The word ‘war game’ sometimes gets a bad rap in the board game community. The games often have convoluted rules that favor whoever spent thirty hours reading and studying just to shove it in your face that they are better than you. You know–Warhammer. Kidding aside–these kinds of games really are a little more complicated and can be off-putting to new or young players. Don’t believe me? Just ask if anyone is up for a game of Risk the next time you go to a family get together. The solution? Battlelore my friends.
Battlelore is a game published by Fantasy Flight and Days of Wonder. It takes complicated rules, an epic setting, and all the rule arguing and condenses it into a sleek single package. No weird rules, no special instances, and no expensive set up costs. This is everything you love about war-gaming with none of the usual drawbacks.
The game is set as a war between two opposing dualistic forces. One is a technologically advance human/elf/pretty people races with knights, archers, and golems. The other is a demonic backwards army of darkness that employees extras from the Two Towers, wild beasts, and Cthulhu.
Though the two sides of the war are fairly different in their play style, they are well matched. Each side has things that are good or bad. For example the evil army has special abilities that make them reliant on high risk luck outcomes on dice rolls while the good army is more reliable with better stats.
To set the game up you have a large open playing field that is broken into three distinct combat zones. You and your opponent draw a scenario card that tells you how to set up your end of the field. On the card it shows you where hills, trees, rivers, and towns are located. The card also stats how you can acquire extra victory points for your army this round.
The game is scored by victory points. You can get them for completing specific tasks laid out in your scenario card, drawing cards from the communal special abilities cards, or by controlling certain parts of the board.
After you have the board set up you have to place your units. Both sides are allowed a certain amount of points to buy units. You can either pick them individually or chose a premade army from a set of cards included in the game. Then you place face down cards on the board that represent your army. In addition to your units however you also have decoys. During this phase you try to outwit your opponent by laying your units secretly around the field.
Then there is the reveal phase in which flip the cards and place your plastic models in the card’s stead. This is where the game heats up. You and your opponent get a chance to see what your strategies were and how you match up against one another.
I played three games (a best two out of three) against one of my friends. He was the pretty people and I was the demons. We started out with a win condition for me that was control as many hills and forest as possible. I actually got more points from taking those then fighting and I started with a huge advantage of extra hills. Match one was a little one side.
Game two my friend needed to take the center of the board to get extra points. I didn’t realize how many extra points that would be and he let the flanks basically go. He steamrolled me late game.
Game three we had thick obstructions in the middle of the board with rivers, cities, and hills that made movement hard. Then we had winning conditions that didn’t give a huge difference to the terrain. This became a slug fest. We slowly inched forward and fell back across the battle. In the end we both met in the middle and were having a fairly epic battle. Each of us were trading who had the lead each turn. In the end the demons got a lucky hit in on the commander and we took the lead just before the game ended.
Overall the system is really well-balanced but you do have to play a couple of games to ensure that one player didn’t just get an awesome win condition paired with a good field. In hindsight however this is how real combat takes place so that is not really a bad mark for this game.
The combat is simple. Each unit has a stat and you roll dice based on that stat. You use the same dice to attack and defend for every unit. Terrain can affect how you roll for good or bad. Special abilities are activated by a symbol on the dice. For example my orc archers could poison people on a special dice roll. Later if they rolled more specials it would cause extra damage. This was great when I was facing down the eagle rider boss but otherwise it didn’t work all the time.
The coolest battle mechanic is the card system. You have to draw cards to perform actions. For example you can’t just move your left flak when you want. You have to have a Left Flank Attack card to let you play them. Even then you may only be able to move three units rather than everyone. This makes the commander’s job quicker every round and more balanced. Also there is no fighting over which pieces you have and have not moved yet.
In addition to the units on the field there were special cards that could change how a battle ended up. It is like having a Magic the Gathering hand on the side of your Warhammer army. They could do things like give you a victory point, force a unit to retreat, or give you an advantage. Early on we didn’t use these as much but as time went on they became a great way to get a combat advantage.
One cool feature of this game are the plastic models. Each set comes with a large cast of blue and red pieces that depict the different armies. Each model is highly detailed and shows some great artistic design. Some of the larger units like Cthulhu were not only epic but stable (important in case of table bump or table flip). Also the material is paintable. Some people have gone all out and made their set personal with a detailed paint job.
The game is awesome. You should play. I will however say it has its faults. For one thing you can only play as the pretty people brigade or the ugly orc army. So there is not that personal touch you can get with games like Warhammer. Also the pieces are a solid game piece when they arrive–no gluing or cutting needed. Some people (read as lazy) may like this but I have a lot of fun just making the models look different.
Then there is the matter of expansions. There have been some expansions announced but the game has already been out for a while without too much being added. Some players have been concerned that there won’t be too many expansions. We won’t know for a while though.
I give the game a four out of five. I want a little more customization from my games but I can’t argue that the rule set is great in this game. Any wargame that can make the rules this simple really deserves a lot of praise.
Have you played Battlelore? What were your thoughts? Do you play other wargames? Let us know in the comments below!