An AAR and a few thoughts on the Crusades rules “Soldiers of God”
Soldiers of God is a card driven game. Each player has 7 cards per turn, and these cards dictate which actions can be taken. Three of these cards are permanently assigned as part of an initial battle plan and can be reused every turn. So a ‘hand’ at the start of the turn is made up of 4 random cards and the 3 permanent ones. Each card has 2 parts to it, an order which may be issued to one of the 3 divisions of your army and will affect every unit in that division, and an event which is a more powerful effect that usually just affects one unit. Some event cards are restricted to crusaders only or Saracens only. You may play the card either for its order or its event. The 3 permanent cards can only be played for their order part, and each is tied to one division of your army. For example, if you choose the ‘Right Echelon attack’ battle plan, your right wing will get a ‘charge’ card, your centre will get a ‘move’ card and your left wing will get a ‘shoot’ card. So, while your right wing will have no problem launching attacks, your left wing will have to rely on randomly drawn charge cards if it wanted to attack anything.
There are only 2 armies in Soldiers of God, ‘Crusader’ and ‘Saracen.’ Purists may find this a little odd as no attempt is made to separate the armies into distinct time periods or areas. Pilgrim mobs rub shoulders with Holy order knights. The game is clearly designed to simulate the clash of two distinct styles of warfare. Unfortunately for us, we haven’t got any crusaders, we have Fatimids and Seljuks. So we just went ahead and ignored any crusader-only text on cards. One immediate problem was that there’s oddly no troop type for Arab heavy cavalry (without bows), so we counted them as ghilman (minus the bows).
The Fatimids had some infantry, some Bedouins of dubious use and a decent amount of heavy cavalry, but no horse archers. The Seljuks had lots of horse archers backed by ghilman.
Terrain generation involves each player randomly generating and placing a piece of terrain, 1-6 pieces in total. I started by putting an area of scrub on my left flank to close it off to marauding horse archers. Al (the Turks) then put a rocky outcrop in the centre, off to my right. I put another area of scrub to the right of the outcrop to stop horse archers going around it. So, now we got onto battle plans, which is unfortunately why this battle report is not going to be particularly thrilling, I’m afraid. I wasn’t confident about negotiating my way past the bad terrain on either flank while under sustained archery. So I decided to go for a defend plan. This gave a ‘rally’ order to each flank and a ‘shoot’ order to the centre. I figured the free rallies would keep me intact while I drew enough move and charge cards to get to grips with the more agile Turks. Well, the first part of that plan would work.
The Turks, for their part, selected an ‘advance and harry’ plan, which meant that they had a ‘move’ order for the centre and a special ‘advance, shoot, retreat’ order for each wing. This lets any skirmishers advance up to half a move, shoot, then retreat up to half a move. In contrast to most sets of rules, there is no ‘evade’ mechanic in Soldiers of God. Use of the ‘advance, shoot, retreat’ move can keep the horse archers out of charge range, but the opponent can always draw sequential move cards to close the distance. So, there is much more player input into the cat-and-mouse between heavy cavalry and horse archer than just a die roll.
^ The Fatimid deployment. The archers in the centre will hopefully be able to provide some support to the flanks.
^ The rocky hill proves no impediment to the nimble Turkish horse.
On my first turn, I sent off a unit of Bedouin horse on a flank march. This meant they needed to make a resolve check in subsequent turns to appear on the opposing side. I assumed this would mean a 5 or more, but it was actually a 6, so they looked lost…
Happily, the Bedouins actually found their way around the Turks. Unhappily I wasn’t drawing any cards to get them to exploit this.
^ Hurray! The Bedouins arrive.
The Turks advanced with their horse archers to harass the flanks, while I struggled to get my left wing heavy cavalry into some sort of order on the other side of the scrub
^ Turks attack the Fatimid right
It was now dawning on me that the initial battle plan has a huge effect on the battle. This should be fairly obvious as it’s 3/7 of your cards, but it’s more than that, it’s 3 of your cards against 4 random ones. For example, there are 6 charge cards in the deck. Assuming your opponent draws half of them, you are likely to see 3 charge cards in 11 turns. Contrast that with choosing an attacking option in the first place where you’d get at least 11 charge cards in 11 turns. Rather than struggle against my initial plan, I decided to make the best of it and sit back, keep my units in the best shape I could, maximise shooting in the centre and use event cards to directly reduce the opponent’s army morale.
