Sunday, 24 June 2012

Song of Our Ancestors (Quar) Skirimish Rules Review

A packet of Quar arrived in the mail today. You may ask: What is a Quar?

The alternate-WW1 universe of Quar is unique and full of character

They are goose-necked aliens in various hues, fighting a Royalist v Crusader civil war with alternate-WW1 weapons and tactics.  The world of Quar is supported possibly some of the most characterful minis and rulebooks I have ever come across, produced by Zombiesmith.

The Quar, along with my Secrets of the Third Reich mecha, are unique in that even non-gamers pause with interest to examine them; my long suffering wife (who usually ignores wargame parcels) always recognises them and breaks open the parcel for a look.  In fact the Quar now even have their own short film!

They come in 28mm and 15mm versions, but it is the rules I am focussing upon today. I'm using photos from the official Zombiesmith website so visit there for more eye candy.

 What other game has rules for messenger squirrels?

The Shiny
This rulebook is very, very shiny. And I do not mean this in the traditional hardbacked-glossy-embossed-cover sense.  This is, quite simply, my favourite rulebook.  An obvious labour of love, the simple rules are accompanied by gorgeous, characterful sketches, maps, full colour artwork and pseudo black-and-white images.  It is a 109-page softcover, but I would have no hesitation in using it as a coffee table book. A rulebook to read for enjoyment. The rules are simply laid out with a solid table of contents, complete with a quick-reference page at the back.

The Fluff
Now I often regard "fluff" as a waste of space, distracting you from the main rules (*cough* Malifaux *cough*), an excuse for enthusiastic but unskilled writers to inflict their meagre talents upon us, and a crutch to those wargamers with little imagination.

The Quar fluff is matter of fact, almost historical in nature, with a tongue-in-cheek nature that is warm and amusing.  There are poems and songs - I would normally dismiss these ruthlessly as "over indulgent" but for the world of the Quar, they "fit."

A Crusader gun-tractor showcases the alt-WW1 vibe

The rules follow the "Song of Blades" mechanics;  each side has "rhyflers" who have two primary stats; Combat and Quality.

Rhyflers roll one, two or three dice against their Quality. If the dice rolls equal or exceed the Quality rating, it succeeds and gains an Action (which can be used to move, shoot or melee or take a special action). Choosing to roll more than one dice can lead to several successes; which means a model can take several actions.  However there is a clever risk-v-reward element in play; two failures in a single roll means the turn passes instantly to the opponent; any un-activated models on your side simply miss their go.

Movement differs from normal wargames in that movement must be in a straight line.  The only way to go round a corner is to use a 2nd action. This adds an interesting tactical choice. There are the usual rules for climbing, rough terrain, falling and bashing inanimate objects like doors.

Melee is resolved by adding a d6 roll to the mini's Combat rating.  The combatant's score is compared in a simple method somewhat similar to DBA games. (I.e. winner rolled odds/evens, winner doubled loser, winner tripled loser etc).

Results can range from outright dead, to incapacitated, pushed back or knocked to the ground; depending on the margin of success.  Injured and out of action figures are shown by tipping them on their side. No "special counters" needed. The range of results is satisfying - knocked down figures are at a disadvantage; recoiling figures are pushed back, and "out of action" figures can be revived by a medic.

Ranged combat is similar, only instead of being "Knocked down" or "Recoiling" minis "Go to Ground" and may crawl toward cover; or are "Shaken" which takes longer to recover from.  Smoke and poor visibility can reduce engagement ranges.

There are rules for weapon jams, thrown weapons, automatic fire, and crew-served weapons like belt-fed machine guns. Area effect weapons are quick to resolve than usual - the opponent chooses the scatter direction if a shot misses.

Morale is resolved by rolling 3 d6 against the Quality of the rhyfler.  Failures means a rhyfler will withdraw from opponents; the more failures the further he flees. You don't need to test to often - when a friendly suffers a "gory death" or for each casualty once the squad is below 50% strength.

