Lion Rampant (Second Edition) is the new Medieval rule set from Osprey. There’s a lot of Medieval rules out there, so Jackie and Lenoon sat down to chat about it and see what there is to like about this new edition of a well-loved game.
First off, before we dive in, thanks to Osprey for providing a set of these rules to review.
Lenoon: I did the Xenos Rampant review a couple of months back, and now I’ve managed to get models on the table and play some Lion Rampant. Overall for me, it’s the kind of system where I want to sit down and play with a group of whatever models from a kind of vague mediaeval period. A couple of beers and just kind of sit and have a really chill time. And that’s kind of my overall impression of it really.
Jackie: I agree, because this is, and I kind of hate the term actually, a beer and pretzels game. This is the archetypal example of it, and that’s what I love about the Osprey series. You can have a bunch of models and people who are not that into miniature games and don’t want to spend two or three games to really get to grips with a system. But if they do want to play a game with models that actually has some depth to it, this has a really low bar of entry. Especially when you look at the amount of models you need. This is something that Never Mind The Billhooks does as well: maybe like 100 models to a side, and that’s a nice little project. Add a couple of buildings maybe, have a bit of scenery and then you’re golden.
Lenoon: Or like a good starter army. If you wanted to do a historicals project, and you haven’t done historicals before, I think it’s a really good ruleset for that. The scale of army in Lion Rampant works in it’s favour as well; you could do this with a bag of the victrix Normans. You’ve got 60 guys, potentially five units, and off you go.
Jackie: It’s also really easy to do the two sides of a conflict, just like with Pikeman’s Lament I bought a starter box of warlord games pike and shotte and it was enough with maybe a unit to spare to set up two sides for the conflict. If you put that together you’ve got an army for bigger systems.
Lenoon: Definitely, and I think even though it’s quite simple, it’s quite accessible. There’s I think good depth in the game playing. I think there’s less depth in the army-list building and rules crafting and stuff like that, but there’s good depth in how the actual game works. You can pick it up really quickly but there’s still enough in there to make it interesting. It’s a quick game to understand a play, but it’s definitely not a one-page war games style of rules that you’re not going to know absolutely everything about it within a game. You might need a demo game to get going, but after that you are going to be able to play it independently.
Jackie: I feel like some of the Osprey rulesets get a bit of a bad rap for “being too simple”, but this ruleset has been chugging along for a decade and has a good following and big community. It may not be the most hyped game, but it certainly finds its place. And generally those “simple games” lower the bar of entry to historicals and we’re all for that.
Lenoon: I think the “simplicity but not simple” approach carries through from the rules into the presentation of the book and the rules as well. Presentation is a big deal, particularly if you’re coming into historicals from Games Workshop products right, where they’re fully colour Illustrated these days. Lion Rampant looks really nice and it is actually surprisingly rare to have another solid historical rule set that looks really good. The presentation is great, and certainly in the second edition the rules layout is super clear as well. Everything is exactly where it should be, you’re not flicking back and forth, you can go through the turn sequence to do a demo turn and everything’s in the right place. You’re not ever having to go “oh right well the morale rules were actually in the shooting thing and now it’s combat” or anything like that.
I really like that they put a flowchart in, because it’s not super complicated and it’s exactly what more games should do, either for a turn sequence or a particularly complicated part of the turn sequence, just have a flow chart. They replicate it at the end in the quick reference section and that’s just fantastic.
Jackie: The thing about the other blue book series rulesets, because I think they all follow a similar format and lay out: I am not a fan of that. Like you mentioned the flicking back and forth and editing. The presentation is nice enough, I mean for the price I definitely won’t complain, but sometimes the editing is too rigid. It is grating to find a rule that’s tucked in somewhere. The hardcover versions, like for example, a Frostgrave, Oathmark, Burrows and Badgers, Dracula’s America… With Lion Rampant though, It seems they give the author a bit more leeway to do the editing and how the books are sorted out. The presentation is top-notch. And it’s got a nice heft to it, which is always nice. A striking cover, glossy pictures, they didn’t go overboard but it strikes a really nice balance in making it visually attractive.
