Four great new rulebooks from Osprey.
ICYMI, Osprey has been doing some outstanding work lately and I'm not just talking about their high profile board game titles like Martin Wallace's Wildlands or the wildfire success of Mike Hutchinson's Gaslands. This UK-based company started out as a military history book publisher, offering exquisitely detailed illustrations and information about armies of all eras and areas, before moving full-bore into the gaming world. And it's paying off, because they are putting out some of the best miniatures rulebooks on the market today. Inexpensive, well-written and beautifully presented, an Osprey rulebook is worth a look even if you aren't interested in playing the game. The good news is that if you are interested in playing the game, their rules are offering up some interesting options beyond the "leading brands", so to speak. Osprey has been kind enough to support ThereWillBe.Games by offering advance copies of several of their latest books so I thought I'd give a little look inside their newest titles.
Frostgrave: The Wizards' Conclave
The most exciting Osprey book for me lately has been this outstanding compilation of scenarios for Frostgrave, Joseph McCullough's awesome skirmish/adventure game that takes place (usually) in a desolate, frozen city beset by wizardly treasure-hunters and their retinues - along with a host of wandering monsters. The really cool thing about this book is that the scenarios are written by a rather impressive and surprising list of designers and industry folks including some Warhammer folks (none other than Andy Chambers, Alessio Cavatore, and Gav Thorpe), Northstar Military Figures' Nick Eyre, Four Against the Darkness/Song of Blades and Heroes designer Andreas Sfiligoi, and noted reviewer Joel Eddy of DriveThruReview.
The scenarios range from short and simple to longer, multipart mini-campaigns, and as anyone that has played Frostgrave will tell you, a good scenario makes a big difference in how this game plays. The scenarios I've tried have been great, with Mr. Eddy's "New Kid on the Chopping Block" being the one we've enjoyed the most. In it, one player's apprentice has been kidnapped by the opposing warband and part of the adventure is rescuing him or her. I also really enjoyed Dan Mersey's solo scenario, "They Mostly Come at Night", which finds your warband's camp attacked - in the dark and while they sleep - by various creatures of the night. These scenarios both are fairly simple to set up and play, whereas others may require more specific models and terrain as well as longer play sessions.
One of the better, more detailed scenarios is Sfiligoi's, "A Maze of Mirrors". In it, the warbands explore the abandoned sanctorum of a mirror-mage, or Speculomancer. Mirrors can be picked up and moved, but if you rbeak one- you roll on the Bad Luck table. And each mirror has a host of possible powers that are fun to explore- including reflecting magic, mirror-walking, and generating a Mirror Monster.
This is great supplement. I've enjoyed all of the Frostgrave books and I kind of feel like this one is a victory lap for a great series. I don't think I'd call it essential, especially for those new to the game, but it does represent a great resource for those looking for new ways to play the game or for those that want some inspiration to create scenarios of their own.
Ragnarok: Heavy Metal Combat in the Viking Age
Billed as the first title to use Tim Korlewski's Morpheus Engine, this is hardback rulebook presenting not just the "all purpose" core Morpheus Engine rules but also the Fractured Realms setting-specific rules that promise some particularly bone-crunching, terrain-wrecking skirmish battles. It's intended to be played in a campaign format, with small War Clans of human warriors eventually taking on mythical creatures among their ranks. 3' by 3' is the recommended standard table, and as a bonus your Frostgrave terrain will likely look just fine with this setting, as will many Frostgrave warbands.
Mechanically, it is an action point-based activation system with a standard range of statistics for each model. Resolutions are based on a Success Table, which provides a computed differential between an Active Value and an Opposed Value to arrive at a relative level of success- this gives the game a more RPG-ish feel than usual. There is a cool Clash element in melee combat, which allows for the target in a melee attack to respond more actively against nearby threats. There are rules for "Weaponized Terrain", which is really just kind of a more aggro way of saying "Hazardous Terrain", and typical squad composition information describing how to select and outfit your Jarl and his or her various fighters. You can select from cool Viking archetypes like Berserkers and Skalds and more obscure options like the War Priest Gothis and stealthy Speiders.
One thing I really like about these rules though is the concept of Godspark. When you ace a roll and succeed above the required level for an action, you gain points and you can use them to cast one of three (to start with) God Powers. These are basically Viking-themed spells all keyed to the various gods of the Viking pantheon. So Thor's powers are all thunder-y, Loki's are deceptive, and so forth. I think it's pretty neat that you "power up" based on how awesome your guys and gals are doing in the field.
The goal of a scenario is to gain Glory, which becomes the currency used to spend on improving your War Clan. There are also fun rules for a post-game raiding sequence- which is how you might find Legendary Items or even more Glory. There's also a permanent injury table so one of your fighters might lose an eye just like Papa Odin. There are also options for encounters so bears, Aelfs, Barghests, Hel Snakes, Fire Giants, and Draugrs can show up in your scenarios. You just need the models for them.
