Sunday, July 9, 2017

Rules Review - Ronin

Ronin was another Samurai skirmish ruleset that I wanted to review.  It's a ruleset from Osprey Publishing that came out a couple of years ago.  Despite picking this rulebook up literally days after it was available, I had never sat down and actually read the rules.

Scale of Game & List Building:
The rulebook states that Ronin is intended for 4-20 miniatures per side and suggesting that 100 points should equate to < 10 figures and about an hour of game time.  So it sounds in line with my taste.

The force composition rules are not as simple to summarize though.  The first thing to understand that each potential member of your force can have a Rank of 0 through 5.

  • Rank 0:  Basically a peasant that has picked up arms
  • Rank 1/2:  Basic troop
  • Rank 3/4:  Elite troop
  • Rank 5:  Best of the best
Depending on the faction you choose to play, you will get various composition requirements based on the ranks above.  For instance, one faction may say that you can only have one Rank 3 troop, per every Rank 1 troops your force has.  Additionally, many forces dictate that no more than 50% of your force may be armed with missile weapons and no more than 25% of force can have a teppo (flintlock rifles).

Given the typical composition rules, it would seem to me that no matter the point total you and your opponent agree upon, you will probably tend toward the higher end of model counts.  Still, 20 figures is within my preference level.

Standard Rules:
Ronin is basically an alternating activation system, although this occurs at the phase level.  There are 5 phases to each turn:  Priority, Move, Combat, Action, End.  The Priority phase simple determines who can go first for each of the Move, Combat and Action phases and is handled with a simple d6 roll off.  As far as I recall, nothing else factors into this roll off (it would have been nice to see some modifiers/something that added a little more depth than just a random roll).  Morale is also handled during this phase.  The End phase is simply a maintenance/clean up phase, so timing is simultaneous.

The Move phase is actually exactly how it sounds, although there is one exception.  Movement is standard for all troops:  6 inch standard move, 9 inch run with modifiers for certain conditions.  The interesting part of the Move phase is that it is an "opportunity" to shoot.  I say opportunity, because you can also shoot range weapons in the Action phase.  Even if you shot during the Move phase.  Yes, you can shoot twice per turn (this is potentially ok though, as I will eventually discuss) unless it is a weapon that requires reloading (teppo).  Shooting during the Move phase is considered a hurried shot and suffers a penalty.

The Combat and Action phases are also exactly what they sound like.  Combat resolves all the melee combats and the Action phase is where actions are performed, including standard shooting.

In each the Move, Combat and Action phases the player with priority determines who goes first.  After the first players action, it alternates to the other player and so on until all models have acted or passed.

Since shooting can first occur during the Move phase, let's discuss how that is resolved.  Shooting is simply a 2d6+characteristic+/-modifiers against a target number of 6.  If successful, the damage is equal to the difference.

Combat, is actually resolved a little differently and is little shocking at first.  The Ranks of the models involved determines each sides combat pool.  This combat pool is secretly divided between Offense and Defense.  Initiative is determined for each model involved in the melee with a d6+modifier roll and the highest initiative get an opportunity to to attack.  If the model does attack, it removes a Offense token for his sides pool.  It's then a 2d6+modifiers roll against the targets 1d6+modifier roll.  This is where I was scratching my head a bit, since that seems a bit "unfair."  Well, the reason is each side actually gets a chance to "enhance" their roll by removing another appropriate token from their pool and if you are paying attention, the defender has not spent any tokens yet.  So if the target has no defense tokens, or chooses not to use them, then I guess the philosophy is that it's not trying very hard to defend itself and therefore should be easier to hit.  Interesting.

Note though, I said each side can "enhance" their attack.  If the attacker does enhance its offense for that attack they get an additional die, bringing it up to 3d6, but can only keep the best 2 results so its not quite as huge of an advantage as a straight 3d6.  Like shooting, if successful the damage is determined by the difference.  Then you move to the model with the next highest initiative and basically wrap and repeat until no offense tokens remain.

Damage is also kind of interesting, as models do not have a number of wounds.  Which seems really weird given I have just been talking about damage being the difference between 2 numbers.  This is because damage equates to a level of wounds, and wounds stack up to higher level wounds:

  • Damage 1:  Stunned
  • Damage 2/3:  Light
  • Damage 4/5:  Grievous
  • Damage 6:  Critical (killed/out of action)
While stuns do not "stack" in the sense of a cumlative effect, you do track each stun because during the end phase a variable amount of them are removed.  A light wound on top of a light wound is upgraded to grevious.  A model with a grevious wound that suffers any wound (even stun it appears) is upgraded to critical. Note my wording in these, it appears intentional that if a model has a light wound and then suffers a grevious wound then it only has a grevious wound.  Appears is the key word though.  Wounds also impart modifiers on several things (movement, combat modifiers, etc).

Beyond that, the rules allow for basic special rules (kinda like key words), mounted models, special attacks (disarm or subdue), and weapon specific modifiers and special rules.

Other Things:
The rulebook is fairly well laid out although there are a couple of minor issues, IMO.  The first is my (and a lot of other gamers) typical gripe in that there is no index.  Yes, it kind of does not need one since it is fairly short the Table of Contents does manage fairly well.  Still, when will people learn that "we" want indexes.  The second is the rules could be better broken into clearly distinct sections.  Things just seems to roll from one topic into another without much notice, making it slightly confusing (or making me just an easily confused old man).

There are a lot of different factions to choose from that can be very distinct just from the composition rules alone.  There is a suggestion for a campaign advancement system but nothing strictly laid out.  There are also advance rules for adding in another tactical layer via fatigue and a resilience stat, which seem kind of odd to me to have these as an advance rule as the game overall seems simple enough to tolerate this additional layer.

The scenarios seem a bit of an after thought.  VPs for a scenario are primarily driven by the Rank of the models killed.  But each player also randomly determines a secondary objective for the game, worth 5 VP.  Which is certainly enough to swing the game, it just does not seem like enough to back off the typical kill everything you can approach.

Some Issues:
I really not seeing any major/obvious issues with the rules.  In fact, I am pretty interesting to see how the entire combat pool thing works out for melee.  I may not like it though, its a little tough to say.  I am also still a little concerned that archers can shoot twice in one turn and damage is determined against a static number (that is slight below the mean for 2d6 rolls).  I believe that most factions limiting the number of range weapons to 50% is an attempt to offset this.  I also think that it maybe balances that melee guys can technically attack multiple times in a turn if they have a high combat pool and allocate it to offense.

I think the rules are really crying out for an expansion.  I would love to see better scenarios that really drive the encounter, rather than after thoughts.  A better advancement system would be great to, as would be a nice narrative campaign system wrapping around all of it.  Top of that expansion book with some options to add more fantastical elements to the game.  That being said, the game has been out for a couple of years now and we have not seen any additional support so I would not hold my breath.

I think if you are interested in Samurai skirmish games, I think Ronin is worth trying out.  Given its one of the Osprey wargaming books, it is pretty cheap (I think I paid $14?).  I'm interested to see how the combat pool mechanic works out.  That being said, I am not particularly excited to try it and I can't really figure out why.  The only thing I can think of is;  If I threw down pirate models and changed the names of weapons and armor, then there would be nothing "samurai-ish" left to make it feel like I was playing with the wrong models.  What would make a game, any, feel "samurai-ish"?  I don't know.

Anyway, with this being my third review for samurai skirmish rules, you would think I had a bunch of models painted up waiting to go.  Wrong.  LOL.

Adding this to the list of games of this genre:  Samurai Skirmish

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