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David Bezio
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Song of Blades and Heroes Fast Play Fantasy Skirmish Miniature Rules (4th ed) By Andrea Sfiligoi

How and why I found out about SBH

Feel free to skip this background and jump right down to the review itself.

Recently I got the urge to run some scenario based skirmish level fantasy miniature battles. Scenario based means that there is a bit of a story, or even an overarching storyline behind the battle (and sometimes a goal beyond killing your opponents force), not simply throwing 2 forces together and fighting. Skirmish level generally means it isn’t an organized mass battle of armies; it is simply a small unit, band, or gang of fighters fighting against a similar force.

When I started thinking about doing this I considered the two “top” games in this particular field, Mordheim (or Warhammer Skirmishes) and D&D Miniatures.

Needless to say I ruled out D&D fairly quickly since not only is it much more boardgamish and your actions are fairly limited, but also because I really want to enjoy the full aspects of the miniature gaming hobby (mainly painting miniatures and building terrain).

Mordehim, or simply Warhammer Skirmish are pretty solid sets of rules. However, I was very interested in using a lot of different figures, not just stock Warhammer ones and those games don’t give any rules for creating stats or using other figures. Not only that, but, to be honest, I wanted to get away from Warhammer since I had done that so much before and it was starting to feel a bit dry.

This left me with the exciting search for something to fit the bill. There were a few things I was looking for. First, I really wanted to get away from “dark” games. I’m not a dark guy (I’m pretty lighthearted) and the constant trend toward games trying to be dark and grim just isn’t for me. I wanted good old high fantasy. Second, I didn’t want it to be too overly “complex” (or, sometimes related, too old school). Third I wanted it to be very versatile and allow you to use pretty much any type of troop with little work…but still allowing for them to have unique abilities.

Poking around on forums I got some suggestions, but people that I respected kept coming back to Song of Blades and Heroes. Needless to say I did a lot of research, which was pretty easy to do by looking at the website. Not only does it give links to the Lulu site where it is for sale (with a very good preview), but also several reviews and even some battle reports. Obviously I was sold.

The Look of the Book

SBH is a 34 page book available in both PDF and deadtree (through Lulu, Key 20, or Ganesha Games). The deadtree version is saddle stitched and the quality of Lulus printing is comparable to any professional publication.

The book comes with a full color cover and black and white interior. The interior is double column with an easy to read font (I would guess 11 pt in the PDF. Looks bigger than 10, but not as large as 12, so that’s my educated guess. It’s probably 12pt in the printed version, as that version is slightly larger than 8 1/2 x 11).

There are many illustrations throughout, 1 or 2 per page (and only 3 pages with none). The layout is very pleasing and (surprisingly) the volume of illustrations manage to not seem overbearing or take away from the text…in fact, they help to make it that much easier to locate certain passages or rules.

Personal preference is going to vary, but I personally really like the illustrations. They are light hearted high fantasy fair that one would expect to find in a comic book or a high quality semi-old school (in the 80s, when production values were on the rise, but before everything went full color) role playing game book or adventure.

I’ve got both the Lulu deadtree version and the PDF. If I was asked which one to get I’d have to say the PDF. Now I usually am not a fan of PDF games, but, this one is fairly light on the page count it isn’t too expensive to print. Not only that, but as it is a wargame, putting the pages in document protectors in a looseleaf binder makes for very easy reference during play. Even so, the deadtree one is nice to look at.

The Review

Song of Blades and Heroes (SBH) is a “fast-play” skirmish level miniature combat system. It is written by Andrea Sfiligoi and distributed through Lulu (and Key20) via his Indie Company, Ganesha Games. It is available (in many languages) in Deadtree and PDF. There is already one supplement out for the game (A supplement fro bringing the game into the dungeon ala Heroquest or Warhammer Quest) I have that also, and it’s good!), and more on the way. On a side note, they also produce a RPG called Familiars about role playing magical pets.

The average game involves around 3-15 models per side and takes about 30 minutes to an hour to play (depending on how intense or casual you are). Needless to say you can play with more points for larger games. A campaign system at the end of the book allows you to have scenario battles and to link them into a campaign (which you can even complete in one game session).

The game is designed for 15mm or 25-28mm figures of any type or manufacturer. The game is specifically designed to allow you to use what you have…or what you’ve always wanted to use but never had a gems system to use them with before.

The core of the system of SBH is that troop types have only 4 attributes: quality (a catch all for pretty much everything that makes the model a good fighter other than his actual ability to fight), Combat (his skill at fighting with his weapons), Special Rules (are special rules for the character from a pretty good basic comprehensive list that covers a lot of ground), and finally the point cost.

While 4 attributes may initially seem like not enough to cover everything, or interesting enough to detail and individualize troops, one quickly sees that the Special Abilities cover this. Rather than giving several stats like most games, you can consider all troops to be “average” for their quality level. If they are better or worse at something, this will be listed in the Special abilities. For example, there is not Movement attribute. This is because everyone is Medium movement UNLESS they have the Short Move or the Long Move special ability. So while there seem to be only a few stats, the game covers all the same stuff that any game covers…it just does it in a streamlined way that lets you only worry about something if it applies to the model you are using.

