Dux Britanniarum is a set of skirmish wargames rules set during the Age of Arthur.
The game is set in the 5th century. The Roman legions had just pulled out of Britain due to them being busy elsewhere. Several Germanic tribes, first and foremost the Saxons, decide that this poses a great opportunity for grabbing some land or at least lots of plunder. The Saxons are rather familiar with the land already as they had been shipped over by the Romans and Celts to work as mercenaries.
The local British nobles, heavily influenced by Roman culture and way of life, are now lacking the protection by the awesome military power of the Roman Empire. Now they see themselves confronted with quite an invasion by raiders from across the channel. This is the time of the legendary Arthur, or anybody else to repel these warrior peoples raiders.
In terms of warfare during that time big battles were rare and according to some sources about 30-40 men were already called an “army”. The Romano-British warriors were all trained in late Roman drill and able to form a highly effective shield wall. The invaders used smaller shields (mostly for parrying) and were less inclined to use formations in combat. This is broadly represented in the game by British troops being able to form shield wall while the Saxons are not.
Dux Britanniarum is a skirmish wargame for two or more players, released in 2013 by Too Fat Lardies. In this text I will refer to two players usually. Feel free to read “side” instead of players, as the campaign or single games can be played with more than two players.
One player takes the role of a Romano-British lord who sees himself under attack by Saxon warriors and has to defend the land and his serfs. The other player is a Saxon nobleman, leading his band of warriors across the channel to raid rich British provinces to pay his warriors and the tithe to his king back in Northern Germany. On the side the Romano-British player also has an eye on the throne himself to unite the peoples and finally fend off the invasion. The Saxon player’s big goal will be grabbing land on the British isle and start his own kingdom. Until then he has to pay up to his king back at home each year. If he can’t he’s out of the game.
All of this is being fought out in consecutive games on the wargaming table. The campaign is pretty much at the core of Dux Britanniarum, rather than being bolted on in the back of the book or released as a supplement.
As we all know, running a campaign is the best thing in the world and the thing we all aspire to in our wargaming. In theory. In practice they often just stop because someone loses interest or it looks horrible for them (with weaker campaign systems bolted to more tournament-y sets of rules, I find) or they just stop because interests go in another direction (“hobby butterflies”!) or nobody wants to bother being the umpire/bookkeeper. With this in mind Dux Britanniarum’s campaign system is extremely robust and requires minimal amounts of book keeping.
The only thing you need to have at hand is your characters (more on this later), the lord’s wealth (easily laid out in 10 “steps” of wealth rather than having to count every single sestertius) and maybe later on which provinces belong to whom and if any upgrades had been build there.
Dux Britanniarum was the first full-colour publication by Too Fat Lardies. They made the most of this and worked together with a great designer. To this day this book to me is their best looking. It just looks nice, it’s clear and easy to read and it has all this period-flavour design.
You can buy a hardcopy (which comes with an A3 map of Britain you can use as a campaign map), a tablet version with hyperlinks helping tremendously with looking up stuff or a PDF version. I got the table version, but I think I’d prefer the hardcopy.
What is required to play?
The usual really: Bunch of six-sided dice (about a dozen per player), markers to indicate shock points, measure tape, a 6′ by 4′ table with terrain and that’s it really. As far as miniatures go, each player starts with a set number an kind of units. No army lists, no point-buy things. You got your force and that’s it. Later over the course of the campaign as your lord (hopefully) develops a great reputation more units will be added to your force.
In addition to this you will need a deck of Dux Britanniarum cards. You can either buy the very pretty ones from TFL directly or you download them (offered by TFL for free) and print them yourself. It’s a deck of Fate cards each player is dealt with useful effects to give certain actions your guys carry out a bit more oomph. Then there are the activation cards. More on these in a bit.
If you played any other game by Too Fat Lardies you will be familiar with the mechanics right away. In Dux Britanniarum there is a very important distinction between two types of games: Raids and Battles.
Especially in the beginning Raids will be the norm as the Saxons will just test the strength of the Romano-British forces, have to plunder to keep going and acquire wealth. These are pretty straightforward affairs: The Saxons raid a church, village, border watchtower cattle farms, … for loot, cattle, riches or what ever they can find. They usually get a head start as the Romano-British don’t know where the raiders will strike and they’ll need some time to react and get on the scene. In the mean time the Saxons will break into homes, look for stuff to rob, drive off the cattle and try to get away before the Brits arrive. This is the best case scenario, but it rarely works out like that.
Battles are a whole different thing. This is where the actual decisions are made, provinces are captured and history is made. These are much more along the lines of field battles and there is an elaborate Pre-Battle phase. Warlords may choose to get a few barrels of drinks for their men the night before to either raise their spirits or (if things to bad) you’ll have to deal with your army being collectively hungover and tired the next day. Pagan or christian priests may interfere if you have them in your retinue. You can have your warlord hold a rousing speech. There can be a ritualized duel of the strongest fighter of each side before the battle. Omens can play a role, miracles (or things interpreted as such) may happen. All of this will have an impact on things in the ensuing battle.
After each battle or raid usually one side will be on the run and try to retire while the other side tries to chase them down which will also lead to additional things to happen.
How does the Game work?
