Dux Britanniarum – the Author Interviewed
Rich: Publication date is the 30th of July. We’re getting ready for the launch, stuffing the limited edition Arthur figures into zip-lock bags and sticking up on padded envelopes so we’ll be ready for the big day.
Nick: How does one get hold of the limited edition figure?
Rich: The first 800 hard copies of the rules come with a 28mm Arthur figure, beautifully sculpted by Richard Ansell to fit in perfectly with the Gripping Beast starter armies that we are selling.
Nick: Yes, I noted they were available. Let’s talk about them in a moment, first can you tell me about the rules. What format are they available in and what do you get?
Rich: Okay, well the rules are perfect bound eighty odd pages, eighty four or eighty six, I can’t remember at the moment, all in full colour on high quality paper. In addition to the rules there is a pull out A3 sized map of Britain in 450AD, so that’s at the very start of the period that the rules cover, which shows all of the British kingdoms of that period. This provides a background to the rules and more importantly to the campaign system which is really at the heart of the game. We will also be producing an interactive tablet version of the rules which will be perfect for the iPad or similar touch screen tablets, and a PDF version.
In addition to the rules we have produced a deck of cards which actually is two decks, the Game Deck and the Fate Deck. There are 64 cards in total and they come in standard playing card size with a nice hard plastic box to keep them in.
Nick: Are these different to the IABSM cards then?
Rich: Yes, they are smaller, 88mm by 61mm with round corners. They are exactly like a standard playing card so very easy to use and shuffle.
Nick: Okay, so rules, cards, a large map, is there anything else we may need?
Rich: Figures. The rules aren’t limited to any particular scale but we use Gripping Beast figures and it made sense to talk to them about producing standard starter armies to accompany the rules. We sell a British starter army and a Saxon starter army at a good discounted rate so you can pick that up as well if you need. Then you’re ready to go.
Nick: Okay, so what about prices.
Rich: The rules will be selling at £20 for a hard copy with the cards at £8, but we’re doing a bundle deal for just £25 which I think is the sensible way to buy them. The PDF and tablet versions of the rules will have a set of printable cards with them if you fancy a bit of DIY card making, and they will be £15.
We’ll be doing some great pre-publication deals as well, for example if you buy the hard copy bundle prior to publication we’ll be throwing in the tablet or PDF version for free. Also the first 800 hard copy customers will get a free limited edition sculpt of Arthur in 28mm.
Nick: Is this by Richard Ansell again?
Rich: Yup. Tricky is a very talented sculptor and he has done Arthur to fit right in with the Gripping Beast figures. It looks superb. Like all of our limited edition figures it’s a one-off, we won’t be producing these again so they will be a real rarity in years to come.
Nick: Yes, I saw one of the Sharpe and Harper sets on EBay recently going for twenty five pounds!
Rich: That’s funny, that’s twice as much as the rules cost in the first place! A good investment.
Nick: Well, you have long stressed your desire to produce good value rule sets and the £25 bundle sounds like a great deal.
Rich: I think we have seen hyper inflation in recent years with the cost of rules. I try very hard to keep our rules affordable without compromising on production quality. If you look at the quality of IABSM which we produced last year you’ll see a very similar quality with Dux Britanniarum, although the look is very different.
Nick: What about the game, how does that play?
Rich: The rules of the basic game are very simple indeed, the back cover is the one page playsheet and that’s all you’ll really need to play the tabletop game, but there is much more to Dux Britanniarum than the tabletop game. We have designed to rules to provide a complete campaign system of which the games are the central part.
In essence you will select the British Kingdom which you and your opponent wish to fight over and then start a whole campaign which can last over many game years. What we have been at great pains to do is to create a streamlined almost paper-free system which allows the gamer to focus on the fun of the game but have those couched in a background setting which makes them all the more fun.
