Last week the club came together to try out Open Combat, the new medieval/fantasy ruleset by Second Thunder. The game was written by Carl Brown, a former Games Workshop creative type, with additional development from Gav Thorpe, a current Games Workshop creative type.
Open Combat is designed to give a simple, concise skirmish game with just a handful of figures. That's right up our alley here at CSW, so we were pretty excited to try out this game when Mattias proposed it a couple months back.
We had six players at last week's game in my small basement game room. The ideal battlefield size for Open Combat is just 24 inches square -- another bonus for us, since space is often at a premium on our game nights.
The first game was a dungeon delve featuring my grim dwarves versus Tim's slippery fishmen and goblins. I set up a medium-sized dungeon using my Dwarven Forge game tiles (from last year's Kickstarter) and we used the "Confrontation" deployment rules, which meant that we took turns deploying our figures one at a time, with each figure at least 8 inches away from the enemies. That resulted in a lot of little groups lurking in hallways and antechambers, ready to pounce.
Here are some pics from our initial deployment. In this pic, Tim's fishman is joined by two goblins near a treasure hoard.
And here, a mouthy beast lurks at the end of a zigzag hallway, waiting for dinner.
My dwarves were split into two groups due to deployment restrictions. One group, headed by Dwylla the dwarven sorceress (front and center) mustered near a heap of loot.
In Open Combat, there aren't any stock character profiles -- you create each warrior using a points system at the start of each game. And despite not having a magic system per se, Open Combat had enough special rules and "abilities" that I was able to create a fairly potent mage for our intro game. Dwylla proved to be a lynchpin for my entire warband.
As the game got underway, Ketni the bear-rider smashed open a mouldering door and pounded through the deserted hallways, seeking his allies in the mazelike dungeon.
The two factions quickly came to blows in the twisting passageways of the dungeon. Here two dwarves found themselves in a desperate battle with a slimy fishman.
All figures have facing in Open Combat, which presents lots of tactical options when closing in for melee. Do you attack the toughest enemy figure and leave your flank open to counterattack? Do you engage two figures at once to prevent one from sneaking around for a rear attack?
The game also makes use of a fun little recoil system. Typically a hit in close combat will inflict 1 point of damage and will sometimes cause a 1 or 2 inch recoil. But if you recoil into a solid piece of terrain (say, a dungeon wall!) you take an additional point of damage. With our best figures having just 5 or 6 hit points, you can see how this fight got bloody very quickly!
Back in the main dungeon chamber, Dwylla sent her dwarven bodyguard into combat with the surging goblins and fishmen. Senseless butchery ensued, with Dwylla using her magical "abilities" to drain the stats of the fishmen and goblins.
In Open Combat, most attacks reduce the enemy's Fortitude statistic (think of this like hit points). If your Fortitude reaches zero, you die. A few specialized attacks reduce the enemy's Mind stat, which causes various debilitating penalties if it ever reaches zero. But luckily, any figure can forfeit his or her activation to regain 1 point of lost Fortitude or Mind.
Back in the game, the fishmen struck back, slapping the dwarves with their flippers and attempting to drag them back into the fetid stinking pools from whence they came.
After some more mindless slaughter, Tim and I had the bright idea of checking the victory conditions for our scenario. Turns out I had just pushed his warband past its break point, so his fishmen fled the field and slithered back down the dim hallways toward their spawning pools. Here's our battlefield at the end of the game. The gibbering mouth demon was still on the loose!
While Tim and I were slugging it out in the hallways of the deep dark dungeon, two other games were taking place. Josh snapped some photos of those battles.
In this game, Karl's knights and retainers squared off against Jon's simian archers in the fungal forests.
This melee taught both Karl and Jon the importance of outnumbering in Open Combat!
Elsewhere Josh's fearsome werewolves battled Mattias's tainted riders from the Wyrdwold.
The rules for mounted and monstrous figures were identical, and in practice it meant that both of these factions had trouble activating due to either 1) a skittish mount or 2) a raging monster.
After our games wrapped up, the six of us spent a bit of time discussing the pros and cons of Open Combat, and comparing it to our go-to fantasy ruleset, Song of Blades & Heroes.
Open Combat definitely has more granularity and tactical depth. Unit placement matters, and terrain seems to matter more. The game has a weapon list, although it's pretty short at this point. We didn't have a whole lot of shooting in our games, but Open Combat handles this in an innovative way: shooters have infinite range and are hindered only by terrain features. This rule makes a single shooter way more useful on the Open Combat battlefield, compared to the SBH battlefield.
Another observation is that leaders feel like leaders in Open Combat. You can dump lots of points into their stats and not have to worry about them dying and triggering the collapse of your entire warband -- something that happens regularly in SBH. (Note that this is a feature of SBH, not necessarily a drawback, since it often pushes games toward completion. Still, it has always felt odd that leaders must lead from the back in SBH.)
The game requires a pen and paper to track stat changes, which occur regularly due to casualties or effects. Some stats wear off after one turn; others are permanent. It's possible to have several overlapping temporary stat modifiers on a single figure during his activation. Playing at a higher level (say, 12 to 20 figures) might prove problematic because of all the record keeping required.
We agreed, however, that the rules seemed somewhat incomplete. Every other section seemed to be waiting for some new element or detail to be bolted on to complete the author's idea. Most rules seem to work with figures that are roughly human-sized ... two arms, two legs, carrying weapons, etc ... but it was more difficult to work in the bizarre monsters and beasts that typically populate our fantasy games. The current game is certainly playable, but there is ample opportunity for the publisher to expand upon the current offering in a subsequent edition. We look forward to seeing what Carl comes up with!
-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member