Wednesday 10 July 2019

Lion Rampant first game and thoughts

Having tried Saga (Age of Crusades) we thought it would be good to run through a few games of Lion Rampant, Osprey's popular medieval skirmish rules written by Daniel Mersey. I have been slowly putting together an English retinue based around the Hundred Years War and, even more slowly, a French retinue to oppose them. Unit sizes in Lion Rampant are larger than Saga but we realised that by nudging some of Dave's Crusaders forward a few centuries we could make up enough numbers for a Lion Rampant size French retinue.

My English foot men-at-arms (Perry figures)

My English archers (Perry figures once again)

The key difference between Saga and Lion Rampant is the way that units are activated. In Saga activation is driven by use of Saga dice on a battleboard, where each player can assign dice to unit types to perform specific tasks. These battleboards give Saga much of its flavour and drive the narrative of the game. Lion Rampant uses a simpler system that requires units to roll sufficiently high enough to pass an activation test in order to act. That introduces some attractive features, as a unit will often require a different number to activate depending on the action you want them to take. So for example it will be a lot easier to have archers shoot their arrows than it will be to have those same archers charge into close combat. I like this mechanic, as it allows different types of units to have nuanced characteristics to better reflect their various strengths and weaknesses.

Critics of Lion Rampant are normally most vocal in their dislike of the activation system, not least because it leaves too much to luck. While there is an element of truth to that, it's also a common criticism of most rule sets that introduce elements of friction and take away some of the player's total control. Managing friction is part of game play that I enjoy and any reader of this blog will know this is not an issue that would normally bother me. Nonetheless it's important that the player be allowed to exert some influence in the process, success should come from managing luck, not riding it. I still expect any system that makes use of such a mechanic to create a game that produces something close to historically plausible outcomes.

The Lion Rampant rules provide a number of scenarios that are strong on flavour and these can be furthered spiced up by factoring in pre-game Boasts (basically trying to predict successes that might occur in the course of the game along the lines of 'I will slay their leader', success at which earns you additional victory points and failure will cause the loss of those points).

We decided to start off with a scenario called Sausages with Mustard where the attacking force must attempt to set fire to four objectives in the centre of the table. In our case we made this two haystacks and two barns. The defender can assign one unit to defend the objectives while the remainder of his force must enter from one end of the table. The attacker's entire force enters from the opposite side of the table, so it becomes a race for the barns and haystacks while the defender's meagre defensive force must do what they can to hold on until relief arrives.

We each secretly selected a few Boasts to add uncertainty to the victory conditions. It's a simple but effective feature that introduces a little more fun and unpredictability. Probably more Hollywood than history, but a simple enough mechanism.

I was defending with my English retinue while Dave was attacking with the French.

The English retinue consisted of:

1 Foot Men-at-Arms
2 Expert Archers
1 Expert Foot Serjeants

The French retinue consisted of:

2 Mounted Men-at-Arms
1 Mounted Serjeants
1 Foot Serjeants
1 Crossbowmen

Both sides main forces moved on to the table while a solitary group of English bowmen defended the barn.

Play moved quickly with both sides suffering shortened turns from failed activations but nothing to throw the game off balance. Dave's Crusades figures are easy enough to spot as they are the ones based for the drier terrain of the middle east.

The archers put up a mixed performance, failing more activations than average, despite the target rich environment.

Crossbowmen and mounted men at arms advance

The French force looks quite daunting

As the French close in my bowmen seem paralysed with fear and quite rightly so!

Once the range closes the archers are spurred into action and target the crossbowmen.

The English foot serjeants have made good progress and look like they might arrive in the nick of time to help the archers.

However they haven't arrived fast enough to stop the French serjeants who cross the stream and attack the archers across the wall. The bowmen are thrown back having taken a few casualties but their courage holds good. Can my serjeants drive the French off before they do any more harm?

Meanwhile on the flank French mounted sergeants have made their way quickly around the orchard to threaten the other archers and the men-at-arms who are struggling to move fast enough.

