The submitted draft of Dux Bellorum included a sample turn played through in its entirety, both to act as examples of play in their correct context (with corresponding page references to the rules elsewhere in the book) but also as a taster of what to expect. I’d planned for it to be placed right at the front of the book before readers got stuck into the rules.
Unfortunately, being tight for space this was cut from the final version sent to print so I’ll post it here and on my merseybooks blog (split into daily instalments). I know that this is quite a long post but if you’re interested in the game, please stick with me: it should give you a good feel for how the game plays.
(Please note that this text has not been through the Osprey editing process, so you might spot the odd typo or inconsistency of capitalisation or terminology; the rules mechanisms are accurate.)
This section gives a blow-by-blow account of one turn of a Dux Bellorum game. Playing one turn out in real time should take only a few minutes once you’re familiar with the rules, and most players won’t need to refer to the rulebook very much after their first couple of games. If you’re an experienced wargamer, much of the turn sequence will seem familiar, but keep a look out for the way Leadership Points are used, the order of movement and missile fire, and the way multiple combats work.
We pick the action up after two turns of a game, just as the mighty armies of Welsh Rheged and Saxon Northumbria begin to clash (flick through to the Sample Armies section to see more about the forces involved; the named leaders didn’t overlap in history, but let’s not let that get in the way of a good game) . . .
Rheged has a good number of mobile, mounted units; the Northumbrians mostly are slower but tougher Shieldwalls. They’re supported by fierce Irish Warriors, better on the attack than the Northumbrian Shieldwall but less well protected. Rheged has its own Warriors and they’re equal in combat to the Irish, but overall the Rheged army has only 8 units compared to the Northumbrian’s 10. Both armies have two Skirmisher units (one of Rheged’s is Mounted); the Skirmishers are happy to note that they’re the only unit in the game who can move through other friendly units, so when out in front of their own army they can melt away when the enemy gets too close.
The Saxons are the Aggressors (attackers) in this game. Their higher Aggression score made this more likely, along with them rolling a 5 when deciding the Aggressor, compared to the 3 rolled by Rheged.
The turn starts with both Leaders inspiring their armies; in Dux Bellorum, players allocate Leadership Points (LPs), which allow unwilling troops to be moved, spur spearmen on to perform better than expected in close combat by attacking with greater vigour or by forming defensive walls with their shields, and so on. Leadership Points are a key feature of Dux Bellorum, as they allow you greater control over your army’s tactics. Northumbria are led by Oswald who has 7 LPs to spend this turn, and Rheged are led by Urien, whose has just 6 LPs. Rheged has some spiritual guidance in the form of a unit of monks, which gives the Rheged army 2 more LPs so long as the Monks remain in play (they’re going to be a target for the Northumbrian player, no doubt!).
LPs are laid alternately, with the Repeller (defender) going first. Urien begins by laying 2 LPs on the table next to one of his units of Noble Riders, as they’re likely to move into close combat this turn. Oswald goes next, committing LPs to a group of four units of Shieldwall - they’re far enough away from the enemy to mean they won’t fight or be shot at this turn, so Oswald allocates just the 1 LP in case they need help passing their Bravery test for movement. Back to Urien, who decides to place a chunky 3 LPs - the maximum allowed - behind a group of his Mounted Companions and Noble Riders, whom he’s hoping will crash into the enemy this turn (and use those LPs to boost their attacks or cancel out hits on themselves); that’s 5 of Urien’s LPs allocated already - what a generous warlord when it comes to dishing out inspiration!
