Sunday, March 10, 2019

Rebels and Patriots: The TML Review

Okay, so it's a big day at TML towers, as I've played the latest iteration of the 'Rampant' game engine, Michael Leck's (with Dan Mersey) 'Rebels and Patriots'.

The hot take, R&P takes the Rampant Engine and makes it work for the 18th & 19th century, it also fixes many of the things that people who disliked the previous iterations hated, but it naturally lacks the sheer variety of the Fantasy version.

Rebels and Patriots is a set of rules for black powder warfare in North America, roughly the period 1750-1870.  Like all the Osprey rule systems, R&P is pretty short, and like the various iterations of 'Rampant' before it, rather straightforward.  The battle rules themselves run to only 16 pages of the 64 in the book, but this is to discount the various key elements of the game subsumed to the officer, unit and scenario rules.

For those unfamiliar with the previous versions of these rules, they run at a large skirmish scale, without detail to an individual soldier level, except for the commander, but with units being in groups of 6, 12 or 18 men.  It is an Igo-Ugo system of alternate turns, everything is measured in inches, and everything in D6's with units generally rolling fixed numbers of dice regardless of individual losses.  If this sounds overly simplistic, do not fear, there is enough nuance to the rules to make it interesting.

Units are activated individually, requiring a modified roll of 6+ on 2D6 to carry out the desired action, which include moving, firing, Skirmishing, Attacking (engaging in melee), and rallying.  Disorder, caused by casualties and other negative situations.  If a unit fails to activate - unlike previous versions - you move on to another unit until all have received an order to attempt.  Leck, clearly believes the 18th & 19th century soldier was better drilled than his medieval forefathers.

All forms of combat boil down typically to rolling 12 or 6 (occasionally 3) D6, typically needing 5's or 6's to hit.  Two hits cause a casualty at short range and you add one to the number of hits required to modify for adverse factors.  In melee, both sides roll, and special reactions like evasion can apply.  Overall commanding troops on the table is easy and fluid, and handles the particularly American contexts of regular, militia and native forces operating together, well.

Morale is handled based on immediate losses from fire, not total accrued losses, therefore casualties could be seen as representative rather than literal, but the clever disorder mechanic is what really makes it tick.  A unit with one disorder token can continue to act but at some disadvantage, including essentially -1 to all rolls; a unit with two disorder tokens is considered Broken and is likely to retreat a lot until rallied; which is made harder thanks to the -2 to morale/rallying rolls this will apply.  On your third disorder token you rout and quit the field entirely.

The mechanics therefore are straightforward enough, units essentially operate as blobs, with 360 degree lines of sight, movement is simple enough and the commanders offer little initial benefit.  But the details really make the game.

You would expect troops of the period to be drilled, and so Close Order (an advanced version of the old 'Shield Wall' rule, in previous books) reflects this, troop types then go a long way to bring to life the period.  Line infantry may present dense walls of fire, Light infantry can utilise ground better, Shock infantry reflect Grenadiers with their improved aggression, and so on.  The rules also cover cavalry and artillery, and also - key to the region represented - native troops.  To do this it has stretched the core of the Rampant engine, but also made numerous changes (some may well say, accurately, improvements).  There is also some streamlining, but it works well.  This therefore allows room for a campaign system, based on the career of your commanding officer.

This has the potential, along with the scenario section of the book, to be almost universally useful, regardless of whether you play the rules themselves.  You create a commander very simply and they begin with 10 Honour and a personality trait - one of 36 available.  As you gather honour from engagements, your commander improves, or if you are unlucky, enters a reputational slump of epic proportions; but he will generally remain in command of your company, until death.

Honour is one of the drivers of the scenarios, and is a development of the old Glory/Boast system.  Gone is the lottery of assigning your own agenda to each battle and winning or losing based more on this than battlefield performance.  Now each scenario has fixed objectives, and victory goes to he who achieves these.  A pleasing 12 scenarios are offered (13 if you count, just beat each other up as a scenario).

The final section of the rules gives a range of example companies and the briefest precis of various engagements in North (and Central) America, from 1754 to 1871, all very useful, and as a player of the War of 1812, interesting to see.  But one obvious question would have to be, why only America?

Well, in essence the answer seems to be IP infringement.  Osprey's own!  As Osprey already have skirmish and mass battle rules covering this period for the European wars, Rebels and Patriots has had to keep to a tight subject to remain distinct.  But could it be used for other regions?

First of all one perhaps should interject by asking are they any good at all?  Well, in this writers opinion, yes they are.  As with every version of the 'Rampant' system they evolve and develop in positive ways, building on the best of previous versions.  At this stage I only have one actual play to go on, but that was most entertaining and they felt like they were a fair reflection of a general period feel.

So back to the previous point, are they any use if you are more interested in Simon Bolivar, or Richard Sharpe?  Absolutely.  There is nothing to stop the rules being turned to South American or European conflicts, and there is probably enough to permit some colonial wars to be reflected (though I imagine Mersey's 'The Men Who Would Be Kings' may cover that bent more than satisfactorily).

In conclusion then, I think Rebels and Patriots is a delightful little set of rules, and I expect I will personally get a lot of mileage out of them.  They appear well suited to their key periods of the American War of Independence and the American Civil war, whilst ably covering all in-between.  The rules are fast, simple and fun to play, with enough subtlety for a diverting and thoughtful evenings play.

Overall it's a strong approve here.



  1. Interesting and tempting review. Thanks.

  2. Thank you, very informative.

  3. Thank you for the review. I had picked up the rules (but not read them yet) not because I’m particularly interested in the period or theatre but being a fan of Dan Mersey’s previous rules, so it’s definitely useful to know that they can be adapted to other theatres.