxes on a "ship chart," with the occasional "critical hit" doing extra-fun-type damage. Some shots of the inside of the Manual:

It was the early 90's before I actually played the game (as The Baron may remember). There weren't any dedicated Barsoomian miniatures available, so I kit-bashed some "Space Battleship Yamato" plastic models along with some of the plastic minis from the classic "Space 1889" game. The interesting design sense of the Disney John Carter movie notwithstanding, I fully subscribe to the "sailing battleship" premise for the capital ships.  Built and primed, here's how they looked in the half-dozen or so games we played before we moved on:

And then, twenty years later, New School Barsoom seems to have suddenly dropped out of the sky. It's called "Leviathans."

Leviathans doesn't know it's Barsoomian. It describes itself as Steampunk. I don't intend to review the game itself, which is actually quite good; you can learn more about it at Monsters in the Sky and Gameboardgeek. The rules have a similar feel to the Barsoomian Battle Manual, but are much more streamlined and very pretty to look at. See:

The rules could probably be used for Barsoomian air combat with just a few tweaks (bombing and boarding), but it is the models that hooked me. They are so very close to what I imagine the giant flyers of Barsoom to look like. Here is the French fleet included in the core game:

 And the British:

I don't even mind the "Tesla Coil" apparatus in the hulls of the ships; who knows what "radium engines" and buoyancy tanks for the "Eighth Barsoomian Ray" might look like? Of course the "stacks" have to go, and a bit of streamlining might be in order. . . thus:

We'll see where it goes from here. . .

See ya!  


  1. What the what? I didn't even know you bought these.

  2. Well. . . it just sorta happened. . . The John Carter movie got me thinking about gaming Barsoom again, and though I had seen the Monsters in the Sky site before, seeing the models on Gameboardgeek had me doing more research and before you know it I had some "Damned-near Barsoomian Flyers." I'm not sure what this will do to my "Crimson Skies" zeal, because down deep I knew I liked CS because it reminded me of those Barsoomian airship games we played. Maybe nothing, because I like the CS alternate history and the models so much ; )

  3. IF those rules don't work, Aeronef are pretty fun for hex based.

  4. Thanks Cluck, these are a great idea with the new John Carter rpg by Modiphius coming out

  5. Hi "Unknown." Thanks for stopping by. I'm all in on the Modiphius KS, too!