1 April 2020

Review: Oathmark Battles of the Lost Age

Oathmark is a new rank-and-file wargame by Osprey Games. It's just now shipping from Osprey and North Star, it's been in development for a few years. I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy. Having read through it a few times, here's my thoughts on the system

Disclosure: Osprey send me the book for free, but with no obligation to review. I haven't played any mass battle or rank-and-file since Warhammer 8th edition. So I've got no recent experience in the genre, when it comes to comparing to KoW, 9th Age, Dragon Rampant etc. 

I've read these rules with no intention of ever playing mass battle again or ever painting a rank-and-file regiment again. I don't want to spend the time on it and I can't see myself playing huge 4'x6' games anymore.

The look
As I've come to expect from an Osprey Games hardback Oathmark is smack full of full page artwork, good space for the setions and a nice overview in the table of contents. A lot can be seen on a game from the look of the book. I get a nice The Hobbit and Battle of the Five Armies vibe going when flipping through the book.

There's (for me at least) something refreshing about that. I love the Warhammer Old World, I love the aesthetics. But it's so nice to look at a lighter fantasy world. I mention The Hobbit as it's high fantasy and big armies - but not anywhere near as grim as the world war going on in The Lord of the Rings. There's a sense of imminent doom in LotR (dark overlord taking over and enslaving) and Warhammer (Chaos wanting to smash everything into nightmare). In The Hobbit it's just different races getting into a fight over gold, small single town kingdoms. It's smaller scale, smaller interest - we want some gold for out little piece of the world.

And that's the feeling I get from reading Oathmark and seeing all the art - and I love it.

So a nice looking rulebook, that despite having no plans of playing it, I was going to order from Osprey - just to own it. Like I have Ragnarok, knowing I'll never play it, it's just a good looking book.

The basis
Oathmark is a d10 system.

Right from the get go Oathmarks makes out some things to keep the system simple. Units are always 5 man wide. Infantry have a max of 20 models, cavalry max 10 models, big guys max 3 models. Bases are 25mm square, 25x50mm or 50x50mm.

Each unit have a free officer at the center of the front rank, if not lead by another character. LOS and maneuvering for the unit are done from the officer model. Really straight forward.

A feel of skirmish
Each turn players will roll for initiative for the turn. Then players alternate activating one unit at a time - with some commanders giving a chance to activate more than one unit. So there's a constant pass of play.

Depending on an activation roll and the quality of the unit, they'll get either 1 or 2 actions.

So that's gonna make for a constantly changing game. First up you won't sit out for half and hour (like our insane 3000 pts Warhammer 8th battles would have you). Second there's a back and forth 'can I allow my opponent to gain the initiative - or do I have to play this unit safe'. 'What will I do if I only get one action for this unit' - so lots of tactical descisions to be made.

A unit can only make a single maneuvering action pr turn, so they must be chosen wisely. Turning this way and that, will take multible turns. For convenience units can freely move through friendlies and around terrain, as longs as they end on the other side.

Combat and shooting
Going back to the 'two action' thing, a unit must engage enemies through a move action - not maneuvering. And in the case of attacking an enemy, you can't move through a friendly unit. So getting into position for attacks is a really big part of the game.

To keep the game simple and straight forward, units in combat will always line up nicely to each other for free. And any unit that's not purposely a part of the fight, is freely moved 1" away - keep things very clear.

Simplicity seems to be the deal in the game. When fighting a unit rolls a maximum of five dice - if there's five guys in the front rank. If a hero is in the same unit, one die should have a different color, because the hero might do more damage. But still only five dice.

Each unit strike simultaneously. Rolling up to five d10. The target number to equal or beat is enemy defence minus your own combat ability. With modifiers making the roll harder or easier. The most important seems being having a bonus from extra ranks. Characters always roll with the same stats as their unit.

Dice are rolled, succes equal a dead enemy model (there's very few multi wound models in the game). And if you roll super high on your dice (or there's a hero) you might kill a couple extra models.

Super easy, maximum 5 dice, roll, remove casualties on both sides. Quick and brutal.

The sides causing most damage then push the enemy 1" or 6" back.

Shooting is the same thing really. Cost an action to shoot. Regular modifiers to scores hits (cover, movement etc). Roll up to five dice, remove casualties.

Whenever a unit takes hits (so in melee often both units) it must take a morale test. A failed morale test will give the unit a -1 penalty on all rolls, they have to pass their next activation roll to rally - otherwise only having 1 action point. If a unit fails a second morale test, it's destroyed and removed from the game. And every friendly unit within 8" must make a morale test. ... so an entire army might suddenly break.

The idea with constant morale tests is neat, and it'll speed up the game. Archers might score hits and cause an enemy unit to fail a morale test. If then charged right after, there's a change the unit breaks and is destroyed. Not by killing all models, but making them fail two morale tests in a turn.

There's a few different character types in the game.
Commanders - will give activation bonus, morale bonus and a chance to activate more units in your turn.
Champions - better fighters. Their dice always score an extra hit in combat. Have the ability to fight other characters directly.
Some characters work as commander and champion both (mighty kings and princes)
Spellcasters - have some select spells they can attempt to cast each turn.

Base game summary
Seems quick and simple, with fairly few rolls. Comparing to Warhammer 8th, it's nice to not having roll hit, then wound, then armor, then morale. Movement and activation order seems very important on the field of battle. Especially considering the power of breaking a unit and removing it completely.

For me this simplicity on dice and modifiers is really nice. It fits my temper. And based on the simple rules it's really easy to scale the game up or down - without it becoming too complex.

