REVIEWED: Dragon Rampant

Posted: January 20, 2016 in Fantasy & Sci-Fi, Gaming

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In 2014, Osprey Publishing, with author Daniel Mersey, released Lion Rampant, a set of wargaming rules for the medieval period, aimed at staging matches somewhere between a small scale and a full scale battle. The game was a roaring success, due in part to its accessibility and flexibility in terms of troops and basing. It wasn’t long until players, and the author himself, realised that the rules easily lent themselves to a fantasy setting, and people were including orcs and goblins in the game. This gave rise to the spiritual sequel, Dragon Rampant.

It is important to note that Dragon Rampant is not simply a rehash of the older game; it has new elements such as wizards casting spells and the ability to make your troops fly, and these new factors are integral to the game. Yes, the engines may be the same but the cars built on top of these pistons are very different. It is also worth pointing out that Dragon Rampant is not an expansion, but a standalone game. In all honesty I’ve never actually played Lion Rampant (despite owning the rulebook) but the rules in this new version are complete and you don’t need to have one to play the other. That said, if you have played one of them you will probably get to grips with the other rapidly. Much like other Osprey releases, the book itself is nicely laid out, with beautiful artwork throughout.

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So, how is the game? I’m very happy to report that it’s incredibly good. After only two games I felt that I was barely picking up the rulebook, to check some odd bit that I couldn’t remember, which to me is a mark of quality. I like my rules to be in-depth, covering most scenarios, but also to leave room for the players to come up with their own solutions. This game does that perfectly. The rules are actually incredibly simple, and because of this, little rules don’t cross over to cause moments that stop play, the game flows very fluidly from movement to fighting, to rallying your troops and all sorts of other actions without numerous mathematical equations to work out whether or not you can do something. Never did I find myself saying “Well, these guys are here, and they want to do this, but these guys are using a +1 block to boost the penalty from these guys…”. The most complex conversation I found myself having was “Well, these guys move on a 4+, but they’ve been hit twice, so… I’m looking for a 6+ on two dice.”

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In terms of equipment needed, you’ll want a maximum of twelve dice (preferably per side) some models to play with, some markers to represent units that are hurting, some terrain, and a tape measure. That’s it. The rules recommend a 6′ x 4′ table but I played on a much smaller surface and found it perfectly adequate. The book also recommends playing in 28mm scale, but gives ideas for playing in something smaller or larger. I also used a single piece of A4 paper as a roster sheet, and whilst this isn’t really necessary, I, and the author, would suggest you use one, to keep track of skills and scores. Games, once you get going, normally take about an hour.

In terms of miniatures, the book says you’ll use around sixty, but I used twenty-six, and my opponent used twenty, and this is the real strength of the game. It is absolutely flexible in creating a warband. There are unit types (heavy foot, elite mounted, etc) and each of them has a profile, but how you portray that is entirely up to you. Every unit has a “strength” of six or twelve, which is kind of like its “Health”. But however you represent this strength, and the depletion of it is your choice. You could have a massive ogre, and put a marker next to him every time he takes a hit, twelve warriors that you remove one by one, or 600 tiny banana bread constructs that lose 100 soldiers every time they take damage. In theory, the game could be played with four figures a side. This is undoubtably my favourite part of the game, as my warband had a ferocious dragon, some Viking berserkers and a Saxon warlord, whereas my opponent’s had Arab cavalry and a giant Pikachu.

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I could write pages after pages about the small details in this game that I enjoy, like rules for making one race hate another, “Quests” that you can embark on during larger games and the effect one battle-hardened warrior can have on a skirmish, however, I have one main thing that I ask of any game I play: Can I tell a story during the game? To answer this, you have to look at my opponent’s Arab cavalry on our very first game.

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As my ferocious dragon laid waste to all from the top of a tower, the brave riders flanked the battlefield, smashing through a group of light skirmishers, and routing a bloodthirsty rank of berserkers, losing one of their brave number in the process. Meanwhile, my warlord has been peppered by arrows from an archer unit, pummelled by an Axe-Maiden and Thunderbolted by Pikachu. As he falls, the dragon swoops from the tower, the archers fleeing in its wake. It swallows the Axe-Maiden whole and burns Pikachu to a crisp. Then, the sound of thunder, as the remaining riders cross the entire battlefield, charging fearlessly into the deadly beast, finally slaying him and saving what’s left of the kingdom.

Dragon Rampant is brilliant. Buy it with your hands.


 

Review by Ömer Ibrahim.  Dragon Rampant is available now from Osprey Games; and you can follow Ömer on Twitter and Facebook.

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