In Death Ground (IDG) is a rules set covering ancient warfare from 2500BC-1300AD roughly the pre-gunpowder era. The game is a semi-element based game not different in scope from Field of Glory. Game scales are not set. Units are notional. In games I played, a 4 stand unit was anywhere from 2000-4000 men set by me. Ground and time scale are not given.
The book is a saddle stitched A4 booklet with a color cover and black and white interiors. It is 38 pages long and is broadly organized by setup, main rules and army lists.
The setup section tells you all about equipment needed, organizing armies, setting out terrain and choosing a scenario. Each is covered in its own chapter.
Normally you will need miniatures based on stands or elements. Each element has 1 or more figures on it representing various troops of antiquity. The nominal base frontage is 6cm as the rules were really designed with 28mm figures in mind. That said, I used a 40mm base frontage and 15mm figures and the game worked fine. As well as figures, some terrain and a game board are useful. My games were played on a 4’X3′ board though with larger armies 6X4 or larger might be more appropriate. The game also uses D6 dice for movement and morale checks but D10s for combat.
Troop types are divided broadly into two categories. These categories are infantry and mounted. Each category is further subdivided into troops by function. For instance, heavy infantry are called warriors. These warriors can be generic, swordsmen, pikemen or bowmen. Cavalry can be light cavalry, heavy cavalry or cataphracts. Troops have a grade that can affect morale and combat. Units are collections of 2-12 elements, usually of the same type and grade.
The rules for setting out terrain is straight forward. The defender sets out up to 8 pieces of terrain based on guidelines determined by the type of terrain of the homeland. The attacker can make up to 4 modifications of the terrain which can include moving a piece, turning a piece or simply removing it from the table.
There are no generic set victory conditions in IDG. In stead, a battle type is randomly rolled for. These battle types are ambush, pitched battle, raid and siege. All of these types have their own set victory conditions. The pitched battle is the most interesting in that you can pay points to get a stratagem that could alter the fighting ability of your army or negatively impact the enemy’s army. Otherwise, the victory condition for the pitched battle is simply to drive the enemy from the field. To support the various scenario types there are optional rules for weather, baggage, ambushes and late arrivals.
The game is played in an interactive IGO-UGO fashion. That is, both players will each get to act during a specific phase before moving on to the next phase. The sequence of play is followed throughout the game.
- Rally – Both players rally troops.
- Late arrivals – Both players determine if late arrivals are available. Skipped if neither side has off board troops.
- Both sides make retirement moves required by last turns combat outcomes.
- Side 1 picks a unit to move followed by side 2. Repeat until all moves are completed.
- Resolve shooting.
- Resolve melee
- Morale tests.
- Check victory
Rallying is done by all troops on both sides. Each unit gets a certain number of dice (usually 2) to rally with. For each 5 or better rolled, 1 disorder point (DP) is removed. This may result in the unit standing firm in combat. High DP totals can result in a unit giving ground or even routing off the board.
Late arrivals is scenario specific. Generally you will dice for late arrivals to see if your off-board troops arrive on the battlefield. I did not use late arrivals in any of my games. A simple check with a D6 determines if a unit appears anywhere within the owning player’s half of the board.
Retirement moves are done next. If a unit is required to retire, it will either be to give ground 3″ or make a retreat back 1 full move. Units that retreat into friends will alter course to move around them. If the path of retreat is blocked, the unit is stopped and takes a further DP damage instead.
Movement is done in an alternating fashion. Each player alternates moving units until all units are moved or both players decide they are done moving. Movement allowance is random. Each unit can move a random number of inches based on unit type. Infantry will move around 2D6 inches per move while cavalry can move 3D6 or more inches per turn. There are no rules for turning in the game. Rather, the unit can move in any direction desired and be turned in any direction so long as the move is measured from the farthest edge to the point of destination. Also, if a unit wishes to move in any direction other than straight ahead, it must reduce its dice total by 2″. The only other stipulation is that stands, while they don’t have to be in strict formation, need to remain within 1″ of another unit in the formation and be in some sort of continuous line.
Shooting is done by stand. Each stand gets to roll 1D10, modified by target type, troop grade and terrain. A 7+ will cause a DP and a 10+ will destroy a stand. A lucky die roll can chop up a unit pretty good though warrior units general will not lose stands to missile fire, only DPs.
Close combat is done by opposed D10 rolls modified by situation and armor. Only stands that are touching can fight in close combat. There are situations where other stands can provide flank and rear support. As well, there is a negative modifier to a unit if an enemy is attacking the flank. The difference the winner wins by determines the severity of damage to the loser. Results can be 1 or more DPs and a lost stand. Note that each stand in contact with the enemy can participate in combat. The more stands that fight, the more damage the enemy (or you!) can take. No stand may ever be attacked more than once. In the case of multiple stands in a fight, 1 stand is the primary attacker and the other is a support stand.