I have always believed that campaigns are the Holy Grail for wargamers. We all aspire to take part in one but all too often they never get off the ground or the fall apart due to external pressures taking away too much of our free time. So we have put together a system which literally takes a couple of minutes before each game and a couple at the end at the most, but allows you to have a relatively busy backdrop to your games. Lots of flavour for not a lot of effort.
Nick: How would that work?
Rich: Okay, the main map of Britain has over twenty Kingdoms on it, you choose the one you want to fight over and the campaign becomes the story of that particular Kingdom, almost the Annals if we want to use a period phrase.
You and I would both have three main characters, nobles if you like, one of whom is the Lord commanding our force, the other two his trusty lieutenants. There’s a bit of character generation at the start of the game, but that takes no more than five minutes and then you’re ready to play.
To get started the Saxon player has a choice of which of your provinces he attacks. For example if you are on the East coast he is likely to be a sea-borne raider, if you’re inland then he’ll be coming from an adjacent Saxon kingdom already conquered.
If we turned up at the club on a Tuesday night and you were the Saxon player you say “Okay, I am raiding into this province”. We’d then generate the terrain with the terrain generator in the rules, and then roll a few dice to see what it is that you are raiding to attack and where that is on the table, then we get playing.
Nick: You say raiding, can I conquer your lands or am I just a German bandit out to mug you for some cash.
Rich: At the start of the campaign that is pretty much what you are, a robber baron almost. You can attempt to conquer my lands but at first you need to establish a reputation and gain some gold, so raiding is how the campaign starts.
This is intentional as it means that for the first three or four games you are going to be limited to raids, that will give both of us a chance to learn the rules and get a feel for what tactics work with our armies before we actually get to the point where we can lose any land. I think that gives a fair start to both sides and it also allows us to play a wide variety of scenarios. The skirmish games are all really quite different and a lot of fun in their own right.
Once you start amassing some cash there are numerous options which allow you to enhance your own position and strengthen your position.
Nick: Sounds like accountancy skills will help!
Rich: Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong. Your “cash balance” if you like is on a scale of 0 to 10, so all you need is to keep a single digit total most of the time. It’s very simple indeed. When you get the cash you’ll find that there’s always something to spend it on, so your balance remains pretty low for the most part.
Nick: So if I get some cash what sort of thing can I do?
Rich: That depends on whether you are British or Saxon. Both sides have different career paths they can take which reflects their background. The British one is rather more politically nuanced than the Saxon one, the Roman influence has left the British with a real penchant for intrigue, whereas the Saxons are much more straightforward.
The British Lord begins his career commanding a Kingdom’s Army, so he is looking to gain prestige and wealth in order to influence the local nobility whose support he needs if he is to ever become a King in his own right. As the campaign progresses he can restore the old Bronze Age hill forts and strengthen his defences, as well as seeking to enhance his prestige and influence with a range of projects and the support of the Church. The Saxons are rather more interested in Ale and wenches than politics, but they will be looking to gain the support of their own Gods and strengthen the lands they capture against a British counter attack.
Nick: And this is “paper free”?
Rich: (Laughs) I said ALMOST paper free! Actually it is really each. But one sheet of paper should do you for the entire campaign.
Rich: Yes, absolutely. Indeed for the campaign we have been playing at our local club I haven’t written down anything, it is all easy to remember, even with my addled brain!
Nick: I played in one or two games in the first playtest campaign you ran with Cyddic, and that was certainly paper free, but the one you’ve been playing latterly I have missed all of. From the write-ups on Lard Island News and Roundwood’s World that seemed more involved in terms of narrative, I presumed that some book keeping must have been involved.
Rich: No, not a bit. The latter campaign is much more the finished article, whereas with Cyddic I had the basic ideas in place but we were stress testing them to see where they broke and where they worked. The Cynewulf campaign has progressed much further and has run very smoothly. Cynewulf won sufficient gold to be hailed as a great Warlord by his men and with that came the chance to raid into British lands. He has done that but recently suffered a massive defeat at the hands of the British Lord Constantine which kept him off the British lands for the rest of the year. Constantine, who started as a Tribune, has been promoted to Praefectus for his services to Cynwidion.
