Who likes the image of charging knights? Sure, everybody does!
In this article I will do a Lion Rampant rules review. Lion Rampant is a rule set for medieval skirmishes by Daniel Mersey, published by Osprey in September 2014.
Cover and Design
The cover layout is of the usual Osprey design. Excellent choice on the artwork in my opinion. I mean they are Osprey so they should have an archive of excellent art for any period of military history. There would be no excuse for bad cover art on these books in my opinion.
The book itself is softback, 64 pages, full colour and good quality. There is a mix of excellent pieces of artwork from the Osprey library and photos of miniatures. Right there is a detail that made me smile – most of the miniatures pictured are from the author’s collection, some old, some new. Some of them with a very old-school gloss varnish finish. Most of the photos were done by the one and only Mr.Henry Hyde, famous for being the editor of Miniature Wargames Magazine, for having been the co-host of the excellent A View from the Veranda podcast, for being the author of the Wargaming Compendium (which I will have to write a separate article about in the near future I just realized) and for being an alround nice chap.
The miniatures pictured are of various manufacturers like the Perrys, Foundry, Fireforge Games, Crusader Miniatures and so on. Very nice and definitely one of the advantages of rule sets which aren’t published by a miniatures manufacturer.
So what is Lion Rampant all about? The author makes it very clear that this is about small-time raids, border skirmishes and combat at similar levels. The number of models per side ranges from about 40 to 60, so in size it’s comparable to games such as Saga. The time frame is set to cover roughly the period between the 11th and 15th century.
The models ideally are individually based, exact base sizes are irrelevant. The game is played on a 6′ by 4′ table, using 6-sided dice.
A game turn works like this: First thing you can do is issue a challenge to a duel to the enemy leader if he is within 12″ of your leader. After that you may attempt to rally “battered” units (more on that later). Then you may go on to activate your units.
Lion Rampant uses an I-go-you-go system and if you ever played Warmaster, Hail Caesar, Black Powder or any of these games you will feel right at home with the activation system. Each time you attempt to activate a unit you may order it to do one thing: Move, Attack or Shoot (if they are armed with missile weapons). To carry out any of these actions a unit has to pass a certain number rolled on 2d6. For example a unit of archers (or slingers) has Shoot target number of 6+. So if I wanted them to shoot at an enemy unit I need to roll a total of six or more on 2d6 and they will carry out the order. For them to move requires the same roll but if I ordered them to charge an enemy unit in close combat would require a higher roll simply because archers are not drilled to do that, they don’t view it as their job to even get into close combat and they probably know that their Attack Value is pretty shoddy.
This is the next thing. Units don’t have a set combat value but two different values for attack and defense, which I think is an excellent idea. It also allows for elegant moves such as calculating closing fire of missile troops into their defense value. Saves time, leads to pretty much the same results.
If you do not pass an activation roll for one of your units your turn is over and it’s your opponent’s turn. This can make for potentially very short turns or make you tear your hair out at times. But as always in battle: Rarely do things go to plan. I know, this is a slightly marmite thing with gamers.
Combat is very simple: Units over half strength roll 12 dice on the attack or defense, once they drop to half strength or under, they roll only 6 dice. This was an interesting design decision and maybe a bit too much “all or nothing” in its approach with this artificial break point of half the models or less.
In general there are no charge reactions in the game, except for some units which have special rules which allow them to either counter-charge (thus using their attack value even if being charged themselves) or evade. For both these units have to pass activation rolls and failing these rolls can lead to disastrous results.
Combat is done very elegantly: opposed dice rolls based on Attack Value of the attacker and the Defense Value of the defender, plus a clever system to work out casualties and taking armour into account. It’s all done in one roll and you will get into the system very quickly and naturally. So it is very intuitive, despite the slightly “bucket of dice” style approach. However, you will never have to roll more than 12 dice.
Close combat never goes on for longer than one game turn. If combat is resolved and casualties are removed, the defeated unit has to recoil or, if they don’t pass their morale check, have to retreat further and get a Battered marker. Battered units can not be activated and have to be rallied at the player’s next turn, otherwise they keep on retreating or rout off the table completely. In my experience units rout at the worse possible times and it can happen as soon as they take a single casualty. It requires a really bad roll, but it can happen.
