But First: Gaming During COVID
Clash of Spears Review
Here is a 15 minute Vid that demonstrates a combat between two units.
Here is a long video of a game played by the two authors and they do some explaining along the way.
The game is a skirmish game that plays on a 4x4 and uses around 40 ish miniatures per side. A standard game is 900 pts and the two forces that I used were 830 points and had around 36 miniatures. The miniatures are grouped into units of 4-12. So an army has around 4-5 units with some individual leader characters walking around looking bad ass, probably pointing a sword or raising it above his head or some such. It plays in around 2 hours.
The game is set in Ancients, which I don’t play because I could never understand the history and if it’s not a fight between a bunch of howling barbarian Gauls versus some silent stoic Romans then I don’t know what it is. So I just ported it over to the Dark Ages. Which was easy to do if you accept that a heavily armed soldier in the ancient times would be equivalent to a heavily armed soldier in the Dark Ages. There is an official Dark Ages supplement in the works, and online they have some Dark Age beta testing army lists. But more importantly online they have the point system so you can design your own units very easily. In summary, it wasn't much work at all.
|My Saxons stalking through the battlefield|
Game Begins: Engagement Phase
I love it when games have a sort of mini game of deployment that more importantly, streamlines/ combines putting the armies on the table and the first couple of turns which are usually just moving the units to where you want them. CoS begins with no miniatures on the table, but each unit assigned to a token and these tokens in the deployment area. Which unit belongs to which token is a secret only you know (and how good are you at secrets? very I hope). Players take turns moving these tokens in an attempt to gain some advantage. The further you move these tokens the more fatigue a unit will start with (more on fatigue later, it's an important concept). Effectively your unit wills start the game proper around 16-20" from the enemy. If you were clever you were able to put some units on the flank or have denied an import area from the enemy. Then players reveal which tokenf are what units to cheers or guffaws, place leaders where they will be most effective, and the game begins.
It's a really fun method of game set up. Depending on your force organization you will be allowed to take some dummy tokens, to use to outwit the enemy, that simply vanish later on. Overall it's very effective in speeding up the initial parts of the game so that when you get to the actual game play, you're executing your plan of attack versus spending a good amount of time setting up that plan.
Game Play and Core concepts
Core Concept Units: A Unit will have somewhere between 4 and 12 miniatures. All of my units had 6-8, which seems to be the sweet spot. Each unit has a handful of stats that you expect like melee, ranged combat, morale, armor save, etc.. and some traits that make them special. I appreciate that the stats are all used consistently; in that a lower number stat is better and you always want to roll high (so if your combat stat is a 3+ then anything 3 or higher is a hit). Units can move in Open order in little blobs or Close Order for better protection, like a small shield wall. Range is measured from unit to unit which is always easier.
|Vikings coming down the side of the woods.|
Game Play Activation and Reactions: Players take it in turns to be the active player. When you're the active player you have 3 options: Spend a command point to activate a unit or character, rest a unit to reduce it's fatigue, or pass and do nothing. A game turn is basically both players going through their activation until they're out of command points or both pass.
During a game turn a unit/character can perform 3 actions total. Here is the interesting bit: when you activate a unit it can do all of those 3 actions during this 1 activation (Unit does action x, then y, then z (unit moves up, unit shoots it's bows, unit moves back to safety and gives the bad guys the finger)). Or you can activate a unit and it does 1 action and call it quits and let the other player go, then later in the turn activate the unit again (for another command point) to do it's 2 remaining actions.
These actions are the usual stuff of move, shoot, throw something, change go into close order, attack, etc.. Characters/leaders behave the same way that units do; the only differences is that a character / leader is a unit of 1 guy and has a pool of command points attached to him. In general the leaders end up standing around right behind the lines looking impressive and getting the units to do the actual fighting for him. Exactly how I would want to do it if I were a leader.
However, if a unit is doing a second action, the other player gets a chance to react with one of his units. There is a roll to do this. It's an interruption that can take place after the first action but before the second, or after the second but before the third. This means that even if you're not the active player you're always thinking / engaged in the game because it might be a good time to react to foil the enemy's plans.
So: a unit can activate 1-3 times a turn and take up to 3 actions over a turn. How you use these actions is a BIG part of the game. Units use actions while activated but also to react, actions can also be used for a response to combat (more on that later), AND any unspent actions reduce fatigue at the end of the turn (I still haven't covered fatigue yet, I'm getting to it!)
What this means is that during the game turn each player is constantly involved by making decisions. Not just to roll saves. This gives you the feeling that you are always playing and not just waiting for your turn.
|Red dice mark the fatigue of the units.|
Core Concept: Fatigue. Ok, let's discuss fatigue because how you manage the fatigue of units is another key mechanism, if not the most important. There are two things that cause defeat and kill your units; the spears of the enemy and fatigue.
