Tuesday 29 September 2015

Rules Showndown #1: Savage Worlds vs Song of Blades and Heroes

This is for Paul who asked "Is Song of Blades like Savage Worlds?"
I started to type an email, but thought I might as well do a test run for a "rules matchup" instead.

Note: I'm often asked to do "rules matchups" which seem like a lot of extra work for me, given people can read the reviews and make up their own minds, the lazy buggers.  In most cases I've given pretty thorough reviews already - case in point:


..heck I even reviewed some some spin-off rules

But since I was going to discuss a lot of these points in this blog with Paul anyway, I decided to do this as a post, and test out possible layouts/categories for a "rules showdown" format.

Why they were "matched up?"
Both rules are an "engine" used for many different genres.  SoBH is a fantasy ruleset that has been adapted (some would stay stretched) to subjects as obscure as galley naval battles.  Savage Worlds is a pulp RPG(!) ruleset used from Weird West, to fantasy, superheroes and sci fi. In other words, both are rather "universal" game engines used for a wide (perhaps too wide) range of subjects.  For skirmish gaming, they are two good choices.

Savage Worlds is much more "conventional".  You draw cards to determine initiative (groups of minions move together on a card, and heroes get their own).  It handles more minis (10-20) than SoBH (<10).

Drawing a Joker gives you special bonuses. 

You can "reserve" your card and use it to interrupt an opponent later (reactions).
Song of Blades has a great activation mechanism. Your choose to roll 1-3 dice, and the number of successes (you roll vs a TN) determines activations.  If you fail 2 rolls initiative passes to your opponent. 

The more dice you choose, the more potential actions, but the greater the chance of failure and the initiative passing to  your opponent.

Great risk vs reward idea, but limits the minis you can use.
Both are solid systems, though the risk vs reward of SoBH is cooler, the ability to reserve cards to "react" is also an advantage to SW.  Winner: Song of Blades on the cool factor

The mechanics are simple - roll a  d4/d6/d8/d10/d12 vs Target Number (usually 4).  Beating the TN by a larger score (+4 "raise") means the effect is greater i.e. the better the hit, the better the damage you do.
Troops can be "Shaken." Minions die on a hit, but heroes can take a few wounds. 
 Heroes get 2-3 "bennies" (reroll tokens) they can spend, which adds resource management. 
Combat is pretty much DBA stat+d6.  You win by beating, doubling or tripling opponents' scores.

It's quite cinematic - opponents can be pushed back, knocked down, killed, or killed so messily their nearby allies flee after being showered with gore. 

However having only one stat "Combat" for everything is very limiting - especially for a fantasy game. 
SW is more complex, but simply because it offers so many combat options - the mechanics are easy and familiar.  SoBH is simple and pleasingly cinematic, but the limited stat line does it no favours. 
Winner: Draw

(polish, clarity, fluff)
Savage Worlds is amazing value at $10 for a full cover 140-page softcover.

It further wins my heart by its succinct and useful rules summaries at the end of each chapter, making it easy to revise rules "at a glance."

Its crammed with content allowing you to easily play sci fi and fantasy as well as pulp. So much so, that I have found the supplements to be largely unecessary.
Most will buy SoBH as a $8 black & white PDF with only the cover in colour, though they can be $14 "print on demand."

However you'll end up buying 2-3 more SoBH books as the limited stats means you need the special rules and campaign rules.  So the true price is more like $36 for the extra PDFs.

To come close to SW's versatility you'd need the sci -fi and modern supplements - add another $16.

Some might find it the art "old school" and quaint. 
Not even a contest. Savage Worlds at $10 is one of the most complete rules you can get - it covers many genres; and it easily downs the PDF/POD SoBH which would cost $48+ to even come close to its versatility.   Winner: Savage Worlds romps home

Extra Rules, Magic Systems, Fluff 
(ie. the stuff you find at the back of the book)
Savage Worlds has about ~30 spells, cleverly grouped by effect - which have rules to adapt them to weird science and psionics. 

Naturally handles non-combat tasks with aplomb. Also has advancement rules - it IS a RPG after all.

There is a "character creator" but it's not balanced for wargaming.  
SoBH has two spells "fireball" and "freeze enemy."   That's it.

There is a campaign system...  ..and a RPG...  ...and more spells...  ...if you buy all the supplements.

However the unit creator, while not balanced, is great fun.  You can spend hours "statting up" random cool models from your collection.
Whilst Song of Blades has an fun unit builder, it's not like either game is balanced for competitive play anyway.    Winner: Savage Worlds is far more complete. 

 I'm not sure about the categories - I don't want to spend too much detail

Duelling Dot Points (aka the Summary)
(+) Works as a RPG (it IS a RPG) and handles non-combat activities with aplomb
(-) Works as a RPG if you buy "Tale of Blades and Heroes" - another $8 but still falls short
(+) handles more minis on the table (ironic given it is more complex)
(-) activation means it is capped at around 10 minis
(+) Reactions/overwatch, solid card-based activation
(+) very cool risk vs reward activation
(-) No unit builder; character builder is not balanced for combat-only wargaming
(+) Fun but unbalanced unit builder
(-) not balanced for competitive play
(-) not balanced for competitive play
(+) superb value for money (excellent little full-colour rulebook, very versatile, for $10)
(-) you kinda "need" supplements
(+) one rulebook allows you to play many genres (pulp-sci fi-modern-fantasy)
(-) expect to pay $50 worth of PDFs to even approach the versatility of the $10 SW book
(-/+) Combat can be complex give you have lots of options (sweep, grapple, group fire, etc)

..but that adds to your choices in combat, which is good.
(+) Cinematic, simple fun combat; familiar
(+) Combat has familiar d4/d6/d8/d10 vs TN mechanics; simple resource management; heroes/minions defined well
(+) Uses familiar DBA-style combat resolution; surprisingly tactical for such a simple game
(-) Has superfluous stats like Intelligence and Charisma
(-) Has NO stats (well, only 2 - Combat and Quality) and struggles to describe units without 101 special rules

In short, I recommend both.   

Song of Blades is easy to teach and learn, and fun to stat up random models.  It has clever activation and cinematic combat, and is quite tactical.  However, it is ultimately a little shallow and the lack of descriptive stats is an issue.  Also, expect to pay $50 to get all the supplements you want - not cheap for a bunch of unattractive PDFs.  It is a great "gateway game" into wargaming.

 The official website:  http://www.ganeshagames.net/
Where I buy my rules: http://www.wargamevault.com/

Savage Worlds is exceptionally versatile "out of the box" and is great bang-for-your buck - an attractive, cheap full colour $10 softcover.  It is more conventional - but has a lot of mechanics only now becoming trendy in mainstream skirmish gaming, and the base game does pulp, fantasy and sci fi with no add-ons required.  It's main flaw is the lack of a proper unit builder, and the sheer amount of choices in combat can be daunting.  But if I was condemned to use only one rulebook for all my skirmish gaming, it'd be among the first on my list. 

Combat rules are here:   https://www.peginc.com/freebies/Showdown/Showdown.pdf
as is a free "test run" https://www.peginc.com/freebies/SWcore/TD06.pdf

However for $10 I can 100% recommend this as the best bang-for-your-buck rulebook you'll buy.

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