May 072013
 

Please Take Note: This is a review of the game’s final prototype. The art, game bits, and the rules discussed are all subject to change. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s official web page or visit the game’s Indiegogo campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!


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The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up (publisher suggests 12+)
  • For 2 players
  • Approximately 60 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Bluffing and Misdirection

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Lead your army on the field of battle to victory!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek mixed!
  • Child Geek mixed!

Overview

As the fog of the morning slowly lifts from the battlefield, the two opposing forces face each other. From afar, their opponent’s strength is hard to determine. The officers know that the true strength of their enemy can’t be measured until they can see the whites of their eyes. Giving the order to advance, one and then both armies slowly move towards one another. On this day, many will fight and die for a cause they believe in. FOR BLOOD AND HONOR!

Swords & Heroes, designed by Alexander Richmond and to be published by ZAMA Game Design, will reportedly be comprised of 1 game board, 30 Civilization cards (15 Roman Legions and 15 Germanic Clansmen), 140 Unit shards (70 Roman Legions, 70 Germanic Clansmen), 10 Barrier blocks, 4 Germanic Clansmen discs (green), 3 Roman Legions discs (red), and 2 standard ten-side dice. As this is a review of a prepublished version of the game, we will not comment on the component quality. The proposed artwork looks wonderful and the game prototype felt very “complete” despite being a prototype.

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Preparing for Battle

To set up the game, first unfold and set the game board in the middle of the two players. The board should be orientated so that each player is sitting behind one of the two red lines that divide the game board into thirds.

Second, have each player select one of the two Civilizations (Roman Legions or Germanic Clansmen) and collect all 15 Civilization cards of that type.

Third, each player should now go through their Civilization deck and separate their Unit cards, their Civilization Power, and their General’s Orders cards. Players should place their Civilization and Unit cards in front of them, face-up, at this time and set the General’s Orders cards aside for the moment.

Fourth, using the Unit Cost point value found on each of the Unit cards, each player will now create a 50 point army. A player’s army can be comprised of as many or as few of the Units as they like, but the maximum number of any one Unit is set by the Unit shards available in the game. For quick play, the rule book provides pregenerated armies that can be used.

Fifth, each player now places their Unit shards on the game board on any space behind the red line that is closest to them. Units can be grouped in any formation and be facing any direction. However, only one Unit shard can occupy a single hex space at a time. Any Unit cards and Unit shards not selected and used are moved to the side and referred to as the player’s “Reserves”. The rules state that players should take turns placing units, but we found this to take way too much time and just directed players to set up both of their sides at the same time.

Sixth, each player selects which Unit or Units (depending on their selected Civilization’s Powers) will be their General and places a General disc on top of that Unit shard. Place the Barrier, dice, and additional discs to one side of the game playing area.

Seventh, each player now selects 3 (or more depending on the Civilization Power) General’s Orders cards. These cards should remain hidden from the player’s opponent for the duration of the game. The remaining General’s Orders cards are set aside at this time.

That’s it for game set up. Each player should now roll one of the two dice to see who goes first.

A Quick Introduction to Your Army

Swords & Heroes uses Unit cards to display important unit information and Unit shards (that match to a Unit card) to only represent the specific unit’s position and facing. A Unit card and a Unit shard are summarized here. Note that individual Unit Cards and Unit shards will be different depending on which civilization they belong to and unit abilities.

swordsandheroes_anatomy

Each player displays their Unit cards, face-up, during the entire game. An opponent can review a player’s Unit card at anytime during game play.

Swordplay 

The game is played in turns with no set number of rounds. A player’s turn is summarized here.

Step 1: Roll for Action Points

During this step, the player takes the 2 ten-sided dice and rolls them. The sum of both dice equals the player’s total Action Points (AP) for their turn. A roll of “zero” on any of the dice during this step counts as a “10″. Therefore, at minimum a player will have 2 AP or a maximum of 20 AP on their turn.