The leaders of each of your retinues are important (as natural for the period) in so far as that if he or she dies, it might happen that some of your units run away. They also confer a morale check bonus to units around them and – last but not least – they may challenge the enemy leader to a duel. These are again done very simply and it’s pretty much a 50/50 chance on who wins in a duel. Again, this may not be to everybody’s taste but I believe that it represents the history pretty well and doesn’t bog down the game. If a leader refuses a challenge the morale effects are about as bad as if he died. Leaders are always attached to a unit, move and fight with them and may never leave it.
At the beginning of your game or campaign you can roll on a table of leader traits to give them a bit more personality. These traits again are either negative or positive and chanced again are about 50/50.
Lion Rampant uses a points system, but it is of a similar kind as Saga in that you buy units with a set number of men and their equipment. There are limited “upgrade” options you can buy for points too. There are some light restrictions in terms of army list restrictions, but in general the idea is to keep it historically sound rather than making “the strongest list to beat your opponent”.
There are no factions army lists due to the fact that the book covers roughly 400 years and a huge geographical space so the unit types are kept generic. For each of the units (stats, equipment and fluff aside) you get a little text box with author’s notes, letting you know what this unit may represent on the table or how it could be tweaked to represent certain units better). The unit types include: Mounted Men-At-Arms (fully armoured knights), Mounted Serjeants (armoured cavalry), Mounted Yeomen (light cavalry), Foot Men-At-Arms (armoured elite infantry), Foot Serjeants (armoured spearmen), Foot Yeomen (lighter armoured footmen), Fierce Foot (shock infantry), Serfs (basically untrained peasants), Archers/Slingers, Crossbowmen and Bidowers (woodsmen, scounts, etc.).
At the very end of the book there are some sample retinues for all kinds of retinues, sorted by general location or setting (the British Isles, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East & Spain). Then there are two more categories with Hollywood Legends (Robin Hood and the Merry Men, The Sheriff’s Men [featuring a prerequisite for their leader to wear his beard like Alan Rickman did in the film], the knights of the round table, etc) and Old-School Fantasy (one Good and one Evil retinue, plus extra victory points if you use models from the 70s and 80s exclusively). I like that a lot. A nod to the old school and it is one more instance where the spirit behind these rules shines through.
In this department Lion Rampant brings a lot to the table: A whopping 10 scenarios plus rules to link your games together to a little campaign. The scenarios include things such as tax collection, trying to retrieve/save a runaway hostage, raiding the enemy’s camp to set their provisions on fire, convoi protection/attack and so on. The scenarios are never about downright winning or losing, but fulfilling objectives gets you a certain amount of Glory Points. Scenarios very rarely have set turn limits, given how quickly turns can be over in this game.
On top of that there is the Boasting system. This is a very characterful little addition to the games and possibly turns the outcome of a game around. What the Boasting is all about is basically your leader boldly (and possibly drunkenly) declaring to his men the great deeds they will fulfill during the upcoming battle. The game gives you a list of boasts such as “I shall slay their leader” (enemy leader is killed over the course of the game), “My sword shall not be drawn” (leader’s unit never gets into combat this game), “My sheep shall slay their lions” (your weakest unit kills the opponent’s toughest unit) and so on. There is quite a lot to choose from and the game encourages you to make up your own boasts as well. Boasts are tiered by difficulty to grant you either 1, 2 or 3 extra Glory Points at the end of the game. Each Boast you do not succeed in fulfilling at the end of the game will reduce your total Glory by -1 point each.
In the very end there is a quick reference sheet and a blank retinue roster.
As most of you will know Osprey Publishing has been throwing skirmish rule sets on the market for the past two, three years constantly. What I really like though is that most of them seem to be different enough and are written by different authors. So that’s a good thing in my book. This also leads to the rule sets being quite hit or miss. Lion Rampant to me is quite on the ‘hit’ end of the spectrum.
It is very easy to learn, very intuitive, and great for a relatively quick, relaxed and rather elegant game. These rather tight rules are garnished with great period specific “fluff” like the scenarios, the boasts and leader abilities. I can not emphasize strongly enough that this game lives off of this stuff, especially so the scenarios.