Back at the barn the English bowmen find themselves in a spot of trouble. Having staggered back from the French serjeants they are assailed by crossbow bolts that leaves them battered.

Things lurch from bad to worse when the French mounted men-at-arms finally shake themselves into action and come barrelling down the road towards them.

Having seen off the English archers the French Serjeants break out their fire starting tools and move close to the first haystack ready to set it ablaze.

The English could really do with some reinforcements but their men-at-arms are moving painfully slowly through the rough terrain of the orchard.

More worrying, the other unit of archers are about to face a mounted charge before they can reach the cover of the orchard.

My serjeants try to save the the haystack from burning and attack the French, only to suffer casualties and be rebuffed.

To our surprise my archers not only survive the charge from the mounted serjeants they manage to repel their attack and then finish them off with a hail of arrows. However that is the only ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak picture as the French mounted men-at-arms rout the archers near the barn before charging into the battered foot serjeants.

At this point it looks highly unlikely the English can save the day. The French have already fulfilled two of their boasts and I can't see how I can stop them setting fire to all the objectives, so I call it a day.

That was an enjoyable game that took about two hours to play. While failing to activate is frustrating we didn't see it as a problem, in fact we quite liked the challenge it presents. It calls for a player to try to prioritise what is most important. As one of my managers said to me many years ago - 'don't do what's urgent, do what's important'. As the chances of not activating impact both sides it is a dynamic that needs to be factored into your thinking. It's not perfect and having my archers fail to shoot when the field opposite is full of advancing enemy can feel odd, but no more than those same enemy units failing to move when faced with archers.

As we had time for another game we decided to keep it simple and play the 'Bloodbath' scenario, a straightforward fight to destroy the opposing force.

I kept the same English retinue while the French opted to dismount one of their mounted men-at-arms and have them fight on foot. The English took up a classic Agincourt deployment with the archers on either flank and the serjeants and men-at-arms in the centre. The French had their mounted on their left flank and the crossbowmen, serjeants and foot men-at-arms facing a walled field in the right centre of the battlefield.

The English arrayed for battle

English serjeants in the centre

English men at arms

I didn't take quite as many pictures of this encounter, although I covered the main action. On the English right the archers made their way into the woods from where they had protection from mounted charges and could target the French horsemen. This resulted in very little happening on that flank because the French mounted chose to wait and see how things unfolded before committing themselves.

As a result the main action took place in and around the walled field. The combination of English archers and serjeants proved an unstoppable force. The archers took advantage of the protection offered by the stone wall from where they were able to weaken any French units before the serjeants set upon them with their spears.

A group of French serjeants suffered at the hands of the archers and so the French foot men-at-arms tried to come to their assistance, however they couldn't come fast enough before another volley of arrows and a charge from the English spearmen saw them routed from the table.

The French men-at-arms were to suffer a similar fate. Accurate fire from the archers saw them reduced to three men, which put them in no position to withstand the very aggressive English serjeants.

French crossbowmen had been ineffective from behind the wall and so had moved to try and reduce the range but they were put into a tight predicament once their accompanying serjeants and then men-at-arms were beaten.

At this point the French mounted started advancing towards the centre to try to see what they could do to throw the English off balance (you can just see them in the top left of the picture below).

There was nothing the mounted could do to help the foot men-at-arms, who lost another man and retreated, battered in the face of the serjeants. That left both French units exposed to the wrath of the English archers and spearmen who felt they now had things firmly under control on this flank.

On the other flank the English archers began shooting at the mounted French who were in danger of slowly taking losses if they remained where they were and so they closed to within charge distance of the English foot men-at-arms. This led to the inevitable duel between opposing leaders.

With the English serjeants having routed the men-at-arms in the field and the crossbowmen looking like they were in trouble the French leader was eager to extract some vengeance.

Even a victory in the duel would leave the French mounted having to face the archers in the woods and the foot men-at-arms.

