Xenos Rampant: Review and Test Game

xenos rampant review

Heyhey, here’s my review of Xenos Rampant and a battle report!


Xenos Rampant is the latest installment in the very popular Rampant series of wargames by Daniel Mersey. With this, him and his co-authors left the firm grounds of historical and fantasy and went Sci-Fi! (and space opera. And space fantasy. And anything else with guns. Because fantasy is historicals with magic and flying monsters and sci-fi is WW2 with extra loops and ribbons. 😉 And often magic and flying monsters.)


The Book

Due to the expected popularity – which instantly manifested at release – this one got the Big Boy Rulebook treatment by Osprey and was released in a hard-back version and 192 pages. I like the orange-y, Martian dusty looking cover picture showing a classic Human Space Soldiers vs. bug-like aliens and a big-like alien with multiple ray guns. Pew pew.

The introduction is very beginner-friendly, then we get a big section on army list building, THEN we get the rules.  Then we get 12 different scenarios as well as some campaign rules which seem simple but fun, with each of the different scenarios having different implications on how the campaign develops.

xenos rampant review

The book is rounded off with suggestions for 5 different settings (Weird War 2, contemporary Urban Fantasy, near-future hard sci-fi warfare, Post-Apocalypse and Space Opera). This gives some context, possibly one or two optional rules and a general overview for how to use the army lists and Xenos rules to depict what’s required for the setting. This is to get the idea box in our heads going, serve as inspiration and just flex about the possibilities these rules present.

Illustrations are alright, and as with prior books from the series there’s various very nice photos of sci-fi figures from the usual suspects: Copplestone, Ground Zero Games (15mm, yay!), Bad Squiddo, Pig Iron, and so on. All the companies you’d wanna see in this publication. Also some Warlord and Mantic figures. Not as many North Star figures as you’d think. Have I mentioned that I really dig the Stargrave plastics? I got the Female Space Ship crew figures, and they’re really nice. Surely not to everybody’s taste, but I really like them.


The Rules

Since I recently played Dragon Rampant (and re-read Lion Rampant), this was mostly an exercise in finding the differences between these two and the sci-fi version. One thing I learned about rules which make the jump from medieval/fantasy to contemporary/sci-fi is that it’s very tricky not to overload them. Simply because stuff got much more complicated and faster. There are myriads more  (and more sophisticated) modes of shooting, communication, movement and special equipment. Not to mention vehicles.

xenos rampant review


Army Lists

Xenos Rampant approaches this with the series’ trademark pragmatism – there are 10 unit archetypes (or battlefield roles) plus three vehicle types. Infantry is available as Elite (Space Marines, GW pattern), Heavy (power-armoured), Light (everything else with a rifle), Recon (even lighter, not into fighting), Berserk, Primitive, Militia, Big Bad Aliens, Smaller Bad Aliens. Vehicles are classified as Combat Vehicle (proper Main Battle Tanks and such), Transport Vehicle (APC), Soft-Skin (a faster, all-purpose vehicle with options of turning it into a Technical, a Transport, etc.).

What’s instantly apparent is that there are way more options for customizing those units. Many units can be upgraded to be twice as large (funny little detail: for Xenos Rampant the Strength Points numbers were switched from 6s and multiples thereof to 5s and multiples thereof), be equipped with a squad heavy weapon, close combat weapons, extra mobility and so on. There also are more special rules built into these units from the get-go. The most prominent across the units being Firefight and Go To Ground.

Firefight depicts a sort of reaction system most infantry units can employ if shot at by an enemy unit. Go To Ground increases a unit’s armour while they stay in place.


All of this of course has implications on the whole balance of the army lists options. I haven’t encountered it in my test game myself, but apparently Elite Infantry are very, very powerful within the rules. But I can’t verify that.

Each unit has a set number of Strength Points – usually 5, but many can be increased to 10. These can be depicted with one figure each or of course (in the case of mightier creatures) used more like health points. Heavy Infantry (5 Strength Points) may depict a squad of 5 Jem’Hadar or one Fallout SentryBot with 5 “hit points”. Rules wise they work the same. Of course you would apply different upgrades and Xenos Rules to fine-tune the rules to represent them better.