Lenoon: Yeah in my opinion I think you’re right about the editing thing as well and this is one of the things I really like about this second edition: you’ve got all the alternative rules boxes, and the authors’ notes and things like that. And giving the rules that space to breathe is really handy. You know I’m sure we’ll talk about it when we come to talk about units, but it is really good to just get that little commentary on either a different twist you can have on the rules or what units might represent. That’s a nice touch.
Lenoon: So on the rules: as a whole, the thing that I really like about them and I really like this in Xenos Rampant as well, a good level of actual abstraction where you’re not ever getting bogged down. It’s not a game where you’re quibbling over like half an inch and I think there’s lots of good that comes from that. Leaders are embedded in units, they’re not roaming around (apart from a challenge situation) and there’s no tricky interactions with them. Terrain just has a couple of really broad categories that have really clearly defined effects. Everything’s like that, it’s deep enough to provide some challenge on the tabletop but it’s not over complicated or anything like that. I think that kind of design philosophy just runs through the whole book.
Jackie: I completely agree, the thing is with the Activation/push-your-luck system, I actually like it as a sort of simplified fog of war. The author also mentions that it’s actually an effective way to describe the chaos on the battlefields, even in later periods when everything’s filled with smoke and explosions and volleys, you have to have a really good leader or battle plan to make sure everything works and everyone follows orders. So in that sense it perfectly reflects that, and you don’t get bogged down in details. The morale system reflects this as well. The second thing: it’s optional, the author actually addresses this and suggests not having a turn over when you flub a roll, but try and activate another unit. But: it alters the game and he goes into a further explanation of what his intent is with those rules. And that’s really good because the systems do get a bit of a criticism for that and I can imagine you can get shut down a couple of turns in a row, which can be frustrating. But it does give that sense of authenticity of “ my leader is an idiot and nothing gets done”.
Lenoon: I really like a good kind of order or activation system, and we’ve talked about different options for this mechanic here on Goonhammer before. I know people definitely get annoyed and frustrated when their units can’t do anything, which is totally fair, but what I really like about this and Xenos Rampant is that you have the different actions that you can undertake, and different units are going to have different values. So it’s actually really, really easy to activate your Heavy Cavalry to go and charge something in front of them, but it’s much harder to get your Skirmishers to go and charge your opponent’s Heavy Infantry. That’s nailing your activation mechanic into how your units work, and its a fundamental part of the rule set as a result.
There’s the tension between people who want absolute control over the models that they have on the table and meaningful differentiation between those units. The system really works to do that, it’s really baked into what the rules do. I’m looking at the Elite Cavalry and for them to go and charge you’re trying to roll a five on 2d6, and you’ve probably got your leader in there as well, so it is very easy for them to activate and to charge around the table. But what I like is that it’s quite hard to activate Elite Cavalry to move around because they’re not interested in manoeuvring, they’re interested in charging whatever is in front of them, and they’ll usually do that. Trying to get your headstrong knights to go a little complicated flanking manoeuvre is going to be really difficult. It’s clever how it kind of works.
The Medieval Feel
Jackie: The thing I wanted to mention before was the feel of the units. If you play the game or any of this system of games, the Unit of Heavy Cavalry really feels like a unit of Heavy Cavalry. Or the unit of infantry or rabble feels like it. That kind of idea where you look at the battlefield and have an idea of what you can do instinctively gives a lot of depth. The tactical aspect, you want to activate some units first because that’s your plan but that might not be the best idea because you’re not sure they’ll activate and then that’s a turnover. It’s a bit like Blood Bowl I guess, in that you’re constantly doing risk management. “is this the most important thing right now, am I going to take this block”. You’re trying to do the safe moves, stuff you’re most likely going to be able to do because it’s not guaranteed that you’re going to get the result that you want. It’s a good way of doing that friction and chaos on the battlefield. When you activate you have to test for wild charges, because you’ve got a bunch of Nobles on a horse, heavily armed who just want to go bashing heads and you’ve got to keep control of those guys.
Lenoon: I think that comes into the army lists as well.
