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Review of Freeblades from DGS Games

So over the weekend I went to DieCon here in Collinsville, IL. I figure, I live a mile and a half from the Convention Center, I might as well go. :p
Anyway, while there, I got a demo of a new game that’s out called Freeblades from DGS Games. The game was popular at the con. They’d had something like 4 or 5 scheduled demo sessions for the convention. When I did mine on Sunday, they’d done more like 15. I also had a nice talk with one of the guys from DGS Games, Adam Fennema, one of the creative minds behind the game. Below are pictures of their set-up at the Con, as well as a couple from my demo. Below that is a review of the game as well as a small report from the demo. I hope you enjoy it.

And now for the review:

This past weekend was DieCon here in St. Louis (well, Collinsville, specifically… about a mile and a half from my house, actually. But I digress..). I had a wonderful time, but one of the highlights would have to be the demo I received of DGS Game’s Freeblades, a rather new fantasy skirmish game. The demo was given by DGS Games’ Adam Fennema and I want to thank him for the opportunity to try his game and to give me the opportunity to learn about it along with the company.

So with any minis game, the first thing that’s going to draw in any player is the look of the models and I must say, I really did like the look of Freeblade’s figures. Some of my personal favorites were the Shakrim Headhunter, Urdaggar Bear Mystic, and Young Grush. I even got to use one of the Headhunters in the demo, but more on that in a minute. The models are pewter and nicely crafted with good detail with leaf-cloaks on things like rangers and quills on the Young Grush. So you’ve got a lot of texture on the figs to help elevate mediocre painters like me to something a bit better just innately. Being a new company starting out, the line is small, but is steadily growing. They did have quite a bit of product at the show, however, as the pictures show. The cost for the models is another good point. Whereas we’ve come to expect no less than $10 for even the smallest single character, DGS figs can be as low as $6. So if you’re a gamer on a budget, this is one to check out. They currently have 4 factions available, but hope to have as many as 15 by the end. Adam was very adamant (heh…) about the amount of playtesting that takes place for the game. Each faction has been tried against the others multiple times to assure that things are balanced as best as possible before the rules are sent out to you, the gamers.

The game, itself, is a skirmish-style game in the truest sense. Even at a large-point level, there is a hard cap of 18 models per side. So you’re not going to have whole platoons of guys running around the battlefield in large unit-sized engagements, but instead one-on-one combats between individualized troopers. While the game can be played in a single-game format, the system is really designed to work best in a campaign. The rules include sections on gaining treasure and experience for your warband, and growing in power as time goes on. This puts it in the same category as other games like Mordheim or ShadowSea where it’s almost a bit of role-playing mixed in with miniatures combat. You get to see your models change over time (unless of course, they get killed, which is also always a possibility). Games are scenario-driven, so it’s not always just “go and kill the other dudes” each time you play. DGS Games plans to have heavy online support for the game, with new scenarios and new versions of the heroes available for download from their website. However, they have stated that nothing will become obsolete for the game. You can still use older versions of the heroes and they don’t plan on getting rid of any figures at all during their run.

DGS is also planning a mass-combat game for the world as well as an RPG system. One thing they were very excited about was the plan to have conversion rules between the 3 systems. So if you have a warband in Freeblades and want to interact with them in your RP game or if you want to possibly use them in their mass-combat game, there will be charts and rules for pointing out and stating out those models to the other gaming systems. Especially with the RPG conversions, this could really bring your one Freeblades warband into a group of adventurers for you and your friends during RP sessions. That’s something definitely to pique many gamer’s interests.

Freeblades, itself, uses interesting game mechanics. The game utilizes many different dice to represent different levels of power for your models. For the most part, instead of getting a bonus such as +1 to a roll, you’ll instead move up a die category. So for example, instead of having something like “Gives a +1 to their roll” they would turn a model’s normal D6 into a D8. This also means that several extra die types are used in Freeblades, including D14, D24 and D30. Thankfully, DGS Games sells these dice packs on their website, as they could potentially be hard to find just on your own at your gaming store. Other than the odd dice, the system is a fairly simple Roll+Stat vs. Target Number system, where you’re looking to meet or beat a model’s defense or armor, for example, to score a hit and wound against them. Dice “spike” as it was called. That is, when you roll the maximum number on a die (so a 6 on a D6 or a 12 on a D12, for example), you get to roll that die again and add the new number to your total.