If Urien had been smarter, he might have held back on allocating these 3 LPs until later in the turn, as Oswald can now see the Rheged units most likely to launch an attack during this turn . . . accordingly, as LP placement moves back to him, Oswald places 3 of his own LPs behind the Shieldwall unit he’s expecting the Rheged Companions and Noble Riders group to charge at - that’s going to balance things up a bit if the expected attack happens! Urien has 1 of his own LPs plus the Monks’ 2 LPs left, and he allocates all 3 to his group of three Warrior units; they’re close enough to a Northumbrian Foot Skirmisher to launch an uncontrolled charge whether Urien wants them to or not, and he’s thinking the 3 LPs will help him to keep his over-eager Warriors in check (he doesn’t want them charging about the battlefield out of control). Urien has now allocated all of his LPs, and can only watch as Oswald lays down his remaining 3 LPs: 2 with the group of 2 Irish Warrior units who might well make their own uncontrolled charge, and the last 1 with Oswald himself, as there are some Rheged Mounted Skirmishers close by who he fears will throw some javelins and then scuttle away (he could use the allocated LP to cancel out a hit on himself, if those javelins are thrown accurately). In the allocation of LPs, Oswald has played the cannier game, keeping some LPs back to spend after the impetuous Urien has spent all of his.
The Northumbrian Skirmishers with the Warriors of Rheged directly in front of them, poised to charge, have a tough choice to make: they’re armed with bows, meaning that they can either shoot or move, but not both. If they had been javelin armed, they’d have been able to shoot and scoot, but as it stands, Oswald must make a decision. Poor old Skirmishers - Oswald decides that they will stand and shoot, hoping that they will inflict some damage on the Rheged Warriors which may give him an advantage later in the game when the main armies clash (reducing the Warriors’ Cohesion now will make them easier to rout later in the game, as Cohesion cannot be recovered). Rheged’s Mounted Skirmishers decide to throw their javelins at Oswald’s Companions, safe in the knowledge that they can scuttle away in the movement phase, as movement comes after missile fire (unless Oswald interrupts the move sequence by spending LPs).
The Northumbrian Skirmishers are just under 3 Base Widths (BWs - Dux Bellorum’s movement unit) away from the closest Rheged Warrior unit, which is the priority target; although the Warriors are part of a group, missile fire and all other combat takes place between individual units. Foot Skirmishers with Bows have an Aggression of 2 for missile fire, meaning they roll 2 dice; they need to roll equal to or higher than the target’s Protection value, which is 5 for all targets of missile fire. Northumbria rolls . . . a 2 and a 5, so inflicts 1 hit on the Warriors. Not bad! This hit would reduce the Warrior’s Cohesion by 1 point (from their starting score of 5 down to 4), but Urien decides to spend one of the 3 LPs he allocated to his Warrior group to cancel out the hit - the Warriors shields did their job after all. That leaves the Warrior group with 2 LPs remaining for the turn, and the Northumbrian Skirmishers wishing they’d moved away rather than shot.
The Rheged Mounted Skirmishers have a range of 2 BW with their javelins, and are close enough to Oswald’s Companions to use them. The Mounted Skirmishers have an Aggression of 1 with javelins, so roll just the 1 die; however, as they’re within 1 BW of their target, they get to roll a second die - missiles are more accurate at close range. Oswald’s Companions usually have a Protection of 6, but against missiles this is reduced to 5 as it’s harder to parry a thrown javelin than a thrust spear . . . the horsemen roll a 4 and a 5, so inflict one hit. Oswald had placed 1 LP with his Companions, thinking he might spend it on cancelling a hit out, but he’s just had a better idea, so accepts the hit (moving his Companions’ Cohesion down from 6 to 5). Hmm, what’s he up to?
After missile fire, the movement phase begins. This plays out in a set order, which sees the Aggressors Skirmishers moving first, followed by the Repeller’s Skirmishers; then all other Mounted, and then all other Foot move, Aggressor going first each time.
One of the Northumbrian Skirmish units cannot move as it used its bows in this turn; the other Northumbrian Skirmisher, out wide on the battlefield’s flank, may try to move - it’s armed with javelins, so even if it had conducted missile fire, it would still be able to move. To move, the Northumbrians need to take a Bravery test, rolling equal to or under the unit’s Bravery score to succeed. Foot Skirmishers have a Bravery of 8, so the roll of 7 means they’re able to move as the player wishes. Individual units may move in any direction they wish, up to their maximum move, so the Skirmishers head off at the trot towards some nearby woods, which will make them a harder target to damage.
