Monday, July 7, 2014

Song of Blades and Heroes: Mayhem at the Megalith

[Disclaimer: I know, I know. I promised to blog every week. I haven't. Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. I started this post in February, I think, and am just now finishing and publishing it. Enjoy.]

We recently played out first game of Song of Blades and Heroes at The Panzer Depot in Kirkland, WA. It was Phil Bardsley and I against Bill Stewart and Dick Larsen. We used every figure I have painted so far of my 40mm Bronze Age Europeanoids (except for the four-figure hippie cult group—maybe next game...). I also got a chance to use my nifty Jelling Dragon bone dice (I have 20 now) for the first time.

There was no subtlety to the scenario. Just set up and have at. Dick and I faced off over a stream and Phil and Bill contended for the Bridge of Sorrows (Bill's sorrow, as it turned out).

Face-off by the stream
The sides were more or less even. We each had a hero, some warriors, and a couple missile troops each. I used minimal special rules just so we could get through the game quickly and get the basic game down pat.
My hero steps forth all alone
The rules use an activation system whereby players attempt to activate a single figure at a time by rolling one, two, or three D6. The result is compared to the figure's quality rating (Q) with any result equal or greater allowing for one action. For example, a figure with Q=4 would get an action for every result of 4-6. So, a designated figure could get up to three activations or none. The trick is that any activation attempt that results in two or more failures ends the player's turn. 

I started by trying to advance all my men. The first out was my hero, who advanced to the stream's edge. However, my next attempt was an epic fail, so no one followed the hero. Dick, who probably threw 6's for 80% of his die rolls, quickly took advantage and forced my hero back to the dubious safety of being in company with his faint-hearted fellows.

Dick's boys edge up...
On the other flank, Phil moved out strongly against Bill, who was content to try to hold the trans-riparian end of the bridge, but not for long.

Bill's Bronze Age bad-asses
Phil's tallest hero on earth leads his warriors toward the bridge
Phil was soon contending the bridge and pushing bill back. Phil's hero, the tallest figure on the table and swinging a death-dealing axe, was in the lead. 

Horatius not holding the bridge
Bill's hero was soon struck down, but Phil's hero followed him to Valhalla shortly after. Nevertheless, Phil kept the upper hand—especially since he quickly waded the stream and came at the bridge from behind Bill's defenders.

Phil's hero gone, but Bill's annihilation is at hand
The combat rules are very DBA-like. A fight is always between two primary figures who compare their combat (C) values plus one D6. Extra figures in contact can affect the score by reducing the outnumbered figure by -1 for each extra figure he's in contact with. The modified results are compared and the higher score wins in one of four basic ways: 
  1. A simple win with an odd die result pushes the enemy back one base depth. 
  2. A simple win with an even die result causes the enemy to fall (fallen figures much more vulnerable to continued attack).
  3. A win by twice the enemy's modified result (but not three times) is a kill. If the enemy is fallen, only a simple win is required to kill him.
  4. A win by three times or more than the enemy inflicts a GRUESOME KILL (which we mark with a little Litko skull token). If the enemy has fallen then only doubling the enemy is required for a gruesome kill. A gruesome kill also spreads panic among the deceased's fellows, who must check morale.
First GRUESOME KILL of the game
The first gruesome kill was inflicted on me by Dick's hero and one of his mooks. I was only doubled, but my figure had fallen, making it more susceptible to a gruesome death. I checked morale for each figure within one long movement stick by throwing three dice per figure and checking the results against the figure's quality. A figure moves one medium move stick away for each fail, if there are one or two failures; for three failures, the figure just bugs out and is removed from play. The resulting morale chaos sent most of my men running one or two moves away (no one bugged out).

Dick's wayward warriors wade the waters
Dick mercilessly followed up on this advantage by pressing forward. Because he couldn't seem to roll less than 6 on any die, he easily made his activations.

A world of mayhem
Battle of the standards
I managed to inflict a gruesome kill on Dick at one point, which sent some of his men scurrying back. However, Dick's special talent for rolling high kept his force pretty intact despite their fearful revulsion.

Run away! 
Dick whittling me down
In the end, Dick managed to reduce my force to just a few figures while he remained mostly intact. Phil and Bill had chopped each other up pretty well, but Phil held the bridge with his remaining figures. The game probably took around 90 minutes, but that includes a great deal of chatter amongst ourselves and pauses every now and then for photo ops.

The rules play quickly and make for an enjoyable time. We used pretty generic values for the rank and file with special characteristics only for our leaders. Adding more detail and variety to the figures will involve adding name tags (and having to come up with interesting Bronze Age European names!) and tracking the characteristics on rosters. The special abilities will add more time to the game, but also more character.

I hosted two games of SoBH at our Enfilade! convention in May, including the hippie cult group as major players in the victory conditions. Both games went pretty well and the players had a good time.

Ganesha Games has a forthcoming set of rules called Song of Spear and Shield that are a more detailed set of ancient skirmish rules. I'm eager to see these published, but I'm not sure how much effort the author is making to releasing them. Ganesha Games is a one-guy shop and he has a lot of irons in the fire. If the rules are published this year, I'll be ecstatic. I won't be holding my breath.

I've ordered some 28mm Cutting Edge Near East Bronze Age figures from Warlord Games. I plan to play skirmish games with them and SoSS would be ideal for it, especially because they include rules for chariots, which SoBH lacks.