Friday, 25 November 2011

Flashing Steel - My thoughts

Over the last couple of nights I finally got to try the Flashing Steel set of skirmish rules from Ganesha Games. First of all I was going to write a straight battle report, but the rules were so much fun to play I became too engrossed to take notes and photographs properly, so instead this post is a mixture of a) Battle Report, b) Rules review c) Solo potential of the rules.

Battle Report
I rolled up missions from the rulebook for each crew of pirates and ended up with one crew wanting to retrieve a treasure chest and return it to their ship, while the other (under my control) wanted to row out to the island and destroy the cannon protecting the village.

The above is a view of the village and docks. Beyond the village is the encroaching jungle, where the lost treasure is located. At the bottom is the island with the village defences. Two small boats provide the means of reaching the island. Unfortunately, both pirate crews find the other between them and their objective!

At this point I want to mention that the tower, rowing boats and dock still need work. The dock and walls at this point are just card and marker pen. I'm going to print out some decent WorldWorks terrain (Skull Island) to replace them.

My ferocious crew:
The treasure hungry mob debark from their vessel:

A shot of the game about half way through.
Most of my guys were still cowering near their starting position, except for a couple visible in the background who were trying to sneak round their enemies. The scurvy dog in the turban behind the wall ended up being the 'man of the match'. His skill with the musket killed several of my crew, including my captain, which effectively brought the game to an end as my mob scarpered.

Neither side ended up fulfilling their objective during the game, but the crew which actually had members on the table would no doubt be able to achieve their goal with no further hindrance!

The Rules

It has been a while since I have played a good pirate game. Legends of the High Seas has been fun, but not as good as I hoped. This is a shame as I love the rules upon which it is based (GWs The Lord of the Rings), but in transition changes were made which I believe left the rules worse off.

So I wasn't sure what to expect from these rules. As with Legends of the High Seas, they are based on a set of fantasy rules (Song of Blades and Heros), modified for pirates, so that didn't bode well in my experience. But I had read many good things about them and playing a Star Wars conversion of SoBaH which a friend of mine put together was very good fun indeed, so I thought I'd give them a shot.

And I am so pleased I did! At the core of the game lies the activation mechanic. The player whose turn it is chooses a character and decides how many actions he wants to attempt, between 1 and 3, and rolls that many d6. Each die that rolls the character's Quality rating or higher allows an action to be performed. However, if the character rolls 2 or 3 failures, then the player's turn is over.

This simple mechanic really makes the rules stand out. You immediately have a decision to make before you even move or shoot with your figure and need to weigh up whether or not it is worth pushing your luck for an extra action or two or if you want to just try for a single action and play it safe. But it soon becomes apparent that, although you can roll for one action and try to activate all your figures without risk of ending your turn early, this tactic just ends up giving your opponent a ticket to walk all over you!

Each character in the game has two core stats, Quality, which I have mentioned above, and Combat, which is added to a die roll with modifiers and compared to your opponent's roll to determine the outcome. In this lies shades of DBA as you usually need to double your opponent's roll to score a kill, merely beating it results in the enemy being knocked down or pushed back. But again, it is an elegant mechanic which covers a range of outcomes in a simple roll.

Extra life is brought to the game by the large range of skills and abilities characters can have. Almost any kind of swashbuckling hero (or villain) can be created with these, and they allow for a great deal of flavour in games without bogging down the core rules. I tend to restrict many of these to 'hero' types, but that is entirely at the player's discretion. The rules include a points system to allow the creation of whatever kind of force you desire. Also of interest is the mini-campaign system, designed to allow a narrative style campaign to be played in one evening, and the useful scenario generator, which I have found to be very handy in prompting creativity.

It is worth mentioning that these rules can be bought as a PDF for a single digit dollar sum, making them some of the best value rules currently available. But most importantly, they are just downright fun to play. The elements come together to provide quick playing skirmishes which really leave you wanting another game. In fact before I sat down to write this I had to set up the table to see if my battered crew could get their revenge and steal the other crew's treasure before they got it back to the boat.

In many ways this short piece is not doing the rules full justice, but I really want to move onto the next section:

Solo Play

Much of my gaming is done solo, so I like to look out for rules which give a good game in this respect. Or at least offer it as an opportunity. Surprisingly enough, I find myself thinking that the system Flashing Steel and most of Ganesha Games' other rules are based on could be my holy grail in this regard.

