Sunday, July 7, 2019

Mortal Gods - First Blood (πρώτο αίμα)

I played my first game of Mortal Gods on Saturday. I watched/kibitzed one game and then played in a second. The figures used were Bill Stewart's Gorgon Studios Spartans and Mike Lombardy's plastic Warlord Games Greeks. The first game went slowly as we were learning the rules, the second game went quicker. In both games we did stuff wrong, which we only realized later. By the 20th game or so, we'll have it mastered—except for the stuff we forget.

The game game engine for Mortal Gods is the same one used for the earlier Samurai-themed game Test of Honour. I haven't played Test of Honour, so the system is new to me. It's very straightforward and has a nice amount of nuance to distinguish various types of warriors without adding a lot of fiddlyness.

The basing is unique. Mortal Gods is a skirmish game, but relies on multi-figure trays that differentiate between hoplites and other warrior types (like peltasts and various flavors of psiloi). Hoplites can form three 3-figure bases to form a phalanx, which has benefits (and weaknesses) for combat.

The hoplite was the standard warrior type in Ancient Greece; every man who could afford the panoply was required to equip himself and muster when the city went to war. The po' folk also mustered, but may be equipped with nothing more than a rock and a smile (or grimace, this being war and all). A balanced force—called a lochos (λόχος) in the game—will contain a core of hoplites and a smattering of light missile troops with slings, bows, and javelins.

The majority of a lochos's points will be spent buying hoplites of varying quality. Hoplites vary mostly in how they're armored, but the degree of armor affects movement and defense. Some types of hoplites have better morale (Spartans) and experienced hoplites have advantages in combat, defense, and morale. You pay in points for what you get. A 3-figure stand of veteran hoplites cost 45 points, compared to a 3-figure stand of unarmored hoplites (called peripoloi, which literally means "around (peri) the city (polis)" but in context something like "patrol" or "watchmen," they being less experienced—and less armored—hoplites in training), which cost a mere 27 points. The latter move fast (8") and are cheap, but have very little to go with when defending.

The biggest single expenditure of points will be for your lochigos (λοχαγός), or commander of the small force. The title is pretty much equal to a centurion in Roman terms. Lochagoi are also differentiated by armor—which affect movement and defense—but otherwise share the same abilities. I learned from positive and negative experience in our games that a lochagos is a good thing to have.

The values for the warriors are shown on roster cards along with any special rules for the type.

When you build your lochos, you have one roster card for each stand or individual figure. You'll mark damage and activation on the card using the damage dice and activation tokens. Keeping track of which card belongs to which stand can be tricky when everything gets moved about in the scrum.

Other chrome to the game are omen, gift, and injury cards that can apply to warriors. Omen cards are are drawn whenever a red activation token is drawn. (There are three red tokens, a turn ends when the third token is drawn.) Omens can be good or bad. They can apply to one's own lochos, a single warrior or group, or all warriors, or specific types of warriors, on both sides. Omens typically apply only to the turn when they're drawn. Gift cards can be bought for points when building your lochos. The confer some advantage to a specific warrior or hero in your lochos. Injury cards are used when, by rights, your lochogos should be dead, but is only mostly dead and manages to survive with an injury instead. Although, not every injury card lets you live.

Not only dead, but ongoingly so—and for the rest of the game
I almost nearly killed Eric Donaldson's lochagos, but he survived with a non-head injury instead.

I'm pretty impressed with Mortal Gods. It's an enjoyable game system that also gives a good feel for the historical nature of the fighting. Phalanxes are a good defensive formation, but are vulnerable to their flanks and rear. Light troops are annoying, but can be chased off by light hoplites/peripoloi.

The game also gives me something to do—finally—with all the Wargames Foundry Greeks that I've had sitting around for nearly 20 years. I bought piles of them around 2000 or so when Kevin Smyth and I were working on a project for gaming the Peloponnesian War. I started some, but most of them have been sitting in a box in my garage gathering a heavy layer of dust.

I have more than enough to build two or even three lochoi. I just got in the mail a supply of Little Big Men Studios shield transfers. I have a lot of AWI to work on in the next few weeks (game coming up and I gotta have units completed for it), but I'll start working on these soon.

I'm getting inspired to re-read Victor Davis Hanson's The Western Way of War and go browsing through the five volumes of W. Kendrick Prichett's The Greek State at War, among other books I have on Greek warfare. At one time, I was digging pretty deeply into the subject. Gaming Mortal Gods will inspire me to get back to it.

Postscript: Errata et corrigenda (σφάλματα και διορθώσεις)

Per Bill's comment, I've corrected my statements above about which figures were used. We spoke during the game of which figure makers' figure were used. It all went over (or through) my head, apparently. To quote Casca from Julius Caesar, "those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me."

Among the other things we muffed during our first play, the ability of a leader to give their actions to another unit is more limited than how we played it. My attack-attack-attack-attack against Eric's lochagos was impossible. It turns out he would have been less nearly almost dead than I'd hoped.


  1. I own this but yet to paint my stuff up yet. Nice over view.

    Western Way of War is great, I am currently reading "Soldiers & Ghosts" by J.E. Lendon. A good read so far and I recommend it for another view point.


  2. Interesting to read of your experience with the rules. I am tempted ( mainly due to really liking Hanson’s book) but not sure l want to start a new project. I sadly don’t have a stash of Greeks at home but we’ll see...

  3. Thanks for the write up David. Small point or two: The Spartans are from Gorgon Studios and Mike's Greeks are from Warlord, formally Immortal Miniatures.