Thursday, September 29, 2022

Let's do the Rampant again!

It's astounding
Time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll
But listen closely
Not for very much longer
I've got to keep control

Last month, without warning, I serendipitously learned that Osprey was set to release the second edition of Dan Mersey's Lion Rampant medieval rules (LR2). I *immediately* went to Amazon and pre-ordered them and found to my further serendipitous delight that the release date was just days away and my copy would be delivered on the release date, August 16th! Not to understate my reaction, but I was pleased. As the delivery day approached, I felt like a kid on the day before Christmas waiting for the hours to tick away.


I had that Ramones song in my head:
Twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours to go
I wanna be sedated
Nothing to do, nowhere to go home
I wanna be sedated
Upon receiving the wondrous tome of rampancy, I read through it eagerly—indeed, rampantly. The following are my observations.

The song remains (mostly) the same

As the Rampant rules system developed, it was always tempting to retrofit rules from variants onto the older LR rules. The new rules don't do that in any formal sense.

It's a bit of a disappointment, but actually, nearly all of of the rules in LR2 remain the same as in LR1. The 2014 rules haven't been removed or replaced. LR2 mostly clarifies a few rules that were murky heretofore and enhances some others. What the rules do offer, however, is alternatives or optional rules. It should be noted that most of these options have been floating around the interwebs for years. What LR2 does is to formalize them—as options.

I'd hoped for more substantive changes to courage tests into something more like what's in Rebels and Patriots, where only the immediate figure loss incurs minuses, rather than cumulative loss—but no.

The "one and done" aspect of ending an activation phase has been irksome to players from the get-go. I was never bothered by it, but in multiplayer games there's always someone who cannot—cannot—roll higher than a 2 for activation and never manages to activate a single unit. They wind up sulking like Achilles in his tent, disparaging the game, the rules, you, your mother, etc. Ya gotta pity 'em (I've been there myself), but it's a rare occurrence. (Note from experience: Telling those players "sucks to be you" does not ameliorate the situation.) The original rule that ended your activation on any failed test, even the first, made things pretty wild and wooly. As Dan explains in the LR2 rules, that wild and wooliness is what he intended. The alternate rule where every unit tests regardless of any failures isn't the feel he thinks the rules should have, but it's there for people who want it.

Unit proximity—the rule that units must remain 3" apart from other units unless fighting them—is still there, but there's an alternative (p. 25) that reduces the distance to 1", but that requires some mental retrofitting in places where the 3" proximity rule is assumed, such as retreats and line of sight. Although some people grouse ad nauseum about the 3" proximity rule, I've always liked it. Not tolerated it, mind you, but liked it. Even with the 3" rule in play, gamers tend to bunch up as if they're trying to fit their whole retinue in as small a space as possible for, I guess, reasons... I keep having to remind players when I run a game that minis are a 3D experience, not hex and counter; there's no stacking.

Even though the names of the troop types have changed, the stats haven't. Mounted Men-at-Arms are now Elite Cavalry, but the only change is the name. The name change allows more inclusion of types that might not otherwise be considered on par with the fully-armored knights of Agincourt etc.

The fact that there are no substantive changes to the rules indicates that LR1 works exactly the way Dan wanted it to work, what's there to change?


In the bits that outline optional or alternative rules, Dan explains some of his philosophy behind the rule and generally expresses his preference for it. In other words: Here's the alternative you've been clamouring for—but you really shouldn't use it. It feels a bit like that line from the Monty Python Bruces sketch: "As he's going to be teaching politics, I've told him he's welcome to teach any of the great socialist thinkers, provided he makes it clear that they were wrong."

Changes (OK, so there are some)

As mentioned, the names of the troop types have changed to allow for a more inclusive approach. They still remain medievaloid in flavor, but calling your Dark Age hearthguard "Elite Foot" rather than "Foot Men-at-Arms" feels more appropriate, even if the substance is the same.

"Retinue" is now "warband." I shall not comply. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but it's still properly called a rose, dammit! As Cicero wrote, "Here is your Stoic decision—'The wise man will call a spade a spade.'" Thus, a retinue is a retinue. So let it be written, so let it be done.

