Skirmish level gaming is a mainstay for us here at Comrade’s Wargames. I got my start with Song of Blades & Heroes many years ago, and have since explored many different rule sets, from established game companies to up-and-coming creators.
We notched another one on the list last week with a couple games of Laserblade, an ultra fast-playing sci-fi skirmish ruleset that encourages you to use any figures you want to play out games in whatever milieu floats your starship. And when I say this is a rules-lite system, I mean it — I actually think Laserblade might be an order of magnitude simpler than Song of Blades & Heroes, and that’s really saying something.
Laserblade is intentionally setting-agnostic, but it seems designed to replicate any manner of popular cinematic sci-fi games, or darker iterations of sci-fi such as Warhammer 40k. Each figure is a distinct character with just two stats, representing close combat and ranged combat. There are no separate equipment lists — your two combat scores represent not just your fighting prowess, but also any weapons, equipment, magical auras, raccoon sidekicks, and so on.
From there, you can add in a special ability or two from a limited list that encapsulates most of what you’d expect to see — abilities like brawler, commander, marksman, etc. They’re self explanatory. I’m a big fan of games that use super simple stat lines backed up by flavorful special abilities. Soldiers only — no tanks, vehicles, walkers, or oversized demons here.
John and I tried out this game on a random weeknight, and we were quickly able to knock together two opposing teams for a game set in our home brew setting: an alternate future where the Earth is a toxic garbage heap over which orbital mega corporations clash to extract the last few morsels of resources from its devastated surface. We each ended up with 6 or 7 guys per side. I’ll sprinkle in a few photos from our game while I continue this review.
My absolute favorite Laserblade mechanic is how it deals with ranges. It uses a single range band — called, appropriately, “range” — for moving, shooting ranges, and other effects. Range is exactly 8 inches, and the game encourages players to make custom movement sticks rather than fiddle with tape measures.
Shooting within range (8 inches) incurs no penalty. Shooting at multiple ranges (say, 3x range, which would be up to 24 inches) incurs progressive penalties.
The range mechanic encourages players to close in with each other to avoid penalties and get the best modifiers on the tabletop. This means the game plays best on a fairly small tabletop. The rulebook suggests 4×4 feet, but we played on 3×3 feet with 8 or 10 pieces of terrain and it worked fine.
Playing up close also looks great, as you can see from these photos. Games like Warhammer 40k pretend that they’re all about close combat, but often long ranged shooting is where you want to be. With Laserblade, the action happens up close, whether it’s shooting or close combat.
The activation system is also inspired. Each turn, you roll randomly to see how many figures you can activate. You can never activate more than 3 dudes at a time, so for typical games you’re leaving half (or more) of your team inactive in a given turn, and only activating one or two figures. This forces a lot of tense decision making, particularly in the late game when figures are close together threatening multiple devastating attacks.
But make no mistake, this is an extraordinarily simple game to play. Players seeking a lot of “crunch” will not find much to work with in Laserblade. But it’s a great option on busy weeknights, when mental energy isn’t in great supply and we just want to get some toy soldiers on the table.
John had some thoughts about the game here:
Laserblade allows me to get models on the table when I otherwise wouldn’t. I most often play tabletop games in the margins of a busy adult life. So it was with our most recent games, sandwiched into a Wednesday night between full workdays, after the kids were settled into bed. By the time we played, I had spent most of my attention budget for the day.
Luckily, we played Laserblade that night. Laserblade offers few details to keep track of and few decisions to make in the course of a game, all focused on one fundamental activity: positioning and maneuvering your troops for greatest advantage. This laser focus allowed games that surprised me how satisfying they were, while freeing me from needing to remember variations in things like weapon types, troop profiles, and so forth. Though neither of us had ever completed a game of Laserblade before, Patrick and I only needed to refer to the rulebook maybe twice. We got two games in, one exciting narrow victory per player, with time and energy to spare. I got to bed by ten!
The game is published by Echidna Games. It is a spartan offering, just 35 pages, with barely any formatting and just a handful of unspectacular photos as illustration. But you know what — that’s totally fine, because after one or two games, you literally won’t need to look at the rulebook ever again (except when you build your team for the next game).
And lastly (as is common with these ultra rules-lite games) Laserblade seems perfect for tinkering. If you like crafting house rules and custom scenarios and modifying games to suit your homebrew setting, this one has a lot of meat on the bone.
The verdict: try out LaserBlade if you want a fast-playing tabletop experience that is unlike most mainstream sci-fi games out there. It’s also a great option if you want to focus on pouring your creative energy into world building and custom rules, rather than reading volumes and volumes of published material.