Recently I acquired a few new rulesets by prolific publisher Osprey Publishing and this trio offered such interesting contrasts I couldn’t help myself but write the last review of 2016. All three sets are the standard Osprey format: a softcover full colour quarto format, 64 page complete ruleset.
So without further ado let’s start about:
Broken Legions by Mark Latham
As soon as I saw the announcements of BL I knew I had to have it. And that is not because BL offers a lot of interesting stuff in the games mechanics department. On the contrary: BL’s mechanics are nothing if not very recognizable. But let’s not get ahead of myself.
BL is a skirmish game made for 28mm figures. Players play with teams of 7 to 12 figures. This allows for detailed stats per figure and each figures has a stat line with seven stats like Melee, Accuracy and Fate. Each stat has a numerical value and succeeding in using a stat is a matter of rolling a D10, adding the stat and getting a result of 10 or more (give or take some modifiers). Some dice rolls are opposed, like rolling for damage (Physique vs Armour) after a successful hit in the sense that both players roll and the best result wins. Sounds familiar? It should. Several rulesets of several ruleset producers use the same mechanics, but with small differences in names, die types and such.
A novelty is found in the Fate stat, which is a kind of pool of Luck. When you get down to your last wound, you may roll for Fate in order to survive. The Fate stat gets lower each time you do so, so your Luck runs out at one point….
Also, the turn sequence is alternate, so you get to do a lot of fancy tactical manoeuvring in this game, which is a big improvement over the usual straightforward IGO-UGO.
There is magic in BL, called Miracles. Performing Miracles is based on rolls on your Presence stat. And there are lots of Miracles to perform. So nothing new here. This does not mean this is a bad ruleset. Far from it! The system is tried and tested and makes for a good game. But it is nothing new. So why would I have fallen so fast for BL?
The answer is, dear reader, the fluff.
BL has an absolutely BRILLIANT premise in that during the Roman Empire it was well known by the Emperor and his advisors that there was a lot of supernatural Evil in the world. To combat this, a secret order was founded to fight this hidden war against the forces of Evil. The Soldiers of the Eagle, a kind of commando/legionnaire Ancient Delta Force with magical support troops and sometimes supernatural auxiliaries, battled monsters all over the Ancient world, raided temples, torched dangerous tomes and thwarted sorcerers. They, in turn, were of course assaulted by other secret orders like the Order of Set et cetera. Want to play Ancient Cthulhu? Want to raid the Cursed Black Pyramid of Rama-Tep and brave hordes of undead mummies? This is your ruleset!
The rules offer army lists for Romans and other orders, supernatural auxiliaries like werewolves and centaurs and lists of Miracles and skills to flesh out your figures. You only play with about a dozen of them, so individualizing is no problem and adds to the experience.
Having participated in the Kickstarts of Zombicide Black Plague, Conan and Mythic Battles, lots of monsters are available to me in addition to the humans that can easily be found in the ranks of figures normally used in Ancient wargaming. There is a lot of fun to be had!
From this very cinematographic rulesets to one that has been directly inspired by movies:
The Men who would be King by Daniel Mersey
MWWBK cites as research about a dozen movies that I not only have seen, but own all of them but one. And on top of that the game is about colonial skirmishing, so I couldn’t skip this one.
MWWBK is intentionally and deliberately written to play and enjoy fast games with some handfuls of figures (units are about a dozen figures strong) that remind you of the movies they were inspired by. Based in part on Lion Rampant the rules are simple and quick and armies are built out of standard units that perform more or less uniformly but may be fleshed out by giving their leaders (and thus their behaviour in combat) specific traits. Also, they may receive some additional skill by adding points to the standard unit cost. An average unit may cost 6 point, and an average army about 24 points. So army creation is fast and easy as well.
Figures roll a D6 per figure whether shooting or in Melee and hits are kills. Nice and quick. Units may get Pinned by casualties or mayhem in the vicinity and then you Rally them or the run away. Turn sequence is classic and straight IGO-UGO. Fights tend to be bloody and quick affairs.
There are scenarios, solo rules (or rules to enable you to get all players to battle a non-player opponent) and a wink here and there to notorious movie scenes. I tell you, I never realised how terrifying Highlanders could be until I saw Carry on up the Khyber!
The book offers army lists for all the well known colonial forces, be they European or Native and the United States’ colonial wars aren’t skipped either. Even Danny and Peachy’s Kafiristan’s “army” is included. This means nothing to you? Shame on you sir! Go see “The Man Who Would Be King” on the double!
For quick and fun skirmish games with that typical cinematographic colonial flavour this is a pleasant set, written with love and humour, and completely geared to fast and easy play at the expense of detail.
Regarding detail and complexity, the next game is placed on the utterly opposite end of the spectrum
Rogue Stars by Andrea Sfiligoi
As you might or might not know, Dungeons & Dragons evolved from a miniature wargames ruleset called Chainmail so –despite all efforts of purist wargamers and RPGers to keep the twain separated- the dividing line between wargaming and roleplaying can be quite vague at times. In Rogue Stars this dividing line might have disappeared altogether!
RS is basically a miniature Sci-Fi skirmish game. But that is definitely selling it short. For example, the base rules are covered in about 25 pages. The rest of the book is filled with Traits, Equipment, Environmental rules, Missions, Character and Squad creation and Campaign rules. Creating your Squad alone covers a whopping 20 pages!
For a game with such a level of detailing, the base rules are brilliantly simple. Figures essentially have one Stat, called Target Numbers (TN) and may roll 1 to 3 D20s to Activate. The TN for an Activation is 8 but may be modified. Each success means the figure gets an Action. So figures may get quite a few Actions in one turn. However, a Failure means your opponent gets the chance to react! If a Reaction is successful, it precedes your Action or may even take the Initiative from you altogether! So calculate your risks carefully…
This also means that, apart from determining starting Initiative, the turn sequence may ebb and flow depending on (bad) luck. No IGO-UGO here.
But after the Activiation or Reaction the details start. You can choose from about 20 possible Actions (amongst which are very SciFi things like Quantum Leap or Psi Attacks) and those are just the simple actions you may complete in one go!
The Actions themselves are equally detailed. Combat may target specific locations on an opponent’s body and you may choose various weapons with various effects that may vary even more sometimes depending on atmosphere and environment. There are dozens of Character Traits, different weapons and other equipment to use in one of 20 missions in one of 20 locations, all described and randomly determinable.
It is no wonder that RS games only deal with a handful of figures per side and terrain is very important. Tables are small, about 100x100 cm. These figures are highly individualized and creating your team is a real and rewarding investment in that regard. It would perhaps not be saying too much when I think that the border between RPG and Wargame has disappeared in this game. And why not? Why should that be important, when one can enjoy a challenging and intricate game on a lovely table with great figures?
I am also very curious how the game works out, combining so much intricate detail with such a simple game mechanism. It might play a lot faster than I might expect. An intriguing and definitely recommended ruleset for some new gaming experiences! I promise a AAR at the first opportunity.