Dom Sore gives us a locked-down wargamers eye view of the new(ish) Muskets and Tomahawks Second Edition Rules.
Muskets and Tomahawks was not a game I bought into the first-time round; it arrived on the scene just before I returned to wargaming. It also seemed to centre round the French and Indian War, that theatre of the Seven Years’ War, concentrating on the fighting between France and the United Kingdom along with their respective indigenous allies. This is not an area of history I know much about and have had little interest in, and most people will not have heard of the conflict, though will have heard of The Last of the Mohicans, especially the film version.
However, my clubmate Karl likes the period and the game, and also had a version of Muskets and Tomahawks based around the New Zealand Maori Wars. This is the version I played and really enjoyed. On looking at getting a copy for myself and examining getting a force, I heard the skuttlebutt around a second edition, so held off then got distracted by other systems. Now that I finally have my hands on a copy of the second edition, what do I think?
I will start with the physical goods. I received a main rulebook, the Redcoats and Tomahawks supplement, a deck of cards, and a Token Set. The Token Set caused a little confusion when it was released because it appeared that the tokens were all in French and you needed to translate the text. Fear not, one side is French and the other is in English. The tokens are printed on a good quality card, which even when I deliberately picked at it didn’t come apart readily. As the tokens are used as markers only, you don’t need to worry too much about them being cardstock. As long as you are careful and don’t get them wet (do not worry they will not turn into Gremlins, I think) they should last a long time. I also foresee many players creating their own Deployment, Objective, Withdrawal, and Plunder tokens, and it will be interesting to see what people use in the coming months. How to model a Withdrawal marker though? That is a tough one, answers on a postcard (no prizes are available)!
The main rulebook is an 80 pages long hardback in full colour. Internally, the pages are a smooth matt finish and the book opens flat really nicely, which makes reading it during games easy. Interspersed among the pages are many, many colour photos, and these are not just of the French and Indian War; they hint at other universes to come, and I spotted Anglo-Zulu War, American Civil War, and Napoleonic Wars to name three. Rules are illustrated via diagrams and Examples. These examples are in a faint red text, which means they do not stand out immediately, but they are legible. The red Italic font used in places is not so legible, but you soon get used to it.
The cards are a different matter. They are quite thin, and you would be best served sleeving them. They are an integral part of the game and will be used a lot. Not just used but shuffled, played, held, and moved. I would have preferred these to be on better quality cardstock. The supplement has the same kind of pages as the main rulebook, which is good because they are robust enough to stand up to gamers. However, the cover is very flimsy, I haven’t used mine much and the corners are already starting to curl quite dramatically. Given the move to a Saga like main rulebook and separate “Universe” books, I really wish they had also done these as hardback as I foresee the supplement getting mangled quite quickly if I am not very careful. I am going to look at producing unit cards for the various stats in the book to help preserve the supplement book.
I am reasonably happy with the materials, with the provisos above, especially the main rulebook and token set. As long as you sleeve your cards, I used the 2” x 3” sleeves, they should last long enough, but be careful of bending them. I have stored mine in a card box, of the style normally used for Magic the Gathering cards.
Playing the game
Lockdown has caused an issue with game playing, meaning I have had to press gang my son into playing. He does it under protest and gets distracted easily as well as bored, but it is better for me than playing solo, just…
The first thing all players will need to understand and be aware of is that there are no traditional turns in a game of Muskets and Tomahawks. There are actions that feel like a new turn but generally there is not one. The deck gets shuffled through events, and cards denote when special things happen, and whether the game ends or not. This means you won’t always get to activate everything but sometimes you will get to activate more than once as well.
The cards are what drives player activations. You have a hand of cards, normally three, that are played by each player alternately. As all cards are shuffled together this means you will often have a card in your hand that allows your opponent to act. Playing one of your opponent’s cards gives you a command point that can be used instead of cards and allows you to perform certain actions. This mechanism really adds to the tactical complexity of the whole game; choosing when to play a card to give your opponent an activation to allow you to gain a command point so you can do what you want later is a key part of the game. I really like this aspect of it because it adds nuance and prompts decisions. The double bluff possibilities are great, making your opponent wonder why you have chosen that point to activate their units is a wonderful thing to watch.
