Last Sunday H. decided to grace me with a visit. Naturally he insisted on dragging his unrully Saxons along with him. My Britons filed a strongly worded complaint to these plans and another clash in our semi-dormant Dux Britanniarum-campaign became unevitable.
Yeah, its’ been a while since I’ve hosted a proper game!
We’re still dipping our toes in the pool when it comes to Dux Britanniarum and trying out different scenarios that are included. In our previous games the games focused on some sort of loot – either plunder of a village or getting away with stuff already grabbed before the encounter in the game. This time around we choose a scenario that is a bit different from the rest of the lot included in the rulebook – a Briton patrol consisting of two warrior groups and an officer are returning from an uneventful stroll around the countryside. The rest of the Briton army is camped around the watchtower at the other end of the table, which also doubles as the ‘panic room’ for the patrol. Saxons have apparently gotten hold of playbook of South-American drug cartels (or would it be the other way around?) and figured out that snaching a noble could render neat little profit without having to deal with angry peasants and sniveling kids.
With a lot of random setup elements in the initial deployment as well as a terrain deployment controlled by players intending to block movement paths or trying to ensure escape routes, there seems to be a lot of replayability in this one.
The terrain placement would obviously play a significant role in this scenario and it took us a while before we were done with all the sneaky shuffling around of bogs, rough patches, woods and hills. We agreed that all terrain features with the exception of stand alone trees, were medium difficulty terrain. The steep hill-side was impassable.
Next, I placed my units on the table. My forlorn patrol was allowed to move a bit towards safety of the building that proxied for the watch tower (future terrain project?), while the rest of my troops was deployed around it. Saxons had to roll for their entry edge, as well as how many units would enter on first round. H. promptly rolled a six, which meant that all his scoundrels would pour onto the table without any delay.
Plans, plans, plans… Well, the obvious part of my game plan was to make the patrol move as quickly as possible and hope H. wouldn’t catch them. What to do with the troops around my base was a bit more of a challenge, mostly created by myself. In deployment phase I was a bit flippant and spread individual groups around the deployment area – you know, ‘we are resting and doing nothing’-thing. Once the game started, I realized however a bit too late that this dispersion gave H. an unintended advantage. It would now take time for me to gather everyone together and time was something I didn’t have in this game. By that time it was too late for regrets and I had to adapt to the situation I’ve decided to send my elites and archers under command of Noble on a dash toward the patrol as some sort of quick reaction force. In the meantime I would use my Lord to herd together my levies and when ready, try to get behind the Saxons, wherever they may be at that time.
H. must have read my mind and split his force in three groups – his two groups of hearthguard and two warrior groups set were arranged in separate formations and set of in a run toward their intended prey. Remaining warrior group, its numbers increased to eight warriors after his previous successful raid, accompanied by his archers turned toward my base in a clear attempt to secure the flank of main force.
After a couple of rounds the character of the game started to take shape. Personally I suffered from a brain-freeze and threw my patrol into rough terrain in front of them, not only unnecessarily slowing them down, but also giving the a couple of Shock points. Really dumb move – I should have either rushed to the right of these boulders or rushed to the top of the hill, gaining superior defensive position. My choice now guaranteed that H. would catch my patrol detachment in the open. This meant forming a shieldwall and waiting for the onslaught of a shedload of now clearly visible horde of screaming Saxons, quickly closing the distance.
At the other end, my peasant levies tried their best to gather together, failing miserably, with one group being too fast for their own good and the rest dragging their feet. The ‘fast’ group ended up dangerously close to H.’s ‘security force’, which pounced on them without delay. Three peasants promptly went down in the violent melee that followed… but to everyone’s surprise, two Saxons also met their end in this initial clash! Unexpected casualties seemed to have taken a bit the fight out of the remaining Saxons, who probably expected some easy killing but met their match.
This initial contact also put some ideas into my head – my rescue force was now about same distance from the position of my now stationary patrol as it was from H’s flank group. Due to its separatin, it presented a juicy target – with my peasants in front and comanipulares jumping them from the rear, they’d surely be dead meat! Said and done, I diverted my rescue force from the initial destination. The plan was now to wipe out these separated Saxons first and proceed with rescuing the ambushed patrol if there was still time for that. And if I didn’t make it in time? Well, eye for an eye, mate!
