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Posted on Jul 15, 2005 in Boardgames

Devil’s Horsemen – Boardgame Review

By Johnny L. Wilson

Bullet Brain (Game Mechanics and Documentation)

Since this is the tenth release in the venerable and much-lauded Great Battles of History (GboH) series, Great Battles of History: Volume X: Devil’s Horsemen already had a built-in audience of players who enjoy a certain amount of rules continuity as they play through the evolution of battlefield tactics. To assist those gamers, the rule book clearly delineates changes from previous GboH rules with >> bullets before each change. To assist those who never played a GboH game before, the Play Book features Simple GboH rules to get one going.

To try to quickly explain a relatively complex system, DH emphasizes leadership in several ways. First, although there is a default activation sequence from least effective leader to most effective leader throughout the turn, DH allows you to "trump" any of your less effective leaders by rolling under the initiative rating of the superior leader. If you succeed, you can move that leader instead of the weaker leader. To create additional friction and uncertainty, your opponent can immediately try to "trump" your new activating leader in the same way. It is a bit of a gamble and requires a good die roll. In addition, you can get an extra activation by using a Momentum roll (again, under your initiative) and again, your opponent can try to trump you. As a result,DH may be "I go, you go," but there is always concern on how well each phase will play out and a sense of fluidity to the move.


Second, GboH places morale, unit coherency, efficiency and training together into a simple factor called TQ (Troop Quality). This is the number that one rolls against as morale checks or efficiency checks in other systems. It is usually vital prior to the devastating Shock Attacks and can be as frustrating as a failed morale roll in miniatures games.

Third, as with many games designed by Richard Berg and Mark Herman, GboH is definitely chart heavy. Prior to missile combat, one must check the Fire vs. Effects Chart to determine the die modifier. Then, one rolls the die and adjusts per the modifier against the Missile Range and Results Chart. Shock combat requires TQ checks and determination of superiority. Position Superiority is easy to determine with flanking and rear attacks being superior. Numerical Superiority is also easy to determine and allow one to shift the appropriate number of columns equal to the difference between each side. Weapon Superiority is determined by checking the Shock Superiority Chart. Finally, in all cases, one checks the Clash of Spears and Swords Chart in order to determine which column to use on the Combat Results Table. You might actually have to check three different charts and make adjustments for Numerical Superiority and Terrain Effects before you’re through. Some gamers really dislike this type of resolution, but to me, it seems more interesting to see all of the variables coming into play.

TABULA NON RASA To simulate numerous variables, Devil’s Horsemen requires players to
cross-reference several tables like this one for each type of combat.

My only real complaint with the rules is that there is no index and they do not seem to be organized in an easy-to-follow layout. This seemed particularly annoying when trying to find new rules (in spite of the >> bullets within the text) as they were not listed on the extremely limited table of contents.

Finally, Berg and Herman do a wonderful job of interspersing historical rationales for special rule changes or new procedures. For example, one could play the Liegnitz scenario multiple times with the optional rules. Do you add the Polish archers to reflect the Polish historical sources or stay with less-biased orders of battle? I’ve played it both ways and it is much tougher without the archers. Since Liegnitz is after the Mongols have fought the Chinese and learned much about rocketry, do you add the rocket rule? It uses a simple die roll against a small table in the Play Book, but it adds a tremendous amount of flavor.

Con of Khans (New Twists to a Solid System)

Of course, one doesn’t buy a new game to get new counters and maps with no interesting twists to the system. Fortunately, DH offers three new twists that are worth the price of admission: feigned retreat, harassment and dispersal tactics and shower fire. Both are particularly well-suited for the era being simulated as they rely on both the mobility of cavalry and the effective use of archery.

The most entertaining new twist would be the feigned retreat procedure. When a unit advances within 2 hexes of a cavalry unit with its designation (e.g. LC) in a box, the non-phasing player can immediately state that he is performing a feigned retreat. The phasing player must stop the movement of his unit and allow the defending unit to retreat 3-5 hexes. Then, the phasing player’s unit must make a TQ check against the Feigned Retreat Reaction Rating (a chart in each scenario). If the unit fails the check, the unit must chase after the defender following the exact route. Then, when the pursuer is within 2 hexes once more, the defender makes a TQ check. If the defender succeeds, he can turn around and fire a missile attack or attempt a shock attack.

