Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain is a huge and deep game that takes players into the 4th and 5th century and the Isle of Britannia. Volume VIII of GMT’s COIN Series covers a century of history from the first large-scale raids of Irish, Pict, and Saxon raiders, to the establishment of successor kingdoms, both Celtic and Germanic. While this entry in the series is a little less conventional when it comes to the use of counterinsurgency in the design, there are many elements that are modeled as asymmetric and include the political, military, religious, and economic struggles of Dark Ages Britain.
One of my favorite parts of the COIN Series is the use of dual event cards that capture the major happenings of the time depicted and assist the game in moving forward while each side has a very different set of victory conditions and a different approach to reaching those conditions. Pendragon does an excellent job of delving into the differences between each faction and captures the thematic feel of each.
In this first Action Point, we will take a look at Raid, one of the new Commands that are available to both the Barbarian factions, the Scotti and Saxons.
In our first play of Pendragon, Alexander chose to play the Saxons and Scotti while I controlled the hometown team, including the Civitates and Dux. First off, I would like to describe these different factions and give you a feel for their motivations. I have taken the liberty of borrowing the following descriptions from the designer Marc Gouyon-Rety, while inserting some of my own commentary, as he gave such excellent description of each faction in a series of interviews we did with him in 2016: Part I, Part II and Part III.
Saxons – (Germanic barbarians) face the initially formidable Romano-British defenses of the Saxon Shore and must show some resilience to grind through these before breaking the island open; they must also balance the establishment of footholds to facilitate their implantation through the development of Settlements, while being careful not to stick their neck out too far, while they find their warbands as often fighting against them as Foederati as they do with them.
Scotti – (non-romanized Celts, mainly Scotti from Ireland and Picts from what is now Scotland) must harass and plunder the rich Roman lands with fairly limited resources, and need to find the proper balance in order to avoid killing the golden goose, or exposing themselves unduly to retaliation, and also keep amassing Renown; they can also sometimes struggle as they are more peripheral to the core political struggles than their Saxon counterparts, and have to work to gain rewards from various actions.
Civitates – (the romanized Celtic tribes’ elites) hold the key to the economy and ability of the Dux to wage war (and protect them), and can often win simply by preserving the status quo, but since they effectively hold most of the land, they are strategically on the defensive without, at least initially, the means to protect themselves. Their key decision lies in whether they opt to keep bankrolling the Dux, and rely on Foederati mercenaries, to try to maintain their wealth and land, or shed their comforts to develop their own warbands. Foederati can be very expensive to maintain and this can be the toughest choice presented to the Civitates at the end of Epochs.
Dux – (the Roman/post-Roman military) has some formidable capacities but must find the right balance between aggressiveness and conservation of its ever dwindling often irreplaceable cavalry units, including whether to get involved in continental civil wars, how to maintain cooperation with the civilian authorities while retaining dominance, to what extent they rely on Barbarian Foederati to protect their dwindling cavalry, and so on… They have also, through their Pivotal Event, the unique ability to precipitate Fragmentation, the end state of the Imperium Track by rejecting all pretenses of Roman unity. However, as long as they stick to the Roman ideals, they often feel like they are the only ones interested in maintaining order and prosperity against scheming self-centered civilians and marauding barbarians.
Onto a look at Raiding. The new Command Raid is really the core Command for both Barbarian factions, not only because it is so essential to the game and always a lot of action and fun, but because every time it can be an excruciatingly hard decision for the player to make. This decision can be very difficult because it is somewhat random as to how exactly the Command will work out in the end. The Barbarian factions must take a risk in the use of Raid. The decisions that must be made first are, how many raids to undertake in a single activation, and how many raiders the individual raids will include. But, the real kicker here is that the player must spend their Renown (i.e. subtracts from their victory conditions) to fuel the Raiding, but with the risk that there is no guarantee that many raiders will even answer the sound of the horn. The end results of the Raid are also difficult to ultimately predict as well, as any Prosperity that is captured, can be open to a counterattack from the resident Dux or Civitates who can simply take that plunder back, before they have a chance to get it returned home. What a well designed mechanism as it is definitely a choice of risk vs. reward, and I love that part of it! Sure, the Barbarians can come in and overwhelm most defenses and take away Prosperity, but the Britons will almost always have a chance to get it back before they board their ships and return home with their plunder. So, lets take a look at the mechanics and show you an example.
