14 October 2016

Blood Eagle rules review

Having a collection of Viking miniatures I looked around for more rules, beside SAGA, that would scratch my "skirmish  game" itch. I also really wanted "Viking fantasy" as it was something that rumbled around in my head for the past couple of weeks.

Browsing the internet, as usual, you always find something that look interesting or promising. This was the case of "Blood Eagle: Skirmish warfare in the legendary Dark Ages". This is a game from the team behind "In her Majesty's Name" published by Osprey a while back. 

Though this module focuses on both historical and mythological aspects of the Dark Ages allowing you to field warbands of pre-generated warriors from a wide variety of historical factions such as Vikings, Picts, Gaels, the warband of Ragnar Lodbrok, Jomsvikings. The book also allows you to field warbands based upon the mythology of the Dark Ages, in particular Norse mythology, fielding Jotun, Draugr, Sidhe and also have encounters with both normal animals as well as legendary creatures such as wyrms, trolls, Valkyries and redcaps.  There are also rules for creating your own warriors, using a point system with weapons, armor, abilities and magic powers (Wyrd for pagans and Miracles for Christian warbands).

As  you can see the book is overflowing with character and unit profiles, and I can say that it was pretty much what I was looking for in that department.

The rules  themselves are not that complicated, and players familiar with Frostgrave, Empire of the Dead, Brink of Battle and other such games should have an easy time getting into the game fairly quickly. You use D10 dice for all rolls, and add fight/shooting values and weapon bonuses to your attack rolls, trying to beat your enemy's armour value. Opponents roll saves in the form of "fate rolls". Some weapons and abilities affect the fate roll either positively or give you a penalty.

The order of play is both players rolling initiative and then taking turns activating one model at a time until all models have been activated, which constitutes a turn.
It is always interesting to see how combat works out in a small scale skirmish game where all models only have a single wound. If put together poorly fighters die too easily. From my playtesting the combat seem to be at the very least as balanced as Frostgrave in that you don't always hit or kill your opponent during your first swing with an axe but actually have to do some dice rolling before someone goes down. For the sake of making it more interesting there are also rules for ganging up on single opponents, rules for shattering shields  and thus lowering the protection of your enemy.

What I found most interesting however is the option to split your attacks between multiple opponents, by dividing your attack value thus lowering the impact  of your swings but increasing the number of attacks your fighter generates. For instance a fighter with a +4 to your fight value, can split it between opponents, either hitting then once with +2 each, or hit one with a +1 and the other with a +3 attack.

I have not seen this in any previous set of rules I've played and think that this is a very interesting option. Combat is also done in a initiative order, with the player who won turn initiative picking which model in a multi-model fight to activate first. Then players take turns activating models in that mass combat until everyone has made their attack.

Models can also get knocked down during fights if the fate roll (your save) is just equal to your fate value. Knocked down models can't activate for the remainder of the turn, and must try to get back on their feet in subsequent turns. Heroes have fate points that can be used to re-roll a limited amount of die rolls during each game to prolong their lifespan, and they are often allowed to make "one last action" before being killed.

Blood Eagle has a some 20 pages of rules, both basic and advanced. Beside movement, shooting and fighting there are also very detailed rules for flying, swimming, lots of rules for boats/ships and fighting on these vessels, attacks with poison and fire, sleds, wagons chariots and horses. You also get a lot of character traits to pick from to make your fighters and heroes unique, lots of magical powers and a very good and very versatile scenario/campaign section.

What's special about the scenarios is that they are made up of 3 parts.

First you have your basic plot such as trying to bring back some captured people alive. Then you add a complication, which could be a specific time of the day (twilight, night etc), weather or some kind of event. Third is adding a landscape, this could be a Viking camp, abandoned ruins, a fortress, forest, moor or even take place during a ship-to-ship action. Mixing and matching the three components that make up a game will give you plenty of variation.

Should you desire a more narrative approach there is always the option to play a "Saga" that has players start with a pool of points that they can spend on warriors during a campaign streching over a predetermined number of scenarios. Lost troops are not replenished automatically, which makes taking losses in combat action have more of an impact.

You can replenish your troops with scenario rewards, though the replenishment rate is not as big as to instantly allowing you to recruit replacements for 10+ dead warriors from your last battle.  I like this idea as it makes the game more narrative, having your warband start as an isolated force on a quest, and rely on their original makeup with little chance of reinforcements.

The rules still have to be properly playtested, but I really like what I read. My only complaint is perhaps that the layout of the book itself is not easy on the eyes. The text would benefit from a two-column per page print instead of the single column layout. Caroline remarked that they looked like "university literature" that was not easy to jump into. There is also a risk that the number of stats you have to keep in mind will slow down games as you have to reference and multiply attack values in your head unless you do some pre-game preparations with printed complete soldier profiles.

And as I said at the start of this review, the game can be played as either a pure historical game or you can add fantasy elements to it.

Publisher: Ministry of Gentlemanly Warfare, distributed by NorthStar
Authors: Charles Murton & Craig Cartmell
Contents:  100 pages in full color, glossy softback rulebook
Format: 2-players, alternate single model activation
Gaming aides: D10 dice
Price: £15


  1. Nice review! And perfect timing as I was just thinking about ordering these myself. Order placed!

  2. I have played one game so far and felt it was a little bland for a skirmish game. As you mentioned in the review, models were dying rather easily at first contact with each other due to the 1 wound stats. I wonder if it would be worthwhile to try again. I also saw a really old set of rules for the same period called Age of Blood. I can't find any reviews for it though. Thanks for this review!

  3. Thanks for the balanced review :)
    Craig Cartmell

  4. Nice review. Played my first game of Blood Eagle recently and I really enjoyed it.

  5. how does it compare against a rule set such as Immortal by broken Spirit

  6. Interesting,

    Although I play Saga, not really a fan of Saga as it is written for competitions, plus all of the dice etc required.

    I am after a simple skirmish with a maximum of 30 figs with scenarios, will give this a shot I think



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...