Review: Swordplay 2018

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Chain Reaction provides a preview or demo of the Two Hour Wargames core rules engine as it applies to games where combat is dominated by modern firearms. Swordplay is the companion set for fantasy, where melee weapons, armour, and spellcasting take a front row seat.

In a Nutshell: The current iteration of THW’s core mediaeval fantasy rules, intended to let you try them before you buy one of the larger works. 31 page PDF, free to download. As usual for THW, the format is two column black on white text with a colour cover and the occasional illustration. This edition includes a sample battle board (a small forest clearing) and a set of counters so you can print and play.

The core rules are very similar to Chain Reaction 2018, reviewed here, so I’ll focus on the differences between the two demos.

Characters


As in Chain Reaction, your Player Character (Star) has three advantages over the NPCs (Grunts); Star Power to soak damage, Extraordinary Effort to boost one die roll per encounter, and Free Will to choose when to leave the encounter. Stars typically have Rep 5 and can recruit up to four Grunts as followers. Unlike Chain Reaction, where figures have only one Attribute determined by their Class, Swordplay Stars can have up to three Attributes; one from their Race, one from their Class, and one at random.

The main reason this demo is ten pages longer than Chain Reaction 2018 is that Chain Reaction has only one playable race (human), but Swordplay has ten (dwarves, elves, feral vampires, ghouls, goblins, men, ogres, orcs, skeletons, trolls). Each figure has a race which gives it one or two Attributes, which affect its behaviour in combat, and a Class (Caster, Creature, Knight, Shooter, Soldier, Thief) which determines how it fights and what else it can do. Demihumans and Stars may choose their alignment, but other races are aligned to the Red Sun (good), Black Moon (evil), or Neutral. Race and Class also determine the figure’s armour type (light, medium, heavy or extra heavy).

As I said in the Chain Reaction review, sometimes THW demos have rules for increasing and decreasing Rep, and sometimes they don’t; this one does. The same applies to the Challenge rules, which allow your Star to do things that aren’t explicitly in the rules, and Interaction rules, which let you negotiate with NPCs; Swordplay has those.

Combat


This is close enough to Chain Reaction that I won’t repeat myself – here’s a link to what I said last time. There are a couple of differences, though.

First, magic. While ranged attacks still occur before melee attacks, spellcasting goes before both. You can use whatever spell names and visual effects you like, but for game purposes there are three spells; Damage (ranged attack), Dazzle (which forces opponents to miss a turn), and Defend (which buffs armour type).

Second, Swordplay has different encounters (Explore, Defend, Raid) and a simple campaign system for linking them together, driven by what your last encounter was and whether you succeeded.

Third, armour. This affects damage rolls from ranged and melee weapons.

Conclusions


Much the same as for Chain Reaction, really; movement is now completely abstract, which speeds up and simplifies the game considerably at the cost of eliminating most tactical decision-making. The rules claim to be equally good for solitaire, same side and head to head play; I can see them working well for solitaire, but I doubt the jaded grognards I normally play with would find them complex enough to be interesting. I think even young children would want to move their counters or figures around the board, although the rules would otherwise be fine for newbies to the hobby.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5. Normally I rate Chain Reaction higher, because guns, but in this case the experience, interaction and campaign rules in Swordplay, simple as they are, are enough to inspire me. This one goes in the queue for later.

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