Dice or Die: how many is too many?

I have been out of contact for some time now due to an overseas trip and day time work commitments. However, I am back in the saddle and haven’t been idle.  So far I have completed the medieval rules which are in the mix for some proper playtesting, and the fantasy rules are being finalised for playtesting as well.  I have started a set of science fiction rules but these are going to take more time than any others due to complexity of the subject matter.

So what to talk about? I think dice is a good subject seeing that it relates to that which we all love – throwing the little pieces of plastic (dice not figures, although that is an option for some!)

How many dice should one use in a game? That is the question I keep asking myself.  I have used the one die and the bucket of dice approach. In addition, I have used all type of 6 to 20 sided dice games.

So which is the best type of dice to use? Well that depends on the situation but for my money using the old 2D6 approach (two six-sided dice) does all the smoothing of chance you will need. You can try 1D20 or even 2D10 but pretty much the range of outcomes is still going to be one of three:

  1. You’re Dead
  2. You’re Wounded
  3. You’re  scared out of your brain

So any dice combination that can be divided by three will be the easiest to manage.

Hang on, though, you have already probably identified that there is a fourth option: Nothing happens. Correct so that is where 2D6 comes in….it can be divided by both! However, as the odds stack up in your favour the nothing occurs option decreases significantly. Hence in the final rub you get results that are blended out.

The other beauty of 2D6 is that it produces the Bell Curve as the table below shows

























This allows for the extreme outcomes to remain extreme while the lesser outcomes are more likely to occur.  If you make a roll of 2 a kill, then you have a small chance of achieving that but if you have morale checks and repulses in the 4-5 range then these lesser events will be more likely to occur.

What does that mean for the rules produced by Black Mouse Games? Well using the above 2D6 approach combat requires less dice, and the results are less wild. Yet there is always the chance of a wild result without over-balancing the game. So in a game where there are a dozen stands of troops fighting it out, then the results should average out to a few killed, a few wounded, a few scared and most standing firm.

Unless, of course the odds stack against one side.

This also means you don’t need buckets of dice if you don’t want them.  If you do want them, then feel free to fill your hands – 12 stands requiring 2 dice each means a handful in anyone’s game.

Cheers and good gaming




Army Lists

I have been playing with the Army list for Rex Bellator and made a decision to not chase this issue down.  Instead I decided to let the players to determine themselves what they wanted based on the costs or the scenario.

Why, you ask? Well essentially the information I gleaned from a range of sources indicates that you can cut army lists anyway you like.  The idea of limiting the types you have is based on a gaming need to balance forces being played. In other words force players to avoid having “killer” armies.

My experience though is that players will play with the army lists to develop “killer” armies anyway.

So what do I do instead? I am going to leave to you the players of the game to determine what you want to play.  I will provide forces for scenarios and campaigns with the ability in campaign series to rebuild forces over the life of the campaign.

Will I limit what you can get in a campaign? Probably not because as the Reconquisda campaign proved, even in medieval times force structure changes can occur to meet the changing strategies.

So I am avoiding prescriptive army lists and leaving it up to you.

Miniature Wargaming in the 21st Century

Over the last decade the choice for wargamers has increased dramatically in terms of figures and rules in the market.  I liken it a bit to the mobile technology industry with a plethora of companies and technologies. I still don’t own a smart phone and the one tablet we have in our house is not readily understood by the occupants. Like the mobile technology industry there is varying quality in the choices we make.

The other day I needed to replace a stand of figures lost by one of my children.  I thought they were Tin Soldier figures but indeed they turned out to be Minifigs. Some of you out there would remember the days when that was all there was in Australia. I was able to source replacements but was stunned to see the quality of the older figures is nowhere near as good as today’s standard. I can replace them from Miniature Figurines Productions in the UK, but when I look at the others available I am tempted to move elsewhere. Fortunately for me and the company I can’t afford a completely new Byzantine army.

The same for rules and rule books. I have kept every rule book I have ever owned. I know printing technology has changed but even plain editorial content is better now with much crisper and cleaner lines. Add the better quality of pictures and production and my old WRG rule set looks awful.

So why is that some of the older rule sets remain in fashion?

Easy, the quality of the rules.  While some gamers will chop and change the majority I know go for evolution not revolution. A recent conversation with a DBA group indicated that their discussion was around the Australian DBA community making a decision not to accept the next generation of changes to DBA.  Excellent, but the fundamentals of the game they still believe in.

Based on the quality of the rules and regardless of whether you like them or not DBA has been around for 22 years then it certainly has some staying power as a game. Its predecessor started in 1969 and lasted until the DBA revolution in 1990.  Again around 22 years of life before the change occurred.

Some of the other rules sets out there such as Warmaster Ancients and Warhammer Ancient Battles have been around for a lot less time but their quality sees them remain popular with a range of gamers out there. These rules weren’t revolutionary but an evolution (some would say a mutation) of previous systems and therefore were criticised for going back to the past.