Fatigue represents hits to a units moral/stamina/motivation. A unit can hold up to 6 fatigue (any more than that convert to wounds) and if fatigue is more than x2 the number of miniatures in the unit then the unit is removed from the table. As fatigue adds up it inflicts negative modifiers to the unit making them harder to activate, worse as combat, etc... so even your most bad ass and blood thirsty unit can become ineffectual with a lot of fatigue on it.
Fatigue is generated by doing actions and from fighting / getting shot at. Let's talk about those separately:
Units get fatigue by doing actions, but the smart part is that the rates in which units get fatigue for doing anything is not the same. That sounds like it's complicated but it actually works really smoothly in the game. Basically units made up men in heavy armor, carrying heavy shields and scary axes will get tired faster (generate fatigue) while running around the battlefield while units of men in nothing but tighty whiteys and carrying sling shots don;t get nearly as fatigued. For example: a unit of skirmishey troops and a unit of heavy armored Huscarls both move for 3 actions covering the same distance; the skirmishers will accumulate no fatigue for this while the Huscarls will accumulate 2.
Some actions always generate fatigue as well; mainly the combat ones that kill people. Also, fatigue can be generated as the result of combat if your unit took hits / casualties from failed morale rolls.
There is more to it than I'm saying of course. And while it sounds little complicated and it is, the fatigue dynamics flow perfectly with the game mechanics and you get used to the concept pretty fast. It is quite simply one of those 'elegant mechanics' that work so well.
What the fatigue system also does is ensure that troops mostly do their roles; with light troops running around hither and thither throwing javelins while your heavy troops dutifully march slowly into place and slug it out. And I say 'mostly' only because it's not set in stone, your heavy troops can do a sprint if they need to... probably once.
Fatigue is removed by taking the Rest action, OR at the end of a turn any unit that did not spend 3 actions gets these left over actions converted into rest actions.
|My Saxons try to hold one of the rocky objectives while Vikings stalk the woods.|
You'll have to trust me on that, it's the dark ages and everyone looks the same.
Game play: Combat: It's a game about melee combat, and CoS really has great combat system. There are things we commonly see like the number of dice you roll is the number of guys in the unit...units with great combat skills hit easier and units in good armor have better saves.
A unit has several options for actions for hurting the enemy; they can Attack, All Out Attack, Shoot, Throw stuff. There is no need to go into each one, and there are modifiers of being in Close Order or Loose Order. Combat is kept simple in that it's always one unit versus one unit; no gang ups.
What is interesting and unique in the game is that the defender also has options. The defender can Hold (sit there and take it), or Defend (actively defend themselves gaining the ability to cancel hits BUT this cost an action), or Counter Attack (fight back and hurt the enemy BUT this costs an action and will generate a fatigue). Unsaved hits result in removing miniatures, and any unit that took a hit(s) (either the attacking or defending) do a moral test with each failure earning a fatigue.
So when you attack an enemy unit the goal is not just about removing miniatures (which is always nice) but also to inflict fatigue or to burn up the enemies actions if they do anything beside Hold. And an Attack is just one action, so a unit can attack once, then attack again for the the second action, and even attack again for it's third (though enemy gets to react as described earlier). Now that attacking unit itself is probably pretty blown now burdened with fatigue, and will need to rest before becoming effective again.
Overall, Combat is more than just rolling for hits and saves, but a calculus of how far you can push a unit versus it's fatigue, according to your own plan of resource management. Again, it just works so very well.
|All that pretty terrain, and only the woods near the middle matters.|
That's what happens when you play a meeting engagement.
I was REALLY impressed with these rules. It's one of the better skirmish rules sets I have come across. It's simple enough that you can teach it to someone whose never played it (CG picked it up pretty well and he even won the game if that means anything). It's complex enough not get boring and it keeps you engaged throughout. It's not a beer and pretzels game, it's like a step or two above that. It is well written and nicely illustrated. Another excellent feature is that you can use command points to influence rolls so if you really need that reaction or activation you can spend more resources to increase the odds.
Just so that I don't sound overly enthusiastic here are some minor negatives:
Counter Heavy: The game needs a lot of counters which are not my favorite thing. Each unit and character needs to track it's fatigue 1-6, each unit and character needs to track it's actions 1-3. Each Character needs to track it's command points 1-5. You'll need to sometimes track if a unit is unloaded. It's a lot a lot of counters. I used dice to track fatigue and green, yellow, and red markers for the actions (provided in the book). Command points were whit dice. I'm gonna have to think of some pretty ways to do this because I don't love dice on the table.
Scenarios: The book comes with 5 scenarios which are well written but are all variations of the "meeting engagement." Meeting engagements almost always mean fighting over the middle of the table. I would of liked to see one or two attack and defense scenarios.
|Townspeople watch the game. But who are they rooting for?|
My intention was just to give a brief overview of a game that I am excited about. It's been awhile since I reviewed anything. There's more cool stuff in these rules that I didn't touch on, but for something that I bought on an impulse I'm very pleased with my purchase. Can't wait to play these rules again, though I will have to. Stupid never ending house chores.
Thanks for reading.