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.


  1. Lovely figures, and I enjoyed your LR-Saga comparisons.

  2. LR is a great little game. I actually prefer it to saga. Nice job writing this up. 😀

  3. Thanks for this "Tactical Painter". After a two year hiatus, I've just been re-inspired to paint up some Perry WotR figures for Lion Rampant and then discovered that an updated version is due out next month! Excellent figures and terrain and your thoughts on Activation have settled my slight concerns about how it impacts upon the game.