In a blow to English prestige the French leader wins the duel and strikes down the English leader.

Despite the shock of losing their leader the English units handle their courage tests very well and stay in the fight. The victory in the duel was not enough to swing the battle the way of the French who are unable to overcome the combination of men-at-arms and the archers. While over in the field the English serjeants are able to deal aggressively with the crossbowmen and drive them from the field.

Another enjoyable game with plenty of action and fortune swinging one way and the other. The six man units are often very tough opponents but their relatively small number of men does make them brittle and so they have to be committed carefully. Courage tests become harder to pass once any unit has sustained casualties and we found that you cannot ask too much even of the larger twelve man units once they have lost four or five men.

Both scenarios provided a good narrative and the variety of unit types gave players plenty of options for trying differing tactical approaches. Light as they may be I found the rules gave an engaging game experience and an easy way to fill a couple of hours.

Monday 8 July 2019

AWI Sharp Practice 'Escort Duty'

After a long gap between games this is our second attempt at Sharp Practice and once again it is set during the American War of Independence. We've selected the Escort Duty scenario where a force of pre 1775 British regulars (based on the force list in the rule book) escort the Battalion pay down a provincial road where a party of sundry rebels will try to stop them (the rebel force again based on the list in the rule book).

The Americans start with force morale of nine and the British at ten. To keep things simple we don't roll for support, but allocate 12 points to the Americans and 6 to the British (this decision partly dictated by the limit we have on available figures).

The British force is made up of three groups of regulars under a Status III leader; two groups of regulars under a Status II leader and one group of light infantry under a Status I leader.

I choose to add a Status II leader as support and he is assigned to one of the three groups under the overall command of my Status III leader.

The Americans have a force of two groups of State Line under a Status II leader; two groups of Militia under a Status II leader, and two groups of Militia Skirmishers each under a Status I leader.

For support Dave calls on a group of State Line troops with a Status I leader, a Colour Party and an Exploring Scout.

The British start off with three moves and the force converges on the road, with the pay cart safely following behind.

The Rebels deploy in the quadrant in the left hand corner of the American side of the table and once their two deployment points are placed we are ready to start.

The Americans are first into action and the main body of state line deploy on the left while another group deploy behind the rail fence covering the road.

With that the British send their light infantry up the road ahead of the main body.

Militia skirmisher appear and take up position behind the rail fence to cover the American left flank.

Having acquired four flags but with no immediate use for them I decide to activate my Status III leader again and he shakes the British force into shape for the forthcoming encounter. He orders the two groups on the right to form into line. 

He then sends the light infantry forward to take up firing positions behind a rail fence and in true light bob style they cover the distance quickly.

Meanwhile the main body of regulars advance in open column up the road with the pay cart following behind.

The Americans waste no time responding. The militia deploy into the field and open fire on the British light infantry.

Despite the protection of the fence and their ability to make the most of the available cover the lights lose one man killed and suffer four points of shock. It seems there is something amiss with their fieldcraft today.

With nearly all the chips drawn there's no real surprise when Tiffin appears. The Americans use their two flags to deploy another group of skirmishers near the road at the rear of the table.

The British start the next turn by continuing to move in open column down the road.

My plan is to form the men into line once I've cleared the rail fencing and then close the range to make my first volley as effective as possible. However I am taking a risk remaining in column in such close proximity to the enemy. Much of this is because I've over estimated the difficulty of crossing the fence or entering the woods. While it would cause some disruption to the formation it's something that would be very easy to resolve in following phases.

With the possibility the British could work around their right flank the American commander orders a group of state line to climb the fence and head across the road towards the grain field following in the footsteps of a group of militia skirmishers.

On the opposite flank the other rebel skirmishers open fire, taking full advantage of the benefits of firing at long range from cover. 

Their fire is not that effective, but they do manage to inflict a point of shock on each group.

The state line advance up alongside the skirmishers and form into line as they do.