"Schiltron" is now "wall of spears," which reminds me too much of Wall of Voodoo


I think I would have preferred "spearwall," which nicely parallels "shieldwall" ("wall of shields"?). Although "wall of voodoo" would be a nice addition to Dragon Rampant.

More substantively, leaders now intrinsically have the Commanding skill, which provides a +1 to activations for units within 12". This is consistent with what The Pikeman's Lament and Rebels and Patriots do.

Also, a failed wild charge test (i.e., when you didn't go off on a wild charge) doesn't end the activation for the testing unit. The "failed" unit can subsequently test for a regular activation.

Additions

Dan has added handgonners as an optional troop type using three different models, no less! And yes, as my stalwart blog readers can attest, I do love me them fearsome boomsticks of war. These are the same optional rules that Dan provided years ago on a Boardgame Geek forum because I'm not the only handgonne-lover in town.

The rules also provide an option for slingers as a specific troop type, rather than just an alternate set of figures to use as archers. They don't shoot as far (max. 12"), but they cost less at 3 pts. You can use the extra point to buy a commander skill or upgrade another unit.

The rules have expanded backwards to the Dark Ages, so my existing and in-progress Saga armies can be made to do double duty.

Clarifications

There are several clarifications, which I won't detail here. Let it suffice to say that some of those murky "how do I work this?" rules are now made more explicit or at least their murkiness dispelled. There's an appendix (Appendix C) in the rules that list all the differences from 1st edition.


Inspiration

The new edition (or re-release) has inspired me to paint medieval minis. I bought into Footsore's initial kickstarter for their Baron's Wars range. They sat in the box they came in for quite a while. I've now pulled them out and started painting them. I also acquired more figures so I could make a full RETINUE.

I've only done eight bowmen so far. That's all I got in the kickstarter. I have four more now, so I can make a full unit of 12. I also got slingers to use as skirmishers (although I do like the old name "bidowers"). Even more than handgonnes, I love slingers.




I look forward to playing a lot more Lion Rampant, which includes finally getting some traction on the long-unfinished Medieval minis that have had no love from me for more than a decade (almost two!).

Don't dream it, be it

I recommend the new edition. It's got a nice hardback format, the extras and clarifications are worth the price, and—most importantly—all your friends have theirs. In short: Dammit, Janet, give the new Lion Rampant a try. It's just a jump to the left...

I remember doing the Rampant
Drinking those moments when
The blackness would hit me
And the void would be calling

Let's do the Rampant again!
Let's do the Rampant again!

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The state of things

Reflecting back over the last two years or so since the whole COVID thing came along, I realize that my blogging activity has been feeble. My loyal fans (or fan—there must be at least one) are perhaps wondering what I've been up to. In a word, much. I just haven't been vomiting up my experiences in blog posts. So, to catch you up, here's a (relatively) brief précis of my doings.

Cats (of course)

As I blogged last year, my beloved little boy Bogart died, which reduced me to just one cat, Maebh. What I didn't blog about—or didn't post about (I started it, but...)—is that about five weeks after Bogart died, I went and adopted a new cat, whom I named Tybalt.

He's a cowcat like his predecessors.

He has thumbs!

His name is an homage to Bogey, let me explain: I called Grendel "King of Cats" because, well, he was. When I adopted Bogart, I called him "Prince of Cats," because he was regal in his own way, but far less imperious than Grendel, who unmistakably ruled the house in his time. After Bogart died, I started a (not yet published) blog post about him called "More than prince of cats." That phrase comes from Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, scene 4. Tybalt is Juliet's cousin, whom Romeo kills in a duel after Tybalt killed Romeo's friend Mercutio. Before all the killing, Mercutio, speaking with Benvolio, calls Tybalt, "more than prince of cats," hence the name. Tybalt is also an anthropomorphic cat character in the medieval stories of Reynard the Fox. That's probably where The Bard got the name.

