Fireforge Games burst onto the scene at the start of 2012 when they released their first box set of plastic Teutonic Knights. They have since released a further two boxes of knights and their first box of infantry, with more promised in the near future.
One of my favourite images in warfare is that of a charging mass of armoured medieval knights, so naturally I became an instant fan…
Deus Vult! (God Wills It!) was first displayed as a set of rules in the UK at Salute in 2012, when Fireforge ran a display game alongside their trade stand, but we have had to wait until now for the final published version.
These rules are aimed specifically at the wars of the Crusades between the 11th & 13th Centuries, although they are suitable for medieval warfare prior to the adoption of gunpowder, and it is anticipated that further supplements will cover some of these conflicts.
The rules are designed with 28mm miniatures in mind, and intended to be played on 6’ x 4’ table. Units consist of between two and six stands, with each stand being made up of 6 infantry or two cavalry figures. Combat is a ‘buckets of dice’ affair, with casualties being removed individually.
The rulebook is printed in hardback full colour, and runs to 190 pages. The book is in a slightly smaller format, much the same size as rulebooks produced by Osprey: think Field of Glory or Bolt Action. The book contains many colour photographs of miniatures, plus several illustrations of maps plus artwork which has been used on Fireforge’s miniatures box sets. The layout of the book is in two columns, with a coloured sidebar in which extra information is noted – overall very pleasing on the eye.
The book is divided into several different sections. The first discusses all the rules conventions, including how vision and line of sight works, and all the mechanics of the tests in the game. This is somewhat unusual, as these are discussed up-front rather than further in the rules (many rules, for example, discuss line of sight in the rules for shooting, or how tests work during the combat or morale section). The second section of the rules discusses how armies are put together, there is a section on deployment before the main rules are covered (these main rules cover approx. 30 pages)
Following the rules, there are sections of terrain, traits (special rules for units), scenarios and then army lists for the Early Crusade States and the Arab Dynasties. There is then an historical overview of the period, a battle report which gives an in-depth example of how the rules work and the book finishes with notes on customising your battles and a plethora of gaming aids.
Where this set of rules differs from many of its main rivals is in how the forces are made up, how deployment and reconnaissance work and how orders are given.
Armies are divided into 3 Battles, with a Vanguard, plus a Main Force and a Rear-guard. The Vanguard of the army has a single division, whilst the Main Force of the army can have many divisions and the Rear-guard has a minimum of a single division, with a maximum of the same number as the Main Force. Each Division in the army has a Battle Leader, one of which is also the army commander. Each Battle Leader has a card – these become important later in the game.
There is a six-part deployment and reconnaissance phase, which not only decides the scenario and initiative, but also determines who can place terrain on the table and then works through deployment.
Placing terrain works using a ‘scouting’ mechanic, which means that whoever wins this part of the game gets to choose what terrain is placed in certain areas of the board. This advantage can be either offset or enhanced by the use of subterfuge cards, which can be bought instead of committing models to scouting. Once scouting has finished and the battlefield determined, the armies can be deployed. This happens alternately, with the Vanguard being deployed first, followed by the main force, the rear-guard can be deployed later in the game or used to attempt an outflanking manoeuvre.
I mentioned earlier that each Battle Leader has a card; therefore each player has a hand of cards representing his leaders. At the start of each turn, players will place their Battle leaders in a deck in the order that they want them to activate, these decks are then placed face down, and the top cards then revealed – the player with the initiative then chooses whether or not that leader is activated first or second. The leader is then used to issue commands to a number of units in his division, dependent upon the leaders command rating. Commands vary in their complexity, and each takes a certain number of action points to perform: Change Formation or Shoot both take both action points to perform, whilst Charge takes four. A unit can carry out up to four action points of commands in its turn, so it is possible to issue multiple commands to the same unit in a single turn.
Once all Battle Leaders have issued their orders, any units that have not been ordered during the turn may then test to see if they can act under their own initiative (although troops engaged in melee will automatically attack)
My only reservation surrounding these rules is the way that it handles melee combat. In melee, only the attacking force engages in combat. The defenders do not get their own melee attack until being ordered to do so, so it is entirely possible for a unit to charge an opponent, cause it to retreat, perform a follow up attack and destroy the unit without suffering a single casualty, or even the chance for the defender to inflict a casualty of any sort. Whilst mechanically, this make combat very clean, to my mind it doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation. Depending upon your outlook, this single mechanic may ultimately decide whether you like the rules or not.
The challenge that has faced Fireforge Games in publishing Deus Vult is to produce a set of rules that is sufficiently different from what has gone before – after all, there have been 3 sets of hardback, full colour rule sets released in the last year or so that enable you to fight battles in a similar period. Given the books excellent production values, tight period focus, command sequence and unique deployment mechanics, I believe it has succeeded in bringing something new, interesting and very playable to the wargames table. However, my reservations on the melee combat mechanics prevent me from being able to give the rules an unequivocal recommendation.
Deus Vult! is available from Fireforge Games for 25 EUR, but should also be available from local distributors.
Disclosure: A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher