I know that some people are planning out new purchases or peeping into their boxes of miniatures to work out which armies they can put together for Dux Bellorum. Choosing which army you’re going to field, and working out what to include is a good (if slightly expensive) game to play in itself!
I’m not going to bog down in history lessons here, far be it from me to try to lecture Arthurian gamers in ‘how’ the period should be played. I'll point you in the direction of a few other rules writers if you really want that. Instead, I thought I’d run through the choices of army and outline why they might appeal to you, or give you enough info to decide which ones to cross off your list. Perhaps even more likely, most gamers will already know which army they want to collect, so this should give you a few pointers as to how they’ll play in Dux Bellorum.
First up, there’s no killer armies in Dux Bellorum, no armies that will guarantee you success. As most armies choose from the same troop types, and as Leadership Points (LPs) are a great leveller of the differences between units (if used correctly), I can't guarantee that army X will always beat army Y. Same goes for the size of army you choose; playing the game over the past couple of years has shown me that I am equally likely to win or lose (okay, let’s agree on ‘lose’) with a small elite army as I am with a larger, ordinary army. Victory depends on how you play on the day, and how you use your LPs.
Understanding the basics of what different troop types will achieve for you is important when choosing which army you’re going for; check this out for a few pointers about what the different troop types are good at: Troop Types. With that in mind, let’s look at the available armies:
The Late Romans will attract players who like heavy cavalry, as they are able to field the game’s one and only cataphract unit. Aside from that, there’s a decent mix of Riders and Shieldwall. The Late Romans have a little bit of everything (except for Warriors), and as such are easier to play once you’ve worked out the best way to use the different troop types. I’d say that a Late Roman army is quite hard to beat, but tends to grind out victories rather than winning you a fast and furious battle. History being what it is, Late Roman armies are limited to the earlier era of the game.
The Romano-Britons can field a fully mounted army if you so desire, although that’s unlikely to win you many games. With their mixture of good Noble Riders and Ordinary Shieldwall, the Romano-British combine decent aggression with a solid base of foot. Like the Romans, you won't be able to field a Romano-British force in the game’s later era.
The Welsh are one of the two armies I’d recommend to a beginner. This is because they have a respectable number of nobles, and a significant number of their units can be fielded as Riders, Warriors, or Shieldwall – meaning you have quite wide flexibility when choosing which units to recruit. Your foot units can be fielded as Warriors in one game and Shieldwall in the next, to give you a variety of playing styles for the cost of just one army. They can also be fielded in any of the three eras of the game, so maximise the number of opponents to battle against.
Alongside the Welsh, the Saxons are the other army I’d recommend to a beginner. Everything I’ve written about the Welsh also applies to the Saxons, although they do have a smaller number of Riders. The flexibility between Warriors and Shieldwall, combined with their use in all three eras, makes them a nice, varied army to field.
The Picts can be a very simple or pretty complex army to field. At their simplest, you have a large army of predominantly Ordinary Warriors or Shieldwall, which should be straightforward to lead into battle. Mixing things up a bit, you can also field one of the trickier armies to play as or against in Dux Bellorum, by taking the maximum number of Skirmishers (both on foot and mounted). A skirmishing army is only likely to win once you’ve played enough games to figure out the best way to use them and LPs combined … and if you do manage that elusive win, it will be twice as rewarding.
The Irish are blessed with a higher number of Noble Warriors than other armies. This means that they hit hard and fast, but also have habit of being overwhelmed. Good use of LPs counters this, but I’d suggest that victory with an Irish army comes with a bit of time and patience in testing out what they’re good at.
Regardless of which kingdom your raiders represent, they’re going to be a fairly small army of good Warriors or Riders (no Shieldwall). They’re a decent army for a beginner to put together from scratch as you’ll only need a small number of models, but you’ll get the best from a raiding force once you’ve mastered the best use of LPs. Best of all, you can put a decent raiding force together from one of the main armies (other than Late Romans, who don't have raiding armies), so it's a way to try out a different type of army without shelling out more of your hard earned. Despite Dux Bellorum being an Arthurian game, I’ve had plenty of enquiries about fielding Viking armies, and the Sea Raider army (based on early era Saxons) is the one to choose if you’re that way inclined.
Not an army in their own right, but most armies can pull in allies from other lists. Although you’ll only ever get a brace of units, it’s an effective way to add another dimension to your army. If you’re a Shieldwall-based army, you can bring in some Warriors to liven things up a bit; if you’re predominantly a foot-based army, try recruiting a unit of Noble Riders from another kingdom.