As I feared would be the case, Maebh doesn't like Tybalt any better than she liked Bogart. Her heart is only for The King (and me). So, after a 5-week period of free-roaming in my house, I'm back to a divided house alternating one cat shut in a room while the other has free reign of the house. It works, but for those five weeks with just Maebh around, I felt the former freedom I had with not having to protect my entrances and exits from closed rooms lest the wrong cat get out or in and calamity ensue.

Maebh is becoming a crabbier, crazier old lady. In 2020, she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer. She's still going strong for an 18-year-old cat with all those maladies. The only visible sign of her ordeal is the weight loss. The hyperthyroidism is masking all the other stuff. She's still the queen of my lap and the disturber of my peace. I'm not looking forward to losing her, but I am anticipating those things that will come easier when she's gone, like reading and sleeping through the night.

Bogart's death left me with a melancholy that comes and goes. He was still young and I feel guilt that I may have been able to prolong his life if I'd done something different. However, cats with heart disease have an average survival of 6-12 months. Bogey managed to last over two years. I expected that with Maebh's dire diagnosis in 2020 it would be just me and Bogey. Maebh outlived him. She's indestructible. I'm starting to suspect that she'll outlive us all.

Projects

Oh, the projects! I keep vowing to start no new projects and no sooner do the words pass my lips than I start a new project. I often blame others (cough, Kevin Smyth, cough) for dragging me into something they've started, but I find I'm a culprit myself on more occasions than not. We were deciding on a theme for our 2023 Enfilade! convention. One person suggested that we theme it "New eras and armies that my friends and I convinced each other to buy, paint and play."

The Mexico thing

I blogged about our Mexican War project and how that expanded for me into the Texas Revolution project also. I've managed to play two Rebels and Patriots games of the Mexican War using my Americans. The Mexicans for that project are still bright, shiny metal.

The first of the games was in Tacoma while I was in between jobs and free to play on weekdays. The second was in Dave Schueler's living room. My dragoons managed to cover themselves with glory, chasing the defending Mexicans across the bridge. There were a lot of bad Mexican die rolls and we make the Mexicans poor shooters to reflect that fact that their gunpowder was almost all charcoal. Dave played the Mexicans trying to reinforce and succor a redoubt against Kevin's and my gringos. It seemed like a foregone conclusion, but Dave fought well.







The Tex-Mex thing

I completed my first batch of Texians. More to come, but I got pulled into other things (see below).






1914

I've always been interested in gaming the first months of WW1 when the armies were mobile and hadn't bogged down into years of trench warfare (on the Western Front at least). I blogged about the start of this project recently and it's just grown from there. More people have joined. I'm fighting on two fronts. I even managed to get in a game against Mike Lombardy and his French.



We also got a game in with Kevin's B.E.F. against my Germans and "Kaiser Bill" Stewart's Germans. In this game we learned that attacking a defended position is not easy. It was also a first stab at a multiplayer game. The 1914 rules seem intended as 1:1 games because there's a lot of interaction and backing and forthing that works best when only two players are involved.






I've expanded to building both a Russian force and an Austro-Hungarian force.



However, I'm not too far along with either. I have one cavalry regiment (with dismounts) and one infantry battalion done for the Russians. I've started one infantry battalion and one battery for the Austro-Hungarians. I'd better get to work on the latter. Kevin Smyth has nearly completed a whole pile of Serbs and they need someone to beat up.

There's more Germans to paint, although I have a goodly amount already. I've also purchased a fair amount of B.E.F. from Great Escape Games because how could I not?

I also got lots of 10mm buildings from two different companies. Both are nice and I have a lot of painting on my hands. I've completed several, which I got in our games, but several more are in the works.

Saga (it's back on the menu)

Before COVID, there was a lot of activity with Saga. During the COVID shutdown of all things—and the demise of The Panzer DepotSaga playing took a back seat. However, as the COVID crisis waned, there was a renewed insterest in the game. Bill Stewart,Mike Lombardy, and I had the only Saga armies within our little group. Kevin Smyth, Dave Schueler, and Eric Donaldson took interest and now we have a few little forces available for play. Kevin connected with some friends of yesteryear who were keen to play Saga and he's managed to get several games in down in his part of the state. 

