With any set of rules the key game mechanisms will usually take up no more than a few pages and for a club set that can normally suffice with any out of the ordinary situations dealt with by a judicious application of common sense. Older gamers will recall the flurry of “Back of a Postcard” rules that turned up in the 1980s and the sense of fun and liberation they brought after some of the weightier tomes we had to slog through in the 1970s.
When producing a set of wargames rules professionally the author needs to be more careful to dot as many i’s and cross as many t’s as is sensibly possible. What begins as a few pages of core ideas and mechanisms ends up expanding at an alarming rate as we try to ensure that every possible situation is legislated for.
Of course the truth is that this is never going to happen. A set of rules which covered every possibility would be unreadable to most normal human beings and would run to many hundreds of pages. As it is, we need to strike a balance between what is likely to come up in a game and what could possibly occur once in a million times and then present the rules accordingly.
Possibly surprisingly, rules which are based on close-combat are inherently more involved than those which centre around ranged missile fire such as WWII. To that end Dux Britanniarum is liberally sprinkled with diagrams illustrating just how units facing each other in combat interact. With this type of combat we need to consider such pithy issues as how overlapping troops join a fight and just who is fighting who.
With the rules landing on door mats all around the world and armies getting finished off, we thought that it might be a good idea to strip the rules back to their bare bones and present some of the basic principles so that gamers coming to the rules for the first time can see just how we envisaged the game being played out. So, here is a run through of the core principles with the thoughts of the author included.
Don’t forget, with any TooFatLardies rule set you are never on your own. Any set of new rules always involves a learning curve, and to make that as simple as possible you can always chat with our authors on the TooFatLardies Yahoo Group. If you have any questions or anything you’d like to see covered in more detail then just leave a message here and we’ll try to respond.
Commanding Your Forces
The first thing you need to do in any game is divide up your forces between your Nobles so they have someone to command them. There are no hard and fast rules on how you should do this, it’s your force and you can divvy them up as you see best suits the tactical situation. Some people prefer to operate with their forces in large bodies of several Groups, and that certainly helps when it comes to moving your forces in a coordinated manner in the initial phases of any encounter, but a great big herd of troops is not very flexible.
The key thing to remember is that your troops are going to be activated and controlled by your Nobles. The Noble’s Status level will dictate just how many things he can do in a turn. That includes getting your forces to move and keeping them effective in combat, so you should probably think about which Noble is best for which role when you put together your battle plan. A Status II Noble will not be able to activate three separate Groups and will be slow at getting them to do more complicated stuff like forming formations. If you need to have a high level of command activity then you’ll be better allocating your Lord, with his Status level of III, to that part of the battlefield.
When a Noble’s card is dealt he can activate the Groups or Formations under his control. This bit of the rules allows for a very simple de facto chain of command to exist. For example, if my Status III Lord, Tribune Constantine, has three Groups of Warriors under his command and Maelgwyn his subordinate Noble’s card is dealt then Maelgwyn cannot activate any of the Tribune’s troops as he is out ranked. If, on the other hand, Maelgwn has two Groups under his command and Constantine’s card is dealt then Constantine CAN activate them if they are within his 9” command range as he outranks Maelgwyn.
What no Noble can do is get any Group to move more than once in a turn. So, if Constantine activates Maelgwyn’s force they will move forward but if Maelgwyn’s own card is dealt subsequently then he can’t do anything as his troops have already been activated.
What we have found is that some players tend to place their main Lord with his Elite household troops, whilst others prefer to appoint a junior Noble to command the Elites and let the Lord command their Warriors, thereby beefing up their attacking power. What almost everybody agrees on is that putting your British Lord with the Levy is a very bad idea!
Getting Your Men to Move About
Formations are your friend! Moving individual Groups about take a lot of Command Initiative and you also have to roll for each Group to see how far they move. With a formation, especially a Mass formation, you only use one Command Initiative to move the whole Formation and you only roll once for the distance moved, so the whole force sticks together.
There may be times when you’d prefer a pell mell rush towards an objective. For example, if I am a Saxon Lord looking to raid a church I am going to consider advancing my units individually in the hope that one of them rolls some very good dice and gets to the objective as quickly as possible. In battle, however, I will be wise to keep my forces as coordinated as possible.
It’s worth mentioning here that Shieldwalls move more slowly than Mass formations, they are taking much more care in order to maintain their formation. Rightly so, a Shieldwall is a powerful defensive formation, and can be a powerful offensive formation if you catch your enemy on the hop. Many British players tend to make their initial moves in Mass Formation before forming up into Shieldwall as they get close to the enemy. But be careful! I have regularly seen a speedy Saxon attack catch the British before they form Shieldwall, and that hurts!
