Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sword & Spear playtest

Have been off couple of days with a very annoying eye infection which has eased a bit at last allowing me to get some figures on the table (ie as I can now actually see again !!). 
Decided to give recently acquired 'Sword & Spear' rules a solo outing to test systems.
I used Punic Romans against Celts as a match up.
Interesting dice based mechanism for activation of units.
Each unit fielded puts a dice into the 'bag' for each side.
Seven are then drawn from this bag and Initiative is decided by side that draws most dice.
These are then rolled to activate units which require a roll at or above their basic Discipline Rating (3 or 4 in my game) with Undrilled types needing two higher if wanting to do fancy moves.
Any dice coming up less are discarded, which may mean some units do not activate each turn.
If equal a unit can do several basic actions but if higher than rating then they can Charge, Maneuver and gain 'Impetus' dice in melee (these are very important).
A six adds distance or extra Impetus dice as can using two identical dice to activate a unit.
As reactive player you allocate your dice after the enemy but before their activation occurs allowing you to at least try to counter impending doom.
Marked units then take turns activating in dice order (low to high) with Initiative player winning ties.
Limited group moves are allowed using a Commander and a maximum of three units.
The limit on group moves and the dice activation system takes a while to get used to in relation to planning actions but has a nice decision process to it overall.
Units can only activate once per turn so one needs to appreciate that units that activate early in a turn can get into trouble later.
One or two twists such as deferring to use an Activation dice ie retaining it for use against potential charges later in turn but at cost of it not going back into bag at turn end.
The shooting and melee systems are easy to pick up being a simple roll off system.
In melee Impetus and other factors can add dice to attacker or defender depending on dice used or planned.
Players use top four rolls with any dice doubling another causing a hit and any being greater being a Discipline test, failure of which causes further hit.
Units Rout when their strength level is equalled with Heavy Foot having 4 strength Medium Foot and Cavalry 3 and Lights 2.
Armour can adjust dice rolls.
Several 'chrome' rules for Pilum type weapons, Spears, Shieldwalls, Impact (potentially deadly) types.
Several other special rules for Elephants and suchlike and several Strategms what ch I did not try.
Units within one DU (Distance Unit or 40mm) to side and move distance to rear take a Discipline test for Routers who are then removed from play.
The game plays quickly with good decisive results no recoils or long drawn out melees here.
Will take a bit of thought as to how to co-ordinate an attack and Commanders do not fight as such (but are at risk if with a unit in melee or shooting target) but exert a Command influence range outside which units count as Out Of Command and thereby one Discipline level lower.
Commanders can also Rally unit hits although units can self rally if not in contact and with high enough dice allocated with each rally recovering a hit.
Enjoying this playtest and hopefully can persuade Stephen to give them a whirl at some point.

This is the official 'blurb' for the rules (which are available as PDF or Print versions):

Sword & Spear is a set of wargames rules for large battles set in the Ancients & Medieval period. They are suitable for any scale figures and any basing standard. The only requirement is that figures are organised into units of equal frontage. A typical game consists of about 12 units on each side and games take around 2 – 3 hours. The rules are designed from a top-down perspective, focusing on outcomes rather than detail.
The rules feature a clever and innovative system for activating units that creates interesting and challenging decisions, keeps both players involved at all times and has a lot of depth and subtlety. Each turn is split into phases, where players each receive a number of command dice, which are rolled and then used to activate their units. The number shown on each dice determines which units it can activate (with better quality units being easier to activate), what the unit can do when activated, and the numbers also determine the activation sequence. Certain dice also give bonuses to combat, movement distance or shooting range. So there is a lot to think about, and allocating the command dice well is the key to success (although rolling lots of sixes helps as well !).
In each phase command dice are allocated, then units are activated in order. When a unit is activated it does everything – movement, shooting and melee combat. So there is no turn sequence to remember and work through. A unit cannot be activated more than once in a turn, and typically most, but not all, units can be activated in a turn (although this depends on the quality of the units involved, so a horde of poor quality troops will not have so many units activated each turn.)  
Each unit has a type (for example cavalry), a discipline rating (depending on the quality of the unit) and a strength rating. The strength depends on the unit type (for example cavalry are strength 3) and determines both the number of dice rolled in combat and the number of hits required to rout the unit. Many units will also have some specific weapons or characteristics such as Bows, Armoured, Spearmen or Impact, although an average level of protection and offensive ability is assumed, so for example, a unit of cavalry may simply be: Cavalry D4 S3.
The rules are relatively straightforward, and there are no “to hit” tables, charts or lists of dice roll modifiers. They can be played using only the one sided playsheet with very little reference to the rulebook after the first couple of games. In fact we find we hardly ever even refer to the playsheet now.
Missile shooting and melee combat use the same mechanics, with both units (all combat is one unit vs one unit) rolling a number of dice, lining the dice up highest to lowest and comparing. Each lost dice roll may result in a hit, which represents a combination of actual casualties, cohesion and morale loss. Hits can be rallied, but when the number of hits equals the strength of a unit it is removed as routed.
The number of dice rolled by each in combat is equal to the strength of the unit, and may be modified upwards if the unit has impetus, and also according to a very short list of situations which give a unit extra combat dice (for example being uphill or having extra friendly units in contact with the enemy).
There is not as much rock-paper-scissors in these rules as in many other ancients / medieval games, but it does appear in the mechanic for impetus. If a unit involved in a combat has a command dice allocated to it this phase, it may have impetus in the combat and will gain one (or sometimes more) extra dice. There is a list of situations where the unit does not get impetus (for example cavalry vs elephants, mounted vs spears). This creates differences in the way certain troop types interact together, and gives them strengths and weaknesses other than their two basic stats. This is probably the most difficult part of the rules to remember, but all of the situations should be intuitive to experienced ancients & medieval gamers.
Each army has a number of leaders, which are important as units do not perform as well if they are out of command range and perform better with a general attached.
The rules are very much suited to multiplayer games. Many of our playtest games have involved two players on each side, with each player having a command of around 7 – 10 units.
The strengths of the game are that it gives an exciting, interesting and challenging experience, plays relatively quickly for the size of battle that is being depicted, and the rules are straightforward to learn, whilst having the depth to retain interest after repeated play.

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