The leader of the British light infantry makes use of two flags to increase his CIs and rally off three points of shock to get his command back into more effective shape. That then brings up Tiffin.

The militia skirmishers move into the grain and open fire on the head of the British column in the road.

The fire is horribly effective and three regulars are killed. I have since discovered that we were not applying the hits to the column correctly. As the lead group of the column is within 4" of the group to their rear any hits should have been spread across both groups. This would not alter the result in terms of casualties but as will be apparent later in the game it would allow the shock and casualties to be spread across two groups rather than all on one. Nonetheless, have I stayed in column too long and been too aggressive?

Despite the long range the main body of militia also open fire on the hapless regulars in the road. 

Yet another regular dies and shock is accumulating rapidly on the lead group in the column (although as mentioned, these additional hits should have been spread across the two leading groups in the column, not only the one at the front).

Despite the problems the regulars are facing on the road the British are able to extract some revenge when the light infantry open fire on the state line in the field killing one man and inflicting some shock.

I've been a little unlucky activating the regulars, yet it was foolish to expect things to go like clockwork. I had hoped to have them form up into line and pour out a devastating volley, but that was before accounting for what the enemy or fate might do. There's some small consolation with the fire from the light infantry, but if massed musket fire is one of my strengths I need to be playing to it.

The rebel skirmishers on the American left edge forward slowly and fire at the British regulars opposite.

The regulars have a man killed and see their shock increase. I need to be careful here as I only have one Status II leader with these groups and there's a danger this constant American fire will see shock build to unmanageable levels.

To make matters worse Tiffin comes up with the British unable to activate a single unit this turn. At the moment they are receiving far more fire than they are dishing out. I really need to get my units moving and do what they do best - a smart volley at close range and then in with the bayonet. 

The next turn sees the rebel skirmishers on the American right move through the grain field and fire on the British column. Fortunately this has no effect.

Before the British have a chance to respond Tiffin appears again. The Americans have one flag to use and so activate the state line to fire, but the long range fire has no effect. I know my regulars should display stoicism under fire but I'd really like that to be while they are advancing on the enemy.

Finally I'm able to activate the regulars on my right. They haven't fired yet and while I'd love to return fire on the state line I would rather close the range in order to bring down a really heavy opening volley and so I decide to use my two actions to advance. However the shock slows the men down and they only manage to move forward a total of 2". 

Meanwhile over on the other flank the rebel skirmishers open fire on the column once again. 

The group at the head of the column suffers more shock and enough to cause an involuntary withdrawal (this may not have happened had we been spreading the hits correctly!). They fall back and break the column formation as they do so. If there is any consolation it is that British force morale remains unmoved by this sudden and involuntary withdrawal.

The British light infantry continue to take shots at the state line and they inflict a few points of shock. I may be returning fire but so far it's lacking the effectiveness of the rebel's fire.

On my right the rebel skirmishers try to work their way around the flank of my regulars and despite using three actions of movement they only come forward 9". Nonetheless with the state line in front of me and skirmishers working around my flank this is a move that can't be ignored.

On my left I try to sort out the debacle on the road. With the column broken as a formation the Status II leader orders the group he is with to follow him into the woods where they will be able to close the range with the rebels without taking fire. This is something I should have considered much earlier with the whole column. I'd worried too much that crossing the fence and moving into the woods was going to be slow and disruptive to the formation, but in hindsight that was unnecessary. However before the group moves off the Americans interrupt the move and the militia open fire. Fortunately it's at long range and the group receives  only a point of shock.

Tiffin comes up and the new turn sees the state line in the road open fire. More shock is inflicted and my main column has turned into an ineffective rabble. There is a distinct lack of effective British leadership at the moment and the rebels continue pouring musket fire up the road.

It's a sorry sight. A road littered with casualties and the survivors stumbling back in shock through the other groups.

