Monday, 25 February 2013

Mayhem Mass Battle Fantasy Rules Reviewed

As a person somewhat jaded by wargames rules (I own, play and review dozens each year) I look forward to any offerings from Bombshell Games. The reason? Their rules do not repeat the same tired mechanics ad nauseam, and usually have a strong design focus.  The layout of the rulesets have  improved markedly since the first book, Havoc, culminating in Battlefield: Miniature Modern Warfare which is very pleasantly laid out with good art and photography.

Mayhem utilises many strips of quality fantasy artwork. I would also have liked some pics of minis in action.
The Shiny
Mayhem is a slim work. At only 21 pages it nonethelesss has a comprehensive table of contents and there is a "quick reference" page with all they key rules "at a glance" on a back-to-back A4, and set-up and turn sequences are clearly laid out in their own section. I don't think it is as nice as B:MMW (which is one of my favorite pdf rulesets) but it is quite tidily and clearly presented. It is well priced at $7.99 and compares very favourably with more expensive pdfs.

The Overdrive mechanic makes a re-appearance here - and I feel it fits better, thematically, than in B:MMW where it was first employed.  You have a pool of "command points" or "CP"  (which I'd suggest a pile of poker chips or counters to represent). Each action takes one command point.  Extra actions add an exponential cost - i.e. a 2nd action would cost 2CP, a 3rd action 3CP, etc.  So you can push or "overdrive" individual units, but with diminishing returns.  Your CP pool is dictated by leadership ability.  This adds a simple but naunced layer of resource management, and  offers a wealth of options when activating your units; you choose which one, what order, how often; you can even go back to a unit you activated previously as long as you can pay the CP.  

Risk vs Reward
Every time you roll a dice you are presented with a choice: you can choose to play it safe - in which case you count half the value of your dice - i.e. if the stat is d10, you can "take the default" and claim an automatic 5.   Or instead you can take the risky option - roll the die/dice and keep the best score.
I really, really like this - without complicating the game it forces a decision on the player every time he picks up a dice!

 Mayhem would work a treat with Demonworld minis - these Dark Elves look like 28mm, not 15mm...
The fact there is no individual casualty removal encourages HoTT-style "diorama" bases

Stats & Stuff
Mayhem follows the current trend of minimizing stats - simply Move and Combat Quality (which lumps together weapons, armour, toughness etc) and differentiates its models primarily by "Traits Ability & Gear". Whilst I am not a fan of this in skirmish games (simplifying the stats often makes things too grainy or is at the expense of having to learn a zillion "special rules" resulting in more to remember *cough* Song of Blades) this has good pedigree in big battle/historical games - the DBA spin-off Hordes of the Things has far less detail than Mayhem, and is probably only second to Warhammer in mass battle fantasy popularity. In any case, Mayhem restricts itself to 12 "special traits" - so it works for me.

Movement is straightforward; players pay various CP costs to move, advance, reform, engage/disengage etc.  Formations are "squared up" neatly to each other in melee, in a commonsense way. Remember: With all rolls players can "take the default" or roll a dice - a unit with d8 speed could either move 4" or take a chance and roll the d8...

In combat players make opposed rolls and attempt to roll lower than their opponents.  No matter how many dice are rolled only one is "counted."  A natural '1' is a critical and eliminates the opponent - ties have no effect (unless a unit has a special ability like "Shieldwall") - and losing causes a unit to become disordered.

A disordered unit pays 1CP to rally and remove each disorder marker, or it can fight on, paying extra CP for actions - but a disordered unit which takes any hit is wiped out....

Large critters and monsters are not disordered but instead are damaged, and a natural '1' does not auto-kill them. The difference between the scores is the damage inflicted.  Monsters get "damage" not "disordered" tokens. These have an additional effect to disorder; you throw 1d6 each token and if the total dice pass 13 ("Lucky 13") the unit is destroyed.

