Friday, December 21, 2012

Bloody Barons Review

I've been so busy with 'Real Life' recently - Christmas preparation, work crisis to fend off, etc.  As such it's been a while since I got any hobby-ish activities done.  Still, that's me off now for 2 weeks over Christmas and the New Year, so hopefully I'll make up some lost time.

To make a start, in any case, I thought I'd post some info on the recently-used 'Wars of the Roses' rules set 'Bloody Barons' by Peter Pig.

This was one that had largely skipped by me, in my occasional hunt for alternate rules-sets.  I got alerted to it by a couple of references from people posting on TMP.  I had a look at the Peter Pig website, and then eventually splashed out on a copy.  

To take it from basics then, the game is for units typically sized at about eight bases each.  The rules typically take each base as a stand of 3-odd figures in 15mm, although I have been using units of ten bases with one 28mm figure per base with no ill effects.  Units are mixed, normally half billmen and half longbowmen, and all units are led by a single Captain base.  As such, the units typically look good to the eye, with an armour-clad noble front-and-centre and a surrounding mix of troops with both bows and bills.  These units are the typical backbone of the armies you'll field, so variety is added by grading them by quality.  Household units are the picked elite for a nobleman's personal force; Retinue units are dependable veterans; and Levy are the untrained and unreliable second-rate masses.  The rules also cater for other unit types such as cavalry, pike, handgunners, cannon, etc.

Generally, control is similar in style to the current trend (Warmaster Ancients, Hail Caesar, etc.) for commanders to roll for each order issued, and continuing to issue more orders until they fail a roll.  This system will probably be familiar to many, and of course it works in terms of making you weigh up the urgency of various orders.  One additional tweak is that an activated unit then rolls a d6 to decide how many action points it gets that turn - so even if a general activates only one unit, a good action-point roll can mean they do more than an opponent who activates many units and rolls poorly.

Combat is a simple and intuitive process - the attacker rolls a fistful of 'to hit' dice, then the defender rolls a clutch of 'saves' for each hit landed.  There are a few extra rolls here and there for things like casualty application etc. but the general notion can be easily grasped and understood.  Large hands of dice are common so you'll do a lot of rolling, and a simple set of modifiers plus a morale system complete the 'mechanics' of the game - which fits neatly onto a single side of A4.  The game plays for a random number of turns, before 'night falls' and a winner is determined by a score of victory points.  

One of the notable features in it is the method for generating scenarios.  Each player gets a pool of dice, which they can then assign to categories like 'Treachery', 'Espionage', 'Supplies' and so on.  Each player rolls for each category to try to build up a score, and the larger the discrepancy in scores, the more dramatic the effect on the game.  This puts in a nice randomness to the setup, dependent on both out-guessing your opponents' allocations and on lucky rolls.  It means games vary a lot, which prevents the 'line them up and crash the two lines headlong into each other' syndrome which can often plague WotR games.

By and large, as you can probably tell by the number of references to dice rolls above, the game is generally dominated by likelihoods - Levy are not likely to stop Household, but they technically can if they have a lucky set of rolls just as their opponent puts in a bland one - all you can do is try and contrive situations where you are likely to triumph, and take your chances.  It's much more authentic than a more rigid x-always-beats-y system which many rules favour, but I know it's definitely not to the taste of some wargamers out there.  

The rulebook also has the usual features such as an army-building points system, historical scenarios, painting tips, etc.  In summary, it's an excellent set for swift-playing WotR battles, with lots of innovative features to keep things fresh, and has clearly been written by people who love wargaming and have designed the rules to provide an eventful game which can be concluded in an evening, and keep all parties involved throughout.  I'd give it a strong 8/10 score, possibly even a 9.  


  1. Craig,

    Thanks for the summary of Bloody Barons.

    Did they interest you enough to use them again? Or will you go back to your KISS ACOS rules or Hail Caesar or something else?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    Happy Holidays,


  2. Thanks for the review. It isn't my period but you gave me a very good idea of what these rules are like without getting into too much detail.

    -- Jeff

  3. hi Jeff - glad it was of interest.

    Jim - I shall probably use the BB rules as my default WotR set. A Coat of Steel is too ponderous, while Hail Caesar is much faster but needs tailoring to get the period 'flavour' right. the Bloody Barons set offers a nice midpoint.

    thanks to you both for the comments!