Monday, December 23, 2013

Battleboards: The Steppe Tribes

This faction was introduced in issue 311 of Wargames Illustrated with a colourful article that really draws you in. There is something fascinating about a hit and run mounted faction that makes you want to consider them as a "must have" in your growing number of Warbands.

Steppe Nomads:

These guys are billed as the most 'shooty' mounted unit in the game. If they can outdo Bretons in that respect they must be good!

Lets look at who they were then move on to their Saga setup and abilities.

Gripping Beast Steppe Tribes Warriors (Copyright GB)


Covering a long period of time, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Steppe Tribes have existed from Eastern Europe (present Bulgaria and Hungary) right across to China. They were typically led by a strong leader such as a Khan or Kagan, the most notorious of these must be Genghis Khan and his ability to unite Mongol Tribes into a larger nation.

Some cultures, such as the Crimean Tatars, would only engage close quarters if the odds were in their favour. Showering enemies with arrows was a preferred tactic to lessen the odds. Warriors of the Steppe were trained literally in the saddle in the tactics of taking what they needed; raiding was common among these tribes and with it the art of war. Violence was simply a way of life. Mobility was key!

The disciplines of speed with maneuverability on horseback, the use of the bow even at full gallop and 'terror' became the "Steppe Tactics" used over and again until eventually the way of life was ended by civilising tactics (religion and settlement) and by the emergence of new technologies - gunpowder being a notable one!


Warlord: Must be mounted and carries a composite bow.

Nobles (Hearthguard): Must be mounted and carry a composite bow. Armour in melee is -1.

Free Men (Warriors): Must be mounted and carry a composite bow. Armour in melee is -1.

Slaves (Levy): carry bows (NOT composite bows!)

No "Swords for Hire" units are allowed.

The Composite bow works in a similar way to javelins but can be used at the start of movement OR at the end. The restriction is that if you are within VS of an enemy unit you must engage it and not shoot, or if you shoot at the start before moving then you cannot engage in combat.

Heroes of the Viking Age:

There is one, Delyan, the Revolted, Tsar of the Bulgars. The rules are more complex than 'normal' Heroes and will not be covered here.

Gripping Beast Steppe Tribes Warlord (Copyright GB)


The Steppe Tribes Battleboard has two replacement abilities on the left hand side of the board...

"The Steppes" (uses Uncommon or Rare dice) - This is a multi-use Melee-Reaction ability which allows an engaged unit to take fatigue but to then disengage L away from the fight before it is resolved. Live to fight another day!

"Black Arrows" (uses Uncommon or Rare dice) - This is another multi-use Melee/Reaction ability. Can be used once in each Melee and only if the player is the Defender. You resolve a Shooting first against one of the units you are engaged with. A powerful way to help reduce the odds or played in combination with "The Steppes" ability to disengage from this fight immediately.

Note: The standard activation abilities for units are also there.

The "once per turn" abilities are.....

"Deadly Plains" -  Orders (Two Common dice) - All mounted units get 3 Attack dice in shooting, but at the expense of getting only half dice in Melee.

"Emptying The Quivers" - Shooting (One Rare die) - Turns one unit into a VERY deadly unit (until it does at the end of the activation)

"The Arrow Knows the Way" - Shooting (Uncommon or Rare die) - Basically this reduces the save throw by discounting (adjusted) Defence die rolls of "4". If you discarded a Rare die to use this one, the enemy take one fatigue at the end of shooting, if they survive. Could be used with "Red Skies" for extra effect if extra punch is needed for higher armour units.

"Red Skies" - Shooting (Uncommon or Rare die) - Increases the effectiveness of your shooting. You need to select a number for Attack and Defence die rolls to fail on. Think carefully!

"Wild Cats" - Activation (Common die) - Allows you to reposition a distant unit on the battlefield, basically leaving a table edge and coming on near another table edge, though at the cost of a fatigue. This is a powerful tool for misleading the enemy and repositioning a unit and only costs a common die.

"Steppe People" - Orders (Rare die) - You get to roll one extra Saga die in this Orders phase for each Warriors unit you have on the table.

"Khan" - Activation (Two Common dice) - Allows all Levy units within M of your Warlord to Shoot. Each unit activated this way gets three extra Attack dice.

"Die by the Bow" - Activation/Reaction (Common or Uncommon die) - is used after the enemy activates for a movement but before they actually move. All your levy units can target the enemy unit for shooting. If that enemy suffers at least one casualty, its movement is reduced by one band. Could be useful when defending an obstacle that the enemy is trying to take, a ford or building maybe...

"Galloping Ghosts" - Shooting (One Common die) - is an encircling shooting activation that is not easy to pull off, but if you do the enemy are severely weakened by being open to a lot of damage by shooting.

"The Darkest Hour" - Activation (Two Rare dice) - all units can be activated for a shooting that does not generate any fatigue. In addition, each unit gets 50% more Attack dice(!) Say no more....

Gripping Beast Steppe Tribes Nobles (Copyright GB)


Without the opportunity to have played this force any thoughts on tactics or experience of using them is not available to the author, all I can do is take a look at how they "fit in" with all the existing factions.

For the Steppe Tribes, being mounted adds an inherent fragility but lots of possibilities for fast hit and run tactics. Enemies that do not sufficiently protect themselves will find shooting casualties mounting up. Being able to time the disengagements is going to be key to surviving long enough to win a game.

I would put this faction into the area of "for experienced players" only due to the "finesse" elements of hit-and-run tactics that are required. There is certainly no harm in being able to move rapidly round the field of battle, unless caught by regular cavalry!

Gripping Beast Steppe Tribes 4 point Starter Set (Copyright GB)

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