The Ballbusch Review: Lion Rampant

The Middle Ages are, in many respects, the definitive period in the development of Western civilization.  While often cast as an interregnum between the glory that was Rome and the brilliance of the Renaissance and later enlightenment, the thousand year middle age has loomed large in the imagination as a pure, heroic age.  Today we’ll be looking at Lion Rampart, age of chivalrous knights, intricate heraldry, and the odd outbreak of plague.

tumblr_ls3pz5TrB91qb4wgxo1_504Just another day out

Author:               Daniel Mersey
Pages:                 64 (paperback)
Publisher:          Osprey (2014)
Price (2015):     $12.67 (Amazon)

This is another one from the pen of the hard drinking, hard fighting, hard loving Daniel Mersey.  We last saw Mr. Mersey in the Dux Bellorum review; now he is taking us along from the Dark Ages to the slightly more illuminated Middle Ages.  Obviously, DB was well received by this reviewer, will lightening strike twice?  Is there gold at the end of the rainbow?  Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?  Well campers, grab some extra thick socks and four changes of underwear, because we’re going to find out.

LR is what we might term a ‘proper’ skirmish game.  Meaning that it represents a fight that would qualify as a skirmish, rather than most ‘skirmish’ games, which are about the size of a smallish bar fight (we need better and more varied terminology, we really do).  Forces in LR are around 4-6 units of 6-12 figures each.  So, a full force fit to fight is somewhere between 24 and 72 men with figures on the smaller side being mostly or totally mounted and the poor bloody infantry on the larger.

The LR book contains ‘army lists’ for the standard Western European powers of the time; as well as Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and *gasp* some fantasy lists.  However, the number of units types covered by the rules is fairly limited and there really is not an reason to follow a list.  No collection of troops seems drastically more power than any other, so the list are really merely guidelines.

Unlike many modern rules sets, LR has actual unit profiles with stats and everything.  Units are defined by their attack, defense, shoot, and courage values.  These stats are self-explanatory, and determined by the type of unit, not any sort of national characteristics.  Men-at-Arms are better fighters than Sergeants, and so have a higher attack value.  However, French Men-at-Arms are no better than German Men-at-Arms (though, the concept of such nation affiliation would have almost no meaning in the Fourteenth Century).

Because+some+has+toFor much of the period, charging really was the only tactic

The play follows the standard IGO-UGO format with the critical caveat that neither player ever knows how long his turn will last or how many (if any) units he will be able to activate during the turn.  In order to do anything, the player must issue an order to a unit.  Each unit can be order to move, shoot, or attack; and has a corresponding value for each representing the men’s relative enthusiasm for that task.  When a unit receives a command the player immediately tests to see if his warriors obey.  If they do, they carry out the order than the player is free to issue a command to another unit.  If the unit balks (Medieval fighting-men were notoriously temperamental) it does nothing and the player’s turn immediately ends.

It also bears mentioning that a unit can only receive one order per turn, but there are no defined phases.  Therefore, one unit may shoot, and then another attack, and yet another move, and so on.  The tactical challenge is utilizing your most reliable units while trying to get your flakier troops to do something without being fatally exposed by a sudden turn over.

A forces in LR represent, more or less, a minor landholder and his immediate band of lackeys, henchmen, and assorted hangers-on.  The scenarios enforce this.  Focusing on low level violence, raiding, feuds, and the like.  There is also a proto-campaign system included and it is easy to see how LR could be used in something like the OSR D&D domain management game.

While not written in stone, the scenario deployment rules demand a 6′ x 4′ game board.  Similarly, the rules were plainly written with individually based 25/28mm figures in mind; however, you could probably makes other sizes and basing schemes work with a will effort.

As a side note, it common knowledge that Mr. Mersey has written a full fantasy version of LR due out in the not too distant future.  So, stay turned for that.

Opinionated Commentary!!!!!!

The Middle Ages are one of those periods that it’s hard not to like.  Indeed, it is almost too popular.  Certainly in the fantasy genera it has permanently sucked all the air out of the room, and nearly every fantasy milieu these days is just a slightly different lens over Lancasterian England.

blue eyes long hair armor anime girls 2100x1478 wallpaper_www.miscellaneoushi.com_65Armor should always make a fashion statement

Despite that popularity, Medieval wargames are not easy to do.  Tactics were limited and armies small.  An actual Medieval battle divorces you from chivalrous combat while the battle as a whole lack both the tactic challenge of later (and earlier) periods.  This is why, I think, there are so many Medieval role playing games.  It is simply a period that plays better on the micro scale.

LR works very well as a skirmish game.  There is some sense of battle, but the actions of the individual have not been completely subsumed into larger masses.  The fact the models only function as part of a unit does limited some sense of personality, which I did rather miss.

Overall, these are a great set of slightly old-school feeling rules.  The play is fast and unpredictable.  The author makes no claims of great historical accuracy, indeed he underlines the point that these are ‘fun’ rules not a detailed simulation of Medieval warfare.

The activation system creates a sense of tension and forces you to put your faith in your most reliable fighters while hoping shakier men find something useful to do.  In it’s own way, this forces some semi-historical tactics.  Yeomen are going to be happiest hanging back and shooting, men-at-arms want to attack, and so on.  Also, heavy cavalry was generally the arm of decision through the period; the fact that their easy give attack orders to encourages the player to likewise rely on knightly charges.