There are two types of damage in IDG, DPs and lost stands. A unit accumulates DPs as it fights. As this total increases, the units fighting ability decreases. When a unit reaches 3 DPs it cannot advance toward the enemy. When it reaches 4, it must give ground. When it gets over 5, the unit retreats a move. When it the total is 7 or more, the unit routes. Lost stands, have two effects. First, they diminish the fighting power of a unit. Second, they cause a morale check for each lost stand in the unit. Morale checks, regardless of the cause, are done during the morale step. 1 die is rolled for each affected unit. The target number is based on the troop grade. A failed check results in that unit gaining 2 DPs. This can affect how the unit performs in the next turn.
Generals are an important part of the game. There are no command and control rules per se. Instead, each general has certain abilities based on the army type. The army types are tribal, organized, disciplined and heroic. Each type grants generals various abilites and each one builds on the last. The general of a tribal army for instance is the basic general in the game. He costs no extra points, must be attached to a unit, gains +1 for that unit or any unit within 2″ of the general’s stand and can influence the ability to rally for 1 unit. The general of an organized army can be an independent stand or be part of a unit. The other types of generals gain even more abilities.
There are 12 army lists provided in the book and the publisher has promised more free lists posted on the web. The lists in the book are Classical Greek, Achaemenid Persians, Carthaginian, Republican Roman, Early German, Imperial Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Viking, Seljuk, Crusader,Mongol and Sung Chinese.
As of this review, the first set of lists have already been published for the Golden Horde.
Under the Hood
The game mechanics are rather straight forward and there really isn’t anything new or fancy. The dice rolled are usually D6 for all things other than combat. Most tasks are target numbers while combat demands higher numbers to give better results. Even the close combat system is linear and it is simply a large margins of victory in each combat that damages the enemy. With that said, my observations this time around are qualitative and not quantitative.
First, when moving units, I felt they could really move about the board. In the battles I fought, there were times when I felt the units were a little too maneuverable. This is probably because of the smaller sized stand and battlefield than was intended. I would suggest deduction 1 from the movement dice roll total when using smaller units and a smaller board. The infantry unit sizes I used were 4-6 stands for infantry and 2-3 stands for cavalry.
The book is pretty well organized and easy enough to read. There are no pictures or diagrams but I did not find that there were any real problems understanding the rules. However, if you are like me, you probably gloss over the introduction of each rule section. I strongly recommend you read everything. The introductions do not just give overviews but impart some important points. I ended up answering 3 or 4 questions by simply going back and re-reading the introductions and any part I felt I glossed over.
Generals were particularly difficult to understand. This is not because they are especially complex. Rather my difficulty was in the fact that the rules for generals were spread throughout the book and it was hard for me to assimilate what each general could do. The Setup section goes over generals and there abilities but not how they pertain to the rules. However, there are references to the sections where the various rules are. I highly recommend taking time to follow those references and learning the abilities as you read about generals and not waiting until later.
There is no dedicated forum for IDG. I had a couple of questions and e-mailed North Star directly who in turn had to contact the author. It was cumbersome but I did get my answers within a couple of days.
I played 3 games of IDG before writing this review. The first game was a simple Macedonian vs Rome battle. The Romans started off getting pushed around on some parts of the battlefield but eventually settled in and routed the phalanx driven Macedonian army by winning on the flanks.
The second battle was Marathon. Normally, only 2 ranks of troops may shoot. I allowed for a mixed unit for the Persians that had 1 rank of Sparabara and 2 ranks of archers that could shoot. They outnumbered the Athenians about 3-2. The battle started with the Persians standing fast and delivering several volleys of arrows but causing very little damage to the armored hoplites. The thin hoplite center was starting to get driven back but the Persian left collapsed and the line rolled up. Oddly, the Persian right held fast for the whole battle.
The final battle was Zama. It consisted of a line of high quality Roman troops and their Numidian allies vs a numerically superior Carthaginian army featuring a high quality line of their own. The battle started with the advance of the elephants and mercenary line followed by the citizens. Hannibal stayed back out of danger. Three of the Elephants were dispatched by javelin fire by turn 2 but the 4th managed to make contact with one of the Roman heavy infantry. Scipio stayed near and influenced the combat allowing time for the Elephant to be flanked and destroyed before it could cause much damage. The battle turned into a slow grind but it took a while for the Roman and Numidian cavalry to defeat their counterparts. I advanced the Carthaginian veterans early which turned out to be a mistake. As they got close, they were subject to multiple morale checks because it was at that point that the first two lines started to crack. Even with the higher morale, you eventually will fail a morale check or two. In this case, one Veteran unit started the fight with 4 DPs and was quickly put to flight. The other two fought valiantly and I called the fight when they and Hannibal’s stand were the only Carthaginian units on the battlefield. The game felt like it could play out a credible version of Zama.
In Death Ground is not a high polish game with pretty pictures that we are used to seeing. Rather it is a fun set of rules that is designed and packaged in the old style back in the day when a fun game was a fun game. The game is easy to play and a larger game can still be finished up in about 2 and a half hours. I highly recommend this game to anyone who really just wants a simple game that gives good historical results but does not want a lot of fiddly rules that slow things down. The game was designed to give a no nonsense game of ancient and medieval warfare and the this rules set delivers.
Available at North Star Military Figures