Hello, people. It’s time for a rules review again. And high time it is, because I meant to do this one for a few months now as In Deo Veritas is quite relevant to my interests.
When Helion&Co announced their intent to publish a series of miniature wargames rules they had my curiosity. When they added that their first rules set would be about large battles in the 17th century they had my attention.
For a good while I’ve been a fan of their excellent books series on 17th century warfare called Century of the Soldier.
Good stuff, highly recommended.
So in early 2020 In Deo Veritas (IDV) was announced, the first book in Helion’s Wargames series. The tagline says “Fast Play Rules for Exciting Seventeenth Century Battles in Smaller Scales”. Very interesting choice for the first release, as this could be described as a bit of a niche topic. On the other hand – not many ‘big popular ones’ to compete with for this first rulebook in a new series and with most fans of the period Helion already is a household name. Or it’s just a labour of love. Who knows. On to the
***Disclaimer: I got my copy of the rules for free because I contributed several miniature photos. I do my best to be impartial in my rules reviews (because what use are they if I didn’t), so take this information for what you will in regards to my verdict. Either way, I would have bought this book at release anyway, because I’m a big Thirty Years War battles geek and it’s not like we’re getting showered with rules sets for this particular genre.***
IDV was released in late March of 2020, I got my copy in the post by early April. Which came as a very welcome distraction from all the craziness that went on at the time.
The book is soft-bound, 118 pages, full colour. It was written by Philip Garton. A short bio of his on the first page of the book shows that he knows his stuff.
I really like the cover design, displaying a 17th century musketeer. Very agreeable colour scheme.
The back of the book provides us not only with a translation of the name of the rules, but also with some cornerstone infos such as base sizes, intended figure sizes used and estimated time frames of a typical games. Also featured: a photo of my little 10mm toy soldiers and terrain. Pretty stoked about that.
Right, let’s have a look inside. After a few pages of introduction to warfare of the period we get some some words on ground- and time scale of the game. The second chapter covers the structure of armies in the game and commander characteristics. War in the first half of the 17th century especially was a chaotic affair. Very often young nobles would be heaved into lofty command positions simply based on their good name, others worked their way up from modest artisan to army commander. Many of them were very young (and didn’t get to grow old), others were old hands. There’s also optional rules for ‘heroic’ commanders and commanders’ individual will.
What do I need to play?
Just the basics. A rulebook, miniatures (6, 10 or 15mm are the intended size based on the ground scale), a 6′ by 4′ sized table and terrain, a handful of six-sided dice (maybe four or five tops per player), tape measure. You will also need a small deck of commander cards (any playing cards will do), order counters and some sort of marker to depict disorder on units (I use micro dice). Commander cards and order counters can be downloaded for free at Helion Wargames’ website.
The rules cover all of the 17th century, a time of pretty substantial changes to land warfare in Europe. At the same time the rules aim to keep things simple and to the point to stay true to their ‘fast play’ mission. So units are boiled down to a handful of different types.
Early Tercios depict just that, while brigade describes a whole different set of units: Pretty much any infantry formation from what other rules sets often call “late tercio” and the “Swedish brigade” up to formations much more akin to linear tactics of later dates. The term brigade also covers cavalry brigades (the double brigade describing massed and pretty rigid cavalry formations of the first quarter of the century). The game does not differentiate between trotters, galoppers and doesn’t even mention the whole caracole thing. Neither does the game bother with specific unit sizes, musket-to-pike ratios in infantry units, arquebuses vs. muskets, swine feathers, and so on. It’s all just brigades. However, there are combat modifiers for units with pikes vs. units with no pikes at all and shooting modifiers for “veteran volley fire”. Furthermore units are rated wither Raw, Trained or Veteran, which reflects a mix of time of service, morale, equipment, good/poor quality horses, performance on the day, and so on. So IDV actually provides a fair bit more than it appears to do at first glance, which I think is a bit of an ongoing feature throughout the book.
Infantry/Cavalry companies depict either specialist troops such as dragoons or irregular light cavalry (‘Croats’) or smaller detachments of infantry (commanded shot, light infantry skirmishers, forlorn hope, …).
Rabble describes civilians who were rounded up and pressed into service or militia.