I’m a 15mm gamer, but these rules, along with other semi-historical sets skirmishy have been enough to drag me back into small scale 28mm gaming.  I have high hopes for the fantasy version (Dragon Rampant?  We’re really going with that name?  Okay…).  LR get’s my strong recommendation for anyone who wants to play some historical, semi-historical, or low fantasy medievalish wargaming.

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  • I like your point about needing better terminology for skirmish games but now I wants a bar fight mini game we can have lots of pre game tables to determine your alcohol intake pre fight and how that increases your bravery but reduces hand to hand skill ability to fashion and source improvised weaponry etc I also think you could get some interesting mechanics were more and more people get pulled into the fight as pints get spilled and drunken punches hit the wrong target

    • OK I fleshed it out a little more each player starts with one model the protagonists the restbof the board is set up with a table in each corner a bar along one edge the two tables contain a biker crew and a group of sailors these aways fight as a unit various other models scattered around bar

      to hit you roll a d12 the result relates to the point ts on a clock so on. And 11 12 or 1 you connect with your swing a 12 giving you a 50 50 chance to score a knick out in the to wound roll. 4 to 8 is a miss and fumble a 6 results in a major stumble and fall opponents gets free hits next round. On a roll of 2 3 9 or 10 you stumble d6 – 2 in that direction if that brings you into base contact with an unaligned model or table of models they become a playable piece or unit for your opponent.

      To wound roll a d6
      1 your punch only enraged and straightened up your opponent and they gain a +1 to wound and a modifier of upto 2 in any direction on to hit
      2 graze no effect
      3 slight hit -1 to wound next round
      4 wound
      5 wound
      6 role on knock out table

      Knock out table 123 take a wound 456 knock out

      Games last 3 rounds at the end every round after roll 1d6
      123 carry on
      45 police arrive game over
      6 barmen pulls shotgun carry on each player losing one model per turn

      • Cedric Ballbusch

        I like it. Need some random events like ‘hooker stabs you in the back with a broken bottle’ and someone goes through your pockets while you’re down.

        • Another 3 pages and I’ve got a complete rule set 😉

      • Porky_Poster

        That seems like a clever core mechanic. The whole thing might need more actions, or a way of swinging the main roll to help select results and get a similar effect. To do that maybe there could be a ‘fire in the belly’ or ‘egging on’ mechanic taking the place of something like command allocations or bonuses, or maybe a pre-game trade-off in beers drunk, for a decision on balance of intention versus ability.

        Linked with this a bit, and just for interest, there was an orc-brawling game in White Dwarf back in the day.

        • I did start this as purely q joke but I think it has some potential I might play about with it a bit and write up I think you could do a lot with with some pre game tables also you transplant it into any mileu fantasy sci fi historical contemporary as every one likes a drink and when you get drunks you get fights 🙂

  • Thuloid

    Someone told me recently that AoS is not a skirmish game because it uses units. *Ahem*

    This looks fun. I’m curious about the fantasy lists, and the upcoming fantasy rules. Out of curiosity, you say you’re a 15mm guy–are these rules highly scale-dependent?

    • Cedric Ballbusch

      No, I don’t think scale matters too much for these rules. Also, you can always use the trick of switching from inches to centimeters to scale down from 28mm to 15mm.

      I have feeling the fantasy game is going to be awesome.

      • Thuloid

        Painting my SW:Armada squadrons has me thinking about 6mm and 10mm again. I should do another Warmaster army.

        • Cedric Ballbusch

          In the small hours of the morning, clawing at the furthest edge of my consciousness is the sense that 6mm may be the one true scale.

  • Seems a bit like SAGA, with the challenge being getting your guys to fight when and where you want them to, and elite troops being easier to activate. I like the sound of it.

    It’s hard to think of what to call an Infinity/Necromunda scale game, if not skirmish. “Gangfight” o r soemthing seems inappropriate if you’re talking professional soldiers, or ancient warriors. Maybe something like “micro-scale,” but that makes it sound like tiny models.

    • Cedric Ballbusch

      I dunno ‘incident?’ Clash. It’s hard to pin down. Really Infinity/Necromunda, etc. are a step up from a RPG. Terminology is difficult.

      • Porky_Poster

        I think you’re right. In that case ‘party’ is a possible starting point, although it might suggest more exploration than conflict.

        • Cedric Ballbusch

          (A)D&D as written will lead to parties bigger then the crew in your average skirmish game. Everyone get’s a dozenish followers at 9th level, and fighters get hundreds.

          It is difficult to draw hard lines with these things.

          • Thuloid

            Right. Add in henchman and hirelings, and even mid-level parties were designed to have 20 or so guys running around with them. That’s why you saw encounter numbers of 20-200 orcs, 40-400 kobolds, etc. in the Monster Manual.

            In the original Tomb of Horrors, the printed sample parties all have 10-14 characters in them. Gary Gygax brute forced his way through that dungeon by sending in waves of Lord Robilar’s followers. Or to put it differently, early Warhammer was not designed to be any larger in scale than D&D of the same era.

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            RPGs have generally scaled down while battle games have scale up over the last 30 years.