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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Xenos Rampant


Truth in advertising time: I'M A BIG DAN MERSEY FAN. Okay, now that's out of the way.

A miniature agnostic, fast playing, highly customisable Scifi skirmish wargame? Have Osprey pulled it off with Xenos Rampant? You bet your ray gun they have! Any models and miniatures, and the freedom to play with them, really is the heart of the system. It’s interesting and telling that Xenos Rampant doesn’t start with a rules section. It starts with how to build a detachment for the game, because this really is about making a system that works with anything you want to play (Including Victorian Science Fiction!).

The Izmaylovsky Lifeguards of the Imperial Russian Army supported by a heavy Steam Walker (Heavy Infantry and an Elite Infantry Walker)

Straight away if you’re aware of what Mersey and Osprey have been putting out recently, you know you’re in for a few things:

1. Great rules

2. Fast play

3. High production values

This game delivers. Mersey is the designer responsible for Lion Rampant; the medieval skirmish battle rules and with various co-writers, all the myriad solid rules that Osprey have produced using the same basic mechanics with twists.  From Pikeman’s Lament for the 17th century, Dragon Rampant for fantasy, The Men Who Would be Kings for Colonial, Rebels and Patriot for warfare in North America, etc. These are Science Fiction wargame rules that deliver a 21st century wargaming experience: fast, fluid, customizable and flexible.

Are they genetically enhanced Space Marines? Or are they the Mobile Infantry of the Bug War? You get to decide.

Xenos is a miniature-agnostic skirmish wargame for science fiction settings. It could be played at 28mm in a grim dark galaxy, it could be used to cover near-future grounded combat, it could be just the rules you’ve been looking for to do the Weird War 2 campaign you’ve been thinking about, or simply to throw whatever you and a friend have to hand onto the table to crank out a fast, enjoyable and deceptively simple game. It’s got heroes and villains, vehicles, aliens, soldiers, shooting, high-tech and high-concept, explosions, psychic powers and everything you could want for your Sci-Fi skirmish, all built on a solid grounding of clear and flexible rules.

In a full color, well produced and proof read (!!!) 192 page rulebook with great art , illustrations and miniatures throughout, you get a ruleset that’s easy to pick up and difficult to master, astonishingly broad and flexible army selection rules, a campaign system, multiple scenarios and even examples of genres and settings to let you get started exploring the game in several different ways.

You can use any scale you want and you don't need to rebase. Here are my GW Space Marine (Now Epic 40K) Tyranids.

There are two major selling points for me here: clear, clever rules and the amazing flexibility of the army building system. This is a set of rules where you can take any model you want and build it within the framework the game gives you. The possibilities are almost endless, and that is exciting.

Zombie Boys night out.

I'm not going to go through the entire rules system of Xenos Rampant one bullet point at a time, because – for one – it’s a short, easy to understand system (only 28 pages, and that’s with lots of miniature photos on half-page display), but also to highlight a few systems that speak to the philosophy of the game as a flexible, fast play experience.

Xenos is an activation and action based system, so if you’re coming in from strict IGOUGO games like Warhammer 40k, be prepared for learning a new system that, in my opinion, makes games better. Xenos goes for a straightforward Activation test (2d6 rolled against an activation stat) mechanic, but with a clever twist. Units have several actions they can do when activated, built around a core of move, shoot and attack (melee) and additional reactive activations.

The active player activates units until they fail to pass an activation test, and that failure hands over control to your opponent. Not all your units are guaranteed to activate, and that, at the most basic level, builds tension and meaningful choice into the game. You need to prioritise what you’re doing, who’s moving, or shooting, or chopping the opponent into pieces, and at any moment you could fluff that test and hand the initiative straight over to your opponent who’s been itching for revenge since you fired your first shot.

Of course you can have a sniper.

You get this kind of thing in a lot of games—as someone who plays a lot of historical games the test to activate system is familiar ground. Where Xenos has a clever little ripple is that each action you can take with a unit has a different activation value. Straight off the bat, that lets the game differentiate choppy units (who will easily activate for a charge and subsequent melee), shooty units (who’ll shoot easier) and mobile units. Elite units will activate easier on all three, while raw, untrained mobs of models may be difficult to activate. Elite units might even get a free activation, while some may lack the option to activate specific abilities at all. Your artillery, for example, might activate for free to shoot but will not be charging into battle.

