Mortal Gods – Skirmish clashes in Classical Greece

Grab you spear and shield because we’re going to take a look at Footsore’s Mortal Gods. Take control of a small band of 15 – 25 models and carve your place in history. In a fast paced game where you alternate actions with your opponent, do you slay your foes of focus on the scenario objectives? Either way the burning question – is it good?

Surely to die with glory is a blessing for the mortals.

Aeschylus, 525-456 BC (Translated from the tragedy Agamemnon)

When the initial news of Mortal Gods dropped a while back I was pretty excited to hear more. I find the ancient and classical period has a real draw. The downside is that most wargames focus on the grander scale. As such, you need hordes of figures to carry out even relatively modest battles. The chance to capture the feel and look of this historical period at much smaller scales? Well that makes me take note.

The core box set and all its contents

So why didn’t I pick it up? At the time I wasn’t sure I needed a bunch more 28mm figures. I’d been hoping for a set of rules that I could utilise some of my existing figures and potentially even play in a smaller scale. With a long list of half finished projects I thought it would be prudent to hang fire. Letting the blood and dust settle from the initial release, I thought I could hedge my bets. Once out in the wild I could always pick up the rules at a later date. Well, Footsore have recently released a pdf of the core rules so there’s no better time than the present to head off into the past.

Something something fortune. Something something stuck in about them.

What’s in the book?

The core rules themselves are fairly compact coming in at 36 pages. The cover is evocative and reminds me of the plates you’d see in Osprey’s or those kid’s history books. Those great history ones that were probably terribly inaccurate but full of good art and stories of gods and heroes. The overall look is tip top. Plenty of big colour images of figures to get the inspirational juices flowing and stylised line art.

Examples of the line art. This is Phatis, a shade summoned by Hades to be your guide through the realms of Mortal Gods.

Yeah yeah you may say, but how exactly does it work? Hands up, I haven’t actually played a game against an opponent yet. I wanted to get a read and see if it was for me before throwing myself into yet another project; I’m sure we’ve all been there. That said, the game looks pretty easy to grasp.

Fortune does not favour those without enthusiasm.

Sophocles, 496-406 BC (Probably poorly translated)

Locho what now?

You start by creating a lochos – a leader (lochagos) and some hoplites plus the motley ensemble of peltasts and slingers etc. You are aided in this endeavour by the use of unit cards. At first the cynic in me thought this was just a gimmick. I’ve seen this type of accessory more frequently in games though and won over by the useful ones. The stat cards provided with the pdf rules are only a sample but easily enough to get you started.

Example of the unit cards – this being a leader. Note the identification symbols and special rules displayed on the card.

All the stats you require for you troops and heroes are clearly identified. Along with any special rules, these prevent any need to flick through the book at the table. I picked up the basics very easily (well at least I think I did) and with a quick reference sheet was pretty much good to go. The way they are set out, with points included, also means its super simple to build a new band. You can have the cards in front of you and play around until you get a list you like the look of. Much easier than the old pencil and rubber routine. That being said, I’m also aware that some enterprising individuals have created an easy to use list builder found here.

The Turn

At the start of the game, you and your opponent will add a number of counters or markers to a bag equal to the total number of actions listed on the unit cards for your lochos. The rules list black for heroes and white for companions. If you pick up the core box you’ll be sorted but as long as you are both fine with it, you can use any colours as long as you can tell the difference. In addition, you need to add three additional counters of a third colour. These are omen tokens.

The seer is assured he does not die this day. You he’s not so confident about

During each turn, players will alternate in taking a counter from the bag. If you draw an action counter, you ‘activate’ one of the corresponding units, hero or companion, and carry out an action – move, attack, special order etc. If you draw an omen counter, no activation’s take place. Instead you draw the top of the omen deck and carry out what it says. The third omen counter drawn signals the end of the turn. Rinse and repeat until the scenario is over. I haven’t seen the omen deck as this doesn’t come with the pdf but for super simple games, its a bit of tactical depth to consider not all of your units will activate every turn.

The clash of spears on shields

I can’t give my first impressions of a skirmish war game without at least touching on combat now can I. In Mortal Gods, combat is dealt with using custom d6. I appreciate there’s a range of views on the use of proprietary dice but these are your common garden d6 so you could just use what you have if you convert the numbers. What do I mean by that?

Well when attacking you take a number of Mortal Gods dice equal to the attack value of the card for whom you are carrying out the attack. Lets say it’s a group of hoplites with attack four. Roll that many dice and see how many swords you get. That’s your successes. The defender then, if they have an action left, can defend by rolling a number equal to their defence looking for shields.

There’s now some complicated Pythagorean mathematics as you subtract the defence successes from the attack successes. The result is your damage dice. As I say, simples and easy to grasp. The symbols are thematic and its really pretty intuitive. I should mention the Pegasus symbol. Some units have a special action or effect noted on their cards which trigger with a Pegasus. This could be as simple as counting them as swords during an attack or the potential for some powerful effects.

Cheeeeeaaaaarge!

There’s nothing stopping you from just grabbing some figures and having a bit of a punch up with a friend but this may get a bit stale after the umpteenth game. Mortal Gods breaks provides twelve scenarios ranging from the king of the hill style ‘Field of Glory’ where you are trying to secure the objective in the middle, to ‘Slaying the Traitor’ where each player has to try and remove a specific model from their opponents lochos.

What I really like is that although these samples are pretty simple and straightforward, Mortal Gods also provides twelve deployment maps (based on 3’x3′). There’s your normal sides and quarter deployment but also some very strange looking ones which will no doubt lead to some head scratching as you try to come up with a battle plan. I’m all for taking ideas and layering them to try and achieve the goal of ‘simple to learn, hard to master’. For me, even after only a read through and some solo testing, Mortal Gods feels like its got a good balance of tactical depth.

Marching towards the horizon

If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it.

Herodotus, 480-420 BC (Probably poorly translated…)

With tester cards for both Thrace and Persia already available and a mythic expansion on it’s way, this game clearly has legs. Mortal Gods doesn’t come across as a detailed historical simulation, but then it’s not meant to be. If you want a game brimming with researched historical flavour, relatively low model count, and fast to play, then I think this could be for you. The mechanics are solid enough and easy to grasp. I was able to have a quick run through within minutes of reading the rules. I’m kicking myself for not getting in on the pre-order now so I guess I’ll need to remedy that. But do I spear for Athens or Sparta? Maybe even one of the lesser city states? Clash of the Titans and a certain Bubo the owl may well influence my decision…

On top of the info at the Footsore website, Mortal Gods has an active Facebook group with regular involvement from the development team. As always, feel free to drop comments below or join in with discussions over on our Facebook page.

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