Review: The Genesys Project

Most wargames are based around the idea of pre-designed factions. Either using factions from another franchise (Such as Star Wars: Legion or Fallout: Wasteland Warfare) or armies made up entirely by devs of the game (Warhammer or Infinity) the idea is that you will choose an army that you like the aesthetic, backstory or playstyle of (or in an ideal world, all 3). The core concept of The Genesys Project by Genesys Games is to treat wargames similar to a tabletop RPG, where instead of predefined armies that skew toward a certain aesthetic or playstyle you can create your own using a predefined framework to construct armies.

The Genesys Project is a “miniatures agnostic” wargame, which means it doesn’t have its own minis. Instead the expectation is you gather your own from whichever source you choose. This makes it great for a budget project with a lot of room for customization for kitbashing because it is not only permitted to get weird with your creations, its expected. The game has a pretty lenient system with bases, but obeys some pretty standard conventions in wargaming such “medium” creatures occupying anywhere in the 25-40 mm base range. The result is to try and give a relatively balanced experience while also not hindering creativity too much.

The Basic Gameplay

The Genesys Project Core Rulebook has all of the basic rules for combat. Like most “Core Rulebooks” for wargames its function is to summarize the moment to moment rules of combat while leaving much of the fluff and individual faction rules to other books. The book does a pretty adequate job of this, it’s not really able to give the “general fluff” that games like Warhammer do due to lack of established factions to write about but it does give you a few basic factions designed by kickstarter donators and authors who worked on the game to give you a jumping off point before you look into other books to create your own.

Due to the game’s rather open nature it tries to be as flexible as possible with how to generate “matched” games, though it comes with the acknowledgement that without pre-defined factions that’s a bit of a fool’s errand. If you play against an army from a more advanced age than your own (explained in the next section) you get a few handicaps to help you along. For the most part it works similarly to many other war games, both players agree on a point value and the game type. The slight difference here is rather than design an army first, the players both get to agree on an objective and deployment and then choose their lists. This will probably cause setup to take a bit longer but in a game that is much more open than other war games its a bit of a necessity to allow players to adapt to the situation especially if they’re playing against an army that is more powerful than them.

The game follows an alternate activation models, with a twist. Players can activate a number of units in a row equal to the highest command value of their units (one of the games 9 stats shared amongst all units) which helps move things along a lot faster rather than one unit at a time passing back and forth, but not quite facing the full army of a you-go-I-go system. Whichever player finishes all their activations first gets to go first next turn, meaning the player with fewer activations has a slight advantage, addressing another common problem with alternating activations.

The actual round to round gameplay is rather complex but the broad strokes aren’t that new if you’re at all familiar with wargames. The game strictly uses D6s and each unit has 9 stats, grouped into 3 categories: Physical (Strength, Toughness, Movement), Skill (Martial, Ranged, Defense), Knowledge (Discipline, Willpower, Command). Most actions are resolved with a D6+stat. There are a ton of modifiers but they mostly work in exactly the way you might expect, Martial will help you hit things harder, while Defense will help block you against attacks. The game in general is very abstract, but each unit has a lot of variety of different abilities that can be resolved during the game ranging from magical spells to scientific wonders, which are again abstracted by the “powers” system. Powers are handled through d6+Willpower like most other skill encounters.

Once the game is over you receive “progression points” based on how well you did which can be used to upgrade your army. With only the core book it doesn’t do you a whole lot but you probably has at least of the “Age” books when you play, allowing you to improve your army. In general playing larger games will net more progression points (i.e. a 1000 pt game can net a maximum of 1000 progression points, 2000 will net a max of 2000 and so on) and fighting against a more advanced army (one from a more advanced age than your own) grants a multiplier as fighting a more advanced foe will teach a lot more than inferior one.

I’d call the core gameplay serviceable. Trying to balance a game designed around factions that are entirely player created is no small feat and the only way to approach it is to be as abstract as possible which the system excels at. There are a lot of abilities, though it can be hard to gauge that if you’re only reading the core rulebook. To get to the real meat of the game you have to purchase the army creation books, or the Age books.

Credit: Genesys Games

Army Creation and the Three Ages

In addition to the Core rules the developers have laid out a roadmap for three Age books. As of this writing the first is available, called The Birth of Genesys. It focuses on creating a civilization in a medieval fantasy type world. The next two books, The Revelations of Genesys and Exodus of Gensys are currently on kickstarter and focus on advancing civilizations to more advanced time periods. Revelations will allow you to advance your civilization to post-apocalyptic and modern warfare while Exodus will allow them to unlock the wonders of technology and powers beyond our comprehension. However as those books are not out yet, we’ll just focus on the first book.

As before with the core book, the lore is very light, practically non-existent even. There are vague allusions to the 5 species that inhabit the world, fittingly called Genesys, and that they are in a perpetual state of war with one another. Past that there’s not much, as it’s really just a springboard to help you figure out where to classify the army you want to make in your head. The basic jist of the system guides you through the process of civilization building, first asking you to pick one of the 5 races, then to select some specific trait within that race in order to distinguish them from others of their species.

Humanoids represent a very broad range of humanoid creatures, anything from your bog standard human to towering ogre or diminutive dwarf falls under here. As you’d expect from a species with such a broad range, it’s the most flexible and customizable. When creating humanoids you get to choose from a pool of traits called “Evolutionary Branches” which break off into Genetic Mutations, Environmental Adaptations and Knowledge and Science. You are required to pull a certain number of traits in each pool which allow you to tailor make a race that is truly your own. These are extremely varied, ranging from mundane mutations like diminutive size (or giant size) to deep knowledge of the occult or religious practices. Almost any kind of playstyle can be satisfied here and probably the most “grounded” faction to new players.