Yes we did have Wyatt Earp and friends fight mechanical flying monkeys, giant wolves and the Winkie Guard (snicker) with Xenos Rampant.

I like this a lot. It provides very simple and very effective differentiation between units. It shows variation in expertise, inclination, unit quality or purpose quickly, subtly and intelligently in a way that is instantly understandable both to you and your opponent. It can be used to easily draw character, background and story out of your army and does so in a rules-supporting way, fluff and crunch working together to deliver a satisfying choice-filled mechanic.

So you want to still use your chain sword? You can!

This kind of easy to understand but deeply impactful rules design works throughout the game. Rules that could, in other systems, take up multiple pages are reduced to their essentials, streamlined for better and more effective gameplay. Units shoot, fight and lose models according to general principles, like rolling ten dice for shooting if your unit is above half strength, or unit morale being split between fine, suppressed, and fleeing off the table. Everywhere, if a rule or system adds needed complexity to support a satisfying play experience, it’s kept. Shooting is a great example: you hit by rolling your shooting value or above. You wound by comparing the number of hits to the targets armor value, with a few modifiers. DONE! Anything else that you really don’t need – like, say, rolling to hit, to wound, to save against armor and to mitigate damage all separately is removed. It’s tight and that’s a pleasurable play (and reading!) experience.

There are a plethora of unit types all built on the same basic stat lines – activation scores, courage, fighting and shooting ability, movement and armor – and the simple variation in these values gives the game it’s basic unit archetypes. The profiles cover staples like Elite Infantry, Beserkers, Giant Xenomorph monsters, hordes of chittering lesser aliens, military, zombies and civilian vehicles and transports. 

These Necrons could be a unit of Heavy Infantry with the Automaton rule and fight humanity in a Terminator game!

On top of those 13 basic unit types, there are 30 additional rules for infantry, 18 for vehicles and 35 “Xenos rules” representing weird and wonderful abilities. The core infantry and vehicle additional rules are things like Armor Piercing (reducing an enemies effective armour value when shooting), or Mobile (faster movement), and 30 different options, variably available to the 10 infantry archetypes, cover an awful lot of ground. You can design virtually anything you want from these – and the same goes for the three types of vehicle and the 18 vehicle options. All of these options are very simple mechanically, explicable usually in 1-3 lines of text and come with a points value as an upgrade or downgrade.

So you want to have a flying, Victorian air ship with heroic air pirates to battle Xenomorphs? With this game you can.

You’d struggle to find a unit profile in a Scifi skirmish game that couldn’t be expressed through these, and if you can it’s likely that it will be found in the Xenos rules – 35 exotic and slightly more complex additional rules that really bring the weird. Xenos rules include a set of psychic powers, rules for zombies or other brittle, mindless styles, zealous crusaders, high-tech weaponry or cloaking devices, force fields, powered weapons, robots and paratroopers.

Green Martians from Barsoom? You betcha.

It’s a phenomenally massive range of customization that means you can put anything you like onto the field, and have it work as you’d like – and how the models portray it. It’s obviously a fantastic narrative opportunity to have the means to put whatever you want onto the field and have it backed with rules, but it’s also a great mechanical one. Every building block you need is here, with a points value, clarity on any interactions (can’t stack anti-tank and armour piercing, for example) and easily explainable to your opponent. You can go as strictly WYSIWYG as you like, or combine with the Strength point system to stick some bizarre and fanciful creations on the board.

If I sound excited by this, it’s because I am!  It’s all in service of the shining idea: a pickup, narrative or campaign game played with whatever models you want. You can tailor your force to what you want to play mechanically, thematically, aesthetically, and you could put this against a force that your opponent has done the same. Giant Mechanical Squid and it’s horde of mind-controlled civilians against Soulless Vampire Knights mounted on naked mole rats? Yep. Marines (from Space, mind you) versus Paradropping Aztec psychers? Sure. It’s not even that these forces would seem painfully generic as in many games that claim to be miniature-agnostic, because the rules back up meaningful differentiation and provide solid crunch to back it all up.

One of my Star Wars Legion commanders who has joined the ranks of Xenos Rampant.