There are multiple copies of most cards within the deck, which is constructed depending on what units you have in your force. If you do not have any Regulars, then you do not add your Regular cards. To these are added the Forward Boys and Morale cards for both forces along with two green and one red Clock cards. The cards also allow you to act with all units of that type when your card is played. Therefore, when one of your militia cards is played you get to act with ALL militia units.
Forward Boys is used to either give your Officers actions or to gain command points, that is not an easy decision. The Morale Card forces either a unit to test or the whole force and can lead to you losing the game if it is your card played. The Clock cards are a countdown towards the end of the game and the shuffling of the deck. If the Red Clock card is first out, then there will be a universe specific event that occurs. In the Redcoats and Tomahawks book, there are twenty-five of these events, which will be discussed later.
Command points are used to buy command abilities. These allow you to order units to act, hold cards in reserve, rally troops, and increase the cards in your hand. Some of these abilities are quite powerful when used correctly. Use of command points will be the difference between victory and defeat in quite a few games. They are also very useful for moving an Officer at the last moment to fulfil their Intrigue requirements.
What are Intrigues you may ask? They are optional scenario requirements that can be given to Commanders. These secondary requirements must be fulfilled, or you cannot win the game, unless both players have one and both fail. What they do is give you a once per game bonus, like counting a reaction test result as No Effect or gaining four command points for your leader when you play the Forward Boys! Card. The intrigues themselves are very varied with fifty of them available! The Intrigue and Bonus are both determined by rolling for them. I would suggest you get used to the base game before adding this extra level. Be aware at least one of these Intrigues requires you to get your Commander killed in hand to hand combat!
Spotting is one of the most important concepts of the game. It is one that players will be well served to read more than once and use to practice scenarios – it influences what you can do and where you can go. It is that important to the game you will need to refer to the rules a number of times until you get used to how the spotting rules work. The quick reference sheet will definitely be used a lot here.
First up, you are allowed to check whether you can spot or be spotted at any point in the game. If you are unsure, discuss it with your opponent so you both are in agreement before you move on, and if still undecided flip a coin or roll a dice. Line of Sight impacts spotting, you cannot spot what you cannot see. Spotting is all related to distance and the Spotting table. This table is a line with a number of distances, in inches, on it. The modifiers move you one way or another on the table, thereby increasing or reducing the distance you are able to spot something. This is by unit, so just because you can spot one unit does not mean you can spot the next one. For example, a standard enemy unit 50” away with no impediments or special markers can be seen by your unit. If that same enemy unit has the Scouts trait then the maximum you can see them at is 48” and so you now cannot see them, meaning they cannot be targeted. This may seem clunky and overly complicated, but once you get used to the system, it is quite intuitive, and you will learn the modifiers and distances. You will need to check from time to time, though, as we all get caught out.
Movement rates are simpler; every figure starts with a base 4” movement rate. This is adjusted up for Traits, like Scouts or Cavalry, and down for terrain, like Rough Ground or Obstacles. As part of movement you have the unit coherency rules. After movement a unit must be coherent, that is to say all figures in a unit must be within 4” of a nominated figure. The figure that is used for the coherency test is up to the owning player and it does not need to be the same figure each time a unit moves. This prevents players from conga lining their troops across the board.
Shooting is as simple as moving, but with more modifiers. This is predicated on spotting first where no line of sight means no shooting. Moving and shooting are really well written and easy to follow. They are also very well supported with examples to help with some of the nuances you might come across. It is worth mentioning here that D10s are used for Muskets and Tomahawks where a 0 is bad, 9 is good. That does take some getting used to, and I have been caught out by it already and I dare say I will again.
Hand to Hand combat does not need line of sight so be aware of any figures within 4” of you, especially if they have a low aggression score. Grenadiers or Indian Warriors from the Redcoats and Tomahawks universe will make short work of unprepared defenders. Otherwise combat is reasonably straightforward, and most times attackers and defenders will be taking reaction tests. The combat example is very thorough and welcome. Officers have the option of Duelling rather than partaking in a standard hand to hand combat. This is a little different to normal combat, but it is a very nice addition, I will be using this a lot.