Step 2: Move & Attack

During this step, the player will be moving and attacking with their individual Unit shards. Each hex space on the game board costs any Unit 1 AP to move into. Units can move in any direction, regardless of their facing. When moving, a player can shift the facing of their Unit for free. If the Unit does not move (as in it stays in its original position), shifting the Unit’s facing will cost 1 AP.

Units can group together to form an “Attack Group”. An Attack Group consists of any collection of units, but no more than 10 and no less than 5 units in total. For example, a Germanic Clansmen Attack Group could consists of 3 Cherusci Skirmishers and 4 German War Dogs. An Attack Group must remain adjacent to each other at all times and be at least 2 hex spaces away from any other “friendly” unit. Unlike individual units, Attack Groups move as one large unit. An Attack Group’s movement is equal to half the total number of units the Attack Group contains. For example, a full Attack Group of 10 units would move like 5 units. The total number of spaces the Attack Group can move is based the smallest valued movement range of any unit that it consists of. This means an Attack Group consisting of horsemen and footmen will only ever be able to move as far as the footmen. While only one Unit shard can occupy a hex space at a time, “friendly” units can pass through other “friendly” units.

Units can attack 1 or 2 different ways. These are ranged and melee attacks. Melee attacks are initiated when the player’s unit moves into the same hex space as an opponent’s unit. These two units now engage in melee combat, regardless if either unit is in an Attack Group or not. Ranged attacks can be performed once per turn for each unit and can target an opponent unit at a distance. Every unit can move, attack, and then move again if the player has enough AP. It costs 1 AP to perform a ranged attack but the cost of the melee attack is already accounted for with the unit’s movement.

Combat is very straight forward. When engaged in melee combat, each player takes 1 of the ten-sided dice and rolls it. Each unit then adds their die modifier value to the roll. Additionally, units with shields can add a +2 to their combat rolls, but only if they are being attack from their forward shielded position. A General can also add a +1 to an attack die value. The player with the highest modified die value wins the skirmish. The losing unit is removed and the winning unit either remains in place (if it was the one being attacked) or moves into the now unoccupied hex space (if it was the one attacking).

Ranged combat is handled the same way, except the unit being targeted does not roll a die. Instead, the player attacking must first make sure the unit they want to attack is within range. If it is, a single die is rolled and the player must roll a number higher than the unit’s Accuracy Number value. Targets that are next to other units or barriers reduce the player’s roll by -1, as do any units who have shields that are facing towards the attacker’s direction. If the rolled value is higher than the Accuracy Number, the targeted unit is immediately removed from the game board.

In most cases, the highest roll with any modifiers will win. The one exception is a roll of “zero”. If any player rolls a “zero” during combat, it is considered a “critical hit” and will automatically kill the opponent’s unit. In the event of a tie, the unit who is defending the current hex space wins the combat skirmish.

A single unit can engage in melee attacks as many times as the player wants and the total AP rolled for the turn allow. A unit can only attempt a ranged attack once per turn. Once the player has moved and attacked with all the units they want or no longer has any AP left to spend, their turn is over and their opponent now starts their turn with step 1 above.

Generals and Orders

Each player will have 1 or more “Generals”. These are the leaders of the battlefield who command the units. Any unit that is part of the same Attack Group as a General will get a +1 to attacks. Additionally, the player may place one General’s Order card on their turn whenever they think it best benefits them. General’s Orders are powerful cards that provide the player the ability to build barriers, give bonuses, and even assassinate specific targets.

Playing General’s Orders cards is only possible if the General is still on the battlefield. Once the General is removed, any General’s Orders cards that are still in play are removed and all remaining units the player still controls will fight for the duration of the game with a -1 penalty.

Victory and Defeat

The game continues until one player’s army is completely wiped out, a specific condition is met (for example, a player only has 3 units left), or one of the two players concedes and admits defeats.

House Rules

A few house rules were created based on some of the rules our player’s didn’t care for. We are listing them here in case anyone would like to use them.