Artillery is divided into three categories: Infantry guns, field artillery and heavy artillery.
Armies are organized into commands or wings. The basic layout of an army drawn up for battle would be a central wing of infantry formations with wings of cavalry to their left and right.
Usually the centre as well as the wings would be drawn up in two or more lines, with a reserve of cavalry, infantry or both hanging back as well. In IDV each of the centre/wings are led by a wing commander (plus a higher overall army commander).
The rule book makes it clear that IDV is written with historical battles in mind. It’s just as possible to use scenarios, adapt other battles to fit the conflict you play, etc.
Still, the book contains a random terrain generator, optional rules for scouting, deployment rules based on the commander’s ability and even a points system. The latter is stuck way in the back, along with suggestions for generic scenarios and how to set them up. So if you want to play in a competitive manner or as a ‘pick up game’ that’s possible as well. The intent however is to replay historical (or what-if) scenarios.
At the start of the turn each wing gets an order (Attack, Hold, or Withdraw) in secret by the controlling player.
The game uses a card activation system. Each wing commander and higher commander has a corresponding card in a card deck. You can use any cards you like really. I use the Sharp Practice card deck, but any set of playing cards will do. Alternatively you can draw chips from a bag or what ever you prefer. Feel free to design your own cards based on specific scenarios. Helion&Co supply commander cards to print for the scenarios from the rulebook for free.
A card is drawn, the corresponding commander’s wing activates, their order (Attack, Hold or Withdraw) is revealed and the wing’s units act according to these orders. Then the next card is drawn.
Unit movement rates in this game are rather impressive. Infantry brigades run 12″ per turn (18″ in march column), cavalry a whopping 18″ (27″ in march column!). Without a doubt this is to speed up gameplay. This also assumes they move in a straight line. Turns of up to 90° cost either half of or the full movement allowance.
Getting into close combat is just moving into contact with an enemy unit. However, each unit’s got a 3″ (musket range) zone of control to its front. If a unit wants to enter (or pass) an enemy unit’s ZoC they have to pass a disorder test. A crucial detail.
Once all commanders have activated we move on to…
In this phase units who are able to do so will fire their pistols/muskets/artillery/etc. and then close combat is fought. Shooting and melee combat use essentially the same tables, but some different modifiers, which takes a bit of a leap to wrap one’s head around. The system is based on “roll number of dice, any 4+ is a success”, modifiers change the number of dice you get to roll. The number of modifiers is kept to a minimum, so the tables aren’t daunting at all. They take a bit to get used to, but once you do they’re pretty easy to apply. Essentially each unit involved rolls how many successes they get in combat (or firing) and the unit under attack (or under fire) has to roll a number dice to save themselves from getting hit.
Shooting ranges are 3″ for muskets (bit shorter for cavalry), field artillery fires 12″.
Damage, disorder and morale are rolled into one of four states a unit can be in: Sound, Disordered, Disrupted and Routed. These states only impact combat; even routed units will be able to move and activate as any other unit. However, you’ll do your best to get those units out of harm’s way asap anyway, because losing units hurts and there’s a possibility to…
Any Unsound units who aren’t in the enemy’s direct vicinity are now allowed a Disorder roll to see if they may better their state by one step (i.e. a Disrupted unit will be Disordered, a Disordered Unit will return to being Sound, etc.). The Disorder check is a pretty pivotal part of the game, just as disorder usually spelled the death of a formation in that period.
Apart from Reform attempts Disorder checks have to be rolled for when trying to get close to an enemy (or pass their zone of control) or particularly difficult terrain may force units moving through to pass a Disorder check or suffer a level of disorder. Yes, it’s another table, and not a tiny one, but honestly I’m okay with that. Some people have a great dislike for tables nowadays, and sure, there are other ways to do it, but I’m okay with it, especially if we have to consider several factors to a unit’s situation.
