Saturday, 13 June 2009

Tusk - A Review

Tusk: Mammoth hunting from 12,000BC to 1914 is a set of rules by Matthew Hartley and published by Irregular Miniatures. The rules cost £3.00 for a 16 page A5 card-covered booklet. The art-work is amusing, though amateurish compared to more modern, glossy rules sets. On the other hand, it is also amusing and there are a couple of really bad jokes in the pictures that I appreciated (I have a terrible sense of humour!).

The basic rules deal with how to hunt with cavemen. There is a points system that allows you to buy your hunters. These can consist of hunters with hand weapons, hunters with missile weapons, fire-makers (they can set fire to things!), Og the Hero (a character) and dog packs. Once you have bought your hunters it is time to set out and catch some dinner.

Irregular Miniatures 6mm Caveman pack (click the pictures for a larger image)

The system uses Action Points , much like DBA PIPs, and you roll 1d6 each turn to see how many you have. You then use these points to move your hunters and set fire to things. You can move hunters more than once per turn by spending multiple Action Points on them.

Fires, once lit, have their own place in the turn sequence and can spread across the table if you are not careful. They are useful for herding mammoths over cliffs, but you could also wind up getting burnt yourself.

Combat occurs when hunters with missiles are in range or hunters are within 2cm of their target. 2d6 are rolled and if the roll is high enough the target is dead.

The basic beast in the rules is a mammoth and the first two scenarios deal with hunting mammoths. Beasts do not have their own turn per se. Instead, their reactions are controlled by a reaction table. Each turn, each beast tests its reaction according to the most serious circumstance that pertains to its situation. Circumstances include: being near to a fire; being attacked in close combat; being near dogs; being attacked by missile fire; and a couple of circumstances determined by how close they are to humans. The reaction table will tell you what to do with the beasts, which could include running away, attacking or just simply grazing, among other possibilities.

A herd of Irregular Miniatures 6mm Mammoths

So, that is the basic system. It is simple and elegant and finishes with two scenarios. The first scenario is a solo mammoth hunting one. It is really a training scenario. You place a mammoth in the centre of the table and try to kill it. I played this through a few times and it was amusing, but began to pall after a while because there is a technique to mammoth hunting and once you sort that out, then you can win most of the time, subject to the luck of the dice.

The second scenario is a competitive game. The king is dead and the players are vying to become the new king. To prove their worth, the players must hunt mammoths successfully. The player that kills the most mammoths wins. The number of mammoths in the herd is determined by the number of players, so there should always be plenty of mammoths for you to hunt. I have not played this scenario yet, but my experience of one of the later ones suggests that it could easily descend into the most enjoyable chaos as players try to kill mammoths, drive mammoths over their rivals and generally disport themselves disgracefully.

The appendix then deals with Victorian hunters and also adds dinosaurs to the mix, specifically Brontosaurus and Tyrannosaurus Rex. Instead of hunters, the Victorian party will consist of Adventurers, Stalwarts (regular soldiers, etc) and Rabble (porters and similar ilk). You also have the option of recruiting Sir Harry (hero) and Artillery! Now, it may seem unsporting to use artillery against dinosaurs, but sometimes needs must.

Irregular Miniatures 6mm Sir Harry Pack

The appendix finishes with two scenarios using the new troops types. The first is a solo game where you try to capture specimen dinosaurs, much like the mammoth hunting scenario, by driving them into pits you have dug. I have not tried this one yet, but suspect that it could get nasty if you try capturing Tyrannosaurs. Mr Hartley recommends starting gently with Brontosaurs.

The second scenario is one that I remember fondly from many years ago. We had a most enjoyable evening's gaming as we tried to escape from Island X before the volcano on it erupted. Unfortunately, between us and our boat was a herd of Tyrannosaurs. Eek! The players must try to get from one side of the table to the other, past the Tyrannosaurs, and the winner is the one who gets the most of his group off onto the ship before the dice roll indicates that the volcano explodes and wipes the island out. This is a scenario where you try to position your troops so that they drive the Tyrannosaurs into your opponents and then gloat as your opponent gets eaten, and I highly recommend it.

