Sunday, June 12, 2016

Late to the Party - Dragon Rampant Thoughts

So the apparent drought of new material on the blog breaks with a bumper post about Dragon Rampant.  Yes I'm afraid for historical and big battle fans the blog is going to offer little for a while as this is the focus of attention in TML towers of late.

It took me a long time to get on the Dragon Rampant bandwagon to be fair, too much else to do to get any wargames in for a few months.  But an opportunity finally arose, quickly followed by another.

Now I am not going to promise a full review of the game, as frankly if you have seen my opinions on Lion Rampant there is only so much to add, the two games are 95% identical, there is just the addition of some fantasy specific elements and these only really serve to enhance the experience.  If you already like (or despise) Lion Rampant, then you really know what to expect here, and should have no illusions about what is on offer.

Rather a few words specific to my first couple of games.  As an opener I had a match against Ross, who for once was not rolling out his Ogres, rather a small collection of [obviously unpainted] elves, rescued from a dustbin!

Outflanking with a Dragon, what could go wrong?... 
We rolled up one of the scenarios from the book, notably, and probably to allow space for other items there are slightly fewer scenarios than in LR, but those present seem familiar. 

This one involved blocking the advance of the enemy with two flanking forces.  It did not suit either my force nor my tactical prowess.  However that may have been down to unit choices.

Dragon busy achieving nothing
One early point appears that putting all your eggs into one basket is a bad idea, My dragon was fully 10 of my 24 points, and proved next to useless, if they don't attack they are a huge point sink.  Granted, if hey do get stuck in they have huge potential, but unlike many other fantasy games, they are not near invulnerable.  The balance of DR is different to other games, many units are basically the same value regardless of race, and they all have access to the same set of special rules.  On the plus side this allows for infinite flexibility, but it does result in a degree of the generic about units.  Seasoned Warhammer/AoS players may not like that, others may love it!

Bellicose Foot (Faeries) against Elven Heavy Cavalry
 Manoeuvre, failed us both early doors, and as is a criticism of LR before it there is a reality of several turns going by with nothing happening, but the rules do not set an arbitrary limit on the number of turns so these shouldn't be seen as a real issue, just a minor annoyance.

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Combat aside, what really hamstrung me in this game was the enemy magic.  There are a small range of spells, each with its' own particular strength, I came up short repeatedly to 'Befuddle Thee' which rather easily allows a unit to become Battered - the Rampant version of Shaken or Wavering.

Consequently, my first game was enjoyable, but rather one sided.  Ross had enough games under his belt to have a solid idea that his force would work, whilst mine was a little less than effective.

 This in mind a week or so later I arranged another game, as part of a round robin at the club to introduce the rules.  For this I brought along a tweaked version of my first list, but additionally I brought a pair of forces both learning some early lessons, and showing the flexibility of the rules.

24 Points of Ogres
 My Ogre force centred on Offensive Heavy infantry, two units using the 'Reduced Model Count' rule to represent 12 figures with 4 models each.  The same rule turning one Ogre Captain into a unit of Elite infantry.  The warband finished by a troop of Hobgoblin cavalry with bows and lances.

24 Points of Goblinoids
 Similarly, the Greenskin force used the reduced count rule to Bring Trolls and Chariots, as well as a unit of spellcasting Goblin heroes and two units of Infantry; heavy and offensive Orcs and light and fearful Goblins.

In my game I took the Ogres for a trial, partly to see how the rules fared against the 'Ogre Test'.

Open battle in the Bloodbath scenario 
The Ogre test is a term a friend conjectured for the fact that in many fantasy rule systems or fantasy mods, Ogres seemed to be included as forces but written with disproportionate strength.  A classic flaw in Warhammer, and carried over to Sigmar, a problem to a lesser extent in Kings of War perhaps, though only for certain builds...

 In fairness, DR was unlikely to carry much of an issue due to the simple fact all armies derive from the same templates, if I build a army of Ogres and it seems overpowered, well you could just rewrite your elves list to represent exactly the same unit structure, and use the same number of models if you so desire.  No problem.  That arguably makes theme paper thin, but units having the same stats and performance but appearing hugely different on table never bothered historical gamers, this may be an expectation more of fantasy games!

More Faerie action
Unlike most large games, the action is fast and loose, units can see and be seen pretty much anywhere, movement is simple with only cohesion applying major limits, whilst shooting and combat rely only on one model of a unit being able to engage, for both sides to be fully involved.  These sort of lightweight rules may infuriate master tacticians who enjoy exploiting the wrinkles in a system, there are too few here for that, but they make for fast play.

A general advance against slow foes (and a tunnelling Wurm!)
Combat still splits dice into either 12 or 6 depending on the proportion of a unit still on table, and some again may find the idea of a unit down to it's last elf rolling 6 dice rather than 1 unusual, but it does mean that units always have a chance in battle, not least as the other key mechanic of combat relies on usually needing 2-4 hits on a unit to do any actual damage.

Another angle...
 My second game was a victory for me; admittedly against the army I lost with in my first, in other hands.  Happily just as much fun.  The pacey game had taken about 15 minutes to explain the basic rules of for the new player (Ricky) and then a little over an hour to play.  Whilst had tea and took club photo's Ricky and Matt had a second game, featuring my Greenskins against an alliance of Evil: Barbarian, Giants, Orcs and forest beasts.

Owlbears attack Orc Chariots 
Thrud makes Goblin paste
So, an overall conclusion?

I really like it.

This is not a simulation, it is not a representation of much in the way of real battlefield tactics, it is frankly rather gung-ho so far as skirmishing would be concerned too, were it not intended for a fantasy game context, in that case it works just fine and the open sandbox that the rules present allows for virtually anything to be represented.  Any game that gets me immediately thinking about buying and building a new army has to have something fundamental going for it.

Dragon Rampant certainly achieves this.  It's fun and it evokes the essence of classic fantasy wargames, without the need for endless fiddly rules-mongering or reference to endless tables and statlines, rules and errata.  Sure, they're not perfect, but what ruleset is.

In its own modest way, it is magnificent and well worth a look for any fantasy gaming fan.


  1. Nice thoughts on DR and I agree that it allowed me to think about going out and buying more fantasy minis, something I have not wanted to do in a long time.

  2. Useful thoughts. I have played Lion Rampant a couple of times but have been thinking about this for some time now.

  3. My conclusion also, and mirrored by my 15 yr old son after his first Victory with dwarves too (and now he is building his first army - I think that is a strategic victory for DR in itself!)

  4. Regarding the generic feel of the stats of visually different armies, my way around that is to theme my armies not on their elfiness or dwarfiness, but by focusing on particular unit types for the core units of each army. Thus my fallen dwarves are Heavy Foot, my necromancy cultists are light foot and missiles, my Slaanesh cult are light spear units (I'm using naked Greek hoplites), my Khorne Bloodbound are inevitably mostly Bellicose Foot, while my Frostgrave barbarians are mostly light foot with scouts providing short-ranged missile support.

  5. Nice review. My approach is similar to Richard's. Using the unit types to capture the "theme" of a particular force. One can also draw on Kings of War and of course Warhammer to assist with the creation of new special abilities which are otherwise absent in DR. Conversion is not too difficult if one is modest with ability effects.

  6. The generic nature of forces is no different, really, to how things work in HOTT. That solves it by small differences in structure being important, and that could work here too. Even the number of figures in a unit can make a difference, if only in 'feel'.