Back to the club this week, originally for a bit of a blether (there's a new project brewing,) but I was pleasantly surprised with the offer of a game of Dux Bellorum. I've had the rules for a few months, but haven't gotten around to getting a game in. After reading the similarly titled Dux Britannarium, I ordered some Romano-British figures from West Wind; not with any real agenda or plan, but after this weeks battle I think I've finally caught the Dark Age bug!
The battle saw a Romano-British force confronting an invading Saxon army. Our umpire, Hugh, set up a fairly neutral table with a couple hills in the centre and some woods and a village to one side. The Saxons, commanded by Ian (ably assisted by yours truly,) consisted of one huge line of warriors backed up by their Noble and his mounted companions. The centre of the line held the best quality troops while the flanks consisted of the ordinary warriors.
Opposing them, to our left, was the Brit shieldwall and some foot and mounted skirmishers controlled by Sholto. The shieldwall was less numerous than the Saxon line and this was due to the Adam's cavalry to our right; the Brit Nobles and two units of ordinary cavalry. Hmmmm.
The first couple turns saw, unsurprisingly, a general advance. Movement in Dux Bellorum is handled by a simple command test on each unit's bravery stat, pass and you move, fail you don't. Interestingly, if you group your units together, as both sides did, you use the highest bravery stat in there, representing the veterans (or lunatics) goading their companions on.
Combat was initiated by the Saxon cavalry charging into the skirmishers on our right. This caused a fair old amount of discussion as it involved a charge right across the front of the Brit cavalry, who were unable to block or countercharge them. It certainly didn't look quite right, but no one was able to point out what was wrong. Nevertheless, the British Nobles moved in to join the ensuing (lengthy) combat.
On the hill in the middle, the British cavalry moved surprisingly quickly to the crest, discouraging my warriors from charging them. Attacking uphill is suitably difficult in DuxBel and the Warrior troop type has to test not to charge. On our left, the big Saxon line steadily ploughed forward towards the opposing shieldwall.
So we arrived at the first combat of the game, the Saxon cavalry against some skirmishers and the British cavalry. The combat mechanism in DuxBel is really quick and straightforward; both sides attack simultaneously trying to match the enemies protection value. That's it, no to-hit, to-wound, saves, cover etc!
What adds depth to combat is the leadership points. Essentially, each force has a limited number of points to allocate out to units each turn, each leadership point can then be spent in a number of ways, moving before your opponent, rolling extra attack dice or ignoring hits in combat being three examples. In our first combat, the Saxons wiped out the skirmishers, but took a hit in return from the cavalry.
Over the next couple turns, the two lines of infantry finally made contact. The differences between the two types of infantry, Shieldwall and Warriors, became very apparent here. The shieldwall don't really pack much of a punch in combat, but are extremely difficult to wear down. Warriors, on the other hand, have much more offensive potential, but are a bit easier to damage. Consequently, we saw the Saxon warriors inflicting gradual damage on the shieldwall, but being themselves were regularly pushed back suffering similar damage. After each move backwards, the Saxons would then automatically charge back into combat. This felt really appropriate to Dark Age combat, warriors repeatedly charging a solid wall or spears and shields!
Everyone around the table thought that the shieldwall would buckle, but they kept hanging on, a couple units down to a single cohesion point (think wounds or stamina, no cohesion, unit disappears.) Still, the Saxons were suffering almost as much damage, to the point that both commanders were using their Leadership Points defensively to ensure their units didn't collapse. Much the same was happening in the ongoing cavalry battle, both units essentially matched each other's damage point for point, down to two apiece at the end of the game.
The Saxons fail to control themselves and charge uphill at the British cavalry. Because, yeah, that's a good idea!
In the centre, the Saxons, almost inevitably, failed to control themselves and charged the cavalry facing them. Although they didn't do too badly initially, they were gradually pushed back until both units were on the brink of collapse.
However, the collapse first struck somewhere else, namely the main Saxon battleline. One turn there were five units there, the next there were two! It's easy to imagine a powerful Saxon warrior suddenly falling, shattering the morale of the whole line and sending the remnants running from the field. At this point, down to half it's starting number of units, the surviving Saxon units had to individually pass morale checks. Although everyone stuck around the first turn, everyone except the Saxon Cavalry disappeared the next turn. The Saxon Warlord surely cursing his luck and pledging to avenge himself on the cowardly British!
Despite the defeat (I think I'm on a five game losing run at the club) I had a blast trying a new ruleset. Dux Bellorum certainly has the core of a great game with a lot of mechanics I enjoy (test to move/manoeuvre, straightforward combat mechanism with lots of choices.) It even felt like a Dark Age combat, lots of noise and action, the melees getting more and more tense until the point when one army snaps! Even the hooky charge movements seem easy enough to houserule and correct. Rumour has it there's a rematch next week, so we'll see if I can't wangle my way onto the winning team.
So finally a thanks to Hugh, Ian, Sholto and Adam for a great evenings gaming. For now, fugite in malam crucem!