Now that the Aggressor’s Skirmishers have moved, the Repeller’s Skirmishers may do the same. Rheged’s Foot Skirmishers want to make a beeline for the same woods, but fail their Bravery test by rolling a 10; they may not move at all this turn. Rheged’s Mounted Skirmishers are next to move, and intend to move away from Oswald’s now rather angry Companions; however, before the Mounted Skirmishers take their Bravery test, Oswald announces he will spend his Companions’ LP to interrupt the move sequence; ah, so that’s what he was up to! By spending the LP, he can move his unit out of the normal sequence, allowing his Companions to act swiftly and charge the Mounted Skirmishers before they move away. Oswald spends his LP, and takes a Bravery test to see if his Companions charge - with a Bravery of 10, the Companions’ roll of 6 means that they move forward into contact with the hapless horsemen, stopping at the first point of contact. If Urien had spent his LPs more wisely, the Mounted Skirmishers might have had their own LP to cancel out Oswald’s interruption.
All Skirmish units have tried to move now, so Rheged’s other Mounted units move next; there are no Aggressor Mounted in this game, so the sequence skips through to Repeller Mounted. The group of Rheged Companions and Noble Riders passes their Bravery test and moves into contact with the solitary Northumbrian Shieldwall; the Noble Riders have a Bravery of 9 and the companions a Bravery of 10, and a Bravery test is always taken against the best Bravery within a group. The units both contact the front edge of the Northumbrians. Oswald considers spending LPs to interrupt the move sequence again, but realizes that his 3 LPs could all be cancelled out by the 3 LPs allocated to the Rheged group, so decides to keep his LPs back to use in close combat. The other Rheged Noble Riders decide to charge into contact with the same Northumbrian Shieldwall; their Bravery is 9, but they roll an 11. Urien wants to press home the attack, so spends the 2 LPs allocated to those Riders on boosting their Bravery, temporarily bringing this up to 11 and allowing them to pass their test. Although the Noble Riders contact the outnumbered Shieldwall on its flank edge, this will still count as a frontal attack because the Riders did not start their move entirely behind the target unit’s front edge. Oswald couldn’t spend LPs to interrupt this move, even if he’d wanted to, as his Shieldwall was already in contact with an enemy. For the moment, this close combat looks as though there will be only one winner.
As all Mounted units have now tried to move, Foot units go next, starting with the Aggressor’s units. Northumbria’s Irish allies had expected to make an uncontrolled charge at an enemy unit within range, but that unit (the Rheged Noble Riders) has now moved out of the Irish charge distance. Instead, they’ll have to content themselves with trying to move into a position to strike next turn. Passing their Bravery test, the Irish elect to move as a group, which means they can either move directly forward or wheel forward at an angle; group moves are pretty inflexible. They wheel into a position to follow those Rheged Noble Riders - maybe next turn they’ll have a chance of catching them from the rear, giving a crucial advantage in close combat.
The group of four Northumbrian Shieldwalls passes its Bravery test and moves forward; needing to move through some marshy land to approach the action, the units break into individual units upon contacting this and can only move half of their remaining move distance into the marsh (which is area terrain).
Urien wants to keep his Warriors in check, preventing them charging into contact with the Northumbrian Skirmishers as that will pull them away from the action next turn. Warriors will make an uncontrolled charge at enemies within move distance, but to avoid them doing so, Urien can try to make them fail a Bravery test and not move at all. Each unit tests individually, and upon seeing the results, Urien decides to spend his LPs to make one of his units fail the test (the reverse of the usual way of using LPs for Bravery tests). Even so, 2 of the Warriors charge into contact.
Urien’s Monks move as Shieldwall, but decide to stay put this turn, as they’re well positioned to spend their LPs next turn; and finally, Urien holds his Stampede in reserve, hoping to crash them into an enemy unit later in the game.
