[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]
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
A typical Punic [Carthaginian] Phalanx
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].
ONUS! Rome Vs Carthage