blurb: The holdings of Ellendale are once again threatened by the forces of the Belted Way followers. A battle is surely brewing in the Plains of Montgoco. The spy’s of the Belted Way have discovered that the Silver Spring, near the Plains of Montgoco, may grant special blessing to those that bathe in its waters. The troops of the Belted Way hope to receive those gifts as the battle approaches!
If you live in the Washington DC area, you’re probably already groaning at the word play in this game description. Suffice to say the members of the Scrum Club met in Silver Spring, in Montgomery County, to fight our second battle of Oathmark. I was eager to participate as I’m starting to enjoy these rules quite a bit, and this would be the first time my army efforts would grace a table anywhere. I had two armies to contribute– an Oathbreaker (undead) army that was bulky, weak, and slow. An Orc/Goblin army that was a bit more powerful and more resiliant, but not with a ton of hitting power, either. Sadly, no spellcasters, no cavalry. I do have an Orc Shaman figure that I rather like but we got mired in almost an hour’s worth of army building/point costing that ultimately seemed to be ignored, anyway. On the plus side I did have a two headed Ettin figure (3d print) as a Monster in game rules (much cheaper point cost wise) and an Orc Champion with leadership capabilities. Beyond that I had two stands of 15 each of Orc Archers and Orc Soldiers (armed with swords).
My Undead (Oathbreaker) Army was shared by John Sears, Rich McKee and Steve Braun. This force had more numbers and more variety than the Orc and Goblin faction. Since three guys were fielding forces from one army, it did get a little skewed here and there. Rich Mckee, for instance, had the preponderance of the Skellies. These are slow, not possessing much in the way of armor and not really having a lot of tactical flexibility. Unfortunately Rich’s maneuvering options were limited by being on the edge of the map and he was moving his force (several stands of skeletons, and a mega stand of Ghouls) straight at his opponent across the line (Jared, running some Elven archers). It was a meat grinder… well, more like a bone grinder. The Ghouls are not that impressive in a fight, but I want to tinker with them to make them a little more “ghoulish”. About midway during the battle the guys reread the archery-vs-Skellies rules and discovered they were doing it wrong and that increased the lethality of archery fire, so Rich got a lot of dead guys back again. In the Center, John Sears had both troops of Undead Cavalry– the Skeletal Cav (Living Dead Knights from FireForge) and the Remnant Cav (I’m picturing them as Vampires, because they surely are sculpted that way– from Mantic). There aren’t a lot of convenient statistics for a lot of my troops, so I found myself inventing them as I went along. Mummies, for instance. Steve Braun was doing most of the refereeing and so he wanted only a unit or two to push around. He took my giant 20 figure Mummy unit and the only spellcaster on our side, the Necromancer. Oddly enough, Mummies don’t exist in the Oathbreaker expansion. I statted Mummies pretty similarly to Undead Spearmen, but walking a little slower and with the ability to Shield (i figured they were a little more solid than skellies).
I like Oathmark, but it’s a learning process to understand the nuances. At the heart of it Oathmark is not unlike games all of us have played before– there’s not going to be anyone going gray over the intricacies of the rule set. Ultimately, each unit of maneuver is between 10 and 20 figures. The figures at start contribute to the point cost. The type of figure indicates how well they will do basic stuff like activate, move, shoot and fight. That’s defined in either the Oathmark book or in the expansions. See below
Activations are important. Most critters get two. Except for undead. Undead are very restricted, getting only one activation. FWIW, they don’t set up a situation like in the Dragon Rampant where you don’t ever make your activation roll. You roll at start of turn. If you pass two activation checks, you can do two things. If you pass one check, only one thing. If you pass NO activation checks, you can also do one thing. We call that the Rich McKee rule. The “Things” they can do are maneuver (turn either by wheeling or pivot), fire a weapon (bows are artillery), cast spells (if you have a spellcaster) and move your movement allowance. Then you mark you unit as having activated and repeat for the next guy.