Nick: Cynwidion? Never heard of it.
Rich: That’s a shame Nick as it is where you live! It is the old lands of the Catuvellauni which now have a King who rules to the north of London up to the south of Leicester. A real “Heart of England” area, which tells us who won in the end!
Nick: Okay, but I could set my campaign anywhere in the British Isles?
Rich: Not quite. Anywhere in England, Wales and lowland Scotland, all the way up to the Antonine wall. Above that were the Scotti and the Picts. Dun Brithon is the most northerly British capital, what is now Dunbarton.
Nick: And the Welsh?
Rich: No people of this period would call themselves that. The Welsh as we call them today are the original Britons. “Welsh” is the Anglo-Saxon word for foreigner, “Waelisc”.
Nick: So the British are the Welsh?
Rich: Yes, the rules differentiate culturally between the Romano-British who live in the south and east and the British who lived in the mountainous western area we now call Wales and in the North, from the Humber up. The Romano-British are culturally more Roman, the British are more British but they are both civilised Christians who are linked to Rome still through the church. They both fear and hate the pagans from Germany who they see as simply trashing all things civilised.
Nick: What about running large campaigns with a number of Kingdoms, is that possible?
Rich: Yes, very much so. In fact I am going to produce a supplement which provides rules for that and for three new factions, the Scotti, the Picts and the Irish. We’ve already been play-testing these and they are great fun. Real wildmen!
As the rules stand they are designed for a single kingdom to be fought over. If there are just two of you taking part then that’s simple. If you have more players then by all means fight over multiple adjacent kingdoms, form your own alliances and so on. There are no rules for that yet, but with a small dollop of common sense it is very achievable.
Nick: What is the end game for the Saxons. Historically they just kept coming back for more until they won? Surely the British can only hope to keep the Saxons off their land, they can never reclaim the whole island.
Rich: Yes, that’s very true. The British job is to keep their kingdom secure, and that is enough of a handful without trying to reclaim Kent and the lost lands. Ultimately the Saxon can be utterly defeated if he loses all of his wealth and cannot pay his tribute to his over-Lord. When that happens he is declared an outlaw in Saxon lands. He can then try in a last ditch effort to seize some of your land, but if that fails his men will disperse and he will be finished. That is an immensely hard job for the British, but it should be hard, it was in reality. The Saxons have an equally hard job, so it should be a hard fought campaign and a lot of fun.
Nick: How many games do you see the campaign lasting for?
Rich: That’s a bit of a piece of string question, but there is plenty of fun in there. If you wanted to play it every week for a year you could, but likewise if you chose a small kingdom with one or two provinces it could be significantly quicker than that. As a minimum a single province city state, such as Verulamium, could provide a campaign with an absolute minimum of half a dozen games. Much more likely that would run to ten to a dozen games.
With a larger kingdom you’ll have more games. I think this is what makes the rules great value for money. The interest level is high because of the campaign. For twenty odd quid you could be getting a year of solid gaming. I think that compares favourably with six pints in my local pub. However, I would say that the system is designed to be picked up and put down, so if you fancy going away and playing IABSM for a few weeks then you can just come back and pick up where you left off with no problems.
Nick: So, how do the rules play on the tabletop?
Rich: The emphasis is on keeping the basic game play simple and intuitive, you want a game that flows easily where everyone playing is involved and caught up in the narrative of what is happening in the game rather than the rules themselves.
The turn sequence is dictated by the Game Deck which includes one card for each of the Nobles and one for each of the independent groups of missile or skirmish troops, so quite a small hand. In each turn all of the cards are played and that determines the order in which things happen.
Nick: No “Tea Break” card which can end the turn prematurely?
