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Friday, 1 December 2017

Steampunk Soldiery Spotter's Guide II

Steampunk Soldiers: The American Frontier is a sequel to Steampunk Soldiers: Uniforms & Weapons from the Age of Steam, which described a nineteenth century wherein the Great Meteor Shower of 1862 scattered deposits of an incredible energy source—Hephaestium—which set off a great age of technological development and innovation as the great powers sought to advantage of the new power source. Over the course of the next three decades, Great Britain radically extended her railway network across her empire and beyond; Prussia fielded new armour and armoured infantry to defeat Denmark and unite all of Germany; whilst France used her Peugeot-built steam-powered exoskeleton-equipped Foreign Legion units to conquer Indochina and invade China. Meanwhile, Russia developed Hephaestium-fuelled chemicals and submarines, the Ottoman Empire developed automata, and Nicolai Tesla developed Hephaestium-powered electro-weapons for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whilst Italy stole blueprints and prototypes, sabotaged others, and kidnapped scientists and became Europe’s rogue state.

Now the Americas were not ignored in all of this. Steampunk Soldiers: Uniforms & Weapons from the Age of Steam described how General Lee’s land ironclads forced back the Union forces and held them to a stalemate until a ceasefire was agreed between the Union and the Confederacy in 1869, ending the Civil War. It is also how the volume left the situation, with the former United States divided between the Union and the Confederacy. Steampunk Soldiers: The American Frontier picks up where it left off to describe and depict the situations, forces, troops, and equipment of not only the Union and Confederacy, but also the Republic of Mexico, Canada, Alaska, the Disputed Territories, and the frontier.

The Union is technologically advanced, but her attention is divided between the Cold War with the Confederacy, surreptitiously running the blockade to Republic of Mexico, poor relations with both Canada and England, and with pushing back the frontier before the Confederacy does. Consequently, agencies like the postal service have been militarised, the Mailman of the United States Army Postal Service being shown armed and his faithful hound, being armoured and trained to attack mail thieves! The Union also employs numerous spies and agents, including Pinkerton agents to protect both the President and corporate interest; Special Service Agents with advanced monitoring equipment, such as Edison’s Kinetographic camera concealed in a carpet bag, and of course, US Marshals who wander far and wide. In the Confederacy, the Texas Rangers perform the same role as the US Marshals, but are not always welcome beyond the Texas state line. They are an effective force though, being equipped with modular, adaptable devices, such as the New Haven Arms modular Volcanic Pistols and Alamo Fortified Suit. The dominance of Texas in the Confederacy is show in the depiction of a Field Research Team from the Galveston Consortium testing out a new and advanced weapon—a Sonic Discombobulator! The Confederacy’s reliance on less conventional means of warfare is shown in its depiction of a Confederate Privateer, armed with a Winchester Boarding Carbine—which is fitted with an axe; a black-cloaked Night Ranger sharpshooter complete with starlight goggles; and a Bombardier of the Confederate Aeronautics Corps, whose mini-dirigibles are used for reconnaissance and raids, the latter including the famous bombing of the White House in 1864.

When not facing off against each other, the Union and the Confederacy have pushed West in search of new territories and fresh resources, but these lands have not become known as the Disputed Territories for nothing. The Chiricahua Apache are caught between the Mexico and the Confederacy, maintaining a guerrilla campaign against both with surprisingly modern weaponry—perhaps supplied by the Union; similarly caught between the Union and the Confederacy, the Five Tribes Confederation has declared itself neutral, adopted their technology to protect itself, and become a conduit for banned goods in both nations; and perhaps most amazing of all are the Sky Hawks of the Hualpai tribe, scouts who construct winged suits which they use to glide off all trees and the lip of the Grand Canyon. Despite the disputed nature of the territories, there are individuals and organisations who seek their fortune in the West. They include injured soldiers using technology such as ‘Quick Draw’ rigs to turn gunslinger; the members of Norton’s Guards who continue the legacy of the late Joshua Norton, self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, by keeping the peace in fractious San Francisco with their non-lethal, electrical Franklin Baton; mining companies and couriers have purchased ex-military Land Ironclads to protect their operations from Indians, bandits, labour agitators, and others; and some have established independent polities, such as the Independent Kingdom of Jefferson.

The other nations of North America are also affected. In the far north-west, extensive Hephaestium strikes in Alaska has enhanced the importance of the territory to the Russian Empire and Canada to the British Empire, leading to a shift in the Great Game from India to the western frontier. Russia uses Alaska as a scientific and industrial laboratory, prototypes being developed with ruthless, often unchecked efficiency by her Imperial Army military commanders in the region, sometimes in secret facilities. There are rumours of deserters or test subjects fleeing from such facilities, leading to tales of wild men or ‘skoocooms’ in the woods and caves, tales often repeated, or at least embellished by dime novels. Canada’s military is stretched thin along her border, facing Russia in the west and both Fenian and Métis native rebels internally. This has led her to raise militia regiments, such as the Royal Regiment of Toronto Volunteers, to protect her borders and the North-West Mounted Police to turn to technology—such as multi-terrain tracked vehicles—to get their man. To the south, the Union aided Mexico in kicking out the French backed Imperial forces and establishing the Mexican Republic, much to the consternation of the Confederacy. Now the republic’s ports are blockaded by Confederacy backed privateers, they raid each other back and forth across the Rio Grande, while Mexico supplies the Banditos—outlaws and brigands—who worry the border regions and disputed territories, with advanced weaponry that it can often ill afford to hand out to anyone other than its underequipped soldiery. The best of Mexico’s armed forces, are the 1st Naval Brigade or ‘Los Tiburones’, trained by German advisors and equipped with the best that the Kaiser can provide. The ‘Los Tiburones’—or ‘The Sharks’ are deployed as naval assault troops, often tasked with capturing with the Confederacy backed privateers.

Of course, this is all a conceit. For Steampunk Soldiers: The American Frontier is, like its forebear, a collection of artwork by the forgotten British artist, Miles Vandercroft, who travelled Europe and North America, sketching and painting the soldiery of the age. It develops the guide to the vivid and striking uniforms worn by the armies and the steam-powered weaponry and equipment fielded by these armies in the years between the fall of the meteors and the Great War of the Worlds previously seen in Steampunk Soldiers: Uniforms & Weapons from the Age of Steam. Of course, it is not this, but a second pictorial guide to a past that never was, beautifully depicted in a series of colour plates having been ‘rediscovered’ and collected in a second handsome book published by Osprey Books under its Osprey Adventures line. There is not so much pomp and pageantry in these images, which have a rougher quality, reflecting roughness of the frontier and beyond.

As with Steampunk Soldiers: Uniforms & Weapons from the Age of Steam, the problem with Steampunk Soldiers: The American Frontier is that leaves the reader either wanting more information or wanting to take its content and develop into a setting of his devising, whether a wargaming or a roleplaying setting. There are no suggestions to end given in Steampunk Soldiers: The American Frontier. Despite this, Steampunk Soldiers: The American Frontier is a beautiful hardback, full of intriguing detail, awaiting the reader to develop into something playable on the table.