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Subject: Song of Arthur and Merlin: Review rss

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Mike Siggins
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Song of Arthur and Merlin is an Arthurian sourcebook of 39 pages for Song of Blades and Heroes, the now well established skirmish system from Ganesha Games. Predictably, you will need a copy of SBH in order to play SAM, but that will run you US$13 total. Bargain. How SBH has become well established is interesting in itself, so first a short overview.

SBH is a fantasy system, geared to handling up to a dozen figures per side, though many more are possible. Like almost all fantasy systems you can simply ignore the magic and you have got yourself a half decent dark ages/medieval setting. In this vein, Ganesha are branching out into historical modules, including a Napoleonic set that I now want to get my hands on. The success is, I believe, down to a good set of rules, impressive marketing, and inexpensive prices (albeit delivered by PDF). The only drawback to the latter is the need to print out some pages for play, and the fact that I sometimes forget I have all these ‘invisible’ PDF rules on my hard drive. Out of sight, out of mind.

I also like the fact that SBH adapts well to a grid, uses standard six sided dice, has no bookkeeping and, most important, is quick to play. The key benefit for me, and the reason I have been testing it as a possible replacement for Pig Wars and samurai skirmishing, is that the game system is very easily customised. Any game that plays this quickly can always be tweaked and loaded with extra detail, or existing ratings changed, as you see fit. With this in mind, SBH is a great ‘chassis’ system to add on modules such as the one under review.

So, back to SAM. The first question I had - which Arthurian legend are we dealing with? - is quickly explained on the back cover. The answer is that you may choose: shiny armour Hollywood; gritty Welsh legend; or a plain vanilla historical rendition. Good. That gives me lots of flexibility and a chance of pin-pointing my own interpretation. Each approach is given extensive, balanced coverage so that there is a distinct feel to each one. From the first you can do Boorman’s Excalibur, the second you can access any number of mythical sources – my favourite is The Mabinogion, and finally you can put right the awful movie that was King Arthur.

In the same way that each of us has an image of the knights and combat, we also have a view of Merlin and magic. SAM provides us with a character outline of a very powerful Merlin, indeed he carries a huge point cost to reflect this (but who does points nowadays?!). But if you want to make Merlin less, or even more powerful, somehow beyond even magic, that too can be accommodated. Again, this is very well handled.

Other rules are pretty much as you might expect. If your knights need to joust, we have a neat little sub game. If they quest, hunt, raid or feel chivalrous, everything is covered. I think the only area I felt missing is courtly love (no, not Courtney…), but I may just have missed the table for that. But I am already thinking, as I am prone to do, about a hybrid of SAM and Sharp Practice! Either way, this omission is more than made up for by the brilliant Inconvenient rule by which you include a damsel in distress in your army, only to place her in the opponent’s camp and so distract an enemy knight to protect her! Very clever.

So, to the game. I was a little short of time for this review, as I mentioned, so I had to press my 40mm Feudals into service. As it turned out they didn’t look too out of place. The game I ran was a nod to the Wyld Hunt – I have recently been reading the excellent Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper and wanted to see if I could create something of that feel. The two players each had a set of objectives, the terrain was bosky, but neither was aware that the Herlathing would be passing through mid-game! As I was umpiring, I used the rules and a chunk of the books to convey an ethereal/faerie feel to the whole scenario where nothing was quite as it seemed. In short, a wonderful game.

The sourcebook rounds out with six scenarios specific to Arthurian legend, eleven generic scenarios for SBH, plus some generators that give it all a twist. Mr Mersey also includes a hundred character profiles covering everything from Romano British spearmen through giants, dragons, basilisks and Picts to Merlin himself, and finally a whole load of special items: Excalibur; Galatine; Pendragon’s Helmet; Faerie Cloaks; potions etc. In short, there is enough here for a whole year of gaming, all neatly layered onto the base rule set.

I have to say this is an excellent package, at an unbelievable price. It is one of those documents that one reads and every page sparks an idea for a scenario, or a quest, or a campaign. I suggest keeping a notebook! It captures the Arthurian ambience extremely well, at the same time providing the hardware and stats to make all this come to life. In fact, so good is the text that I was left wanting more. The game we played, albeit hurriedly put together, worked well and was genuinely enjoyable. I look forward to many more like it. SBH and SAM come highly recommended, and at the price, very hard to resist.

First published in Battlegames magazine issue 17

Mike Siggins
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Alysa
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Nice review! Haven't played SAM yet, but did have my 1st few skirmish games of SBH! I used paper miniatures from Arion Games on a homemade hex-map, was very, very nice!

I already bought the rest of the stuff too, was way too damn cheap! And there are a ton more coming in the future! I really like this system

BTW, you can, at lulu.com, order printed copies of the books for a few $$ more...
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Mike Siggins
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Aenea wrote:
BTW, you can, at lulu.com, order printed copies of the books for a few $$ more...


Thanks, I wasn't aware of that. I will go and check what lulu are charging for postage today!
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