Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Song of Blades and Heroes - tabletop fantasy miniature skirmish game review

My husband is a self-proclaimed game collector, and a few nights ago he came across this gem of a fantasy tabletop game while surfing around Drive-Thru RPG looking for some new and exciting way to spend our tiny gaming budget. Being married to a self-proclaimed game collector, I am usually the one who gets to be his crash-test-dummy as he tries out the various games he has picked up through the years.... and having suffered not-very-quietly through some fairly boring evenings of pushing little metal men around on a grass mat while trying to figure out if it was still my turn or looking over a page full of stats trying to see if my leader failed his morale check... *yawn*.... you can trust me when I say this game is the best five bucks we've spent in a long long time.

After one session of play last night, here is what I find so exciting about SBH.

The only rules governing how you build your army are 1) the amount of points-cost-total that you and your opponent agree upon and 2) no more than 1/3 of your total army point cost can be spent on "personality" models such as leaders, special monsters or heroes. Also there is a huge list of characters to pick from and even more in other system suppliments.

The turns are not I-go-you-go, nor is initiative decided by drawing random markers from a bag. Each model has a "quality" number between 1 and 6. High numbers are better. Both players roll a d6 to see who goes first..then the one with initiative can choose to roll between one and three d6s to activate the model of his/her choice. Matching or beating the model's quality number allows the model a single action for each successful die rolled. Rolling two failing dice means the initiative goes to the other player on the next turn. Therefore there is a degree of risk in trying to take multiple actions with a single model. Making and predicting strategy is much more difficult, but then again, this IS a skirmish game, not Waterloo.

After several failed attempts to win in combat against a stubborn door, the goblin sneak succeeds in smashing down the recalcitrant barrier and finding the rope bridge.

Hit Points
There ARE NO hit points. You either get killed, pushed back, or knocked down, but you CAN get back up again (like the Chumbawumba song says) if you get the initiative and can roll a successful activation. Having no fiddly wound markers to keep up with lets you focus more on playing and less on tracking all your models' hit points.

You don't have to play on grid or hex paper or worry needlessly with how to measure movement around a corner. There is a simple movement measuring tool that works for all models in the game, and only one straight-line movement may be taker per model action. While this may seem to slow down play in a dungeon setting, the simplification is worth the slowdown.

The skeletons begin crossing the bridge after their archers fail to remove the green menace from the cavern on the other side of the chasm.

Other Stuff
I've not personally read through the rulebook yet. But my husband tells me there are charts for filling in all sorts of dungeon essentials such as treaures and traps; and that there are campaign rules that let my models become MORE heroic as they survive more battles.

Fast, Fun, Dummyproof
Our game took a little more than an hour to play, much more due to the mazelike nature of our cavern labyrinth than anything game-mechanics related. I had ten goblinoid models. He had ten (IIRC) assorted undead types. All the model data I needed was on one easy-to-comprehend player sheet, and I only needed my three d6s and my movement-measurer to play. After just a few turns I had the hang of how initiative works and how combat resolves, and after that, it was almost like roleplaying...complete with teasing, taunting, and obnoxious warcries from the ubiquitous orcs.

This orc bravely attempts to slay the recumbent wraith hero, only to later end up himself in orc-heaven while his surviving victorious compatriots drink to his memory and squabble over his gear.

The Song of Blades and Heroes game, as well as the game system, makes its web-home right here on Blogspot. There you can find links to buy all their PDF downloads as well as links to their Lulu print-on-demand store. If nothing else, you should go there just to check out the fantastic cover artwork.

Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing if I can somehow find a way to work my orcish horde into the Arthurian or Robin Hood legends. If I do, you'll definitely hear about it here first.


Samuel Van Der Wall said...

That cover art is pretty awesome looking. Great little find, especially for the price. I wonder if it would be a good game for players who don't do miniature battles very often, because it sounds fairly easy to pick up.

Spike Page said...

I think so..since one can have a playable game with less than a dozen minis per side, and the suggested playing area is 3"X3", so no huge game table needed.

kaeosdad said...

This is a really good game. The guy who makes it is most talented. He regularly puts out self contained expansions for his 'song of...' series. Song of Gold and Darkness is one that emulates the dungeoncrawl type of setting. He also has a magazine where fans contribute new rules to the different games.

It is very easy to pick up, and if you have a copy of heroscape it works really well with just the one boxed set. I lucked out and caught a clearance sale at wal mart and ended up with 7 sets for 6 bucks each.

Ganesha Games said...

Thanks for the nice words about my game, I linked back to your review on the game's blog