The campaign system and the commander traits that accompany it are probably the one weaker point in an otherwise fantastic system. This isn’t where you look for a fully fleshed out, granular campaign, and that’s fine – lots of other products for that – and the campaign rules presented are light touch stuff mainly focused around improving (or eating!) your commander. The commander trait rules though are quite random, a set of d6 tables with several ok, one spectacular and one or two negative traits per, and that quite doesn’t sit right with me. As a result I'm modifying the Commander traits from two other Mersey rules: Rebels and Patriots and The Men Who Would be Kings. If you don't like this, they’re easily skipped, or house ruled like I am doing and therefore not a major issue.

Bottom Line: Lieutenant Juan Rico, Mobile Infantry, gives this game an enthusiastic two thumbs up.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Flashback February: Photosynthesis or Why you should not play boardgames with Dad

It's Christmas time and also time to play annual games with my sons and family. This year I was introduced to Photosynthesis. The sun shines brightly on the canopy of the forest, and the trees use this wonderful energy to grow and develop their beautiful foliage. Sow your crops wisely and the shadows of your growing trees could slow your opponents down, but don't forget that the sunrevolves around the forest. 

Welcome to the world of Photosynthesis, the green strategy board game!  Green strategy board game? WHAT KIND OF COMMUNIST AL GORE PLOT IS THIS?

Now don't misunderstand me, but I liked Photosynthesis and it is a fun game. The whole idea is to grow the best forest and earn the most points doing so - but I decided it needed some new rules to make it more challenging and enjoyable.

To first grow a tree you must purchase a seed and then spend energy points to plant the seed. Honorable Son #3 plants a seed (CAN YOU FEEL THE TENSION?).

During my turn, I immediately planted a weed on Honorable Son #3's seed so it would not get any sunlight and grow.

After another turn and rotation of the Sun, I noticed Honorable Son #5's forest was growing too large for my taste so I launched some mechanical spiders to web them in a Mirkwood kind of fashion.

Ever quick to act, Honorable Son #5 deployed Frodo armed with Sting to slay the spiders.

He was countered by Honorable Son #2 by using the new "Elf" rule which captured the hobbit, but not before all of the spiders were destroyed.

Meanwhile Honorable Son #3 decided to clear cut his forest by using the ancient Egyptian god Sobek and earn some points.

Weary of  Sobek earning points, I decided to deploy Shere Khan and bite the ankles of the ancient god.

In a bold move, Honorable Son #2 deployed a troll to knock down some trees and almost crushed Shere Khan.

In response I deployed Sam Spade with lit cigarette to burn down my opponents tree. “My way of learning is to heave a wild and unpredictable monkey-wrench into the machinery.” (Mandatory Bogie quote when deploying Sam.)

My beautiful bride (The Minister of Finance and Chief of Staff) intervened at this time and told me to put the lighter away. (DAMES!!!)

Later in the move, to help protect Shere Khan (AN ENDANGERED SPECIES!) I deployed The Doctor and Companion. The Doctor declared that the blue trees (belonging to Honorable Son #3) were not native to Earth, were probably alien in origin, and could not possibly thrive using photosynthesis. This almost won me the game until Honorable Son #2 pointed out that The Doctor is now a woman and needs more companions to defeat enemies (RESULTING IN A SLAP FROM HIS BEAUTIFUL BRIDE). The Doctor was voted off the island.

Allan Quartermain then arrived and shot the endangered species, losing 20 points but laughing the whole time.

Sam and Allen decide to work together to beat the others. (“He looked rather pleasantly, like a blonde Satan.”)

Suddenly Honorable Son #5 placed a lost and ancient treasure on the board and Allen Quartermain immediately went on a quest leaving the board.

 "Listen tree, When you're slapped, you'll take it and like it.”

Sam almost won the game for me, but the boys were good at countering my antics and Honorable Son #5 ended up winning the game. A free wheeling, fun time was had by all! Next time I'll use Fu Manchu!

Thursday, February 22, 2024

I am truly Humbled


The great Kev Dallimore commented on my figures! Figures by Copplestone.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Flashback February: Shoot out at the Golden Nugget!

