I’m a big fan of fast-moving games that can be played with a fairly small force. I’d been hearing a lot of good things about the 18th century skirmish game Muskets and Tomahawks from French mob Studio Tomahawk, so have decided to dip my toe in and see how it plays.

Force Composition

The main rulebook contains lists for all the various factions from the French and Indian War and the AWI. Battles are commonly about 200pts, which gets you about 20 miniatures (the photos in this post are from a large multiplayer game at my club designed to let several people have a go).

Units are generally about 4-8 men, and you can mix and match different types of units, within some broad restrictions. Generally only elite line regiments will be forced to stick strictly to certain types of troops. Most other forces can mix and match line units, light infantry, militia and Indians to build a composite frontier force. Certain troop types do work together better though, as they have different fighting and manoeuvring styles. There are definite advantages to keeping a force fairly homogeneous though, as officers can only command troops of the same type as them.Whatever type of troops form the majority of your force determine what your force is classed as. That will affect the type of battles they fight and their objectives.

Command and Control

Activation is per-unit and card-based. The different troop types activate differently, with regulars getting two actions (eg: move and fire, or fire and reload) when their card is drawn, irregulars, militia and Indians getting one. The militia do put fewer cards into the deck though, so don’t get as many actions in a run through the deck as the other troops.

The upshot of the card system is that the action isn’t traditional IGOUGO, but seesaws back and forth between both sides, which keeps everybody involved all the time and gives a good feel of simultaneous action. It’s never long before you can activate a unit and hit back at the enemy.

Officers give a morale bonus to nearby troops, and can give a bonus activation to one nearby unit when their card is drawn.

Movement

There are rules for mounted troops, but you’re pretty unlikely to ever see them. Movement on foot is generally 4-6″, but anybody except light troops and Indians moving into terrain are heavily penalised.

This (and a few other factors) mean certain troops will want to spend all their time in the woods (eg: Indians), while others will want to stay in the open at all times (eg: local militia).

FIW Skirmish in woods

Indians and other light troops are adept at fighting in the woods and handling difficult terrain. The enemy Coureur de Bois are just visible at the top of shot.

 

One unique feature of the rules is the inclusion of some well-developed rules for boats and canoes, and players are encouraged to use them. Rivers and streams can be routinely put on-table and movement by river is genuinely useful.

Indians use their canoes to move rapidly across the table

Indians use their canoes to move rapidly across the table

Deployment

Deployment is another mechanism affected by troop type. Indians and other troops with high levels of woodsmanship can use hidden deployment (including dummy markers), while rank and file troops have to be deployed openly. While any force can use Indian allies, some forces will be able to deploy their whole force hidden.

Visibility is an important mechanism in the rules, and is also strongly affected by terrain. Hidden troops in woods will only be spotted at point-blank, or when they fire.

Combat

Combat is simple to resolve, if you’re in spotting range it’s one roll to hit and one to kill. There are no charts to consult, and the few modifiers are quickly committed to memory. Muskets at intermediate range are effective, but often push the enemy back rather than wiping them out. Close combat is much more brutal, and is always decisive.

Different troops are more or less effective at different things. Indians can field very nasty hand-to-hand troops, while regulars from both sides can form a close-order firing line and put out a wall of lead.

Opposing sides face off amid walls of smoke. Both sides have shot here, so cannot fire again without reloading. Whichever one activates next is likely to charge.

Opposing Indians face off amid the smoke. Both sides have shot here, so cannot fire again without reloading. Whichever one activates next is likely to charge.

Black powder weapons take time to reload, firing and reloading being two separate actions. Only regulars can perform two actions when their card comes up, all other troops will be stuck with a black powder marker until their card comes up again and they can reload. This vastly increases the unit’s visibility to the enemy.

Morale and Psychology

Morale is crucial, you’ll have to take a check every time you suffer a shooting casualty. Like everything else, the reaction depends on the troop type, but often results in troops falling back or simply running away when fired upon.

Militia and Indians in open ground are very fragile, while elite European regulars in close order and with nearby leaders are very solid.

Morale is also linked to victory, as once you’ve lost too many men a special card is added to the deck. When it is drawn everybody has to take a morale check at a large penalty. Once you’ve got the morale card in play your force is essentially wavering, and likely to turn tail any moment. You’ll need to get a move on if you’re to achieve your victory objective…

Victory Conditions

One of Muskets and Tomahawks biggest strengths is its excellent scenario and objective system. The game comes with several types of scenario, and which you play will depend on what type of force you’re fielding. Victory conditions could include reconnaissance, straight up attrition, or controlling villages (whether your intentions are to burn, slaughter or protect).

FIW Indian Village

Villages and civilians are important objectives.

 

There are also secondary objectives available, called side plots. These are personal objectives given to individual leaders, and can be a lot of fun.  These can range from having your officer kill specific enemy, kill none of them at all, protect a lady, or even go mad! Fulfilling your side plot can salvage a draw from a loss, or turn a draw into a win, so they’re well worth paying attention to.

Yes, but is it fun?

I’m a novice, but the game seems to crack along at a good rate. The core mechanics are simple but the large differences between the troop types prevent it from feeling bland. With a lot of variation thrown in by the well-developed terrain rules and the excellent scenario and objective generator it looks like being a game with a lot of replay value.

You can get a game done in a couple of hours at a club night and the rules for customising your leaders make campaign play an option. All up it gets a big thumbs up from me.