The way figures behave on the table is entirely based on their leaders. Usually players will have one lord and two nobles to command their troops. Leaders are activated via a card drawing mechanic:
The deck of activation cards consists of a card for each leader on the table plus a card for the missiles units. Missile troops are youngsters who aren’t old enough to be ‘proper warriors’ yet. Instead they scurry around, launching rocks, pointy sticks or arrows at the enemy formations and harass enemy movement. They are too lowly for leaders to command, so they get their own activation card.
A game turn starts with the first actvation card being turned over, usually saying Saxon or British Leader 1 or 2 or Saxon/British Lord. If a leader’s/lord’s card comes up they get to take actions based on their Status (Leaders are Status 2, Lords are Status 3). For each point of status they may carry out an action. That’s either activating a unit of warriors or elites, move around on their own, rally troops or do other minor things.
If a leader activates a group of warriors under their command they may move, if they make contact with an enemy unit they engage in combat. Movement is rolled for using either 1, 2 or 3 six-sided dice. Doing certain things (like forming two units into a larger formation unit, changing into shieldwall formation, crossing difficult terrain, climbing over fences, etc.) will reduce the number of dice you roll for movement. Some people don’t like randomized movement distances. I’m perfectly okay with that.
The other day I was walking a friend’s dog across a bunch of parks/meadows and a dog park. The snow and ice is thawing around this time of the year and the ground was slick, dogs had dug a few holes and it really reminded me of this thing of randomized movement. If someone with a big hat had told me at this moment “now run towards this fence at full speed”I wouldn’t have had any idea how far I’d get without tripping. At this tactical level of gaming I can absolutely understand randomized movement rates.
Combat is pretty straightforward: One die for each of your models, plus bonus dice for leaders fighting, roll to-hit (based on cover), each hit is then rolled ‘for effect’ based on troop quality. There are three troop qualities: Levy, Warriors (full-time warriors), Elites (the lord’s lifeguard). The effects of hits will lead to either kills (remove one model for each kill) or Shock. Shock is the Too Fat Lardies mechanicsm for morale. As combat happens units will receive kills and shock points. Shock points are accumulated over time (leaders can remove them via Rally actions), reduce your attack dice and movement rates and if there are more shock points to a unit than models the guys will start running away. Very straightforward.
Now for the Fate cards:
These are another factor to be considered in your game. Each player has a hand of 5 Fate cards maximum. This number may be modified before the game due to pre-game events. Saxons and Romano-British each always get certain cards representing their special ways of warfare and three more cards drawn at random. These cards can be played during the game to give little boosts to certain actions. It’s not a huge impact, but used at the right time these cards can be very useful.
Along with how you use your Leader activations, how you maneuver and other things these cards add to the tactical decisions you make and how successful your dudes will be on the table.
A scenario runs until one side voluntarily retires (this is campaign gaming after all, if things run horribly it can be very clever to retire to avoid further casualties), have met their objectives and pull back or are forced to retire (when the Force Morale is reduced to 0 due to casualties or fleeing units.). For this case the fate cards also come into play as some of them will feature a “pursuit” or “retreat” note which will come into play to figure out what happens after the game as one side has to take off and the other follow in pursuit.
After the game you tally the casualties, how well or unwell the retiring side does just that, if the scenario objective were fulfilled and so on. Based on this you work out how long the force needs to hire and train replacements, how much plunder the raiding side made and so on. This takes maybe five minutes at the most. That’s all the bookkeeping you need. Each campaign year consists of eight months in which campaigning is possible, each campaign turn is one month and thus you get a maximum of 8 games out of one year. At the end of each year the Saxon player has to pay tithe to his King and some events may or may not take place.
What do I think of the rules?
At this point Dux Britanniarum is my favourite Dark Age rules set. I like the fact that it is incredibly strongly interwoven with the campaign system and how the campaign rules are very quick and easy to pull off while having all this amazing period flavour built in. It starts pretty low-key with these single raids, but later on the game introduces sieges, as players climb the ladder they have to take care of their land, build great halls and secure the borders, there are spies, speeches, clergy, regicide, cavalry and so on.
In terms of colourful backgrounds and background things to do on the way to become Dux Britanniarum there seem to be more things to do for the Romano-British player, but then the Saxon player usually is the more aggressive part in the whole thing and they get to make the actual moves. So it plays pretty differently depending on the side you’re on and there is a lot of ‘late game content’ and not always the same game over and over again. Which is really cool.
Things people possibly might not like is the random movement, but I went into that earlier. There is no “army building”. The game seems to be very limited to a specific period and setting, but once you think about it a little it will work well with all kinds of settings like the Norman invasion, Barbarians aiming to invade the Roman empire, Thracians versus Hoplites or to a lesser extent Persian troops and so on. All you need to do is adapt the campaign events and maybe Fate cards a little bit and you’re good.
Also: There is the Dux Britanniarum Compendium by the esteemed Mike Whitaker in the works and there’s this:
I don’t own the Raiders supplement, but if I do I’ll let you know. 😉
Anyway, Dux Britanniarum is really good. It just feels right and is good fun.
For some more information on these rules, check out the Meeples and Miniatures Pocast episodes #91 and #120. You can purchase the rules in digital or physical form (plus the cards) here. The hardcopy version costs GBP 20.00, while digital versions cost GBP 15.00. Certainly not expensive.
I hope that you found this review interesting and enjoyable to read. If not:
Stay tuned for more articles on Dux Britanniarum in the near future!
If you have any questions, comments or indeed commission inquiries, feel free to let me know via the comments section, the Battle Brush Studios Facebook page or via e-mail.