Friday, April 17, 2015

RESTROSPECTIVE - Song of Blades and Heroes

It seems weird to write a retrospective about a current game but it has had an impact on my gaming so I wish to include Song of Blades and Heroes as the conclusion to this series.

I first discovered SB&H a couple of years ago when I had an interest in some medieval gaming. I provided a brief synopsis and then promptly shelved the game.

SB&H is a fantasy miniatures game designed for skirmishes between forces of 8-15 figures on each side. Each figure is rated for Quality (low numbers are better) and Combat (high numbers are better), By themselves these statistics would not create very much differentiation between different figures, but SB&H has another mechanism to create variety. There is a long list of special powers that can be allocated to the figures; anything from spell to heavy armor. Using the two stats plus special powers allows you to really individualize your figures.

Combat is very similar to De Bellis Antiquitatis in that it is based on opposed die rolls. Each figure in combat rolls a D6 and adds its Combat value plus modifiers. If one rolls twice or more than the other then the loser is killed. Rolling higher but not double will cause the loser to either recoil (retreat) or be knocked down. SB&H avoids the back-and-forth stalemate that occurs in DBA by giving negative modifiers to figures who are knocked down.

The combat system is workable but not unique, but I found inspiration from the activation system. On his turn, a player will nominate a figure to activate, then can choose to roll 1, 2, or 3 dice. For each roll at or above the figure's Quality score, the figure may take one action (move, fight, etc.). If 2 or 3 dice failed the activation roll, then the player's turn ends after that figures acts. This creates some interesting decisions during activation. First, the player has to decide the activation order. Based on the positioning on the board, he may wish to activate a poor Quality figure but if he fails then a better Quality figure may not be able to act that turn. Next the player has to choose how many dice. Rolling 1 die guarantees that another figure will have a chance to activate, but it limits the current figure's options. It's a really intriguing and thought-provoking sequence.

I have adopted the activation system for some of my games, although I substituted units for individual figures. Previously, I used either DBA pips or I rolled C&C dice and activated the troop types rolled. Both of these systems provided some fog-of-war that limits the control of the player (an especially good thing for solo games!) The SB&H system, however, creates much more suspense. With the other systems, I know how many units can act at the beginning of the turn and I can plan accordingly. I can't do that with SB&H activation because activation is rolled after the prior unit acts. Thus, I can push forward a unit on an assault and suddenly its supports are frozen! This creates some delightful randomness that challenges the solo general!

Although Song of Blades ad Heroes is a fairly new system, I wanted to include it because it has indelibly influenced my gaming experiences. I love the activation system and have begun to adopt it in my home-grown rules. Thus, it is a worthy conclusion to my retrospective.

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