Vehicles use the same statlines as infantry do and largely work exactly like infantry in the game, with a few small exceptions, such as vehicles being able to move and fire in one activation, some movement restrictions and how damage is handled.

xenos rampant review
SPECIAL RULES! OPTIONS! To be fair, it’s not quite as bad with all the other units. This one statline aims to cover pretty much any sort of proper heavy frontline/assault vehicle across all known universes.

On top of all of that you may add “Xenos” rules, which is this version’s name for what Dragon Rampant calls “Fantastical rules”. They do the same thing though: spice up the generic units to make them fit pretty much what ever you want them to represent in your games. These Xenos rules include things such as Boarding Shields, Cloaking Devices, Teleport Jump, Special Insertion, Psychic Abilities (ie spellcasters) and so on.


The Game Turn

Xenos Rampant uses an I-go-you-go system and if you ever played Warmaster, Hail Caesar, Black Powder or any of these games you will feel right at home with the activation system. Each time you attempt to activate a unit you may order it to do one thing: Move, Attack or Shoot. There are additional special actions some units may carry out, but that’s the basic actions. To carry out any of these actions a unit has to pass a certain number rolled on 2d6. For example a unit of Berserk Infantry has Shoot target number of 7+. So if I wanted them to shoot at an enemy unit I need to roll a total of seven or more on 2d6 and they will carry out the order. For them to move requires a 6+, but if I ordered them to charge an enemy unit in close combat I’ll only need a 5+. Because they love nothing more than a bayonet charge.

xenos rampant review
Heavy Infantry stats and options. As you can see, these guys get a free Shoot action, the universal Firefight and Go To Ground special rules and a whole slew of options to tailor the units to fit what you have in mind.


Likewise, a unit of Light Infantry  will happily move on a 5+, because they like to move around a lot because they’re light, but they’ll only charge into close combat on a 6+.

Speaking of combat – Units don’t have a set combat value but two different values for attack and defense, which I think is an excellent idea. It also allows for elegant design moves such as calculating defensive fire into their defense value. Saves time, leads to pretty much the same results as more granular systems.

Close Combat is carried out as soon as a unit pass their Attack Activation roll and make contact with an enemy unit. In general there are no charge reactions in the game, except for some units which have special rules which allow them to either counter-charge (thus using their attack value even if being charged themselves).


Combat is very simple: Units over half strength roll 10 dice on the attack or defence, once they drop to half strength or under, they roll only 5 dice. This was an interesting design decision and maybe a bit too much “all or nothing” in its approach with this artificial break point of half the models or less. The attacker roll their dice, counting each die to beat their attack value as a hit, the defender does the same, using their defence value. Hits are applied to the enemy unit (featuring a pretty elegant system to model armour). So it is very intuitive, despite the slightly “bucket of dice” style approach. However, you will never have to roll more than 10 dice.

xenos Rampant review

Close combat never goes on for longer than one game turn. If combat is resolved and casualties are removed, the defeated unit has to recoil or, if they don’t pass their Courage (morale) check, have to retreat and get a Suppressed marker. Suppressed units will perform much worse in combat, can not be activated and have to be rallied at the player’s next turn. Otherwise they keep on retreating or rout off the table completely. In my experience units rout at the worse possible times and it can happen as soon as they take a single casualty. It requires a really bad roll, but it can happen.

Shooting works pretty much the same, not taking the target’s defence value into account (so only the attacker, i.e. shooter unit rolls dice), but factors such as cover and the target’s armour play into it.

If you do not pass an activation roll for one of your units your turn is over and it’s your opponent’s turn. This can make for potentially very short turns or make you tear your hair out at times.I know, this is a slightly marmite thing with gamers. There are people who will not deal with a game which “doesn’t want me to play” (I think I heard that quote once), and I have witnessed insanely bad luck on activation rolls over longer stretches. But as always in battle: Rarely do things go to plan. However, with Xenos Rampant they added a little thing called Free Activations. Meaning that each unit has a certain sort of activation they may carry out without having to roll for it (for most that will be Move actions). This basically removes the “you may not be able to activate all of your units each turn” (which I actually like about the Rampant family of rules), but if you found the system frustrating so far, you may prefer this way of handling things.



