Review – Dux Britanniarum

Rating: 4 stars

dux coverWith this title, the chaps at Too Fat Lardies bring to life the struggle that engulfed the inhabitants of Britain during the 5th and 6th centuries following the withdrawal of Rome from British shores. The remains of Roman civilisation came under attack from the Irish, Picts, and Scotti in the West and North, and from the Saxons in the East and South. Dux Britanniarum deals with warfare during this period, and concentrates on the Britons’ battles against the Saxons (whilst the supplement: Dux Britanniarum: The Raiders deals with  battles against the Irish, Picts, and Scotti)

The vast majority of wargames rules develop the tactical game rules, and then tend to bolt on a campaign system afterwards (sometimes, it appears, as a hasty afterthought), Dux Britanniarum has approached its subject completely the other way around. The rules have been constructed around a narrative campaign which charts the struggles between a British Kingdom and the Saxon invaders, and the tabletop battle rules are a subset of this greater framework, so that the tabletop battles flow easily out of the campaign system.

dux b1The rulebook is divided into 3 different sections (or books), with the addition of a couple of appendices. Book One gives details of how to set up the campaign; how the kingdom is created and how the main characters that the players are going to be using are generated.

In Book Two, the campaign starts and objectives and structure are added.

Book Three deals with the tabletop battle itself, including pre and post battle sequences which affect the details of the ongoing campaign.

The first of the two appendices – the Book of Battles – details terrain and scenario generation, whilst the second – the Book of Kingdoms – gives an overview of each of the various kingdoms of Britain during the period.

dux b2At the start of the campaign, you chose which kingdom you going to either defend (Briton) or attempt to conquer (Saxon). Britain is divided into four general areas: The Saxon Shore, The Cities of the South, the Mountains of the West or the Old North. These areas are detailed in both text and in some beautiful maps (including a full-colour pull-out A3 poster) drawn by artist Coral Sealey.

Each player then generates 3 characters to lead his force; one Lord and two Commanders. Character generation is completed by simply rolling a number of dice and comparing the results on several tables. This fills in some details about the background, character, reputation and wealth of the main characters in a player’s army.

Each force is then completed by a champion and five (Saxon) or six (British) units plus a group of missile troops. Troops have differing qualities. Saxons can have warriors plus elites, whilst the Britons can also employ peasant levy in their army. This army is the basic force at your disposal, and whilst it may grow during the campaign, it will generally do so only slowly.

A note on model count at this point – the starting forces number no more that 40 troops a side, which makes the game very accessible for most players. Furthermore, you are not likely to grow you forces by more that a couple of models between games (or perhaps half a dozen as a result of a particularly overwhelming victory) so even the most successful commander is unlikely to command an army much in excess of 60 or 70 models. Later in the campaign, both Saxons and British can include cavalry, though these troops are quite rare and few in number.

dux b3The bulk of the book, as you might expect, is taken up with the actual tabletop battle rules. Here you generate the terrain, decide on the scenario and work out the morale of your force. If you are about to fight a raid, you then launch straight into combat. A battle however, is a much more organised affair, and you can then make several decisions on how to inspire your troops beforehand – perhaps a stirring speech, consult the omens, or maybe provide your troops some liquid encouragement?

Your troops are split into groups, usually of at least 6 models, and it is possible during the game for several groups to amalgamate into a formation. British formations can form a shieldwall, if required. Models are based individually, but can be grouped on trays for ease of movement.

If you own or have read/played other rules from Too Fat Lardies, then the actual sequence of battle will be very much familiar. The turn sequence is card driven, with cards in the deck for each Lord and Commander (the ‘Big Men’ of which TFL are so fond) plus cards for harrying and mounted troops. Unlike other games in the TFL stable, this game does not have the ‘Tea Break’ card, so all leaders will activate in a given turn.

A leader, once activated, can then give orders to groups and formations around him. Movement is random, with troops moving 3D6” (Mounted troops 3D6”+2) over open ground, with dice being removed for difficult ground and/or linear obstacles.

