Sunday, 29 March 2015

Lion Rampant first impressions

I have played my first half dozen or so games of Lion Rampant, the medieval skirmish rules written by Daniel Mersey and published by Osprey. The first game was a slowish affair as we blundered through the rules, but ever since we have played two games a session. As you have probably already read on many a forum or blog, the rules are easy to learn, the games are fast to play. Three games in a two hour session would not be impossible.

The game is set in medieval times, roughly 1066 to 1500. The combatants of the time have been abstracted into 11 categories - five types of infantry, three types of cavalry and three types of missile troops, with some room to upgrade troop types to become expert for a small combat/shooting bonus. Cavalry units are 6 strong. Infantry are usually 12 strong, with a few being just 6 strong. A typical force would comprise 5 or 6 units, so forces are around 40 to 70 figures, depending on player choice. There are no army lists as such, though there are suggestions as to which category to use in which army, but this is left to the player to decide. For example, my Wars of the Roses force comprises a unit of 6 men at arms, two units of 12 billmen (one with an expert upgrade), one unit of 12 expert archers and one unit of 6 bidowers (skirmish archers).

Ready, Aim, er, wait, what do we do now?
In a turn a player attempts to activate a unit, carries out the action if successful, then moves on to his next unit to attempt another activation. Activation is achieved by rolling two dice and scoring equal to or above the unit's activation value. When a unit fails to activate, the player turn ends and passes to the opponent. Activation values range from 5 to 7, so low totals are bad news. In the few games we have played it has not been that uncommon for a player to fail multiple consecutive activation rolls, which can be a bit frustrating at times, especially if the opponent seems to always pass theirs! Dice rolls will average out of course, but you can expect a fairly erratic game in which you might activate all units in one turn, followed by complete failure to do anything in the next turn, and so on. Over a complete game I guess it roughly equalises to both players getting the same amount of activations. If you like random elements like this in your gaming, it's fine, but if you like to carefully plan and have complete control of your troops, then it's probably not the system for you.

Combat and shooting is a very simple and elegant affair. Units roll 12 dice if they are above half strength, otherwise 6 dice. It may seem strange, but it allows the game to roll along at a good pace, no counting out dice every time. Each unit has a value to score in attack or defence, hits are divided by the unit armour value to determine casualties. When a unit suffers casualties it takes a courage test and may pass, or it may be pushed back and become battered (which is disordered/fatigued), or rout. When a unit is battered it can attempt to rally, if it fails it might lose more members or even rout. And that's the game mechanics in a nutshell, very easy and very quick to play.

My first impressions are generally favourable. The game is quick and easy to play, the rules are simple to learn. The unit profiles are quite long, there's 8 or 9 stats to memorise, so there is a bit of flicking through the rulebook to check these on a regular basis. It would have been nice to have these reproduced in the back of the book on one page, rather than the quite pointless blank roster sheet. There are 12 different scenarios to try, some of which are a bit quirky, but give fun alternatives to the usual line-em-up-and-wipe-em-out affair. Next time I introduce wargaming to a non-wargamer, there's a good chance it would be using these rules. If you are looking for in-depth historical simulation, this is not the ruleset for you. If you are looking for a decent, easy to play large skirmish game, then this could be the one. The most interesting thing from my viewpoint is that the system is ripe for use in other ways. I think it would work well to recreate battles in Middle Earth. If nothing else, it's given me a reason to collect and paint some medieval figures, which is nice.


Gordon Richards said...

I've had a few games and have also been really impressed. Simple, common sense rules that, nevertheless, seem to make units act realistically. I love them.

Really looking forward to his upcoming The Men Who Would Be Kings rules based on Lion Rampant but for Late Colonial wargaming.

Lee Brady said...

I've also heard good things about this ruleset at the local club. Any reason why the rules couldn't be used with Dark Age warbands?

Old Fogey said...

I heard a whisper that the author was working on a dark ages mod, but if that's not the case it would be very easy to do it yourself.

Natholeon said...

Check out the Dux Rampant forum. One of the guys on there has put together a quick reference sheet that has all of the basic unit stats in a table form. Really handy.

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