Every rule set works on a range of concepts, element versus single figure, buckets of dice versus single dice,  simplicity versus complexity and mass versus almost skirmish scale. Whatever you like it is out there. I have yet to see a good card driven miniature wargame but I am sure someone will come out with one soon.

Although while the rules may change figures you buy remain exactly as you bought them. Every Army is an investment and gamers can be quite possessive about them.  Once they are based they are also difficult to rebase without damaging the fine painting put in place.

So for me the rules need to be of sufficient quality to last the test of time.  Especially when we ask our gamers to spend a fair bit of their dollar on the figures.  Figures and basing are a major investment for payers so they are going to stay with a rule system or systems that meet their armies. Hence, any writer has to take that into account and prepare accordingly, unless they write a revolutionary set of rules.

However, from my reading of it, revolution is a long time in coming.



The De Re Militari Series

As an active wargamer I have been exposed to a range of rules, many of them ranging from home grown right through to the professional publications.  As with most wargamers I built up a body of troops over the years which have been based to meet the rules de jour rather than personal taste.

Some of these rules have been fabulous fun to play, while others have become torturous paper driven exercises. I like most rules I have played but I found over time and as I have gotten older I wanted something easier to play but still pushed my tactical thinking during the game.  So along came De Re Militari series of rules, with Rex Bellator being the first in the series

I decided to write rules that were simple, forced players to make decisions throughout the game not just at the beginning,  and didn’t rely on a single die roll to win but also didn’t have to roll a bucket of dice to win a single fight. I also wanted there to be some relativity between differing forces, taking into account the defender and attackers ability. Most of all I wanted it to be speedy and easy to learn

Hence, I focussed on a series of building blocks for the game that allowed the player to be challenged to make sound tactical decisions in circumstances where they didn’t control the entire situation.

I also wanted it to be comprehensive in that there was a consistent manner in which decisions could be enacted. Whether it is to change orders, rally troops, fight in combat, conduct a difficult or complex manoeuvre the mechanism was the same.

So to the basics. For starters I used the term Spear to indicate the elements of play. Much like the current set of popular rules troops are based according to their type, with a clear delineation of which Spear is a command Spear. Spears (or Lances or bannerettes- take your pick) made up the basic element of a Medieval Battle. The game is based on a minimum of three Battles per army with a commander for each battle.  The only thing that players have complete control over is the makeup of their army. After that random factors come into play.

Setup is highly randomised with a series of die rolls for terrain, with time of day and weather. There are some aspects that can change and players can move terrain to suit themselves but only in limited situations.

The biggest difference in setup is the introduction of the concept of a mission. Players come to the table with an army, then roll for the mission.  Winning in any game is now based on the particular mission, not just crushing the opponent’s army.  In some respects this is a scenario generator by default.

Next came command and control of the army. Command control aspects of the game are played out through the command rating, the command radius and command points. The one figure covers all of these aspects of the game, reducing the complexity of the issue while the use of points increases the complexity of decision making. Of course, rolling for a decision introduces an element of luck into the command system but with a 2D6 die roll for all command rolls and combat this tends to be smoothed out statistically.

Movement is not reliant on the number of command points or the command radius but on the complexity or simplicity of the manoeuvre. Some movement will require a command roll because it is complex or because it involves combat, but in the main every Spear will be able to move in a turn. Cross a river which is not fordable – you need to make your command roll for every Spear. Decide to withdraw from combat in good order –  you need to make a command roll.

The combat system works on there being only three possible outcomes.  The Spear is reduced to ineffectiveness (Killed), it is shaken to the point that it breaks and runs (Morale Check) or the weight and effectiveness of its opponents forces it back.

The game also move away from geometric approach and allows movement out of and around combat. There are no zones of control, but some tactical moves require a successful command roll. Spears can force their way through gaps and flank other troops or make a run for an objective.   Indeed that was the whole idea of medieval combat and one I wanted to simulate.


As a feature I decided to add siege rules which can reflect the long siege times by breaking sieges into phases where opponents can make repairs and refit for the next phase. And finally there is a set of campaign rules for those either want to recreate history or make their own using the same system.


I have avoided Army lists which provide minima or maxima. I am not sure that every army followed a set of lists in real life but I am developing Army Lists that provide the options that were available to certain nations as well as national specific capabilities.  Some nations used their troop capabilities in certain ways, such as conducting strategic manoeuvre to be in a position of tactical defence.

In future Black Mouse Games will also develop a set of fantasy rules based on Rex Bellator, as well a Dark Age Army Lists to expand Rex Bellator back into that period.  On top of which will be scenario book next year.

Over the next few months I intend to run a series of playtesting rounds with local players but I am looking for anyone who would be interested in conducting playtesting for me and answer some questions on the rules themselves.

If you are interested in learning more please visit the Black Mouse Games Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BlackMouseGames?ref=hl or a grab a set of the draft rules at  http://www.scribd.com/michael_callan_7

Any comments please send me a message via Facebook


Mick Callan

Black Mouse Games