This phase is an interesting one. A wing which has lost a unit will always have to test for Wing Fatigue. The outcome is based on several factors, primarily on losses and disorder. If the test is failed the whole wing becomes fatigued, and later on exhausted or collapsed, which forces the wing to either hold, withdraw, crumble badly. In case of the latter there even is a chance that their wing commander just takes offI really like this mechanic, because it can happen pretty early on, especially to small wings. This leads straight to…
6.) General Will
This describes the general’s and the whole army’s will to fight on in general. Yes, it’s another table. But a simple one again. If that test is failed the general calls the battle off and the army retreats.
If the opposing army is still in a shape to do so the pursuit is worked out. This was a crucial part of the battle and of course the phase in which the largest number of casualties was caused (usually). This decides whether a major, a minor or just a propaganda victory is achieved and there’s a possibility of capturing enemy generals as well!
…and that’s it. There are other bits as well, like officers getting wounded or having to be replaced and so on, but on the whole that’s it.
Furthermore the rulebook contains 6 scenarios (Fleurus and Wittstock from the Thirty Years War, Cheriton and Marston Moor from the English Civil War, The Dunes from the Second Spanish War and the battle of Lund from the First Scanian War). Each of those is nicely laid out with a hand-drawn map, some background and orders of battle. Some bits about the ones I tried could be explained a bit better in some details (like Fleurus featuring a Wagenburg, but the rules never explain what it does in game terms).
So far I played two games of IDV. After the first one I was a bit on the fence, but I failed to apply some rules correctly I think, and I had some trouble understanding some details. After the second game I decided that I really like the rules.
Slight confusion at first…
There are some things I found a bit confusing at first. The “brigade” term being used as a catch-all term for cavalry and infantry combined with the fact that shooting and close combat are done in the same chapter and on the same tables. Just little bits which added up and made me feel that the rules are a bit harder to understand than they actually are. The section on movement and contacting enemy units could do with another paragraph or two, explaining some more about what exactly a unit is allowed to do and what happens when units meet in close combat. I think that this game could do with an FAQ, just to clarify some bits which at least I had some trouble understanding at first.
Things I Like
The things I like outweigh the wobbly though – at many points throughout the rules the author gives us historical examples corresponding to the rule above. He clearly has great enthusiasm for the period and adds specific bits like impetuous pursuit of routed units, the expansive events table, commander characteristics and so on. I’m also a big fan of activation by card drawing AND secret orders. Both these mechanics are applied in a very simple manner, but give the game enough ‘fog of war’. The wing fatigue rules have great potential as exhaustion and several waves of attack are something which often aren’t sufficiently modelled in wargames rules I think. Above all though these rules aim to give a fast-play and uncomplicated game which feels like a big battle in the 17th century. I think at that it succeeds.
It’s an interesting thing, that IDV. It combines several mechanics and ideas and stuck them together into a set of rules. If you are very familiar with the period of warfare it can be a bit disturbing not seeing any rules concerning pike-to-shot ratios, more different unit layouts and differentiation between the different schools of cavalry combat and so on and so on. All that stuff. Because I read about it so much (and wargamers love to get into that sort of detail), so I expect to see it represented in the rules I play because I take it for being important. Which it more likely isn’t if I’m in command of an army of 30,000 men.
Before getting into IDV I mostly played Twilight of Divine Right for the past year. Which allows for great levels of detail, if one wants. IDV puts playability over that. Still, it’s got all the required things in there. For instance, getting into close combat seems to be very straightforward: move into contact. However, there’s that rule of having to check for Disorder when moving into a unit’s zone of control, including a charge move. Which is a thing I find to be a very important one in any black powder era rules set – “making men run headlong into a large formation of other men who will use deadly force to stay where they are, and apply deadly force to make them go away” is a mad concept and there are several reasons why the men will only run so far, but not “charge home”.
The Bottom Line
I suggest giving In Deo Veritas a go, no matter if you’re new to the period (or to wargaming) or an expert of the period. If the latter – don’t dismiss the rules for looking a little superficial at first or as if they dismissed depth in favour of “fast play”. I think that there’s more to these than meets the eye at first glance. I really enjoy them, and a lot can be done with these rules, be it solo gaming, regular games, or even large club games. I think IDV would really shine in those too.
In Deo Veritas is available for GBP 20.00 directly from Helion or most wargames or book traders.
Hope you enjoyed this review. I got at least two battle reports coming up for IDV, so stay tuned!