Muskets & Tomahawks
Skirmish games on the North American continent during the 18th Century
Alex Buchel – Studio Tomahawk 2012
62 Pages - Black and White
With the phenomenal success of SAGA (which was the first set of Studio Tomahawk set of rules published in English), Muskets & Tomahawks was a widely anticipated rules release. In fact these rules were published in French before SAGA. They occupy the same level of gaming as SAGA – skirmish games involving approx 20-50 figures a side for a standard game. But, there the similarity ends, those hoping for a Black Powder version of Saga were, in that sense, disappointed. The rules share very few (if any) mechanics, but do not despair Saga fans; read on…
Apart from the obvious exposure to the French Indian War, Indian Revolts and the American War of Independence through history lessons at school and the seventies BBC version of ‘Last of the Mohicans’ this period had never drawn me into its vortex. Luckily my gaming buddies Shaun and Steve have been waiting for a set of rules to use their figures with for a while! So after picking up a set at Salute, putting together an Indian War Party the next day (gotta love coloured spray base paint and sepia wash) we were ready to test the rules out.
Firstly though, what are they like to look at and read? Well they would fall into what I call a ‘modern’ layout, duel columns, graphic outside margin, photos and tables with insets for optional rules and a friendly soldier of the day to explain the game mechanics and add a narrative. Add a Quick Reference sheet at the back and the format will be very familiar. The insides are black and white but the quality of the print and the actual standard of the figures and scenery in the photos make up for it. Retail price from North Star is £24.
Dice – uses d6 solely but in different ways for some tasks such as the d66 (one die for tens, one for units).
Table size – ranges from 4x4 foot upwards. 200 points is a basic game which can be played in around 60-80 minutes on a 4x4. Adding 200 points adds about half the table area and doubles the time approximately.
Troop definition – troops are defined by type (Regular, Light, Indian, Irregulars, Militia etc) but are further refined by characteristic and traits. This gives Officers and troops character. Officers will have traits that are usually randomly determined which make them very different in feel and use from the Officer on the other side.
Smallest activation unit – is the ‘unit’ which are figures of the same type in groups of 6-12. There is a unit coherency based on distance from the leader. Troops within the unit do not have to do the same action but must maintain coherency.
Activation – Uses a card activation system which activates ‘troop types’ for one or two actions (more later). Actions can be move/melee, fire, reload and special. Event cards can activate scenario events or cause random events.
Reaction tests – these can be caused by various events such as taking shooting casualties, losing melee, or having to through the morale card. Results range from ‘no effect’, ‘recoil’ to ‘rout’.
Movement – troop type has a base move rate, 4-6” for infantry types. Terrain takes inches off the base move.
Shooting – roll to hit using the characters Shooting statistic as a target number with modifiers applied. Individual rolls but often done per unit if the target number is the same.. If a hit is made the weapon’s lethality is used to determine if it is a ‘kill’ or not. Weapons range from 3+ and lethality tends to drop with distance.
Melee – combatants both roll to hit using their aggressiveness stat to hit, then they roll to save any hits using their Defence statistic.
Morale – once the force has lost 50% their morale card is put in the activation deck and then when turned all the figures have to take a reaction test at minuses.
Spotting – this nearly put me off as I hate spotting rolls. But the mechanism is not a lot of boring rolls, rather it is a sliding scale of distances troop types can be seen at in differing cover types. This is needed for the use of hidden movement by the more sneaky troop types.
So, as can be seen there is nothing really new with the core mechanics, it will all feel familiar to players of good skirmish games. Yet the game gives a refreshing feel and has a very narrative feel. SO, what is it that causes this and makes it refreshing and ‘new’ where it could well just feel like playing LOTOW in the 18th Century.
First is the activation system. Card activation often leaves me feeling a little annoyed but with M&T it really does add tension to the game turn. I think it is because the cards don’t leave a player frustrated and wondering if the particular unit will ever activate, it just means there is uncertainty as to if you will get it in before the opponent. The event cards either activate a scenario special event or if the Event 1 card is turned first a random event occurs (these are optional rules and are not game turning events but are fun and can throw a spanner in the works).
Secondly, and perhaps the thing that makes the game for me,is how the objectives for the game are generated for the forces. The table will include a group of buildings on the table and other scenery that blocks line of fire to around 20-24 inches. There needs to be a lot of concealment coverage to add flavour to the game play. Rivers for example allow reinforcement to arrive in some scenarios in canoes. Each side rolls an objective, some of them are not compatible and this is covered in the rules. Different types of forces will roll differently on the objective generator, for instance Indian forces will roll a d3 while regulars roll a d6+1. Each objective will outline how the force deploys and what they have to do to achieve their victory conditions. It will be obvious to astute readers that this means both sides can achieve their conditions with the game ending in a draw. This is where the neat little mechanism called the ‘side plots’ kick in. This is a side objective for the Officer in charge of the force. Success in this side plot can turn the result when comparing the major objective results, a draw can be turned into a minor victory, a major defeat into a minor defeat etc. More than anything else though it provides a narrative to the action for the players to flesh out. Examples of how this can work are on the forum:
Overall feel – for what should, going by the mechanics, be a very familiar and almost predictable in feel game the rules deliver a tense, exciting and ‘fun’ game which lends itself to an excellent narrative. Again this is, in my opinion, due mainly to the activation mechanic and the way the scenario objectives and side plots blend together to provide a fresh, exciting feel to the game.
I’m delighted with the rules, being a great SAGA fan I was determined not to start another new period but here I am with FIW Indians and buildings on the paint table and wondering how I can squeeze games in between the games I have to play for the ongoing Saga faction playtests,
Another hit is on the cards for Alex, maybe not to the extent of the wickedly quick growth and fanaticism that Saga has seen but a hit non the less. My advice would be to go out and try these, you will not be disappointed and will probably find yourself buying yet more figures – just like me!