Commanding your Men in the Fight
You’ll hopefully have noted that when it comes to the crunch a Noble has a choice to make. Does he pile in with his troops, sword in hand, or does he stand back and try to maintain a degree of control? The thing to remember here is that if your Noble fights in the front rank he will add dice to every round of combat, and that’s worth having. However, he will also see he command range reduced to 3” and will only be able to rally the Group he is with, not multiple Groups.
If, on the other hand, the Noble stands back behind the combat he does not add any dice to the combat but he does keep his command range so he can rally any Groups within that distance, so that’s probably all of the Groups in the fight if he stands in the right place. Which presumably he will…
In any turn of our game there may be Groups of men who don’t get activated, probably because your Nobles have been too busy doing other things or because these troops are out of command because they have routed. Fear not, they don’t loiter furtively doing nothing, they get to have their turn once the last card in the Game Deck has been dealt.
So, in a nutshell, everybody gets a go in every turn, but nobody moves more than once in any turn.
Harassing troops, be they missile armed or skirmishers are never influenced by Nobles. Not because they wouldn’t listen but because Nobles wouldn’t deign to speak to such social inferiors. Missile troops and skirmishers are the youngsters of your particular clan, they are not yet old enough to take their place in the ranks with a shield and spear but they are allowed to join in the fight as part of the process of “Blooding” to get them use to the realities of war. As such they turn up and do their bit but nobody particularly takes any notice of them (unless they kill you).
As a result of the above Harassing Troops are activated on their own card in the Game Deck. They may not be rallied by Nobles or influenced by them in any way.
The Hand of Fate
Let’s be honest, gaming Dark Age combat can be somewhat “vanilla” in its flavour; I line my men up, you line your men up, and then we knock each other over the head. However, I don’t think that portrays the essence of the heroic actions which we read about in period accounts of conflict such as Y Gododdin. In order to introduce some of this period flavour to our games we have employed the Fate Deck.
How Many Cards do I Get?
At the start of a game both sides will start with a hand of five cards. For a raid that will be the hand they go into the Game Phase with. For a battle the Pre-Game Phase can adjust that number up or down depending on how successful you are in preparing your forces for battle. There is no maximum or minimum number of cards stated, there doesn’t need to be, but the fact is that in the absolute worst case scenario you could see your card hand reduced to two cards, in the best case scenario it could be increased to seven cards.
The Fate hand is not the be all and end all of the game. The fact remains that if I have seven cards in my hand and you have two cards you CAN still win. But don’t count on it! The cards are designed to provide a small short term advantage, usually in combat, but that lasts only for one round of combat, so not even a full turn.
For example, if I play an Aggressive Charge card then in the first round of combat I get a +1 to hit, but in the second round of combat I get no bonus. Likewise, if you play a Shieldwall Braced card that bonus will only protect you in the first round of combat. Nevertheless, these small advantages are significant, especially if you build a hand with the right cards.
Things to remember here are that you CAN increase your hand at the start of a turn by one additional card if you use a Noble’s Command Initiative to “buy” that, but that is a temporary advantage. At the end of each Noble’s activation you can’t hold a larger hand than you are allowed. So that would be five cards for a Raid scenario or between two and seven cards for a battle, depending on the Pre-Game Phase. Having said that, if your Noble has spare Command Initiative it is always worth buying the additional card at the start of his activation, you never know what opportunity might present itself.
Don’t forget, if you do play multiple cards in a turn you only replace them at the rate of one card on each Noble’s turn.
Maximising the Benefit of the Fate Deck
“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” wrote Orwell, but he could well have been referring to the Fate Deck in Dux Britanniarum. From a game design perspective I am not a fan of cards which stop you doing something, I much prefer the cards to allow you to do things or enhance the manner in which you do them. So, what you will find when you get your initial hand dealt is that, with the exception of the Desperare, you’ll probably look through the rules and come to the conclusion that they are all pretty good cards to have. And you’ll be right. However, I’d wager that they could be better!
The real way to make a difference with your Fate Deck is to make sure that you have a balance of cards that suits your game plan. All of the Fate cards can be played by both sides, but the suit cards, those with the Dragon or Boar on them, really suit the British or Saxon way of fighting. If you are looking to launch an aggressive attack then you really should be looking to get hold of at least one Carpe Diem card as this has the obvious advantage of allowing you to play multiple cards. This becomes even more powerful if you can put together a run of your own suit. Look to achieve that in the early phases of the game by being ruthless with what you keep and what you discard. Remember, good is okay but look for perfect!
