by Russ Lockwood
Designer: Morgane Gouyon-Rety
Publisher: GMT Games
Dennis laid out the new $95 GMT game Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain and it sure looked impressive. Lots of goodies, although upon seeing the wooden meeple pieces, I got this feeling that this was going to be less a wargame and more a eurogame. We’ll see.
Still, the map generated some oohs and ahhs from me, although the ultrastraight gray roads seemed too out of character for the rest of the map. Yeah, I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.
Anyway, the components: One 22×34-inch mounted game board; deck of 83 playing cards; 320 red, dark blue, light blue, black, green, and gold wooden playing pieces; 6 gray and 6 white wooden pawns; 4 foldout Faction player aid sheets; 2 foldout Non-player faction aid sheets; 2 Sequence of Play and Battle aid sheets; A sheet of markers; Rulebook; Playbook; Four 6-sided dice; and three 4- sided dice.
Setup and Victory
The rules provided the board setup with lots of pieces scattered across Briton, or, since the Romans (red pieces) were still in charge, Brittania. The Scots (green) and Saxons (black) aimed to grab plunder (gold cubes) from the locals (light blue), who could be helped by Comitates (dark blue). It’s quite the kaleidoscope.
Ultimately, the Scots and Saxons want to translate plunder into Renown (combination resources/victory points) and settlements. The Romans and Britons want to avoid that and keep all the land under their control. Therein creates the conflict.
Initiative, So to Speak
Dennis separated the cards into multiple 12-card decks, with each deck an ‘epoch’ that represents 50 or 60 years or so. Each card contained the four factions (Scots, Saxons, Romans, and Britons) in various rankings.
The first faction player listed on the card picks whether to pass (gain resources or renown) or play. Then, the second and so on until TWO, and only two, players play off this particular card. It often occurred that the first two factions went and the other two were outta luck. However, those that played get placed in initiative purgatory for next turn and do NOT get a chance to play or pass on the next card. Those that passed are eligible to play on the next card. That’s a clever mechanic to keep all factions percolating through turns.
To play, you choose whether to play the event listed on the card (often good) or issue a command (like launch a raid or bring back yer dead for a walk).
Outside Track of Inside Info
Dennis played the Romano-Britons, so I didn’t have to contend with a number of niggling, though important, markers representing prestige, prosperity, control, wealth, resources, and such. I’m sure it gets easier with repeat playings, but even Dennis became exasperated at remembering to keep track of each marker every time something happened on the map. We think we did it right…that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
So, with a cursory read of the rules, I chose the Scots and sent them a raidin’ into Ordovices (Wales), Demetae (also Wales), and Dumnonii (Cornwall). ‘Tis poor places for plunder, but I grabbed what little there was, then, I tried a ‘Feat’ of trying to sneak into one of the towns (d6 roll), thereby avoiding a siege. I rolled a successful infiltration and screamed my battlecry of victory!
Er, not as such.
I still had to beat up the garrison, which was effectively worth 2 strength points (one for the light blue cube of militia and one for the light blue meeple of town). I had four raiders. Unfortunately, raiders are worth 1 SP each in the attack, but only half a SP each in the defense.
‘No Die Roll For Combat? Aside from the ‘feat’ of sneaking into one town or fort and trying to evade a battle…ah, no!”
Aftermath of my failed Scot attack in Dumnonii (bottom left) and successful Saxon sack of Roman fort (bottom right). As for the rest of the shield raiders, they’re carrying plunder. Combat is NOT via die roll, but uses simultaneous fixed math: 1 SP eliminates 1 SP of enemy. The 2 SP of militia/townies eliminated all four of my raiders (4 x 1/2 = 2), while I doled out 4 hits to the militia/townies — mutual assured destruction as it ‘twere. The rules noted that if all attackers are destroyed, the town remains standing. So, from that one attack, nothing gained — not even the one gold cube of plunder carried by one of my raiders!
Note that in a siege, the defenders strike first and the raiders take losses without inflicting any. Think of it as losses from climbing ladders before they open the gates. Since you roll a random number of raiders (the number of dice to roll is based on how much Renown you spend), subtracting a number equal to the number of Roman forts adjacent to a sea area (representing naval patrols), I tried to storm a Roman fort with a vast Saxon raid. Get rid of the fort and fewer raiders will fall in future raids. I rolled well and 13 raiders showed up, but -3 for the three Roman forts adjacent to the sea area, leaving 10.
