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.
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).
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.
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.
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.