Advanced Song of Blades and Heroes: A review

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A few weeks ago I bought a pdf version of „Advanced Song of Blades and Heroes“ by Andrea Sfiligoi published by Ganesha Games. This will be my first articles in a series of game reviews.

The original „Song of Blades and Heroes“ is a (high) fantasy skirmish game not bound to any miniature range or manufacturer. You can play with any miniatures range. Even Lego or Kinder-Surprise figures! (warning, you could be burnt as a heretic!)

I had read about the original (non-advanced) version a year ago, but after had read and heard so much about it on blogs and youtube channels, I decided to investigate.
The reason that kept me away in the first place was the original cover art (see above). It looks so unprofessional and retro-style that I presumed that the rules must be junk.

Well, I was wrong… Remember kids, dont judge a book by its cover!
The cover and the inside art of ASOBH are much better, but still dont have the same quality as major publishers (absolutely understandable). One the other hand this leads to an old school (70s/80s) RPG atmosphere, that some of you might enjoy.
The original rulebook was published around 2008 and received very positive reviews, among them the 2008 Origins Award “Best Miniature Rules”. Since then the basic game engine has been adapted into many settings and scenarios. You could say that Ganesha Games sells more „Songs“ than iTunes. *grin*

From Ancient, over Napoleonic to Scifi and weird settings including Goose Aliens and Hamster Musketeers:

Song-Fur-ButtonsYou can fight for glory, power and gold…

…or a pot of honey!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I ordered „A Fistful of Kung Fu“ and „Of Gods and Mortals“ in the Osprey Summersale (https://ospreypublishing.com).

The first is a simulation of popular Hong Kong Action and Martial Arts movies. The second is a skirmish game in ancient times where you control a „god“ and his followers, or worshippers.
I will write a review about both games, when I get my copies.

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Back to Advanced Song of Blades and Heroes:
You can get the pdf version for 10 US$ and the printed version for 20$.
When you buy the pdf you get two files, one coloured version with the artwork and one printer-friendly version in black and white. Very practical indeed.

The book has a total of 88 pages. Starting with a description of its own fantasy world called „Norindaal“. The map looks nice but to be honest, I didnt read this part of the book yet.       I usually play in the Warhammer world or in my own settings.
If you like Norindaal, you can more info at https://sites.google.com/site/norindaal/.
I didnt read that either, but I saw that there is a pantheon of over 30 gods.
What if we combined „Of Gods and Mortals“ with the Norindaal pantheon? Hmmm… Please comment if you like this idea.

The heart of the book are the next 35 pages, describing the core rules.
All models have two attributes or stats: Quality and Combat.
Combat defines the fighting abilities, while Quality stands for almost anything else: activation, skill checks, morale etc. This is were ASOBH shines because you can teach the game to anyone in 5-10 minutes (depending on your verbal skills and the listeners attention span).

Most of you will know the different phases in GW games. ASOBH takes a totally different approach:
Instead of the standard phases (move, shoot, assault) or two actions (Move and Fight, Move and Shoot etc.), also known as Move Action and Combat Action (in WarmaHordes), you roll up to three six sided dice and try to be equal or higher than your Quality.
E.g. Quality 5+ means that you have to roll a 5 or a 6 to achieve a success.
If you fail once, the opponent gets a free activation. If you roll two or more failures, your turn ends and the opponent takes over. This gives a risk vs. reward system.

During my own games I got the impression that its almost impossible to play models with low Quality. I had some orc grunts who refused to do anything (and stood around poking their noses most of the game. Its possible to use „group activations“, imagine a leader (high quality) pressing unwilling grunts (low quality) into combat. Unfortunately you roll the WORST Quality in the group.
In my oppinion this is one of the main weak spots of the game. If group activation was more efficient, the game could scale better into larger battles. At the moment the optimal number of models seems to be 5-10 miniatures per side, with a Quality of at least 4+.

The movement rules are pretty standard but there is no speed or movement attribute. The game uses measuring sticks, devided into short, medium and long (similar to SAGA).

