Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Pikmean's Lament, A Review


On Monday, I enthusiastically picked up my early release copy of The Pikeman's Lament at The Panzer Depot in Kirkland (maybe the store should be called The Pike and Panzer Depot). I've been waiting a while for this title from Osprey. It's the result of an international collaboration between Brit Dan Mersey, author of Lion Rampant et al. and Swede Michael Leck. It's their adaptation of Dan's Lion Rampant rules to 17th c. pike and shot warfare, which is Michael's specialty.

The basic game engine

The rules don't betray their lineage. With a few exceptions, players familiar with Lion Rampant can play The Pikeman's Lament with no trouble at all. The basic game engine is the same:
  • Units are 6 or 12 figures and cost from 1 to 8 points.
  • Players organize their units into a company (née retinue) of 24 points.
  • Players roll 2D6 to activate units for moving, attacking, or shooting. A failed activation cedes the initiative to their opponent etc.
  • For shooting and combat, players roll 12 D6 for a unit that is above half strength (4+ or 7+ figures), and 6 D6 for a unit at half strength or below (3- or 6- figures).
  • Dice results are compared to the target unit's stamina (née armor) to determine how many figures are removed, if any.
  • Morale (née courage) tests are made for lost figures and units may stand, become wavering (née battered), or just bugger off altogether (rout).
It's a simple, easy-playing, elegant system and rewards adaptations, as I've made with Crepusculum Imperii and Quetzalcoatl Rampant (a collaboration with Kevin Smyth). Doug Hamm (he of Dots of Paint) created his own pike & shot variant for Lion Rampant, which he used to play his fictional ECW Tersey River campaign.

The key to the game engine's versatility is that the basic characteristics of a unit are addressed in its profile, which include,
  • The rolls needed to activate for a move, to attack, or to shoot.
  • The attack, defend, and shooting values.
  • The armor/stamina value (how many hits it takes to remove a figure as a casualty).
  • The courage/morale value.
The idiosyncratic bits are addressed in special rules that provide the flavor. Special rules can account for a lot of things. They are specific to unit types and you can make them up for any given period as far as your imagination goes. For example, the Your beating heart rule from our Quetzalcoatl Rampant variant, captures the flavor of Aztec warfare where the goal was less to kill an enemy in battle than to capture him and sacrifice him to the Aztecs' bloody gods.

Upgrades (and downgrades) also give some versatility to a unit's performance and make each unit type a bit more Neapolitan than vanilla.

The tricky part in the rules, and in any adaptation of them, is ensuring that unit types are balanced against each other and that no unit type becomes invincible or useless (though the serfs/clubman unit type is really just an excuse to paint oiks and momentarily display them on the game table). We went through a few playtests of Quetzalcoatl Rampant to get to the point that the Spanish weren't too strong and the Aztecs too weak.

So how does The Pikeman's Lament fare?

The Pikeman's Lament

At first glance, the unit types for The Pikeman's Lament seem a lot like variations of the troop types for Lion Rampant. On closer inspection, the subtleties become more apparent as does the balance between unit types.

The horse

The horse are represented by three unit types: Gallopers, Trotters, and Dragoons.
  • Gallopers (@4 pts basic): Imagine Royalist cavaliers of the ECW or Gustavus Alophus' Finnish Hakkapeliitta. They move fast, charge at the drop of a hat, and strike hard. They seem at first to be The Pikeman's Lament version of mounted men at arms, but they're not. They're a bit more brittle (stamina 3), but they can be upgraded to Elite (stamina 4 for 2 pts.) or downgraded to Raw to be even brittler (stamina 2 for -1 pt.). For no points cost at all, you can make them aggressive, which increases their attack value to 3+, but adds in the wild charge special rule that makes them less manageable.
  • Trotters (@4 pts. basic): Imagine 30 Years War reiters and that ilk or the more stolid Roundhead troopers in the ECW. These are the mounted troops who use the firepower of their pistols and carbines more than a wild rush and cold steel. They're not best used for attacking, are ponderously slow, and they have a short pistol range (6"), but they can stand up in an even fight when defending against Gallopers. They also have a nifty special rule in the caracole. This rule allows them to move and shoot and, if the shooting results in their target wavering, they can charge home. This does a good job modelling the tactics used. They can also be upgraded/downgraded for better or worse stamina.
  • Dragoons (@4 pts. basic): In The Pikeman's Lament, these units are a hybrid. They're treated as mounted units for movement, but operate as foot units (in fact, it's typical to model them on foot, which is how they actually fought). They have a shorter range than shot (12"), but they can skirmish and evade. Used right they can be a proper annoyance while you maneuver your strike units into place. I wouldn't rely on them to hold ground.
The foot

