Sword & Spear Review 7


Sword & Spear - cover

Sword & Spear – Cover Art

Product: Sword & Spear 

Company: Polkovnik Productions

Review:

Sword & Spear is a wargame rules set for ancient and medieval (large scale) battles. To quote the Polkovnic Productions page, Sword & Spear is a big battle ancient and medieval wargame.

Sword & Spear is a flexible rules system allowing battles to be staged from a multitude of time periods, using various scale miniatures. The Sword & Spear support and forums are quite active, with rules questions being answered in a timely manner. There is a large range of army lists ready to be used, all provided for free, with an additional point calculator to help design your own armies.

The time periods covered so far are:

  • Biblical
  • Greek and Mecedonian wars
  • Rome and her enemies
  • The Dark Ages
  • Byzantium
  • The Middle East & Crusades
  • Medieval

This covers a huge range from 16th Century BC, through to 15th Century AD, enough to cover most ancient/ medieval gaming requirements!

The rulebook is available in both electronic format (PDF) and hard copy. A nice touch is the PDF being available in both full colour, and printer friendly version to save ink/ toner. The book contains almost all the rules needed to play in any period covered by the army lists, and I don’t believe it would take much to adapt them for other periods. The rules are well laid out and easy to read, as well as logically ordered. This makes finding and checking rules easy. Something that aids in the understanding of the rules are the frequent and informative diagrams and pictures.

The one thing missing from the rules is how to use the army lists and the point allocation system. This is, however, easily found (again as a free download) from the Sword & Spear PDF for Using the Army Lists.

Sword & Spear uses a ‘friction’ style command and control system which is quite innovative. Whilst every unit may have an opportunity to activate, not every unit may activate every turn. This may either be due to poor command rolls, or by forgoeing one units activation in an effort to bolster the ability of another. A dice is placed in a cup or bag for each unit, different colours for each army or side being represented. A select number of dice are drawn per phase of the turn. These dice are then rolled and assigned to units. The way dice are assigned dictates whether a unit can act, what it can do (basic or advanced actions), and when the activation occurs. This all boils down to a very tactical activation system that is both fluid in its use and engaging to both players, through the duration of each turn. The system also allows for larger battles, being comprehensively covered in the rules, up to 3 players v 3 players.

Movement is very simple to come to grips with quick yet intuitive, and solving a lot of problems I have had in the past with Ancients period games, unit manoeuvres. Units can either advance (with a little room for lateral movement) or manoeuvre, allowing the unit to move how they like as long as their total movement isn’t exceeded (testing corner to corner from where the unit was, to where the end). This gets rid of my dreaded rule, the unit wheel, and as such makes me very happy. Add in to this the regular terrain and obstacle rules along with reforms and movement for special units like skirmishers and the movement rules remain comprehensive yet quick and easy.

Charges are handled in a manner similar to other Ancients style games, with the movement process again being intuitive and simple (in part thanks to the general movement rules). There are plenty of diagrams and pictures in this section, along with rules on how to tidy up messy charges.  These diagrams go a long way towards understanding the intent of the rules, and in a game style where charges are so important, these clarifications are welcome.

Sword & Spear - Example Page, from Polkovnik Producations

Sword & Spear – Example Page, from Polkovnik Producations website

Shooting is a fairly small and straightforward section, giving guidelines as to ranges and line of sight. Like the movement rules, these seem to make sense and are easy to follow and use. One thing we questioned was the range of shooting, it is something I am still researching, however it felt a little too short range in the game we played. We often could advance units the same distance as we could shoot, however perhaps that is due to the ranges involved being effective ranges. Again I am still investigating this, and I am sure there is a simple answer.