The length depends on the scale of your miniatures (15mm or 28mm) and your own preferances. Longer sticks means higher movement and weapon ranges and vice versa.
While being very simple and easy to understand, this has two disadvantages:
1) You cannot move your miniature in an curve or angle, only in a straight line. You need at least two activations to get around an obstacle.  2) Ranged weapons use multiple measuring sticks. E.g. a longbow has a range of 3x Long, which can be inconvinient. On the other hand you effectively have range bands (like Infinity) so simulate weapon characteristics. Some weapons are better at short range, other excel at long ranges.

Lets move on to combat:
When two models fight in a melee both players roll a D6 and add the Combat value and modifiers. The higher total wins and pushes the opponent back, knocks him down or kills him outright. If the difference is very high, the unlucky loser is gruesomly killed (decapitated, dismembered, disheartened (literally!). I imagine a finishing move a la „Mortal Combat“. This can even demoralize nearby foes.

Hand to hand is very tactical because its not sufficient to have a higher Combat value. Stacking all kinds of modifiers to your advantage is a much safer bet. Positioning, outnumbering and exploiting prone targets are essential.
With a lot of decisions to make and almost cinematic maneuvers, melee is a lot of fun.

Traits:
ASOBH compensates it lack of attributes with a lot of special rules (or Traits), A LOT!
All kinds of equipment, abilities, racial traits, etc. are covered here.
You can pick any miniature from your collection and make your own rules by combining, Quality, Combat and Traits.
In the end of the book is a formular that tells you how to calculate the point costs.
Or you can use one of the „army builders“ on the official website.

I could spend hours designing all sorts of characters and groups. You can create a group of heroes (RPG) style, a horde of green-skins or any sort of monster. Mind that certain combinations might be unbalanced. Common sense and fairness mentality are essential.
ASOBH is definitely not a competitive tournament game like Warmachine/Hordes.
I see it more like an RPG-type skirmish game that shines in narrative play.
Write your own story and play it with your friends. Before my first game, I created a mighty orc bandit who tries to raid a human settlement. The mayor and guard captain gather their men and try to defend their homes.

There are also campaign rules that allow you to develope your group or warband by modifying their profile. Lets say a grunt had a very heroic day and killed several enemies. „Level“ him up by giving him more Quality or Combat (or both) and or more Traits. A supplement called „Song of Deeds and Glory“ focuses on campaign games but I am not sure if you need this in the advanced rules set.

SDglorythumb

While most Traits are easy to understand and logical, the sheer volume of rules spoils the experience a little bit.
And some of them are not intuitive or the wordings are sometimes long and complicated. Some streamlining would be much appreciated.
My suggestion is to divide the Traits into three categories.

  1. Equipment
  2. Passive Abilities
  3. Aktive Abilities

Heavy Armor, Block (Shield), Magic Weapons etc. are Equipment.
Passive Abilities are Regeneration, Poison, Tough etc. And Activated Abilities are all sorts of skills and special attacks.

I cant say much about the magic system because I havent played a spellcaster yet. On the first look the spell rules seemed to be too cumbersome and complicated. So I just left them out. I will try again when I have mastered the rest.

With 13 different Conditions (blind, deaf, mute etc.) ASOBH lies somewhere between Warmachine/Hordes and Infinity in regards of complexity.  The rules remind me of old school (Advanced) Dungeons and Dragons. They seemed to be designed for RPG elements and story plots rather than for tactical considerations.

The next chapter describes Group Activations: As mentioned before group activations need some improvements. Lets use the highest Quality and have some other disadvantage. Like: Opponent gets a reaction for each non-leader model?

Last but not least, we have a list of racial profiles. Its no surprise that the races in SOBH match the armies from GWs Warhammer Fantasy Battles (or Age of Sigmar). Tired of GW? Take your Warhammer army and play a game of ASOBH!
(Although I would rather recommend a Mortheim scale skirmish).
Summary:
Advanced Song of Blades and Heroes is an excellent game for beginners, casual gamers and storytellers.
I mentioned some flaws (in my opinion), but you can always make your own house rules to „mod“ the game.
The price is very fair and reasonable, when compared to similar products.
Definitely worth a try!

If you have any questions or disagree, please leave a comment.

More reviews coming soon!

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