Monday, 12 September 2016

Burn and Loot

So, I have Fireforge's Deus Vult, and have played it a few times. I really liked a lot about it, but a few of the bits left a bit for me to desire. I like games with a consistent and neat core mechanic, and I liked Deus Vult's. It's basically roll one or several d6, a 6 is a Resounding Success, 4 and 5 are successes, 2 and 3, failures, and a 1 an Abject Failure. And this mechanic goes through the whole game in quite a nice way.

But I had a few problems with it. A lot of units had a pretty long list of exceptions, which I found difficult to keep track of. Probably just my feeble mind and not a fault of the game, to be fair. And in melee there were often massive dice pile-ups which seemed a bit excessive. You get a basic 1 dice per stand attack, but then you were often adding another dice per stand for an advantageous circumstance. And so with powerful units they could crash through a game, where you'd been happily rolling 6 or 8 dice attacks, with 24 dice attacks and follow up attacks and following up follow up attacks. Again, not necessarily a problem, but it did feel like these units (charging knights and other heavy cavalry, mostly) made the rest of the game irrelevant (which, who knows, irl, they could well have been).

Then, there was the way the morale mechanic interacted with the fighting mechanic. Essentially, if you took a certain number of casualties a poor roll would leave you demoralised, and with a good roll you'd be fine. But there wasn't a lot of modification to this roll. Have a load of knights smash through your archers leaving 80% of them dead, you can still stand firm. Have a few hopeful arrows fired in your direction from a distant unit, you might have just about the same chance of holding. Again, not necessarily a problem, who knows how the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune really affected things on the battlefield?

But, these factors affected my enjoyment of what, for me, could have been a great game. Who knows, someone else could easily love the game for similar reasons, so this isn't a criticism of Deus Vult.

So, I was very interested to see that Fireforge had brought out Burn and Loot. A Deus Vult game for 'small engagements.' The idea seemed to be to have similar rules to Deus Vult but to use individual figures in informal groups to represent individuals in loose order instead of stands of several figures used to represent massed ranks. And the idea seemed to be to keep the stats and traits of units as similar to Deus Vult as possible, but to redefine them where necessary to take into account the different scope of the game.

So, figures are arranged in groups (or blobs as I like to call groups of figures in a skirmish sort of order with no facing and a simple limitation on group integrity). A blob can take as many casualties as is inflicted upon it regardless of whether they are in range of enemy attacks (you only need to be in range of one figure to attack it). But a figure can only inflict damage if it is within range (2 inches in melee) of an enemy. Therefore it doesn't make any sense not to line up in tight formations; who wants to be in a position where you can take damage but not give it?

I was under the impression that this game might be for smaller units, which it is, just, but really in the army lists I used, the unit sizes were pretty similar to Deus Vult. Eg, in DV you can take 3 to 6 stands of knights, that's 6 to 12 models, and 4 to 8 stands of crusader spearmen, that's 24 to 48 models. And in B&L you can take 4 to 12 knights, and 12 to 48 spearmen.

One thing I found in B&L, the massive dice pool thing is a lot more prevalent. In DV you take attack dice for each stand (2 figures for cavalry, 6 for infantry) starting at a base of 1 dice per stand. In B&L you take them per figure, so for infantry that's 6 times as many dice. And although there are fewer bonuses for advantageous circumstances (like attacking flanks etc, coz there are no flanks) the pool sizes still creep up. We only had a 150 dice pool in our game, but worked out this could have got to 240. And yes, we did bother to roll it.

We found that weight of numbers was more of a factor than quality of troops in battle. Although higher quality of troops gave you more attack dice in the right circumstances, it was much cheaper to get those dice from troop numbers which are then available in all circumstances. This was compounded by the relative cost of troops, which seems to have been miscalculated when converting from Deus Vult.

For example, 6 stands of knights (12 figures) in DV costs 195 points while 12 figures in B&L costs 216 points. In contrast, 8 stands of spearmen (48 figures) costs 210 points in DV, while 48 figures in B&L costs 196 points. This looks fair enough, except attack dice are calculated by stand in DV and by figure in B&L. So, you get three times as much bang for your buck with infantry in B&L than DV. This was certainly apparent in our game where we had units of expensive cavalry wiped out quite comfortably by average infantry.

Another thing that didn't feel right for me in B&L was the way the leader is dealt with. I really liked leaders in Deus Vult, just lending morale dice to nearby troops and mostly keeping out the way. To a certain extent, this is similar in B&L, but it looks like they added extra rules for leaders as an after thought. Now, you can spend points in a Warhammer Fantasy Battle type build, kitting out your leader with loads of equipment and (to all intents and purposes) magic item-analogues.

It really looks like someone tore a page out of a WFB book and sellotaped it into B&L. Which is odd because B&L leaders can (and should) stay in a unit. Leaders in a unit only take damage when the rank and file have been whittled through. Total casualties on the unit are calculated and if the leader is the Nth figure in range it will lose a wound. So why spend WFB moments building and paying for  a heavily armoured leader if it effectively takes the armour of the unit it is in?

The original idea of having a leader just giving out its morale scores to those within range is a nice, neat one that suits the game. Changing this to a WFB (or maybe Saga) style high-powered hero might have worked if done properly, but here it's a sort of half and half compromise.

So, really, I can't be much more emphatic about about how disappointed I was with Burn & Loot. It seems to be an ill-considered rehash of DV that was maybe intended to redress some perceived flaws in that game (too complex, the requirement for stands over individual bases, perhaps) but is itself genuinely flawed and anti-fun to play. I'm not sure I have ever played a game that has thrown up so many risible situations in such a short space of time.


  1. Wow! Interesting review. I am looking forward to the KINGS OF WAR HISTORICAL rule book as I really like how simple those rules are. It should work well for a Hollywood version of historical warfare on teh table. cheers

  2. Does the game play solo would you think?

    1. I don't really know much about playing games solo. You could just take each side in turn and play its move and then change sides. Istm that would work.