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[Review] Battleground: Fantasy Warfare

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  • Tom Vasel
    Every once in a while, a game comes out with which I have the reaction, Why didn t anyone else think of this before? I mean, the gulf between miniature
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 16, 2005
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      Every once in a while, a game comes out with which I have the
      reaction, "Why didn't anyone else think of this before?" I mean, the
      gulf between miniature games and board games has seemed insurmountable
      until now. For myself, I was always fascinated by miniature games,
      but was put off by the fact that miniature gaming seemed to be more
      about the painting and building of miniatures rather than the game
      itself. Also, the amount of money needed to field a good army is
      rather exorbitant in most cases. I was a big fan of Warhammer 40K in
      particular, but stopped playing it for those reasons. For the price
      of one miniatures game, I was able to afford dozens of board games.

      At Origins 2005, I found what seemed to be the solution to these
      problems in Battlegrounds: Fantasy Warfare (Your Move Games, 2005 -
      Rovert Dougherty). Battlegrounds is basically an army of miniatures
      on a pile of cards. Each card represents a unit of troops in the
      battle, and the cards are moved around on the table, just like a
      miniatures game. Cards are used for measurements, and the only thing
      players need is a dry-erase marker and some dice. The game plays well
      with an emphasis on hand to hand tactical combat. I really enjoy the
      system, and the three armies from the initial set (Orcs, Undead, and
      Men of Hawkshold) seem very balanced.

      Many comments on the gameā€¦

      1.) Artwork: The art on the cards is CGI - with each card showing an
      aerial shot of the army. Some of the people I've played with don't
      prefer this view, preferring to see the sides of the creatures (which,
      incidentally, are pictures on the back of each card). However, I
      personally like the above-ground view and think that it gives an
      excellent view of the battlefield. The CGI, while not as good as hand
      drawn artwork, is sufficient and reminds me of playing a large real
      time strategy computer game.

      2.) Cards: The cards are of good quality, which is important, because
      a player has to constantly mark on them to keep track of their hit
      points, orders, etc. A dry erase marker works fairly well on them,
      although I did mark up some cards and let them sit for a week - and it
      was a little difficult to wipe them off. Probably the best solution
      is to use card protectors, which are easier to wipe off, and protect
      the cards. Still, who leaves the markings on for a week? I think the
      idea of writing on the cards is rather innovative, as it keeps players
      from needing extra charts.

      3.) Charts: The rulebook is a forty-seven page booklet, although one
      must remember it's quite small. Full of illustrations and examples,
      it needs a lot less charts than one might think. For one thing, most
      of the information a player needs about the armies is listed directly
      on the cards. More information is listed on the back of the cards,
      which allows a player to quickly flip them over and see, or keep an
      identical card near them for quick access. A double-sided card is
      also included, with one side devoted to maneuvers and movement, and
      the other to combat modifiers. After playing miniature games such as
      Battletech and Warhammer 40K, I was glad to play a game that only
      needed a small amount of charts.

      4.) Combat: Each combat unit has five combat stats (plus a ranged
      stat if they can fire): Attack dice, Offensive Skill, Power,
      Defensive Skill, and Toughness. A condensed version of a combat round
      would involve each player rolling dice equal to their attack dice.
      The number that they need to roll must be equal or less than the
      attacking unit's Offensive Skill stat minus the Defensive Skill of
      their opponent. For example, when Zombie Trolls (who have an
      Offensive Skill of "4") attack Goblin Raiders (who have a Defensive
      Skill of "1"), they need to roll a "3" or less on each of their dice
      (4) to inflict a hit. A "1" always is a hit, while a "6" is always a
      miss. After all hits occur (in melee, this is simultaneous), then
      each side rolls to see if they damage their opponent. They roll one
      die for each hit they inflicted, attempting to roll less than or equal
      to their unit's Power minus the Toughness of their opponent. In our
      example, the Zombie Trolls (who have a Power of "6") need to roll a
      "4" or less to wound, since the Goblin Raiders have a Toughness of
      "2". For each wound then inflicted, one box is checked off on the
      unit card. Depending on the direction of the attack, the current
      health of each unit, and a few other factors, these stats may be
      modified. This combat system is a little similar to 40K, especially
      as the need to hit then wound; but I found it easy and fun to play.
      Combat is fast and easy, and even the puniest creatures can inflict
      some wounds on the most intimidating of foes (although it's quite
      difficult).

      5.) Movement: Something that I HATE about miniature games is the
      measuring with rulers and tape measures to figure out the distances
      between different units. Not only does this lead to arguments, but it
      also is unwieldy and annoying. In Battleground, this movement is
      greatly simplified. Each unit can move a certain amount of inches
      (1.25", 1.75", 5", etc.) that corresponds to the sides of the cards.
      For example, a unit that moves 5" moves the distance of two short
      sides of cards. So, when moving the units around on the battlefield,
      players simply need a few cards that they are aren't using to quickly
      move the cards. A unit moving 3.5" uses the long end of a card, and
      one moving 6" uses one long end and one short end to move. This
      certainly lowers the playing time of the game, as players aren't
      getting tangled up in measuring tape and knocking pieces over with
      long rulers, etc. When units are penalized for movement (like when
      moving backwards, etc.), they simply go down a movement category (like
      from 6" to 5", or 2.5" to 1.75"), which means that odd measurements
      won't be used all that much. My only quibble about the game is that
      sometimes it's a little awkward to move a card rather than a group of
      models. Sure, it's a lot faster, but it can be difficult to do
      flanking maneuvers with cards, when they don't fit between two other
      cards, for example. Still, give me card sides instead of rules any
      day when measuring!

