October 19, 2012

Song of Blades and Heroes: A Review

I've been asking around for a set of rules to play Weird War type scenario skirmish games with lately, and one of the suggestions I received was to try Flying Lead, which is based on the Song of Blades and Heroes engine by Ganesha Games. I had never heard of the system or the publisher so I dug around a bit and found that there was a new edition of Song of Blades and Heroes released in September. A few moments, and $8 later, I was reading through the PDF book and wondering why I'd never heard of it before. The reason I decided on this book, rather than one of the themed books was pretty simple: other than Hordes, I don't own any skirmish rules for fantasy gaming...so I wanted that one.

The book isn't very long but provides detailed, yet simple, rules for movement, melee and ranged combat, morale tests, larger scale battles, scenarios and campaign play. At the end of the book are several pages containing a very comprehensive list of profiles for all kinds of fantasy creatures and characters. It is also usable for both 15mm and 28mm figures which allows players to use whatever toy soldiers and monsters they might have lying around.

One item that is not contained in the book that I found very useful in my test games was a player template. It's a simple one-page template that has all three measurement lengths on it, as well as all kind of helpful facts about the rules on it. I highly recommend downloading it from their website and using it if you plan to use any of the SoBH rule sets. There are also some nice character building spreadsheets available in their free downloads section.

So what do I mean about the "three measurement lengths"? Well, Song of Blades and Heroes does away with the idea of using a measure tape for movement and checking range, in a sense. There are only three measurements needed in the game: short, medium and long. That might sound confusing, but it's really not and once you play a round or two you won't even be thinking about it.

The other, insane sounding, but utterly cool thing about this game is that every figure has only two stats. Yes you read that right: TWO. OK well actually three, if you count the points cost for each figure, which I don't. The two in-game stats for your figures are Quality and Combat.
  • Quality is an "overall indication of the model’s willingness to fight, reaction speed, initiative and morale."
  • Combat is "how well the model fights. In a fight, this value is added to the roll of a die and compared to the opponent’s Combat plus the roll of a die."
When you want to activate a figure you roll one, two or three dice and compare the dice against its Quality. The number of dice equal to or higher than the Quality value is the number of actions it gets to take. For combat, those of you who are paying attention will note that yes, it means individual rounds between two figures are resolved by rolling a single die each.

"But wait Mr. Obsidian3d-guy, if I only have two stats on my figures, doesn't this game suck all over the place then?" you ask. No, not at all would be my answer. The ingenious thing here is that characters can buy Special Rules. Special rules would be things like Flying, Shooter (which allows a figure to make ranged attacks), Tough, Terror, Undead and so on. These special rules increase the point cost of your figures and let them do additional things. It's really quite ingenious and works far, far better than I would have anticipated.

Finally, I gave the Song of Blades and Heroes rules a try through two short games last night. I grabbed some Heroscape figures and put together two different lists of characters for each game, trying to pick profiles with a good range of points and special rules. The rules worked surprisingly well, far better than I had expected but naturally there was a lot of flipping about in the rule book to look up the special rules, as well as the core game rules. The one downside, and this is personal preference more than anything else, is that it seems a little unsatisfying to roll only a single die to resolve figure combat.

However, I would certainly use this system in a convention setting or with players who want a lighter war-gaming experience. I think it would also work very well mixing and matching special rules from other books and expansions to create a custom system you like. There are several expansions to the Song of Blades and Heroes core rules, as well as other standalone books using the engine for other settings. Some that I'll certainly be looking into will be Flying Lead: modern war combat, Fear and Faith: horror scenarios and monster profiles, and Mutants and Death Ray Guns: post-apocalyptic near-future stuff...and that doesn't cover everything they've got!

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