Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Broken Legions: First impressions




I’ve been chomping at the bit to try two recent rule additions to the Battleshed library, both are from Osprey Publishing with their distinctive blue livery and captivating cover picture. One is Rogue Stars, the other is Broken Legions. It was pretty much fifty-fifty which one would get to be played first, with Mark Latham’s skirmishing in a faux Roman Empire winning out.

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Not for any particular reason other than it was the first to get a call to arms for my clubs' first meet of 2017. I’ll be skipping ahead a few aeons later in the week for Rogue Stars, but first I had a chance to step back in time and mythology to pit a few hardy, heavily armoured, gladius wielding Roman adventurers calling themselves the Sons of the Eagle against warbands from the Grecian Argonauts, Germanic Barbarians and a mostly mounted band of Parthians. So not much to do then. 

This was an introductory game of Broken Legions, organised by club veteran Andy Wilson who kindly volunteered to actually read the rules and host a multiplayer game for those of us that had only managed to flick through them! The best bit - and one of the draws for small scale skirmishing set in this period - is that many wargamers will have plenty of suitable ancient miniatures ready to go. I mean, who hasn’t got at least a couple units of Romans? Well, er, me actually. 

The Roman Soldiers of the Eagle set out. It's a lovely day.

That’s not strictly true. I have a whole army of them. Just not assembled or painted. It's probably why I was attracted to Broken Legions - skirmish wargaming and another incentive to actually splash some paint near that big box of Romans. Unfortunately, my first Rogue Stars crew (and reinforcements on their way) muscled to pole position in this year’s painting queue. Luckily another club stalwart and his worshipful chairperson, Dave Knight, saved the day by supplying the miniatures we would need. Some of them truly were ancient too. I mean seriously old miniatures. Older than me. I did wonder if some of them were originally owned by HG Wells! 

As this was our inaugural game, more of a rule walkthrough really, I’ll provide my first impressions and opinion of playing Broken Legions. It's not a full-blown battle report. That would be unfair until I’ve a few more games under my belt. Hopefully, I’ll convey a flavour of the game for those wishing to sample. But first, a brief summary of the basics:

The premise: Broken Legions (Osprey Publishing) written by Mark Latham and illustrated by Alan Lathwell is D10, points based, small warband skirmishing for two players or more set in the mythological Roman Empire. Where low fantasy magic, superstition, monsters and the supernatural exist alongside the societies of the ancient period. 

The set up: As this was a four-way multiplayer game, Andy wisely chose to keep things simple with a standard control the objectives scenario; a model within 3” of any of the objectives randomly scattered around the 4 x 4 table controlled it unless contested by an enemy model. The warbands controlling the most by the end of the turn target or club timeout wins. You can guess the turn limit started to become academic as we slowly started to activate our warbands whilst continuously grilling an admirably patient Andy on just about every facet of the rules. It went to the familiar club timeout instead, ushered in by the scrape of tables (caretaker’s lament) and chairs being put away! In addition, Andy helpfully used a simple dice roll and chit to decide which warband had the initiative each turn, moving to the player on the left and so on. We also activated two models per turn instead of one, a slight deviation from the Broken Legions mechanic simply to help speed things up. 

The mechanics: Broken Legions is a D10 system (I haven’t had D10s out in a long while!) with individual model activations, always starting with the leader, alternating between players each turn. The turn sequence consists of four phases: Initiative, Actions, Melee and Recovery. Each phase is completed by both warbands before moving onto the next. In the Actions phase, activated models get effectively two actions – one standard or Charge move and one ‘other’ action which could be Run, Hide, Ranged Attacks, Perform a Miracle or do something Heroic. The Recovery phase is where any outstanding effects and scenario conditions are resolved and contains four linear steps.

Stats:  Each model in the warband follows a somewhat typical profile and stat line format with familiar staples such as Melee, Accuracy, Physique, Agility etc. along with weapons, armour and special rules. There is even a Fate attribute there, which may ring a few bells for older gamers! 

Tests: Tests for successes against actions are determined by a D10 roll, adding the figure’s relevant attribute and any modifiers.  A total of 10 or over succeeds. Simple really. Some tests call upon a D5 roll - D10 halved and rounded up -  and, (reverb on full), The Rule of One is used!

Ranged & Melee attacks: Both are a two step affair, where players first roll to hit or defend with modifiers. If it’s a successful attack (10+) and beats the defender's score then it’s another roll to determine if any actual damage is inflicted. If the attacker beats the defender, again with modifiers, then a wound is inflicted against the model’s Hit Point attribute. If it’s a lowly slinger, for example, then he only has a single Hit Point so his slinging days will be well and truly over.

Interestingly, when making a Ranged or Melee attack, a Critical D10 die is simultaneously rolled (preferably of a different colour) where a successful attack with a critical 10 inflicts and additional auto-wound. On the flip-side, roll a critical 1 and it’s a Fumble, with typically fumbly consequences. Melee is naturally rather more involved than straightforward ranged attacks, covering such things as Order of Attack, multiple melees, outnumbering etc but with the basic roll to hit, roll to wound mechanic at the core.

