Review: Muskets & Tomahawks

Rating: 4 stars

Muskets & Tomahawks is the second set of wargames rules to be published in English by Studio Tomahawk, following the success of their previous rules: Saga. These rules, however, have been available in French for a while.

The setting for these rules is somewhat unusual. I don’t think there are that many games that take the French & Indian Wars as their core conflict. Whilst the rules cover the period of history up to and including the American War of Independence, it is with the earlier conflict that it finds its heart.

gb_mousquets-et-tomahawks_homeM&T is a skirmish game, and can be played with as few as 20 or so figures a side, although games with three or more times as many figures per side are easily playable. To play the game you will need the rules (which come with a set of command cards) a number of six-sided dice and a measuring tape marked in inches. Typical table sizes vary from 4’ x 4’ up to 8’ x 4’, depending upon the number of figures in play.

A model’s abilities are defined by a number or characteristics: Movement, Aggressiveness, Defence and Marksmanship, as well as a certain number of traits. In addition, each figure belongs to a troop type: Regulars, Irregulars, Indians, Militia, Provincials, Civilians or Artillery.

Each force is made up of a number of units and is led by an officer. Each unit can have between six and twelve men, dependent upon its troop type.

A force is created from an Army list, with each unit costing a certain number of points, based on the number of troops it contains and their abilities. Many units can be upgraded with extra abilities or traits. M&T contains army lists for the British, German Mercenaries, French, Americans and Indian Nations.

muskets 2The basic mechanics of game play are reasonably simple and straight forward. Indeed, the mechanics of moving, shooting and melee are very similar to those that can be found in many other skirmish games. Where this game comes into its own is the command mechanic, the use of traits, and the scenario generation.

During a turn, each unit can perform a number of actions. These actions are Move, Shoot and Reload (This is an era of muskets, and so weapons must be reloaded before they can be fired again). As previously mentioned, the game comes with a deck of command cards, and it is these which are used to determine the turn sequence. At the start of the game, the command deck is built by adding the cards corresponding to the units in each players force. Certain other cards, which can trigger random events, can be added to the deck if required.

Each troop type has a certain number of cards, and all of these are added to the command deck. For example, Regulars have two cards, Irregulars have four cards whilst Militia have three.

Once the card deck is built, it is shuffled and the first turn begins following deployment with the first card being drawn. The card will identify a force (typically British or French), a troop type and a number of actions allowed. The majority of the time, this is only a single action, although Regular troops always get to perform two actions consecutively.

When a card is drawn, all units of that force/troop type may take the number of actions specified. The order in which these actions are performed is up to the player, but all actions for one unit must be taken before moving onto the next.

muslets 3This turn sequence immediately starts to highlight difference with troop types. For example, whilst many troops have more cards in the deck, and so can perform multiple single actions, Regulars have only two cards, but can perform two actions when that card is drawn, which allows Regular troops to be able to move and shoot, or perhaps shoot and reload, before any action can be taken by the opposition.

When all the cards in the command deck have been drawn, it is shuffled and another turn begins.

Earlier I mentioned Traits, and these are used in conjunction with the other characteristics to define what special rules apply to troops – these can add a surprising amount of flavour and period definition to a force. For example, many Regular troops characteristics mean that, on paper, they are worse shots than their Irregular or Indian counterparts. However, Regulars tend to have the Firing Line trait, which means that they get a bonus to hit when the unit they are with are formed up and fire as a volley. This reflects that fact that Regular troops were generally trained to fire as part of a volley, rather than the individual accuracy demanded of an Indian hunter or Provincial woodsman. Other Traits include Scout, Elite or Cavalry.

The final defining part of these rules is the scenario generation. As I mentioned earlier, games played using M&T are usually fought using a certain number of points, typically 200, 400 or 600 points. The typical 200 point force consists of approximately 20 troops. The size of the game determines the size of the playing area – a 200 point game is played in a 4’ x 4’ area. You randomly determine where any buildings are situated on the board, arrange other scenery as you see fit, and determine the weather. Once all this has been done, you then randomly determine the objective of each force. This objective can be Defence, Protection, Engagement, Scouting Mission, Raid or Slaughter. These objectives determine the deployment and victory conditions of the force, and must be declared to the opponent. In addition, you may choose to randomly determine a side plot for your officer. There are 31 of these in total, and fulfilling a side plot may change the result in a close fought game.

The simple mechanics, plus the card driven action system, means that the game ticks along at a brisk pace, and is a fluid affair with both sides involved almost constantly. The way the card activation works also means that the game can easily be used with multiple players on each side, as each player can take control of a particular troop type in a force.

muskets 4To be honest, I can find very little to dislike about this set of rules. Probably the only point of contention is that, given the cost of the rules, it is a shame that they are not in full colour. As they stand, the interior pages, though of high print quality, are in black and white. I understand that this was done to keep this English version in line with the previous French edition, but it would have been nice to have the entire book in colour. In addition, the quality of the card deck supplied with the rules could be better – they are of somewhat flimsy cardstock, especially when compared to the quality of many cards being produced by boardgames manufacturers these days.

On a lighter note, I do find it somewhat amusing that, given that Studio Tomahawk is a French company, they have chosen to use a British character to use as a narrator to provide comment and play examples. Let’s just say that some of the comments made would not necessarily help the Entente Cordial!

In summary, Muskets & Tomahawks is an excellent set of rules. Well designed, well written, nicely produced and give a good game which ‘feels’ right, with just the right amount of cinematic quality. I had no intention whatsoever to start playing yet another period and scale – especially a period that I had no previous interest in. The fact that I now own several dozen figures, with more on the way, is testament to just how good the game is.

Put on the ‘Last of the Mohicans’ soundtrack, pick up these rules and start rolling dice – you won’t regret it.

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