Worth a special mention here is the Shieldwall Braced card. This is a very important card for the British as they alone can form Shieldwall. There are only two in the deck so the Saxon player who gets one of these in the initial draw will need to decide whether it is worth holding on to this simply to deprive his opponent of it. That said, the card is intentionally useless to the Saxons, so by doing so they are effectively reducing their hand size by one card.
Like all of the core rules in Dux Britanniarum movement is kept as simple as possible. In basic terms all troops get to move with 3D6 and the number of pips rolled indicates the number of inches they will move. You will get units who by doing other things or forming into a slow moving Shieldwall use less dice to move. Likewise you’ll find that cavalry move faster by adding 2” for each D6 used.
Some key things to remember are as follows:
When moving a unit or formation rolls once for its movement, so multiple groups in a formation will all move the same distance.
Groups, Formations or Nobles will only move once in a turn.
Groups or Formations MUST move the distance shown on the dice. You may well want them to go faster or slower but this reflects the fact that in battle you are not in complete control of your forces. However, troops can reduce the distance they move if they are heading for a specific point on the table, such as up to and in line with a friendly unit or up to a wall, fence or similar obvious and identifiable point on the table. This does not mean you can say “Up to that point there” and point to a blank piece of ground!
You end up facing the direction you moved in unless you lose one D6 of movement in which case you can change your facing.
How combat works depends on the type of troops we are looking at. There are two types of troops we need to consider here, proper soldiers, be they on foot or mounted, and Harassing Troops.
Harassing Troops will never attempt to make contact with the enemy. If they are contacted they will be removed from the game but will not count as casualties towards the final tally of losses at the end of the game.
In game terms missile troops tend be annoyingly effective or annoyingly ineffective. To get the best from these send them ahead of your force and engage the enemy with missiles as early as you can. Try not to block their line of fire, so keeping them on a wide flank can be very effective.
Harassing troops are incapable of killing anyone. Their job is specifically to annoy and disorder their enemy. Used aggressively these can pull an enemy’s formation apart, so be sure to keep them in your opponent’s face as much as possible, especially as if the enemy try to drive them off the skirmishers are adapt at attacking their opponent before evading.
This covers both foot soldiers, so your Elite troops, Warriors and Levy, or cavalry, be they Light or Shock. In a nutshell this combat is simple to work out. An attack is either made frontally or from the flank or rear. In order to attack from the flank or rear (the effect is precisely the same whether it is the flank or the rear) the attacker needs to start his attack from behind the rearmost rank of any figure in the target Group. The following diagram shows you that the attacks represented by the read arrows are frontal, whereas the attacks shown as yellow arrows are from the flank or rear. However, is the attacker cannot play a Carpe Diem card the Group shown here will turn to face their attackers and the attack is treated as a frontal attack.
Of course it could be that this Group is already fighting an enemy to their front. In that case the rear rank will turn to face the fresh attack and all the combat is calculated as though the attacks are both made from the front. Naturally a unit sandwiched like this will be in trouble if it gets a retreat result due to combat, they will be unable to do so and will be killed to a man.
One important thing to consider with Close Combat is that once your troops are locked in combat they cannot withdraw from it at will. They will continue to fight until one side or the other is obliged to withdraw due to men dead or shock on the Groups involved.
Unlike movement, close combat may occur multiple times during a single turn. When contact is made two rounds of combat will normally be fought, although if one side or the other is defeated in the first round this may only be one round, but that’s unusual. On each subsequent activation or any Noble in the combat a further two rounds will be fought. So, for example, if two British Groups with two Nobles are fighting two Saxon Groups with two Nobles then hypothetically eight rounds of combat could be fought in a single turn; two each time a Noble is activated. However fights are unlikely to last that long.
The key things to remember in terms of combat are how multiple Groups fight each other. There is a lot in the rules covering things like overlaps so we don’t need to repeat that here in detail. Suffice to say that Shieldwalls are pretty rigid, so if they face a smaller group they can overlap them on one or both sides but not every man will fight. With a mass formation all the men in the Groups will fight if they have an overlap as they are more flexible and can just lap round a smaller enemy.