Fey are a catch all for fantastical, immortal creatures from beyond mortal realm such as faeries, angels and demons. Fey are more magically orientated than the other races and players must choose one of three paths for their species to be set upon: Light, Darkness or Twilight. Each have their own spheres for heroes to ascend through, Light generally focusing on supporting comrades, Darkness focusing on harming one stat to drastically boost another and Twilight granting a flexible playstyle with many different powers to play with.

Reptilia are lizard folk who descend from the Great Leviathan. Reptilia have several subfactions including Gargoyles, Troglodytes, or Saurians. Their unique strength comes from the ability to take powerful “Ancestral traits” at higher tiers, allowing them to field giant monsters like dragons or kaiju as if they were faction characters that can destroy entire armies by themselves.

Biests are a grab bag of different kinds of beastmen, ranging anywhere from werewolves to bird men to sapient platypuses if that’s your thing. Players start from a variety of broad species such as avians, ursine, fish, etc., if none of them really fit players can choose to have no kingdom, allowing them to start with lower stats but more customization options. From there they choose a favored terrain and evolutionary branches similar to humanoids to make them distinct, which each allow access to new and unique powers. Similar to humans, there are a lot of options and branches present making it difficult to pin them down as any one “thing” but that also allows them to be good at a multitude of things.

Finally, Insekts cover various bugs and creepy crawlies. Despite the name there are rules for Arachnids and crustaceans as well as insects. Insekts have their own evolutionary branches but can evolve much faster than other races, allowing you to reach high level traits more quickly and make an army of very specialized characters faster than other races.

Once a player has chosen a species and their unique traits, the game explains how to build “classes” which are the games name your units. The system starts with an extremely basic template, all classes are ranked in “Tiers” from 1 to 5, with 1s being basic foot soldiers and 5s being the most powerful individuals in the world. The point value of the game determines the highest tier of class you’re allowed to bring, so you can’t bring your most powerful Tier 5 king to a minor skirmish. Each race starts with a certain number of units it can create, deriving most of the stats from the armies species and traits and then they can buy some extra upgrades which increase their point value. There’s no limit but it’s important not to be too greedy as if you only have a very expensive units you’ll barely get to field anything (unless an elite force is what you want), this is also when you get to create your heroes who will lead your armies into battle and support them. You can always create new units and heroes with progression points earned from fighting battles later, or use those to upgrade what you already have.

There are a lot of other upgrades you can look at too such as better armor or weapons, or magical weapons or spells to cast, ultimately the amount of customization options is staggering and gives players looking to create their own ideas from scratch a lot to sink their teeth into. At a certain point, possibly after a certain number of progression points, players will be able to evolve their armies into the next book Revelations though the process for that is not detailed here. It will likely be explained in future supplements. If it seems like I glossed over a lot of the book its because the number of options is frankly dizzying and isn’t exciting unless you have the book to compare it to. Without much lore to cover the book is largely just tables upon tables of customization options.

Is it worth buying?

This is one of those things that’s hard to recommend because I think you kind of know whether or not this is your thing from the moment you read about it. For me this is very much my sort of thing. While I enjoy wargaming, I am primarily a Tabletop RPG player and this really feels more like a tabletop RPG that functions on a an army wide level rather than a character level. Very little of your army is set in stone and much of the games appeal is going to be in creating your own army from scratch to fit your playstyle and the lore you designed in your head. Much to do has been made about Crusade in the 9th edition of Warhammer 40k and it’s hard not to see similarities, but I find Crusade very restricting. The options aren’t quite as varied as I’d like, in part because 40k is tied down by its own lore that restricts how much variety you’re actually allowed to have something a more vaguely defined setting like Genesys mercifully escapes.

As a game, Genesys is functional, I don’t think anything about its core gameplay is going to draw people away from the big names. I also have no doubt in my mind that the game is horribly imbalanced and probably very easy to break with the right combination of traits. If I had the inclination I’m sure I could do it. Much like Crusade in 40k, there is an attempt to balance games between powers with a strong power differential and I do think it seems like it would be in effect better at it than crusade’s attempt at a balancing mechanic. Armies that have seen more battle will often have units that cost more, making them less practical in smaller skirmishes, and if you play against someone who is in a more advanced age (once those books are out anyway) you get a multiplier on your progression points so at least your army can walk away having learned something.

That said much like a tabletop RPG I would likely only recommend this game in a small to medium sized group of players you can trust. While a balancing mechanic exists allowing you to theoretically play against someone who you otherwise have not played with, you’d have to go off the honor system that they built their army in good faith and didn’t just pick the best traits. The real joy of playing this game is going to come from building a world together with friends, painting up a small starting force and shaping the narrative through regular battles (potentially roleplaying the diplomatic parts in between). The number of options likely would make this overwhelming to new wargamers, although the book does a decent job of walking you through the process and it is reasonably laid out, and being a miniature agnostic game you can pick up some very cheap minis to get a starting force going, making the buy in amongst friends a lot more reasonable than many other games. When COVID lockdowns start to lift I hope to start my own force with some local people.

As has been stated above, the current game only covers the first age which is medieval fantasy type setting. I’m excited to see how evolving to later eras works out, especially when advanced technology and an age where a heavier reliance on guns comes into play. If you’re interested, you can support the devs on Kickstarter and even get the already published books if you purchase a high enough tier.

A copy of the Core Rulebook and The Birth of Genesys was given to the author for review purposes.