So me (Sparta) and my opponent (Athens) finally had our first games today. They were pretty quick as we played only 175 pts with no plahanxes, they didn't give us the whole picture but there is still a lot to unravel.
First, we generally liked what we saw and will likely play again in the nearest future. Battles are fast, dynamic and very chaotic which makes your brain constantly work out on where to strike next. Combat lines constantly flow, bend and break with units running through the gaps and killing supporting troops caught unaware. Ruleset is pretty unusual and has a lot of nuances I haven't met in any other wargames (like multiple models squads possessing greater HP
than single models but roughly the same attack stats - which shows their ability to form a wall to repel enemy attacks I presume), learning it will definitely be fun and it seriously differs from any other skirmish game I've played or heard about (except maybe Blood & Plunder - both games' commanding and activation systems are nearly identical - and Bolt Action - primarily because of random activation system).
The game is, just like we expected, is pretty fantastical even in its milder form without additions of cyclops and centaurs: it remind me of an epic Hollywood action flick with Achilles-like heroes battling it out and gods intervening to save them via Omen system of buffs and debuffs. It's fast, bloody and dynamic with a lot of room for different roster compositions - it nails all the main factors for a great skirmish game in my opinion.
But! There are also a few buts, and Mortal Gods is no exception.
The game definitely needs to be played at higher formats, probably 250 pts or so being the absolute minimum and 300-400 being standard. Low bracket games are very random and heavily influenced by single lucky throws since there are a few models rolling small amount of dice. Chances of success are slim: depending on circumstances, scoring a hit has 1/2 or 1/3 chance, then defender can deflect these hits with 1/3 chance (although a number of defense dice is very limited and it's possible to have deal at least some damage if you get a lot of attacks), then you can would with 1/3 chance. Regardless of whether you are an experienced hoplite or a peasant with a club, both units can instantly die if they roll badly and their opponent doesn't. Attack and wound tests also have multipliers: if you roll crossed swords symbol, you get two attacks instead of one which can also multiply into two more wounds each later. As you can guess, wounding enemies is generally hard but very susceptible to change of fortune: you have actually good chances of inflicting zero damage in your attack but if you don't, you can roll anywhere from barely scatching your opponent to completely tabling them with similar possibilities. As a result, we had a lot of failed charges and a lot of charges evaporating entire units but very little in between. I am, however, pretty certain it happened because of small warbands. If you roll a lot of dice, such skewed results are less likely to happen and there's also a lot of room for backup plans. When your entire army is just 3-4 units, losing one of them is almost guaranteed defeat unless you also get lucky and eradicate enemy unit in the same manner.
Same counts for heroes. They were exceptionally powerful in our games easily destroying large chunks of opposing warbands, but that's precisely because companions were too few and far between (it's possible to make 2/3 of your roster consisting of leaders which leads to them almost outnumbering regular troops in smaller games). Once we get at least 4-5 warriors for every hero I assume odds will be pretty even.
The only thing I outright disliked are Omen markers. You see, the game has rotating activation system similar to the Bolt Action (or so I've heard, never played BA
myself): you randomly draw stones of different colours out of shared bag and either activate unit of regular warriors (white), a hero (black) or apply random Omen card (red) which can either buff or debuff friendly or enemy models - they represent random occurances of faith or Gods themselves intervening. If you get a marker you're unable to spend since all your units of this type have already been activated, you pass it to your opponent. Once three red markers are drawn, the round ends, you put your marbles back into the bag and begin anew.
Pretty simple, but if you draw an Omen card, you CAN'T activate and pass this right to your opponent, getting pretty miniscule buffs (or outright debuffs if you're unlucky) in return. Since in smaller games there aren't a lot of activation tokens for small amount of units, it's extremely easy to draw markers you can't use several times in a row, allowing your opponent to activate their entire roster unhindered. Game one essentially ended on the 3rd turn with me getting two Omen markers in a row and then two markers I couldn't use since my heroes have already been activated. Athenian player got a sequence of free activations and tabled my entire roster except for the Lochagos (your band's leader) who died the next turn.
it's very punishing: depending on circumstances you can get an Omen card you can't even use (archer attack upgrade but you have no archers in your roster) or take severe penalties (every time your hero activates they get damage or -1 to all defence rolls this turn). It was pretty unfun to draw debuffing Omens, lower my defences and get instantly destroyed by enemy charges. Blood&Plunder has very similar system with Joker wildcards, but they come IN ADDITION to your current actions this turn, not instead of, and even if their effects are negative, they don't necessarily apply to your models. This is much more fair and doesn't leave you helpess before your enemy simply because you got unlucky one time.
But overall the game is pretty great and I look forward to trying it again.