Reviewed by Frank Hamrick
(Days of Wonder, 2 players or teams, ages 10 and up, 60 minutes; $70)
The following review carries my name – but is actually a collaborative effort between me and my gaming friend – Scott Brooks. Scott is more of a hard core war gamer than me, while my preferences lie closer to typical Euro games (though I love conflict in a game). Both of us, however, prefer heavier games to fluff. Keep this in mind as you read my review.
This game caught my interest long before it was published for three basic reasons: 1) Richard Borg, 2) Days of Wonder, and 3) Medieval Warfare. I love almost everything Borg designs, Days of Wonder excels in production quality (and ranks high in play quality), and I l-o-v-e medieval themes. Thus, I could hardly contain my excitement at the pre-production news of BattleLore.
For those unfamiliar with BattleLore, this is the fourth game in Richard Borg’s popular Command and Colors Series. Battlecry (featured in the Summer 2000 GA REPORT), Memoir ’44 (Ssummer 2004 GA REPORT), and Command and Colors: Ancients preceded BattleLore and all three utilize the same basic system. Scott enjoyed all three previous iterations of this system while I loved BattleCry and Memoir ’44, but never bothered with C&C Ancients (it seemed a bit too difficult to set up, had too many types of men with differing rules, and didn’t use miniatures).
Bitwise, BattleLore is a huge game. It’s twice the size of Memoir ’44 (in thickness – the box takes up about as much space as two “normal” sized Days of Wonder games stacked on top of one another). And like all but C&C Ancients, it plays with miniatures.
The miniatures deserve a whole paragraph of their own! Days of Wonder really went over the top with the BattleLore miniatures. Each troop-type has its own sculpt and the minis are like little works of art.
The flags are a neat concept; each mini has a flag holder on the base, and the flags work well, conveying troop type and combat quality easily at a glance. The flags can be removed, which speeds game set-up (if you’ve ever searched for the flag bearers in Battlecry, you’ll really appreciate this!) The only negative Scott saw was that the minis were so tightly packed they were difficult to place back in their containers without some serious packing skills! Also, for some reason the miniatures were a wee bit smaller than what I’d anticipated – not that this is a negative at all. My greatest negative, however, is the color of the Green and Blue flags. Being blue/green color challenged, the flags drive me nuts. I usually have to be told which are green and which are blue – very frustrating.
The board and components were up to Days of Wonder’s standard and more, with everything being neat and functional. The rulebook is very nice with great artwork.
Summary cards similar to the ones included in M’44 detail most of the rules at a glance. The board itself is similar to the M’44 board; except the flanks are wider and the center is smaller, the same as the Ancients board. The back of the board is actually one-half of a huge board made from combining two BattleLore boards. There is nothing to complain about here.
But what about the game, you ask? Well, I think Borg and Days of Wonder have hit a home run, for several reasons. The basic game plays a lot like C&C: Ancients with the exception of Leaders. The base game does not have Leaders, but I suspect Days of Wonder will release Leaders (or Champions) in the first expansion. In fact, someone managed to find the code for the expansion page detailing this on the DOW web site! The other major difference is the Lore system, which allows you to do different things at a cost of your Lore, which is earned during the course of the battle. Generally, the troops are classified as light or inexperienced (green), medium or regular (blue), and heavy or elite (red). Archers are there, but not as powerful as Infantry or Cavalry. Morale plays a big part, as “bold” troops can battle back after being attacked. Some troops are always bold, and some of the specialized troops get to hit on different symbols when you roll the dice. Lore is earned when it is rolled, so at least a miss is not a total waste! Lore is accumulated and spent on Lore Cards, which allow you to do things like increase the lethality of an attack, target a specific unit, and other “magical” type effects.
The scenario book includes 10 scenarios, designed to gradually introduce the players to more and more of the rules and concepts of the game. This may prove a disappointment to experienced gamers, as some will find the first few scenarios to be too simplistic and unsatisfying. However, Days of Wonder suggests that after players have played the scenarios through, using only the rules required for each scenario, that they go back through the earlier scenarios and play them with all the new rules. For example, after playing scenarios 1-5, we went back through the same scenarios using all the rules learned thus far and found that they played completely different, and were far more enjoyable. After playing all 10 scenarios, I went back through all the scenarios using all the rules of the game. The earlier scenarios were much richer – and I realized they were actually designed for the use of the complete rules. I suspect that much of the criticism of the early scenarios lies in the fact that players did not re-play those scenarios once they knew all the rules.