There is a comprehensive Armoury and a more comprehensive Terrain chapter. The Armoury is as expected and there are likely to be other weapons that appear in the universe books as and when they appear – Congreve Rockets will hopefully be one of them. The Terrain chapter covers the effects of terrain plus any special changes that they make to the rules. Buildings and how to destroy them are covered comprehensively, including how they affect combat and movement.
The section regarding waterways and boats is maybe my favourite part of the book. It is an oft overlooked aspect of games, so I am more excited than the section likely deserves amongst normal players. It even has rules for swimming! That I have recently completed painting two lovely row boats from Ainsty Castings has nothing to do with my excitement, honest. Just because they will be able to do more than just be scenery is a coincidence. I am going to give using the rules in other games to see what benefit or detriment they bring.
Traits add different abilities to your units. Not all of these abilities are helpful; your cowardly units will need to be marshalled well to stay in the fight whereas your Elite troops will act more often. It is here you will find the rules for Close Order that allow your troops to form up. Column order will let you move quicker, but you cannot shoot. Line allows you to shoot more effectively with the penalty of removing the ability to target more specifically as you shoot straight ahead and you will possibly hit more than one unit. The most effective part of Volley Firing is causing a reaction test whether casualties are caused or not.
Additional Rules are provided in their own chapter and will not always apply. These are often scenario dependent and include weather rules, like boats and swimming, which are again often overlooked in our wargames that often seem to take place in eternal sunshine with no wind. The hidden movement rules are nothing surprising, but they are well done. After these rules there are three basic scenarios provided to get players going.
Redcoats and Tomahawks
There is currently only one supplement available which covers the classic Musket and Tomahawks period. There are ostensibly four forces provided: British, French, American, and Indian. These are to cover the French and Indian Wars, War of Independence, and War of 1812. I say ostensibly because the Indian forces are limited to two unit entries for a Sachem (Officer) and Warrior group. I find it hard to fathom or understand why the Indian forces are relegated to such an unedifying role within the supplement. I can only hope they are given better treatment in a future supplement.
When building a force for Muskets and Tomahawks, you can have a mixed or specialised force. A mixed force allows you to purchase command points prior to the game. A specialised force gives Officers of that type a Talent. Redcoats and Tomahawks gives us a first sight of what these might be. They take the form of bonuses that apply to units of the specialism, regulars, or provincials etc, that are within six inches of the Officer. Regulars get to move an extra 2” if they will enter into hand to hand whereas Militia get the same movement bonus but only if they do not go into hand to hand. One of my favourite things in games are these flavours; the little added things that provide a nice aspect to the game. The Talents do that, and I am a fan!
Boats make another appearance in the supplement. And what an appearance. If you buy a boat for your force and there is no river within the scenario you get to place one. My force will now definitely have boats in it, I do not mind if my opponent gets to place a ford at all. It also allows for units to be loaded onto the boats before the game and appear, hopefully, at some point using the river to enter the table. Another great addition to rules I already liked.
The four lists are easy to understand, and there are some interesting options within the unit entries. British Light Infantry with the Natives Trait? Tarleton’s Raiders? French Canadian Militia with the Natives trait – Coureurs des Bois? Minutemen with Long Rifles? They are all here. Personally, I am leaning towards French with some Indian allies and maybe a large number of Local Levies because I can.
The entries in each force will let you know which of the three wars they are allowed to be used in. The French do not make an appearance in the War of 1812 and the Americans are not in the French and Indian Wars. The coding is clear and makes things easy for which units you can select and is a really nice touch.
Rather than set scenarios the game is based around missions, rolled for randomly and dependent on whether you are fighting around habitated areas or wilderness. Here you are trying to destroy buildings, protect civilians or even simply kill the enemy. It is a good way of keeping the interest of the players as no two games are likely to be the same when you have eighteen combinations of missions to add in to the set up mix. And these games will be different whether you play the smaller or larger games.
My impressions of the game are favourable. It has all the hallmarks of a solid ruleset, some interesting mechanics, and a variety of ways to play. It also has boats, I might have mentioned them earlier, which I will be using no matter what. It does mean though, that I will need to carry my river with me wherever I play. The intrigues and random events will need some digesting to understand the pitfalls and combinations. I am now off to see if I can find some French figures, or if I am just going to get plastic Americans instead.