Monday, January 29, 2024

Song of Drums and the Spirit World?

    It's 'Song of Drums and Tomahawks' with mythological creatures from the "Spirit World" added in!
One of my co-authors of Song of Drums and Tomahawks (my French & Indian War rules) mentioned he was intrigued by incorporating fantasy and horror elements in skirmish warfare on the American frontier. Mike S also knew I had done some preliminary research into creatures from various tribal myths with a look towards doing a similarly themed expansion for our rules. Since family and school have my writing tied up for now, I urged him to pursue it.

    "We come from the land of ice and snow..." -- the Viking invaders of Newfoundland
Last night, we sat down with our Sunday evening gaming group and gave it our first playtest. Mike liberally blended rules and traits from various other games in the "Song of..." series, both Basic rules and Advanced. Interestingly, he had set up three one-on-one scenarios from wildly different times on the American frontier. My game against Allen was set in the Middle Ages with Vikings vs. Skraelings in Newfoundland. Mike faced off against Keith in one set during the Salem witch trials. And finally, Joel and Mike's son Jason played English and French forces set upon by a Wendigo. Unfortunately, I did not get any pictures of the other games -- just my own. 

    The shaman urges the Skinwalkers forward, the Bear having already changed into his animal form
Allen took the Vikings and had a force of a Hero, four spearmen, three archers, a priest of Odin, and three brothers who were berserkers/weres. Similarly, I had three Skinwalkers (Bear, Wolf, Puma), a shaman, tribal chieftain, and a half dozen bow armed Skraeling warriors. We each moved our forces up to rocky outcrops in the light woods, while sending forward a handful of troops to scout out the enemy. The difference was I sent my three Skinwalkers to attack the enemy while Allen had sent ordinary Viking warriors. 

    My plan takes shape -- 3 powerful skinwalkers ready to pounce on two ordinary Viking warriors
My plan was to pounce upon the spearmen with my much-tougher Skinwalkers and hopefully get a "gruesome kill" (which Mike was re-introducing into these games). Allen was also struggling with activation rolls, and it looked like my plan was set to be implemented as the three Skinwalkers faced off against two trembling Vikings. Allen's dice came to life, though, and in a flash, three werewolves howled towards my trio and it was now 4 to 3. Still, he hadn't made contact, so I was able to begin the melee on my next turn. I sent the Bear Skinwalker, the mightiest creature on the table, forward to attack the werewolf on the end with a "powerful blow" (-1 to the enemy). Up +2 on the die roll, the mighty bear knocked the werewolf down. My Wolf Skinwalker surged forward and slew the disadvantaged werewolf. First blood to the Skraelings protecting their homeland!

    But it was not to be -- two werewolves race to the aid of the trembling Viking spearmen!
My plan was to next begin working on his ordinary Viking warriors. The chieftain, noticing that his Skraeling warriors were hanging back (bad activation rolls), raced forward to support his mighty skinwalkers. He launched arrow after arrow at the Vikings, keeping them from helping each other. Meahwhile, the Bear-sark Viking changed into his animal form and hurled himself upon the Bear Skinwalker. He was swatted backwards with a mighty sweep of the skinwalker's paw. Time and again, the bear would hurl himself upon his ursine rival. Each time he was driven back or his attack stopped.

    First blood! The Bear Skinwalkers knocks down the werewolf and my Wolf then leaps in for the kill
As a Viking and member of an honor culture, Allen fought fair, one-one-one matchups. My Skraelings had no such scruples. We ganged up on enemy warriors whenever we could. The plan was to try to get a gruesome kill -- tripling an enemy's total in combat. This would cause a morale check for all within a Long distance and likely shatter his line. This should leave more lone, unsupported Vikings to pick off. Eventually, the Wolf and Bear teamed up against a Viking spearmen whose head soon went flying through the air. The Viking line duly fragmented, but none fled the field completely.

    Lucky long range arrow knocks down a Viking warrior while the Puma Skinwalker wades in, too
The Viking leader saw the situation was dire and stepped in to intervene. He charged the Puma Skinwalker and slew it with a might stroke of his sword -- worthy of the Sagas! However, encouraged by their tribe's success, the Skraeling archers had finally crept within range. Whenever a Viking was knocked down by an arrow, a Skinwalkers or the chieftain would race over and finish him off. A key mechanic in Song of Drums and Tomahawks if a combat can result in a figure being knocked down. If they are beaten a second time before they have a chance to clamber to their feet, they are knocked out of action. My rolls that night were definitely better than Allen's. At key moments, I knocked down his troops and then was able to activate another figure to finish it off.

    With his Skraeling bowmen hanging back, the chieftain in red moves forward to support his attack

Morale checks happen when a force falls below half, and Allen was teetering that direction. Soon, he had lost two both of his werewolves (the mighty bear fought on), all four spearmen, and Odin's priest. One more loss and he his force would test morale. The Skraeling chieftain took aim at the Viking warleader and was able to knock him down. The skinwalkers had already acted that turn, so it fell to a Skraeling brave to attempt to finish him off. He raced forward and used his flint knife to slice Olaf's throat as he tried to pull himself to his feet. A mighty roar went up from the tribe's warriors. Victory!

    Skinwalkers then began to attack the Viking warriors, hoping to get a gruesome kill and scatter them

Allen and I agreed to call the game at that point. He had just lost more than half his figures AND his leader, so would likely have men running for their lives at this point. The Skraelings had lost only the Puma. I was very careful about sending my Indians into the fray. The archers had stayed back as a firing line in close support of each other. The chieftain used the skinwalkers as a shield and shot his bow from behind their protection. The trio of skinwalkers stayed close to each other and cooperated well.

    Olaf the Fearless wades into the battle, and in a blow worthy of the Sagas, takes down the Puma

Despite the seeming one-sided nature of the battle, Allen and I had a lot of fun. I definitely think Song of Drums and Tomahawks works with mythical creatures thrown into the mix. I asked the others how their battles went, and they both seemed very close. The magical duel between Keith's native shamans and the freed-from-prison Salem witches was apparently a tightly-contest of wills. Everyone seemed to have fun, so not only was the evening a success, the playtest was off to a great start. Mike plans on running these games at Origins Game Fair in Columbus, June 19-23. So, we will doubtless see more evenings of tweaking the rules and crafting a competitive and fun convention game.

    Bear on bear and wolf on werewolf - the battle in the primeval American forest rages!

The miniatures were a mix of mine and Mike's. The mythical creatures were all his except for my Wendigo, which is a very creepy looking 3-D print from Thingiverse. I have picked up various Reaper Bones or other figures that will work for creatures from various tribes' mythologies. Mike seems intent on painting them up, so my contribution will likely remain either the rank and file or human heroes.

    After Olaf is knocked down by a Skinwalker, a brave native warrior rushes forward and finishes him

If everything goes well with the rules, Mike is interested in publishing an expansion book for this period. He wants to chat with Andrea Sfiligoi from Ganesha Games first, though. Ganesha and First Command Wargames cooperate closely on the "Song of Drums and Tomahawks" line of rules, so we want to make sure he's on board first, as well. So, look for more "Spirit World" games in the future...!

Miniature Painting & Purchasing Tally for 2024

  • Miniatures purchased in 2024: 15
  • Miniatures painted in 2024: 26


  1. Hi Mike, are you coming to Daycon 2024? I would love to play FIW Songs games. Thanks, John