This is just me of course. I am aware that the game has a few mechanics which are not to everybody’s taste. The activation system can backfire easily and the all-or-nothing approach to the number of dice rolled in combat is a bit … let’s say unique as well. That being said, I can look past that without a hint of a problem. I am a big fan of games depicting battlefield friction and the fact that in battle, the men under your command will rarely do exactly as you tell them. Another thing which some may not like is that the game is fairly random at times. It certainly is NOT a tournament game and it is not designed to be one.
This does not bother me either. However, the randomness can at times be a bit much, even for me. A thing that irks me the most though is that units in this game do not have to keep formations, they have no frontages, no flanks, no rears. There are mechanics in place which could be said to simulate that pretty well, but somehow this feels a bit too little for my tastes. On top of that, units interpenetrate happily with friendly units and without problems, which is a thing I do not think of highly either.
When I complained about this on a forum I was pointed in the direction of something the author of Lion Rampant posted on the Boardgamegeeks forums, addressing exactly my issue:
“This rule was dropped part way through development, so this is very much a work in progress, should you wish to add an extra tactical level to the game. It is not something that I’ve followed up on, so the rules added here are more of a curiousity or a jumping off point should you wish to consider flank and rear attacks.
With the rules as written, the direction a unit is facing does not make any difference to the direction in which it can see, move, shoot, or even charge its enemies. Some players might enjoy the added tactical challenge of introducing complications of flank and rear facing in small unit miniatures games. If both you and your opponent agree, use the following rules:
- Models may move in any direction without penalty, but at the end of the unit’s movement, ensure that all models are facing in one direction.
- To change the direction a unit is facing requires a Move activation, even if the models just turn on the spot.
- Units may only Shoot at targets across the 180° arc to their front, measured from the unit’s forward-most model. At least one model from the target unit must be fully within this arc.
- Units may only Attack units within that same arc; the same applies for Wild Charges (they may not be made against units outside of the arc).
- Units shot at or Attacked by a unit beginning its move or shooting from behind its front arc count their Armour as 1 lower than normal (so Armour 2 becomes Armour 1). This is pretty deadly so don’t get flanked!
- Schiltrons cannot be flanked. “
I think that this adds a lot to the game without making them much more complicated.
As for the randomness issue – as I said above, this is not a problem per se (in my opinion at least). However, the chances to succeed on many rolls is almost 50/50, leading me to thinking of making all activation rolls in the game easier by 1 point and/or granting a bonus on activation rolls to units within 12″ of their leader. You may want to experiment with granting units morale boni on top of the +1 due to the leader’s presence. Foot Yeomen seem to be especially prone to just pack it and leave the table after taking one casualty.
Now all this may sound like the rules are faulty – which I assure you they are not. They are perfectly fine, especially so if you are a beginner or find most wargaming rules needlessly complicated.
I find Lion Rampant highly playable and fun but will most likely apply house rules and the author’s rules on unit facing the next time I play. What I enjoyed especially is the humour and the mindset expressed throughout the rule book. It is not chatty or distracts from the ‘meat’, but you get a pretty good idea what this guy is about when writing the rules the way he does. And of course seeing pictures of the author’s collection, the gloss varnish, old school fantasy references and the name of Henry Hyde in there just makes it impossible for me not to enjoy the mindset which is on display here.
This is a set of very elegant and streamlined rules with a certain degree of randomness to them. Not a lot more than most other sets of rules, but maybe it is a little more appearant than with other rules sets. That being said, the scenarios, the army list, leader traits, boasts and so on add so much to the rules which last but not least are very good in my opinion, and you can always add house-rules (the author actively encourages you to do so) if you find anything lacking or not to your tastes or findings about the period.
Lion Rampant is available for GBP 10.00 from Amazon as printed copy or ebook. If you are looking for a nice, fun wargame for medieval (or indeed fantasy) skirmishes and can deal with or even find it to be an enjoyable challenge if your plans do not unfold as intended 100% of times I would give this one a shot.
In the near future you will find a battle report of our first game of Lion Rampant on this fine sote so you get a better idea of how the game works. I hope that you enjoyed this review and found it interesting.