I finished reading Band of Blades, which was my second Forged in the Dark game system to read. This book is a lot more focused than the original Blades in the Dark which is both a good and bad thing. The extra focus makes it easier to see how the entire game fits together, but the focus removes some of the flexibility in the default rule set.
The game focuses on the soldiers and specialist in a military unit fighting a withdrawal from a failed battle with an undead army. The game takes place in a world where the players will control people with limited or no magical powers, and those that do have magical powers are setting pieces for use in background conflicts. This is not to say that the players do not have control of the story or that they are less important to the story. The players in one of their two roles drive the story from beginning to end.
This game, like Blades in the Dark, has two levels of action. The first is campaign action where you control and make decisions affecting the fate of the legion itself. Each player takes one of the roles as a legion commanding ranks and makes decisions around their area of responsibility. These decisions then impact how the game plays out at a story level where the players pick members of a squad and try to complete missions.
In the command part of the game, you have the roles of Commander, Marshal, Quartermaster which must be filled. After that there are the two optional roles of Lorekeeper and Spymaster. The Commander gets to choose if the legion stays at a location or moves to a new location, and they get to choose what missions squads are sent on. The Marshal picks the soldiers that go on the different missions that the Commander has chosen. And the Quartermaster determines what supplies the squads can hae access to while managing the entire legions limited resources. The Loremaster and Spymaster can provide information resources in addition to those acquired on the different missions the Commander sends squads on.
During story play, the players pick characters from the squad that the Marshal puts together to complete the mission. These can be specialist though there are usually limits on how many specialists can go on a mission, soldiers, or rookies that can get promoted to soldiers if they survive long enough. During each story play session you could play a character you have played before, or play a new one. Also each time you play a new character, you fill out the sheet and when the mission is over, if the character survives, you return it to the player who has the marshal role to keep and handout the next time that character is activated.
I like this on two levels both for creating the legion you are going to be playing, as well as the fact that different players can play the same character and focus on different aspects of them during the session. The fact that the player in the marshal role gets to decide who goes on a mission means that they can try to advance as many of the rookies to soldiers as possible to make a stronger legion for the final section of the game.
After the basic rules and character creation and the campaign roles are described, we get the setup for the campaign complete with starting missions determined by the chosen (god imbued protector) and the two broken (corrupted chosen) that will be the focus of the stories. There are fourteen location that the legion can travel to that make up several paths to their end goal. You can’t go through each of the locations and once you have chosen a path, you can backtrack and try a different one. Each of the locations has several special missions that you can find and attempt as well as various regular missions. You can stay in a location for more than one campaign turn and try to gather supplies, or you can move on to the next location and face new threats. Each choice is tactically important, and once you make it to your final destination (Skydagger Keep) you have several tasks to finish up and then you can score how your legion did and see if they survive the winter.
Which is an interesting point in itself. The game can easily end with the legion being destroyed before they reach their final location or they can reach their final destination and not have the resources to survive the siege, or they can reach their final destination and hold of the advancing undead horde.
On the topic of Undead, each of the Broken have their own type of undead minions that they use as well as elite troops and infamous that are a step above that of the elite troops. In addition as time progresses during the campaign, the Broken also improve and get access to more types of undead to use and more powers to cause the legion problems.
All in all, this was a good read, and it makes me want to go back a read Blades in the Dark again to see what new wrinkles I pick up based on what is in many ways a more concrete implementation of Blades in the Dark. As it is, I am not sure that I would want to play or run a game of this, but it has been an enjoyable read and I look forward to hearing what other people do with it.