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Posted on Jul 15, 2005 in Boardgames

Devil’s Horsemen – Boardgame Review

By Johnny L. Wilson

dhbox.jpgDevil in the Details

One of the most common insults thrown at a right-wing conservative (or, perhaps merely directed at anyone more conservative than the speaker) is that he or she is slightly to the right of Genghis Khan. What is it about a 13th century nomad that makes his quality of leadership, efficiency, military prowess and ruthlessness remembered to this day? First, there is no doubting that he was successful. By 1227, after circa two decades of leadership of the Mongols, Temujin (who became Genghis Khan) had established an empire that stretched from the Dnieper River of Russia to the China Sea. His son, Ogotai (sometimes Ogodei), extended the empire even further. Ogotai’s lieutenant, Batu Khan, not only overran Russia, but defeated Hungary and threatened the borders of Germany in 1241 (only to withdraw back to Russia after Ogotai’s death).1

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Yet, this was not the extent of Mongol expansion. Under Mangu (Mongke, Mungke, Manga), the son of Ogotai’s youngest brother, a lieutenant named Hulagu (Hulegu) managed to take and sack Baghdad, Damascus and Aleppo. This incursion had significant impact on Europe. First, the Mongol pressure on the Seleucid Turks (Seljucid Turks) provided an opportunity for the Greeks to retake Constantinople.2 Second, there was diplomatic movement on the part of the Europeans to ally with the Mongols against the Turks and clear the way for more effective operations within the Crusades.3 Ogotai (and later, Mangu) would only consider an alliance, however, if the European rulers (including the pope) would submit to him.

The first three scenarios in Great Battles of History: Volume X: Devil’s Horsemen celebrate this expansion of the Mongolian Empire via the battles of: 1) The Indus River (A.D. 1221 – Genghis Khan taking the regions of modern Afghanistan and part of Iran from the Khawarzmshah Mohammad Jalal ad-Din), 2) The Kalka River (A.D. 1223 – Genghis Khan’s son, Subudei, begins the subjugation of Russia which was completed by his nephew, Batu) and 3) Liegnitz (A.D. 1241 – A bloody defeat of Templars and Hospitallers under Henry the Pious after Batu had split his army so that part went on to conquer Hungary and a smaller portion destroyed the Christian forces in Poland).

The final scenario features the battle that broke the string of Mongol victories, ‘Ayn Jalut (Ain-Jalut). Here, the Mamluks (literally, "white slaves" because they were former slaves in Egypt who ascended into power by treachery and assassination) repulsed the Mongols. Ironically, the victorious leader Sultan Qutuz was assassinated by one of his generals, al-Malik Baibars (sometimes, Baybars as in the game’s documentation), on the way back to Cairo.4 Since both armies were extremely proficient with the bow and lance,5 this allows two intriguing rules to come into play for both armies: shower fire (allowing missile units to subtract two from their missile die rolls to reflect the historical ability of certain tribes to fire up to five shafts in three seconds) and feigned retreat tactics (both Mamluks and Mongols were adept at pretending to retreat and then, counterattacking).

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Hoard of Hordes (Components)

The $70.00 price tag nets the typical GMT package of rule book, play book (scenario specifics, historical notes, optional rules), player aid chart, 10-sided die and zip-lock bags. However, it includes almost 1,000 colorful counters (the smaller traditional ½’ die-cut) to reflect a variety of opposing armies and serve as bookkeeping markers and two double-sided maps. The two double-sided maps fit together nicely to provide an extra large battlefield for the Kalka River scenario, one side of the map for the Indus River scenario and two half-size maps for ‘Ayn Jalut and Liegnitz, respectively. Unfortunately, because so much of the area represented by the map is desert or clear terrain, the maps are not particularly impressive. They are sparse, Spartan (to draw a term more appropriate to an earlier game in the series).

russcenter.jpg
IN DYING COLOR The relatively plain maps and earth-tones of the Mongol counters means that the opponent’s
armies are the most colorful part of the game, outside of two intriguing new mechanics.

Fortunately, the counters for the opponent armies make up for this non-descript appearance of the maps by providing a broad variety of color. Unfortunately, the earth-tone palette used for the Mongols (appropriate enough from a historical perspective) does little to enliven the battlefield. One shouldn’t panic, however. Once the battle begins, it won’t be long before the bright whites and colors of the bookkeeping markers (engaged, low and no missile fire, disordered, routed, etc.) will signal a significant amount of action and bloodshed on the battlefield. And therein lies the rub for this reviewer. It seems like there is too much reliance upon bookkeeping chits and status markers.

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COUNTER CLUTTER One wouldn’t expect counter clutter in a game where there is no stacking.
Yet, the bookkeeping chits for cohesion hits, engaged units, shock attacks with TQ checks and missile
inventory can created disordered piles in a hurry.

To be sure, they work very well in terms of game mechanics, but it is so easy to have numerous piles of counters to knock over (in spite of the rule against stacking more than leaders in the same hex with another counter and exacerbated by the smaller ½" size of these counters compared to Sword of Rome and Roads to Leningrad) that it seems better to play the game via cyberboard or Aide de Camp 2 than on the table-top.

[continued on next page]

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3 Comments

  1. Well, good review, but author’d have to know that Rus and Russia are not the same as well as Dnipro has no concert to Russian Federation. It is Ukrainian and Belorussian river.

  2. The game is interesting but I think there are serious historical errors.
    • As to rules, the knight are something of a helpless prey, they get unhorsed very easily and don’t perform very well in hand-to-hand ( no better than other HC ? Come ON ! ). It should be changed.
    Also the MI’s resilience to cavalry came from it being a close-order formation with spears. I don’t think Mongols were trained in that so they shouldn’t get the DS against cavalry.
    • As to battles, Ayn Jalut wasn’t a front-to-front fight: the Mongols were enticed into pursuit then ambushed in a rather narrow valley, so the scenario ought to be reworked entirely.

  3. I can’t believe that the game (as well as this article) would say that
    “Genghis Khan’s son, Subudei”! Subudei was NOT his son.

    Subudei was his best general and rose up in rank due to his SKILL; and no historian worth any salt would say they were blood relatives.

    If the designer missed this obvious fact, how accurate can this game be??

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