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Tuesday, 11 November 2014 14:31

Deus Vult (Dux Homunculorum Review)

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Deus Vult! First Thoughts Part 1

Around the time Fireforge Games released their Templar Knights, I decided that resistance was futile and bought a box each of the Teutonic Knights, Templars and then the Mounted Sergeants. I’ve always loved 13th century knights, and had a great time painting some in 1/72 scale. The lure of being able to put together a sizeable force in 28mm, made up of affordable figures in a coherent style proved too strong. God truly did will it.

Although my main intention is to put together an army for Impetus, I also preordered a copy of Deus Vult, the set of wargames rules from Fireforge, written by Dylan Owen, Alessio Cavatore and Fabio Spieza, and have been gradually reading my way through the rules. Paul of the Man Cave asked for a review, so here are some initial thoughts, bearing in mind that I haven’t actually played a game.

1. Presentation and Layout

The Deus Vult rule book is really quite superb. It is hardback, 192 pages, and sumptuously illustrated with photographs of beautifully painted figures, Fireforge’s magnificent box artwork and a number of diagrams to help explain the rules. It is nice to see that Fireforge haven’t just taken the opportunity to advertise their own miniatures, with the book also featuring photos of figures from Gripping Beast, Conquest Games, the Perrys and many other manufacturers. The book has been extremely well edited and proofread. Despite being a pedantic bugger I have yet to discover any errors.

The layout of the book is very clear and accessible, with clear and numerous subheadings. One feature I quite like is the use of margins to pick up on points made in the text. Sometimes the margins just contain some inspiring ‘fluff’, such as quotes from various chronicles, but often the authors have used the margins to give tactical advice or to justify some point of game design. There are also suggestions aimed at assisting game play, such as the salutary advice about how to resolve rules disputes without resorting to bloodshed on p. 8, or a guide to making an instant protractor on page 9.

2. What's In the Book?

The subtitle of Deus Vult is ‘Wargaming in the Time of the Crusades’. The rules and army lists focus particularly on the first three crusades in the Holy Land, up to the end of the 12th century, although the authors make it clear that the Deus Vult game will be developed into different Medieval contexts with the release of future supplements.

The first chapter of the book deals with ‘General Conventions’, explaining fundamental concepts in the rules such as morale and so on. This section also sets out to pin down various points that can cause disputes in games, such as exactly how to measure distance or resolve line of sight. I get the strong impression that the authors are aiming this game partly at tournament play, and are seeking to make the rules as clear and unambiguous as possible.

Chapter 2 (‘Anatomy of an Army’) explains how forces are organised in Deus Vult I particularly like the fact that army organisation closely mirrors the historical reality, with armies made up of Main Force and Rear Guard Divisions, with a possible Vanguard Division, usually of skirmishers, leading the army. An army could consist of a single division, with up to one Rearguard Division added for each in the Main Force. One Rearguard Division can also be designated as an Outflanking Force, which is left off the table when the army deploys. Divisions are made up of a number of Units, which can fight in Line or Deep formations.

Each Division is led by a Battle Leader, and the first task for a player is to determine each Battle Leader’s profile. This involves rolling dice to determine the Leader’s Discipline and Courage, Command ability, their prowess in Duels, and the possible Virtues or Flaws and Strategies they may possess that will influence the game.

Chapters 3-6 cover the actual rules for fighting tabletop battles, so I’ll come back to those shortly.

In Chapter 7, we have seven different scenarios, which all look well thought out and enjoyable, and certainly fire my imagination. Generally they present fairly familiar situations as are found n different rule sets, which is natural enough as they reflect typical situations in Medieval warfare. For example, we have scenarios such as Seize the Baggage (pretty self-explanatory), or others involving river crossings, holding objectives, fighting while encircled and so forth.

Chapters 8-10 explain how to go about recruiting your army, providing army lists for Early Crusader States 1100-1128 and Arab Dynasties 945-1150. A fairly cursory perusal suggests that these are detailed and well thought out, and although based on a points system are constrained by various limitations that avoid power gaming by forcing the player to field an army that reflects its historical composition. The cut-off dates on the lists is a little surprising given the focus of the rules on the first three Crusades, but this is explained somewhat by Chapter 11, which provides a list of ‘Sample Units’ allowing the player to raise forces for Deus Vult! outside the main focus of this book. For Example, statistics are provided for ‘Generic Western European Troops’ as well as for Templars, Hospitallers, Seljuk Turks, Teutonics, Russians and Baltic Pagans. These would certainly allow the formation of later Crusading armies in the Holy Land, but only provide a skeleton of units for those, for example, interested in the Northern Crusades. As the authors point out, we can expect to see the later crusades, the Northern Crusades and other conflicts such as those involving the Mongols covered in future supplements.

Chapter 12 ‘Fighting for God’ gives an overview narrative of the history of the 1st-3rd Crusades, running to 16 pages. This is well written and gives a good overview of the period, and I am very impressed that Fireforge went to the effort of including such a good section on the historical background to the game. Nice one.

This is followed in Chapter 13 by an after battle report of a game of Deus Vult, involving none other than Alessio Cavatore, one of the authors, and perennial swords for hire Rick Priestley and the Perrys. This is quite a good read, and does help to explain the flow of a game.

Chapter 14 is great, giving some good suggestions about how to customise Deus Vult to different situations such as tournaments, or how to use figures with different basing conventions or in different scales, how to play multi-player games and how to design new scenarios. Perhaps surprisingly there is nothing here about campaigns, but perhaps we can expect that in a later supplement. There is some nice advice on p. 159 about how to organise a tournament, including suggestions about how to avoid the problem of plyers with hangovers or pushy girlfriends (!)

Finally, Chapters 15 and 16 provide a number of Gaming Aids, such as cards to keep track of the attributes of different Battle Leaders and tokens and cards for use in the game. An overview reference section completes the book, which makes good use of the margins by providing page references to different rules. At first glance this looks well designed, but you would have to use it in the heat of battle to really assess this.

Right, well that pretty much gives my initial thoughts on most aspects of Deus Vult! except for the rules themselves, which I will cover in my next post. Overall impression so far? This book is clearly a labour of love, presenting an ambitious new gaming system with a clear strategy for expansion lying behind it. I can’t fault the presentation, and frankly think it would be worth the price just for the army lists, historical section and inspiring eye candy. The introduction does refer to a painting guide in the book, but I couldn’t find any trace of one, but that minor quibble aside, this is an impressive piece of work.


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