A horde of Nazi vampires lands on the English coast during World War II and spreads fear and terror. But a group of intrepid veterans bravely stand in the way of the bloodsuckers. What must undoubtedly be the plot of a trash movie is the core of “Vlad’s Army”, a feature pack for 7TV Inch High Spy-Fi. What awaits the player, I present in this review.
Feature pack: A beloved format
I have already introduced a few feature packs for 7TV here. In short, they add a certain movie genre to the basic game and provide new profiles, artifacts, special rules and a small campaign. So far, I have “Orsa the Fearless” for 7TV Fantasy and “Lurkers from the Deep” for 7TV Pulp. “Vlad’s Army” is intended for 7TV Inch High Spy-Fi, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t be used for Pulp. Thematically it fits there very well and with the new rulebook this sorting should be invalid.
I still really like the format, as the feature packs are slim expansions that allow you to quickly adapt the game to a genre with simple means and really wallow in it without having to put too much effort into it. Of course, the VHS cover and all the retro packaging also appeal to the nerd in me, so it regularly makes for an all-around nice product. What exactly is it about this time?
The eerie game with the Weird War
Vlad’s Army is used to play Weird War scenarios. Weird War is the fictionalization of past, real wars with supernatural elements. The most widespread and popular are probably such tales about the Second World War, and here especially about the Germans and alleged experiments. In these stories undead soldiers appear, werewolf soldiers, mad scientists and unscrupulous SS leaders. People have mutations, are genetically altered or have bionic limbs. The legends about top-secret Nazi weaponry are actually true in these stories – of course, Reich flying discs were developed!
Sure, it’s all trash and clearly belongs to the pulp genre. You can’t think too much about taste. However, I can not answer the question for me, why it is still fascinating. One of the worst chapters of human history is enriched with fantasy and science fiction and thus exaggerated. No one really needs that. However, the conversions of the topic known to me always treat the conflicts from the point of view of the Allies. The horrors of the Germans thus appear as nightmarish challenges that have to be conquered in a heroically exaggerated way. There could hardly be more unpleasant encounters than facing a genetically modified super soldier with the Iron Cross on his chest.
“Weird War” adaptations are likely familiar to many who have wandered through the pop culture landscape of recent years with their eyes reasonably open, but as a scenario it has remained remarkably unknown – perhaps because it is so thematically unpleasant?
Weird War in Pop Culture
In terms of films, I can think of the popular Iron Sky 1 and 2, which more or less skillfully play with the myths about a secret Nazi moon base or a hollow earth with Hitler and dinos. Impressively, the extremely violent “Operation Overlord” from 2018 (produced by J.J. Abrams!) has also implemented the theme and, according to reviews, created an unused genre mix between war, horror and zombie film. Here’s to the trailer:
PC gamers should also be very familiar with all this, at least from “Castle Wolfenstein” and its spin-offs. In the context of the topic and the depiction of forbidden symbols in the game, the now lifted indexing of the first two games was no surprise.
The field of role-playing and tabletop games has of course also discovered this scenario a long time ago. Modiphius realized years ago that the theme can be mixed very well with the Cthulhu mythos and made the role-playing game “Achtung! Cthulhu!” including a tabletop spin-off. Then the creators of the well-known game “Konflikt ’47”, which is published by Warlord Games in the meantime, really went wild. All sides fight not only with soldiers but also with mechs and walkers, the Soviets have Tesla tanks and bear fighters, the British have pitbull units and robots, the Americans rely mainly on walkers and soldiers in exo-skeletons. And the Germans? Well, they just do what the Germans do in these scenarios. All sorts of undead, medical experiments and horrors from hell.
While we’re on the subject of World War II and Cthulhu, one could of course include Hellboy and his early adventures here, since he fought Rasputin and Nazis above all. But that’s material for another post.
Vlad’s Army vs. Dad’s Army
Crooked Dice takes a much more leisurely approach with the “Vlad’s Army” Feature Pack for 7TV. The smell of Weird War hangs in the air, but I have to admit that before that my head cinema went a bit too much. A little of what I outlined above is what I was expecting here. Because Crooked Dice advertise the product itself with “weird war” and “Nazi vampires”. In fact, it’s exclusively about the latter and the defense of England.
