Last month I managed to squeeze in a quick introductory game of Open Combat, the fantasy skirmish ruleset by former GW-er Carl Brown. My opponent was Vincent, with whom I enjoyed a game of Song of Blades & Heroes earlier this summer. We both appreciate small-to-medium-sized fantasy skirmish games, and we’d both been eager to try out Open Combat.
Longtime readers may remember that I’ve actually played Open Combat twice before — back in November 2014 and March 2015, respectively — well before Carl’s successful Kickstarter and back when the rulebook was a slightly less refined DIY production. I enjoyed the game back then and have been looking forward to playing it again one day. I’m sorry it took me 4 years to find my way back to Open Combat!
But I digress. For our game, we set up a basic battlefield in my gaming den — some ruins, some trees, some scatter terrain, all anchored by my big ol’ tree tower centerpiece. Open Combat suggests a 2×2 foot playing area, which is quite small and really forces the action early. I think the battlefield I set up was just a little bit bigger, but still roughly that size.
For deployment, we used one of my favorite aspects of Open Combat — the “confrontation” deployment method. Rather than having both sides start on opposite table edges, “confrontation” style lets each player alternate placing figures anywhere on the board, no closer than 8″ away from each other. You end up with a highly dynamic setup for turn 1!
I started the game with a bang, when Vath’Shuga the Cauldron of Rage (my mighty pink demon) flew up to the top of a creaky walkway and began calling down curses upon Vince’s men-at-arms.
Open Combat is fairly generic by design, and the game encourages you to use whatever mechanics and rules you’d like to model the equipment and capabilities of each individual figure. So in the case of Vath’Shuga, I wanted him to be able to issue curses to figures across the battlefield, so I gave him a ranged combat attack to represent that power. It also suits the figure itself, with that gnarly extended arm where he’s like claiming a soul or whatever. “YOU… YOU’RE MINE.” Yeah, good stuff.
Elsewhere my dark, corrupted barbarians swarmed across the board to engage Vince’s knights and peasants, while Namina, his spellcaster, kept to the rear where her long-ranged attacks would be most beneficial.
Since the battlefield was only slightly larger than two feet square, our warbands quickly became embroiled in combat (one might even say Open Combat). Little fights and skirmishes broke out everywhere. Vince’s knights advanced resolutely – albeit slowly, as he’d only given them a movement value of 4″.
By contrast, Vath’Shuga moved 8″, which meant he was easily able to hunt down and corner Namina the wizard. Once she had been slaughtered and her bones ground to jelly, Vince wisely yielded to avoid more senseless slaughter.
After the game we discussed the mechanics of Open Combat. Vince found the game a little more tactical and easier to grok compared to Song of Blades & Heroes. The limited list of weapons and abilities actually offered quite a bit of tactical depth. By the end of the game, Vince was already planning out how he would re-build his warband to take better advantage of the various skills and abilities and weapons.
With its minimalist approach to rules and bookkeeping, the game leaves room for all manner of narrative elements. You could easily veer headlong into RPG territory by giving each player just a couple figures with super granular stats and abilities, or you could go in the other direction and try out a mass battle with 20+ figures per side as long as you didn’t give them too many abilities or special rules.
Above all, Open Combat gave us a great excuse to grab some fantasy models and get them onto the table, fast, with a minimum of fuss. We’ll play this one again soon!
Yeah Open Combat! An excellent game.
Here’s an idea for mass open combat: use a single stat-line for a unit of figures, with Fortitude equal to the number of figures in the unit. When the unit loses a point of FOR, they also lose a figure. Measure all distances and facings from the unit’s leader and you could have a jolly 20-30 figure per side melee that still only uses 4-6 statlines and 200 points.
If you’re interested, I did a little probability breakdown years ago on the attack dice as well. It’s similar, in fact, to how Bloodbowl works, and contains a surprising amount of tactical depth: http://mdarrow.blogspot.com/2015/06/chronicles-of-yore-open-combat-on-drear.html
Hey Mattias! Funny you should mention that blog post … I was re-reading your battle report from Drear Heath yesterday as I was finishing up this article! I like your idea for emulating mass battles. Dragon Rampant takes a similar tack, with each figure representing a “hit point” in the larger unit.
This looks like such fun! Sign me up for a future go.
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Will do! You’d like it a lot.