BelloLudi | Fortified Niche playtest!

Hey, what if you played a multiplayer game where each side had one guy as the overall commander, and the rest were trying to fulfill his orders as best they could? What if you played a game like that on a team building exercise at work? These two unlikely allies mingle together in BelloLudi!

Listen to the Fortified Niche episode.

Immediately, we were at a disadvantage when testing BelloLudi. For best experience, it’s meant to be a multiplayer game (more multi- than just two people). Of course, you can play it with just two people. Each brigade in core BelloLudi rules is made up of constituent units, each capable of independent action. And there’s nobody preventing you from taking multiple brigades by yourself – but would be more cumbersome.
You can order your battalions individually, but each roll risks failing and ending your turn. So, just like in Warmaster or Cold War Commander, you have to prioritize your orders. You can also group units to carry out the same order, requiring but a single roll. So the optimal action plan would be moving your joint units first, but that’s not always the most desirable way to go about things. This creates command tension, which is always a good thing.
Once the order is issued, a BelloLudi dice is rolled to check how effective this is. If the order goes through, it may contain 1-3 moves. That’s because the movement phase – the game follows the old saw of “I move/charge-shoot-fight, then you do the same – is the only phase where you roll for orders. Other phases are just the result of what you did with the movement Shooting just… happens in the shooting phase. For melee, you either charged in the movement phase or not, fighting is automatic/free.
As the battle goes on, your units will start accumulating tokens, representing a mixture of dudes dying, organization fraying and morale breaking down. There’s no perfect way to rally it completely away (just like in Chain of Command), so you’ll lose battalions eventually. This may lead to the entire brigade suddenly remembering what the better part of valor is and booking it. This is devastating for a single player, but in a multiplayer game, it would be a lot less impactful.
Now, core BelloLudi rules weren’t the only ones that were sent. Indeed, the ruleset, in various permutations, covers many historic periods – not just Napoleonics. We also had a look at BelloLudi Rifles 1860-1914. You can guess what slice of time its meant to cover. But in this game, you command smaller units with individual casualty removal (though I doubt it’s 1:1 mini:man) and the variety of orders you can issue is a lot larger: going prone, fixing bayonets before a charge, throwing grenades – the works. The are also details like taking prisoners, officers having their own armaments and more. To me, it read like a more modern take on The Sword and The Flame, an antediluvian wargame covering colonial conflicts.
Now, for some criticism for BelloLudi. The books are messy. They need a lot of editing to both clarify the rules and make it a lot easier to read and parse. As always, fluff and rules should be separate so that you’d only get what you need at that point. We made it work, sure, but we’re veteran podcasters who have covered many games – and even played a few before we started putting our opinions online!
BelloLudi is a fairly light Napoleonics ruleset that’s perfect for people who have more friends than desire to painstakingly measure battalion wheeling movement distances. If you’re the person who has done the historical usual of “painting up both sides” to get others into the game, you’re half-way there towards using BelloLudi as a teambuilding tool. And if you’re a Napoleonics player, you probably have more than enough stands of infantry for a multiplayer game!

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