Along with moving and manoeuvres, combat is at the heart of all ancient/ medieval battle games and here we come to a system I haven’t seen used before in a wargame. Each unit has a strength, which equals the number of dice rolled in combat. This amount is modified by a fairly standard set of modifiers (for impetus, assisting units, flank/ rear attacks etc). Both sides roll their dice and the top 4 are lined up against each other, in a manner similar to the boardgame Risk. These dice are compared as a pair, with armour and certain weapons being able to modify the result of a dice allowing you to possibly gain an edge over your opponent. The result is an interactive, engaging, combat system that gives benefit to powerful units, but not at the expense of making them all powerful. The way armour, weapons and unit strength work allows for a large variety of unit types that appear to show how their differences, well, make a difference. Armoured units can take more punishment, whereas more offensive units are able to inflict more damage when they hit. The combat system does a nice job of highlighting the differences between units, without making them overpowered. It keeps all the players engaged, as overpowering units are still capped at the amount of dice they can ‘enter’ in the combat, but will have more dice to choose from to form their top 4, based on being able to roll more dice. This does mean better units will have an advantage, but the combat is not a forgone conclusion. Shooting is resolved in the same method, but the unit firing may never take hits.

Finally the morale and hit system is very well tied into the base rules, and gives meaning to character figures. All units are deemed ‘in command’ if they are within the command range of a character. This allows them to be commanded as normal. Penalties apply if units are out of command range, with benefits applying to a unit which has been joined by a character. Units are controlled via their discipline stat, this represents in how much disarray the unit is in. Too much disarray and the unit will be routed, their morale broken. Morale is represented by ‘hits’ which can come as a direct result of combat, or failed discipline test. A unit can take a number of hits equal to its strength before it breaks (there are some modifiers based on special unit rules). As a units discipline is directly affected by both being in command, and how many hits it has received, the positioning of characters becomes very important.

The importance of Characters comes  not only in their ability to help Discipline, but also in rallying a unit. Combining the rally ability with increased unit discipline can be a game changer. In Sword & Spear, rallying removes all the hits a unit currently has.

Each unit in the army has a points cost and a value. The cost simply assists in creating an army to a set value. Value is the unit’s value to the army. It is this number that helps determine the effect of morale on army. As an army begins losing units, it will become more disarrayed and vulnerable (at 1/3rd total army value), finally breaking from the field of battle if they lose ½ of their army value. This simple decision to split the cost of the unit, from the value of the unit to the army, gives a larger variation of army composition and arrangement and allows for more strategic decisions.

Record keeping is minimal in Sword & Spear. Tokens are required to keep a track of unit hits and that is about all. The army lists and stat sheets are minimal and simple to follow.

As a first time player, we completed our first 300 point game of Sword & Shield (Picts v Roman Legions) inside two and a half hours. That gave us the complete game, from running through terrain deployment to Troy routing my army from the field. We fielded 10mm miniatures and arranged them as units with 40mm frontage as per the rulebook. We adopted 1 DU to equal 1 inch (as opposed to 20mm) for ease of play, having 1” take measures and markers. This does give a good indication of the systems flexibility. After the regular teething problems that playing any new games has, we quickly adopted the majority of the rules and the game was very free flowing. Any problems we may have encountered stemmed more from our lack of knowledge of tactics for that period than rule issues. We both enjoyed the game upon its conclusion, and the game generated a deeper discussion about the system and its working, and how we could improve our gameplay in future battles.


Opinion:

Matt

I found Sword & Spear breathed new life into a period I am not overly fond of playing in. The game we played was engaging, with innovative mechanics which kept their consistency across actions. In this case a simple system means ease of playing, not a lack of depth, and it was enjoyable to discover the subtle nuances built in to the rules. Even though I am not an expert in ancients/ medieval battles, and it is not one of my core wargaming periods, I would consider this to be my system of preference for gaming in that era.

The most intriguing thing, for me, is the authors move into adapting this set of rules into a fantasy ruleset. I am very keen on this and the Sword and Spear Fantasy forums have the work that has been created to date. With the rules being flexible, the game should be able to work with both 10mm, 15mm and 28mm fantasy miniatures. This may see some of our old Warhammer and Warmaster miniatures dusted off, though it remains to see if it will be able to capture the ‘heroic’ feel of those games.

Sword & Spear: a solid 8/10.


Troy

With Matt having given a very good rundown of the rules, it leaves me to only comment on how I felt about the game.

