The Ballbusch Review: Broken Legions
Today we’re looking at Broken Legions by Mark Latham, late of Games Workshop. Mr. Latham is known for his efforts on behalf of GW’s Warhammer Historical imprint (RIP) and apparently did time as the editor of White Dwarf, but this is long after my subscription lapsed.
Author: Mark Latham
Pages: 64 (paperback)
Publisher: Osprey (2016)
Price (2016): $12.59 (Amazon)
Broken Legions (hereafter: BL) is something of an odd duck being a fantasy skirmish game set in the Roman Empire. Depending on how you chose to define “The Roman Empire” this covers a potential time span of around 1,600 years. No dates are provided in the rules; however, the book presumes that Judea is a Roman province and that Dacia remains independent. This puts the game neatly in the Flavian Dynasty (AD 69 -AD 96).
Despite the semi-historical setting, BL is very much a fantasy game. Low fantasy, but fantasy none-the-less. Spell casters are readily available, though their powers are not earth shattering and genuine monsters appear, but are rather rare. While the supernatural exists, it is most active ‘over there’ in dark corners and beyond the edge of civilization. Which, probably, is not too far off from how many Romans would have view it within their own time. Wonder-workers appear from time to time, sorcerers and other mystics find steady employment, but no one expected to see a chimera stroll up the Appian Way.
A skirmish game, battles in BL are contests between ‘warbands’ (which appears to now be the standard term for forces in these types of games. I would have used vexillationes myself) of 10-15ish figures. With 1:1 figure-to-man ratio. The rules include several lists building warbands from the obvious (Roman Legionaries) to unexpected (Cult of Set). No explanation of the logic behind assigned point values is provided and there is no provision for players creating their own lists.
The only justification for the Cult of Set: Thoth Amon is damn cool. Good enough for me!
Bucking the current trend, BL features actual stat lines. Each figure is defined by a number of statistics Melee skill, Accuracy, Agility, etc. The success of actions is determined by a simple test mechanic: roll 1d10 add the figure’s relevant stat. Anything 10 or over succeeds. Contests between models follows a similar procedure, each player rolls a die and adds their figure’s state to the roll. High score wins.
The game play follows that now standard activation approach. Each player takes turns activating a figure who then moves, shoots, etc. Close combat takes place during a separate melee phase. All models in base to base contact swing at each other in agility order. In true GW style, figures that charged into combat that turn always strike first.
As a fantasy game, BL also has rules for various monsters, sorcery, and heroes. A hero can perform feats to grant is side some temporary advantage. Additionally, heroes can expend Fate Points to avoid death. Most heroic abilities and magic fit the low fantasy milieu. Clearly supernatural, but nothing as overt as a fireball.
The rules include a simple campaign systems, points lists, and scenarios.
BL is a distinctly Workshopian (that’s our new word for the week, try to use it as much as you can) feel. You have such staples as True Line of Sight, The Most Important Rule, and charging as the only way to get into melee. The stat lines is also rather Warhammer-esque (there goes my readability score). None of this is bad per se. However after a few years without playing any GW rules I noticed the style immediately.
From a historical standpoint there are a fair number of oddities. Some factions get chariots, an anachronism in the 1st Century. The Dacians associate with vampires and ghouls. I recognize the Wallachian connection to the old Dacian homeland. However, from a historical standpoint connecting them to werewolves makes more sense. Yet, in BL lycanthropy is the domain of the Germanic tribes. The Attacotti with the reputation for cannibalism make better friends of the living dead. Of course, ghouls are creatures of the desert and if they must appear the Pathian lists is the best place for them.
As long as I’m on the subject, the evidence for Romans wearing red is scant…
Of course, the above is knit picking. I would like to see more explanation of the fantastic elements. But the rules lose little for not including them. Also, in Mr. Latham’s defense, he might have stacks of background material that did not fit in the book. So, I cannot fairly criticize his research. However, I also got into an hour long theological debate centered around the Book of Enoch with the Seventh Day Adventists who came to my door. Make of that what you will.
In play BL feels like a mix of Mordheim and GW’s Lord of the Rings. Most of the game play follows an improved Warhammer model. The rules for heroes come to us more or less complete from LotR. Fate, obviously, is an old Warhammer Role Play Mechanic.
BL gives a fairly quick and interesting game. There are enough actions and options to keep players entertained, but not enough to bog down the game. The rules are open enough that players will have no trouble thinking of new scenarios. Salty snacks and an adult beverage will also improve play.
The rules are a little thin to commit to a full scale campaign. However, most gamers have enough Romans and monsters lying around to put a warband on the table. As such, it seems and ideal game for a pick up session, or when the planned RPG fell through. BL’s mechanics are easy to understand and fast to learn. Plus, it gives those few benighted soul who don’t Roman armies an excuse to pick up a few figures. Overall, BL is more than worth its space on any wargamer’s shelf.