Sunday, November 5, 2017

Bronze is brilliant!

I pulled out my beloved 40mm Prehistoricalistical Europeanoids (a.k.a. North European Bronze Age) minis for a game on Saturday. My last game with them was in 2016 with Kevin Smyth and Phil Bardsley, when we adapted Osprey's En Garde rules to ca. 1800 BC. It worked OK, but rules for dashing swordsmen ca. 1650 aren't exactly suited for bronze age warriors going at it with axes, spears, swords, slings, and arrows. So, I went back to Ganesha Games' Song of Blades and Heroes, which is the rules set I used when I started with them almost four years ago. There's an advanced version, which I purchased after our game (see below).

So off we went in the Wayback Machine to the Bronze Age. Why? Because bronze is brilliant!

The players were Mike Lombardy, Troy Wold, Ralph Holloway, and I. Troy and I were the defenders keeping the forces of Mike and Ralph from disturbing the religious rites being celebrated at the stonehenge-ish site. It gave me my first opportunity to use the mini stonehenge I bought from Daryl Nichols at Enfilade! earlier this year.

Protecting the shameless naked cavorting at the megaliths
The forces were all roughly equal and I used pretty generic characters. Each warband had a leader figure with the values Q2:C5, plus special rules "leader," "Hero," and "tough." Our leaders all got into combat, but no one got killed. The rest of the forces were swordsmen (Q3:C4), spearmen (Q3:C3), Slingers (Q4:C3, medium shooter), and bowmen (Q4:C3, long shooter). Troy and I also had standard bearers who were like swordsmen (Q3:C4), but had the "tough" special rule. Each warband numbered 13 figures.

Separating our warbands was a mostly dry river, whose wet bits were impassible (but bridged). On one end of the table, Troy and Mike squared off, while Ralph and I went at it on the other end.

The field of battle, Mike and Troy at one end
Mike started out with his figures in two groups and used his leader's "leader" rule to move them forward. Troy and Ralph did similiar.

Ralph's boys start off in neat groups
I was just scattered all over and came at Ralph piecemeal. Why be methodical in my mayhem?

Dave's boys running higgeldy-piggeldy across the terrain
My initial clashes against Ralph did not go well. I was down three swordsmen before he'd lost anyone. He was able to get 2:1 and 3:1 against some of my figures. Being on the ropes, I started concentrating my forces and finally got methodical with my mayhem.

Mike started initially getting badly hurt by Troy's forces, but the worm eventually turned. Both of them fought in tight opposing lines. Ralph and I were more scattered with little clumps fighting in various places.

Ralph's initial successes left him a bit scattered and vulnerable for counterattack. A few good activations later and I was on him in force.

The axeman cometh
The first tough clash is known in my tribe's lore as the "battle by the tree near the swampy bit." It was here that I took my initial losses, but by bringing more warriors to bear—and my hero leader—I turned the tide. My leader exerted only moral force by the tree; when it came time to kick some Bronze Age butt, I rolled two failed activations with him. I just repositioned him with my one action and the battle by the tree near the swampy bit resolved itself when I brought my standard bearer into it.

My leader weighs whether to join the fray (he didn't)
My standard bearer shouting his enemies to death
The fighting was pretty hairy for a bit. Two of my swordsmen held off four of Ralph's spears. It started with just one.

2:1 in my favor and no luck
My failure to kill the lone spearman, however, drew in the rest of Ralph's spears. Another swordsman came to my help and I was then 1:2.

Suddenly a wall of spears!
I got one of my swordsmen killed (and one of Ralph's spears), which left the odds still decidedly against me.

Now 1:3...
However, the lone swordsman prevailed. I'd like to claim skill, but it was just lucky dice. Try as he might, Ralph's attacks were foiled by low scores which left us tied (no result) or had me pushing him back or knocking him down. Once down, a figure is pretty vulnerable to kills or the dreaded GRUESOME KILL (of which we had none this game).

Whittled 'em down to two and soon to none
I lost several chances to kill Ralph's leader. I engaged him with my leader and managed to have him at 2:1 and fallen, but only managed to wound because of the leader's "tough" special rule.

So close...
The "tough" rule helped Troy also, whose standard bearer (a.k.a. "Penis Man" due to the ithyphallic deity totem he carried) was knocked down and wounded multiple times, but survived the game and was standing proud by the megaliths at the end.

I get knocked down, but I get up again...
On the periphery, the missile troops plugged away at each other. I tried a long shot at Ralph's hero, but the odds are so far out the best I could hope for would be a "fallen" result, which I didn't get. However, Ralph and I each took out two opposing missile figures.

Bronze Age firefight
Both Troy and Ralph had to make morale checks for losing more than half their initial force (more dead than alive). For Ralph, this affected only his leader, who scurried back one move. The rest of his force stood their ground.

By game's end, Ralph had four survivors: His wounded leader/hero, one intrepid swordsman, a slinger, and a bowman. I had my leader/hero, my standard bearer, three swordsmen, a slinger, and a bowman.

My men glower menacingly at Ralph's survivors
Troy was on the ropes, pretty much a mirror image of Ralph's situation, but Mike was almost as badly beat up. We called the game for the defenders. The henge ceremony went on without further interruption.