Combat rolls can be modified by extra dice (for flank attacks, or each disordered token on the enemy) or by improving the dice level by one level (d4 to d6) which is a Soft Counter; or by 2 levels (d8 to d12) which is a Hard Counter. Some units have the ability to drive back their opponents through melee combat or missile fire.
In ranged combat, once dice level is for accuracy and a second for damage.  To hit, roll the applicable die and equal or exceed the range to the target. Modifiers for cover simply add to the "range" target number.  Once a hit is scored, the second (damage) dice makes an opposed roll against the target as per melee.

Once over half the units have been eliminated, a force either (a) instantly loses or (b) makes "break checks" each turn thereafter on a leadership dice.  Since it is a simple process, there is no reason not to use the second method as it adds uncertainty and makes smaller, elite forces more useful.

15mm offers so many awesome options, for far cheaper than 28mm. Here are 15mm Skraven Ratmen from Splintered Light Miniatures.
Heroes & Champions
At the start of the turn, a player can roll for Command Points (or take the default, of course).  Heroes allow command dice to be re-rolled. They are also your commanders - if units want to activate outside their "command radius" (usually 10-15") actions cost an extra CP.  They cannot attack or be attacked by enemy units (except enemy heroes) and can freely move through friendly units. A hero can join a friendly unit if he chooses, and  indeed if an enemy unit moves into contact with a hero he must flee and join the nearest friendly unit.

Army Builder
Once overall army leadership is defined, units CQ and movement is priced up.   Any additonal costs for the unit type is added (cavalry, flying, hero, etc) .  Banners and musicians can be included, and weapon types are defined.  Axes, spears, 2 handed weapons, lances, swords - I was relieved to find a solid variety of choices.   Missile weapons range from blow guns to crossbows, blunderbuss and slings.  Units can have shields or heavy armour.  Traits are then added (like "disciplined, beserker, shield wall") to complete the process.  There are also some examples of monsters - dragons, wyverns and giants.   Also useful is the General's Compendium a "living document" pdf - a mix of generic unit profiles and advice on army building, which is included in your download.

Magic Happens - Eventually
I got to the end and was thinking "where are the magic rules?"  "where are the undead?" but apparently that is coming in the expansion, Stronghold - which as the name suggests, includes rules for castles, garrisoning buildings, sieges, artillery, magic and the arcane - as well as extra traits and abilities.  Apparently magic rules may be coming sooner rather than later, perhaps as a pdf download.

More Splintered Light 15mm. They have bucketloads of character for such tiny figures.

As usual Mr Spivey produces an interesting and innovative set of rules.  I really like the the "automatically get half the dice value or take a risk and roll it" mechanic.  You are presented with a (sometimes difficult) choice every time you pick up a dice! Personally, I really like games where the mechanics are simple but the player's decisions are hard.  Mayhem certainly does this. The "overdrive" mechanic adds resource management and another layer of tactics as you decide what order, and how often to activate your troops.

The "hard and soft" counters add variety without a horde of modifiers and special rules.  Using a single stat "CQ", it remains to be seem if we are in for a deluge of said extra rules in the future (currently Mayhem is very restrained). As it stands the game has the simplicity of Hordes of the Things with much more flexibility, depth and decision making, with a dash of resource management on top. My main criticism is the lack of magic in the core rulebook. You can make skeletons and undead etc using combinations of existing edges in the core rules but if you want powerful casters and "fireballs from the sky" you will need to wait for an expansion.

If you like HotT but found the game too "limiting" and "chess-like" and find Warhammer Fnatasy too "gluggy" and more about dice rolling and list-building than tactics - then you may appreciate how Mayhem provides a pleasant blend of simplicity, tactics, playability and versatility.  

Recommend? Yep.  I am not a huge mass battle fan (I'm a lazy painter) but Mayhem has inspired me to dig out my old DBA minis.  Simple game design but lots of tactical decisions gets the thumbs up.


  1. There are now Sorcery rules in the new updated version. This version is free to download if you already own MAYHEM.

  2. Great summary!
    Thanks a lot for writing this up as i am very interested in giving Mayhem a shot using 6mm :)

    1. My main complaint, a lack of magic rules, is fixed - the rules were re-jigged and all current owners got a free upgrade. So pretty good customer service!