There were three players, so we split the Indians/Canadians between George and myself while Dave took the British. The 'French' side (there were no actual French present) consisted of a Sachem and four units of four Indians each, who we rated as Bloodthirsty. Accompanying them were a unit of six Coureurs de Bois. The British had two units of 7 Rangers, led by an officer, and six Indians. So, the first thing you do is set up your terrain and decide on the missions and nay side plots. We rolled for where the buildings go and then just chucked down a load of trees and fields. We then rolled a Raid for the Indians, so the British got Protection. This meant that the main goal of the Indians was to burn the houses and the British to protect the civilians. We then rolled for side plots. The British officer got Romance, so he was accompanied by a female civilian that he had to protect. The Indians got a plot that simply meant they needed to deny the enemy theirs, so the Indians had to kill the good lady. Hmmm...sounds like the plot of a certain book and film set in the French & Indian Wars! So we picked George's Magwa figure out and set to it! Apologies for the pictures drying up towards the end, but we were so engrossed I completely forgot!
|The Indian raiders approach undetected from the forest.|
|The Rangers are forewarned of their approach and huddle in cover.|
|The men of the settlement load their guns and try to calm the hysterical women!|
|Magwa leads his men on as he reads the recipe for Human Heart a l'Orange.|
|The Indians surge through the woods.|
|The Canadians follow their Indian guides around the flank. They hope to catch the Rangers from both directions.|
|The first musket shots ring out. Two Rangers fall and the group recoils.|
|But the British allied Indians arrive. Is that Hawkeye we see among them?|
|Two Indians make it to the buildings and start to set a fire.|
So, what were my first impressions having played a game? First of all, it was a very entertaining game and certainly had a cinematic feel to it. The mechanics are fairly straightforward for combat. Ranged fire is a standard 'to hit' and 'to kill' roll with only a handful of modifiers. Melee is also a 'to hit' roll, but this time followed up with a 'to kill'. The loser (the side with more casualties) takes a morale test and if figures are still in contact afterwards another round is fought. So nothing new there. We felt that we were rolling pretty well above average for musketry so it was quite effective, but with more average rolls it wouldn't be quite so deadly. Melee, on the other hand, was satisfyingly vicious and you can expect to see the bodies pile up when the tomahawks come out to play. We all felt that this was about right! The most period specific aspect to combat is the spotting rules, which mean that it's possible for irregular troops, and particularly Indians, to sneak about. We didn't use the hidden movement rule, but I think that will add even more character to the game.
The card activation is slightly different to other games I've played, in that you activate a type of troop rather than a particular unit. So when the British Irregulars card was drawn, both Rangers units could activate. With four cards per type in the deck, you actually get a surprising amount of action in a single turn. We actually only played 3 turns before the French side collapsed! This makes the rolling of reserves a lot more critical than you might expect from other games. Dave was quite fortunate to get his Indians in the first turn, but if he hadn't then this would have been a very different. We didn't have any regulars, so I can't say how they play out, but I get the impression that the two actions per card means they will be very dangerous if officers are correctly placed around them. For example, when playing the irregulars you have to weigh up the risk of trying to break cover to make it to another terrain feature, as you're not guaranteed to get to move again before you're fired upon (as were George's Indians, who took no further part in the battle after being set to flight). The regulars will not have this problem.
Finally, the scenarios and plots really set this game up with some flavour. The scenarios are your expected fare - raiding, slaughtering and that sort of thing. Interestingly, the table is designed so that the different force types will only get certain missions, so you're not going to get a wide variety of mission types, but the side plots more than make up for that. In our game, as we have seen, we essentially got the ambush on the British from The Last of the Mohicans, and what was a straightforward wargame set up, suddenly became something straight out of a movie or a book. If you ask me, this is where skirmish games are made or broken. I've played some skirmish games that left me quite cold. I'll be quite honest and put SAGA in that category. Considering that they're from the same company, I think that Muskets and Tomahawks is head and shoulders above it's elder sibling in evoking a period feel and letting your imagination run away. I would play SAGA if offered, but it feels much more like a 'synthetic' game, with the meta game that is the battle boards. M&T simply takes a solid set of tried and tested mechanics and infuses them with something that makes it a much more rich experience. Ironically, it is M&T that feels like a tale is being told and not SAGA!
So, in summary, I really liked Muskets and Tomahawks and would play it again in a heartbeat. If you layered a campaign over the top of it then I think you'd have a first class wargame experience. I've tried not to go into too much detail, as you'll no doubt be able to find pretty detailed reviews of the mechanics, but I hope you get a sense of what the game is like to play and not necessarily how it is played.