Monday, August 22, 2011

Strandhogg - A Review

I realise I haven't actually reviewed these rules, so here goes...
What you get
I can't remember where I bought the rules from, but they came in a ziploc bag containing the rule booklet, a Quick-Reference Card, 3 warband record sheets (one each for Saxon, Viking, and Norman), 2 missile templates, and 7 sheets of "The Bones" (fate cards), each of which has 4 cards.
The format is about A5 size.
The booklet itself has a card cover with a coloured line drawing of a Viking warrior in front of a beached longship, and the back cover shows a scene of a Viking raid on a monastery, which set the tone of the rules. There are also many "black-and-white" line drawings on the inside.
The missile templates are the unique feature of these rules. These are small transparency sheets which are used to resolve missile combat.
The rules
The booklet is 64 pages (counting the front and back cover), and comes with a contents page but no index.
The author explains his design philosophy, and then it's to the main body of the rules.
The figure scale here is given as 28mm, with a ground scale of 1" = 7' and 1 turn/activation = approximately 5 minutes.
Round bases are recommended but it is also possible to play with figures on square bases.
The rules use a d10 exclusively - it's best that each player has at least one. You will also need tape measures, a deck of cards, and some markers to play.
Troops are organised in warbands, each of which has 6 to 13 figures, one of whom is the leader. Within each warband you may have troops armed with different weapons, and some warriors may be Veteran. If more than one warband is fielded, they are under the overall command of a Noble, who is an unattached leader figure.
By the rules, this gives a maximum "army" size of 40 figures (one box of Perry WOTR plastics!), but so far we have played up to 5 warbands per side with no problem.
A points system is given, but as we play a fantasy version of the rules I do not use them.
There are no standard lists for warbands, so players can use whatever mix of troops they have on hand. Once you have decided how your warbands are formed, you need to have a means of marking the Noble, Leaders, Veteran Warriors and Warriors, as they all have different game stats and functions. You will also need to determine the Leadership values of the leaders and calculate the command radii of each warband. In practice I have standardised all this based on the mix of figures I have, so I can just throw pre-generated warbands in and have a game.
The game then proceeds with card activation, with each warband being represented by one card and with each going through the same phases as their cards are drawn and they are activated.
The first phase is the morale phase, where you check morale for the warband if it had taken casualties from the previous turn. With each failed morale check, one figure from the warband flees the table. As the warband's size decreases, its morale falls and the chance of another figure fleeing the battle increases. In addition, once the warband falls to 50% or below strength the command radius of the warband is also decreased, so you get the effect of increasingly edgy individuals clustering closer to each other as the battle goes on.
The morale phase is followed by the missile phase, when figures with missile weapons (slings, javelins, bows and arrows are catered for) are allowed to shoot at enemies within range and in line-of-sight.
This is when you take out one of the two neat transparency template (depending on whether it's close range or effective range) and centre the circle on the template over the target figure. A d10 is then rolled. On a 1 to 4 or 5 (depending on range) the target is hit and must roll to save. The other numbers (5 to 10 or 6 to 10) are represented on the template as 'flight paths', indicating where the projectile has landed instead of the intended site, and a figure under that flight path must make a save instead!
There are of course modifiers for cover and such, and on a roll of 10 a figure is out of ammo and must roll on his next activation to see if he can get a resupply. This helps prevent missile weapons from ruling the field. In addition, figures armed with missiles must drop their weapon and switch to a melee weapon when there are enemies within charge range, further limiting the power of missile weapons.
After missile, we come to movement. Movement here is quite easy: you simply check which figures are within the command radius of the warband leader, then move the warband leader to the limit of his movement allowance, then position these figures within his command span. Those figures not within his command span (whether cut off by enemies or driving animals off to the longship) move separately, either using their own movement allowance or the animal's.
Speaking of animals, the rules for driving animals and carrying loot on carts and wagons are also presented in this section.
Two formations are also catered for, being the Shieldwall and the Attack Wedge, each of which confer the warband defensive and offensive bonus respectively.
The rules then go on to charging or engaging enemy figures in melee. To successfully engage an enemy in melee, a figure needs to roll below his Courage rating. A failed charge leaves a figure 1" from his intended target. I like this part of the rule as it adds uncertainty to the game and you can model cowardly goblins who don't always do what you want them to, and courageous dwarves who charge into combat even if they know they are outmatched.
Combat is quite simple: you roll a d10, add the figure's Melee rating and modifiers, and the figure with the higher total wins. If the score is higher by 4 or more, then a wound is scored. Leaders and Nobles have 3 Wounds - Veteran Warriors and Warriors have only 1 and so are killed. If the difference is 1 to 3, then the loser is pushed back by an inch and the winner has the option to follow-up.
Weapons are supposed to give different modifiers to the roll, but here I think the author has made an error in the maths of the game, which I have written on earlier here.

Mounted figures are treated slightly differently. If a mounted figure takes a wound from missile or melee, a roll is made to see if it is the rider or the mount that is hit. An unhorsed rider may be trapped under his mount or jump free, and can continue to fight on foot.

Those are the basic rules.

The basic stats do not distinguish between the figure type between the three races - i.e. a Saxon Noble has the same stats as a Viking Noble, and a Viking Warrior has the same stats as a Norman Warrior. The supplemental rules add variety to the troop types with rules for Berserkers, Viking Cavalry, Norman Cavalry, Special Weapons and Traits, as well as the Special Event or Bones cards.

Overall Assessment

Apart from the melee rules I enjoy the fast-play and narrative nature of the rules. It also lends itself well to conversion to fantasy races or other periods.

You've got the rules for capturing slaves, driving off animals, as well as terrain rules that affect missile, movement and melee - all essential elements of a Viking Age skirmish game.

For beginners, I recommend making the warbands identical in terms of composition so you have fewer variables to worry about, and keeping the number of special weapons and missile weapons low.


Rodger said...

Excellent review Captain. Actually I am yet to play a game. I umpired our first game a few weeks ago and will again on Wednesday night. Maybe one day.

Dan said...

Thanks for the review. It sounds like an interesting rule set.