Like Matt, I don’t have a fondness for ancients wargaming, and moving large blocks of units in straight lines gets old quickly. That being said, I enjoyed our game of Sword and Spear as a little break amongst our other gaming. The game ran quickly and intuitively, and centred on the crucial units because the player chooses where to focus the activation dice.

There is a certain randomness in the activation sequence, but any frustration is offset by the freedom to choose where to assign your activation rolls. A downside of this, however, is that entire flanks can be forgotten and never moved for the entire battle. For instance, in our battle I would like to have concentrated more on an interesting little archer battle we had going on my right flank, but the dice rolls meant I often only had enough activations to focus on the main battle at the core.

Without the randomness in many of the rules this game would quickly fall into ‘Warmaster’ territory, where the outcome is decided as soon as the units are deployed. Even with this, though, I’m not sure I could play this game for weeks on end without a campaign to add another level of interest. I like a bit of whizz, bang and zap to my games, perhaps the fantasy addon to this will bring that to the table.

Until then, a good, solid little filler for a night that doesn’t take so long to learn and you could just pick it up and play with little prep.

I’ll give it a 7/10.


Details:

Publisher: Polkovnik Productions

Contents: 40 pages full colour hard copy, or PDF (with printer friendly version)

Game Style: 2 or more players, ‘friction’ based command and control activation. D6 dice system, both roll to beat target number, and opposed rolling.

Some pictures of our game in progress are below. I would like to do a battle report next time we play.

We used our old Warmaster miniatures for this game. The Undead playing the part of the Picts, with the High Elves subbing in as Roman Legionaries.

Sword & Spear - 1

Sword & Spear – View from the Pict right flank. The tokens represent hits the units have taken.

Sword & Spear - 2

Sword & Spear – Overview of the battle. The Roman’s are well and truly becoming surrounded at this point. They would go on to rout shortly after.

Sword & Spear - 3

Sword & Spear – The Roman General rides along the rear ranks rallying his troops.

Sword & Spear - 4

Sword & Spear – A view of the ‘large’ Pict warrior units causing havoc with the Legionaries.

Sword & Spear - 5

Sword & Spear – The final turn. The back of the Roman army has been broken. Their General signals the retreat.

 


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7 thoughts on “Sword & Spear Review

  • Ken

    Great review. It’s nice to see players who aren’t really into ancients giving the rules a try. One thing though, I think rallying only removes one hit, not all of the hits a unit has if it has more than one.

  • unhingedtangent

    Thanks for the kind words Ken, glad you liked the review. Wheeling and maneuvering blocks of troops was always our bugbear, and the way S&S handles this removes a lot of angst for me.
    Looking at the rules again, you are indeed correct. I missed the line where it says a successful rally removes one hit. I just presumed because you needed to make a roll greater then Disc + Hits, it removed all the hits. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

  • Mervyndouglas

    Great review there. Interesting that you mentioned the wheeling technique – this is one of the plus points all the DBA players say is very cumbersome and annoying in that set. The FOG fans tend to refer to the fact that they are used to rigid battle lines advancing to an inevitable dice-throwing stalemate in the centre of the table. It is certainly possible to maintain solid battlelines in S&S if you are very patient, but the more likely development is that some parts surge ahead and make contact before others are ready….it all just feels more as it should be, rather than everyone marching forward shoulder to shoulder.
    A great set of rules – like you I had given up on ancients until these arrived, and now I have new lead mountains!

    • unhingedtangent

      Thank you.
      I can say I very much understand the concerns of the DBA players. Having played a little DBA, it is not an enjoyable part of the game (and on a tangent, this applies to Warhammer Fantasy Battles as well).
      I haven’t had the chance to play FoG, but I experience a similar feeling of just walking units across the board until the inevitable clash, with Warhammer Fantasy Battles.
      I agree S&S feel a bit more ‘organic’ and it becomes a very tactical part of the game, to keep units moving as a group, or take an advantage where possible, but risk staggering the battle lines.
      Great to see your inspiration returned! Ha, not sure if I am looking forward to more lead mountains though!