Winning in Soldiers of God involves reducing your opponent’s army morale to 0. Starting army morale is decided by adding up the morale value of all your units, each unit’s morale value is the same regardless of size (units are 2-4 bases in size). Now, you can have lots of small units which will mean a higher army morale, but your units will be more vulnerable and less effective, or you can have large units which are more robust, more effective but ultimately will add up to a lower army morale. Some event cards will directly reduce an opponents morale, albeit by a small amount.
A charge card finally appeared and I was able to get to grips with the horse archers on my left. Unfortunately, the Turks almost immediately drew a ‘skirmishers move’ card which let one of those units disengage. Ordinarily, combats in Soldiers of God will last until one side breaks. Units do not immediately break on taking a certain number of hits. It is only if they have those hits at the end of the turn that units are removed. So a unit can take more than enough hits to eliminate them, only to have those hits rallied off before the turn ends.
^ Fatimid cavalry catch the horse archers.
My archers in the centre had now swung around to shoot at the horse archers on my right and also to support the cavalry on my left. This meant that the Turks were having to use more of their cards to rally hits. My own ghilman unit had become exposed following the disengagement of the horse archers, but a fortunate rally roll saved them once, and a card which lets you rally off all hits saved them a second time. Maddening for the opponent. Some cards, such as the latter one, have a powerful effect and so are removed from the game when played, rather than recycled into the discard pile.
^ The immortal Fatimid ghilman face off against the Turks. I’ve still not been able to move that unit of cavalry behind it out to the flank.
^ In the centre, Fatimid ghilman charge to protect the foot archers who are doing a good job of shooting the horse archers.
We’ve managed to get through the whole pack of cards and there hasn’t been much fighting. The Fatimids lost a unit of Bedouins on the right to archery, but the heavy cavalry stood strong. Ultimately, the pressure from the Turkish archery hasn’t been sustained enough to overcome the rallying. In the meantime, the Turkish morale has been steadily eroded by event cards triggering confusion and desertion.
^ A cavalry melee attracts further participation.
Once a melee has started, units may join in without needing a charge card, they can justy join on a move card. However, fighting only happens on a melee or charge card. In the example above, the game ended before any fighting took place. With the armies finally coming together, the Turkish army morale was significantly lower. If a unit has more hits than bases, it breaks in the end turn costing army morale, but if a unit has exactly the same number of hits as bases, it takes off 1 from the army morale. A combination of Turkish units barely hanging on and a few more event cards led to a Fatimid victory, albeit a slow, grinding one.
^ The victorious commander poses for the war-illuminator.
The nearby village is deserted as the people flood out to welcome their liberators.
So, in the end, a strange game. In hindsight, of course, I should have gone with a left echelon attack. Especially with the successful Bedouin flank march, I’m fairly sure I could have overwhelmed the Turkish right and still hung on to my right. Conversely, the Turkish player should probably have been more aggressive, even though his battle plan wasn’t particularly so. A long game favoured my greater ability to sustain damage, even though my plan was a bit at odds with the nature of my army. It seems that it’s vital in Soldiers of God to get your initial plan right. Now, there will be players who don’t like to have so little ability to change plans from turn to turn, but I think it’s fine, particularly for ancient or medieval. I think it’ll take a few more games to get the hang of it, and, of course, it would be better with crusaders against ‘Saracens,’ but overall I think there’s a lot of potential there.
Soldiers of God also has 4 scenarios, Raid, Small battle (which we did here), Large battle and Siege assault. The raid scenario is about 2/3 the size of the small battle, so you can get troops on the table relatively quickly if you’re just starting out. The siege assault rules look rather good too.
Figures are by Legio Heroica. Soldiers of God is written by Warwick Kinrade and published by Artorius Games.