The following chart shows which new rules are introduced in each succeeding scenario:
Scenario 1 – Agincourt – The basic rules, pages 1-26, 33)
Scenario 2 – First Chevauche – Pages 26-32 (added Pursuit, Bonus Melee Attacks, Battle backs, Support, etc.)
Scenario 3 – Burgos Castile – Pages 37-40 (Mercenaries: Goblinoids)
Scenario 4 – Deeper in Castile – Pages 37-40 (Mercenaries: Iron Dwarves)
Scenario 5 – Wizards & Lore – Pages 41- 58 (Creatures, Lore, War Council I)
Scenario 6 – A Complex Web – Pages 41-58 (Giant Spider)
Scenario 7 – Crisis In Avignon – Pages 58 – (War Council Level 6)
Scenario 8 – A Burgundian Chevauchee – (special attention to the War Council set-up, page 57)
Scenario 9 – Free Companies – (Customizing a War Council, page 58)
Scenario 10 – Assaulting the Tourelles – (Landmark rules are important, pages 59-69)
I would heartily suggest that players discipline themselves to play the game as suggested, though they may be tempted to jump ahead. Doing so will, in my opinion, greatly enhance the enjoyment of the game in the long run.
I wasn’t sure that I would like the Lore as I prefer historical (real) themes in my games. But after playing this one numerous times, I came to really enjoy it since it made for some interesting decisions and turn-angst. Do I spend my Lore on a card that will help my archers, or do I save it for a more expensive card that will allow me to hit with extra dice for my hand-to–hand combat?
Another great plus for me is that the game rewards medieval military doctrine. Troop integrity and cohesiveness is vital to successful operations. Further, it is important that one understands and takes advantage of the principles of combined arms. These strategic touches tend to make up for bad die rolls and once grasped, enhance the enjoyment of the game. This game is far more than just charging blindly ahead and hoping to get the right die rolls!
Perhaps the strength of the game lies in its appeal to several different types of gamers. For instance, in one of Scott’s earlier games, one side of the battlefield played out very similar in nature to an actual medieval-era battle, with a heavy cavalry charge breaking his line, causing confusion and despair in his troops. On the other side, a pesky Spider attacked and refused to die, wasting several precious movements of Scott’s men who stayed occupied in battle with him! This was a great example of both historical and fantasy-type elements playing out in the game.
If you don’t like fantasy, stay with the historical elements. If you do, there’s a lot of fantasy elements there for you; it’s a really good system that allows you to customize the type of game you’d like. An added plus is that Days of Wonder has released a custom Scenario designing program via their web site, so players who love the historical scenarios will find inspiration to design your own, or download other players’ scenarios.
I was initially disappointed that the game didn’t have Leaders, but at least we can probably expect them in a future expansion. The game seems to be a streamlined version of Ancients with many, many more options, and battlefields where terrain and landmarks must be utilized to win. (Just the kind of C&C game I’ve been looking for!)
The most wonderful thing about BattleLore, however, is that the game is still developing! More is coming! More creatures, more historical units, and a vast number of scenarios designed both by Richard Borg as well as thousands of fans of the game! New creatures have already started appearing in teasingly small numbers (The Hill Giant and the Earth Elemental). More are coming! Then, we have recently seen the introduction of the Epic Battle rules (allowing use of the flip side of the BattleLore board; six-player rules; and a whole new set of Epic scenarios). I have yet to play the Epic scenarios, but some comments posted lately indicate that the Lore system works much better in the Epic BattleLore scenarios!
In April, 2007, Days of Wonder will introduce “Call to Arms” – the army deployment system for BattleLore. This system will use a card-driven army deployment system. Days of Wonder is quite excited about this expansion. This system will probably include new “Specialists” cards that will allow you to use new units such as Goblinoid Mercenaries, and to upgrade your bows, and other cards that will allow for players to customize their War Council for differing strategies.
In May, 2007, the first “Specialists” Packs of figure sets will begin appearing. To quote Days of Wonder: “Each Specialist pack will introduce a couple of new units centered around a common theme. Likely early candidates include a Goblin Skirmisher set, a Dwarven Battalion (complete with the already infamous Dwarven Bagpipers!), and a 100 Years War Battalion.”
Conclusion – If you enjoy combat in games, medieval warfare, a bit of fantasy, don’t require intricate simulations, don’t mind a bit of luck, and enjoy a game with extended development and growth over the foreseeable future – then you should love BattleLore. This one has it all! I love what I have, but can’t wait to see what’s coming! Get it. – – – – – – – Frank Hamrick
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Spring 2007 GA Report Articles