There is an emphasis, however, on making the game flow as realistic as possible by how actions are timed. This comes in from things like counter-charge movements and other sorts of reactions to enemy movements or attacks. If I have a model charge at another, that model can react by charging back at me. So even if you don’t go first in a round, it doesn’t mean your models will just stand passively by while a raging barbarian comes running at them. There’s even pro-rated movement where if you charge at me and I counter-charge, our models compare their movements, then move towards each other at a rate where we’ll meet partway between the two of us, instead of just letting you come all the way to me. Combats are also considered simultaneous, with each model making attacks in turn, depending on their Discipline level. So there’s the potential for either model to be wounded or killed, again adding to the simultaneity of the system. Those combats are also broken down into the smallest possible chunks. So you would not have a giant 6-vs-6 scrum, but depending on which models are actually contacting others, you might have several 1-vs-1s, 2-vs-1s or 3-vs-1s, but it will always be compacted to as many single-combats as possible to represent heroes calling out each other in the middle of a battle.

So as for the demo, itself, my esteemed opponent, Chris (one of the guys that works at my LGS) and I squared off. The scenario: Close off a trio of demon gates as they spewed forth hellhounds into this realm. First one to close 2 of the 3 gates won. We set up our forces and Adam rolled to see what sort of foul spawn were going to come after us. Freeblades has a system where if you roll 10+ against your target number, you score a critical. Right off the bat, Adam rolled double-criticals and instead of just getting regular demon dogs, a pair of alphas came out of one of the gates. Thankfully, it was the gate that Chris had aimed himself at and I just got a pair of regular Plakhra (the name for those fiendish canines). We learned early-on that the term “alpha” isn’t just for show as Chris’ forces ran into and sort of bounced off of those dogs. Even his general got scared and for a turn he decided to get the heck out of Dodge. Meanwhile, I was a bit more cautious in maneuvering up against my pair of gates.

The next rounds saw me moving again cautiously forward while Chris dealt with his pair of Alpha Plakhras. Worse was a 3rd showed up and seeing as they attacked the closest models, went after Chris’ general that’d ran away from the first fight. Well, it was at that point that he realized, “wait… I’m the guy in charge of this mess” and slaughtered the Alpha in one turn. He then ran into the combat still going on with the other Alphas and slaughtered another. Meanwhile, my cautious advances got me to the two closest portals and a round later, I was able to close them down.

Games are always better with good company and I have to admit, I had some of the best with Chris and Adam. We were laughing the whole time, even as Chris cursed his dice for rolling rather poorly to start out. Unfortunately, due to the scenario, Chris and I never actually had our guys in direct combat with one-another. A few of our bowmen took shots at one-another, but mostly it was just against the demon hounds. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but just a note. As for the system, itself, it ran fairly smoothly. Obviously being a demo, there were things that seemed confusing that, after several games, I’m sure would clear themselves up, such as which die we needed to roll for which abilities at what times, and the timing of an actual turn. The learning curve, itself, though, seemed rather shallow, as I felt like I knew mostly what I was doing by the 3rd round of the game or so. There were other abilities such as faction-wide ones that we didn’t use, as it was just a demo, but there did seem like a lot of depth to making your warband, making sure to maximize your synergies between models. I really would like to get deeper into how models can advance over the course of a league and see what sort of things are truly possible.

I did have a great time during the talk and the demo and want to thank Adam again for it. Him, Richard and Matt from the DGS team were all very excited about their game and the world. I look forward to hearing more from them, and especially seeing how the RPG and Mass-Combat games turn out with the rules for moving models between the 3 systems.