Jackie: Yeah exactly. You’ve got a whole lot more example companies or armies with different time periods. There’s a limited range of unit types and they’re all very clear. I hesitate to use the word simple here but what I actually mean is, it’s not a headache to muster a warband. This is what didn’t click with me with the Dragon Rampant ruleset for example. I played a classic fantasy setup with a bunch of dwarves versus goblins with some trolls mixed in and they didn’t feel like dwarves or goblins. So in the game it felt like I was just moving blobs of stats, rolling dice and removing stuff. I think the more you go outside of the historical context for this type of game the fact is that you have really well-defined units which you don’t have in most fantasy systems. It’s a lot harder to implement this with a wizard on a dragon. This certainly does not have that and that’s what I like about Pikeman’s Lament as well. Just by looking at the stats you’ve got a unit of pike, you’ve got a unit of musketeers, forlorn hope, different types of cavalry… You can tweak that a little bit but the basics are solid and you still retain that feel.
Lenoon: That’s certainly the case here as well. A set list of units that you can take, there are little upgrades you can give them, you can change things around with the leader skills and things like that. But fundamentally there isn’t a huge amount of difference between these different armies. There’s loads and loads of these different lists in the back of the sample 24 Point warbands. Late Romans, there’s the British Isles in the Dark Ages, mediaeval western Europe, I could keep going. Mechanically they’re all not that different which I think is is very true to life in lots of ways, so you’re not getting something like Saga where one set of guys with exactly the same clothes on and using exactly the same weapons but they come from across the river and are therefore a different European nation having completely different powers.
I can understand when people might brush up against this rule set and go “it’s too period agnostic”, and it is sometimes a little generic. It’s mediaeval but the post-Mongol Russian 24-point warband looks very very similar to the early Roman, or to the late Roman kind of Hunnic raider warband because they are the same models with the same rules. So there’s been like a compromise between playability and insane historical grognard detail, but I think it works and it’s nice that the author actually mentions that.
Jackie: I think the author downplays it a bit saying it’s the general character of a unit at the time. Not every knight was a bloodthirsty idiot, and you can tweak your leader and tweak a lot of stuff. You’ve got boasts, you’ve got more scenarios than in the first book and you can individualise your leader. You can roll or choose characteristics and that gives a little bit of a flavour to it. It won’t break the game but it’ll make it a different enough experience. There’s a little campaign system which is light enough to link up a couple of games and gives you some things to play around with. I think you can go quite far if you want to create a historical campaign with a couple of linked battles, that’s perfectly viable.
Lenoon: That’s a really big plus I think, it lifts it up a bit from what it could be, which would be a list of really generic unit archetypes and a simple but clear ruleset that and those two things I think are really good and that’s totally fine. But you’d I think you’d struggle to get somebody really interested in that if you didn’t have all the little customisations that let you make “your guys”. Or like the little rules in the rulebook and the unit entries or the kind of Boasts and Glory system for your leader. Those leader skills where you can really start to build some character into it.
Scenarios and Campaigns
Lenoon: There’s 16 scenarios in the book, and they’re all really interesting and actively encouraging you not to do a “line up and fight each other” kind of play. The campaign system is stripped back and effective: here’s a Glory target, play through some games and they’ll interact with the next game but there won’t be massive amounts of bookkeeping. So it provides enough depth and detail and space for you to play around with. If it didn’t have that, all those sections which are really great and really interesting, it would be a very thin little rule set. A good one but still quite a thin one.
Jackie: The thing is, this feels complete. They didn’t cut out the fat but they didn’t add any either. It just makes the experience much more enjoyable, it gives you more inspiration to do stuff. I think the author also listened to what the fans of the first version wanted, maybe incorporating some of the things fans have made themselves online. I can easily do a pickup game with a couple of units and maybe some cavalry.
Era and period
Lenoon: On that note actually, it’s worth talking about the range of kind time that it aims at. It’s mediaeval in the broadest possible sense, kind of post-classical fall of Rome or fall of the Western Roman Empire all the way through to the fall of the next one really. There’s leeway on either side, so there’s rules for pikemen and for shield wall and stuff like that. Romans could fit into this, they might not fit perfectly but you could definitely do it. You’ve got the Infantry with shields, and you’ve got javelinmen and you’ve got cavalry and that’s a little Roman Force for you right there. There are rules for guns, and I like that the rules for guns are a little bit weirder than the rules for archers and crossbowmen. I wouldn’t personally take it all the way to the Pike and Shotte era, because I think at that point you’re it’s a very different kind of game but you could certainly give it a go.
