Last week we tried our first game of Donnybrook. It fell flat.
when I first saw the rulebook, I was pretty impressed. To be fair, the
rulebook is impressive. A lot of inspirational photographs, nice
scenery, good narratives. I can see the attraction, and I think it is a
well-written wargaming book.
When reading the rules, I was a bit
less impressed. The rules claim to portray skirmish combat 1660-1760,
but there is very little in the rule mechanics that make that particular
assumption. The rules are so generic that they would fit most periods.
Simple card activation to activate each unit in turn; and different type
die rolls to beat a target number to resolve morale, combat etc.
Modifiers are kept to a minimum, which is a good thing.
So, I set
up two small forces to battle it out with my regular wargaming pal. One
force was hidden in a village, the other side had to drive them away.
was disappointing. The mechanics are so simple that very few decisions
need to be made. You cannot decide what unit to activate – the cards do
that for you. The whole game revolved about moving your troops asap to
the enemy (lack of other things to do or think about), and fight it out.
Not much excitement was felt by neither of us.
After a game, we
usually have a discussion about what worked in the game and whatnot. We
did play skirmish games of that particular size before, so the game
should have been to our liking. But then we realized we did experience
something similar with another skirmish game we tried a few years ago,
that also turned out to be a bummer Lack of a good scenario!
setting up a skirmish game, I usually make sure all sides have good
objectives, that go beyond the simple: "engage and destroy". One side
might have to free hostage. Or capture a treasure and bring it back to
base. Or escort a wagon across the board. Or blowup the jail. Or … you
get the idea. Such setups work even better if more than 2 players are
For our Donnybrook game, due to a busy day at work, I
completely neglected a good scenario. I should have known better. The
lack of a good scenario was the reason the game felt very bland.
also realized this is a lesson I picked up many years ago. Skirmish
games are memorable because of good scenarios. Good gaming mechanics
might help, but the scenario is the most important thing. Otherwise, you
just have a glorified randomizer that determines the outcome of the
So, a good scenario is the thing, but that does not depend
on Donnybrook or any other gaming system. It depends on the game
organizer. Lesson learned (yet again).
Looking back, I still think
Donnybrook as a gaming engine is very bland and not very exciting. When
using exciting scenarios, the game can be made excellent, but that is
not a feature to be claimed by Donnybrook. That is player's imagination
In the end, I still like Donnybrook as an excellent book with excellent photographs. But as a gaming engine? Probably not.