Monday, December 12, 2022

2022: A Space Rampancy

Kind of like the Lion Rampant v2 release, the Xenos Rampant release took me by surprise. That's a good thing. I recall lamenting for a year that The Pikeman's Lament wasn't released yet. I hate waiting. I think I might have had some inkling about the XR rules being forthcoming a while back, but I didn't pay much attention. Then just last week I saw a post on FB by a friend of mine saying he'd received his copy of the rules. I immediately reached out to a well-known, somewhat large-ish online retailer of books (and many, many other things) and in two days, I had my copy too.

So the Rampant world has spaced out and gone to infinity and beyond! That's one  small step for rules, one giant leap for rampancy. When we last went rampant, black powder was still all the rage (itself a move up from javelins, arrows, and slingstones). Now we're looking at sci-fi high-tech weaponry and all that. The monolith has appeared, a new evolution is triggered.

Xenos Rampant is a nice hardback book coming in at 192 pages, most of which is intro, unit profiles, scenarios, and appendices (which are actually more of a QRS). The core rules run from page 44 to page 72. 

Rules overview

As expected from any Rampant product, the base mechanics are quickly grasped due to their similarity to other Rampant rules. However, there are exceptions that stand out with Xenos Rampant that makes it come into its own.

Unit sizes

The basic unit size is 5 strength points for all but Militia Rabble, which is 10. Strength points (SPs) essentially equate to number of figures, but single- and reduced-model units are possible. A vehicle, for example, is a single model with 5 SPs. Elite Infantry are 5 SPs, but the  unit can be two or three figures because it represents some pretty serious power-armored troopers. This is a big departure from previous rampancy where most units are 12 figures and some 6. Rebels and Patriots introduced the ability to increase a unit's size from 6 to 12 or 12 to 18 figures, or decrease it from 12 to 6. 

XR units can only increase, although some unit types can't be more than 5 SPs. At +2 points, the Increased Squad Size option not only gives you more figures/targets, but also increases your unit's performance. For example, the Light Infantry unit type with 5 SPs has an Attack Value of 6, Defence Value of 5+, and a Shooting Value of 6/18". If you pay the points to increase it to 10 SPs, the values become 5+, 4+, and 5+/18". The points cost isn't too dear when you consider that a base Light Infantry unit cost only 1 point, the options (and xeno rules) that start driving up the cost.

Options galore

In earlier Rampant rules, the base cost of a unit was typically 6, 4, or 2 points. Any options for the unit added to that, but there were usually only a few options. Units in XR can be more customized, which is in fact what you're doing with any unit you build. For example, Heavy Infantry has a base cost of only 2 points, but has a wide variety of options to alter the base profile.

Xeno rules (pages 74-93) provide even more customizations that can apply to any unit type. They're similar to the fantastical rules in Dragon Rampant. In fact, they're very similar; mostly the names have changed and instead of magic, the effects are made by technology (or alien wizardry).

Free actions

Taking a note from The Men Who Would Be Kings, Xenos Rampant allows some units to take certain actions for free, i.e., no activation roll required. In most cases, these actions are either move or shoot; however, Elite Infantry have both free attack and shoot actions. Kevin Smyth and I have discussed adding free actions to Rebels and Patriots, so it's encouraging to see it here. There are other nuances to XR that can be retrofitted to earlier Rampant rules.


The Firefight special rule (intrinsic to most units, so no cost to add) allows certain unit types to attempt simultaneous shooting at the first opposing unit to target them (i.e., once per turn at most). The rule means that you don't just have to grimace and take it when being shot at—unless you're being shot at by a lot of units. This rule, too, is something that could be retrofitted to Rebels and Patriots or even The Pikeman's Lament.

To maximum effective range and beyond!

In keeping with the big techno-shift in XR, most unit types can fire to infinity (or to the edge of the table, whichever is encountered first). A unit's Shooting Value is for a given range, typically 12", 18", or 24". Any unit types with a given range greater than 12" can target units beyond their range, but with a penalty of +1 to the target unit's armor value. This is similar to the long range effect in other Rampant rules. However, in the earlier rules you could never target a unit beyond your max range. In XR, there's effectively no max range. It's just effective range and beyond.

Environment agnosticism

I can't say that I'm an expert on sci-fi game rules, but all of them that I know of are written for a fictional environment and all unit types conform to that world. It often felt to me that the environment got in the way of the rules. I'd rather create my own fictional narrative rather than conform to another. I want rules that just let my sci-fi dudes shoot each other and the game is won or lost by tactics, guile, or dumb luck. Also, the environments often gave particular skills or technology to one faction/race/species to the chagrin or detriment of others. Playing in some games, I was often reminded of the chase in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where they couldn't believe the Pinkerton's ability to keep on their track.

It does begin to get on your nerves when someone you seem to shoot to bits just shakes it all (or most of it) off because, well, technology—technology that your faction lacks (dammit).

The unit capabilities, special rules, options, and xeno rules in Xenos Rampant rules apply to everyone. That doesn't mean every game is a fair fight—or the forces well matched—but you get to select the abilities you want as long as you pay for them. There's no scenario where some uber-tech faction can take more hits than you, or shoot farther, or unleash more truly hellish hell on you because they're just better than you according to the game environment.

You saw me standing alone

Xenos Rampant is my return to a gaming genre I've only ever dipped my feet into, but have always had a fascination for. I played Silent Death in the 90s and after selling off all my stuff, returned to it again (with a much smaller footprint) in 2013, but haven't played in nearly a decade since—though I still have all my round 2 toys. In 2015 I started playing Beyond the Gates of Antares and buying the hideously expensive minis for it. I enjoyed that for a while, but later sold it all at our regional gaming convention for I'm pretty sure less than I paid for it.

Ever since I first saw them, I've been crushing on the Blue Moon 28mm Aliens and Spacemen figures that are available through Old Glory Miniatures, despite never knowing what I would do with the minis if I bought them. They're not cheap, running $44.00 for a pack of 10 figures—though still much less expensive than BTGOA minis. However, because I'm a member in good standing of the Old Glory Army, I can buy the packs for $26.40. I must note, however, that historical minis from Old Glory come 30 figures in a bag for the same price. Why are sci-fi minis more expensive? I guess, because they can be and gamers will still buy them. 

Anyway, I ordered enough Blue Moon minis to make 2 x 5 SP Elite Infantry units, 2 x 10 SP Heavy Infantry units, and 2 x 5 SP Recon Infantry units. I'm pretty sure that after building out the units with options and xeno rules, I will have too many minis.

Final thoughts

I'm pretty excited by Xenos Rampant. Richard Cowen has done a great job adapting a game engine intended for Medieval warfare to a futuristic, hi-tech warfare scene. I finally have reason to buy the Blue Moon spacemen I've been wanting. I think they're a great evolution of the Rampant system. They can also be used for WW2 or really any 20th c. gaming. It's yet another project on my overfilled plate, but I think they'll paint quickly. It's kind of the attitude I had that launched me into 1914.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.