Saturday, August 24, 2013

69. Game Comparison

Recently I was able to play two games solo (which is pretty funny when you consider how my last post began...).  I've had a long-time attraction to the "Song of..." series of games from Ganesha Games.  Yet every time I play one I come away frustrated, and yet I keep going back.

I recently bought "Song of Blades and Heroes," and it's 3 supplements as PDFs during a sale on  I played a very simple 5-figures per side, Robin Hood-like guys vs Sheriff's Men-like guys, with no special rules other than what was built-in to the base figures:  Leader, Shooter (long), etc.

"SoBaH" recommends for 28mm figures a playing surface of 3'x3'.  I set up a 4'x4' table (that's the width of the grass cloth I use) and set the initial points at least six inches in from either edge, so the effective result was a 3'x3' area.  I had the Woodsmen enter from the left and split up into two groups, and the Soldiers enter from the right and similarly split into two groups.  The goal was to occupy the house in the center of the table, and drive the enemy off.

But, because I get bored with plain-Jane straight-up-the-middle battles, I decided to mix things up a little.  About the time I made contact in the center, I had an Ogre enter the table right in the middle, and then had the two former enemy sides join forces to defeat it.  (A fantasy Ogre, not the other kind.  :-)   )

After I played, I then set up the game again in the exact same configuration and played it using Two Hour Wargames' rules, mostly "Warrior Heroes:  Legends" but which I have heavily house-ruled to my personal use and satisfaction (sort of a conglomeration of all 2HW's skirmish rulesets plus some personal tweaks; a sort of Universal 2HW ruleset).  I attempted to have the figures in the same places in the same way as during the first game, then had the Ogre enter at the "same time," and had the two sides join against it again.  The outcome was the same, but it took a very different route getting there.

The two games played very differently.  One of the biggest differences is the range of shooting weapons:  bows and crossbows.  SoBaH abstracts all weapons a great deal more than 2HW does, and the ranges are much shorter (which makes sense if you're playing on 3'x3'; and to be fair 2HW also recommends 3'x3' for a playing area, which I personally think is too small).  In 2HW on a 3'x3' table, the enemy is within range of most weapons after one move; not so in SoBaH.  Also, the Group activation of 2HW compared to the individual activation of SoBaH makes for a different feel, and a much faster game.

Come to think of it, that might be the biggest difference between the two:  the speed of play and how fast things happen.  In SoBaH your movement distance is very short compared to the table size and you can only move one figure at a time.  (NOTE, there are optional rules for moving groups of figures, but I didn't use them, as I was just trying to get a feel for the basic rules; so my final assessment may be colored by that fact.)  In 2HW you can move groups of figures, or single figures, and the distances are greater, so you close into combat more quickly.

Also in SoBaH, depending on how many dice you "spend" to activate a figure you may be able to move and shoot/fight, or only move, or only shoot/fight.  Your opponent gets to react to being attacked in a very basic way, in that he gets to roll when you attack; the deciding factor in determining if the attack is successful or not is the comparison between the two rolls.  In 2HW, every figure can move and shoot/attack every time it is Active, but when it does so it triggers 2HW's claim to fame, the Reaction System.  This means that the opponent figure gets to do something every time, too, ranging from attacking back, to ducking out of sight.

SoBaH ends up playing much more like a traditional IGOUGO style game, as compared to the interactive, back-and-forth feel of 2HW.

Below are some pictures of the games in progress, with pertinent commentary to help understand the tactical situation (that just means, I'll be talking about what you see).  My final thoughts are at the end of this post.

