The Joy and Frustration of Mortem et Gloriam

In the last few months, my local wargaming group has become increasingly interested in Mortem et Gloriam (MeG), an ancients wargaming ruleset usually played with 15mm models. Since I have the most experience with MeG, I have been asked by several people to teach them how to play. As a result, I have played more games of MeG than any other wargame in the past six months. Needless to say, I have plenty of thoughts about the system, both positive and negative.

MeG is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable wargame systems I have ever played. It is a deep ruleset that isn’t too complicated. The movement and combat mechanics are relatively simple but feel realistic (unlike some other popular ancients rulesets, *ahem* Hail Caesar). The game does a great job of making the players feel like army generals, with a unique command and control mechanic based around colored cards used to issue orders. Armies with highly trained troops have more flexibility to do advanced maneuvers, while armies consisting of levies or tribal troops are much more limited. Charge combat and melee combat are seperated into two different phases, with some weapons and abilities giving bonuses to either charge or melee, but not both. When a unit breaks in combat, their nearby friends are required to take morale tests, which may trigger a chain reaction that can wipe out multiple units in one turn. All of these mechanics (and many others) create a gameplay experience that feels authentically historic without overwhelming the players.

The basics needed to play.

I’m not lying when I say I’ve had fun in every game of MeG that I’ve played so far. Because we are still relatively new to 15mm ancients, we usually play Pacto, the small-scale version of MeG. Pacto is fantastic because it doesn’t require a large number of models and can be played on a relatively small table. It uses the same rules as the larger versions of the game, but with smaller unit sizes and reduced distances.It is perfect for introducing new players to the rules. It is also great for running tournaments. It’s very much like DBA (another popular small-scale ancients ruleset), but with more rules depth and army building flexibility. The online army lists and downloadable army builder are also very convenient (and there are loads of them!). MeG is not only deep and historic, but also highly accessible, unlike many ancients historical rulesets.

And yet, despite all the praise that I have for MeG as a system, it pains me to say that it has some serious issues. Though the game was published last year by Plastic Soldier Company (PSC), it is still not widely available worldwide. The resin 15mm miniatures that PSC released are cheaper than metal ones, but the quality of the minis is not always great and they are still expensive compared to (larger) plastic miniatures. Also, though they have released army boxes with a decent amount of models in them, not all of the units can be purchased individually. There have also been problems with missing models in some of these boxes (like the Huns box I purchased, which was missing two commanders). These issues, though they may seem relatively small, may turn away new players.

Elephants are both terrifying and fragile.

However, the biggest problem that I have with MeG is the rulebook itself. Though I know some people may disagree, I think the rulebook’s overall structure is awful and makes the game much more difficult to learn than it should be. Unlike many wargames, where the first 1/4 of the rulebook is the core rules, the first few sections of the MeG rulebook are mostly non-rules filler. This includes a section that recommends how to teach the game (before actually explaining how the game works), a section that explains the thematic meaning of different weapons and abilities without actually explaining how they impact the game, and even a section that explains why the game is popular. I have no problem with this content being included in the rulebook (though I would have excluded the last one), but they shouldn’t be placed before the main game rules.

As far the as the actual rules, the book uses the usual “each phase explained in its own chapter” format , which is pretty standard for most wargames. This works well for the most part. Some of the mechanics, such as the movement options, could have used more in-depth explanations and examples. The designer has made some helpful videos explaining movement actions in more detail which he has uploaded to his Youtube channel, but it should have been explained better in the rulebook.

Rome vs Rome — and it works!

I ended up watching most of the videos he made to get a better understanding of the game flow, and I discovered that the rulebook is actually missing some key rules. For example, in the quick reference sheet, there is mention of commanders entering combat. However, the rules for this are not included in the rulebook. I brought this up on the official Facebook group, and the designer messaged me and told me that it was an accidental exclusion and that he would include the rules in the latest FAQ document (it was recently added this month). Also, during my first few games, I couldn’t find any rules for determining a starting player. It turns out that the only mention of this rule is found in the glossary in the back of the book (under “active player”). It’s almost unforgiveable that such a basic rule was not included in the main rules explanation.

I can’t put all the blame on the designer for these rulebook issues. I know firsthand that it can be extremely difficult to proofread your own rules writing. I lay most of the blame squarely on the publisher, who should have spent more time and resources ensuring that the rulebook content was clearer, better structured, and contained all game rules. It pains me to say this, but despite the interest in MeG recently and despite how much I enjoy the game, it is becoming difficult for me to recommend to new players. Luckily, I think that these issues could easily be solved with a revised version of the rulebook. Unfortunately, the designer has recently stated that he has no plans to go back and update it anytime soon. Though I will definitely continue playing MeG, I am a bit disappointed by this news. I really hope that PSC will recognize its current faults and do something about them. That said, these issues haven’t stopped us from having fun with the game, and we are already planning out events for this year.

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4 thoughts to “The Joy and Frustration of Mortem et Gloriam”

  1. Most of all I am delighted you enjoy playing so much. That us by fat the most important bit as really the game lives on the enjoyment and realistic feel.

    Rule books are never easy to perfect and different people like different forms. A lot of people really appreciate the early overview parts while others don’t.

    The few missing bits are all covered now in FAQ and what I said was I am not changing the rules. I have a list of things to pick up at the next reprint. So no rule changes but some tightening is possible. But clearly not until the entire set are resolved.

    Thé Covid period has been a tricky time to launch things. I have never found a set of rules I could get entirely from the rulebook. Usually we have communities playing live and learn from each other fast. Thankfully for the first time since the launch we will have such community okay going again.

    The new tech took some perfecting with PsC but I hear now the standard of quality is pretty unfit only excellent.

    So yes listening, and thank you for the praise and the cintructive criticism, and will continue to develop and expand the gaming community every way we can.

    Keep enjoying.

    Si

    1. Thanks Simon for the great response! I really appreciate how active you have been in the community and how hard you have worked teaching MeG to new players. One thing that really impressed me with the rules is that you included an email address to personally contact you. I haven’t seen any other designers do that in their rules and it shows how much you care. Keep up the good work and I can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

  2. TL:DR games good, minis bad, a few rules a little confusing to read but they have a FAQ to fix those parts.

  3. Note. On the missing figure issue.
    PSC has great service people. I was missing some cavalry riders. I dropped them a email and the posted the missing figures the next day.

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