This is a very cool-looking game presented in a stunning book. I've not had a chance to play it yet, but my read on it is that this is a more combat-focused and violent game than Frostgrave with a somewhat more specific setting. It's quite a bit more complex, which I think may appeal to those who view the capricious, D20 resolutions and high level abstractions of McCullough's design unfavorably. I'm really looking forward to checking it out, just need to get a hold of some Viking miniatures.
Men of Bronze
Historical wargaming on the tabletop is something I've admired from afar- I've never really been able to get into it, but Osprey's Men of Bronze from Eric Farrington has me thinking about picking up a phalanx or two of Hoplites. This is a skirmish game of a different scale, as we are talking about 50-80 figures per side per the back cover copy. The core focus is on Hoplite combat, with support from Peltasts and other irregular units. As such, formation-based movement is a key concept, as is leadership, engagement, support from other units, maneuvering, and discipline. Pushback- the give and take of formations on the field- is also represented. And yes, the drift of phalanxes to the left (the shielded side) is accounted for.
As with most miniatures games, basic concepts remain constant aside from the period and setting specific details. One difference is that measurements are presented in "base widths", which allows for models of any scale to be use- I like this, as I would want to play with smaller figures than the usual 28mm scale models in others games. I like that the designer opted for a "lots of dice" approach for combat resolutions - you get to roll an Attack Value's worth of dice plus extra dice for various bonus situations such as attacking in Phalanx, attacking from the flanks or rear, and so forth. Target number is always a 4+, every time the hit count exceeds a unit's armor value they lose a Courage point. When a unit has 0 Courage, they rout. As in real mass-battle combat, it's not down to the last man - it was more common for soldiers to lose the will to fight and run away.
One thing that I think is really interesting is the notion of Arete points. These "moral virtue" points are generated by your units and can be spent as a resource throughout the game. With them, you bid for (or sieze) initiative each round, spend them for charge attacks, rally, pay for special abilities, or do a good old fashioned re-roll. Elements like this may not produce supremely historical or simulationist results, but I think they are more interesting in terms of game design, and offer a more appealing and compelling experience.
The book is particularly helpful in terms of providing the budding Strategoi in figuring out what kind of force to put on the table, with easy to read unit profiles and orders of battle. There are a number of general scenarios, which is where I think most players will find the most fun, as well as a few historical scenarios suitable for the more invested players with specific force compositions.
I'm really interested in playing a game of Men of Bronze, potentially as a tentative step into the historical miniatures game world. I'd very much like to see how the push-and-pull of phalanx fighting plays out on the table as compared to similar designs in the board game format such as Commands and Colors: Ancients. This game doesn't look to be too much more complex in terms of rules than that classic design, and it may be appealing to those who want something with more detail and historical fidelity.
Rebels and Patriots: Wargaming Rules for North America, Colonies to Civil War
This book, by Michael Leck and Daniel Mersey, is the one out of this lot I was the least interested in. The battles of this period aren't ones that I particularly care to game, but as it is a part of the "Rampant" series I was inclined to check it out as I have heard great things about Lion Rampant and Dragon Rampant. This is a company-level skirmish game that provides rules, setting, scenarios, and unit profiles for the Revolutionary War, the French and Indian War, and the Civil War and other battles of the era.
Despite the fact that the Rampant games are billed as easy to play and learn, reading through this book I'm left with the impression that it is in fact a more complex and detailed system than what I expected but I believe that could be mostly due to the period-specific material introduced by Mr. Leck. Five pages of rules are dedicated to describing named Officers and their impact on the battle, functioning almost liked named heroes in more fantasy-oriented games. Aside from rank, there are lots of fun traits that your Officers can take on, such as being Wheezy due to an excessive lifestyle to sporting a fine moustache and self-righteousness as a Peacock. As for Companies, an emphasis is placed on historically accuracy (rather than cheesy WAAC list building). Rules and profiles are provided for several types of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, with specific upgrades such as veterancy that modify discipline, unit size, and other aspects of their profiles.
Procedurally, this is an IGOUGO affair, with each side activating all of their units before the other goes. Each unit takes one action from a list of standard wargame options, with a command test required to complete the chosen action. This is a 2D6, 6+ roll. I love that there is a critical failure/critical success table here, as I love this kind of thing. Moving and shooting all look like fairly standard stuff, with options for targets to react with evasion or counterattacks. Combat is an absolute 12 dice if your unit is not disordered, half if they are, and you are looking for better than the unit's Fighting value. Every two hits, in general, deletes one model unless there are modifiers such as terrain or an attack from a broken unit. There is also a Skirmish action to depict units capable of moving and firing. Morale and disorder are of course a hot button item, and have a huge effect on each unit's efficacy and willingness to stay in the fight.
Overall, this is once again a lovely book and I did enjoy reading it, because I'm a nerd and I like to read game rules. But I'm not really into collecting and painting a Union company or a bunch of Redcoats so I'm kind of just admiring the rules-writing and thinking about how this book has made me want to pick up Dragon Rampant to get a more fantasy-inflected take on this system. But for those who want to re-enact Pickett's Charge, try to change the outcome Bunker Hill, or be Montcalm then there is plenty of grist here for good gaming.