Units may concentrate their fire, go on overwatch, regroup or attempt to heal incapacitated comrades.

The core rules are about 30 pages long.

 A Royalist HMG team

Units and Organisation
The remainder of the book deals with units - the forces of the Commonwealth, Royalists, and the Partisans.

Stats are simple - two stats, a few "traits" and weapon info. Here is one of the most complicated ones:
Militia Officer  C2  Q3;  Leader, Green; pistol, bolt action rifle

There are about 30-40 traits which, given each soldier seldom has more than one, are not difficult to keep track of. You don't need to look up a special unit card to understand them, either.

There are 10 missions/scenarios; some general, some specific.

A beautifully presented gateway into the quirky world of Quar, the book is a fun read as well as being a simple but solid skirmish ruleset, based on the Song of Blades game engine. Interesting risk vs reward activation, varied combat results, and no record keeping - games can be played in 30-60 minutes allowing a series of linked games to be played in an evening. True, the rules are somewhat Quar-specific; but each side only needs 5-15 minis, making the game affordable to try out. 

Recommended? Definitely. The rulebook is very "collectible"  -  as well as being a good set of rules - and the Quar minis are addictive, with bucketloads of character.  The 15mm Quar also fit well into any 15mm sci fi universe. All Quar gear is 15% off in June, so now would be a good time to buy.

The Kryst Sandstalkers are a new faction and have a "desert tribesman" feel.

Note: The Quar are supported by a slow but steady trickle of releases; but this month two new factions have appeared.  The Zombiesmith crew werelargely part-timers so don't expect the lightspeed delivery times of Khurasan or GZG, but this is being addressed by adding a full time staffer.

The Toulmore Veterans are the 2nd new faction.  The Quar world is expanded in supplements "OF Spats and Pedrails" and the new "Tales of the Breach" which has 30 new missions.

EDIT: The platoon/company level game "This Quar's War" (which I suspect is aimed at the 15mm Quar) is free on the wargame vault and will give you an idea of the art and world of the Quar


  1. I've been meaning to pick up some of these miniatures and the rules if for nothing else but because they are so compelling. Your review clinches it and I'll be sending an order soon. Thanks!

  2. You won't regret it. The rulebooks and minis are characterful - a polar opposite to GW "skullz and bitz" - and the game rules are solid as well.

  3. I'm very intrigued by this and intend to investigate when other projects & commitments allow. I am however somewhat curious about how the SoB&H rules translate to modern warfare, given your comments elsewhere about the limitations of the system in gunpowder settings. I've seen some indications that both firearms and vehicles are better handled here than in Flying Lead and other modern versions, but don't see much in your review about these aspects. I appreciate it's been a long time, but are you able to clarify this from memory?

    1. I don't know if they are "better", so much as they are adapted to fit a very beautiful game universe. Whereas there are plenty of options apart from Flying Lead if you want a generic skirmish set for the modern era.

      Song of Ancestors rules is a characterful 'coffee table' book - I'd recommend it even if you have no intention of playing it... I wouldn't recommend it to make it your benchmark "generic modern ruleset" as it is rather Quar/WW1 specific.

      Likewise there is no reason not to get Flying Lead if you have your heart set on it. I just feel it complicated the SoBH system to the degree it makes it more directly comparable to any other ruleset, where its flaws (lack of stats, reliance on d6 etc) are more evident.

      I just tend to think there is no "one game system to rule them all" - i.e. a system which works best for all eras, despite what 2HW or Ganesha might reckon.

      Ancestors and Flying Lead will be so similar that any minor differences could be adjusted by house rules, in which case you might as well get FL for the generic weapon selection. You aren't buying either for the gritty realism or historical tactics.

      TL:DR - Not worth agonising over. Buy Ancestors for an awesome rulebook and cool universe, and some Quar cos they are fun to paint. Then buy FL if you like the system and are not interested in the many other alternative rule sets. (IMO the one of the best modern skirmish rulesets is the free quickplay rules for Infinity the Game - try that for a completely different flavour of game).