Rich: No, I think that in a game where the emphasis is on hand to hand combat rather than ranged weapons that is not appropriate. The use of cards to determine the order of activation provides sufficient variety and potential for friction in this period. That and the Fate Deck.
Nick: Tell me about the Fate Deck.
Rich: The Fate Deck is made up of 38 standard cards plus a further six cards which may, or may not, be added due to pre-game events. Typically each player will have a hand five cards which he may play during the game. The idea is to get the hand which best suits your plans and then play them when you launch your attack to get an advantage over your opponent. Some of the cards are aggressive, some are defensive, some suit the British best, some the Saxons,
Normally both sides will start with a couple of “national characteristic” cards in their hand which are central to their tactical doctrine. So the Saxons tend to have the Aggressive Charge card, whereas the British have the Shieldwall Braced card, the rest are dealt randomly from the deck.
What you are looking to do, especially in the early stages of the game is to construct a plan which your hand of cards will support and provide you with some advantage. You should be looking not to use the cards as the determining factor of what you want to do, but rather to enhance that. These are not totally dominant in the game, they give you a fleeting advantage, but one that can be significant if you plan well and time your attack.
Dump cards that don’t match your plan, look to keep and acquire cards which suit your national characteristics and then seek to use these to tip the scales in your favour, especially in the first onslaught of your attack.
Now what is interesting is that the Fate Deck is multi-facetted in that the cards don’t just do one thing. You have Dragon suit cards in there which benefit the Britons, Boar suit cards which benefit the Saxons. Both sides can use these, but if you are British the Dragon cards can, not will but can, give you an enhanced result. You have aspects to the cards which affect the post battle phase, and so on.
Typically a Nobles can play one card when he is activated. You don’t have to do this, so if you have built up the perfect hand to suit your plan you keep that until you unleash it. If you are still looking to construct the perfect hand you can recycle a card each time one of your Nobles is activated.
One of the key cards you are looking for is the Carpe Diem card. This allows you to play a run of numerous cards and is really the key to getting an immediate advantage. So, for example, when you are planning your attack at the front end of the game you are ideally looking for one of these so that you can launch your attack with the most power. Now, the good news is that this isn’t too hard, there are half a dozen in the deck, so the chances are good that you’ll have one of these from the outset. The big question is whether you use these to gain an immediate advantage or whether you husband your resources a bit more carefully.
It is perfectly possible to plan a really powerful attack, playing all five cards in one go, but the system is designed so that whilst this will tip the odds in your favour it will never be a guarantee of success. Once you have used your entire hand you will find that it takes time to rebuild any hand, let alone the one you want. For me this represents the commander’s ability to make a decent plan and launch that, but what happens after that is harder to control. As the battle is joined it becomes harder to try to develop a plan, and much easier to simply be reactive.
This is really key to the cards. They are assets, and the player is faced with some serious decisions about using them. Do you get the immediate advantage of playing a card now as soon as you get it, or do you look to rebuild your plans by holding on to the cards to try to put together a decent run which could give you a significant advantage. It’s a conundrum, and one that makes for a fun game.
Nick: Okay, but you mentioned pre-game events, what’s that about?
Rich: The game is actually played in three phases. The pre-game phase, the game itself and then the post game phase. All of these impact on each other and then determine what happens in the campaign as a whole.
The pre-game phase varies depending on what sort of game you are about to have. If it’s a simple raid across the border to pinch some sheep or plunder a church then this is simply a case of rolling to establish your force morale level. This then determines how much you can expect of them in the forthcoming raid.
If you are fighting a full blown battle then this develops out further into an opportunity to really psyche up your force and attempt to get them mentally prepared for the fight. This has a range of options such as sending forward your champion to engage in single combat, passing round the drinking horns, calling on your God or Gods for their approval, making a rousing speech. All of these have the potential to boost your force morale, gain your character personal kudos, fire up aggression and other such benefits.
