05 January 2016
Tabletop gaming during the period of the Crusades
SOLDIERS OF GOD
Published by Artorus Games, by Warwick Kinrade, softback, full colour, 92 pages
Soldiers of God is designed for playing tabletop battles during the period of the Crusades. The book is in A5 format, is printed on high quality, glossy paper and comes complete with a deck of action cards to play the game – so the first thing to say is that the book looks great. It contains photographs of nicely painted miniatures, both to illustrate rules and as eye candy.
The game is designed as an element based wargame, with each unit consisting of between two and four stands. All stands, whether infantry or cavalry, should be the same size. 40mm or 50mm bases are recommended when playing with 28mm figures, with an infantry base having four or five figures on it, whilst a cavalry base should have two mounted figures. The game, however, will cater for any scale of miniature and any size of base (though it is recommended that bases not be too large). Distances are measured in ‘paces’ in the game and a ‘pace’ has a different length, depending on scale. With 10mm figures, 1 pace = 1cm, with 15mm figures 1 pace = ½ inch and with 28mm figures 1 pace = 1 inch. The action cards, are used to determine the turn sequence. There are four basic types of action cards: Movement, Missile, Melee and Morale.
At the start of the game, each army chooses a battle plan, which gives that army three pre-determined action cards. Four random action cards are added to this, which means that at the start of the turn, each player has a hand of seven action cards to choose from. A player’s army is divided into a number of ‘Battles’, usually three (left, centre and right). When a player uses an action card, he specifies one of his Battles, and any or all units within that Battle may use that card as an order. Each card, as well as having an action, also has a special event. The card can be played either for its action, or for its special event, not both. Also of note is that the three cards given to a player dependent upon his battle plan can only be used as action cards, and never as special events.
At the start of the turn, each player is dealt four random action cards. These are held in the player’s hand, whilst the three cards allocated to the army by its battle plan are placed face down behind their respective Battles. Initiative for the turn is then determined – usually it passes to the army with highest morale at that point in the game. The player with the initiative then has the first play. He can play an action card for its action, for its special event, he may pass and discard a card (and thus reduce disorder on one of his units by 1), he may choose to hold a card for a future turn, or he may trade in two of his cards for a new card, drawn from the action card deck. After the player with initiative has played a card, then the player without initiative may do likewise. The turn progresses with the players alternating playing a card until all the cards have been played. Once all the cards have been played, the turn ends. Players check to see if units have been routed, adjust their army morale and check to ensure that the army morale has not been reduced to zero. If this should happen, that army loses the game.
Each basic type of action card is further subdivided into different types. For example, Movement action cards are further subdivided into March (move directly forward), Manoeuvre (change formation, facing, dismount etc.) or Skirmishers Move (which orders a unit if skirmishers to move). The types of cards exist in different quantities; for example, there are more March cards than Skirmishers Move cards. When units move, they do so by moving a number of paces – this is determined by the type of unit and also whether they are in close or open order. Typically, troops in open order can move more quickly than troops in close order. When moving or firing, no premeasurement of distance is allowed. Player must estimate whether a unit is in charge range, or bowshot, and then order his units accordingly. Only after the order is given can distances be measured. Most missile weapons have quite a short range. For example, the standard bow has a range of 12". However, it is interesting to note that most bows and war engines can use the ‘Archery’ rule, which means that they can lob arrows over the heads of an intervening unit (friendly or enemy) onto their target – very useful, and not something that many sets of ancients rules allow you to do.
Units may only move into melee using the Charge action card. When doing so, units move their full movement rate until they contact an enemy unit, and then may make a free wheel movement until the unit base aligns with the target it has just struck. Combat, whether with missile weapons or in melee, is performed in the same way. The player rolls 1D6 for each stand in the unit (so if a unit consists of three stands, you would roll 3D6 in combat). Every weapon the unit is armed with has a stat – for example, dismounted knights have swords at 3+. This stat is the number that is needed on a D6 to score a hit. Modifiers in combat affect the number of dice that are rolled. For each hit, the target unit must make a resolve check – suffering a disorder marker for each check that is failed. (Disorder represents a mixture of casualties, confusion and failing morale).
Should a unit suffer more Disorder than it has stands, it is routed at the end of the turn. It’s worth noting that in melee, both attackers and defenders roll dice simultaneously, and thus both can inflict damage. Units that flee the battlefield affect the morale of the army. At the start of the game, players determine the Morale Value of their army, based on the number and quality of the units in their force. If this is reduced to zero during the game, the army is routed from the battlefield. This covers the essentials of the rules (although I have missed out several things, such as challenges in melee combat) that you can find in the first 37 pages of the rulebook. The rest of the book describes battle plans and their formations, describes all the special events that can happen when cards are played, gives an extended example of play, provides a terrain generator for the table top, proposes scenarios (a Field Battle, a Raid or a Siege Assault), has army lists for Saracens and Crusaders, contains rules for siege warfare and castle assaults (as sieges were a major factor in the wars of the Crusades) and finally outlines a minicampaign system in which a campaign is fought over five battles, with units potentially gaining upgrades through experience.
The final pages of the rules provide a unit summary, a Quick Reference Sheet and a full index. Soldiers of God is a well-produced, well designed game. Some medieval warfare wargames can get quite complex – especially when controlling movement. SoG attempts to keep things as simple as possible. Things can get more complex when the inevitable multi-unit combat occurs, but the book provides several worked examples of combat including both close and open order troops, so everything is explained well. The action card system works well, and the fact that every card in a player’s hand may be played in a turn – which may well result in units being ordered multiple times in the same turn – keeps the gaming moving along apace. Combat is kept relatively simple. Some gamers may object to the fact that the only combat modifiers are those based on troop quality, formation or position (open order, flank attack etc.) and a unit’s combat effectiveness is not affected by casualties - I must admit that it didn’t particularly trouble me. Continuing to use a unit that is badly affected by Disorder carries certain risks – the unit may still be combat effective, but is ultimately quite brittle and may well rout in combat and adversely affect the morale of the army.
Overall I really enjoyed Soldiers of God. A lot of work has been put into making it a fast-paced, fun game with a lot of depth and replayability, given the number of scenarios and the campaign system included in the rules. The army lists are well put together, and although somewhat generic, give a good feel for the forces of the period. The action card system works really well, and gives each player a good number of decisions to make each turn. (Neil Shuck)