Song of Blades and Heroes
This small but perfectly formed set of miniatures rules is currently taking the wargaming world by storm. Unlike the hefty £40 Warhammer hardback, Ganesha Games’ Song of Blades & Heroes (SoBaH) can be ordered very cheaply in PDF format or from Lulu.com if you want to save your printer cartridges.
SoBaH sets out to be a set of generic fantasy skirmish rules. There is no setting per se – it could as easily be used for skirmishing in Middle Earth as Greyhawk. The point is you can get a decent game in under two hours, they are an easy set to learn and to teach, and you don’t need to shell out £150 on expensive miniatures to build an army. A good-sized SoBaH warband weighs in at 300 points, and can consist of as little as four of five figures, though an average warband will have between eight and 12 miniatures.
This shows how easy it is to get into SoBaH. The game can be used with either 15mm or 25mm figures, and at 15mm only needs a 2’ by 2’ area, so those with space constraints may want to give this attention.
SoBaH also embraces a number of other interesting design assumptions.
Firstly, each character has a Quality score represented by what they need to roll on a d6 to activate. A Q of 2+ is excellent (e.g. a High Elf) while 5+ means that figure will be slow and unreliable (a zombie for example). In your turn you can roll up to 3d6 for each character to activate him. The number of successes equals the number of actions he has for that turn – moving, shooting, getting up off the ground, and so on. However, if you roll less successes than failures, your entire turn ends, and you have to turn the action over to your opponent. This means as a player you need to think carefully about how many activation dice you roll. You might decide to go low risk and roll 2d6, but then if you succeed you character will have fewer actions – maximum two in this case. With really slow monsters like zombies, you can roll 1d6 and even if you fail, can always proceed to the next character. This is the really low risk option, but your upside is just the one action. It is a great way to replicate slow critters like mindless undead.
Secondly, the entire game functions off three measurements – small, medium and long. You can make range sticks rather than messing around with tape measures. For 25mm figures, short range is 7.5cm, medium is 12cm, and long is 18cm. This covers everything from ranged weapons, like a longbow (shoots out to 18cm before taking a penalty for longer range bands), movement (most troops move a medium distance with one action) and command and control (leaders can use the long range band to dictate command radius).
Many characters also have attributes assigned to them, like Leader, Tough, Fly, Undead, Short Move (for heavily armoured characters, for example). This distinguishes them from the grunts, but also costs extra points. A Vampire Lord, for example, can easily cost over 150 points, potentially half your allotted budget for a game. In the case of Short Move, for example, this is actually a negative trait (and there are others like this) which GIVES you more points for taking it.
Combat is easily resolved, with each character rolling 1d6, adding their Combat score, and making any adjustments. The result is based on the winner’s die roll: odds, and the enemy is pushed back one base width; evens, and the enemy is knocked down (it takes two actions to get up, and meantime you’re at -2 Combat, and if you lose another round, you’re dead).
Instant kills can be procured by a result that is double or more than your opponent’s. Gruesome kills are triple or more, and this forces all friendly characters within a long bound (and line of sight) to make a morale check at the sight of your gory demise.
Morale checks occur for a number of reasons, the famed gruesome kill being just one. Seeing a leader slain within a long bound will also potentially set your troops off running. Terrifying creatures have a similar effect. Losing half your warband will also force a morale check on everyone still in the warband. Morale is tested with a 3d6 quality check, and your figure drops back one move for every failure. If he fails all three, he is assumed to rout off the table.
I actually LOVE these rules. They are great for a pick up game. They are very flexible, with a modern variant and a Napoleonic variant also published. There are also a number of expansions which I hope to explore in the future. They also don’t take too long, which is great when you have a busy lifestyle and it is hard to program a half day of wargaming into your calendar. Indeed, they are well-suited to an evening of play, with an average game finished inside two hours. This is what many wargamers are looking for these days, at least those of us without long school holidays to fill with 3000 point Warhammer battles.
Any reservations? Only two really, and only one pertains to the basic set. More could have been done with magic. As they stand, wizards and other spell users in SoBaH have two types of spell: a transfix spell which effectively glues its victim to the spot, and a ranged attack which is slightly better than using a bow and arrow. As such, wizards seem a bit underpowered. I’ve played four games to date, and in none of them have wizards dominated. You might argue this is a good thing, but it would have been nice to see wizards having more spell options than they have in the basic rules.
On the other side of the coin, once you start buying expansions, the number of additional powers and traits characters can have increases exponentially, making them hard to keep track of. There is no central resource at the moment. Like Feats in 3e D&D, this can be challenging for players unless they make notes on the power on their warband roster to being with, which I guess is the most sensible solution.