Naturally leaders play a big role in such skirmish games. Usually one figure of one unit in your warband will be declared the leader. Friendly units nearby will benefit from a Courage and activation bonus, and each Commander will roll for a Commander Trait before the game. There are four different kinds of Commanders in Xenos Rampant: Aggressive, Tactical, Strategic and Warlord. You may choose which one reflects the nature of your Commander the best, then you roll one D6 on the chosen table, 1 and 2 will get you a negative Commander trait, the rest will grant bonusses.

xenos rampant review
(Starship Troopers, Tristar/Sony Pictures)


Test Game Battle Report

Right, now that we got a general idea of the rules, let’s see how they play.


I sat up a table, and wanted to try out somethig new – could I combine these weird cardboard urban tiles I got at a Kickstarter a looooong time ago with a more natual looking surrounding mat? I wanted to use the techy bunker and the generators, but just putting them onto the green blanket didn’t make too much sense. THEN I decided that this requires some sort of walls or something, or – even better – wire mesh fences. So I grabbed some materials I had at hand. Last summer I installed some fly screens on some windows and kept the remaining fly screen grid stuffs to make said fences.

xenos rampant review

Made 16 segments of about 15cm length each. Bases were cut from too flimsy plasticard. Should have used the regular thicker wooden spatulas. And the very soft, kinda flexible stuff I used for the mesh is very annoying to work with. If you ever make such wargames terrain wire mesh fences, use metal wire frame stuff. MUCH easier to work with. But I had the stuff, and I used it. Added some warning signs to three of the segments, made another three broken so figures could move through them. Not easily visible in the picture: I used some thick thread and to each of the three supports on each base to bind the wire mesh to them. Which gives the whole thing a bit more of a believable look than just gluing it to the poles. Oh well.

Then found out I got no time for such silliness, made some army pictures of a lovely Blood Angels army I painted for a gentleman and did other things I was supposed to do.

xenos rampant review

Then I came back to do that game.


The Forces

24th Turan Imperial Guard

Platoon Command Squad (Light Infantry, Inspirational Leader, Fire Support), including the Commander, Lt. Slab Bulkhead

Infantry Squad (Light Infantry, Increased Squad Size, Heavy Weapon)

Infantry Squad (Light Infantry, Increased Squad Size, Heavy Weapon)

Ratling Snipers Squad (Recon Infantry, Snipers)

Scout Sentinel (Soft-Skin Vehicle, Walker*, Green Crew)


*) Walker isn’t really available to Soft-Skins normally, but I wanted to use a Sentinel.

xenos rampant review

Goff Orks

Ork Warboss Badgob (Berserk Infantry, Even Heavier Armour, High-Powered Blades), a unit consisting of just the one figure.

Goff Mob (Berserk Infantry, Increased Squad Size)

Goff Mob (Berserk Infantry, Increased Squad Size)

Snakebites Boar Boyz (Berserk Infantry, Mobile)

Death Skull Looterz (Support Infantry)

War Buggy (Soft-Skin, Technical, Close Quarters Doctrine)

Xenos Rampant review


The Scenario

Right among the 5th Ork Invasion a small group of researchers receive unusual readings from abandoned xenobiological research facility Metaluna IV. Assured that Space Ork raiders are nowhere nearby, said researchers decide to leave the relative security of their Imperial Firebase and have a closer look. Of course they are spotted by Ork scouts and the local warboss instantly sets out to grab them human eggheads. Surely they have some useful info or at the very least some useful kit.

As soon as the firebase commander is informed about the absence of the researchers, he sends a small platoon to get them back to the base instantly.

This is Scenario Kilo from the Xenos Rampant rulebook, “VIP Extraction”. The small group of researchers are to be grabbed and taken off the table.

xenos rampant

In the left (green line) you can see the Orks’ table edge, in the right (red line) is the Imperial Guard’s table edge, the three clueless civilians’ position is shown by the yellow dot.

xenos rampant review


The Game

So I deployed all the figures, basically in two lines. Which felt kinda wrong. More like Blood Bowl rather than a wargame. 😀 But okay. Imperial Guard are defenders and deploy first.

xenos rampant review
From left to right: Ratling Snipers, Infantry Squad, Command Squad, Sentinel. Second Line: Another Infantry Squad as a reserve to either strengthen a flank or help out in the centre.


Orks deployment:

xenos rampant
From left to right: Deathskull Looterz, Goff Ork Mob, War Buggy, Goff Ork Mob, Warboss, Snakebites Boar Boyz.


