Last week I ventured north to Wild Things Games in Salem. My goal was to meet up with some of the good gents from the Wargames Oregon group on Facebook, and to try out Dragon Rampant. I’ve been hearing good things about this game (and its medieval predecessor, Lion Rampant) for a while now and was excited to try it out. And I was really looking forward to meeting some of the guys from the Facebook group!
A last minute cancellation by Gabe (of Ninja Elbow fame) meant that the other players and I had to retool our game from Dragon Rampant to Lion Rampant, which was fine, as the two rulesets are very similar. In fact, I found a random rules reference sheet on the web around midday while on my lunch break, and after quickly browsing it I was able to more or less puzzle out the basic rules.
Wild Things is a top notch game store in downtown Salem, and they’ve generously set aside space for the miniatures group *and* a secure walk-in closet to store the group’s very nice collection of terrain. I was very impressed — clearly this game store prioritizes accommodating game groups of all stripes. Here’s a peek at (some of) their nifty terrain collection.
I met Oliver, my opponent for the evening. He had brought a good-sized undead warband — and, critically, the rulebook, which was very helpful. I had brought my dwarf army, which has most recently been used for Kings of War back in Chicago. After some basic rules discussion, we were off! Another player, Jake, opted to spectate and serve as occasional GM for our game. It’s always nice to have a third player around the table to referee weird situations and offer unbiased perspective when necessary.
The game itself is about the size of a “small” game of other fantasy wargames. Oliver and I each put about 50 guys on the table for our armies. Individual figures don’t take actions; instead, everything is unit-based. In fact, character-type models that move around on their own don’t really exist in this game, though I’ve heard there are some opportunities for this sort of thing in Dragon Rampant.
Lion Rampant reminds me a lot of DBA, in that there are a fairly limited number of units that everyone has access to, but each unit has strengths and weaknesses that become evident as you play the game. And since each warband has access to the same basic roster of units, the game goes from being an army list building exercise to being an actual test of a player’s tactical capabilities on the battlefield. Imagine that!
During a turn, each player attempts to activate his units in turn. The activation roll is dependent on what you’d like the unit to do this turn. Moving is easy for some units (like foot soldiers) and harder for others (like mounted knights!). Combat is intuitive and streamlined. A full-strength unit rolls a big pile of dice to attach and defend, but once your unit falls below half-strength, its dice pool shrinks considerably. Unlike other games, combat is not an endless slog –both sides break up at the end of each round of combat, so it’s up to the next player to decide whether or not to press the advantage and re-enter combat, or to focus his attention elsewhere. Again, a nice mechanic that keeps the game moving.
For our scenario, we set up a basic Dark Age village (using some of the group’s fantastic terrain). Jake, our esteemed GM, arranged four terrain pieces in the center that were designated as targets for my marauding dwarves. I had to set fire to them to win the scenario, while Oliver had to keep me from doing so. Seems easy!
The game began with a series of flubbed activation rolls on my part as I tried to mobilize my mounted dwarf boar riders. As a result, the rest of my army outpaced the cavalry and reached Oliver’s battle lines ahead of schedule. Here are my dwarves marching down out of the mountains to raid the village.
Curious about the origins of some of these figures? Here’s a recent writeup of my dwarf army.
And here is what Oliver’s undead cavalry saw as they arrived at the village.
Oliver’s activation rolls were better, enabling him to seize the most defensible territory in town and await my advance. In addition, he made good use of his skirmishers to engage my vanguard as it approached the village, doing a little bit of damage and bleeding my dwarves as they closed in.
A few turns in, most of my army was finally moving at the same pace, and they began splitting off to focus on the four targets. Oliver was in position and we began a series of epic clashes.
The rules were simple, and I had a good feel for the game by the time we got to the critical turns. A few of the rules proved pivotal — such as the wild charge rule, which meant that our heavily armored knights were very likely to charge the closest enemy unit every single turn once they got in range. On balance, this proved to be quite a detriment, as it meant the cavalry ceased to be a reliable fighting force during the most important turns of the game.
By the end of the game, I had set fire to two of the four targets, which meant we were headed for a draw, even though I had lost many more figures than Oliver.
Here’s one last look at the tabletop as the game came to an end. Two thick black columns of smoke (provided by Jake the GM) denote the two flaming objectives. I had just two surviving units left, and Oliver’s ranked skeletons were providing stiff resistance from their schiltron formation.
All in all, Lion Rampant was a fun game that exceeded my expectations. As I had thought, we had no problems porting over our fantasy figures into the game. I’ll be very interested to see what additional fantasy-specific options are available in Dragon Rampant.
And lastly, it was great to meet a couple guys from the Wargames Oregon group! We spent a lot of time talking (before, after and during the game) and it sounds like there is some interest in both Dragon Rampant and Frostgrave (a favorite of mine). Hopefully we’ll get another game on the calendar soon!