Foot are represented by seven unit types: Forlorn Hope, Pike, Shot, Commanded Shot, Clubmen, Clansmen, and Regimental Guns.
  • Forlorn Hope (@6 pts. basic): This is a pretty versatile unit type. It's a bit like foot men-at-arms in Lion Rampant, but they shoot (or not). Imagine a determined assault force, grenadiers, a small band desperately holding an advanced position. They can be upgraded for a better shooting value or made aggressive, which ups their attack value and stamina, but takes away their shooting. Aggressive Forlorn Hope units represent troops relying on close combat, like a band of picked men with their plug bayonets fixed or resolute men armed only with hand to hand weapons. (I'll make the gallowglass for my 16th c. Irishmen Aggressive Forlorn Hope).
  • Pike (@4 pts. basic): Imagine pikes. These units are best for defense (having only a 5+ attack value) and if positioned well can protect your shot from unwanted encounters. They can upgraded to a better defense value (3+) or downgraded to worse (5+). Pikes have a close order special rule that allows them to form up for better fighting. The rule gives them +1 to their attack and defend dice rolls. Unlike schiltron in Lion Rampant, pikes in close order can move and attack, but at a slightly worse 6+ activation. Most players regard pike units in a 17th c. skirmish game like taking a knife to a gunfight. I like pike, myself, and am glad to see them treated here as more than the red-headed stepchild of the family.
  • Shot (@4 pts. basic): Imagine men with muskets in larger, formed groups (as formed as skirmish units can be). These units are the basic shooters of the game with an 18" range. If managed right (and activated well), they can get one to two shots off at anyone advancing against them. They can be upgraded to shoot better (4+) or worse (6). They also have a first salvo special rule that gives +1 to their dice in their first combat, whether shooting, attacking, or defending. Shot units representing troops from 1678 onward can use the close order rule like Pike. This use represents the more widespread adoption of bayonets, which enabled musketeers to stand up against attackers. It makes them even when defending against attacking Gallopers.
  • Commanded Shot (@2 pts. basic): These units are the skirmishers of The Pikeman's Lament. They represent any kind of skirmishing shooty foot. Low stamina (1) and six-figure units size makes them very brittle, but they can be an annoyance with their 5+ shooting at 12" range. They can use all the special rules that bidowers have in Lion Rampant. They can be upgraded to veteran that takes away the -1 for shooting when using the skirmish rule.They're good for games that have a lot of rough terrain, but won't stand well on a open field. Thank goodness they're cheap.
  • Clubmen (@ 1 pt.): These are the peasant rabble, townsmen, local farmers who band together to chase away the soldiers. They're not too effective at that. They can fill out a unit roster that needs an extra point to make 24, but they won't be a game winner. I think they're best used in scenario-based games as a wild card., e.g., on turn 6 clubmen enter on a randomly chosen table edge and proceed to attack the nearest unit of either side. There are no upgrades or, mercifully, downgrades for clubmen. They are what they are, however, in The Pikeman's Lament, they can shoot, albeit poorly and only at short range.
  • Clansmen (@3 pts.): Think highlanders or other pantless native types who have one good charge in them before they destroy or are destroyed. These match the Fierce Foot of Lion Rampant. I could imagine a Killiecrankie game with a bucket of these units charging downhill at raw government troops. (But I can't imagine painting all those tartans!) No upgrades or downgrades.
  • Regimental Guns (@4 pts. basic): Guns are a new edition to the Lion Rampant family, however, regimental guns are more like a shot unit. The unit represents small-caliber cannon that support infantry by firing grapeshot, hailshot, and/or very small cannonballs. They have a range of 18", like shot, a shooting value of 4+, but their shooting activation is 8+ making them less likely to be the first unit you attempt to activate, i.e., you wouldn't use them to soften up a target before you attack it with another unit. Too risky. Regimental guns can move like infantry at 6", but they have no attack ability. Regimental Guns can be upgraded to Field Guns, which gives them a 3+ shot at a whopping 48" range, but takes away any mobility other than pivoting in place on a move order.
Other bits

The nuances in the unit types aren't the only thing new in The Pikeman's Lament:
  • The officer (née  leader) role is much expanded. Each company has one officer who adds +1 to activation rolls to all unit's within 12" of his unit. But officers also have other traits that a player rolls for to build the character. You start out with an ensign with background story and basic trait (e.g., Blessed, which makes the officer invulnerable to lucky blows, or Lion of the North, which lets him re-roll up to 2 dice when his unit attacks--note that traits may be negative, too) and as you accrue honour points, you rise in rank and add more traits. This aspect of the rules is ideal for creating mini-campaigns that string together several missions.
  • Missions (née  scenarios) are ideas for games. There are 10 missions defined in the rules that run from straight up 1:1 face-offs to more complex tactical problems.
  • Activations have a different flavor, too. When you roll snake-eyes (double 1) or boxcars (double 6) for activation, you roll a D6 to see what happens and consult the appropriate chart. For double 1, the second roll is fraught with danger. For example, a "1" result for that test will see one or more of your units leaving the field. This new feature of the activation roll makes for more unpredictability in the game.
  • For one point, you can add an agitator, priest, or hero to any unit not lead by the officer. These characters represent individuals in a unit who inspire their fellows or spin them up into a frenzy. The character replaces one of the unit's normal figures and provides +1 to moral test dice rolls, which is in addition to the +1 they get for being within 12" of the officer. They're subject to lucky blows like an officer and give the opponent +1 honour if he kills 'em. This rule gives me a use for brothers Conall and Donall in my 16th c. Irish company.
Final impressions