Kevin and I did manage to get one game up here at Zulu's Games in Bothell, his Norse-Gaels vs. my Welsh. It was a near (very near) win for the Welsh.








Zulu's is a nice venue for smaller games. The max table size they have down in the basement is 5' x 7', which isn't too far off from our typical 6' x 8'. They have beer and pub-style food. They have paint 'n' stuff too, but most of their retail is board games. They also have an annex just down the block with more tables and the possibility for small events.

My Saga Welsh have some reinforcements in the works. Another eight hearthguard, some slingers (I love slingers) and javelinmen. I am kicking myself—and will continue to do so—over not buying any of The Miniature Company's mounted Welsh warriors. All my Welsh are from The Miniature Company and I love them. They're very distinctive and don't really mix with anyone else's figures. I was excited to see them release the mounted Welsh in 2020 (or was it 2019?), but held off assuming, erroneously, that they'd be there when I wanted them. Alas no. When I went to buy them earlier this year when Saga came back, I learned that they were kaput. I've trolled the web to see if anyone has some lying around to sell, but no luck. I have discovered that there is stock existing in storage somewhere in the UK, but the owner is loth to sell from it. The upshot is that my Welsh shall remain ponyless footmen (hopefully just for now).

Keep watching this space

That's all for now. I could go on (and on, and on), but this is a nice stopping point. I hope to get more blogging in, but there are so many things that pull me into their orbit—not to mention my deep commitment to sloth and torpor.

Not mentioned here, but I'm back into painting ECW, which I promise a post on in the near future.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Stranger things

The Stranger, long one of Seattle's more colorful weeklies (the other one being Seattle Weekly, which was never colorful at all) started publication in September, 1991, not long before I started working at Aldus Corporation in Seattle's Pioneer Square. At the time, it was something my crüe at Aldus was enamored of, in no small part because it was produced using our software, Aldus PageMaker.

I bring up The Stranger now because it has actual relevance to my hobby. As a weekly (as of 2017, a bi-weekly), it appealed mostly to lefties, who were far less clever and cool than they assumed, and non-lefties like me, who had no illusions about being clever or cool, but who enjoyed reading an irreverent perspective on life, despite the paper's otherwise stale, predictable Maoist orthodoxy about pretty much everything. Even the irreverence grew old after a while (or maybe so doctrinaire and conformist that it was no longer irreverent), but I still grabbed a copy (sometimes two) from the box every week/other week. It was free and it made perfect fish-wrap, bird-cage liner, or, in my case, table covering for when I spray painted stuff and did other messy hobby things that involved splats and spills.

In March, 2020, The Stranger ceased producing a print copy due to the general shut down of all things because of COVID. They expected to be back and printing after a while, but it never happened. I don't know if it ever will. So much of The Stranger's revenue came from ads for all the venues in Seattle where people gathered cheek to jowl to drink, play, listen to music, etc. With all that activity stifled, there was no point in advertising. No adverts, no income. No income, no print edition. No print edition, nothing for me to spill on. Now that gathering in close proximity has returned to The Emerald City, The Stranger remains online only. 

I had a stack going back years, but I'm almost at the end of it. At one time, I was throwing out stacks of it because I went through far less than one full edition a week and I assumed the supply would never end. Silly me. In no time, assuming I'm actually busy hobbying, I'll have nothing left. I feel a bit like sitting in a toilet stall and realizing there's no bog roll.

I'm not sure what to do. I can't use my hand. I haven't really looked for alternatives. I don't know if the Seattle Weekly is even around anymore—or if they have a print edition. I should probably start saving the newsprint advert thingummies that appear in my mailbox. They typically run several pages, which may be enough to go on with. They're not as big as a two-page spread from The Stranger, but probably every bit as absorbent. They're also free. Indeed, I can't seem to stop them from showing up.