Calculating Close Combat Results
In simple terms close combat is worked out with 1D6 rolled for each man in combat. You also get 1D6 for each Status level of any Nobles involved. So, for example, a Group of five Warriors with a Status II Noble will roll 7D6. There are very few adjustments to that. The idea is to keep this part of combat very simple so that you can add the enhancements with your Fate cards. You may get the odd dice if you are a better class of troops than your enemy but that’s about it.
Hitting is easy. Roll a D6 and 4, 5 or 6 is always a hit. You then divide the hits between any Groups taking part in the fight, and allocate any odd hits depending on the formation of the troops you are facing. This is designed to give a bit of an edge to the Shieldwall in combat and a bit more to a Shieldwall which is uphill from its opponent. So, if your enemy is in Shieldwall he will decide where to allocate his hits, if he is in Mass Formation you will allocate them for him. So, for example, if you are fighting two enemy Groups in Shieldwall and inflict five hits on them that will be two hits on each Group and your opponent will decide where he wants the fifth hit to be allocated.
Now you know which Groups the hits are on you will dice to see what effect they has. Remember, you allocate the hits and then roll for the damage separately on each Group. You’ll then find that Elite troops die hard, whereas Levy fall like flies or get a lot of Shock and break fairly easily.
Shieldwalls always ignore the first kill on each Group in any round of combat and so are very powerful if they have secure flanks. However, as we have seen, they are not very flexible formations and can barely manoeuvre at all (all this is in the rules, but you don’t need to worry about whether a Shieldwall can wheel at this point, save that for your next game once you’re more comfortable with the rules.
Cavalry are worth mentioning here, although you probably won’t see them in your campaign for a while. Light cavalry fight just like normal foot soldiers but they move more quickly. Shock cavalry gain certain benefits from cards in the Fate Deck which make them very powerful when they charge, but if cavalry get caught in a stationary fight they tend to die or rout due to their small Group sizes.
Light cavalry are best used to clear away your opponent’s Harassing troops and to threaten flanks. Shock cavalry are very effective against an enemy who has already lost men or is encumbered with Shock. You need to win fast with cavalry in order to get the best from them.
Nobles in Combat
As we have seen, Nobles are very important people when it comes to keeping your force motivated and functioning. Naturally these individuals are not invulnerable so when any Group which they are accompanying loses one or more men dead we roll a D6. If the roll is equal to or less than the number of men killed in that round of combat then the hit is on the Noble rather than one of his men (so don’t remove that soldier!).
A Noble who is hit in this manner will be wounded and reduce his Status level by one which will affect his ability to command his men in subsequent turns. If his Status is reduced to zero then the Noble is dead and removed from the game.
Don’t forget to test your force morale any time a Noble is wounded or killed.
Shock is the inherent morale system within Dux Britanniarum. What that really means is that I don’t like morale tests very much, I think they break up the game with lots of dice rolling that isn’t really needed. Far easier to have a system which deals with this automatically. And that’s what Shock does.
Groups of men gain points of Shock as a result of combat. Being shocked is better than being dead but it is often an excess of Shock which sees units obliged to retire from combat rather than dying to a man.
Shock is a cumulative effect. The more Shock you get on a Group the worse it performs. For example, a Group with four Shock points will reduce its movement towards the enemy by 4” and in combat it will reduce the number of dice it rolls by two. Once Shock reaches double the number of men in a Group they will be permanently broken and retreat from the fight.
You’ll need to keep a track on the amount of Shock on a Group. We will have some downloadable Shock markers on Lard Island News very soon. In the meantime a small D6 with the unit will suffice.
The key things to remember with Shock are as follows:
• It slows you down (1” per point if you are heading towards the enemy, no reduction if you are running away!).
• It reduces the number of dice you roll in combat. Lose 1D6 for every two points of Shock. So 3 Shock is -1 D6, 4 is -2D6.
• It isn’t permanent. Your Nobles can rally one point of Shock off a Group they are with (being in command range is not good enough) for one Command Initiative.
Shock can look bad, and in the end it IS bad, but it can be rallied off. Do remember that a unit breaking due to double Shock will mean you have to take a Force Morale Test, so if you have Groups reduced to two men you are better off protecting them than just hurling them into the fray.
So, there you have an overview that should get you started playing. Remember the campaign system has been designed to allow you to ease your way into the rules slowly and the early raids are a great place to learn before you start to fight battles for territory.
Airfix kits were the bane of my childhood, largely I think because I lacked (and to a degree lack) patience. Sticking the tank together was easy enough, but the real nightmare was the tracks. Those soft plastic rubbery one that you pinned the two plug bits into the holes, waited half an hour and then