The Pikeman's Lament is much more than a simple re-branding of Lion Rampant. The game stands in its own right as a very playable and colorful set of rules for pike & shot warfare. Dan and Michael have done a great job. It's certainly revamped interest in the period 'round these parts. Bill Stewart has rebased his ECW for the rules, as has Doug Hamm up in the frozen north of Vancouver, BC. I've got several units for the ECW in the works (some even finished!) and have made a lot of progress painting my Irish 16th c. company; look for a hated English oppressor company to follow. I'm looking forward to many enjoyable games.

Adaptability outside the 17th c.

One last point is about further adaptability. The rules are specified for the 17th c., or more specifically, from the 30 Years War to the Great Northern War (Michael being a Swede, the rules unsurprisingly cover the period of Sweden's military dominance. His blog Dalauppror has many AARs about Swedes v. Poles, Swedes v. Danes, Swedes v. the Empire, etc. Maybe Lion of the North Rampant would have been a better name). That being said, you could easily adapt them backwards to the 16th c. The unit types are just convenient names that cover tactical roles. For example, I'll be fielding my javelin-armed Irish kern as Commanded Shot (or even Veteran Commanded Shot) because despite not being armed with a gunpowder weapon, the tactical use is the same: annoying skirmishers with little staying power, but a lot of advantage in rough terrain. My gallowglass will be Aggressive Forlorn Hope. English border horse might be Raw Gallopers, etc.

I could imagine gaming the early Renaissance with them, too. Gendarmes could be Aggressive Gallopers, Arquebuses (or crossbows) could be Shot, clutches of halbardiers or sword and buckler men could be Aggressive Forlorn Hope, etc. In a pinch where no Pikeman's Lament unit type fits well enough, you could just retrofit in a Lion Rampant unit type, though that's likely to be unnecessary. For example, if you wanted to represent stradiots from the Italian Wars, you could make them Dragoons and model the figures mounted: they have a rapid move, can skirmish, shoot 'n' scoot, etc. (They are, in fact, identical to Mounted Yeomen in Lion Rampant). Mounted arquebusiers? Make 'em Trotters. I have a pile of unpainted Old Glory Wars of Religion that I've been wondering what to do with (I tried to sell them without success; they've truly been orphans). Armed with my copy of Blaise de Monluc's memoirs, I can get a lot of inspiration, eventually.

Postscript: Quick Reference sheets

I made a two-sided quick reference sheet (QRS) for The Pikeman's Lament. The first side is based on the QRS that's available from Osprey. I just made a few tweaks. The second side is a table with all the stats for unit types and their various upgrades.




If you want a PDF (sans the nifty parchment paper), click here.

12 comments:

  1. Glad you liked them. Much to think about in your Adaptability bit. QR sheet is most useful.
    Alan

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  2. Great post. And thanks for the QRS!
    /Mattias

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  3. Great review, I hope people have as much fun playing these rules as I've had. The double 1/double 6 results are often the funniest part of the game.

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  4. A well written, clear and sensibly structured review. Excellent stuff.

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  5. Thanks David for a Greate rewrite and analyse of the rules, i really like you examples to interpit the troop types just as i want them to be used, their Tactical roll on the battlefield, a reason not to have any weapon or equipment uppgrades.

    Regarding First Salvo you get the Bonus the first time the unit Shoot, attack or defend ( so if the enemy made a rapid advanced so your shot didn't have the time to shoot they can add the bonus to their defence value)

    Greate QRS !!!!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Michael. I've updated the post to clarify that.

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    2. That's a fantastic job on the QRS, that's for that.

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  6. Very nice report and great analysis of the game. I also like your interessting blog and will start following you eventhough I am allergic to cats. ;)

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  7. Well there goes my dithering! I'm off to buy The Pikeman's Lament :) you'll be hearing from my missus!!:D

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  8. I'm from Canada, nice review however since when is Vancouver along the ocean considered the frozen north? It rarely snows there ever, minus this bizarre year.

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  9. Just starting in on these rules- your review was super valuable and appreciated! Thanks very much
    Cheers
    Ths

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