This blog entry looks at a simple method to allow the activation rolls to be randomised and it works very well indeed. I have used it for both solo play and suggested it as a method of activating a third force in the two-player Star Wars variant my friend came up with. In both cases it works very well indeed. I very much encourage you to click the link at the start of this paragraph to read more about it.

With the activation rolls taken care of, I just needed a way to determine what characters do with their actions. Wanting to keep things simple I devised a chart which the characters would make a 3d6 quality roll on, the number of successes determining whether they acted to complete their mission or got sidetracked by fighting my crew. I actually used two tables for this, one for 'henchmen' types and one for 'main characters'. I decided before hand that the main crew had been ordered to retrieve the treasure, while the captain and his senior crew would be more focused on fighting me and stopping my crew from achieving their objective.

This worked very well indeed, with little decision making during the enemy turn required on my part, but also resulting in a challenging and interesting game to play. The fact that I got a firm beating from my 'A.I.' confirmed to me that this was an idea worth pursuing. I really did feel like I was playing an automated opponent instead of playing both sides myself. It also felt like I was using a method which was an extension of the existing system rather than trying to force some solo rules onto a game which didn't like them.

I'm going to leave it there for the time being, but I am surely going to post more entries about these rules. I would greatly encourage you to buy the PDF (or hard copy) and try them for yourself, whether you want some fun skirmish rules or are looking for a set easily adaptable to solo play.


  1. Great start; I liked your description a lot.

    I am interested in your comment about Legend of the High Seas taking away and leaving it lacking. Perhaps there is a rules review in there?

  2. Hi Dale, thanks for your comment. By that I meant two things: Firstly, it seems to me that there are some ambiguities in LotHS which don't exist in The Lord of the Rings. Given that the core rules are basically a copy and paste job, I don't find this reasonable. Secondly, some changes were made, such as the way combat across barriers is dealt with. I didn't like it at all in LotHS. It was only later that I bought LotR and then was amazed that this had been changed.

    Maybe I am being too harsh. I don't know. But I just find it frustrating that I feel I need to refer to LotR to clarify what is in LotHS!

  3. Thanks for the review- I look forwards to more battle reports! I'm going to be teaching 'Flashing Steel' to a mate tomorrow. I, too, was disappointed by LotHS and was a fan of the LotR rules.

  4. Barks: Thanks. Hope you have fun teaching the game to your mate! Sure you will! For a while I did try to play LotHS mainly using LotR and referring to the LotHS book for the pirate extras, but got fed up going between the two books. Maybe i should just bite the bullet and take a pen to LotHS and write in amendments!

  5. Very interesting. Your games always seem to have the quality I think is the most important - they are fun. You say the dock and walls are 'just card and marker pen' but I think hey are very effective. As a solo player myself I hope you have found the 'holy grail'. Best wishes.

  6. Thanks 'old one'. I do get inspired more by 'fun' games and scenarios, so yes, that is important to me. Thanks for your comment on the docks. I think for something quick to allow me to get on and play the game they certainly do the job. I'll be posting more games in the future, so keep an eye out for developments!

  7. Great report. I too am a solo gamer and use sobh as my main gaming system. I'd live to hear/see more about the templates you used for determining ai actions.

  8. Hi DocOcks. It was quite a simple system really. The rules utilise what are called quality checks for certain situations, for example morale checks. Each check requires the roll of three d6 and each die that equals or beats the figure's Quality rating is a success.

    So I just decided on what the AI's plan was before the game and made a table up for it. I decided that the regular pirates had been ordered to retrieve the treasure as a priority, so the table looked something like this:

    0 Success: Remain stationary and shoot nearest enemy (or engage in melee if no ranged weapon).
    1 Success: Attack nearest enemy using best form of attack
    2 or 3 Successes: Take action to complete mission

    So the better quality pirates would end up focused more on their mission, while the less disciplined would end up fighting more. I also basically reversed the table for the Captain and his two 'senior' pirates as they were to act more agressively while the minions did all the heavy lifting of teasure chests!

    Bear in mind this was just a quick version to see if it would work at all. I'd develop different options for future games.

    How it worked out was that between the rule set's activation checks and these quality rolls, I had very few choices to make for the AI, which is how it should be in my opinion.

    As it happens, I have been beaten twice by this AI, which either shows it works well or I am a terrible wargamer!

  9. Good game review! Here's mine, plus me blog is full of Ganesha's games

    1. Hi David. Thanks for your comment. Nice to see this post getting attention more than 2 years after it was originally posted!

      I like your work on your blog. I'm actually slowly moving more to 15mm where possible and Pirates will be one thing I redo at a smaller scale.