      6.) Orders: At the beginning of the game, each unit is given one of
      three orders written on the card. Hold ("H"), which means that the
      unit will not move, but will shoot at the closest enemy if possible;
      Close ("C"), which means that the unit will move towards the nearest
      enemy each turn, shooting at it if possible; and Range Attack ("R")
      which means that the unit will shoot at the closest unit, and move
      towards an enemy if they cannot. Both the Close and Ranged Attack
      orders can be modified so that a player moves towards / attacks a
      certain objective or unit rather than the closest one. On a turn,
      each player has one command action for each 500 points in their army
      (usually three or four actions per turn). Each unit in a player's
      army will automatically follow these orders each turn, unless a player
      uses one of their command actions to change an order, or to directly
      control one unit that turn. Player's inability to directly control
      every unit in their armies more accurately reflects feudal battles and
      makes a player's turn more critical. If my Goblin Raiders are
      charging at the nearest enemy, and it happens to be the massive Zombie
      Trolls, is worth my time to change their heading and go towards the
      skeleton archers or let them march towards almost certain death?
      Giving each player only a few command actions was a clever move,
      ensuring that a player could only directly control part of their army
      and hope that the standing orders on the rest of their army didn't
      mean that their units blindly marched to their death. Some units
      thrive on standing orders, such as the Trolls, which one can simply
      march up into the middle of the enemy, decimating whatever they come
      across. Others, like the light cavalry and the bowmen, must be
      carefully maneuvered if they are to be used effectively. This system
      of writing orders is very effective - and probably my favorite part of
      the game.

      7.) Armies: There are three different armies in the initial release
      of Battleground, with more on the way. These armies are the Orcs, the
      Undead, and the Humans (Men of Hawkshold). Each army has a different
      buildup - the humans have the most mounted units, the undead has the
      most powerful units, etc. All three armies seem to be well balanced,
      with each receiving a special "Army ability", which can be utilized by
      the player using a command action. For example, the Orc player can
      "Lash" one of their units, giving it extra movement and one extra die
      when attacking for one turn. These abilities, the artwork, and the
      compositions of the armies certainly make them feel differently. For
      me, I personally currently like the Undead army, but I don't feel like
      they have any massive advantages over the other armies.

      8.) Command Cards: Each player has a deck of command cards. For one
      command action, a player may draw one of these cards into their hand.
      Command cards do a variety of actions, but mostly add some sort of
      bonus to a unit, either in attack or defense. None of these cards are
      gamebreakers but mostly exist just to give a player that extra edge in
      battle. Of course, if a player spends all of their time taking
      Command cards into their hand, then they can't maneuver their units as
      well. As I said, it's sometimes a very rough choice knowing what to
      do with your few Command actions! I like the slight unpredictability
      that the Command cards bring to the game; and since they aren't overly
      powerful (but are useful!), I'm glad to have them around.

      9.) Starting Armies: Each deck comes with enough unit cards to field
      two good-sized armies. Quick-start armies are printed on one
      reference card, so that players can quickly build armies. I found
      that these starting armies made for a good game, although after one
      game, I was ready to build my own army. One can buy a TON of extra
      units in the reinforcement decks, but there is still a lot of
      versatility in the original deck.

      10.) Army building: The unit costs, when building armies, are unusual
      amounts of points. Zombie Trolls are 232 points, Goblin Spearmen are
      160 points, and Crazed Goblins are 83 points. I have no idea what
      formula they used to come up with the point values, but I do know that
      you'll probably need a calculator to put the armies together.
      Hopefully someone will create a module for ArmyBuilder! Either way,
      because of the special abilities of some of the units, and the wide
      variety of stats that each unit has: both in combat. Range, movement,
      and hit points - I don't think that there are two units that are the
      same. What kind of army do you want? Do you want an army with tons
      of ranged units and a few "tanks" to absorb the blows? Or do you want
      an army with fast, tough melee units? Whatever you want, you can
      build - although some races are better suited towards certain types of
      styles.

      11.) Advanced Rules: The advanced rules come in the Reinforcement
      decks, and I'll cover them slightly in more detail in another review,
      but I thought that I'd quickly mention them here. In only two boxes -
      the Starter Deck and the Reinforcement Deck, you get a bigger army
      than I ever had with Warhammer 40K - and that was after spending
      multiple hundreds of dollars on it! The advanced rules also add in
      terrain effects, some optional rules, and a FAQ. Anyone looking to
      play the game should get the reinforcement deck, if only to have tons
      of choices when building their armies.

      12.) Fun Factor: Battleground is a lot of fun for me and my friends.
      Realize that I used to be a fan of miniature games, until some factors
      of them turned me aside. Now, I'll never go play them again. I have
      everything that I ever wanted right here in Battleground. It's
      inexpensive, provides me with humungous amounts of actions, and has a
      tight, fun set of rules. It's fast, easy to set up and tear down and
      doesn't require books and charts to run. It's all the good stuff
      about miniature games, with none of the stuff that annoys me included!

      Granted, some people won't want to play the game, because they enjoy
      painting and modeling miniatures. But for those people like myself,
      who want to play a miniatures game and don't have either the time or
      the money to dish out on a miniatures system that may or may not be
      supported by its company, the rules are excellent - the Command Action
      system is one of the best I've every seen - and all you need are dice,
      a marker, and the cards! A miniature game I can carry in my pocket!
      That alone should make you want to pick up the game, but believe me
      when I say that the gameplay is much, much more than the size of the
      game. Now if you'll excuse me, the Undead must go rain wrath down
      upon these upstart Men of Hawkshold. They will rue the day they met
      General Tomas Vassell the Cruel!!

      Tom Vasel
      "Real men play board games"
      www.tomvasel.com
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