In this feature pack, the silent invasion of England by Nazi vampires in or shortly after World War II is played out. So far, so good. But the other half of the story I had studiously overlooked: The collision of “classic horror movies” and “gentle sit-coms”! Oha! The latter is unmistakably the British sit-com “Dad’s Army”, which makes several very explicit appearances here.
I didn’t know this series until Warlord Games released a set with the characters of the series for Bolt Action a few years ago. As far as I know, you can’t stream it anywhere in Germany (but you can find some episodes on Youtube) and it might not be too well known here either. The situation is completely different in the UK. I may shamelessly quote from Wikipedia at this point:
“The series has influenced British popular culture, with its catchphrases and characters being well known.“Dad’s Army – Wikipedia
In the feature pack “Vlad’s Army”, the profile cards of the good side now consist of the heroes, who are completely clearly based on the characters of the series. So it’s about old veterans defending a coastal town against the supernatural invasion. So far so cool. Unfortunately, the profile cards otherwise turn out to be pretty generic-soldiery. No special heroes that would fit the theme. The evil side comes across pretty conservative with a few vampires and undead soldiers. I would have liked it a bit crazier. A supernatural super soldier a la Captain America could have been juxtaposed with the undead spawn, for example. On the other hand, feature packs are of course only supposed to deal with a certain theme as atmospherically as possible. For creative outbursts on one’s own initiative, 7TV offers enough material anyway.
The Feature Pack
The Feature Pack is in itself just as round as the other variants. In the again cool Pseuo retro VHS case comes the Episode Guide, the usual matching Mdf Tokens, Profile Cards, Maguffin Cards, Gadget Gards and of course matching Countdown Cards.
The episode guide uses the by now well practiced structure: “The story so far” introduces the background story of the played film and is once again very creatively written. I like that, because it serves the meta-level of 7TV so well and immediately plants numerous thoughts of my own for the implementation in me. The following chapters “Campaign Play”, “Making Vlad’s Army” and “Central Casting Call” deal with the specifics of this feature pack in the game and finally there is the usual mini campaign. I haven’t played them, but in concept the three games read entertaining and nicely fitting.
The tokens are used to mark the new status effects introduced with this expansion. For example, one marker is for “Bitten” – clearly, if you fight vampires, you can get bitten. As always, the tokens are made of printed MDF – I’m not the biggest fan of MDF markers, but at least they are printed and look reasonable.
The additional cards again bring a lot of fun into the game. Countdown or Maguffin cards provide the game with genre-typical twists, the profile cards provide both sides with a number of suitable units. For me personally, the heroic side cards fall off here, because I don’t know the template and the cards seem to be pretty much based on the characters from the series. So for me, that means I get a bunch of relatively generic soldiers that have different profile values here and there, but at their core are just a bunch of average soldiers. So far I don’t see the appeal of playing a bunch of old veterans, but maybe that will change once I catch up on the series or come up with some crazy ideas of my own.
Charming are the gadget cards that provide you with very appropriate gadgets: the defenders carry “Holy Water”, “Garlic” or even “Malt Whisky”, while the undead attackers carry a “Coffin”, “Sunblock” or even “Bloodbag”.
“Vlad’s Army” – The Conclusion
All in all, this again results in a nice thematic embedding into the standard rulebook, which should cover the scenario sufficiently (I haven’t played it yet) without overloading the game and making it too complex with additional rules. I feel the scenario is quite specific, but it’s also up to me that I don’t know the template (which apparently can be taken for granted as general knowledge in the UK) and furthermore can’t be flexible enough to think of alternative applications at the moment. If you mix the profile cards with standard cards, it might become a round thing for me. Possibly it comes to Hellboy and a group of GIs against Rasputin and Vampire Nazis.
I’ll probably have to play Vlad’s Army at some point. Currently I think it’s nice, but the combination doesn’t appeal to me too much. Let’s see what I can make of it when I mix the profile cards from this pack with others. It could be very fun after all!