    2. To use an analogy: deciding between FL and Song of Our Ancestors is like deciding whether to buy a black cat or a grey cat, as opposed to getting a cat vs getting a dog. Differences aren't drastic.

      One is a solid ruleset which is designed to fit the quirky Quar-WW1 universe, which has no competitors.

      The other is a solid ruleset designed to fit any generic modern firearm setting, which has quite a few competitors.

  4. Thank for the prompt and informative response (I look forward to your rebuttal - or, preferably, humble acceptance - of my admittedly text-heavy answers to your questions re Shakespeare).

    I've not played any of the SoB&H games yet. As mentioned elsewhere, I recently bought the Horror & cheesy SF versions, but have owned Song of Arthur and Merlin for a few years. I intend to buy the advanced SoB&H rulebook when it is released next year, but in the meantime am intrigued by Samurai Robots Battle Royale, though much less so by the new Fightin' Fungi set (which, as you may know, has its own set of miniatures - something of an extravagance, to my mind, as if I were really determined to plunge into the underexploited world of mushroom mayhem, I'm pretty sure even I could sculpt or at least convert my own fungoid warriors). The trouble is, it's very hard to find detailed information on many of the 'small press' rule sets. Most have an entry on Board Game Geek, but often there is little actual content. I do recall, however, that of the few posts on Flying Lead, the most detailed one concluded that much of it simply didn't make sense, possibly due, as you point out, to the conflict between a super-simple base system and the inherent complexity of modern combat.

    Incidentally, there is a Ganesha game which doesn't use the SoB&H system at all: Battlesworn - Bid for Victory. It has had some coverage on BGG, including the rather damning conclusion by one reviewer that it doesn't appear to be a finished product.

    As for Songs of Our Ancestors, I'm definitely going to get it, hopefully fairly soon. I'm also attracted to Zombiesmith's Shieldbash system and figure range (again, totally ungeneric and very characterful, to judge by the pictures). Another point to be made in Zombiesmith's favour is their humane approach to foreign customers: it seems they charge $20 US for all overseas orders, regardless of size. If they can do that, one really has to wonder why other companies charge such prohibitive sums. To give a very recent example, having read your review of Chaos in Carpathia earlier today, I registered at Blue Moon Manufacturing's site and put one rulebook and a pack of figures in my shopping basket, just to get an idea of the rates. The shipping figure which came up for the UK was $63.95, which was only reduced by $2 when I removed the figures. This is utter madness. Or Sparta. Either way, it stinks.

    BTW, I'm really embarrassed to ask, but what does TL:DR mean? Clearly it's your shorthand for a summary, but I've never encountered it elsewhere, and it's driving me mad.

    1. TL:DR = "to long; didn't read"
      A summary for those who couldn't be bothered to read the original post.

      Also I note I should use a ; not a : .....oops!


      "....the conflict between a super-simple base system and the inherent complexity of modern combat..."
      Pretty much this. Base SoBH worked fine, but many of the variants have tried to do too much with the core system. I like the risk-v-reward activation and use it in my homebrew rules, but I've thrown out most of the rest in order to use it for modern combat.


      I'll have another look at your Shakespeare post, but I think it was clarified to so it no longer appeared to be some sort of logical fallacy. I think it was that Shakespeare was mentioned in different contexts in different comments and then these comments were combined so it muddied the waters a lot.

      We seldom debate much on this blog, but if you like an argument the "Naked Miniatures" post and the recent generated a bit of discussion about the painting (or not) of miniatures.


      Email Blue Moon and ask them for an exact quote. I did, and it turned out the postage was more like $20 not $60. I've since bought from them a few times (lovely 15mms they have; great for pulp) and last time postage came to around $20, for about a $120 order.

      Rebel Minis (15mm) also have great P&P. Either Artizan or Copplestone (can't remember which one I bought from last) also have a "humane" rate.