Thursday 17 April 2014

Crossed Lances: a Review


For a long time now, I have been looking for a set of wargames rules that will allow me to portray a medieval joust.  I want knights charging at each other with blunted lances whilst the lords and ladies watch from the galleries and spectators of the lower social orders shout raucously!  The look and feel that I am after is very much that portrayed in the lightweight (but fun) 2001 film "A Knight's Tale".  It's a sports game, with winners and losers, underdogs, heroes and villains!

There aren't many suitable sets of rules for jousts about.  I am aware of maybe 3 or 4 different commercial titles, along with a number of medieval or fantasy skirmish rules which have at least some provision for jousting.  None of these really meets my requirements, which are primarily:
  • Must be intended for miniatures (i.e. placement of the models has at least some significance).
  • Must offer tactical choices (i.e. not be just a dice-rolling exercise)
  • Must have some "role-playing" elements - especially the differentiation of knights' skills and a "campaign" system.


It was with great interest that I heard recently of a new set of rules entitled "Crossed Lance's" [sic].  The authors of this have gone to town with support; as well as the rulebook on their website you can buy miniatures of knights, squires, heralds &c, transfers/decals for heraldry, game accessories (cards and tokens), scenery (tents, grandstands, tilt barriers and the like) and so on.  All of this is very impressive, as is the promise to produce another volume of rules for other parts of the tournament.  I believe that this second volume will contain rules for the archery competition and the foot melee.  I thoroughly applaud this level of dedication!
So, what about the main offering: the jousting rules?  Physically this is an A4 book of 46 pages, coloured as if it were old parchment.  The covers are soft and I believe the correct term for the way the book is constructed is "gum binding".  It's not going to be easy to open the book flat without breaking the spine.

Within this booklet there are actually rules for 2 separate games:
  1. The Jousting rules take up 8 pages
  2. 12 pages are dedicated to rules for the Grand Melee (a form of enormous mounted brawl).
This is less than half of the booklet; the remaining 26 pages are for forewords, introductions and a short historical overview.  Nearly half of the pages in the book are game components which may be cut out, though in my copy there was a large set of replacement inserts and a small note that explained that the original components couldn't be used double-sided due to a registration error when they were printed.

The Jousting Rules

So, at the simplest, here's what happens.  2 suitable models of knights on horseback are placed at opposite ends of the tilt.  According to the rulebook, the tilt barrier should be at least 18" long; it's convenient if it is discreetly marked off in inches.  The central 6" (or 4" in some paragraphs?) is the "attain" zone, where strikes may occur.  Note that a "lesser attain" may be scored if the knights have passed each other and moved beyond this zone without making full contact.

A joust comprises 3 runs, though this may be cut short if either knight is unhorsed.  If neither knight has achieved such a victory after 3 runs then the winner is decided by the number of points scored.

At the start of the joust, each player draws 3 "shield" cards and plays them face-down in the order that they desire.  1 such card is revealed at the end of each run, when it is used to adjust the number of points awarded for the run (from +3 to -3).  In addition, each player has a single "Lord" card, again with a hidden value from +3 to -3, which may be played only once, on any of the 3 runs.

For a run, each knight rolls 2 dice of different colours.  Their model is moved forwards by the sum of the dice, whilst the individual scores on the dice are used to determine the strength of a hit if contact is made.  Since the average score for 2d6 is '7' and since this movement will take a knight from his starting position into the attain area, the majority of runs will be resolved with a single throw.  A second round will only be needed if either knight rolls very low on their first round.

Once contact occurs, the outcome is determined by the dice already rolled.  Any double will unseat an opponent, with high doubles also knocking down the opponent's horse.  Otherwise, the dice are used to look up a chart and points are awarded (or lost, in the case of a foul) accordingly.  Points are adjusted by the shield card played for that run and optionally by the player's lord card as well.  And that's it...

The only provision for differentiating a knight's skill is by having a different pool of shield cards on which to draw.  I suppose that a better knight's pool might have more of these tokens with a value of +3 and fewer with a -3, whilst a poor jouster would have a collection of shield tokens that tended to be lower in value.

The Grand Melee

Since my main interest is the joust, I've not put as much effort into reading or trying out the second set of rules in the book.  However, here's a quick summary: each turn a knight secretly chooses 3 hex move cards.  These can take the form of an advance, a 60 degree turn or a halt in place.  When it's that knight's turn to act, the 3 cards are played in the chosen sequence and the actions on each card are enacted.  If any models come close enough then they fight each other: 2 dice are thrown and the result is read off a table.  Typically this will result in a number of hits to an opponent (this may be adjusted by playing a lord card), though it is also possible to lose a helm or shield or to be unhorsed.

