Sunday, 25 May 2014

Is Lion Rampant a game for you?

Let me start by saying that I’m not writing this as a marketing piece for the game; Osprey will do an admirable job of that. Added to that, no-one really believes it when the designer is the one telling you how brilliant their new game is (do they?)!

Instead, here are some notes that I hope will help you decide whether LR is a game that you’ll enjoy playing … naturally enough I hope that everyone will, but I’m also realistic in knowing that not all games work for all players. From my point of view, just the same as any other gamer, there’s no point in buying a game if it doesn't do what you want, and I don’t want you falling into that trap. On the other hand, I’m hoping there will be more people who like what they see here and that I’ve encouraged some more people to buy it when it publishes.

So here’s a quick list showing what I think some people will love and some people will hate about LR:

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY
Although LR is a historical game, there’s a nod towards medieval history according to the movies. I’ve not gone overboard with this, but in developing the game I’ve been as influenced by what I’ve watched as much as what I’ve read. LR is not a subtly nuanced simulation of medieval combat, but is a game set in a world of knights and knaves. This is important because it influences most of the points you’ll read below…

SIMPLICITY OF RULES
My starting point for LR is simplicity. I’ve tried to reduce down the game mechanics to their most basic form without losing the feel of medieval combat. There are no special rules for flank attacks, all units have a set number of models, melee is between one-versus-one units every time, in combat terms units count as full effectiveness (over half strength) or reduced effectiveness (half strength or less) or out of the game. LR is (hopefully!) a game to enjoy playing and that runs smoothly, rather than a set of rules for very competitive gamers who want to pick the wording of the rules to pieces.

REFIGHTING SMALLER BATTLES AND SKIRMISHES
I hesitate to use the word ‘skirmish’: in gaming terms this usually implies a handful of models on each side, but with around 40-70 warriors per side LR represents a ‘real life’ skirmish. The rules haven't been designed for refighting the period’s biggest battles. Instead, your average scenario in LR is about collecting taxes, guarding convoys, making small scale raids, and so on … much more Robin Hood than Henry V. The basic group in the game is a unit rather than individual models, and a unit must act cohesively each turn rather than every model doing its own thing, so a good out-of-period description would be a 1 unit = 1 squad wargame.

LACK OF CONTROL
You won’t get to move all of your units, all of the time. I like that lack of certainty but know that it’s not for everyone. How easy it is for a unit to take an action depends on what you want them to do: different troop types have different values for Attacking, Shooting, and Moving, and you test this on a dice roll. Failing a test at the wrong time will end your turn, no matter what other great plans you had.

TROOP TYPES: STEREOTYPES AND CONTRASTS
There are 11 troop types in LR (3 mounted, 8 foot); each of these acts quite differently to the others, and each has been designed as a broad stereotype of a style of medieval warrior. Therefore, in LR, all knights are headstrong and want to charge their enemies and do nothing else; all serfs are weak and armed with no more than a sharp piece of fruit and funky pointed hat; archers are effective at shooting but not in close combat; and so on. Of course, I know that these stereotypes were not true of all units, but I like the way LR games play out on your tabletop; but it is worth thinking about whether that will work for you or not. There are a number of special rules/upgrades you can use to shape your units – especially to make them superior to the normal performance for that troop type – and players are as always free to tinker with the units as I present them. But in the rules as written, don’t expect to see any significant differences between an 11th and 15th century knight, or between Russian and Welsh archers (for example).

LACK OF ARMY LISTS
Quite simple this one: you choose the composition of your own force. Why? Because the battles represent small-scale, localized conflict and the armies involved in such skirmishes were not always similar to the royal armies that marched across Europe and the Middle East. So I leave it to players to compose their own armies, but I do provide 40 sample armies to give you ideas and get you started. I’ve already been asked by a fair few people if <such-and-such an army> will be included, or if LR will work for <insert your own war>. Because the rules are fairly simple, and because you can build armies as you wish, I’d say that the rules can be used for most conflicts from around 1100-1450, across Europe and the Middle East … but you do need to think carefully about the character of your army. Once again, the free/generic nature of the game may appeal to you … or not.

FREEFORM SCENARIOS & BOASTS
LR pivots around the scenario you’re playing. This is what stops it from being a medieval game where the knight rules the battlefield and everyone else is just there to die (that said, don’t be silly enough to let your opponent’s knights near your weakest units). I’m hoping to include 12 scenarios reflecting a variety of small-scale challenges likely to have been faced by garrisons and raiding parties throughout the period. The nature of the published rules means that space is limited, so scenarios take the form of pen portraits for you to add colour to. Alongside scenario goals, players can make a variety of boasts before the game begins, which gives you another route to victory: if you get carried away and don’t follow through on your boasts it will cost you points, but completing tough boasts is a viable way to win a game, regardless of the scenario’s goals. So LR isn’t just about crushing your enemies, there’s a bit more ‘story’ involved ... and once again, I know that’s what some people fancy and others might avoid.

So...

I’ve tried to design a game that feels a bit old school, harking back to games I enjoyed as a kid (Cry Havoc and Rules According To Ral spring to mind), and that play out simply. LR doesn’t play the same as either of those games, but I’m hoping for a similar experience (meaning: one I want to play again). You won't get bogged down in the rules, and should be able to enjoy pushing some colourful models around on the tabletop. But you also won't be playing a detailed battle simulation.

What the game will give you is my game-focused interpretation of medieval warfare distilled down into the most streamlined rules I could write without losing the character of the period. So now my fingers are crossed that you're liking what you read.

There you go: I hope this helps your decision. The book publishes in September.