Postscript

To be fair, The Stranger had more going for it than irreverence and Maoist screed. It was a pretty good place to find out what was going on in the city. For the nine years that I lived in Seattle, it was useful for planning weekend activities. Since moving up to beautiful, formerly-bucolic Lynnwood, I've been less inclined to venture into the city—at least not deep into the city; I'm all over going to The Pacific Inn and Eltana Bagels in Fremont. I don't think I've been to Pioneer Square for more than a decade, certainly not since the viaduct was torn down. I can't recall when I was last on Capitol Hill or Queen Anne. However, my neighborhood Whole Foods had a Stranger box from which I drew my supply until it was empty and then they removed it. Sic transit gloria mundi.

1914 and all that

A few years back when Great Escape Games' 1914 rules came out, I bought a copy expecting that I'd use Peter Pig's 15mm WW1 minis for it. I've been interested in gaming the first months of WW1 for a long time now. 30+ years ago, I bought of copy of Fred Haube and Terry Sirk's self-published rules Great War.

I liked the rules and started painting Peter Pig minis for it, but it eventually fizzled. There was no one else interested and other projects drew me away—as is invariably true. I kept the rules for a long time until someone from Italy implored me to sell it to him. I did, for cheap. I figured I'd never use them and was happy to sell them if he wanted them so much. His biggest cost was the express postage to Italy (ouch, really, ouch). It's one of the few sales of my stuff that I've regretted. They're impossible to find now, but I know of someone in Italy who has a copy.

Getting back to 1914, my partners in crime for this project were going to use the 12mm figures that are available from Great Escape Games and Kallistra. That soured me on it. 12mm is an odd scale (it's actually N-Gauge, I think) and I was set on 15mm. I eventually (apparently) sold or gave away the rules (or maybe not—at least I can't find them anywhere).

Rebirth of a project

Fast forward to Enfilade! 2022 in May. I was hosting a What a Tanker! game just opposite a seller who had a lot of Great Escape Games products for sale. I looked at some boxed 1914 minis (German jägers) and looked some more until I convinced myself to go for it. I figured they'd be quick to paint. I also bought a German brigade pack. And then I bought some German command tokens. I don't recall if he had the rules, but in any case, I assumed I still had my copy (and may still for all I know; the depths of Stately Chez Dave are murkier than one can imagine and like the bodies from old Vegas mob hits that are showing up as Lake Mead recedes, things you thought would never be found suddenly are).

After the convention, I ordered more minis (Germans and Belgians) and the rules (after several fruitless searches of the murkier parts of Stately Chez Dave in beautiful, formerly-bucolic Lynnwood) from Great Escape Games in the UK (not to be confused with any like-named stores in the US).

When I looked and looked at the minis at Enfilade!, I figured I could churn them out quickly because they require almost no detail at all. I originally thought of starting with an overall coat of the base uniform color (Howard Hue's Field Gray) and just daubing in the details followed by a wash. That's not quite how I did them, but near enough. They do paint quickly and after the first batch, I have it down to a science. I find that I can do the basic painting of a full unit in a day of intermittent painting, then a spritz of clear satin enamel, a wash with Army Painter Strong Tone, a spritz of Krylon Crystal Clear Matte, et voilá!

At first, I thought about cutting out plastic bases (my go-to for most projects), but then convinced myself to use Litko bases. I have a huge box of various unused Litko bases in my garage; it's quite scary. I expect they'll remain unused for a long time. I found several 25mm x 50mm bases, which is what the rules call for. I've used those for the infantry and dismounted cavalry. The Machine guns I've mounted on 25mm x 30mm bases; the models are a bit long and hang over the 25mm square base. The horsed cavalry I'm mounting on 30mm x 50mm bases. I want the extra depth, it just looks better and you can stagger the figures a bit more when you base them.

Basing saga

I needed more bases, so I ordered some 25mm x 50mm and 30mm x 50mm from Litko. I thought I'd have them quickly, but delays at Litko and my great nemesis FedEx intervened. Litko shipped the ordered after a two-week lead time. They were supposed to arrive 2-Day Air, which they did—at the facility in Everett, WA. FedEx kept saying they were out for delivery, but they never got delivered. My first clue of trouble was when the notice said the package would be delivered by 8:00 pm. When FedEx says they'll deliver by 8:00 pm, they mean "you'll get it when you get it, and maybe not even then." 