  • Same Time Army Set Up: The rules state that players should place each of their Unit shards one at a time when setting up their initial forces. We found that this took too long. This house rule simply states that both players set up their armies at the same time.
  • Smart Generals: The rules are not very specific in regards to how the General’s Orders cards are drawn. The way the rules are currently written, a player can interpret the initial starting Generals’ Orders cards as random or specifically selected by the player. This house rule takes the guessing out of it and flat-out states that “generals would know what they would want to do”, which allows the players to select the General’s Orders cards they want to play with for the game.

To learn more about Swords & Heroes and read the full rules, visit the game’s official web page or visit the game’s Indiegogo campaign.

Prediction

One of my Father Geek dreams is to one day have all three of my little geeks skilled and patient enough to sit down and play a really long game of Advanced Squad Leader with their old dad. If you are not familiar with Advanced Squad Leader, it can be a very complex wargame that can take hours, if not days to complete. Clearly, such a goal can only be achieved through time, dedication, and lots of practice to build up a solid experience base to make my dream a reality. There’s just one problem, however. Normally, wargames have a bit of a steep learning curve as they are very demanding of their players and use a great deal of rules to help facilitate realistic and complex strategy and tactics. Needless to say, finding where to start and how to continue to develop a little geek into a wargamer Gamer Geek is  long and often obscure road.

But games like Swords & Heroes give me hope. Here is a wargame that uses tactics and strategy, but the rules are exceedingly light. Well, “light” being a relative term. As far as wargames go, Swords & Heroes is really thin in the rule’s department, but not to a point where the game has little depth. After reading the rules, it was clear to me that this was a game that would be easy to teach, but the player would not truly understand the game until they were playing it. I like games like this because you can teach the player the basics, but the game keeps teaching you as you play it. Very rewarding and very engaging.

I think the Child and the Parent Geeks are going to be mixed on this game. Wargames tend to be a bit of an acquired taste because of their level of complexity and intensity. Wargames facilitate aggressive behavior and conflict. That’s going to turn off a number of players who are looking for a more casual gaming experience. But wargames are notorious for making a player think very hard, plan ahead, and risk a great deal. This makes wargames something of a complex Chess game mixed heavily with adrenaline pounding moments. This will most certainly appeal to those Child and Parent Geeks who like a bit of spice in their gaming experience!

I think the Gamer Geeks are going to enjoy Swords & Heroes and will fully endorse it. I also believe the more hardcore wargamers I play it with will scoff at it and suggest it is the Candy Land version of a wargame. Not because Swords & Heroes is stupidly simple (because it most certainly is not), but because it pales in comparison to what a hardcore wargaming Gamer Geek would suggest is a “real wargame”. I’ll do my best to not roll my eyes if they do so. I find such verbose posturing is absurd.

Teaching Swords & Heroes is blessedly simple. Everything you need to know about the game can be summarized on a card with just a bit more explanation necessary for Attack Groups. Everything is driven by simple math and random die rolls. The most complex aspect of the game is attempting to determine your odds of success and keeping your army on the game board organized. All three of our groups, the Child, the Parent, and the Gamer Geeks, all understood the game with the only questions dealing with Attack Groups. Admittedly, the way the rules for Attack Groups are currently written, it can be very confusing. It was only after I demonstrated how an Attack Group was created and moved versus individual units did the players go “Oooooohhhh! Now I get it!”

And so, after showing my oldest little geek how to play the game, demonstrating a few of the General’s Order cards and some of the more “complex” manuevers you could make, I had him select a civilization and asked him his thoughts on the game so far.

“A really neat looking game, but the game board is a bit confusing. Other than that, I think I’m ready to play and crush you.” ~ Liam (age 8)

My little geek is correct. The game board we were provided has the game’s title and title art included on the game board itself. It somewhat obscures some of the hex spaces, making it difficult to determine unit distance and spacing. However, since we are reviewing a prototype, I cannot suggest that the game board will look anything like what we received when the game is published.

Time to let slip the dogs of war and see if this hound can hunt!

