For those of us who enjoy a wide range of games and settings, there’s invariably a period or genre that captures our imagination more than any other. For me, that has to be the legendary Dark Ages of the British Isles. Whether it’s gritty like Cornwell’s Grail Quest or more fantastical like the sagas and Celtic mythology, there are so many rich veins of gold just waiting to be mined.
Being a fan of the era, I’ve been pretty spoiled for choice recently with a number of very good ranges in a variety of scales to whet my whistle and expand the forces I have. Having primarily played ‘historical’ skirmish games using my 28mm at the local clubs, I was always on the scout for more fantasy and whimsy to add to my collection. As such, I stumbled again across the figures from Oakbound Studio and saw that they were planning a new edition of their ruleset The Woods. If nothing else I’m always keen to read new sources for inspiration so with a generous pre-order discount I picked up the shiny hardcover book.
A quick skim reveals a variety of artwork in full colour and black and white, as well as plenty of pictures of the miniatures and some lovely looking table set ups. The lone Myeri, one-eyed bog monsters which many will draw parallels with the Fimm, in a grove of ominous looking purple fungi is a particular favourite.
The world of Talamhar
And this brings us to the setting and factions.
Just over half the book is dedicated to the setting and stats for the various factions found in the world of The Woods; the land of Talamhar. Populated by the Tuatha, literally ‘the people’, there is also everything from goblins, to dwarves, to the aforementioned Myeri. Let us also not forget the badger-riding pixies! Each faction is laid out in a similar manner with a few pages of background and history followed by all of the relevant profiles and information needed to play the game. For some, I’d have to concede that all of the nomenclatures might be a bit bamboozling. Although, it is very in-keeping with the setting and really adds a lot of depth and flavour rather than settling for generic names. The writing is very evocative and anyone with an interest in Dark Age myth and legend may find it a good read and source of inspiration. This could be for other games and settings even if wargaming isn’t normally your ‘thing’.
Whilst I like all of the art in the book, it isn’t a consistent style and I know that some find this approach distracting or detracts from the overall effect. For me, I think it opens up the setting so that you don’t pigeon hole your imagination allowing everyone to explore Talamhar as they see fit. It must be pretty heart wrenching to put something which comes across as a real labour of love out into the wild and essentially give up control on how others will perceive it.
What? No dice?
I suspect that you may well be wondering about the rules.
The rules are where Oakbound take a very different approach from the majority of other games currently on the market. The Woods is a diceless system where you attempt to stack stats and skills to provide tactical advantages. Now, I have to hold my hands up and say that I haven’t had an opportunity to properly test the guts of the system. However, despite my apprehension at a lack of a random factor provided by dice, the system appears to hold up quite well.
Each model has six statistics which describe their abilities; wisdom, perception, courage, agility, strength, and endurance. On top of these, each profile will have a number of secondary stats which can further influence the outcomes or resolutions of actions. This sounds like a lot to take in, and when reading it over the first time, it can be a bit bewildering. However, it’s important to remember that you can use handy profile cards to track all of this information.
Each model when it activates has a pool of stamina which can be used to carry out a number of activities. These can include moving or shooting/engaging in melee or even a ‘grapple’. To resolve an effect you would use the provided tables of modifiers and then apply the result. Simple really…
Seriously though, after half an hour or so of getting my head round how the stacking works, it became a little more intuitive than at first appearance. There’s a real danger that people may see “different” as “bad”. Although, it becomes a lot more tactical than simply offering up a token to the fae and hoping that your rolling bones comes up 6’s. There’s a lot to discover here and no doubt, a fuzzy feeling of reward when you manage to pull off a cunning plan, and thwart your enemy, that comes from tactical acumen over luck.
…you’re sure of a big surprise
The Woods is a really nice looking book which I enjoyed reading. Given how different a tack it takes from a lot of other common games on the market it seems to benefit from the idea of having a games master run scenarios to really push the narrative aspects of the game. Indeed if the setting and wargames rules weren’t enough, there’s also info on how to run this as a true role-playing game; that’s a lot crammed in for your money. I’ll have to be honest and admit that the concept of a diceless narrative driven system won’t be appealing to everyone. Regardless, I’m very happy that I decided to take a punt on a copy of the new edition. So much so that I’ll definitely be looking to pick up some of the accompanying figures in the near future. Those Myeri, in particular, have definitely caught my eye.
You can grab a free quick start guide and take a look here.
Has anyone else picked up the game? Let us know your thoughts here or on our Facebook group.
The images used were kindly provided by Oakbound Studio and the Propworkshop.