My Opinion

So far I've restricted myself to describing the game(s) in a factual manner.  However, I cannot end this article without giving a personal reaction to Crossed Lances.  I really wanted to like this set of rules, but there are 2 areas in the joust that need to be mentioned:

1. The proof-reading in this publication is terrible!  It seemed that about 1 sentence in 2 either had grammatical mistakes in it or was just unclear to read.  If I hadn't had the games demonstrated to me at Salute 2014 then it would have been difficult to work out how to play from just reading the rules.  Here are some examples:
  • The title of the game should be "Crossed Lances" and not "Crossed Lance's".
  • On page 10, the first paragraph gives the attain area as the central 6" of the tilt.  The second paragraph states that the attain area is 4".  Which is correct?
  • Here's the first sentence from the top of page 11, exactly as printed: "The player with the highest roll is the winner of that run through his speed of and charge and scores 1 point."  Huh?
    Sadly, there are many, many more such examples.
2. In theory there is some decision-making to be had: each player must decide in which order to play his/her 3 shield cards.  In practice, this seems irrelevant because:
  • Most jousts will end with one or both knights unhorsed (the odds of neither knight rolling a double on any of 3 successive runs is very low).  There's little chance that the 3rd shield card will be needed, so why do anything other than play the best ones first?
  • The shield cards do nothing apart from act as modifiers for the number of points scored.  It doesn't matter whether I lose -2 points in the first run and gain +3 in the second, or if I gain +3 points in the first run and lose -2 in the second: either way I score the same amount.

I don't think that "Crossed Lances" is completely unplayable.  I certainly do like the idea of having a large tournament with a multitude of different events - jousting, grand melee, archery, foot melee - but for me there needs to be a bit more tactical play.  I'm already pondering house rules such as allowing the shield card to modify the dice roll (either for movement or for combat result) rather than the points scored.  That might make it more interesting.  However, I'm disappointed that I feel the need to change these rules before I can use them.


Components: 3/5 .  All the necessary cards are present in the rule book and are promised as PDF downloads as well.  I have some doubts about the durability of the thin paper and gum binding of the rule book.
Support: 5/5 .  There are clearly many plans to support this game with excellent miniatures and terrain, play aids and future expansions.  The authors appear knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
Playability: 2/5 .  The result of a joust appears to be little more than chance, though the grand melee probably requires more positioning skill.  Rules are poorly written and often contradictory or difficult to comprehend.
Value for money: 2/5 . At £20, this is a very expensive rulebook.  I could accept this if the rules were a bit meatier and the book was a hardback, but as it is I think it's only for the serious collector of tourney rules.
Overall: 2/5 .  I'm very disappointed that this isn't the set of jousting rules.  Perhaps the authors will produce a revised edition sometime soon?


  1. I have an interest in jousting too, datin back to my first "Britains Swoppet KNights) and looked long and hard for a set of rules that answered the criteria (I summed it up as bascially having elements of skill and fun, with the knight's skill progressin). I saw these rules recently (on the TMP board I thnk) and was quite excited by the prospect of them. However having read your review and the cost (£20) for what is bascially a glossy 8 page set of badly presented rules has really saddened me.

    1. I agree completely, Joe. I think there is potential here, but the first effort is very poor.

    2. I was reminded of a game I'd found on Boardgamegeek called Tournament Joust. It seems to be a substantial jousting game and may well be what you're looking for.
      The rules are a PDF free download, though cards and dice are also required.
      The random dice element seems to have only a minor effect ont the strategy and tactics of the game.
      The link is:

  2. Thanks for the review. If a publisher commits blatant apostrophe abuse in the title (or anywhere on the cover), it's a deal-breaker for me.

    1. Absolutely agree with you!

    2. Well, I'm not sure I'd write off any booklet based on a single mistake, even if this was on the front cover. I do agree that it's a bad omen, though.

  3. Thanks for the review - you've certainly took one for the team here!
    I generally had little interest in this period (but I somehow got more and more interested in the dark ages :P) and even less in jousting as I never really thought it could be playable. The grand melee rules seem to be very similar to gladiator games (I'd imagine, never played them) and those always seemed very complicated to me.

    I am not a native English speaker and I don't want to talk about proper grammar, but when I checked their page it made me cry. Honestly, the page is nice, the information seems very well researched but "lance's"? I've actually seen it written both ways and I figured it could be Crossed Lance and this are "its" rules. From your review it seems they weren't even proofread and for 20 pounds for 8 pages of rules (okay, that is a bit of an understatement here) - that's just way out of my league. It's unfortunate that what seems as a very thought out plan goes up in flames just because someone assumes speaking English for all his life equals good enough for a printed product.

    I do agree though - a nice little 2x2 board with a sitting area, place for the crowds and all nicely covered with heraldry and colorful - that'd be a nice sight.

    1. Ah, it could be quite a spectacle, couldn't it :-) ? I'll just have to keep on dreaming...

  4. Disappointing. I too would like a simple yet fun tilting game which matched your criteria. It would be good to have a game to recreate "A Knight Tale". Alas I think this is not the one. Thank you for the review.

    1. Thanks, Clint. I'm still tossing ideas around my head as to how a set of rules could be made to match my expectations.

  5. This seems to suffer the curse of most 1:1 figure games. (My opinion - without meaningful manoeuvre and objectives beyond knocking the other guy down, the game's a simple matter of "Best dice win".
    Jousting suffers from heavily restricted manoeuvre and a lack of side objectives - difficult to write an interesting set without descending into micro management of horsemanship, lance handling and the details of armour.

