(this article originally appeared in the pages of Military Miniatures Magazine, issue 204)
As a gamer, I find myself gravitating towards rule-sets which allow me to play multiple eras and conflicts with a single set of core rules. When Firelock Games released ‘Blood & Plunder’ in 2016, they promised a game that would cover nearly a century of conflict in the American colonies. It was one of the things which drew me to the company, along with their decidedly modern approach to game design. So you can imagine my joy to discover that Firelock’s latest release, ‘Blood & Steel’ follows in the footsteps of their flagship game, and presents gamers with rules to cover all of the major conflicts (and some of the minor ones) fought during the reign of Queen Victoria.
Blood & Steel accomplishes this feat with a slim, 85 page rulebook. The book is a quality production; hard covered and full color, with a PDF option for those who prefer digital copies. Written by Edgar Pabon and Damien Macomber, with historical consulting from Neil Reinwald, the book is direct and to the point. There is no broad historical overview, and the rules pick up immediately on page 8. The rules are brilliantly streamlined, wrapping up on page 45. There are no charts to reference, nor any difficult morale or troop rating mechanics. Being a skirmish game, much of the dense stuff can be done away with. Edgar and Damien have even gotten rid of the ‘Blood &’ series fixation on cards or tokens for iniative. What’s left is a sleek, d10 based system of general rules, with a few pages set aside for the Special Rules and Equipment which makes the game so flexible.
Following 6 very brief scenarios meant for quick pickup games, the game gets right into the Conflicts & Force Lists. This is where you’ll find Neil’s handiwork as the historical advisor. Each of the 6 conflicts covered in the book present the reader with a historical overview, and a force list for each faction. Beginning with the lesser known (but dear to the writers) Second Seminole War of 1835-42, the book rattles along through the era. The core rules include forces for the Mexican-American War, American Civil War, Second Taranaki War, Anglo-Zulu War, and concludes with the Spanish American War.
If there is any part of the book which might be lacking, it is the force lists. As a Skirmish game, famous generals have no place on the ‘Blood & Steel’ battlefield. American Civil War general Robert E. Lee makes an appearance, but as a young Captain in the Mexican-American War. Keeping with the Civil War as an example, the skirmish scale should make for excellent games of the raids and cavalry actions in the Western theater, but the Union and Confederate force lists only allow a single unit of cavalry each, with generic ‘Billy Yank’ or ‘Johny Reb’ infantry units as the mainstay. Every included force does have at least one “hero unit,” or famous formation. For the Civil War, this is the 14 th New York ‘red legged devils’ for the Union, and the Texas Rangers for the Rebs. The Mexican army can include the unique Irish “San Patricios” in their force for the Mexican-American War.
Edgar and Damien have made no secret of their intent to expand upon the core rules with further books. There are a further 12 conflicts that the duo intend to cover, as well as putting out rules delving deeper into particular wars. The first book in development as I write this will cover the wars of German Unification. In the meantime, Edgar and Damien have encouraged players to adapt the force lists to their own needs. In that sense, the 6 conflicts and 12 sample armies do a great job of presenting players with sample forces to create their own. Returning to my desire to recreate my ancestor’s battles in the Army of Ohio, the rules for the Union Army provide a good foundation for a cavalry raid. The rulebook’s list of weapons includes breech-loading carbines, revolvers, and even repeaters like the Spencer. Units for a cavalry fight such as the Battle of Shelbyville could be quickly drafted and put onto the table, and this is where I feel ‘Blood & Steel’ turns its weakness into strength.
I would not call ‘Blood & Steel’ a tournament game. Luckily, I can feel comfortable saying that, knowing that Edgar and Damien feel similarly from the kindly included author’s note which closes out the book. Yes, ‘Blood & Steel’ can play havoc with historical continuity – you could pit Seminoles from 1835, against the Queen’s own Redcoats from the Anglo-Zulu war 39 years later. The game does feature a points system, which should make that engagement a roughly equal fight, but the difference in technology will be apparent in the choices of weapons available, and the firepower on display. Such a match-up would be commonplace in tournament gaming. No, where Blood & Steel really shines is in its clean core rules and flexible approach to the period. If you’ve got a pet conflict set between 1837 and 1901, you can feel confident in using the ‘Blood & Steel’ rules to put a skirmish onto the table and have it resolved within an hour or two of enjoyable gaming.
If you’re interested in picking up a solid set of rules for skirmishes in the Victorian age – then I encourage you to check out Edgar, Damien, and the whole crew at FirelockGames.com. There you’ll find the Blood & Steel rulebook, as well as player aids and a selection of other manufacturer’s figures for the conflicts included in the core book. Firelock also boasts an excellent social media presence, where the game designers are always very active and engaged with the community. If you’re of the more “analog”
state of mind, you can also find Firelock and all of their products at several major conventions. Hopefully I’ll see you there, and maybe we can play a game with those Union cavalry.