On Thursday my husband Edmund, our friend S., and I got to try Relicblade, a miniatures game from local company Metal King Studio. This is a skirmish-level, 35mm-scale game pretty much conceived and executed by one person, Sean Sutter: he wrote the rules, drew the art, and sculpted the minis!
The Relicblade had been Edmund’s birthday present this spring, but we had not tried it yet because Edmund wanted to paint the minis first. The basic game set comes with two factions, the Heroes and the Pig Men. Edmund had immediately declared them to be social justice warriors and male chauvinist pigs, respectively. The colour scheme of the heroes was selected to reflect his official team name, the Rainbow Warriors.
We met at our Friendly Local Gaming Store, EndGame in Oakland, which has nice gaming tables and lots of great terrain pieces to use. Because Relicblade has good rules for movement—climbing, jumping horizontally, jumping down, etc.—we selected terrain that would give us good three-dimensional battles. We didn’t use any of the campaign scenarios, just the basic last-one-standing goal with a Relic in the center of the board.
For our first battle, we picked the unsettling attractive Temple of Cthulhu. It was just a tiny bit smaller than the 2 ft x 2 ft (60 cm x 60 cm) standard for playing Relicblade, we marked the corners with fences and trees. The relic was placed on the very top of the temple.
We had three “sides” of 50 points: two Rainbow Warriors for Edmund (a Cleric of Justice and a Questing Knight); three defensive Chauvinist Pigs for S. (two shield pigs and a soldier pig) ; and three offensive Pigs for me (berserker pig, axe pig, and raider pig). Deployment starts in opposite corners for a two-player game, so we took up three of the four corners.
A round starts with initiative rolls, then has each player activating one model in descending initiative order. Each model has a number of action dice that can be used for movement, special abilities, attacks, or reserved to dodge. And we all converged upon the top of the temple…
The Relic that gives the game its name is an important asset; when a factions manages to seize it, the player draws a random card from a deck of possible relics. In the starting game, all of them are beneficial in some way. (Post-game discussion: we agreed that a few dangerous relics would make it a less obvious tactical decision to run for the Relic marker first.)
I had my Axe Pig head for the Relic, my Berserker Pig intercept the Cleric of Justice, and my Raider Pig shoot in the melee between Defensive Chauvinist Pigs and the Questing Knight before rejoining with Berserker to finish off the Cleric. Snatching the Relic was well worth it, providing a significant attack ability that did not count against my action dice budget, and I ended up winning by concession when it became clear what the end would be anyway.
The entire game, from picking a table to finish, took one hour and forty-five minutes, even though we were reading our way through the rules.
In the second game, we selected post-apocalyptic ruins with opportunities for climbing and jumping. Defensive- and offensive-minded Chauvinist Pigs rejoined forces and faced the assembled might of the Rainbow Warriors (Cleric of Justice, Questing Knight, Thief, and Wild Elf Druid), with S. and me on a side and Edmund on the other.
Dice luck was extremely bad for the Pig Men’s attacks and extremely good for the Heroes’ defense rolls. Moreover, I think we Pigs just did not have a good strategy to work together. The rapidly Thief snagged the Relic and used it to good effect. We were slaughtered while the Heroes took two points of harm, total! We conceded when the outcome became inevitable.
Again, the game took just over an hour and a half, including take-down and clean-up.
The system was fast, simple, and clear; the cards make it easy to assemble an adventuring party. Compared to other similar card systems in miniatures games (e.g., Malifaux, Clan War, Gloomhaven, etc.), I found them to be very legible and easy to understand; the art is good and the symbols clear. I liked that the dice icon at once indicate (A) whether you need to roll, (B) what your target number is (minimum roll needed), and (C) what the critical roll is (exact roll).
The art is definitely up my alley, I love pencil and ink work and quick sketches. In the examples of play, it made the rules easy for me to understand. It was also nice that the entire rule set is reprinted at the beginning of the campaign book, giving two opponents a set of the same rules with the same page numbers. (Even luckier, a friend had given us an extra copy of the campaign book he won at KublaCon but had no use for—thanks, Caramida!—so the three of us at the game table could follow along as we learned the rules.)
The freedom to move and use abilities in any sequence during a model’s activation provide a much less scripted feel and a much more dynamic flow of actions. (WH40K, I’m looking at you.) The items and abilities you can attach to characters are interesting, useful, and provide variety and options. The ease of use for three-dimensional combat made the fight feel very exciting. Terrain pieces were not just scenery or cover, they were features to use.
We have not yet tried playing in campaign mode, but the “Wonders and Horrors” campaign in the expansion book looks like tons of fun, introducing linked scenarios in which each side can collect more relics and put them to use, improve their base, encounter random adversaries wandering through the scenarios, and so forth.
In short this is an exciting, attractive, affordable, and highly portable game that can be played even if you have limited time and space available. I look forward to play again.
Recommended for gamers who like skirmish-level miniatures games like Warmachine, Hordes, Malifaux, or Necromunda, with simple and clean rules.