Time for some action in the town of Golden Nugget. As mentioned earlier, the game is going to be played with the free rules Blaze of Glory found on the Free Wargames Webpage: . I have found this site to be an invaluable source for rules, ideas and just fun. You can also go straight to the Blaze of Glory website here:

Here is a description of the game rules using some material from the site:

Unlike many wargames Blaze of Glory does not have a turn system, where players alternate. It has a random turn system based on a set of cards. Each figure is allocated a number of cards relative to its level:

Level 1 0r 2 = 2 cards
Level 3 = 3 cards

Level 4 = 4 cards
The more heroic a figure the more cards
(For our game we used regular playing cards, one color per team, with the name of the character on the cards)
The cards are shuffled and placed to one side. The top card is turned and the player controlling the figure indicated takes his turn. The figure indicated by the turned card is referred to as being Active. This has done away with a player being able to make calculations as to what might happen in a certain number of turns. It leads to a fluid, sometimes nail-biting game.
A turn consists of moving then carrying out an action like shooting, fisticuffs, standing up or seeking cover. All figures in our game were on foot and can move 4 inches. This is a normal move and will not normally affect any actions taken. A figure may move over obstacles up to 1 inch in height or width with no penalty. Obstacles over 1 inch high would require a climb test, see below. After a figure has been moved the player may decide if he wishes to attempt to move the figure further, by making a run roll. In most cases the player rolls a d6 and moves the figure the number of inches indicated by the roll. Note running can have an impact on other actions, e.g., you may shoot when running but accuracy is affected.
Characters were also allocated HERO points based on their level; this allows them to make a second run roll, avoid falling and making miraculous escapes!

Shooting is the most common way for a character to attack another in BLAZE OF GLORY. The shooting rules are intended to recreate the atmosphere of the movies and the reality of fairly inaccurate weapons being used in pressure situations, by, in many cases inexperienced individuals. Any figure within line of sight and the weapon’s range may be selected as a target. A player should, and will usually go for the closest enemy, but this is not always the case in the movies so it is not here either. Weapon ranges are revolver 12", Rifle 30", Bow 24", shotgun 8" and throwing something (the occasional bottle or knife) is 6".

To hit a target a player must make a successful SHOOT roll by rolling equal to or less than his Shooting value. For example, in our game, Sheriff Dillon had a shooting value of 6, which is really good. As with all tests the S value can be affected by various conditions so before making a roll the player must refer to the following modifiers and apply any/all relevant ones.
The other factors used are Fisticuffs (self-explanatory), Reflexes (comes in handy when diving through windows!) and Nerves (will he run or will he stay?). In addition there special skills which can give your character a unique flavor and advantages: sharpshooter, dodge and weave, and nerves of steel to name a few.
This was Sheriff Dillon's breakdown:
Reflexes:4 Nerves:4
Hero Points: 8
Special skills: Sharpshooter, True Grit and Pugilist (for details, see the rules at the link)


From left to right: El Dorado Jo, Reb and Curly Joe.

Leading the forces of good (Honorable Son #5) is Sherrif Dillon accompanied by his posse.
I of course will lead El Dorado Jo's ruthless gang of bank robbing, horse thieving and Bible stealing desperados. El Dorado's gang quickly steals several bags of gold from the McLaren mine.

Sheriff Dillon and Deputy Bill just happen to be nearby and yell at the villains to stop.

Deputy Bill yells "Stop you villains!" Well . . . that didn't really happen. The ole deputy is a bit trigger happy and just started shooting.

The villains reply with gun fire and force the Sherrif and his loyal deputy to take cover. Meanwhile, from on top of the Sherrif's office, Mr. Davy and Mr. Dynamite, loyal employees of McLaren's mine, open fire on the villains forcing Curly Joe and Reb to take cover near the mine's entrance. El Dorado Jo and Joe Mudd move to better positions to cover Curly Joe and Reb. As Deputy Bill peers above a log, Jose Chavez, who had been hiding on the high ground beside the mine, aims his Winchester rifle and drops Deputy Bill in his tracks!

Jose Chavez: Loyal minion and right hand man of El Dorado Jo.

Score 1 for the Bad guys (BWAH HAH HAH!). Deputy Bill is on his back to show that he has been wounded.