With movement out of the way, battle commences in the close combat phase. The players work out the order to resolve the combat areas in, although the outcomes will be simultaneous. First up, Oswald tackles the unfortunate Mounted Skirmisher, following the close combat procedure. Oswald’s Companions have an Aggression of 6 and as they moved into contact this turn, gain +1 Aggression. The mounted Skirmishers have an Aggression of just 2 and gain no other modifiers. Neither unit has any LPs to use. Oswald’s Protection is a top class 6 as his men have good armour and are well trained; the Mounted Skirmishers have little in the way of armour so have a Protection of only 4. We know how this one is going to end: Oswald rolls . . . 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 6 and Rheged rolls . . . 4, 6. Oswald inflicts four hits (the target number was Protection 4) and Rheged inflicts one (their target was Protection 6). The Mounted Skirmishers had a Cohesion of 2, which now drops below 0 when the 4 hits are applied, so they rout and are removed from the game. Oswald’s Companions’ Cohesion drops by another point down from 5 to 4, but they do not need to retreat as they inflicted more hits than they received.
The next combat area is Urien’s Companions and two Noble Rider units against one luckless Northumbrian Shieldwall. Both sides have declared that they will be using LPs, so indicate how they will use them before any dice are rolled. Urien must decide which unit is his main attacker and which units will support; he chooses his Companions as the main attacker, using their Aggression of 5, +1 for moving into contact this turn, + 1 for each of the supporting units. Urien also uses his 3 LPs allocated to this group to boost his Aggression, so rolls a whopping 11 dice. The Northumbrian Shieldwall only has an Aggression of 3, and splits its LPs for +1 Aggression and keeps 2 back to steady the troops and cancel out potential hits; the Shieldwall will roll 4 dice, and targets one of the two Noble Riders with this attack. The Noble Riders have a Protection of 5 (clever Shieldwall - the Companions have a Protection of 6 so would be a tougher target), and the Shieldwall shelters behind its large shields for a Protection of 6. Rheged rolls . . . 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6. Registering just one hit, the author must be rolling Urien’s dice! Northumbria rolls . . . 3, 5, 5, 5. Much better, three hits! The Shieldwall has set aside 2 LPs to cancel out hit, so blocks the one successful attack and keeps the remaining LP for later in the turn, should there be any need to use it. The targeted Rheged Nobles take three hits, so reduce their Cohesion from 5 down to 2; they must also retreat, but the Companions and other Noble Riders are unaffected and remain in contact for the start of the following turn.
Finally, the two Rheged Warriors fight the Northumbrian Foot Skirmisher. Rheged rolls 7 dice (5 for the Main Attacker’s Aggression, +1 for moving into contact, +1 for the supporting unit), and Northumbria’s weak Skirmishers roll just 1 die for Aggression. The Skirmishers’ Protection is 4 and the Warriors’ is 5. Rheged rolls . . . 1, 3, 4, 5, 5, 5, 6 and Northumbria rolls . . . erm 1. Five hits are taken from the Skirmishers measly Cohesion of 2, routing them immediately. That concludes the close combat for this turn.
END OF THE TURN
Now that all of the close combat has been fought, the turn draws to a close. There’s a small amount of record keeping at this point, and in later turns of the game, once casualties begin to mount, Morale tests will need to be made to see if either side has had enough and routs from the battlefield.
First of all, if either side has lost any units in this turn, they need to lose an LP for each for the remainder of the game: so Oswald loses 1 LP and Urien loses 1 LP too. This means for Turn 4 onwards, their LPs per turn are 6 (Oswald) and 5 + 2 (Urien and the Monks). If either player had any LPs left on the table, these are collected up now, ready for the next turn; Oswald has 1 spare LP to collect from his Shieldwall that fought Urien’s Companions. Players also count up their casualties - if they've lost 50% or more of their starting units (not including Skirmishers) the remaining units need to make a Morale test based on individual units’ Bravery, and if 75% of their starting units are lost, the remaining units automatically rout and the battle is lost.
As the next few turns progress, despite the combat results of this round, the smaller army of Rheged might well hit those magic 50% and 75% totals first - it doesn’t take much for a small army to suffer a significant reverse in Dux Bellorum. But let’s not write Urien off quite so early in the game!