This is SoBaH after two turns.  SoBaH has a provision that if there are no enemies closer than two "long" measures away you can make one normal move without rolling.  So essentially I could have just started here instead.  Originally, each group began in the trees on the sides.  What's more, the turn sequence was the Woodsmen first, then Soldiers second; then back and forth.
The Woodsmen moved into position, and then the Soldiers moved as you see here.  They successfully occupied the house.  I was particularly interested in seeing how melee-armed figures versus bow-armed figures would play out.
The Woodsmen knocked one soldier down but he got up and advanced to the road.  The leader of the Soldiers attacked "Robin" and knocked him down.  And then....
Here comes da Ogre.
I have 22 pictures of this combat.  One for each turn, or when something significant happened.  Mostly the humans piled on, attacking individually, and either knocking down or pushing back the Ogre.  Even with the bonuses of more than one attacker, they couldn't roll dice well enough to put the creature down permanently.
Until, at last, when I began to despair that the game would ever end, and un-named Soldier completed the killing blow.  I'm not sure how many turns it took but it took a long time.
After this, I had no desire to continue the game of Woodsmen vs Soldiers.  Instead I set up the 2HW version, in exactly the same starting positions.  I attempted to get them to the same places as in the SoBaH game for when the Ogre arrived, but as you will see it didn't work out quite the same way.
Here we see the 2HW game several turns in.  "Robin" and the crossbowman both need to reload, as each as fired at the other.  In SoBaH I don't think either side was even in range yet.
So, one of the Soldiers attempted to run, triggering an In Sight test... which one of the Woodsmen successfully targeted him, hit him and sent him Out of the Fight.  (I later learned -- in Q&A with Ed at 2HW -- that I had skipped the Soldier's 'Duck Back' opportunity, denying him the chance to escape, but I played it how it felt right at the time.  C'est la vie, or in this case, C'est la morte.)  This caused his partner to Duck Back out of sight.  This then caused the figures to be out of position with regards to the Ogre entering.
Cue the Ogre.  More of the Woodsmen had Ducked Back earlier.  Charging across open ground is a good way to get dead in 2HW games.  I was afraid if I tried to duplicate the positions any further I wouldn't have anyone left to fight the Ogre.  So 'ere 'e comes!
Coincidentally enough, the Ogre was the only one to Activate.  The green die is for the Woodsmen, the red for the Soldiers and the Black for the Ogre.  Both Leaders were Rep 5, the men were Rep 4, and the Ogre was Rep 5.  Purest chance to roll it that way on the turn he arrived.  Bad luck for the humans...or so I thought.
The Ogre advanced to within charge range of the Ducked-Back archers (Ducked-Back from the sight of the Soldiers, not of the Ogre).  The 'sixes' showing were for their In Sight results at the Ogre appearing, meaning they rolled no successes at all (my own way of showing that).  The Ogre declares his charge into melee.  This is going to be brutal, I thought.  The Soldiers are too far away to help, and these are mere Woodsmen.
Cool action shot.  "Raaarrrggghhh!"
This is after the Charge into Melee table has been rolled on.  One archer has scored 2 successes more than the Ogre, the other only 1 success more.  So they get to fire their arrows at the Ogre (luckily they were not unloaded).  What could possibly go wrong?
Huh.  How about that.  The poor mean Ogre never even made it into combat before being taking Out of the Fight.  Well, that was quick.  Even though he had the Hard as Nails attribute, it apparently doesn't apply to OoF results, only OD results, so OoF he stayed.  I decided to finish playing out the scenario to see which side would win.
Here's an overview of the carnage.  Lots of red OoF markers, and grey OD markers.
A close-up of the main battle area.  I won't go into the details, but "Robin" is Obviously Dead, as is the "Sheriff" and all but one each of their men.  The Reaction System makes it much more difficult to take chronological pictures, because so much happen in one turn; you'd almost need a picture of each Reaction, and this blog posting is far too long already.  It's ironic because the game plays much faster, but the reporting of it is much slower.

Please don't let this one single blog, by a poor, pathetic solo gamer such as myself, deter you from buying and playing Ganesha Games' products.  They are worth the price of admission if for no reason other than the fantastic artwork which graces their pages, most (if not all) of which is drawn by the primary author at GG himself, Andrea Sfiligoi.  Even 2HW rules use some of his artwork.  Plus the writing style is much more in line with modern, well-written rulesets:  clear and easily understood.  This is all the more surprising when you consider that English is not the author's primary language!

And yet, when I play them, they just play so haltingly, so slooowly.  I keep coming back, thinking I must surely be doing something wrong.

I also own numerous rules from 2HW, and have finally nearly almost got my head wrapped around the Reaction System.  Maybe.  It's a love-hate relationship:  I love the way the game plays, but I hate trying to figure it out!

One of my biggest complaints about 2HW rules is that there is no single ruleset you can use to play all of their games (the free "Chain Reaction:  Final Version" is simply the core engine, not a universal set).  Each genre has it's own tweaks to the core rules, sometimes with many and multiple additions and quirks, so that while you might be familiar with one set of rules, when you go to play another you almost have to relearn the whole thing.  The newer sets are not as drastically different as the older sets, compared to each other, but even so there are many subtle changes between "All Things Zombie:  Final Fade Out" and "5150:  New Beginnings."  

That, and the writing style that sometimes leaves much to be desired when it comes to understanding what the rules entail.  I love Ed like an Internet brother, he is fantastic at customer service and delivers a really good product (PDFs are included in the print-version price, how cool is that?).  But sometimes I wish he would let a disinterested third party write his rules for clarity's sake.

So I've house-ruled all the various 2HW sets I own (which is not all of them by any means, and mostly skirmish-oriented ones at that) into my own version of a Universal Reaction System.  It's purely for me and solo play, so that I can jump from fantasy skirmish to dinosaur hunting to sci-fi squad battles, or a mix of the three.  That way I can play without taking too long figuring out the rules.  At least, that is my hope and my goal.  I find that I keep stumbling on situations that I can't easily resolve without a disinterested third party.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Very interesting Kelroy. I am part of the SoBH yahoo group but do not own any ganesha titles. THW on the other hand, I own many and get bogged down in reading the rules. I find myself re-reading the parts that are the same and never getting to the genre specific. I like your idea of glomming various sets together to get the mechanics that seem right, and honestly I think THW encourages this. Perhaps I need to take a strategic view of the sets I have and make a master list of where I need to focus to actually get in a game.

    1. For me, at least, since I play so infrequently, I find myself having to relearn the rules practically no matter what. Add to that the subtle differences between 2HW titles and it makes it even harder for me. But as you say, Ed calls all his rules a toolbox, use what you want. So my glomming things together is sort of in the same spirit. Anything to play easier and more often!

  2. Interesting read. I also play a lot of THW games solo. I really like them for their replayability and narrative. I also have WHL and have added quite a few ideas from the other THW rule books. If you like WHL you will want to pick up Ed's latest new rule book Savvy and Steel. Although a stand alone game, it's really more of an RPG supplement for WHL.