Should be playable with with as little as 40 models pr side. Two small melee units and a small shooting unit. That would let you get a feel for the activation and morale I think.

The Kingdom Campaign

The setting in Oathmark is as open as Joseph's other systems. The game takes place in The Marches. Once a mighty empire containing many different races. Now it's broken into pieces and anyone mighty enough are carving a kingdom for themselves.

So it's a base premise of the game that a player can pretty much use whatever models they like. Want to field elves, dwarfs and goblins in some alliance? Go for it. This is done when building a kingdom

When building a kingdom a player must fill 10 areas with different land types - each types opening up different units for the army. Brought my mind to Heroes of Might and Magic III when reading it.

Want to have dwarf infantry in your army take some Forges. Want then allied with goblin slaves - take a Slave Camp. Some territory types will upon up lots of a races standard infantry and other territories upon only a specific special unit type.

There's a few restrictions in building your kingdom, but these are minor - so you can pretty much think up whatever army you like. Some territories open up for multible basic infantry types other a specialized offering fx. up to three trolls.

So you won't have enough territories to get all elite units, if you also want basic infantry.

When playing a campaign players will roll to see if they attack of defend kingdoms and what type of battle they'll play. Winners often occupying some of the enemy's territory. When occupied, units from this territory will be harder to activate during battle. But the debuff is not that bad, as you should have plenty of options from your other territories (if you want to avoid a debuffed unit for a game).

So building your kingdom is really a sandbox and let's you look at your collection of fantasy miniatures and then build a kingdom around those units.

Want to make an empire of five combined races? Choose lots of different territories. And perhaps miss a few specialist types.

Want to build an all greenskin army? Choose only goblin, orc and troll territories.

Which models?
I've seen a lot of 'concern' before the launch of this game that there was very few troop types. I think this comes from the few (but awesome) kits released by North Star. But Oathmark comes with a lot of different units available. There's a human, dwarf, goblin, orc, elf and unaligned army list. But with the kingdom rules, you can pic and choose from all the lists really.

All armies have lots of infantry types, at least one war machine and some cavalry. And while close to each other there's difference in the races. There's not too much difference. Where's not talking Warhammer goblin versus chaos warrior different. But a goblin will be cheaper and worse to activate than a human. Dwarfs have better defence and decent activation, cost a bit more. Elves activate even better, but are easier to crush. Subtle differences. And seeing the time that Oathmark has been underway, I hope a lot of play testing have went into the values.

Then there's different big guys like trolls and ogres. And lots of different mythological beings and war animals. I was really surprised when checking out all the entries going 'oh! I have those in that box' multible times. Thinking of use for Frostgrave bestiaries, Vanguard factions and Dungeon Saga models.

In all there's a full 65 page containing the units.

Final thoughts
This is not supposed to be just an advert for a new game. So what do I think? I like what I see in Oathmark. I reads a bit like a skirmish game to me, with the alternate activation and the action points. A simple frame that seems to scale up well, while maintaining the speed.

After my initial read I really didn't like the Kingdom system, finding it too open. I thought 'there's way too few restrictions here'. But that's really a ridiculous thought. If I want to make a pure race army, with theme fitting support troops I can just do that. But if someone wants to make a circus troop of units - why not let them? As long as the game is balanced.

We did this in Warhammer days as well. Think a theme, cook up alliances and 'break the rules'  to make it work. Here it's just the base for the game.

The campaign rules I would like to see expanded. I like rolling up scenarios and to see who is attacker and defender. But it would be cool to see some escalation rules in the kingdom building. The book starts you out with a complete kingdom. I think startring with a smaller kingdom, then expanding it over a campaign would be fun. So I might go that way.

Frostgrave and Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago have a lot of expansions and multible planned for each. And I see no problem in that, it's scenarios, items, new henchmen and such.

But there's two expansions for Oathmark planned already and I'm curious to see what they bring to the table - not wanting to see a game getting too cluttered. So I'm hoping for some big expansion chunks. A whole book fixed on siege battle for example. All in all Oathmark (right now) is a system contained in a single book, with plenty of choices. If it wasn't for the lack of skeletons and gnolls (beastmen if you like) - the book would cover most fantasy armies.

I can see myself paint up some small units and have some quick games of it. In fact I will paint up a few units. I have a play date (when this covid situation is under control) with a friend. He'll bring A Song of Ice and Fire, I'll put up some Oathmark. We'll check both games out.

Actually after reading the rules, I couldn't help myself and I ordered some heavy dwarf infantry and goblin wolf riders from North star, to support the goblins and dwarfs I already had. Use my Rangers of Shadow Deep guys as human reinforcements for the dwarfs - and Dungeon Saga orcs and trolls for the goblins. That should be two nice skirmish forces.

How many stars?
I haven't given stars to other books I've reviewed. So do I recommend Oathmark? Is it good?

I'll let this be my recommendation. I haven't given rank-and-file a thought since The Old World died. I've gone all skirmish - this blog is all skirmish sized gaming. I've sold every model I don't have a concrete plan to use. Last year I ended up not expanding my collection with a single model - if I bought one, I sold one.

After two reads of Oathmark I'm now sitting on 90 new unpanited plastic models, with 45 more on the way from Osprey and 150 Renedra round bases and movement trays. I'll be making two small armies and I think it's gonna be great fun using them.


  1. Replies
    1. Wouldn't be the first time. Had no plans of doing Russian stuff either - and here I am playing Zona Alfa.

  2. Come back to the Square side :)

    1. Gonna stay round, but jump on Renedra movement trays - they're rectangular though.

    2. :) They are great trays I several as well