Archive for February, 2015



My friend Francisco and I have been playing Dux Bellorum about once a month, and we recently tried the scenario “The Bard’s Tale”. If you’re unfamiliar with the rules, this scenario is pretty standard except that both sides have a bard with their army, and victory is determined by the glorious acts of heroism he witnesses. Think of the bard as the Dark Age equivalent of an imbedded reporter, bearing witness to the battle for the benefit of the folks back home. Forget all the usual things about winning and losing a battle, they don’t matter here. All that matters is how much (or how little) glory the bard witnesses.

In the scenario, each player attaches his bard to a unit at the beginning of each turn. While he is attached, the player gains points for whatever happens to the unit, both good and bad. Think about that for a second, because it dramatically alters the way the game is played. Even if the unit is wiped out you get points, and the more spectacular the battle the more points.

I had the Saxons and was the repeller, with the following forces:

1 x Leader and Foot Companions

1 x Noble Warriors

5 x Ordinary Warriors

2 x Skirmishers (with bows)

1 x Fanatics

Saxon left wing. The fanatics are way out at the far end

Saxon left wing. The fanatics are way out at the far end

Saxon right wing. Leader & companions are in the center of the line

Saxon right wing. Leader & companions are in the center of the line


Francisco had the Romano-British and was the attacker, with the following forces:

1 x Leader and Mounted Companions

2 x Noble Riders

1 x Noble Shieldwall

3 x Ordinary Shieldwall

He also chose the “Imposing Horses” strategy for his force, giving his cavalry an attack modifier when charging.

British right flank - The shieldwall

British right flank – The shieldwall


British left flank - The cavalry

British left flank – The cavalry

The terrain was nothing special, just a small patch of woods on the left and the right with an old Roman road running down the center. The Romano-British started the game by slowly moving both flanks forward. The Saxons responded by moving their left flank, including the fanatics, forward into the woods directly in front of them while the skirmishers on the right headed for the other patch of woods.

The Saxons

The Saxons

British start position

The British

The British shieldwall approaches

The British shieldwall in the distance approaches

As the lines came closer, the fanatics on the Saxon left charged out of the woods at the nearest British unit with bloody results. The fanatics were wiped out, but the fury of their assault inflicted casualties on the shieldwall, weakening it. This was where I made my first bard-related mistake. Instead of placing him with the fanatics where he could witness the glorious charge, I placed him with one of the warrior units that I thought would be in combat. I was wrong. No points awarded.

The fanatics charge out of the forest.

The fanatics charge out of the forest.

By the way, in the photo you see, the individual command figures on small square bases represent “Leadership Points”, which gives the unit certain benefits in combat. The bards are also on square bases. Wherever you see casualties on round bases, these represent cohesion losses.

At the same time that the fanatics were making their heroic but unwitnessed charge, the British cavalry at the other end of the line charged forward and smashed into the Saxon line.

British cavalry charge

British cavalry charge

The cavalry certainly put a dent in the line of Saxon warriors, but were mauled in the process, taking many casualties before falling back. It’s good to note here that cavalry of this period, although powerful, were not the panzer-like monsters that later knights would be. In this period, the mostly threw javelins rather than charging home.

British Shieldwall

The push and pull of battle began to break apart the lines into a series of fights between individual units.

Saxon king

Saxon king

British Initial Charge

Losses begin to mount

Losses begin to mount

Saxon King Awaiting

Francisco and I started to get the hang of putting the bard where the action was going to be. As units began to crumble and rout off the table, we both racked up a lot of bard points.

The Saxon king and companions was pummeled by repeated charges back and forth. One more cohesion loss would destroy the unit.

The dead cover the field

The dead cover the field

British units now began to back away, not wanting to add victory points. The Saxon skirmishers who had been shooting into the British left flank, now fell silent less they kill off the remaining British cavalry (Archery adds nothing to bard points since there’s no glory in it).

Finally, the Saxon king managed to charge forward in one last, glorious, bloody charge attended by the Saxon Bard. He was killed in the process, but managed to take out another British unit. The rest of the Saxon line surged forward, causing even more losses among their foes.

Saxon King Charges

With so many dead, both armies now had to check morale and it was the British that broke, leaving the field to the surviving Saxons. However, we counted the points and found that the British had far more than the Saxons. In a finale reminiscent of the Welsh poem “Y Gododdin”, their bard came away with a tale of glory mixed with tragedy.

Three hundred gold-torqued men attacked,
Guarding their land, bloody was the slaughter,
Although they were slain, they slew;
And until the end of the world they will be honoured.
And of all of us kinsmen who went together,
Sad, but for one man, none escaped.

                                                                    – Y Gododdin