I must say I prefer a shiny rulebook to a pdf but I was hesitant to splash the cash on an obscure rulebook, even one which had garnered an Origins nomination.
It's hard to get excited about a pdf of any sort, to be honest. This one was 250 pages (!) which means I am unmotivated to print it out. It is black & white. However, the explanations ARE good, and repeated in different ways. However, it would benefit from polishing and could be condensed significantly. As a hard copy rulebook it should not exceed 100-120 pages for the content inside.
Units are classified by role i.e. spearmen, heavy cavalry, crossbowmen, archers.
They also have a set number of Melee Die (MAD) and Ranged Attack Die (RAT) and Damage (DMG) and Armour (ARM). These show how many dice the miniature can roll and function similar to stats in WFB or 40K. There are only 20 or so types of unit. This prevents cheesy army lists like in 40k, or surprising your enemy with a new rule like in Warmachine or Malifaux, but is a big disappointment to someone who loves the 'build it yourself' variety inherent in games like Song of Blades & Heroes.
I like any excuse to post pictures of Rackham metalsGaining "Momentum"
Basically, another word for the 'initiative'. Sometimes it is good to have, and sometimes it isn't. The plyaer with the momentum acts first and resolves attacks first, but also allocates dice first as well.
Since multiple models can only engage on one side of a melee; ie. you could have 2 models attacking 1, but not 2 attacking 2... this conveys an advantage...
Player with the momentum activates models in groups of up to 6 (if they are in base contact). Models perform an action as individuals (such as movement, shooting, casting a spell). The opposing player then makes an activation an so on until one player has activated all models. If you still have heaps of models left to move after your opponent has moved all of his - tough cookies - you get only 2 more activations. This allows you to put pressure on your opponent by your choices and manner of activation.
The player with initiative declares how many Melee Dice he will attack with, and the other player allocates defensive dice. Players total all their attack or defence dice and keep the best 3, comparing them to each other. If the attacker defeats the defender, he then does the same for his Damage vs the defenders Armour - if he defeats him again, the defender is destroyed. If the defender is not destroyed, then combat continues until the attacker uses all his melee dice. So if you had 3 melee dice, you could attack with 3 in one mighty attack, or do 3 single dice attacks...
If models are still engaged in melee at the end of a phase, the non-momentum player gets a free 3" move for all models that are engaged. This allows him to change the 2 v 1 outnumbering matchups or escape.
When initiative (or Momentum) is tied, time slows... it is the moment for heroic actions! It is simply a phase where each player can take only 2 activations. Given you can choose your best 3 dice - you can actually try to force a cut scene...
These are heroes that can wreak extra havoc in "Cut Scenes" - they can ignore bad terrain, pass through zones of control, and move up vertical surfacesor over obstacles without impediment and challenge enemy heroes to a duel - real swashbuckling stuff!
Players can use Havoc tokens to modify die rolls and make additional actions. In cut-scenes heroes can spend lots of tokens for Matrix-style stunts and fights.
There isn't much choice here - a dozen or so pre-made heroes. The lack of ability to customise your heroes with traits is a bit of a problem for me as I like to mix and match random minis for custom warbands.
For a feel of the gameplay, I found an excellent AAR on this blog
Did I mention Rackham also use to make goblin ninjas? Ok, I got sidetracked again...
Verdict: The most original, innovative ruleset I've seen in ages - and I'm probably only rarely going to to play. They are clever, fresh, and emphasize skill, timing and clever tactics over cheap cheesy gamesmanship. It would be great for human-centric fantasy like LOTR and refighting medieval/ancient skirmishes but the limited troop types and inability to create custom characters tends to limit it when it comes to creating the random warbands I have come to enjoy with Song of Blades. If it had more rules for customising troops or some sort of 'build system' it would jump to the top of my list. I think the game is ripe for expansion - a samurai mod, for example, would be excellent.
All in all, worth a look for $10, and if you are willing to cope with a relatively staid army selection, it may well be the best fantasy skirmish out at the moment...
EDIT: I just checked and there is a 15mm sci fi version coming out soon.... which I will DEFINITELY be testing out! I think a western mod is coming out as well...