07 September 2014

Song of Blades & Heroes first impression

My buddy Thomas invited me to his new house to try out Song of Blades & Heroes a couple of weeks ago. I had only heard about this game on forums and had played but a single quick game like a year ago so I had forgotten about the rules and the feel. Thomas is really enthusiastic about the rules, and they come with a slew of expansions for various settings such as Gothic Horror.

Anyway, this will be a short summary of my first impression of the game and the rules as we played a single battle and learned the game as we played it. At the core it is a dead simple skirmish type game, you build a warband from pre-determined characters/units and fight it out over a couple of existing scenarios or something that you come up with yourself (the game also lends itself well towards a campaign format).

The game has its own twist on how long a turn is, how you activate units and the stats.

I will begin by describing units, they only have two stats and that is Quality and Combat. Quality is what you need to roll on a D6, such as 3+, in order to pass an action/combat/climb/cast magic etc. Combat is what you add to your D6 roll in close combat to see the total amount of your roll when players determine which model won the fight. Dead simple right? A bit too simple maybe? Perhaps, but only if it had not been with the next couple of things that I think
make the rules well thought out in all their simplicity.

There is no real "turn" in the game, instead players take turns in activating a model/group of models at a time by rolling Quality checks. Each unit or group of models can perform 1-3 actions per turn, which is reflected by how many D6 dice you get to roll. The more Quality checks you pass, the more actions you get. However, if you fail 2 or more Quality checks upon activating a model it is a "turnover" and the opponent gets to activate his stuff until he in turn gets a turnover.

This means that you will sometimes, out of pure tactical necessity, only attempt "single action" activations so that you don't risk a turnover (especially with rabble of poor quality). Heroes and good fighters may be well off attempting all 3 actions every time you activate them. Each action is used to move a predetermined range, shoot a ranged weapon or fight in close combat.

I was a bit weirded out by all of this but played along as I'm always interested in new types of gaming solutions and rules. The basics of the game can be learned within minutes. Measuring sticks are used to check movement rates and shooting ranges for projectile weapons and magic. The Quality checks for activation and performing actions are also learned fast.

What makes the whole thing not fall flat is a fair number of special rules that add abilities to your units. This is needed as there are only two stats in the game, and you cannot build your own units - and unit equipment isn't really described in the ways of "heavy armor and shield gives you a 2+ save". Instead the equipment and armor of a unit along with its training is supposed to be represented in Quality and one or two special rules that come with the unit profile.

Units are killed only if the difference in the combat roll exceeds a specific number (IIRC it was 5), if you score a difference less than that the enemy is either pushed back or knocked down. You also get combat benefits from ganging up on a single opponent (obviously) but having units too close may also turn against you if one of them gets killed in a "gruesome way" as the game calls it - since that forces a morale test using Quality. For each failed quality test a model flees a single movement range band.

It takes some time to get used to this stripped down game, especially if you have recently played a super detailed game like Brink of Battle where you build each character from scratch, allocating stats and every piece of equipment with care point by point. Song of Blades & Heroes is a more "get started and finish a game within an hour" type of deal that requires little from the players in terms of pre-game arrangements or list building. You pick ready to play profiles and roll some dice with simple but well working mechanics.

But within this simplicity there is enough variety and choice in tactics, unit activation and leadership decisions to make it a fun game. I can honestly say that I enjoyed the demo at my friend Thomas house, I may be interested in using my HP Lovecraft themed collection of models to play the "Gothic Horror" version of the rules. It's not a game that requires a lot from the player, and I can see how this may be very popular with people that have little time for games and want to keep their experience ready to go and quick. It certainly had enough both funny and cinematic moments where minions killed the warband leaders, and how certain characters kept failing with everything attempted. My Orc Warband was about to whack the humans real good when luck turned and my warboss got shanked to death by a lowly archer with incredible luck in the combat rolls.

I hope to get back with a more in depth review of Song of Blade & Heroes in the near future. It's a different type of game compared to most games I play, but the "pick up and play" element of it should not be underestimated.


  1. I haven't tried these rules out yet; but they sound like the type I'm interested in - simple at the core, but with the additional variables of unpredictability. I hope to try them out someday. Thanks for the overview of the rules.

  2. Just a couple of clarifications: the rules *do* include a method of assigning points costs to models not included in the example lists; it's on p 51 of the rule book.

    Also, killing models depends on doubling (or tripling for a gruesome kill) the opponent's adjusted die roll with your adjusted die roll. So a -1 to the enemy roll is worth more than a +1 to your roll...

  3. It's a lot of fun. Only played it a couple of times but it is very easy to learn.

  4. I've got several of the rule sets that use this engine. It's great for playing quick games, or with people who aren't miniatures players. I highly recommend them.

    If you want crunchier rules that include stats for weapons and vehicles check out "Flying Lead", based on the same engine.

  5. I'm a fan. Another good selling point is the versatility- know the core mechanic and you're away with all the other varied Ganesha rulesets. Love the buildings, btw.

  6. Yes, I agree with Barks above. This game is highly versatile, easy to teach, and easy to play. And while character creation isn't particularly detailed, it is a lot of fun to do, and offers a deal of scope for making interesting personalities. I do it quite a lot here: mdarrow.blogspot.com


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