My decision shaped the game into its final form, consisting of two separate actions. The encounter between H.’s flank party and my comanipulares asssisted by a levies shieldwall was a one-sided affair. The outcome was assisted by H.’s consistently bad luck with dice rolls in this fight. His warriors took their time dying, but die they did, one or two at a time! The few survivors finally had enough and broke down, trying to make it to the edge of the board. In this they failed and were unceremonously dispatched by their pursuers. The noble leading this unlucky group managed to dodge all the blows (and there were many!) to the very end and was finally allowed to flee as last man standing. For me, the cost was one slain comanipulares – all things considered, a decent payoff.
The main event was however the last stand of my warriors. And indeed, it was a last stand worth of songs praising this group of stalward heroes! Over five rounds they stood their ground, not budging an inch, slugging it out with the best H. could throw at them. Over the course of this fight there were very few casualties, with just one man going down on each side, and my noble, leading by example, suffering a honorable wound. In the end, the fight was decided by the Shock mechanism, which dictates that each two points of Shock take away one attack dice for the inflicted group of figures. As the fight progressed, my shieldwall formation absorbed all but one kill result H’s hearthguard managed to score, but my Shock points increased steadily. When H’s warrior formation, which lagged behind, finally slammed into the side of my shieldwall, the jigg was up due to a scenario special rule, which said that if Saxons had three times attack dice my force could muster, my lads would give up. And that’s precisely what finally happened – abandonded, obviously in despair and completely exhausted, my warriors realized that further resistance was futile and laid down their arms. But they never broke!
With the entire patrol in the bag, H. declared that he would be quiting the field. This he was allowed to do without any challenge on my part – the distance to the edge was too short and even if I managed to get to his main force before it left the table, it would be in disorganized manner. I would be asking for further losses, so it was better to bite the bullet and wait for the inevitable ransom demand.
In Dux Britanniarum, each scenario is set in a simple campaign setting. Once a game is finished players compare their results – were scenario conditions fulfilled, how many loses were suffered by each side, were any Nobles wounded or killed and so on… This comparison decides who won the game and how much of a success it really was. In this case, the destruction of H.’s warriors on the flank minimized the level of his victory to a rather phyrric victory. But a victory it was nonetheless and now he has enough money to advance career of his warlord to the next step in the overall campaign.
Musings after the battle
Well… there were moments in this game where I feared it would turn out into a frustrating, one-sided affair leaving bad aftertaste in loser’s mouth. But in the end it turned out to be a true nail-biter that could literally turn either way due to a single dice roll! Also, the rules are rock-solid in every respect, with combat mechanism actually surprising me with its, in my opinion at least, quite ‘realistic’ outcome in both main fights of this game. The post-game phase is also a bit of a blast with its capability to reduce a seemingly very sucessful encounter into a sour grape.
Two events that took place during the game require a further analysis. The first took place in final phase of the massacre of H.’s flanking force. The ruleset says that Nobles don’t suffer hits in normal way, instead a simple check is made whenever a group to which the Noble is attached suffers casualties. If a roll on a D6 is equal or less than the number of kills suffered by that group in a fight, the Noble takes that hit instead. In our game, H.’s Noble managed to avoid damage throughout the game and in the end only he and one last warrior was still standing. Three kill hits were dealt against them in combat round that followed. Common sense says that both men were hacked to pieces. But if rules are applied in ‘rules lawyer’ manner (which we chose to do), all these hits would be absorbed by the ‘last’ warrior and a check with a D6 would follow, with a result of ‘1’ resulting in a wound to the Noble. Our check left H.’s Noble unscathed and a lucky card draw allowed him to escape the field. I’m not entire sure how I feel about that outcome, as I would have loved to finish the man!
The other curiosity occured due to scenario conditions. As already mentioned, the ‘main event’ ended with my Noble and eleven of my warriors being taken prisoner. This event posed a question that is unaswered by the ruleset – how were these prisoners to be regarded in terms of loses in post-battle phase? The question is not trivial – a loss of eleven men could be a very significant factor when deciding level of victory, which in turn can have impact on development of the campaign. The noble will probably be ransomed, but would the British lord care about paying for captured warriors? Maybe, but would the Saxon chieftain want to release them? They would probably be worth more on slave market somewhere in Europe. In the end we decided that everyone in captured party had to be considered as a loss. It would however be nice to hear opinions of other players about this situation.
All the ambiguities nonewithstanding, the fact remains – Dux Britanniarum gave us another excellent game and that’s the important thing. Also, with H. having successfully amassed wealth necessary to proceed in the social meta-game, we will now be able to expand number of troops in our games.