Xenos Rampant - The Review
There's been some curiosity about Osprey's new Xenos Rampant sci-fi rules. They're the latest in the Lion Rampant and Dragon Rampant family and the pedigree is obvious. I've played DR many times and it's a fine beer and pretzels light tabletop game that doesn't pretend to be anything more grand than just that. The frustrations are obvious to anyone who has played them though, most notably the notorious "Failed Action" roll.
For those of you not familiar with the rules, on your turn you select a unit, choose an action (Move, Fight (assault move + close combat) or Shoot (ranged attack)). Depending on the type of unit, those actions have different adds of success.
Here's an example - Light Riders. Light cavalry, better at shooting than swordsmanship. You want these guys to move. Roll 2d6 and try to equal or exceed the Move rating of 5+. If you fail that roll, your turn immediately ends and it's on to your opponent. Anyone who has played has a story about repeatedly failing action rolls and getting trampled to death due to their inability to act. It happens. It's also, I feel, the single biggest failing in the rules. It sucks BAD to get on a bad run of the dice.
Xenos Rampant addresses this with giving most troops types at least one Action that incurs no risk of failure - a FREE action.
Here's the example, Heavy Infantry. They're very good for defending a thing and staying put because if you choose to activate them and order them to shoot, you can dispense with the activation roll and simply proceed to shooting their guns!
There are special unit upgrades that give troops even more reliability, such as Mechanoid, which is something you'd apply to robotic troops. Amongst other things it does this:
So as long as this unit is in decent shape, it's very reliable. Once the damage starts to accumulate, things will go sour but that's just part of the game.
In summary, the failed activation problem has been addressed. Maybe not cured, but certainly not ignored by the designers.
Another aspect of the Rampant series that some players may not care for is "lots of dice." I for one love "buckets 'o dice" but that's not for everyone. Whereas previous games required 12 dice to be rolled at a time, Xenos Rampant maxes out at 10. An improvement if that's important to you. Dice guy still gets to roll dice.
The last gigantic improvement that popped out at me was Morale / Courage. With previous games in the series, the total number of casualties the unit had taken throughout the game served as a negative modifier to a unit's Courage tests, meaning a heavily-depleted unit needed an Act of Congress/God to hold its nerve or quit running away.
Xenos Rampant changes this to where only casualties sustained during the Courage test inducing event are counted as negative modifiers; the total number of modifier sustained during the game is more or less irrelevant.
This changes significantly after the unit is at or below half strength. At that point the unit only rolls ONE D6 instead of two. Most units have a courage of 4+, so the test is still passable, but certainly less so. A beat up unit that's running away or cowering can certainly get its act together and turn around at 50/50 odds. That's not bad at all and a welcome change.
Vehicles are an integrated part of the Xenos Rampant rules. They do not use different rules and armor/damage/etc is handled exactly as it is for any other unit. If you play by the book rules, you won't be able to have more than one in a 24-point army. They're easy to use and feel well-balanced. Tough tanks are going to be hard to kill, but that's to be expected. Vehicles that move may opt to fire as well, albeit with a to-hit penalty. A simple enough solution for sure. The other caveat is that the vehicle cannot use a "Free" Move action and shoot its guns; the player must roll an activation test to get the double-action.
If you're looking for generic set of sci-fi rules that works well with 28mm and 15mm miniatures, Xenos Rampant is a fine set. If you've played Lion or Dragon and despise the activation roll mechanism, you want to skip this. I am very happy with the $25 I spent for the PDF and am looking forward to more games with it.