Since the feigned retreat procedure is handled one unit at a time, if more than defender is eligible to attempt the maneuver, the would-be attacker must make a reaction check for each defender who tries the maneuver. Such a rule means that opponents do not have to wait in enforced idleness while their foe is moving. The GboH rules already had reaction fire included. The feigned retreat maneuver adds one more reason for players to stay alert during their opponent’s moves.

FLEE FLY FAUX RUN As soon as the Polovtsian light cavalry unit (dark counter) moved
within two hexes of the Mongol light cavalry unit (tan counter), the Mongol announced a feigned retreat.
Once the Polovtsian cavalry failed their reaction check, they had to follow the "retreat" of the
Mongol (green arrow). When it reached the two hex range again, the Mongol passed a
TQ check to turn and fire his missiles (blue arrow).

Shower Fire isn’t nearly as fun as the feigned retreat maneuver, but it is very effective. This tactic represents the trade-off of movement for unloading a deadly rain of arrows. Only units with a red triangle on their counters are eligible to use this tactic, preferred by the Khwarazmians and Mamluks.

RAIN OF FIRE If units have a red triangle on the counter (as shown by the arrow here),
they are eligible to reduce or eliminate their movement allowance in order to subtract
two or three from their die roll on the Missile table.

Harrassment and Dispersal Tactics, on the other hand, are almost as interesting to use as the feigned retreat maneuver. In this one, light cavalry starting within 4 hexes (but not adjacent to) an enemy unit (and not starting in an enemy zone of control) can announce an H&D attack. Instead of actually moving on the map, the player announces this and fires as though firing at a 1 hex range (and takes appropriate return fire at a 1 hex range). As with the feigned retreat maneuver, the enemy must make a TQ check for reaction. Failure for an infantry unit means they advance 1 hex closer to the attacker (if it can). Failure for a heavy cavalry unit requires that the cavalry try to shock attack the original unit.

Def-Khan 1 (Verdict)

Great Battles of History: Volume X: Devil’s Horsemen features a variety of scenarios and army/counter mixes. It moves beyond its successful predecessors to become a great game by its own design. For a historical gamer, it is a must buy, must play. For the beginner, it is a benchmark to aspire toward playing. For the advanced gamer, it offers enough new wrinkles and unbalanced scenarios that it is definitely worth playing each scenario multiple times. Plus, the designers suggest bidding rout points to even up the sides on some of the less balanced scenarios. Take a poorly represented historical era with regard to gaming and mix in a proven system as finessed by two great designers. What do you get? You get a versatile game and a valuable asset to your game library. And, to quote the introduction to Bill Cosby’s old Saturday morning cartoon series, "If you’re not careful, you might learn something."

Armchair General Score — 90%

37/40 — Gameplay
12/15 — Components
16/20 — Rules/Documentation
15/15 — Replay Value
10/10 — General’s Rating

GMT Website for Devil’s Horsemen

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Author’s Information

Johnny L. Wilson is the former editorial director of Computer Gaming World and publisher of Dragon, Dungeon, Star Wars Gamer, Star Wars Insider, TopDeck and Undefeated magazines. He is the author of The Sim City Planning Commission Handbook and co-author of Sid Meier’s Civilization or Rome on 640K a Day. His most recent game-related book is High Score: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games, written with Rusel Demaria. Today, he balances his game playing with his work as a freelance novelist and author of multimedia study guides for the books of the Bible. His passion is any game that causes him to study more history. Not the strongest player, he is nonetheless an avid player. Johnny and his wife live on the shore of Castle Lake in Tyrone, Georgia.

1 Maurice Keen, A History of Medieval Europe (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1967), p. 155.
2 Ibid, p. 156.
3 Owen Lattimore, "Mongolia" (eds.) Mortimer J. Adler et al. Encyclopedia Britannica Volume 24: Metaphysics-Norway (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1987), p. 350.
4 Will Durant, The Story of Civilization: Volume IV: The Age of Faith (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950), pp. 312-313.
5 Laurent Quisefit, "La Gloire des Esclaves: L’armee’ des mamelouks d’Egypte" Vae Victis 19 (Paris: Histoire & Collections, Mars-Avril, 1998), p. 48.

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  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??