ONUS ! by DRACO IDEAS Like many others, I was struck and puzzled by the game's title, Onus .  I knew it as meaning a burden o...

Onus by Draco Ideas: Review Onus by Draco Ideas: Review

Onus by Draco Ideas: Review

Onus by Draco Ideas: Review

by
DRACO IDEAS


Like many others, I was struck and puzzled by the game's title, Onus.  I knew it as meaning a burden or duty or obligation.  Not perhaps the most exciting title, though I had my image, whether of noble Roman or valiant Carthaginian, marching forth to do my duty or carry out the obligation that the burden of fate had laid on my shoulders.  Word from the designer has provided an even humbler perspective.  Onus in Latin conveys the idea of the weighty physical load carried by the ordinary marching legionary -  a heavy burden indeed.  So, here I am, metaphorical pack on back, ready to slog it down the road to death or glory at Cannae or Zama. 

[OK, secretly, I'm still the great Hannibal, braving blizzards and perilous Alpine passes with my elephants, on route for glorious victory at Lake Trasimene and Cannae]

The first thing to lift my weary soldier/reviewer's spirits is sight of the small, colourful box that the game comes in - that's not going to add much to the weight of the digging tool, spare kit, cooking utensils etc...  But, as they say, good things come in small packets. What a compact little war chest is to be found when you get inside the box! 

The war chest, opened, punched, bagged and repacked

[apologies for the quality of my camera work]


Hold on there, I'm getting a bit carried away.  Before I delve further into the components, just a few facts about what the game is about and why I'm so delighted to be reviewing it.

Giving its full title Onus! : Rome Vs Carthage helps.  What another game/simulation of the Punic war?  I still have the original Avalon Hill edition of Hannibal : Rome v Carthage and Punic Island Vol III in the Campaign Commander series, as well as several scenarios in my Command & Colours : Ancients, as well as Battleground : Second Punic War and am currently awaiting delivery in the next couple of weeks of my Kickstarter copy of Hands In The Sea.  So, why was I so pleased to receive such a small footprint game on this historical period and theme?

Well, the obvious answer is that I love all that comes under the umbrella title of Ancients and the Punic Wars, especially Hannibal, elephants and Alps! [Sorry, no Alps in a tactical game - compromises do have to be made.]  But, more than that, I had tried and failed [computer glitches!] to pledge to Onus! on Kickstarter and here I was being offered the chance of a copy to review the very game I had so wanted. 

The next reason was because the game offers the opportunity to fight a miniatures style game without all the problems of buying figures, painting them and storing them along with all the necessary terrain.  [Admittedly, terrain for Ancients battles does tend to be more minimal than for other historical periods.]  Even more important was the impression I had got from the Kickstarter advertising that here was a simulation using miniatures based rules that was accessible and easy to understand and was physically appealing too.

My final reason was that Onus was the first game produced by Draco Ideas and I had already greatly enjoyed playing and reviewing for A Wargamer's Needful Things a composite copy [original Spanish edition with basic English translation of the rules] of their yet to be published English edition of 2GM Tactics.  So, my expectations were high and especially my expectations of the rule book.  As this was going to be the key element for me, I'm going to break my usual pattern of starting with what I think of as a written unboxing  and instead head straight to the rule book.

I had read substantially about the original Spanish edition's rule book and, I confess, the impression given was not a flattering one. 


If you've read my review of 2GM Tactics, you'll know that Draco Ideas went for a cartoonish style of art work and, as you can see from the front of this game box, which is identical to the cover of the rule book, the same influence was there from the beginning.

However, just like 2GM Tactics, Onus's rule book is anything but cartoonish.  Small in size, but with a wealth of depth, it is a wholly serious product.  Print remains on the very small size with every page providing fairly dense text layout, but the main question would be how clear and comprehendible  they are.  The original Spanish rules had come in for some heavy flack regarding tone, which was seen as too chatty, with poor organisation and lack of clarity.  With no ability to read Spanish, I cannot comment on the validity of these complaints. 

What I can happily say is that these English rules bear no similarity whatsoever to that less than adequate picture.  Either those original comments were inaccurate or an excellent job has been done on improving them for the English edition.  First of all, the organisation of the rules is wholly logical, taking us through Set-Up and how to read the information on the unit cards, General cards and Order/Event cards.  A brief Game Sequence is followed by detailed sections on Movement, Charges, Ranged Attacks, Melee, Morale, Flight, the End of Turn and Victory Conditions. 

All is rounded out with brief sections on 3/4 player sessions, Solo play, five Scenarios and a simple Campaign linking the five together.  A very useful page of Golden Rules and a Modifiers Summary on the back cover are a great help, though I must admit that I did need to copy the Modifiers Summary page and enlarge it for easy reading!  There is even a two page Simplified Rules section that strips play down to very, very bare essentials, which could be highly useful for drawing younger gamers into the hobby.

Still, providing an organised rule book shouldn't be too hard a task.
Slightly more difficult can be making sure that they can be understood and then executed with relative ease.  I have to say that my past experience of miniatures rules, whether in the form of purely a rulebook intended for use with figures or in a professional games format like this one, has not been a happy one.  Even the simplest end such as the Strategos set by Philip Sabin or his ravishing Lost Battles boxed game ultimately left me too often confused and uncertain.  Certainly, I never achieved a level were I could largely just get on with the enjoying the game and not have multiple interruptions to check things, a situation that left me dispirited.

