First of all, the Clash Steel PDF isn?t very pretty. The only graphics are a smattering of uninspiring clip art selections. The entire thing is presented on a pseudo parchment brown background, which looks terrible when printed in greyscale. There is also some wasted space, and some of the charts could have been better organized. This is a small press publication, and I understand that, so I?m willing to look past the presentation and focus on the rules. Still, in a world of free PDF generators and open-source word processing programs, I can?t help but think the book?s rough appearance could have been easily polished.
For my playtest, I decided to pit a small group of human rabble against a host of well-trained elven archers. The idea was to pit superior numbers against a small force of well-trained troops. When designing my armies, I can across my first problem: how many points should I use? The book doesn?t give you any idea what the rules consider to be an ?average? force. Without any frame of reference, I simply picked an arbitrary number: 500. The resulting army was too small at that number, so I doubled it to 1,000. The two 1,000 point armies looked something like this:
Humans: 20 spearmen, 10 archers, 1 scout, and a mounted knight commander.
Elves: 10 archers, 9 light cavalry, 1 wizard commander.
Not a massive host by any means, but a respectable clash of some 50 participants. More rules issues came up while I was developing the Elven force. First, I found the rules for wizards somewhat unclear. The way they are written, with a few rules before the spell descriptions and few after, makes for slightly confusing reading.
My second problem dealt with mounted characters. Adding a mount to a figure adds about 15 points (a human soldier with no weapons or armor costs 10 points). The book then gives you stats for mounts, but doesn?t tell you how those stats interact with the stats of the rider. For example, it?s fairly obvious that a mounted character should use his horse?s movement rate instead of his own. But what if the horse has a better protection value (i.e. armor)? Can enemies attack the horse, just the rider, or either? In the case of the warhorse, it?s a better fighter than a human armed with a shortsword, so why give the horse a rider at all? I can think of lots of metagame reasons why a horse must have a rider, but the rules don?t really support them.
While I was actually playing, I found myself forced to improvise a lot of rules using previous wargame experience and common sense as a guide. When it came to movement, I had to assume that units (groups of more than 3 figures) move as a cohesive whole. The rules don?t actually say. Another vague area was the rules for commanders. A commander gets a higher initiative score, grants a reroll, costs an extra 20 points?and apparently does nothing else. The rules are unclear on who exactly gets the reroll. Can I apply it to any of my figures once a round, or is it only the leader? Most wargames give commanders certain bonuses that they can impart on nearby troops, or at least give some meaningful penalty for losing a leader. In Clash of Steel, the only thing that happens if your commander dies is you lose your reroll. The book does say ?some objectives for battle missions might include killing the enemy army?s commander.? Great! Except, what is a battle mission? What other objectives might they have? I guess that?s up to you, since the rules are completely silent on the matter.
There are a lot of other rules missing from the game. The spell ?Sun Rays? grants immunity to the breath weapons of blue dragons, but Clash of Steel provides no game stats for dragons, blue or otherwise. Where are the rules for charging? What benefit does flanking provide?
And then, there?s morale. To me, morale is one of the most fundamentally important aspects of warfare simulation. Few battles in reality end with one side killing off all the members of the other. In Clash of Steel, unfortunately, the morale system is just a quick, tacked-end paragraph that?s clearly labeled as optional. The system is overly simplistic and not very satisfying.
Victory itself is totally ambiguous. The rules mention that the players may agree to a certain number of turns before hand, but they give no clear means of establishing which player is the winner when the agreed upon number of turns expire. In the end, it?s apparently up to you. Clash of Steel has done about half the work for you, and leaves a lot of decisions and interpretations up to the players.
The strengths of Clash of Steel lie in the book?s only stated goal: fast and easy to learn. It?s very fast, at least partially because most characters die pretty quickly. Combat is fairly intuitive and uses an easy to learn system of hits and saves. Unfortunately, there?s very little to make Clash of Steel stand above other wargames on the market. It?s fast and easy to learn, but it really lacks depth.
There are hints of cool things in some of the supplementary rules. The rules for sieges are clever, although obviously suited to very small skirmishes. The looting and destiny rules are kind of neat as well. None of this really makes up for the rules that are lacking from the core of the game.<br><br>
<b>LIKED</b>: The main strength of this game is its simplicity. The combat mechanics are quick to learn and work pretty well on the battlefield. If you?re looking for a very quick and dirty set of rules for running a miniatures battle, you may find something you like here.<br><br><b>DISLIKED</b>: Clash of Steel feels like it was written rather hastily. While the core of the system (roll to hit, target then rolls a save) works pretty well, the rest of the rules are overly simplistic or incomplete. Some of the most common aspects of wargames (meaningful commanders, tactical bonuses, morale) are incomplete. There is very little advice on running a campaign, setting up a battle, or how to use these rules in general. In the final analysis, I really can?t recommend Clash of Steel.<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Disappointing<br><br><b>VALUE</b>: Disappointed<br>