Following my habit of being at least a couple of years behind the rule set curve, I returned to Britain in the Dark Age recently. This time the period from the Roman withdrawal around 410 AD to the end of the 6th century, using a set of rules from the Too Fat Lardies stable, Dux Britanniarum.
I've been itching to play Dux Britanniarum for a while - it's been around since 2012 - however with Saga all the rage, I couldn't find a local opponent. It ticks many boxes for me; I'm interested in the limited histories and mysteries of the period. It's skirmish level with relatively small forces, centred around a core campaign system with little bookkeeping. Moreover, I can use my Saga miniatures!
After sitting in on a campaign game at the esteemed Falkirk & District Wargames club last week, I was back yesterday evening for my inaugural game with my seconded Saga miniatures and a brand new (you know that new book smell!) copy of the core rules and the Raiders supplement, which introduces the Picts, Scotti and Irish.
So what's it all about? It's D6 based with unit/character activations determined by a card driven system (Fate deck) where all units get to act in any single turn. Players also draw their 'hand' of normally 5 cards from the Fate deck prior to battle which they can use to apply all sorts of boosts or handicaps to the units in the field. Somewhat similar to Dead Man's Hand in this aspect.
A typical starter force - the Saxons for example - will comprise a Lord, his Champion, and two subordinate leaders. These are the Nobles. Then 3 units of Warriors and two units of Elite warriors with 6 miniatures in each. Finally a single unit of 4 archers. 38 miniatures in total. Of course, as a campaign develops new troops may be added as the Nobles gain fame or notoriety!
|The Fate Deck|
It's clear that Dux Britanniarum is designed principally to be played as a campaign, simulating initially either a Saxon or a Romano-British Lord and their Noble's careers as they fight to expand or defend their kingdoms, raising their reputations and fortunes. Of course, one-off games are accommodated too, with a battle and terrain generator system. Included with the rules are four detailed A4 coloured which together cover Britain, Wales and lowland Scotland along with an historical background to each kingdom.
I'm a big fan of campaign systems, and DB appears to have taken many of the most interesting elements and condensed them for easy management. Skimming through the core rulebook - mine is the 92 page, full colour, soft cover edition (pdf bundle also available) - you have everything from character attribute generation, a simple 'filthy lucre' section covering a campaign's momentary management, career paths and post battle advancements. It's full of character and flavour!
Here's an introductory video from Lardy Towers:
What about your game? Well, obstinately ignoring advice from more seasoned DB players at Falkirk, I opted to jump straight in with a Scotti force from the Raiders expansion. Inevitably, as with all expansions, new rules and units types are introduced adding to the complexity for newbie players like me. Nevertheless, as I already had a painted started force ready to go - my Saga Scots - I couldn't resist.
My opponent had played a couple of games before, although admittedly it had been a while. With a borrowed Saxon force, we opted for a Raid scenario on a farm. We kept things simple. We forewent the campaign Pre-game event phase where players can roll to enact one or four possible events that help their forces psychologically prepare for the forthcoming rumble. Such as making a rousing speech or providing copious amounts of mead.
|Saxons (foreground) routing the Scotti Raiders (background) retreating back to the farm|
We then set the Force Morale Level, which is between 6 and 9. This is an indication of the punishment each force can take before losing cohesion and making a strategic withdrawal, more commonly known as losing! It's critical to the Battle or Raid, with combats on the field impacting this counter.
With this being a one-off Raid, no character generation was required. The scenario had my marauding Scotti (bloody type-cast again!) rolling luckily three turns of movement as a head start to get to the farm before the Saxons turned up. Great I thought! With my Scotti force having two mounted units I soon had them galloping up the field and in amongst the farm buildings. Except they couldn't 'search' for loot - that had to be done by the footsloggers.
|Scotti Raider unit led by a Noble (foreground) with apparently supporting cavalry, facing the Saxons|
Since the Scotti scouts knew where the Saxons were likely to turn up, their Lord and one of his Nobles sent all the warriors off to head off the Saxons whist the skirmishers had orders to rummage around the farm. The unit of slingers cunningly used the cover of some nearby woods overlooking the anticipated Saxon line of march. Not without much grumbling as they'd been seconded from my Saga archers.
Eventually a group of Saxon archers turned up who nonchalantly ignored the Scotti slinger's pathetic attempts to fling rocks and lead shot and instead started to tickle the ranks of slightly hungover Scotti warriors. Look, this type-casting is getting ridiculous now!
Soon enough the Saxon archers were joined by their warrior brethren and a fierce clash between the Scotti Raider units and the Saxons ensued. Now, the Scotti Lord had hoped all he needed to do was hold of the Saxons long enough for the skirmishers, supported by the cavalry, to loot the farm and withdraw.
But unfortunately the skirmishes evidently found themselves a large stash of mead and spent the entire raid cajoling in the farm. Meanwhile the Scotti warriors were being battered by the closed Saxon ranks.
|The Scotti skirmishers can't be STILL searching the buildings?!|
This is where the Fate deck (or in our case, using plastic 'chits' in a bag) to provide random unit initiative came into play. I really could have done with the skirmishers activated, but Fate decided that the clash of the warriors was far more interesting! After playing a few cards from our Fate hands to bolstered our forces, the Scotti started to lose too many men and after three turns they finally broke.
The losses meant me nervously rolling for Force Morale deductions and, as anyone who plays me knows, I mostly roll exactly the opposite of what I need in any given occasion! The Scotti force cohesion crumbled and they soon routed. Except the skirmishers. They were still senseless in the farm.
As usual with a new system, the first few turns took a bit of getting used to, but with my opponent having some experience and plenty of guidance from regular players on hand, I soon got the jist of the turn sequence.
And I loved it! There is so much more to learn, but this one-off game has just reinforced my enthusiasm to embark on a campaign in Dark Age Britain!