    I see a growing trend toward a lot of "Mini GW" businesses in gaming. A company that provides the rules system, models and support for a rather specific gameworld.
    Many of these are excellent, and bring welcome variety to the hobby.

    Perhaps this is a poor first effort, from a group who will learn and provide excellent products later. We play on in hope.

    1. I do indeed hope that the authors will learn from this and produce a vastly improved later version! If people can write successful rules for boxing or for gladiatorial combat then I don't see why it shouldn't be possible for jousting as well.

    2. Perhaps I just prefer running a team (whether 4 men in a skirmish, or 12 units in a grand battle). Almost every 1:1 game I've seen (Whether D&D fencing, Boxing ...) boils down to one of two things. Energy conservation (Go easy for a round - hoping to survive, so you can unleash a big attack later - hoping to land a killer blow, or a bit of paper/scissors/stone - balancing effort between attack and defence, hoping to catch the enemy off-guard. In short, not enough player inputs to create a satisfying game.

      At least the good ones permit some decision making from the player. It looks as though the jousting section of crossed lances is entirely driven my the dice.

      You might as well flip a coin and then retire for a feast of mead and spitted pig.

      Looking for a positive, the minis, transfers and scenery all look absolutely top class. If I were commissioned to build a diorama for a Castle's visitor centre, I'd give this range serious consideration.

  6. I have some interest in this subject but your review left me unimpressed with this set of rules. In the early 1980's I played an RPG called Chivalry and Sorcery, set in Medieval times. They had an excellent set of jousting rules but character generation was very complex. Good game system but perhaps too complex for a simple skirmish game.

    1. Yes, I know of Chivalry and Sorcery - it's one of the titles that keeps being mentioned when people ask about jousting rules. Never read it myself though...

  7. Thank you so much for your review, as it make me save 20 pounds! I've read just yesterday about this rules and I was very tempted to buy them, but I was afraid exactly about what you are talkin' (good/bad luck at dice, more than other aspects...).
    I'm not a native English speaker too, and so, when I find some rules that seems unclearly written, I suppose my English is not good enough... (unfortunately, in the past, I've found a lot of these rules sets...), so this time I'll not have this problem! :)

    1. Well, judging by your comment I'd say that your English is pretty good. But I think you'd struggle with this set of rules, as would many other people.

  8. As an aside. Song of Arthur and Merlin (standalone Arthurian supplement for Song of Blades and Heroes) contains a one paragraph rule covering jousting. It seems at least as interesting as these rules, and a comparative bargain since the PDF download is available for $8. (~£4.80).

    Rule pricing is a tricky business decision. There seems to be a trend for "Colour pictures = £20". I'd prefer the question to be "Is this as good as Black Powder or Impetus? If so then I can think about charging £20.

    1. Remember when $8 was approximately £4.80?

      Good times.

  9. I thought I should mention Joust: Heroes of the Lists from Two Hour Wargames. I haven't played it, but the description indicates there's resource allocation and decision-making (so it's not just a dice-rolling contest), and it has a campaign system that can be played head-to-head, solo, or same-side. The only caveat is that I don't know how much the positioning of the miniatures factors into the game.

    1. Yes, thanks for reminding me. I have "Heroes of the Lists" (indeed, I must have been one of the very first to buy it when it was released, I think). It does indeed have a form of resource allocation, character development and even solo rules. But it's really a pen and paper exercise - the miniatures play no useful part in the game. It almost works for me, but not quite...

  10. I really wish I had found and read this review before purchasing both rulebooks. I think the rules are plain awful, and the segregation of skill cards and dice roll doesn't make any sense at all. I have no hope for this company, as the comments they make on their rules on LAF are so 'nose-in-the-sky' (just read the 'forwards´ to realize how self-indulgent those guys are), that they'll probably never consider 'killing their darlings' and make a ruleset that actually requires some gamesmanship to win, instead of just plain luck.
    I'm going to write up my own version, only re-using some rudimentary parts of the original rules.
    I've reviewed the first tome,and am working on the review of the second right now; if you're interested, it should be finished in a couple of hours at:

    1. Like you, I truly wanted this set of rules to work well. I had such high hopes, but they just don't work as a game. My search goes on, though I'll be interested to see how your re-written version looks.

  11. Glad I found this, I was considering these rules but wanted to research given the cost. Can anyone recommend a different set of jousting and/or grand melee rules?


    1. Mark, I've just got back from holiday, so please accept my apologies for not responding sooner!

      I have neither tested the grand melee rules from Crossed Lances myself nor seen any reviews of them from elsewhere. It is possible that they play well enough, though I would hazard a guess that the same poor editing and style applies to them also.

      As for a really good set of jousting rules - I'm still looking. Indeed, I'm beginning to wonder if such a thing is simply impossible. Read Stephen Holmes' second comment above about 1:1 figure games; it pretty much convinces me that it can't be done :-( .