Monday, July 16, 2018

Review: Outremer: Faith and Blood- Osprey Games



The Crusades seem to have been gaining in popularity in the wargaming circuit in the last half decade.  Games like Dues Vult, Soldiers of God, Saga: Crescent and Cross, and LionRampant have fueled this surge of interest with gamers.  In addition, a number of interesting model lines have also been released.  Plus, the Crusades themselves have a pretty intriguing and interesting history of their own to draw in players. 

Outremer: Faith and Blood is set during the Crusades.  It is the most recent addition to the Osprey Games blue covered Wargame Series.  Unlike some of the other Crusade-era games, Outremer is designed for small scale, model vs. model skirmish action.  Each side is between 3 and 12 models.  In addition to be a small scale skirmish, the focus of the game is campaign play.  This type of game is right up my alley and I look forward to digging in closer to the rules. 

Dues Vult!

Things I Liked
This is an Osprey Wargame Series book that takes the campaign element of their game very seriously.  Most have it as a few page add-on at the end, but this book uses over half the length of the book on it!  Each warrior in your warband has an experience progression path to become a unique warrior and part of your Crusading force.  They can gain experience, special skills, buy equipment, gain injuries, die, be captured, ransomed back, or sold into slavery!  To me, a strong campaign element is essential to a good model vs. model skirmish game and this game delivers.  It uses the familiar Necromunda/Mordheim standard set by Games Workshop back in the day.  This is the biggest draw of these rules in my eyes.      

Before a model can engage in hand-to-hand, they must pass a Faith test.  If successful, they can move in to engage.  However, if failed, the model dithers and can not act.  Close-combat is a scary and terrify place to be so I like this way to simulate a warrior’s hesitation in getting into harm’s way.   Plus, it is an easy way to differentiate a more war-like model such as a Knight of a Militant Order from a lowly peasant.

A simple and obvious touch, but heavier and more armor makes your model very slow.  Therefore, a heavily armed and armored knight will move 3 inches or so, while a lighter armed Saracen can move 6.  This mobility makes you carefully think about how you arm and equip your Crusaders.  It is a simple mechanic with big gameplay impacts, and is a great example of using simple rules to add tactical variation to your games.   
   
From the Outremer Author's Blog: 
http://outremerfaithandblood.blogspot.com/2018/01/welcome-to-official-outremer-faith-and.html

Things I Did Not Like
The game uses a card activation mechanic.  Each model is assigned a card.  The cards are then shuffled and randomly drawn.  If a model’s card is pulled, they can take two actions.  Once complete, a new card is dealt and that model can then activate.  This is a simple method to create activation uncertainty and is a tried and true methodology.  Why would I put it in this section then? 

First, I prefer to have control over who activates when as a decision point in the game with a  mechanic (like the faith test to engage in melee) that may limit my freedom of action that I need to decide how to react to.  In such a situation, I as a player still have the agency and decision making.  Cards activation (and random activation in general) remove that agency to create a randomize friction.  I prefer friction to occur AFTER I have made a decision. 

Secondly, I am not a fan of action point systems.  Two is fine, but I prefer players having to choose only a single action.  Again, as the player I have the agency to decide what I will do but it is limited to create the friction. 

The game uses a variety of dice common to those who ever bought a Dungeons and Dragons starter set.  You need a d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20.  Typically, I see a variety of polyhedron dice (some that are rarely used) as a bit of a barrier for entry.  D6 are easy for most people to come by and understand the probability curves for.  I prefer to use dice pools of d6 for skirmish games.      

All of these points are clearly my personal preferences, and the rules as written are perfectly serviceable and work.       

Meh and Other Uncertainties
The game has more skilled models have bigger dice (i.e. d10 is more skilled than d6), and you typically roll against a target number of 5+.  Then, any hits are roll the damage dice of the weapon trying to get a higher number than the defenders toughness.  Toughness is modified by armor with some armor allowing a special saving throw if the Toughness test is failed.  The big innovation here is the varied dice to allow a greater range of outcomes based on the weapons being used.  The process of the mechanics will be familiar to many of us who have played many skirmish games. 

The game has 6 scenarios that are pretty vanilla.  Again, if you are familiar with Skirmish games, you have probably played the scenarios in this book many times.  The game also allows for three main warbands of Militant Orders, Crusaders, and Saracens.  I could see this easily being expanded in supplements or by the author to include Albigensians, Byzantines,   However, the starting ones presented here do the job that it says on the tin. 

From the Outremer Author's Blog:
http://outremerfaithandblood.blogspot.com/2018/01/welcome-to-official-outremer-faith-and.html

Baltic Crusaders, etc. to move beyond the Crusades proper and into other medieval periods and types of crusades.

There is a “Catch-up” method built into the rules.  If your warband fights other groups with superior Reputation, they can earn bonus cash and experience to help them catch-up.  The greater the mismatch between forces the greater the reward is for playing as the underdog.  This is a must have element for any campaign heavy game.    

Of course, the book pulls from Osprey's delicious library of artwork and all of the artwork present in the book is great!  The model and terrain pictures are solid as well.  

Final Thoughts
The core rules for Outremer: Faith and Blood are solid and will be familiar with most wargamers.  They do not break new ground, but add some variation with different dice styles and a card activation system.  This differentiates it from some of its competition in the marketplace.  Like many skirmish games, the tactical play is not as developed for things such as flanking, vision arcs, etc. as the emphasis is instead quick play with a focus on campaigns. 

The strong point of these rules is each model as an individual unique character.  They have various abilities and skills that you must use together to achieve victory.  I can think of few rules where a model can become a merchant, craftsman, or scholar and have them be full tables of abilities themselves.  As the campaign progresses, each model will have a key role to play in the warband and their loss to capture or death will be keenly felt.  This book will become a go-to source for me as I develop and build my own campaign based games. 

If you like skirmish campaign games, I would recommend checking it out.  This is the best “Campaign” of any in the “Blue Book” Osprey Wargame Series.  
 
From the Outremer Author's Blog: 
http://outremerfaithandblood.blogspot.com/2018/01/welcome-to-official-outremer-faith-and.html
 
    

3 comments:

  1. Thank you. I've got the book, but not played it yet. It is helpful to get someone else's take on the rules.

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  2. I think the point buy prices for starting soldiers and equipment were completed hastily, with insufficient calibration. For example, consider the two leader-types on the Saracen list. The Sub-Arif is 58 points while the Arif is 80 (standard game starting pool is 750). For essentially the price of a small shield or leather armor for one character (20), the Arif's stats are higher in 6 of 8 attributes! One attribute difference alone, toughness +1, is the effect of wearing aforesaid leather armor (except the armor slows your move 1")!

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