With my dreams of forming a line of steady redcoats and unleashing a devastating volley now gone the best the regulars can do is advance a group forward and fire back down the road. It's not the plan I had in mind, but I need to return some of this fire. 

It's not without effect and the state line suffer some shock.

When Tiffin comes up I decide to use my light infantry more effectively and have them deal with the threat the skirmishers have presented on my right flank. I use a red flag to activate them and with three actions of movement they dash along the fence line and end up very close to the skirmishers. 

On the other flank a group of regulars moves slowly through the woods to try to hit the rebels in the grain field. With the start of a new turn the chit draw finally favours the British and the first leader activated is the light infantry. It would have been nice to use Thin Red Line but as this is the first chit draw of a new turn I will have to send the men in as they are. The skirmishers make a rather unwise decision given they have no bayonets and their weapons are unloaded and they choose not to evade.

The skirmishers leader is wounded and his command initiatives drop to zero and one of the skirmishers is killed. The light infantry come away unscathed and so drive the skirmishers back. The light infantry are showing the regulars how it's done, although it may be too little too late.

With the threat of the skirmishers removed perhaps my regulars can finally close on the state line and give them a volley. The chit draw is kind to the British once again and the regulars leader is activated. He removes a point of shock and orders the line forward but it is still frustratingly slow and they end up just beyond 12" range.

Despite the light infantry driving off the skirmishers the rebels on the other flank continue to harass and fire on the regulars in the road.

The skirmishers are bold enough to advance out of the grain field and they add their fire. Another redcoat drops to the ground and shock accumulates. Those rebels should be punished for their audacity.

The new turn sees the regulars advance to within close range of the state line and finally I'm in a position to make the most of the regulars musketry.

I'm going to need something to happen on that flank because the regulars in the road continue to suffer from the volume of rebel fire.

Despite the presence of the best British leader the amount of shock that has accumulated is making any effective response here almost impossible.

The state line in the field fire off a volley at the regulars and add shock to the formation. That must be the third or fourth volley they have fired and the British are yet to respond.

On the other flank a group of regulars work their way through the woods in an attempt to drive off the rebel skirmishers who have wisely pulled back into the grain field.

Meanwhile the militia in the field continue to pour fire into the road. They have done nothing but fire in an uncontrolled manner since they deployed and even though it has been at long range the steady stream of musket balls have done their work.

The leader of the British force rallies off as much shock as he can from the smaller group and sends those three men forward to join the group in the woods.

I had hoped the British commander could rally the group in the road, but more rebel fire inflicts further shock that sees them withdraw involuntarily. What a debacle!

I can see this is just not going to be the Briton's day as the first draw of the next turn allows the state line to unleash yet another volley at my regulars.

The regulars take more casualties and shock builds up even further, with six one group and four on another.

When this is added to the disarray of the regulars on the road it's clear that the rebels have won the day here and it's time to call it a day.

Well that was a well fought victory for the Americans, whose sustained fire was able to disrupt the regulars and prevent them from using any of their advantages. Aside from the aggression of the light infantry the British suffered from command paralysis and poorly thought out tactics. I was certainly far too hasty sending the main column down the road as I did. I was right in wanting to close the range but I should have been a little more careful about how I did that. Had I worked those groups around to my left flank and used the cover of the woods I could have achieved my objective without having to suffer so much American fire. That was just poor tactics on my part.

It would also help for me to get a better grasp of the movement rules for groups and formations. With a Status III and a Status II leader I should have had no problem breaking formation, moving across obstacles and other terrain and then forming up again. That's a lesson learnt.

Until I used my light infantry to drive off the skirmishers I had allowed them to remain very static and not taken full advantage of their speed on the battlefield. As always with hindsight I can see how I would have played much of this very differently.

I had some bad luck with the chit draw but that's never an excuse for poor tactical play and any player  who doesn't factor in friction only deserves what befalls them. Despite the loss that was a great learning experience and an enjoyable game. I look forward to playing more Sharp Practice and even more to playing it a lot better than I did today.