Thankfully, I can say that the rules for Onus! are clear, easy to understand and eminently workable.  In particular, Movement and Charges [consistently the most difficult aspect of figure games rules] are well explained with good, picture-illustrated examples.  Because you are moving over a table-top, not a nicely regulated, printed hex grid, and using the traditional measuring stick beloved of figure gamers, there will always be potential  for some uncertainty and argument, but that lies more with the gamer than the rules!  

However, this is the first time I've been able to  easily understand and achieve such things as how to extend either or both wings of a unit or envelop the flank or rear of a unit.  Charge rules in many, many games are the most complex and often awkward to explain and satisfactorily carry out.  Chalk up another successful detail in this game. 

Having once sat watching two miniatures gamers with a sheaf of rules spend a whole 10 minutes resolving one single melee with percentages calculated  endless modifiers added and subtracted and a final result of no losses to either side, I was glad to find melee too works smoothly with both Attacker and Defender throwing the same number of dice  according to the number of sections in contact. 

That's not to say that Onus! lacks the necessary refinements to cover details such as the benefits of the aforementioned movement against the flank or rear, as well as Attacker formation, cavalry v infantry, the presence of a general, broken status, previous wounds inflicted and more.  When you add the ability to throw in the effects of an Event too,  I was more than satisfied with this feature of the game.

I was very well pleased too with the moderate, but appropriate range of modifiers associated with the Melee section and the overall ease of application so that they were soon second nature and rarely needed any reference to the quick summary sheet that forms the back cover. 

I realise that the Battleground system has trodden a very similar path already, but having tried very hard to master Battleground : Second Punic War, here are the main reasons that Onus! has succeeded for me, where the other failed.

The simplest point was the much greater detail and clarity of the rules.  Battleground is sketchy, brief and too often hard to understand.  Next was the fact that the Battleground unit cards have to be marked with a dry-wipe marker pen to change stats as the game progresses.  Personally, I dislike having to write on any game components [even if designed for that purpose] and it is all too easy, when doing so, to get the ink on other elements.  Above all, lifting the cards out of melee contact and returning them successfully in position is a nightmare.

In Onus! these problems are avoided by the simple use of marker chits and I was amazed by the quantity and quality that could be packed into such a small box.


Just a small sample of the range included







And more

And more



As you can see an impressive array and those are only a proportion of the total provided.  I'm still not sure how they've managed to include so much physical material and how it still fits in the box even when I've bagged it up.

On top of that you've got all the unit cards: 30 Roman, 30 Carthaginian and 30 mercenaries.



A typical Punic [Carthaginian] Phalanx

Here's an idea of the range of Punic [Carthaginian] units: Libyan Spearmen, Punic Archers and Cavalry, Lusitanian Infantry, Armed Civilians, Punic Infantry and, what else but ... Elephants!   These are opposed by all the familiar Roman troops: Hastati, Princeps,Velites, Triarii and two different types of Equites while the Mercenaries bring more exotic elements like Celtiberian Infantry, Balearic Slingers and Numidean cavalry, along with a range of missile throwing machines.

Though there are generals, they are sadly few, but famous.


Whereas the number of dual Order/Event cards is  a very satisfying 72 and apart from the variety this provides, their dual use adds in that dilemma of choice that you may becoming familiar with recognising as a game mechanic popular with me.







The typical instructions on the Order half [yellow heading] of the cards are strongly reminiscent of the Command and Tactic cards in the Command & Colours system.  As the battlefield is not divided into sectors, there are no worries about only possessing cards that relate to sectors where you have no units, though I have found occasionally that I have a hand of cards where most of my Orders aren't useful to activate units to move or fire!  As the rules suggest, it's well worth marking those units that you intend to activate and, for once, that is not a type of marker the game contains.  Personally, I tend to use a small die, simple, clear and easy to remove once the unit has been activated and most gamers have more than enough extra dice to hand!

The Events on the other half of the cards [blue heading] are nearly all applicable to Combat in some shape or form and I appreciate  what they often add to the narrative of the game.  Suddenly discovering that your vulnerable enemy suffering a ranged attack has benefited from a Take Shelter card and has become much harder to hit or that an attack against you is strengthened by an additional and unexpected ranged attack give a great deal of flavour to my gaming experience. 

Inevitably Onus! does not have the extreme rapidity of play found in a treatment such as the Command & Colours expansions that make up the Ancients line and, if you've read my review of The Great War, you'll know how much I do enjoy those games.  But I have been well rewarded with a more detailed system that gives the right feel and visual effect of fighting a miniatures battle at a fraction of the cost in money, time and effort that buying  and painting figures and then finding a rules set that didn't drive me to distraction would have been.

I now have to worry about my flanks, about manoeuvring and not being able to move through friendly units without the cost of breaking my own units.  I can take into account formation changes and the particular benefits of certain types of unit and all without disappearing under a mountain of rules.

I was even more fortunate that Draco Ideas generously included in their package to me the Desert Battle mat which greatly enhances play.  Here the Carthaginians advance beyond the village/city [depending on whichever battle you imagine you're playing].



This gives a close-up impression of said village/city. 



Apologies that my camera work doesn't do full justice to this.

I hope in the not to distant future to be able to report back on the first two Expansions:  Onus! Greeks Vs Persians and Onus! Scenery & Fortresses.

[Meantime, a trip to the Iberian peninsular with old long nose himself, Sir Arthur Wellesley, in Espana 20 : Bussaco & Talevera looks on the cards.]







ONUS! Rome Vs Carthage

Normal price £27 approx.











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