And there was much rejoicing (and gratuitous nudity) at the megaliths
It was a good time despite the pain (see postscript below). I really like my 40mm figures and need to get more—although they're not really available right now, but there is hope...

Final thoughts: Song of Blades and Heroes (SBH)

I like SBH as a system. The game moves along quickly and the back-and-forth can be tense. They're also great for limited numbers of figures. We each had 13 figures in a warbands. We could easily have handled more—if I had more.

They are, however, not quite what I want for the period.

SBH was created for fantasy skirmish battles. I use about 40% of the rules for what I do with them. They don't take into account weapons and armor and there are no rules for my big 40mm scale chariot. The other 60% of the rules cover fantasy rules staples like monsters and magic.

There was once some development on a set of rules to be called Song of Spear and Shield (SSS). I had some correspondence with Andrea Sfiligoi about them going back to 2014. They seemed to be always just on the cusp of being released, but other projects kept getting precedence and they're not even listed in the Work in Progress section anymore. As recently as a few days ago, Andrea confirmed that they will be released, just no indication when. Needless to say, I'm a bit flustered. Patience has never been a virtue I was overly supplied with.

However, I just got the PDF download of the Advanced Song of Blades and Heroes (ASBH). It has a bit more of what I want (and a bit more of what I don't). The only armor rule is the same as what was in the standard SBH, i.e., "heavily armored," which adds +1 to your combat score if you're beaten, i.e., it can be decisive in turning a kill into a pushback. It's kind of moot for the Bronze Age, though. I have figures in cuirass and helmet, I have figures with bronze chest discs, I have figures with just shields (small and large), I have figures with nada but a weapon. It would be nice to have varying degrees of armoredness.

ASBH adds "reaction" to the options for players. It basically works that when a player rolls dice for activation, any failures can be rerolled for an activation attempt by the opposing player before the first player conducts his actions (if any) or rolls his next activation. If two dice fail in an activation attempt, which normally ends a player's activations, the opposing player can choose to have the normal turnover or re-roll the two failed dice as a reaction, which keeps the first player the active player. I can see a lot of advantage in this.

Weapons have been added in some way. Long spears, for example, can benefit from the "long reach" rule, basically letting you attack through/over a friendly figure. I'd give this to my spear figures. There are also rules for heavy weapons like two-handed axes (I only have one figure with that).

All in all, ASBH looks promising—but I'm still eager to see SSS released!

Postscript: Ouch!

I tweaked my back as I was loading my car to head out to The Panzer Depot. By the time I got there and was unloading, I was suffering. I made it through the game, but was only able to load up for the return trip with the help of Mike, Troy, and Ralph. It's Sunday afternoon now and I haven't unpacked yet. In fact, I've been resting since I got home yesterday, groaning every time I have to move.

I've been downing ibuprofen and applying heat and cold alternately. I'm barely mobile, but still able to sit and bash this post out. I'm about to go back to resting with the hope that by tomorrow, my back will be better. It's not spinal, it's a muscle spasm of some kind, just on my lower right.

Post-postscript: Grrr!

I went to work on this blog only to find that all the pics I took with my iPhone came out as HEIC files (i.e., Live photo). This is what the iPhone camera keeps defaulting to. Photoshop can't read that format, so I had to monkey about with a conversion utility just to get everything to work.

Apparently you can set the iPhone camera not to default to Live, which I thought I'd done, but it still defaults to Live. I wish I could just disable it.


  1. Fantastic looking game, David. That's quite an impressive Stonehenge too. I pray your back gets better soon.

  2. Sorry to hear of you back and camera configuration problems. On the plus side, I greatly enjoyed your report. I have played SoBH (not advanced) a few times and I know what you mean - I am really an ancients player not a fantasy person and would like more "ancient" stuff. I have not really played much ancients skirmish so not able to help you with other rules that may be have more. You can always wait for Spear and Shiled :-)

  3. Nice report David! We had a good time way back, when you first brought out your battling Goliaths.

    Ah yes, the hazards of large figures and small cars. Hope you are feeling better soon.

  4. Have you looked at the Open Combat rules from SecondThunder?
    You can play with any figures, in a fashion similar to SoBH, but each figure has five stats, one of which is Defense. This would give armor the representation you were lamenting.

  5. Enjoyed that report. Could you jump on the old word processor and belt out a few modifications of your own to suit your figures, or do the rules not lend themselves well to that kind of thing?

    Hope you find rules that suit, anyway. Looks like too much fun not to!


    1. You mean, like, light a candle rather than curse the darkness? Where's the fun in that? :)

      I've been looking through Advanced SBH and some of my issues are answered. For example, "Block," "Expert block," and "Melee block" all give the effect of shields or bucklers. There are weapon (W) traits for things like spears, axes, 2-handed axes, etc.

  6. Have you seen this?

    Steve says there were a hundred or so minis sculpted for this range,less than half were moulded, and he needs around 10 of us to express an interest to get it done? I'm in!

    1. I hadn't seen it. I'm in contact with Steve presently and have been in the past, so I've known for some time that there are a lot more figures potentially available than were ever released. I've also communicated with Alan Rudd of Hoka Hey/Timeline. He says he's been interested in acquiring the range. I'd be excited to see the full range made available however that happens.

    2. You're killing me with this whole post. I need a new project like I need a kick in the pants, but you made it all look so good!