However, these things aren’t as simple as they first appear. Along with benefits can go unintended consequences. For example, getting your men roaring drunk before a battle could well make them more aggressive, but it can also make them more unruly, and even fog your brain as a commander if you over-do it.
You may get a situation where one of your Priests declares a miracle which boosts your mens’ morale and he may even have had some sort of vision which allows you to use a battlefield ruse, all based on historical precedents, this isn’t magic by the way, you can be sure that he will then be looking for a lump of cash to build a church on the spot, and that will come out of your purse.
All of this is designed to be multifaceted, and you need to judge when your men are ready, when you have the advantage over your enemy, and then let them loose. Over-egging the pudding tends to have negative consequences.
What occurs in the pre-game phase can determine how many Fate cards you have in your hand, affect your force morale, give benefits in combat, and so on. Once you have that do you play the game itself. After the game is complete the post battle phase and that is where the cards in the Fate Deck have a different function again.
Let’s imagine that you have raided my lands, and are making off with your ill-gotten gains. Now typically in a wargame if you make it to the edge of the table you have won. Not here. Some of the Fate cards have a small line at the bottom saying Pursuit or Retreat. The Carpe Diem cards, being the really powerful cards are marked “Pursuit or Retreat”, so they do both. Once you leave the table we now need to compare how many of these cards we have in our hands. You are looking for retreat cards as you are the one running off with your plunder. I am looking for Pursuit cards as I am chasing you.
So, okay, you have won the game as you raided successfully, but let’s presume that you have two retreat cards and I have three pursuit cards, in that instance my forces are pursuing you to the border and your margin of victory is reduced by one as a result. If I have four Pursuit cards I’d have reduced that further. So how much loot you actually get away with is reduced, how much prestige you gain is limited, how many volunteers turn up at your hall is restricted. You end up looking more like a common thief rather than a great war leader, and that doesn’t help your cause.
Nick: That sounds a very novel and fun idea.
Rich: Thanks. I think that the emphasis is on fun with historical plausibility. I wanted a game which modelled the warfare of the Dark Ages but did so in a manner which was enjoyable. The Fate Deck really adds to the game. You could play the basic game without the cards and it would be fast paced and simple, once you add the cards you really make the game more multi-dimensioned and it fits in beautifully with the campaign.
Nick: Can you play the rules without the campaign?
Rich: You could certainly do that. We did it a lot in the early phases of play-testing as the campaign rules were still all in my head. What we found was that when we added the campaign system it really enhanced what was already a fun game. You need o think about other issues. Phyrric victories are all well and good in a typical one-off wargame, but with the campaign added they can have huge implications.
What’s the point in stopping a bunch of Saxons nicking the lead off your roof if it means your casualties are so high that you have to then spend months rebuilding your forces? So, the answer is yes you can, but I can’t think why you would not want to throw in the campaign as well, especially in view of how little effort is involved.
Nick: Well, thanks for your time Rich, having not been involved in this project I am feeling a bit jealous that you’ve been having so much fun in my absence.
Rich: So how are you getting on with Jolly Jack Tar, your Sharp Practice supplement?
Nick: Ahem, I am the one asking the questions! Actually it is coming along well. I am slaving over the Summer Special at the moment, that’s my number one priority, so Jolly Jack Tar is looking likely in a few months.
Rich: Excellent, I shall really enjoy having a bit of fun with Sharp Practice again. I have seen some of the graphics you’ve done for that and it looks fantastic.
Nick: Thank you, I am certainly pleased with the way it’s shaping up.
Well, thanks for your time today Richard. If anyone has any questions about the rules how can they get them answered?
Rich: They can shout on the TooFatLardies Yahoo Group or drop me an email via the web site. I am always happy to chat about our projects.
Nick: That’s great. Thanks again, I am sure that Dux Britanniarum will be a real hit. I shall look forward to getting my Dark Age figures on the table at long last.