Final Word

As predicted, the Child Geeks were highly mixed regarding their stance on the game. For the mores aggressive and advanced Child Geeks (of which I am most pleased to state that my 8-year-old is … not bragging .. no, wait, I am), the game did exceedingly well. Their first game showed a gradual increase in their game play knowledge and level of confidence. By the time the games were halfway through, they were doing much better than when they started. By the time the game was over, they clearly demonstrated an excellent understanding of how Unit shards moved, tactics, strategy, and intelligent use of the General’s Orders cards. These Child Geeks happily approved of Swords & Heroes. The other Child Geeks did not. They found Swords & Heroes to be too involved, too long, and too aggressive. I am convinced their negative outlook on the game had nothing to do with the game itself, however. Their opinions were based more on wargames as a whole rather than this specific one.

My little geek carefully considers his General's Orders as he survey's the battlefield

My little geek carefully considers his General’s Orders as he surveys the battlefield

The Parent Geeks were more or less exactly like the Child Geeks. Those Parent Geeks who enjoyed more complex and engaging games had a great time with Swords & Heroes, while the other Parent Geeks most certainly did not. More times than not, if the Parent Geek enjoyed the game, so did their Child Geek. When I explored this a bit further in hopes of finding the cause, I found that in almost all cases the Parent Geeks who were actively playing more complex games with their Child Geeks (or not) shared a common like or dislike towards Swords & Heroes. In the end, the Parent Geek’s level of endorsement was as mixed as their children.

The Gamer Geeks all had a wonderful time with Swords & Heroes, hated the game board (again, because of the title art obscuring the hex spaces), loved the cards, and were overjoyed how engaging the game was without feeling overwhelming or weighty. And yet, the game does have weight and a great deal of depth. Swords & Heroes has a rule set that is very easy to learn and empowers the players to make important choices without being bogged down by complexity. Right off the bat, the Gamer Geeks were smiling when they started to build their armies and greatly enjoyed their initial deployment. They were less enthused about the idea of  randomly dealt General’s Orders cards, and considered it something of a misstep to make those random when everything else up to that point was in the player’s control (thus the house rule). The Gamer Geeks had a wonderful time maneuvering into position, and advancing their units to attack, fortify, and charge for glory! The only negative comment they had was again focused on the game board, where they found the space between the two starting areas to be a bit too long. They would prefer to have it shorter so as to allow the players to get into the battle sooner rather than spend so much time simply advancing. In the end, when the battlefield was won (or lost), all the Gamer Geeks agreed that Swords & Heroes was a well designed “introduction to wargaming game” they would be happy to play again, meeting the Gamer Geek’s approval.

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Gamer Geek Karl shouts his war cry as he rolls the dice - didn’t help…

I really enjoyed my time with Swords & Heroes, but I quickly became tired of the two civilizations included with the starting set of the game. Both civilizations are a lot of fun to play, don’t get me wrong, but you can only command the same two armies so many times before you want something different. With any luck, new civilizations will be included in the game starting set and will allow the players all the more opportunity to play the game differently each time at the gaming table. Each of the two civilizations included in the game are surprisingly different and each army has their clear weaknesses and strengths. A more experienced gamer will quickly find them, exploit them, and be left wanting more. I know I am, but in this case, it’s a very good thing. Swords & Heroes has tremendous potential and is already a winner with just the base game. It needs more, however, and soon. As fun and as deep as the game is now, with only two civilizations, it won’t be long before it is put on the game shelf to collect dust.

But all of my concerns and those of the Gamer Geeks who played it look to be already addressed in plans for future expansions. Each civilization will bring new tactics, new strategy, and a new challenge for the players. And with such an easy rule set, each civilization will be simple to pick up and play. This is perhaps the real strength and draw of the game. It’s very easy to learn and to play, and yet so difficult to win. Strong players will always obtain victory, but luck does play a small part. Even the weakest of units has a small chance of winning in an open battle against a larger opponent.

If you are a wargamer, then you will find Swords & Heroes to be a light game, but still a challenge. If you are looking into playing more wargames, but don’t know where to start, Swords & Heroes would be an excellent game to begin with. For everyone else, Swords & Heroes will either intimidate or frustrate. Swords & Heroes is best played by those who like to work hard for their victory and eager to learn from their defeats. Do look into Swords & Heroes if you think you have what it takes.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....

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