Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Very Old School - Playing With Real Toy Soldiers

I visited my good friend Graham yesterday for a day of hobby fun in his excellent games room. After a cup of tea Graham announced that he would like to try something different from our default (Citadel miniatures and Games Workshop games).

Graham is a collector of Elastolin toy soldiers - roughly 40mm plastic figures, produced in Germany from the 1960s through to the 1980s (so Graham tells me - forgive me if I'm wrong). A stack of likely looking figures was assembled on the tabletop, with some retinue sheets for us to play a game using Osprey's Lion Rampant rules - we would both be novices as I had never played Lion Rampant before, and Graham had just a single game under his belt.

I would be fielding a largely Saxon force led by Prince Valiant, with some allied Vikings, while Graham's force consisted of Caesar's Roman Legionaries with some skirmishing auxiliaries.
Prince Valiant (note, this isn't Graham's figure, just an almost identical image I grabbed from the net)
A quick note on the Osprey rules; the game works on unit activation; you roll to see whether a unit can move, shoot, charge into combat or whatever. If at any point you fail with a unit, your turn immediately ends. This is a great game mechanic for adding uncertainty and risk management into the game. It also neatly represents battlefield confusion or hesitation.

The Roman Legion had marched on the Saxon village of Dudden Leah. Prince Valiant, alerted to the danger, called his kinsfolk to arms. Asvald of the Vikings, friend of Valiant, also promised a ship's company of swords...

The battle lines are drawn, with the Romans on the left and the Saxons on the right

The entire Saxon battle line moves forward, passing the majority of their activation rolls. The Romans are more hesitant and sit back (i.e. fail a lot of activation rolls)

Skirmishing Hun auxiliaries emerge from the woods to try and harry the Saxon Knights

The Saxon battle line is drawn up in good order, with Infantry in the fortified manor house and arches dominating the centre of the battlefield

On the Saxon right flank, a rabble of Viking allies spy easy prey in the form of skirmishing Slingers

The Huns come too close to the Saxon line; the infantry vault over the wall and charge in, but only a single casualty is caused on either side before the units disengage

The Vikings ready to charge the Slingers

The Saxon Cavalry overreach themselves and are charged by the heavy Roman horse, led by Caesar himself. A series of clashes ensues, until the Romans finally eliminate the enemy unit.

On the right flank, the Vikings have massacred the Slingers and reform to threaten the flank of a unit of Legionaries, while Prince Valiant and his men move up to the front.

The Vikings charge the Legionaries' flank, but with casualties on both sides, both units fall back in disarray. The Vikings fail to rally and eventually leave the field.

Prince Valiant chases the fleeing Legionaries as they run across the face of the Roman battleline

Saxon Infantry move forward to threaten the Hun cavalry, but are then broken by missile fire and fall back, failing to rally. Prince Valiant's men are charged by the Roman horse. The attritional engagements see both sides' numbers whittled down. Prince Valiant is challenged to personal combat by Caesar, and slaughtered

The lone survivor of Prince Valiant's Men takes revenge by hacking down Caesar

...Asvald of the Vikings stopped running, breathing hard. The majority of his men had safely escaped being slaughtered, and he could see Saxon infantry and bowmen following. A tear rolled down his cheek as he saw Edsil staggering through the scrub. The lone survivor of Prince Valiant's Men was carrying the limp and bloodied body of his Lord. Prince Valiant had fallen! The Romans were bloodied, but their battleline still held fast. The day belonged to the Romans!

*    *    *    *    *
I think both myself and Graham were very pleased with how easy the rules were to pick up. The unit activation rule appealed to both of us, and added another dimension of uncertainty. Interestingly enough, Graham failed a high proportion of his early rolls, then had better luck later in the game, while I had the reverse. Losing my Vikings meant I was unable to press home my gains on the right flank, while the retreat of my largely intact Saxon Infantry unit meant my left flank desintegrated from what looked like a position of parity.
I think we agreed there are some elements of the rules that seemed counter-intuitive...such as the winning unit disengaging from a combat, and the slow orderly retreat of a fleeing unit. But these are minor niggles, and I would recommend the rules to anyone looking for a simplified and entertaining tabletop game.
Graham and I have already started thinking about how we could use the rules for smaller fantasy engagements - creation of new units for monsters would be possible, as well as a small set of magic spells (a shooting spell, a courage test spell, a movement slowing spell perhaps?). Something to cover in the future!


  1. Fantastic write up as always Jon. I will definitely be trying out these rules in a fantasy setting as they make a nice change from more detailed and rule heavy sets. I think they have a nice Oldhammer feel about them as well. Not too prescriptive, meant for fun games where both players are playing with the right spirit. They are designed for forces of between 30 and 50 figures which is great and they are pretty easy to pick up. I would recommend them (particularly as they only cost about a tenner....none of this 40 quid lark !!)

    1. I wholly agree Graham. Fun, quick, easy, cheap - what's not to like?


  2. That sounds like a hoot. More complex rules do not a better game make: well designed simple games allow players to focus on tactics rather than legislation.

    It all sounds very pleasant, good stuff.

    1. Very much the case. Simple and fun - that's all you need to know, right? :)

  3. I'm all in favor of thsoe kinf of games. I enjoyed the "use me" rules at BOYL and the generci aspect of these ruleset really allow to concentrate on the objectives and narration which is all for the better for us big children !

    Looks fantastic, well done guys !

    1. I quite liked the 'big children' part. Ranking up my Saxons alongside my Vikings, against Graham's Romans and Huns felt a little bit like when I was 7 or 8 and my British Desert Rats allied with my 1970s SAS against my Medieval Knights ;)

    2. 1970's SAS and Desert Rats vs. Medieval Knights!! Yeah!!! That will have me dreaming for days! Thank you! And thanks too for this report. It was a joy seeing your mate's Graham's Elastolin's figs! He has a wonderful collection. Have you guys ever tried Chainmail with them?

    3. I somehow felt you couldn't stay unmoved by this private ! ;)

    4. No private w., no other rules sets used to my knowledge (although Graham may have given them a run out previously). We probably used about 50% of his collection - lots more nice things in the cabinet, including siege weapons :)