Actually, I also tried to sneak in like the Scots, but blew the die roll. The Romans blew away six of my 10 raiders in the siege, and then nailed another three after I had broken into the town, leaving one raider. My four raiders that broke into the town eliminated the Roman garrison and fortress, although three fell in the exchange. I elected not to try and storm the Briton town in the same space with my one remaining raider. I’ll name him Paul Revere.
The other Saxon raids did little else but grab plunder and dare the Romans and Britons to counterattack. You see, I learned my lesson from this first couple of raids. Raiders raid. If you want to slug it out with the Romans and Britons, you need to recruit your household armsmen.
Map set up. Green are the Scots, Black the Saxons, red the Romans, and blue the Britons. Note the track around the top of the map. and Scots storm the east coast on card number 7, but the Roman counterattack, aided by roads, slaughter quite a few raiders.
So the rest of the Epoch went, passing and playing as we saw fit. The raiders always tried to evade the counterattacking forces. If successful (50% chance, usually), they stuck around for the next turn, when I could issue a Return Command and bring everyone home with the loot, which is turned into Renown. If not, they get calculated to death by the Romans and Britons.
Dennis made good use of those long, straight roads, which are like warp lines — Roman and Briton troops zip along them and end movement whenever the road runs out or is broken by raiding parties controlling the province. Dennis kept the roads in good repair as he valued the use of the network. Smart move.
Each epoch ends when an ‘Epoch Ends’ card turns up in the deck (always one of last four cards). Oddly enough, if the Epoch End card comes up before the deck runs out, you do an Epoch Clean-Up Phase (forget what it’s called) and then continue using the same deck before going onto the next deck.
Snipe and Tripe
The cubes and forts were easy enough to pick up and manipulate, but those raiders — shield- shaped wooden pieces with a flat top and sides that curve to a point — were a right royal pain in the gluteus maximus to grab and move. More than once they shot off the table and onto the floor. Often they shot across the map bouncing other pieces. Annoying. Plastic men ala 878 Vikings (Academy Games) would be far more appreciated and easier to shove around the board.
No Die Roll For Combat? Aside from the ‘feat’ of sneaking into one town or fort and trying to evade a battle…ah, no! All combat is pure spreadsheet math. This becomes more about ratings than raidings.
Arthur, Ragnar, or Puff the Magic Pendragon?
Pendragon didn’t wow me the way 878 Vikings did. At one time I had a considerable number of raids up and down the coast, but realizing that raiders didn’t stand much of a chance of taking any town, I scurried my Scots and Saxons away. We only played nine cards and the Epoch Clean Up phase, so more time is needed to form a more informed opinion. This will require a longer session than the two-three hours we devoted to learning the system. It’s not complex, per se, but each period chrome adds to the things you need to track.
In my snap judgment, Pendragon is less wargame and more eurogame while 878 Vikings is less eurogame and more wargame.
Russ Lockwood has been bouncing around the wargaming world for the last 25 years in one capacity or another. Most know him as creator and CEO of MagWeb.com (on-line archive of 162 military history and related magazines from Coalition Web, Inc. from 1996-2009). He appeared on camera on The History Channel (Modern Marvels), ABC, NBC, Fox, and various cable TV shows. MagWeb was also covered by the NY Times, USA Today, and other newspapers, a variety of trade and consumer magazines, and a multitude of on-line sites. He’s given lectures at various HMGS conventions, Origins War College, and various professional meetings and seminars. Although MagWeb closed in 2009, those white MagWeb rulers still appear on wargaming tabletops across the country.
On the prior professional front, Lockwood was Editorial Director of AT&T’s web division, Senior Editor at Personal Computing Magazine, Assistant Editor at Creative Computing Magazine, Telecommunications Editor for A+ Magazine (Apple), tech writer at AT&T, Staff Writer (Financial) NY Times Information Service, and freelancer for PC Sources, Windows Sources, PC, MacUser, Byte, Restaurant Business, Hotel Business, Computer Buyer’s Guide and Handbook, and other magazines. He also hosted a radio show, ComputerWise, for five years, and was an on-line editor for ZiffNet on Compuserve and Ziffnet on Prodigy.
He is currently a freelance editor and writer covering financial and defense news, with a concentration on the retail industry. If you are really interested, go to Linked In, where he maintains a profile.