AAR- Going back to our roots, Song Of Blades and Heroes
At the last meeting we went back to the game that started it all for Chicago Skirmish Wargames.
A bit of history follows. Feel free to skip ahead to the battle reports below.
Back in the mists of summer 2010, Tim found myself and Pat on the Song of Blades and Heroes message board. After meeting each of us individually, the three of us got together to play. Records of some of these mythic meetings are still recorded in the depths of Pat's old Blog "RPG diehard". This was a simpler time, we engaged in tiny battles fought with varied vintage miniatures, basic terrain and a healthy dose of innocence. Games tended to look something like this:
Returning to our story, in July of 2010 Tim and Pat met for what I believe was the first game of SBH for both of them.
Of course, Crocodiles and Celts were present!
My first battle with Tim at the gone-but-not-forgotten Black Sun Games, and the first gathering of the three of us are alas, not recorded.
However, an early Pat Vs Karl battle from October featuring appropriately autumnal terrain is here: http://rpgdiehard.blogspot.com/2010/10/pretty-terrain-for-asong-of-blades.html
By 2011 we had become Chicago Skirmish Wargames. Though we've played dozens of other games since then, we kept coming back to SBH. It's fast-and-fun, rules-lite, and has a very solid campaign system. We used it for yearly summer campaigns from 2013-2015, and we tried the more RPG'ish variant "Tales of Blades and Heroes" for our campaign in 2016.
Fast forward to 2017 and after nearly a year without SBH, we're back playing SBH again. This time on the stunning Asian terrain layout that Josh had created for his Bushido games.
Round 1 was comprised of two simultaneous separate games.
Myself (Elves), Tim (Tengu birdmen) and Michael (Chaos minions) played the "Hidden Treasure" (#6) scenario. It's a sceanrio from the GW game Mordheim that has been converted by the good folks over at hour11 gaming. They have a massive document containing every Warhammer Skirmish and Mordheim scenario converted to SBH, HERE. This document is highly recommended for all players of SBH.
Here's the lovely Japanese Village that Josh setup. Yep, those are lighted buildings!
The scenario basically a search for the treasure scenario where each time a building is entered on a roll of 12 on a d6 the treasure is found. If no treasure is found, the treasure is going to be in the last building searched. We modified it so treasure would appear when a 6 was rolled on a D6 and also allowed for the possibility that more than one building might have a treasure.
The game began and the parties dashed toward the various houses.
Every time I've brought the wood elves to SBH I've statted them fluff-ily with the "forester" ability that allows them to move through forest without penalty. This was one of the few games where they were actually able to use that ability, swiftly dashing through the woods toward the village.
The tide turned rather early as the elves discovered a treasure in the first building they searched.
Tim's flying warrior was able to attack the treasure bearer but was quickly knocked down and I hurried the treasure off the board.
Still, the search continued.
Within two more turns, all the other buildings had been searched.
No additional treasure was found and the game was over quickly.
Looking back at the game, I think we made the right decision to change to a D6 roll for treasure rather than 2d6 and with a 3 player game more than one treasure is good. However, I think that maybe we should found some way to guarantee at least 2 treasures as that would have made for a more engaging game for Tim and Mike.
Round 1 b.
Christopher and Josh played the same scenario on the other half of the table.
In Chris' words:
We played the treasure hunt scenario, where we had to search cherry trees for treasure and run it off the board. (Frostgrave anyone? 😀)
Since it's a luck based roll to even find treasure (6 on a d6), out of every waypoint on the board there was only 1 discovered treasure, which...due to those danged activation rolls, my opponent handily ran off with.
"Bye bye treasure guy...I'll just be over here...standing? Tripping? Distracted by scenic willow trees and Asiatic architecture? Oooh, shiny!"
After the single treasure left the board, we continued for a bit, just to get into some combat. Once the other round 1 game ended, we stopped our game and joined the group in...
With both games over reasonably quickly, we decided to try a 5 player game. SBH is best with 2 players and works ok with 3 opposing sides. Beyond that things slow way down. Still, having everyone at the same table we decided to avoid this problem of too-many-sides by dividing into 2 teams where each side's players would play simultaneously.
...and my elves formed an unlikely alliance, mostly by virtue of us already having alternate 500 point (300 is standard and was the level for our first games) warband lists ready to go.
Josh's Temple of Ro-Kan...
...and Christopher's Frostgrave Explorers...
... teamed up with Tim's Tengu.
The Scenario was an ambush scenario, "Surprise Attack" (#8). Another converted Mordhiem scenario from the 11th hour collection, the setup is that one side is searching a village when the other ambushes them. Mike and I randomly determined which figures would start on the board and they all had to be placed a certain distance from each other. Each of our opponent's forces started from a randomly determined board edge. Each turn after the first Mike and I would roll to see which of our remaining forces would return and which board edge they would start from.
The elves and Chaos wound up starting with very few miniatures on the table.
The enemies closed from 3 sides but except for brief encounters we managed to mostly avoid contact for the first turn.
In the second turn quite a few of our forces arrived to reinforce us. Since the scenario brought each our batches of reinforcements together from the same side of the table the result was that a fairly hard hitting batch of elves swooped in from the east to batter the Ro Kan forces that had gathered on the central road.
Mike's Chaos got a small reinforcement on the west side but it was enough to join in the butchering of the Ro-Kan who found themselves in an unenviable position squarely between the two batches of enemy reinforcements.
As the battle moved to the center of the village, the Elves, led by the extremely powerful Giant Flying Elf Queen, continuing to bring destruction to their enemies. The Ro Kan were swiftly rounted and the vengeful Elves swept into the rest of the attackers. The Tengu retreated next.
We played on for one more round but it became clear that the Frostgrave Explorers were on the losing end of the battle.
The scenario was certainly an interesting one. There were random elements including deployments, available forces and rate of reinforcements. The result was that the potential is there for the battle to swing wildly in favor of one side or the other through no fault of their own.
In our game, the meager defender starting force at first seemed like an insurmountable obstacle, yet, the block of defender reinforcements that arrived together in the second turn ended up being an unstoppable wave. We had allowed the defender approximately 125 points more than the attacker, but it seems we should have made the forces equal.
Making SBH better and more balanced?
Over the years we've become quite familiar with SBH. Like any game with a "unit creation mechanic" it is not perfectly balanced and relies to some extent on players to craft the kind of gaming experience they desire. After the game there was some discussion of warband balance, Tim recommended some guidelines that I think we'll use for future games.
- Return to the rules-as-written which allow only 1/3 "Personalities" in a warband. We abandoned this rule early in in our SBH days, but as we've become better players, the "Personalities" (a status in the game gained by a miniature having certain powerful abilities or stats) have become much more effective and game-imbalancing.
- Outlawing any characters with a base combat (combat score plus modifiers) of 6. The Elf Queen had a combat score of 5 and the "big" ability which grants her a +1 to all but other big characters. This base combat of 6 made her nearly unkillable in combat. Additionally since her "flying" ability allowed her to disengage from combat without penalty it was nearly impossible for multiple enemies to engage her, which is the main way to kill powerful characters in SBH. Clearly, this is an example of a character that was just too powerful.
- Making any characters with a base combat of 5 "Personalities". This is a clever rule that balances things by not outlawing hard-hitting characters but greatly reducing their numbers.
These are all very solid and I think that #2 and #3 might be especially worth adopting by other players of SBH.
In the final estimation, and despite some hiccups, my affection for SBH remains undimmed and I'm looking forward with even more anticipation to playing SBH again soon.