Figure Packs
As you will have seen above, Irregular Miniatures also supports these rules with a number of packs of figures, both in 15mm and 6mm. I can only comment on the 6mm offerings because that is all I have bought. I received four dinosaurs in each of my packs and bought my mammoths separately.

The packs give you around 25 points or so of troops, which is enough for the scenarios in the rule book. You also get two pits (actually shell crater models) for capturing beasts. The figures are typical Irregular Miniatures fare. Some are a bit rough in the lead but they all paint up well. Personally I think that the weakest sculpts are the Stegosaurus, but even they are not too bad once painted and on the table, despite my paint job. The main problem I see with the packs is that both come with dinosaurs. It would have been more useful to get mammoths with my cavemen and Tyrannosaurs and Brontosaurs with the Sir Harry pack, because the Tusk rulebook does not specifically include Triceratops and Stegosaurus. Still, you can treat these latter as Brontosaurs for the purposes of your games and all will be fine.

I like these rules. I am not sure how much longevity they really have because they are a beer and pretzels rules set but they are fun to haul out every so often. They take no time at all to learn, so everyone can play and enjoy themselves from the off, even if they have not played before. I would recommend Tusk to anyone wanting a game that they can haul from the shelf whenever they do not feel like playing a "serious" game.

I like the figure packs that Irregular produces for Tusk too, despite my reservations above. The figures were easy to paint up and you get enough for one player in each pack. For the price, it is definitely worth investing in the 6mm sets. I am currently working on the Piedmontese International Scientific Survey and will add them to my set. After all, the game is fun and is worth playing every so often.

On a final note, there are two supplements for Tusk: Tusk II The Wrath of Kong and Steel Tusk III: Apocalypse Soon. I plan to review Tusk II once I have tried the rules in that supplement, but do not have Tusk III yet. As a taster, I can tell you that Tusk II includes rules for Raptors, Giant Wolves and Triceratops. It also adds rules for attacking other players, trained beasts and various new figure types and weapons. I am looking forward to trying this one out too.


  1. Thanks for sharing this _ I've often toyed with the idea of picking up this game. Excellent review!

  2. Can the game be played with 28mm models? Good review , by the way.

  3. It should work with 28mm but you will need to increase the move distances and ranges because of the increased footprint of the models. The basic solo games are designed for a 2' x 2' board. The group mammoth hunting scenario is designed for 4' x 4', while the escape from Island X scenario is designed for 4' x 2'. Looking at the scenarios in Tusk 2, they are all designed for 2' x 2' boards. That should give you an idea of the space needed. For 28mm I would be inclined to double all movement distances and use individual figures rather than the group bases that my 6mm figures are on.

    Depending how many players you have, I reckon an 8x6 table would be more than enough for all of the scenarios in 28mm. Hope this helps.

  4. Nice review. I've alway wondered what these rules & minis were like. Thanks.

  5. Great review!
    I have always been interested in trying these out, but never really knew what it was all about.
    Much appreciated!

  6. I played the Escape from Island X with dinosaurs and also a Kong game. The difference is I played it in 1/32. I used Marx Daktari figures and other jungle explorer figures. I also used Lone Star sailors and even lone Star Royal marines who were waiting in a gun boat. There were native figures as well. Things were further complicated by rival dinosaur hunters shooting at each other. The table size was about 10' by 12'. I also had dinosaurs concealed by jungle until humans came within a certain distance. I like the reaction tables for beasts. At some stage I want to do a game with Vikings riding dinosaurs versus Victorian or Edwardian explorers and troops. There is no shortage of large cheap plastic dinosaurs and not so cheap from Scliech. I also like the SF games with robotic elephants and daleks!

    1. I bet it looked awesome in 1/32. Do you have any photos anywhere?

  7. Hi. I really want a copy of Tusk II rules, but i cannot find an online store that shippment to México City. Could you please share your copy with me by email or dropbox? Ill be very apreciated. thnx!

    1. Hi,

      Hi, I cannot give you a copy of the rules as you suggest because they are copyrighted. However, you can buy a digital edition at Wargame Vault:
      This should be accessible from Mexico. I hope this works for you.

    2. I already have Tusk rules, i bought it from wargame vault a month ago. Im looking for TUSK II rules...


    3. Sorry, I did not read your comment properly.