Sherriff Dillon, dismayed at seeing his long time companion fall, raises his rifle and plugs El Dorado Jo! Not only did he hit him, he nailed him dead. Now . . . here's where some gaming came in. I knew my minions Curly Joe and Reb might run away if they saw there boss lying in the dirt with a bullet in him. So I used one of El Dorado's "hero points" to make a roll to avoid his untimely demise early in the game. The roll was successful and the bullet was deflected off of El Dorado's whiskey flask adding more to the legend and mystique of El Dorado Jo!

As the bad guys dash to the bridge over Snake Creek, the rest of Sherriff Dillon's posse springs into action. Both Ranger Joe (intrepid mountain man) and Deputy Soap are in the Golden Nugget Saloon. They both decide to climb a ladder to the top of the saloon to get a better shot at El Dorado Jo's gang. Unfortunately, it appears Deputy Soap might have been partaking too much in the saloon prior to the shoot-out and he stumbles and falls off the ladder. Deputy Soap will remain there for the rest of the game, much to the disgust of Honorable Son #5.


Meanwhile, Mr. Dynamite nails Reb and in the best tradition of Hollywood, falls into a hand cart filled with water.


Reb will recover ("It was only a flesh wound!") as the lure of the gold keeps him going.

El Dorado Jo decides to make a dash for it and dodges and weaves as bullets pepper the dirt around him. At one time he pretends to be hit, only to jump up and shoot and wound Mr. Dynamite. Sherriff Dillon, pinned down by fire, continues to crawl to the left trying to get a drop on the villains. As the villains make it to the bridge, Ranger Joe starts to fire and hits and wounds Joe Mudd - putting him out of the game.

Jose Chavez continues to fire accurate long range fire, keeping the heads of the good guys down. He knows that the plan is not for him to go through town but to meet up with his boss later. As the bushwhackers cross the bridge, the intrepid Deputy Bill, bandage and all, jumps up from his cover and with rifle a blazing, drops Reb in his tracks and makes Curly Joe dive for cover.

El Dorado has made it in to town; seeing Mr. Davy exiting the Sherrifs office he fires a hail of bullets in his direction - appearing to kill the brave, but unfortunate young whipper snapper. El Dorado Jo smirks in triumph as he abandons his pawns and waves to Baron von Furstenberger.

As the game comes to a climax (you can almost hear the dramatic music in the background), Sheriff Dillon gets the drop on Jose Chavez and puts him out of action.

Curly Bill attempts to end Deputy Bill's contribution once and for all - but is hammered across his skull by Deputy Bill's revolver (the only fisticuffs in the game!).

And just when El Dorado Jo thinks he is safe with the gold, Mr. Davy (the bullet had hit his Bible) jumps out from cover, wounds El Dorado Jo and administers a citizen arrest.

Bang!!! Mr. Davey gets 'em.

"You're under arrest, Pilgrim."

A good game? You bet! Fast and easy to play; but a rule set that I suspect will be hard to master. The randomness of the cards added an exciting element to the game - just like in real life; you don't wait for your opponent to make his move.

Unfortunately, I've noticed a pattern: I'm 0-3 lately. I've been teaching my 5 Honorable Sons too well.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Flashback February: The Wild, Wild West (Play Mobile Style!)

Come back to the times of Yesteryear and journey back to the Town of Golden Nugget.

The town of Golden Nugget has grown up around the famous McLaren Goldmine. The fine citizens of the town live in harmony and the peace is enforced by Sheriff Dillon (also known as Honorable Son #5!).

Trouble is brewing on the horizon . . . the meanest, most ornery rattlesnake west of the Pecos has heard of the riches in the area. That's right, El Dorado and his gang are planning a brazen, daylight robbery of the gold from McLaren's mine.

The exciting shootout is going to be played with the free rules, Blaze of Glory, available from the great website Freewargamerules located at:

Blaze of Glory is a miniature based, Wild West Skirmish war game. It is intended to be a fast and enjoyable game, with quick learn rules, so that both experienced wargamers and novices may get to grips with it as soon as possible. It is a quasi-historical game, aiming to capture the atmosphere of the movies and popular imagery, rather than give an accurate simulation of Wild West life. There is something here for all gamers, so go on don your spurs, load your six shooter, give a rousing 'Yippee Ki-ay!' and give it a go.

Hey, this is a no parking zone!


Deputy Bill.

Stealing the gold!

Baron von Furstenberg observes the Wild West up close and personal!