Long story short: I wound up picking them up on Saturday, four days after they were due to be delivered, at the FedEx facility, where I waited about 40 minutes until they found it in the deeper depths of the warehouse. Until I had them in hand, I didn't believe I ever would. 

I got home and immediately started basing my uhlans and brigade command stand. They'd been waiting so long for it.

The cast of characters expands

I mentioned partners in crime earlier. Mike Lombardy was one of them. He proceeded to work on a French army. The other partner in crime played the rules once and decided he didn't like them. That left Mike with a lot of Frenchmen and no one to fight. However, it turns out that Bill Stewart and Eric Donaldson also got the rules. However, rather than use the Great Escape Games (GEG) figures, they used Kallistra. They also decided to put five infantry figures on a base instead of the four called for in the rules. Since the number of figures on the base doesn't affect game play, it doesn't matter, only the base size does. I'm doing the same with the GEG figures, which requires buying extra packs; the standard battalion packs come with 16 figures and an MG; the cavalry regiments come with 12 figures (mounted and dismounted) and an MG.

Wanting a bit more variety in poses than the GEG figures provide, I thought I'd buy some Kallistra figures to mix in. Turns out they don't mix. The GEG figures are a bit taller and a bit bulkier. Think of them as 'heroic 12s', which it turns out, is basically classic, 'true' 15s. I haven't compared, but I've read online that GEG 12s compare very well in size to the old Minifigs 15mm line (which is apparently still available from Minifigs, but that's deceptive. I've found it impossible to get anything from Minfigs, so basically, not available.) 

Having bought a pile of Kallistra Germans and Belgians, but having nothing to do with them, I thought I'd reach out and get someone else hooked. Dave Schueler, Kevin Smyth, and I met to play a Mexican-American War game using Rebels and Patriots (much fun; I'll post eventually, maybe). I brought my Kallistra figs and left without them. That got Dave hooked.

I thought Kevin would be a shoe-in for this project. His grandfather was an Old Contemptible and served in the Royal Artillery from Mons to the end. (Just before the war, he transferred into the RA from the Royal Munster Fusiliers, who were badly mauled in their heroic rear-guard stand at Mons.)

However, Kevin remained aloof until just this weekend, when he bought an English force from GEG. He's planning on adding to it a battery of 4.5" howitzers from Kallistra because those are the guns his grandfather served. GEG only produces field guns and BIG guns like the British 8-inch howitzer (which didn't actually see service until 1915) and the German Big Bertha (I see a battery of those coming, eventually).

The medium-large guns like the 4.5" howitzer and the German 105 are sadly left out of GEG's product line.

Eric who is painting Russians, was feeling a bit over-matched by all of Bill's and my Germans, so I made an order to Kallistra and soon I'll be painting Russians too.

Progress so far

As I assumed, painting these minis is pretty quick, which is good because you need a lot of 'em. At this point, I have the following painted:

  • 40 x German line infantry (2 battalions)
  • 20 x German jägers (1 battalion)
  • 2 x German 77mm field guns (1 battery)
  • 16 x mounted/16 x dismounted German uhlans (1 regiment)
  • 1 x command stand
  • 7 x line infantry MGs
  • 2 x jäger MGs

I'm pretty happy with how they turned out. They look good if you don't look too closely. 








I still have four more infantry battalions, another battery, another command stand, and another cavalry regiment to go. Two of the infantry units are already in progress. I expect that within a week or so, I'll have the Germans done. The whole force, assuming I don't later expand, will be two brigades:

Infantry brigade (318 points)
  • 6 x infantry battalion
  • 6 x MGs
  • 1 x battery
Cavalry brigade (188 points)
  • 2 x cavalry regiment
  • 1 x jäger battalion (elite)
  • 3 x MGs
  • 1 x battery
Still to come are Belgians and Russians. Also, I'll post a review of the 1914 rules at some point as well as a review of the two figure ranges.