Game Start: We made a valiant effort to balance everything but I got the impression it was somewhat futile to try to point balance with multiple players. I only had one army to spread out among three players (the Undead). So it’s hard to achieve perfect balance unless you have repeats of several troop types. For instance: for the same number of points you could buy multiple skeletons for one human elf or dwarf unit, of comparable ability. Sound like it’s great to be Undead? nope. They don’t fight nearly as well, they are slower and only have one activation (action) per turn. When you have a preponderance of skeletal troops (as my army does), that can be a weakness. This was proven rather handily as Rich McKee pushed forward units of Skeletons and Ghouls towards Elf archers, who literally turned it into a bone grinder (admittedly, we had misunderstood the archery casualty rule for the undead and had to correct course mid game, giving us some of our casualties back). On the plus side, we did have a few handy monsters (The Wraith lord, the Giant Champion, and the Ettin) plus the Skeleton Artillery (Skeletal Ballista in game terms see the rule here). There’s no good closeup picture of the Ballista in action, but it did cause some casualties. I believe John Sears was manning that one.
parenthetical note: we were resolving combat fire all wrong at several points, after looking at AAR with a more skillful player. I suspect the “bad guys” could have done better if we had. So don’t’ wince, dear reader, we are only human, and therefore, imperfect!
Another example: I moved the Orc Archers up to enfilade fire the human cavalry. Their defense was so high I couldn’t make much of a dent in them. I had to role over 10, then roll over an 8, to make a dent on them. I only managed to kill two of them the entire game (and we weren’t that different, pointwise). Lesson: don’t close if you are archers. They have (usually) a FIGHT of zero and no armor.
parenthetical note: that’s not a correct read on the archery. Objectively, I didn’t actually score that well regardless (piss poor dice rolling) but I had to beat Defense minus Shoot, which should not haven given me a number impossible to roll!
I am being a little critical here; I don’t want to appear to be overly much. There are some balancing problems, yes. We definitely misinterpreted rules in a few critical engagements on the battlefield. There are some quirky bits here and there. I think the designer had to constantly be considering design effects and impacts when he introduced new troop types. As such, he would always be fighting the preconceptions of the players about what a “cool” unit ought to do and what works for his core mechanic. Case in point: I picked up a really awesome “Undead” cavalry unit from Mantic. They clearly aren’t skeletons. They aren’t zombies. They are slick, armored troops with a heavy vampire aesthetic. Mantic calls them “Soul Reivers” but they look like “Vampire Cavalry” to me. In the Oathmark expansion, Vampires exist– of course they do, but the designer treats them as solitary monsters (see the rule here), not as any possible military unit. So How do I classify this unit, Remnant cavalry? What is a revenant supposed to be, exactly? Overall, Oathmark delivers a very sound, fun set of gaming mechanics and I really enjoyed playing it again. I was delighted to get MY units that I PAINTED on the table and fighting someone! At last! A Plague project pays off!
Best part of the game: We were making progress. I didn’t have a lot of hope of overcoming the resistance on the allied left (given I was only chipping away at them), but their lines were starting to get big gaps here and there. Jared’s line hadn’t been eliminated but his elves were hurting. Rich had lost so many skellies we gave him one of the Wraiths to have something to play with. That totally changed things!
I love cascading panic effects! So that was fun! (furiously writes note to himself– add a Wraith to next undead force deployed). Our Monsters were pretty good– the Ettin killed some enemies. I’m not sure how Thog the Once Powerful (giant skeleton) did against the rock trolls in the pool, but he was still around by the end of the battle.
The climax of the battle arrived. Steve wasn’t aware what “Spellcaster Controlled” means for the Undead. It means that if there are skeletal troops present, a spellcaster, preferably a necromancer, must be present to keep it alive. If the spellcaster is removed, the skeletal troops keel over and die. And that.. is exactly what happened. Jason’s remaining cavalry (two figures) charged where the Necromancer was perched on his zombie water buffalo. They dispatched him quickly at lancepoint. At that point, all the skeletons on the field dropped over. Even though that pretty much lost the battle for us, how could I be angry about that? It was entirely fitting for the troops and the setting. I thought it was hilarious. So that was game over.
Here are some links to all the images I collected on my Ipad and Iphone, plus a few taken by Jared and Ellen:
Also, a little video blurb I put together:
Summary: I really like Oathmark and plan on continuing to work on my three armies: Undead, Orcs and Dwarves. We kind of screwed up the mechanics in some crucial areas, live and learn. The last time we played it was humans versus humans all over the board. This time there were a lot of variables that made troops different, and we missed some critical points. Live and learn! We still had a great time.