Scotti Plunder of Dumnonii
In our play, Alexander began early to raid my Regions with with his Scotti marauders attempting to take away my Prosperity cubes as plunder. The Scotti Raid Command is limited to Regions that are adjacent to a sea zone, either Oceanus Hibernicus or Oceanus Septentrionalis, or in Regions that border Caledonia or that have at least one Scotti Warband and 1 Scotti Settlement or be adjacent to a Region with those pieces. Lots of limitations which I feel is very thematic as they relied upon subterfuge and or surprise by coming at their enemies either by the sea or through local settled areas. Coming at the mighty Dux cavalry or Civitates troops in the open and announced would have been a sure recipe for disaster.
So, lets take a look at the procedure for a Scotti Raid. First off, the Raiding player must make a critical decision at the outset of the Raid. Namely, how much Renown are they willing to spend to increase the chances that they will have enough raiders respond to their call. This is done by either paying no Renown and only being allowed to roll one 4-sided die or by paying 1 Renown to roll instead 2d4. A difficult decision as Renown goes toward meeting their victory conditions but one that Alexander made in almost every instance as it guaranteed somewhere between 2-8 raiders as compared to only 1-4.
The player then rolls his dice and adds the number of Raiders. But, alas this number can then be further reduced if using a Patrolled Sea as the genesis for the Raid. If various events have been played that provide the Dux and Civitates with patrols on the seas, the raiders will be reduced by the number of Forts (Dux Strongholds) in the Region bordering the sea. Also, if the Raid originated from Caledonia, the raiders will be reduced by the total number of Forts contained in the Regions of Carvetti and Textoverdi, as these land based raiders had to make their way through these heavily guarded areas to reach their target and will of course take losses from patrols. I really liked this element of the game as it masterfully captured the historical element of protection. Great part of the design!
The raiders can then take Prosperity cubes as Plunder up to the lesser of the Region’s population and the number of Scotti raiders in the Region. But, this is not the end. This Plunder is useless, other than to take it away from the Civitates or Dux, unless the Barbarians can Return it to their home territories. This is accomplished by taking the Return Command and transferring that taken Plunder to Renown. This is done by removing all the raiders in that Region, even if they are not carrying Plunder cubes, and transferring the Plunder to Scotti Renown on the scoring track. Easy as that, but more difficult than it might seem as this process requires a fairly sizable commitment of Barbarian resources to make any progress. You see, if you pay Renown to add more raiders to the Raid, but only are successful in taking one or two Plunder cubes, or if you are foiled in your attempt due to losses from patrols and a well timed counterattack from the Britons, you will have actually only hurt your efforts to reach your end game Victory conditions. Choose wisely when you will Raid and make sure to make it count. The more Prosperity cubes in a Region, the more tempting it is to raid but those large dumps of Prosperity will be sure to be well guarded and you may never make it back out alive!
There are a few slight differences between Scotti Raid and Saxon Raid. The biggest difference is that the Saxons have to pay to roll any dice for raider units. They can pay 1 Renown to roll one 4-side die or can pay 2 Renown to roll a whopping 3d4. This is a big difference between the Scotti and Saxon Raid Commands. The Saxon Raids also must come in a Region bordered by Oceanus Britannicus or Oceanus Germanicus, which is located on the east and south sides of Britannia.
In our next Action Point, we will take a look at the Foederati that are available as mercenaries to help defend Britannia against the invading Barbarian hordes as well as take a look at the rules governing Battle, which are quite complex at first glance, but become second nature after a few rounds are under your belt.