On the first turns, everybody advances to grab the three clueless nerds first.

xenos rampant review

Everyone except the Sentinel who takes cover from the Death Skulls Looterz behind alien cacti.



 xenos rampant review


The Ork Boar Boyz (being more mobile than enemy infantry) reach the researchers first, but don’t pay much attention to them. Instead they Wild Charge into the imperial infantry squad. Just like in Lion/Dragon Rampant, some units are subject to Wild Charge, which means that they may charge anything within range (which is considerable on the boar boyz) rather than acting as the commander would want them to.


xenos rampant review

Both squads take two casualties and the Boar Boyz are repelled (but not supressed). Due to the imperial guard infantry’s Increased Squad Size this is less of a problem to them than to the Boar Boyz.

xenos rampant review

Disregarding the more or less failed charge, Ork Warboss Badgob arrives with the research team (who are still busy technobabbling).

xenos rampant review


Seeing as how the Orks seem to have the objective right in their damn dirty hands, they try to keep up the pressure. The War Buggy turns a corner and opens fire at the infantry squad who just fended off the Boar Boyz. The soldiers are aware enough to return fire immediately. Firefight!

xenos rampant review

This is one of the specialities about Xenos Rampant – most infantry units get a chance to to react to being shot at by the enemy during their turn by passing a Firefight roll. If they pass, they may do a round of firing at the unit which fired at them.

In this case the Warbuggy causes three casualties. Which gets the infantry Suppressed.

xenos rampant review

Since the squad passed their Firefight check they were allowed to fire back before these casualties are removed and  – mostly due to their squad Heavy Weapon – cause three hits on the Buggy as well. However, the Buggy crew keep their cool, but the buggy is damaged and has a much harder time doing anything from now on.

Egged on by the aggressive Buggy, the Sentinel pilot zips forward from his cover to blast the Looterz with his heavy flamethrower. The Looterz return fire, just like the infantry squad did above.

xenos rampant review

They cause 2 points of damage on the Sentinel and in return take one casualty. That’s enough to have the Ork troops retreat at haste though. Odds were on their side, dice were not.


To finally rid themselves of the War Buggy, Lt. Bulkhead calls in incredibly exact mortar support, which blows the Warbuggy (and its shrieking crew) to bits.

xenos rampant review

A relief to the imperial side, and the infantry squad who got shot at by the Buggy rally just in time for the next Wild Charge, courtsey of the remaining Boar Boyz.

Both squads have seen a lot of action and show signs of fatigue. Either just cause one casualty to the other. The imperial guardsmen barely keep it together, not the least because they are witnin 12″ of their Commander. The boar boyz have to retreat and count as being Suppressed (that term wasn’t chosen that well in my opinion).

xenos rampant review

Warboss Badgob uses all the distraction to grab the three researchers and drive them over to the Ork Mob who sit behind the bunker.

xenos rampant review
Badgob covers the kidnapping of the hapless civilians.

The pretty battered infantry squad and the Ratling snipers (who shot an Ork out of the Ork mob behind the bunker, but didn’t do much else so far) rush to the flank to stop the Orks from getting the research party off the table.

Meanwhile the second squad of guardsmen makes short work of the remaining Boar Boyz.

xenos rampant review

Another mortar barrage has the the Ork mob at the Sentinel flank Supressed, but the Looterz don’t need their help to blow up the Sentinel at point-blank range.

xenos rampant review

The Ork Boyz escort their new ‘friends’ towards the friendly table edge.

xenos rampant review

Warboss Badgob takes the time to put on his smuggest grin and make a rude gesture (probably. Not easy to tell with the power glove on) towards the imperial commander.

xenos rampant review
xenos rampant review
“I will get you next time, ghastly greenskin!”

The Orks move their prize off-table (unaware that they’re probably more of a nuisance than of use).


Imperial Guard: 2 Victory Points (for taking out the Boar Boyz and the Buggy)
Orks: 5 Victory Points (for getting the VIPs off their table edge)

It’s an Ork Victory!

If this has been part of a campaign: The Orks gather important info from the VIPs and in the next game may add or substract one to/from the roll for which scnenario will be played next.


