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Saturday, 11 August 2012

Dux Britanniarum – First Impressions.

I have called this first impressions rather than a review as it is based on a skim read of the rules and a single game with them.   Apologies for any errors in representing the rule mechanisms.

The rules are set in the struggle for supremacy between British and Saxon forces in the period following the departure of Rome as central power fractured and was replaced by a number of petty British Kingdoms challenged by Germanic invaders intent on conquest.  This is an immediate point in their favour as far as I am concerned as most of the rules in the pre 1500 period are generic and so often lack period flavour.  I will always give period specific rules a go.

They are unit driven rules, with the units aided by individual characters.  This reminds me of WAB, although the characters are much less powerful in combat.  My concern from some of the pre release discussions was that they would be a skirmish set with each man been moved and fought individually.  I do play skirmish games but not in a campaign environment which was another element of the rules that was much commented on.

As well as battle rules and army lists there are also sections on character generation and campaign rules which form a fundamental part of the system.  More on that later.

Dux Britanniarum is I believe similar to other rules form the TFL stable in using a card based system to add variation to the relatively simple battle rules but also to add uncertainty and generate a fog of war element.  I am new to such systems but was happy to give them ago.

The game was against Richard, an occasional opponent, and held at his house.  It was Richard who had bought the rules and suggested them for our next game.  He provided the troops and most of the interpretations as we went through the night.  It was also his first game so there was always going to be an element of trial and error in the proceedings as is inevitable in such circumstances.

We decided sides and the scenario on a random basis and I ended up commanding the Saxons on a raid against an isolated British farmstead.  My aim was to find 2 items of plunder in the buildings of the farmstead and then make good my escape.  To my great good fortune I was able to make 3 moves before the British forces were able to respond and even then they could only bring on 3 units in their first move. Further rolls determined that the Saxons had a force morale level (akin to a breaking point reached when units break and nobles are killed) of 6 to the British 8. We each had 3 nobles and a champion.  I had two units of elites and four of warriors along with a unit of archers.  Richard had the same number of units but some of his were levy.  His advantage was that he could form shieldwall and I could not. 

There is an element of pre-battle activitybefore combat commences.  It seemed unreasonable to do this before both sides were on the table so this was delayed a little.  We ended up with a duel of the champions and left it at that although there is the possibility to do other things such as call on the Gods for help or make an inspiring speech bolster your troops.  I like the fact that this can also backfire and actually make matters worse.

The above photo shows the first phase of the battle quite nicely. I got most of my units into formation and advanced to the hill whilst 2 nobles went on a treasure hunt and one unit took up position alongside the farmstead.  Richard’s men came on in a fairly haphazard manner but he soon sorted them out into reasonable order.  What you can’t see is that the left flank of my force was covered first by archers and then a substantial wood.  You can however probably deduce that the first action of the day did not go my way as my champion fell after a prolonged fight with his British counterpart.
It was at this stage that I asked what benefit my troops would get for holding the hill.  Further perusal of the rules suggested that whilst troops in shieldwall benefited those not in shieldwall, namely my Saxons, did not.

This was actually the turning point of the battle.  By this stage I had discovered one lode of plunder and I still had plenty of time to find a second.  Given the objective of the scenario was to plunder and then retreat I decided to do just that and started to do just that.  My line turned tail and made for the table edge alongside the farm.  Unfortunately the final bit of plunder proved elusive so I eventually made if off table with just the one.  There was one sticky moment when a very high score by the pursuing British might have caught me in the rear but this did not materialise.

Because I had exited from a side table edge we checked for stragglers but in the end only 4 of my men were left behind and caught their British pursuers.

So the only hand to hand combat was between the champions.  The archers shot at each other but to little avail. The Fate cards had not been used in anger but in the post battle campaign phase which we did for completeness my cards signifying successful retreat outnumbered Richards’s pursuit cards and I was able to claim a narrow victory of sorts.

We had a little time left so decided to see what would have happened it we had actually come to blows.  We each put in 3 units and 2 characters into a straight head to head punch up.  Each figure gets a dice, plus 2 for each attached character.  However Richard had some good fate cards in his hand and the advantage of being in shield wall.  I can’t remember the exact numbers but I had something like 20 dice hitting on 5s and 6s against about 30 needed 4s, 5s and 6s.  The result was predictable if slightly better than I expected with me ending up with 5 casualties to Richard’s 2. 

Although time was getting late (I have an hour’s drive back and don’t like leaving later than 11pm) we were able to spend some time discussing the pros and cons of the rules and their suitability for use in future games at our local clubs.  I always find these discussions very illuminating and it certainly provided food for thought for the drive home.

 Rather than to try to summarise our debate I will instead give you my own conclusions.

The production values of the publication are fine and the systems well thought out.  They would be usable for one off games on a club night and would normally allow a conclusion to be reached in the time we have available.  If you have troops based for other systems on multiple bases I don’t think it would be an issue to use them as they are and indicate casualties with dice or something similar.

The battle rules are OK but it is the campaign rules that are the real strength of Dux Britanniarum.  They look really good.  I actually love the fact that the game resulted in virtually no combat.  How often would that happen with other rules?  I followed the logic of the generated scenario and achieved a marginal victory.  None of this line both sides up and send them off to die stuff.  Others might find the lack of action boring or frustrating but it the ability to look beyond the normal blood and guts of almost all other wargames rule sets appeals to me.

The strength of the system is however also its weakness.  To get the most from these rules really does necessitate a commitment to play quite a lot of battles and to maintain interest they would have to be done over a reasonably short time period.  I play lots of periods and rules at the club, as do my likely opponents, so anything more than once a month would be pushing it.  I just can’t see it working.

So having enjoyed the game and my first experience of TFL rules my reluctant conclusion is that I am unlikely to play many more games and can’t justify the £25 purchase price.   If I can think of a way to play even a single campaign on a weekly or even fortnightly basis then I would go for it.  Time for me to put on my thinking cap I suppose as it would be a shame to leave it at that.


  1. If you think you won't play them much, you can always buy the rules as a PDF - much cheaper. The cards can be downloaded from the Lardies' web site.