Me, Ulf and Andy met up at club the other day for a game of Liber Militum Tercios. This game, which I must admit has slipped under my radar completely up until Andy pitched it at club recently, looks to be a rather interesting take on the Thirty Years War. It is produced by a Spanish company called El Kraken Released, and aims at recreating large-scale battles with “a bit more abstraction than other games”.
It is a card-driven, element-based system with alternate activation. It is also scale agnostic, something which has almost become a new standard these days. Normally I would have preferred doing large battles in smaller scales, but since all of us already have quite substantial collections of suitable 28mm models from our recent The Pikeman’s Lament campaign, we simply threw what we had on the table for a quick test game.
A great thing about this game is that a free “trial” version of the rules is available at EKR’s website. This is a wise move in my opinion since it really lowers the barrier of entry; not everyone wants to spend 20 Euros on a ruleset they’ve never tried. And the trial version is fully playable, albeit shorter and lacking some key elements (more about that later).
Since I haven’t dug very deep into Tercios yet this will not be a review per se, but rather a brief AAR with some passing comments on how gameplay works.
So the setup for this particular game is slightly Lützen-like: Protestants and Catholics face each other across a muddy field somewhere in Germany. There’s some rough going in the middle of the field, which the Protestants are trying to cross. The Catholics will try to stop them.
Protestant forces consists mainly of Swedes and Scots, commanded by infamous Swedish brute Henrik “The Hammer”…
…while the Catholic faith is represented by by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, whose valiant forces are led into battle by Hetman Krystzow Bielichowski.
Commanders are a very important aspect of this game, as their traits and abilities can influence the battle in several ways (the rules for command units are not included in the trial version).
While this adds a fair bit of flavour to the game, it also means that you’ll have to keep track of your traits and remember to add their effects in any given situation, something that I personally always find a bit of a challenge. In this “test game” we struggled with getting the core rules right, and so we mostly forgot about what our commanders could do.
So anyway, the whole things starts off with the Polish Dragoons – basically, Zaporothian Cossacks – advancing across the field.
Tercios uses a clever unit activation system where each player issues all his orders secretly at the start of the turn. Each unit receives an order card face-down, and then the players take turns, activating one unit at a time. Order cards can not be changed once they’ve been issued, but they can be used as reactions rather than actions, basically meaning that a unit will have the opportunity to react if charged. The reaction depends on the type of order card that the unit has received.
This of course means that you’ll have to plan ahead and try to figure out what your opponent’s intentions are, but also that you might end up with units whose order has become wholly unsuitable to the actual situation.
Artillery started to become a regular feature on the battlefield during this period and thus both sides has access to cannons. Here the Polish artillery fires between their own ranks at the advancing Protestants, but fail to hit anything.
The Swedes now take up position and fire away at the Polish front line, but they also fail to make an impact.
The Poles respond in kind, the elite Krakow Militia delivering a well-aimed fusillade. But no effect here either. Perhaps there’s something wrong with the powder?
The Polish Heavy Cavalry – Winged Hussars and Pancerni – decides to move forward. Perhaps lances can achieve something where bullets fail…
Thus, the whole Polish contingent is now advancing across the field towards the road.
The cannon keeps firing, and keeps missing.
But while the Polish aim seems to be under the influence of some heretic plot, the Swedes now actually inflict some damage. The Krakow lads suffer a Wear marker which will make them reluctant to perform most tasks (basically you’ll need to roll dice to get them to move and shoot).
These markers accumulate as more casualties are suffered, and will eventually force some morale checks. While the Wear markers may be removed by rallying, the first one always remains. This might seem harsh and a bit unorthodox perhaps, but it’s actually a quite effective way of simulating the wearing down of soldiers – once a unit has started taking casualties it’s quite plausible that it will not regain all its original strength just by a magical “rally” order.
Encouraged by the Polish plight, the Scots now rush across the wheat fields and try to sneak up on the Polish right flank…
…but the Poles’ Light Cavalry are heading in the same direction, wading through the swampy mires next to the road.
Shots can be heard all across the battlefields as Polish Haiduks fire at the other Scottish unit and then receives a lead shower in return. A Wear marker is distributed on the Protestant side, but neither Scots, Swedes nor Poles seems to accumulate anywhere near enough damage to actually force any break test.
Meanwhile, the Polish Cavalry are approaching the road. In the distance they spy “The Hammer’s” Swedish Cavalry, and lower their lances.
On the right flank, their light compatriot counterparts come rushing through the woods and fire at the Scottish troops skulking around in the fields. But no real damage is inflicted here either…
The game has now lasted several rounds and plenty of shots have been exchanged, but not one single unit has yet broken from combat, or even had to take a break test (at this time we were all trying to figure out whether we were just bad at rolling dice, or if the system is somewhat opposed to actual bloodshed).
But then things start to shape up. The Swedes make an aggressive charge against the Hussars, who counter charge, resulting in a violent clash in the middle of the road.
The Swedes lose the combat and have to fall back, which exposes their flank in a very dire-looking way…
…something that the Polish Pancerni quickly take advantage of. They slam into the enemy with full force, pushing them back.
But then they in turn get charged by the other Swedish cavalry unit. They hold their ground…
…while their twin unit on the right backs away slightly, positioning themselves as to be able to “funnel” the enemy.
As the Swedes had received an “Assault” card, they now have to charge even if it means death.
They get a nasty treatment by the combined force of Pancerni and Hussars, and are pushed back into their own infantry ranks.
On the right flank, gunfire keeps failing to hit anything, both by the wheat field and in the open terrain.
Sure, the odd Haiduk bites the dust, but even after six rounds of intensive fighting all infantry units remain virtually pristine.
And after six rounds the game ends, as the Polish victory condition was to prevent the Protestants from crossing the road during six rounds. Thus, I won by default, without any real bloodshed at all. Fine and dandy from a pacifist point of view, perhaps, but not very exciting if you’re a wargamer.
Our experience of Tercios was initially somewhat mixed; the activation system is very good, as it requires a lot of tactical forethought and also keeps both sides involved thanks to the alternate activation way of doing things. The commander system, while interesting and flavourful, is perhaps not really my cup of tea as it requires you to constantly remember your commanders’ traits and what they do (there are something like 30 different traits if I remember correctly).
Combat is straightforward and simple, but we were very surprised at the difficulty of actually killing anything. What kind of wargame makes it nearly impossible to rout units, even with intense shooting and heavy cavalry charges?
Then we had another look at the rules and realized that we had gotten the numbers all mixed up; the entire game we thought that a 5 (on a D6 roll) is required to hit and a 4 to save, but it’s actually the opposite! Naturally, this puts things in a different light. Next time around I’m sure things will die a bit faster.
All in all I think this is an interesting little system and I look forward to playing it more in the future.