Combat is simple in execution – all models in contact with the enemy may fight, plus the rank immediately behind them. For each model, roll 1D6, and total the number fo hits dependent upon what type of cover the target is in. Each hit either causes no damage, shocks or kills an opponent. The target number varies due to the troop quality of the defender.

Shock is a way of measuring the morale of a group – if a group finds itself with shock that greater than the number of models remaining, it’s morale will fail and they will retreat from the fight.

dux fateAs an additional factor, during the game each player has a hand of Fate cards. These cards can be played bestow special abilities and bonuses during gameplay but most are also dual purpose, in that they also have effects which can influence the post game events, and so during the game each player has added decisions of hand management, and whether he wishes to apply a bonus during the game, or use the card effect after the game has finished. Also, since certain cards are faction specific, do you hold onto an opponent’s card to deny it’s abilities to him later in the game, despite the fact that it actually reduces the effectiveness of your own hand?

Once the scenario is complete, the players carry out the post game sequence – this includes a pursuit phase, in which unplayed fate cards can be used to influence if the victors in the game escape the area of battle, or whether they suffered further during their retreat (and potentially how much loot a raider may have escaped with)

The post game sequence also determines how the outcome of the battle affects the campaign. How long will it be before forces have recovered sufficiently to return to the field? Have extra troops been drawn to your Lords banner? What happens should the enemy have recovered from the encounter before you? How much did the support of the church during the last battle actually cost you? All this is included in the game, plus such additional factors as laying siege to a town or city in order to subdue the area (these are fairly abstract affairs, but can be influenced by tabletop encounters)

dux raids Once the post game sequence has completed, it’s time to record the outcomes and paint up any new models, ready for the next game. Will your Saxon Warlord finally conquer enough land to settle? Will he simply earn enough to pay his fealty costs to his king at the end of the year, or will he find himself an outcast? Will your British Lord successfully defend his Kings lands? Will his influence rise to the point where he himself can consider becoming king? Or will his ineptitude cause the kingdom to fall into decline and civil war?

It is most player’s ambition to play in a campaign of some sort, and Dux Britanniarum is designed so that this can be done with the minimum of fuss and book keeping. Whilst it doesn’t quite keep the process completely paperless, you can certainly keep a record the whole campaign on a single sheet of A4 (or a single page word document, if you prefer). It certainly enables players to get involved in a narrative campaign with the absolute minimum of fuss – which is great because even with the 10 – 15 minutes extra work before the first game, suddenly the battles themselves have so much more meaning.

On a production level, this new book is one of the best in the Too Fat Lardies stable. The full colour rulebook is of a very high quality. There are not as many pictures of models as you might find with other rulebooks, such as Hail Caesar or even Saga, but the book contains many diagrams to explain certain aspects of the rules (most concerning combat). As a nice touch, each major paragrapgh of the rulebook has an illustrated capital letter, as you may find in such ancient tombs as the Book of Kells or the like, not a massive detail but a nice touch.

dux map

As I have already said, the artwork in the book – especially the maps – are stunning and certainly bring the campaign itself to life. In addition, the cards provided with the rules are of high quality, much like a standard pack of playing cards. These certainly add an extra ‘feel factor’ to the game – especially since you are playing with a hand of cards, quite appropriate considering Richard Clarke’s favourite quote from Carl von Clausewitz  about ‘war most closes resembles a game of cards’.

The Dark Ages has certainly had a resurgence over recent months, and I think even the most cynical of gamers will find it very difficult not to come away from these rules without an instant enthusiasm for fighting battles and writing their own kingdom histories in the Age of Arthur.

Dux Britanniarum is available from the Too Fat Lardies website as either a printed book, a PDF, or a specialised edition for Tablet computers. Card packs are available as a separate purchase.

Disclosure: Too Fat Lardies provided a review copy of this game for review purposes

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