Saturday 13 December 2014

Pig Wars - Dark Ages Skirmish Rules Review

"When men were men, and pigs were... money."

This is an older (early 90s?) ruleset which is well recommended, but it used to be rather hard to order (one of those, join a yahoo group, learn a secret handshake, solve three riddles, each more fiendish than the last, and then ....) but anyway, it's now on Wargames Vault for download.   Which is good.

I'm aware there are still miniatures companies who exist without online ordering facilities (sometimes grudgingly responding to an email) - and they continue to exist without my money (or cheque, or envelope of coins, barter or however they get their hard earned).  I know, someone will say "that's how we did it in the old days" but wake up people, it's 2014, not 1964. Back in the old days I typed with a tough old typewriter that required 50-lb keystrokes, and also required me to use whiteout or rewrite the whole page if I misspelled a word. Should I be grateful if someone forced me to use it again instead of my PC?  //rant
Yes, there are tables in the game showing the best way to loot a pig...

..anyway, where was I? Yes, Pig Wars.  I was supposed to be reviewing it. 

It seems to be designed for convention-style games where you have half a dozen different players controlling warbands in a battle. A gamesmaster is recommended. Yes, that's old-school.

The Shiny
Single column pdf. The main rules are on the first ~20 pages - the remaining 50 or so are scenario examples (with quite a lot of nice colour pictures of games in action), rules variations, and a bit of historical background.  The Quick Reference Sheet has most of the relevant info and you could pretty much play off that.

Unit Classes
These are unarmoured, partially armoured (shield OR chainmail); or fully armoured (both).  When attacked from the rear or unshielded side minis count as the armour class below.  Morale goes from 0 (untrained) to 3 (elite/leader).

A turn consists of:
1. Rally/Move
2. Shoot
3. Melee (mutual)
4. Morale checks
Pretty much IGOUGO, in other words. 

Speed depends on armour.  Difficult going slows you down, roads speed you up.  The only thing out of the ordinary is that 3+ guys can form a "shield wall" which slows you up but is great for defence with significant bonuses.  Charging adds +1d6"movement in a straight line, 40K style.   Minis are based individually but stay within 12"of their standard.   Skirmishers can "react"to a charge by withdrawing beyond range.

Pig Wars uses playing cards, not dice.  Draw cards to hit.  For example, at close range all red suits hit, but at long range only diamonds hit.   Players can attempt to "save" hits - i.e. an unarmoured figure saves on a Ace-10, and a fully armoured figure on a Ace-6. 

Players add their morale (i.e. veteran = 2) plus weapon bonus (Charging, spear = 2) to a card (a "4"for example). If the player wins by a certain margin, he kills his enemy (i.e. 1 for unarmoured, up to 4 for fully armoured - and even more if in a shield wall.)  Spearmen can fights in rows, and add their weapon bonuses to the front rank.  Leaders get 3 wounds.

Units test when they take significant losses in a turn, or lose a leader/standard. If they fail to get a certain score they fall back from the nearest enemy or even rout entirely.

The Hold Card
Players can pick up one red face card/ace and keep it to play later for morale checks or leader melee, or for a leader to counter missile fire.  It gives either a free "hit"or ""kill" to the leader. Basically, it is a "resource" heroes can spend. A lot like Might from LOTR;SBG.  Jokers can be added in as extra hole cards with special effects like shooting bows twice. 

There are rules variations for Roman games. Also rules for Greeks/Persians. It makes sense as both used a verson of the "shieldwall"tactic. In the bibliogtaphy I learned about the 1960s movies Alfred the Great and The Warlord which I'll now be hunting down. 

There are also rules for 20 or so "Norn"cards that add heroic twists/traits such as a making a warrior "beloved of the gods" and allowing him to re-choose cards, being swift of foot, getting special armor etc.  I'd definitely add these into my game as they add fun flavour.

There is also a late Medieval variant for the 100 Years War/War of the Roses. This adds the armour categories "partial plate"and "full plate" and relevant movement distances.  There are no shieldwalls but troops can be "formed up" or in schiltron formations. Powerful longbows and crossbows are added, along with handguns that have a morale effect.  There are even cannons.

The rules have aged well, but I don't see the point in using cards. In fact, the rules seem remarkably similar in feel to GW's LoTR:SBG (that's not a put-down, as I think they are rather good). Pig Wars doesn't offer anything over SAGA though as there is no campaign-progression system - which is why personally I'll continue to use a mod of LoTR rather than either rulebook. A solid but unspectacular set of rules which offers nothing different from the "usual"in terms of gameplay.

Recommended: Yes.  Sound rules, even though I find the playing cards a bit unneccessary/gimmicky. However, I wouldn't bother if you already have a copy of LoTR:SBG as there are plenty of medieval/dark age house rules for it on the net for free, as well as campaign systems.


  1. I think this game shines with many players and it is specially indicated for conventions for that reason.
    I miss the old cover drawn by Giuseppe Rava; I just hope the inside illustrations from the same author have not disappeared as well.

    1. There seems to be a lot of positive nostalgia about the game. I bet the "multiple players" contributes to the good memories. From my brief experiments it seems less tactical than LoTR.

      *In my version (4th ed) there are no illustrations.

  2. Illustrations were great. If you want I can send you the original rulebook in good quality pdf, send me an email at frajahema[at]yahoo[dot]es