There are tons of troop types already listed and calculated, but, if you want to use your own model, or have your own ideas of what a model should be able to do, there is a simple excel worksheet on the Yahoo site where you pick the above stats and special abilities and get a point cost. I haven’t tested it myself (in battle), but have read a couple battle reports where a guy purposely tried to “break the system” with point costs and his results were favorable that it is pretty balanced. This makes the game super simple to adapt to any fig you might have…or any genre for that matter.

The rules are very well integrated, streamlined, and simple. This games ditches the traditional you go, I go method of wargames and incorporates a unique activation system that makes the game much more tactical. On a players turn he chooses which model to activate and rolls 1,2,or 3 six sided dice (the players choice). Each roll over the troops Quality score is a success, and he can use it to take an action. Once his actions are taken he can choose to activate another of his models. 2 failures in one activation roll (or once the last model on that side is activated) indicate that play passes on to the other side. It’s a fun gamish mechanic that can reflect several things, like troops getting confused, or a leader giving bad orders, or something distracting the warband. Since each trurn is only a few seconds, it is easy to see one bad decision screwing it up for your entire side.
Actions encompass the traditional move (using pre-measured sticks for short, medium, and long, rather than rulers), shoot (again, range with the sticks), and attack…but also has can be spent for things like giving a ranged weapon more precision, or making an attack more powerful, or casting spells, breaking spells, getting up from “falling down” disengaging from combat, ect.

In combat, troops that lose either Recoil (are pushed back), Fall (a catch all for representing the model making some mistake that makes him vulnerable), are Killed, or are Killed with a “Gruesome Kill”, a result that causes morale tests in other nearby troops.

Magic is another action that can be used as an attack (via a generic missile spell that represents any trappings the caster chooses, lightning bolts, magic missile, fireball, ect.) or as a Transfix, a spell that immobilizes an opponent. Before you cast you must declare that you are casting, roll as many activation dice as you like (more successes give you more spell points, and thus more powerful effects…but rolling 3 dice means you have a chance of miscasting and being out of power for the rest of the game).

Overall it “simulates” combat as well as any wargame, but has you making many more tactical decisions at every step of the game than many wargames I’ve played. Pretty much everything you do has an effect on the game. The order you activate troops and what they do has a huge bearing on the game from the mightiest hero to the lowliest foot troop. Most importantly the game feels like a game (as in it’s fun to play, roll every die, take your turn, and watch what your opponent does on his turn) without losing the feel of fantasy warriors clashing it out on the battlefield.

My overall personal opinion

Now I don’t heap praise lightly. I’ve read and played (literally) hundreds of role playing, war, and mini games (over 500 last time I tried to make a comprehensive list), and there are VERY few of those that I consider to be truly great. In actuality, I usually sell off most games after one session or sometimes without even playing them. My shelf of games I regularly play is very slim and it is very rare that I add one to the collection.

That said, not only has SBH earned a spot on that shelf, but I’ve even got to say that it pretty much supersedes all the other mini games I enjoy. It has done away with all the silly stuff and reduced things to streamline, concise, and practical rules, and most importantly…It’s fun!

The rules don’t appear perfect (I’ve noticed a few missing elements, questions I have, and such). Most rules are only mentioned once and a few are mentioned in a way that if you don’t catch them the first time you will be wondering about them later. Fortunately, the entire rulebook only takes an hour or 2 to read, so after a second read you will catch the rules you missed the first time through. Even so, with a very active and helpful Yahoo Group, it is easy to get answers to questions as quickly as you can ask them.

I must admit that the rules really impressed me with how well Andrea Sfiligoi streamlined and simplified skirmish rules…yet created a game where the level of available tactics are so high! Honestly, IMHO, these are all around the best mini rules I’ve personally read (for the type of gaming I like to do).

There are several more supplements to the game planned, as well as several stand alone games using the same system for other genre. There is even a compatible role playing game in the works. This has instantly become my favorite miniature game and with the look of things to come, Ganesha Games may become one of my favorite game company ever.
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Tomas Hammar
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I have only read the rules so far, but I agree - Easy to read, streamlined battles. This could probably lure non-miniature war gamers to give it a go also.

/T
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Barry Kendall
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Good descriptive review. Thank you!
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Massimiliano Santuari
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Just bought the rules. Looks great and easily playable.
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Massimiliano Santuari
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Played the game 2vs2. Really enjoyed the fight. I wonder why this game is not popular as it should be. Great even with home-made meeples.
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David Bezio
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massimiliano.san wrote:
Played the game 2vs2. Really enjoyed the fight. I wonder why this game is not popular as it should be. Great even with home-made meeples.


Actually, for a small press game it's pretty popular (vdry active yahoo groups with lots of members and Con activity)...but in the grand scheme of things, there are a metric ton of miniature games out there, and if you aren't WotC or GW chances are you are never going to be "mainstream".
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f s
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i guess you mean you played "miniature games" about 500 times?

having played about 500 *different* mini games would be madness. is that what you mean? really..?

nice review. thanks.
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David Bezio
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hwarang wrote:
i guess you mean you played "miniature games" about 500 times?

having played about 500 *different* mini games would be madness. is that what you mean? really..?

nice review. thanks.


Well, what I meant is that I've owned over 500 (many more than that now, but I stopped trying to count) sets of rules for role playing games and/or miniature wargames. I've read them all. I've played probably about a hundred of those at least once.

The sentence was just poorly written.
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Paul Curlin
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I have played this game more times per $ spent than any other game I own, even solitaire. Simple but subtle and any minis I have can be pointed out and used
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