Monday, 6 June 2011

Dux Bellorum: Leadership mechanisms

Dark Ages miniatures games could be pretty dull affairs if they have no rules to differentiate between the ability of one group of chaps with spears and shields and their opponents who are armed in the same way.

As a kid, I read an article by Andy Callan in Practical Wargamer magazine explaining his idea for a Dark Ages game where the player had to build up his army’s courage and keep it high throughout the game. This was inspirational stuff (thanks Andy!) and I headed off to start working on my first published miniatures game: Glutter of Ravens: Warfare in the Age of Arthur. Andy published his own game too, although I wasn’t to see it until it found its way onto the Internet a few years ago. His game was called Dark Age Infantry Slog, and an interesting game it is too! If you enjoy Dark Ages battles, you owe it to yourself to try it at least once.

Glutter of Ravens had players building up their units’ Strength and Formation by continually topping up hits taken in combat, as suggested by Andy Callan. I really liked this idea, although playing the game these days it requires a lot more record keeping than I really want in a game. So this lead me to start thinking about how I could fix this for the second edition (that never came to be), and then got me thinking once again when I started working on my new game, Dux Bellorum.

Playing a lot of boardgames over the years has got me into using gaming gems and counters to keep track of variables in games, so I thought this would be the best solution – stick a marker beside a unit to show it’s current value. Some gamers prefer not to have this clutter in a miniatures game, but I think it’s preferable to keeping a separate record sheet and changing it each turn. I also decided that rather than tracking Leadership over successive turns, it would be simpler to give each player a number of points to use as modifiers on dice rolls each turn, and then give them all back again during the next turn – I was pleased with this as it strips out a lot of potentially complicated record keeping and distills the game down into a streamlined form, turning leadership points into simple mechanism modifiers to use as the player wishes (and mechanism modifiers add great weight in any game). This means that the players can decide when and how to influence his or her units each turn, without getting bogged down in reams of rules.

So how are Leadership Points used in Dux Bellorum? Each army has one Leader of Battles, who can increase the motivation and abilities of their units by using Leadership Points each turn; and each Leader has a set number of LPs to use each turn. The usual number is 6, but players may spend points to gain up to 10 (buying a full 10 points will seriously reduce the size of your army but give you a very well motivated force). Leadership Points do not only reflect the leader’s own command abilities but that of the commanders of individual units and overall motivation of the whole army. If you purchase extra LPs for your army, this might mean that your Leader is a famous hero from the Dark Ages, such as Arthur, Urien, or Aelle; alternatively, you might decide those extra LPs represent the unnamed yet equally heroic sub-commanders of individual units, whose names have been lost to the annals for hundreds of years.

You may use your Leadership Points each turn to improve the chances of your units to perform well – either by your Leader’s personal influence, the influence of minor leaders not represented by miniatures, or by the army’s overall morale and élan. The actions LPs can be used for are as follows:

* Interrupt an opponent’s movement sequence to move one of your own unit/groups first. This gives a short term tactical advantage.
* Boost Bravery for a Bravery Test. Using LPs in this way might allow an otherwise unenthusiastic unit/group make a critical move at a crucial moment of the game.
* Boost Aggression for close combat. This can make a Shieldwall fight as well as the best Warriors, or Noble Warriors or Companions angels of death
* Cancel hits inflicted on your units. This can make even the most feeble of unit perform like a rock, albeit at the cost of your vital LPs.

As your casualties mount, your LPs decline, meaning that the pressure is on you to use your LPs in the best possible way to gain a tactical advantage. And you’ll usually find you never have quite enough LPs to spread around your army as you’d like, especially once close combat starts and pressure points build up. When your Leader is killed (which happens when his Companions are removed from play), you may no longer allocate LPs in future turns, so will be disadvantaged. So keep your Leader alive!

Leadership points are one of the features I’m proudest of in Dux Bellorum; for me, they reflect the challenges of small scale leadership in a period alien to well-drilled command and control, and they do it in a streamlined way. It’s abstracted, of course, and I’m sure some miniatures gamers won’t enjoy that, but I’d prefer that to a lot of paperwork or very long, tedious lists of morale and command modifiers. There’s also a high degree of theatre and game play in placing your LPs each turn, which means that each player has even more choices to make and react to throughout the game – there’s more to Dux Bellorum than just coming out on top in close combat.