Jackie: And you have The Pikeman’s Lament for that. I like that there’s also rules included for doing multiplayer and how to organise that. Especially if you’re playing historicals, I think that’s more or less needed. Not all systems are set up for that and that’s something that needs to be addressed. Because people will do it anyway and nothing is nicer than doing a big game with some fellow gamers. If you’ve got the models you can organise this on a game night and still be home by bedtime.
Lenoon: It plays fast, and it is really important in the historical scene where there’s always the temptation to do a massive black powder game with six people on each side. But here you can set up a multiplayer game without the classic Historicals worries about big multiplayer games: we don’t want to be here for the rest of our entire lives, we only get to turn two, it’s really unsatisfying and we have to say at the end well it was kind of a draw, and but actually we spent most of the time setting up.
Jackie: Waiting for an opponent to finish his move if you have the classic IGOUGO system and you’re just twiddling your thumbs.
Lenoon: Yeah, somebody’s flicking through the rulebook looking up the special rule for their Austrian grenadiers, because they’re not like the French grenadiers kind of thing, so going through page upon page upon page to find out that it’s a plus one bonus. You’re not going to be in a situation where there’s like a tricky little rule that’s gonna trip you up that you have to go and look for in this. These are Elite Knights and they’re bloodthirsty and everyone knows what that means. Increasingly that is what I want, go to the club night, get some models on the table. Maybe try out a new set of models, a new period that I haven’t really played before. Get them on the table, have a good, interactive experience.
Jackie: Exactly. And what always happens with this sort of ruleset, and I bet it happens in Xenos Rampant as well, in my experience there’s always a narrative that unfolds. Little stories happen on the battlefield, that unit didn’t attack because of this reason, you can give a little explanation to it. It just feels right and at the end of the day that’s the most satisfying wargaming experience. You play out a story that fits the period and it feels right even if it’s not 100% historically correct.
Lenoon: Definitely, I think that a lot of that story is going to come from that activation and that and that fog of war, and you’re nudged towards it by those by the different values that different units need to activate. It’s such a simple thing but it’s just really effective. My archers aren’t going to make a game-winning charge at the end of the day of course, because they’re scared, but then maybe they do. My knights are always charging off so might as well roll with that. It’s good thinking.
Jackie: If you have an existing collection and you don’t really want to do a day-long game you can actually put this on the table and you’re good to go. Just gonna make a couple of warbands and you’ve got a game night going.
Lenoon: It’s a good size of game for playing with different people and different manufacturers. If you’ve ever wanted to just go and get 12 guys from a range as a painting project because you kind of feel like it, then that’s a unit sorted. I just bought a couple of packs of Sergeant models from Footsore for that very reason! If you’re just starting out and you really want to get models on the table you can use the reduced model unit rules as well. It adds a little bit more tracking as it’s basically making each model in the unit worth two models. But it’s not that tricky so if you have 20 guys that’s a full force.
Jackie: Going by looks and presentation if you’ve got two 24 point warbands on the table it looks right. A small Skirmish with different troop types. Unless you at all Vikings of course, but the 12 model units look right, a decent amount of bodies to have a presence on the table.
Lenoon: I think in conclusion for me, Lion Rampant is a fast, easy to pick up ruleset that promises a lot of good, quick battle experiences around the very vaguely defined “medieval” period. The only issue I have is with the historical depth issue we discussed above – it’s perhaps a little too period agnostic in its current form, but I think they address it well in the book and I’m sure supplements or articles – maybe even here! – will support a little more differentiation.
Jackie: I really wanted to talk about how accessible it is, and how it removes barriers to play a game. A single plastic box will set you up for the majority of a decent sized force for this game. You’ll be able to get the models on the board and play a game that seems easy but has enough depth to it that it’ll give you a satisfying game night. If you have any medieval minis or interest in the period, I’d give it a hearty recommendation.