Miracles: this is where its gets all mystical and fantastic. Where Shamans, Magi and Priests in the warband can attempt to perform all sorts of supernatural rituals, with such mysterious titles as Dirge of Kotys, Heart of the Lion, and Nature’s Wrath or summon all sorts of exotic beasties and elemental beings. And is all done by a simple Presence test in the Actions phase, but again, accompanied by a Critical Roll (Wrath of the Gods) that may or may not go well for the arcane meddler. The Gods can be fickle you know.

The Warbands. The typical warband is designed to be between 7 and 12 models, with the rules oriented for 25mm-30mm scale miniatures, somewhat restricted in that players choose models from the same warband lists and/or Auxilia provided in Broken Legions, set to the points agreed between players. The suggested starting points is 150. There are 8 warband lists provided - Sons of the Eagle, The Order of Mithras, The Sons of Spartacus, The Barbarians, The Dacians, The Argonauts, The Cult of Set and the Parthians - from which at least three warriors troop types must be selected including a leader, obviously. This your core warband which come with their own uniquely themed special rules. For example, with the Soldiers of the Eagle, you have the archetypal Roman Legionaries, Centurions, Praetorians etc. along with special rules such as Shieldwall and Shield Drill.

It's with the Auxilia lists where things step of the vaguely historical narrative and head into the low fantasy realm. These are your Heroes. Hired swords, scroll merchants and mythological beings such as Centaur Scouts, Cyclops, Skinchangers, Necromancers and suchlike, which can be recruited into your warband to spice things up.

Scenarios, Campaign and other ingredients. Broken Legions is designed to be played using a scenario and 5 are included, with guidance and tables covering the setup, terrain and various victory conditions. Some include wandering monsters. Also included is a relatively straightforward linked campaign system using a simple Infamy points progression to determine the victor after an agreed number of campaign turns (games).

What else? Well as you’d expect there are lots of special rules, traits and equipment options and Heroic Actions for you to endlessly tinker away at your roster before it troops out, swords and spears gleaming, to take on some ethereal torment in the woods. Or barbarians. It's usually barbarians.

Initial thoughts? Well, I’m going to have to say this, not soon after completing my first few activations memories of playing Mordheim and Warhammer fantasy (7th ed for me) sprang to mind. OK, we’re not activating whole units at a time, but there was enough similarity with the stats, profiles, charging into melee and the turn sequence to make the comparison. That’s not a criticism, it's simply what filtered to mind as I played through Broken Legions. 
Parthians, inspecting partial enclosure with suspiciously tall stone walls
The first warband my Soldiers of the Eagle came across - after a couple of spear-dragging auxiliary legionary wheezed (failed Agility tests) up a steep hill to occupy a ruined fort - were the Parthians. Most were mounted with a few support slingers negotiating a suspiciously tall stone wall. I had a couple of longbow armed, (yes, longbows. Really), ‘Sagittarius’ that decided to move up a hill and Take Aim – which immediately attracted a -1 penalty to hit for moving. A few turns later the longbowmen had failed to even hit (constantly rolling under 10) even with the Parthians smugly trotting straight towards them. And longbows? This is the ancient world, right? Their robed Parthian magus eventually managed to summon an Air Elemental which decided to immediately waft over to worry some of the Eagles. Which it did, considering it was Intangible and only Critical wounds could harm it! 
 
The Parthians summon an Air Elemental to worry the Soldiers of the Eagle
Melee proved not to be the charge, kill move on affair I was expecting in a typical light skirmish game. With various hit points attributed to the models, melee soon proved it could be a grinding affair, as demonstrated by the Germanic Barbarians and the Greek Argonauts slugging it out over on the other side of the table. My Romans also had some difficulty trying to manoeuvre into a Shield Wall (three models minimum) due to the individual model activations. Once they did, this too ended up with more of the Barbarians charging them, including a Linebreaker that failed do so. 
 
Barbarians charging a hastily formed Roman Shield Wall
I feel those historical wargamers of a sensitive nature may find the confluence of historical anachronisms, piecemeal mythology and low fantasy too weak a brew to approach Broken Legion with particular flavour in mind. I can see them involuntarily twitching and tutting. Fantasy gamers, on the other hand, may find the set lists a little restrictive. I came away with the impression that Broken Legions hits the fantasy-historical overlap it was designed to do but diluted by a rather conservative mechanic. It felt like old-school rules adapted to carve a niche in the popular light skirmish scene.

I enjoyed my first go of Broken Legions and I’m keen to delve a little deeper. It was relatively easy to play, even as a multiplayer and definitely deserves further investigation. Big thanks to Andy for hosting. My painting queue already contains some disrobed shameless shaman miniatures that’ve been mooning about my Lead Mountain. Oh, and technically the Parthians won by holding the most objectives - albeit by their boss accidentally stumbling across one just before curtain call.