Xenos Rampant works. Just like all the other Rampants do, really. Of course Xenos comes with more bells and whistles than the other incarnations of these rules. I think that comparing the Spellcaster rules from Dragon Rampant with Psychic rules from Xenos Rampant illustrates that pretty well. Adding Spellcaster to a unit in Dragon Rampant costs a set number of points and there are 10 magic spells to choose from. Xenos Rampant does the same thing, but introduces 4 levels of Psychics and offers 13 different psychic powers. So the jump from the smaller blue book format to hardback is pretty much this.

xenos rampant review

The rules themselves are in no way more complex than prior Rampant games; it’s the same thing, just with a little bit more stuff on top (vehicles, more unit options, etc.). All of that is natural for the intended setting. I also read that people who play a LOT of Lion/Dragon Rampant can sometimes view the options at hand as being limited after the first 15 games or so. So for these people the big hardback format certainly has more to offer. I also noticed that things are spelled out a bit more clearly in Xenos Rampant than they are in other Rampant books I read. Maybe this is due to the larger page number, maybe it’s also because these rules – due to the topic – also offer themselves more to beginners or people who so far only played Warhammer 40k or such games.

Of course the price point is a different one with the hard back variant vs. the ‘small blue book’ format. This leads me to a rather baffling little fact: Xenos Rampant, 192 pages, full-colour printed, costs GBP 25.00 / EUR 32,00 Lion Rampant 2, Winner of the 2023 Origins Award for best miniatures game, 209 pages full-colour printed, costs GBP 20.00 / EUR 25,00.  Surely I missed something there. Or is there some sort of Sci-Fi upmark? Stargrave/Frostgrave are also in the GBP 25.00 level, Gaslands:Refuelled is on the GBP 20.00 level. Okay, Gaslands is older. Page count’s the same as Xenos Rampant though. I guess the verdict is: Lion Rampant 2 is very good value for money. And on this bombshell …. – just kidding. But it’s interesting.

All of those numbers notwithstanding, I think that at EUR 32,00 Xenos Rampant certainly is not a cheap set of rules. I know, prices for printed paper have gone up a lot, and the production quality is really, really nice, but still. It is a different asking price than if it had been in the blue book format. That being said, the rules work really well, and can be applied to a TON of different setting. As with Dragon Rampant, picking archetypes and rules to make them fit my figure collection is one of the biggest joys of these games.

xenos rampant review
…and not only sci-fi settings. It lends itself well to historical gaming of more modern conflicts or “weird” derivates thereof.

Once you got it all on the table, it works really, really well. I’m willing to believe that some combinations might be just over-powered, simply because there are so many possible with these rules as opposed to prior versions, but that’s nothing some well-meaning players won’t be able to solve. I’m not entirely convinced of the free actions the units get now. In my mind it takes away from the strong core of the system. In actuality though it doesn’t slow things down, so I’ll take it. I just find it a bit unnecessary. I also don’t find the term “Suppressed” to fit the rules well. It’s the same status which is called “Battered” in Lion/Dragon Rampant (and I think in the other Rampant games as well), and there is no real reason not to use it here as well. It just doesn’t sound as ‘military’. But that’s really just a tiny little thing which doesn’t detract from the quality of the rules.

xenos rampant review

The Firefight and Go To Ground rules I think work OK. It certainly makes you want to concentrate fire on infantry units, since they may only Firefight with one enemy unit per turn. The games typically take place on a 4′ by 4′ table, shooting ranges usually are between 12″ and 24″. Given those parameters, I think that some, from a visual and common sense point of view, will prefer using smaller scaled figures. I could see this working really well with 15mm figures or smaller.  The vehicle rules work as well. Rather amusingly, they reminded me a lot of the 10th edition Warhammer 40,000 vehicle rules. These here are swifter though I think.

xenos rampant review

So yeah, Xenos Rampant takes the Rampant series into the vast timeframe of the 20th century to the 41st millennium (and beyond!), and it does it without a problem. Many of us own collections of 40k figures. Many of us know that the game rules are not Warhammer 40k’s strong suit. Or maybe you aren’t very much into Star Wars Legion’s rules? So why not try these here. Strong core rules with lots of fluffy extra stuff. The price point is debateable, but the product is solid, versatile and fun.

For downloadable Xenos Rampant FAQ and army rosters, have a look at Osprey Wargames’ Resource page.

I hope that you enjoyed this review and battle report and found it interesting. Sometimes it can be very enjoyable to get something older off the bookshelf. If you have any questions, queries, etc. feel free to contact me via Battle Brush Studios.

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