I actually wrote this review a long time ago, before I had a blog. For some reason, it never really transitioned over here? I have no idea why, but now I want to rectify that situation!
These are two different sets of rules put out by Osprey in their “Blue” wargaming series. Each booklet is only about 64 pages long. Therefore, concise, streamlined rules are the order of the day. The two books En Garde and Ronin cover two distinct time periods, but they run on the same basic game engine. This is reminiscent of the Lion Rampant/Dragon Rampant with modifications being in the way the rules are tweaked for the different settings. En Garde! deals with the Renaissance in Europe where Ronin is focused on the samurai period in Japan.
One of my favorite things about the Osprey rulesets that I have reviewed previously was that the author clearly laid out their goals and objectives in the Introduction of the work. Therefore, it was easy to determine if they succeeded in their purpose and helped me understand some of their design decisions. Sadly, neither of these rules has the courtesy to talk about the designer process, not even in a Design Notes section. I guess if you only have 64 pages, some of that might get left out.
Things I Liked
The game system that runs these two games is most famous for its Combat Pool system. Essentially, each player gets a certain number of chits, and then uses them to determine how much to use to attack or defend with. En Garde! is much clearer with how these rules work when multiple models are engaged against each other than Ronin but both games use the exact same system. Essentially when multiple models are engaged, you pool their combat pool together and all models can pull from the pool.
This adds resource management and tactical decision making to the rules. This is the highlight of the game and the key to its innovations. Plus, it allows for some of the “chrome” of sword play with parries, ripostes, disarming, mighty blows, etc by paying more or less chits to be able to complete them. In addition, models can specialize in certain weapons to differentiate between a guy who is a trained duelist and warrior versus some ruffian who picked up a Yari. This is the big “idea” of the system and it is pretty cool.
Things I Do Not Like
The Combat Pool is really cool and borderline revolutionary, BUT I feel it could be carried out a bit better. In the game, they try and streamline the process down to a single dice roll to determine hit, damage, and armor results. However, this leads to a somewhat cumbersome level of mathematics and modifiers that will require a reference chart for a bit. I feel it would have been more intuitive with a simple opposed dice roll to determine winner, and then any rolls above the opponent would equal hits, that would then be saved in a separate dice roll by the defender. Both players can still participate, but adds a bit more agency for the defender and less arithmetic to determine results.
Also, the system is a bit vague on who attacks who and what is a combined melee and what is an individual melee. In a combined melee, Combat Pools are lumped together so knowing if you are in a combined melee or not matters. In Ronin in particular it is especially unclear as the Combat Example makes it sound like a model can only use as much of the combat pool as they have contributed, BUT in En Garde! it does not seem that way. Therefore, I am still a bit confused on how it works exactly in larger combats. The system is great for one-on-one encounters but undoubtedly, someone will try to gang up on someone else.
Finally, I am unclear about the Morale system. Warbands can be in three categories, Steady, Wavering, and Routing. When they are Wavering and Routing models do not always act as you the player intends and a basic activation roll is needed. It seems clear that when a Wavering model fails activation it is a temporary and one time failure. However, I am less clear about if a Routing Warband model fails the activation? Do they keep running away, or can you make subsequent activation rolls? If there are subsequent activation attempts, then there is no clear “end point” for the game.
Meh and Other Uncertainties
Each model is ranked between 1 and 5 and this sets the level of their skill. In addition, they can have certain skills to help boost them in one area or another. This allows you to build more characterful models and help them feel like individuals. After all, this is a small scale skirmish game!
The game seems like it uses a pretty standard alternating activation system, but again the rules do not lay it out clearly to me. They talk about Priority and alternating with players, but for some reason it was still a bit foggy after reading the rules. I consider this due to space limitations in a 64 page booklets or me being a dunce. Both are possible.
One other big difference in the game is how missile weapons work. In Ronin missile weapons have two opportunities to fire. In En Garde! this does not seem to be the case. Since bows are in both games, this was a bit perplexing to me but it might have been simpler in En Garde! to avoid it since most of the weapons are black powder weapons. However, such weapons have a Reload Mechanic so I don’t know why the change.
En Garde! covers things like climbing, falling etc. However, the damage resolution is a bit tough to figure out and a reference guide for such circumstances will be needed. However, how often is that likely to happen?
It has fun and characterful army lists for both periods. I liked the idea of Conquistadors vs. Aztecs in En Garde!. They both come with scenarios, but the ones in Ronin are less generic and there are more of them. They are not the same, but most of them are close enough. Both also offer a simple campaign and progression system as well.
En Garde! has three appendix that cover simplified mass battle, fantastical elements, and inspiration. Ronin only has the inspiration section. It is clear the author has good taste in films!
These rulesets have a lot of good ideas, but the writing and editing needs to be crisper. Perhaps I am just dense? However, the core idea is really strong and I recommend folks give them a try. I am a big fan of Combat Pools in skirmish games, even if I think this one is a bit futzy in an attempt to make all combat resolution occur in a single dice roll, the attempt is still well-worth checking out.
The rulebooks make brief mentions of tournament use, but this is more of a campaign/one-off style of game. I think some of the abstractions make it unsuitable for tournament play. Perhaps if it were expanded a bit in certain key areas, it would be ready for such a challenge, but in its current 64 page streamlined version with scenarios, army lists, and everything else it will still be a fun game and worth buy and painting up models for.