Review: Soldiers of God

Rating: 4 stars

500Soldiers of God is a set of Ancients rules written by Warwick Kinrade and published by Artorus Games. The game is specifically aimed at gaming tabletop battles during the Crusades.

The book is in softback A5 format and is printed in full colour on high quality, glossy paper and comes complete with a deck of action cards to play the game – so the first this to say is that the book looks great – it contains photographs of painted models, both to illustrate rules and as eye candy.

The game is designed as an element based wargame, with each unit consisting of between two and four stands. All stands, whether infantry or cavalry, should be the same size. 40mm or 50mm bases are recommended when playing with 28mm figures, with an infantry base having four or five figures on it, whilst a cavalry base should have two mounted figures. The game, however, will cater for scale of miniature and any size of base (though it is recommended that bases not be too large). Distances are measured in ‘paces’ in the game and a ‘pace’ has a different length, depending on scale. With 10mm figures, 1 pace = 1cm, with 15mm figures 1 pace = ½ inch and with 28mm figures 1 pace = 1 inch.

As I mentioned, the rules come complete with a deck of action cards, and these are used to determine how the turn sequence transpires. There are four basic types of action cards: Movement, Missile, Melee and Morale. At the start of the game, each army choses and battle plan, which gives that army three pre-determined action cards. Four random action cards are added to this, which means that at the start of the turn, each player has a hand of seven action cards to choose from.

A player’s army is divided into a number of ‘Battles’, usually three (left, centre and right). When a player uses an action card, he plays it on one of his Battles, and any or all units within that Battle may use that card as an order. Each card, as well as having an action, also has a special event. The card can be played either for its action, or for its special event, not both. Also of note is that the three cards given to player dependent upon its battle plan can only be used as action cards, and never as special events.

SoG_08-09To explain the turn sequence, at the start of the turn, each player is dealt 4 random action cards. These are held in the player’s hand, whilst the three cards allocated to the army by its battle plan are placed face down behind their respective battles. Initiative for the turn is then determined – usually the army with highest morale at this point in the game. The player with the initiative then has the first play. He can play an action card for its action, for its special event, he may pass and discard a card (and thus reduce disorder on one of his units by 1), he may choose to hold a card for a future turn, or he may trade in two of his cards for a new card, drawn from the action card deck.

After the player with initiative has played a card, then the player without initiative may play a card. The turn progresses with each player alternating playing a card until all the cards have been played. Once all the cards have been played, the turn ends. Player check to see if units have been routed, adjust their army morale and check to ensure that the army morale has not been reduced to zero. If this should happen, that army loses the game.

Each basic type of action card is further subdivided into different types. For example, Movement action cards are further subdivided into March (move directly forward), Manoeuvre (Change formation, facing, dismount etc.) or Skirmishers Move (which orders a unit if skirmishers to…move).

The different types of cards exist in different quantities; for example, more March cards exist in the action card deck than Skirmishers Move cards.

When units move, they do so by moving a number of paces – this is determined by the type of unit and also whether they are in close or open order. Typically, troops in open order can move more quickly than troops in closed order.

When moving or firing, no per-measurement of distance is allowed. Player must estimate if a unit is in charge range, or bowshot, and then order his units accordingly. Only after the order is given can distances be measured.

Most missile weapons have quite a small range. For example, the standard bow has a range of 12”. However, it is interesting to note that most bows and war engines can use the archery rule, which means that they can lob arrows over the heads of an intervening unit (friendly of enemy) onto their target – very useful, and not something that many sets of ancients rules allow you to do.

Units may only move into melee using the charge action card. When doing so, units move their full movement rate until they contact an enemy unit, and then may make a free wheel movement until the unit base aligns with the target it has just struck.

Combat, whether with missile weapons or in melee, is performed in the same way. The player rolls 1D6 for each stand in the unit (so if a unit consists of three stands, you would roll 3d6 in combat). Every weapon the unit is armed with has a stat – for example, dismounted knights have swords at 3+. This stat is the number that is needed on a D6 to score a hit. Modifiers in combat affect the number of dice that are rolled. For each hit, the target unit must make a resolve check – suffering a disorder marker for each check that is failed (Disorder represents a mixture of casualties, confusion and failing morale). Should a unit suffer more disorder than it has stands, it is routed at the end of the turn. It’s worth noting that in melee, both attackers and defenders roll dice simultaneously, and thus both can inflict damage.

Units that flee the battlefield affect the morale of the army. At the start of the game, players determine the Morale Value of their army, based on the number and quality of the units in their force. If this is reduced to zero during the game, the army is routed from the battlefield.

SoG_06-07This covers the essentials of the rules (although I have missed out several things, such as challenges in melee combat) and these are covered in the first 37 pages of the rulebook. The rest of the book describes battle plans and their formations, describes all the special events that can happen when cards are played, gives an extended example of play, gives a terrain generator for the table top, gives scenarios (A Field Battle, a Raid or a Siege Assault) has army lists for Saracens and Crusaders, contains rules for siege warfare and castle assaults (as sieges were a major factor in the wars of the Crusades) and finally contains a mini-campaign system in which a campaign is fought over five battles, with units potentially gaining upgrades through experience. The final pages of the rules contain a unit summary, a Quick Reference Sheet and a full index.

Soldiers of God is a well-produced, well designed game. Some games of medieval warfare can get quite complex – especially when controlling movement. SoG attempts to keep things as simple as possible. Things can get more complex when the inevitable multi-unit combat occurs, but the rules contain several worked examples of combat including both closed and open order troops, so everything is explained well.

The action card system works, well, and the fact that every card in a players hand may be played in a turn – which may well result in units being ordered multiple times in the same turn – keeps the gaming moving along at pace. Combat is kept relatively simple. Some gamers may object to the fact that the only combat modifiers are those based on troop quality, formation or position (open order, flank attack etc.) and a units combat effectiveness is not affected by casualties – I must admit that it didn’t particularly trouble me. Continuing to use a unit that is badly affected by disorder carries a certain risk with it – it may still be combat effective, but is ultimately quite brittle and may well rout in combat and adversely affect the morale of the army.

Overall I really enjoyed Soldiers of God. A lot of work has been put into making it a fast-paced fun game with a lot of depth and replayability, given the number of scenarios and the campaign system included in the rules. The army lists are well put together, and although somewhat generic, give a good feel for the forces of the period. The action card system works really well, and gives each player a good number of decisions to make each turn.

You can find out more about Soldiers of God at Warwick Kinrade’s blog.

It’s available from North Star and costs £25.

Disclosure: Artorus Games provided a review copy of Soldiers of God for this review


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