Fantasy Flight decided to roll out a new edition of their 2 player fantasy wargame, BattleLore. It uses the Command and Colors system where the board is split into 3 sections (center, and a right and left flank). Using a common deck, players alternate playing a single card to issue commands to units based on what is listed on that card. Sometimes you can get lucky issuing several commands to units throughout the board, but commonly you’ll have to stick with moving a few units in one or two sections of the board. It’s a fun little system that uses a simple idea to model the fog of war and limitations on command.
Players take command of either the Daqan (humans) or the demonic Uthuk armies. Each faction army is comprised of 5 units, including a single monstrous creature. Play is pretty simple. You play a command card activating units listed on the card that are in the appropriate board section. All units move. Then the same units can attack by either shooting at targets in LOS and range (if they can use ranged attacks), or adjacent units if only capable of melee attacks. Afterwards there is a special phase where lore cards and resources are obtained.
Each unit has a simple list of basic stats for movement, number of attack dice, and total number of casualties which can be taken before being eliminated. Units can’t be stacked within a hex and movement is limited by terrain and other units (even friendly units). Maneuvering into avenues of attack is critical though for combat which is also an affair.
For combat, you just roll dice equal to the unit’s combat stat. Shooting will inflict a casualty 1 out of 6, while a full strength melee unit has a 1 in 3 chance of inflicting a casualty. Added to this are retreat results. Each retreat result forces the target to move one hex directly away from the attacker. If they cannot move (say they are backed up against impassable terrain or would have to move into enemy units), the retreat results inflict casualties instead. If the unit is flanked by friendly units, they can ignore each retreat result for each adjacent supporting unit.
While casualties are a thing to go after, retreating units is also an important tactic. Especially as the attacking unit can move into the recently unoccupied hex. Players will soon find that you need to position units to attack swiftly, and be supported by friendly units if wanting to hold territory. Additionally, while units can counter attack commonly they are going to suffer a retreat instead. Having a unit to support them means they can take the fight to the enemy instead of just being trounced on and forced to flee. Along with hits for shooting and melee are results to add lore or potentially utilize special abilities for some units. While not every troop type has a die combat effect, they all have special characteristics to give them some interesting tactical uses.
Each army also has a deck of lore cards. These range from massively powerful abilities to useful tactical command orders. They require spending a certain amount of lore tokens and are played only once a turn during specific times (as stated on the cards). Players can gain lore tokens each turn or possibly from the result of combat. This is a fun facet of the game and allows for some flexibility in issuing commands. If a player can’t get the right command in his hand of 4 cards, then usually he can get a lore card to help in activating key units.
The game is won by the first player that gains 16 victory points (or the one that eliminates the enemy, whichever happens first). Board setups will commonly have 2-3 banner markers that indicate key terrain features. When you start your turn with a unit on these markers, you gain victory points. Additionally each army will have victory point conditions for specific scenarios. You’ll find yourself getting about 1-2 victory points a turn if things are going well. Meaning a game usually lasts about nine or ten turns in total.
There are 7 army-specific scenario cards which depict special terrain on their half of the board and victory conditions for that army. These are secretly chosen and revealed simultaneously. Players then go about buying units from a pool of 50 points (or use one of the 3 suggested, preselect armies provided). After setting up terrain on their half of the board, players then deploy cards representing army units face down in their deployment zone. Scattered among these unit cards are also decoys to fill out a total deck of 18. As players alternate placing one unit after another, maybe they are deploying a unit in their army, or possibly they are deploying nothing using a decoy card.
I’m convinced I haven’t gotten into this deployment step too deeply, that potentially using a lot of decoys first and seeing how strong your opponent deploys into a board section is something to consider when doing troop setup. However you end up with some decent variety between games. Between the combinations of each faction’s 7 scenarios and the choices of unit army selections, you can squeeze a lot of repeated game play out of BattleLore.
The Good – This is a fun, light little wargame. For its simplicity it offers some challenging choices in deciding what units to activate. Thrown into this are the lore cards which can be a huge boon, or chuck a monkey wrench into the opponent’s solid battle plan. You never seem to have enough command cards and are constantly trying to do the best you can with limited options. There is also a fair amount to variation with the scenarios and unit choices.
The components are very nice, with pleasant art on the cards, thick (and plenty of) tokens, and sturdy terrain tiles. The figures are great and made of a hard(ish) plastic. They allow for a pleasant tactile feel of pushing around units and indicating casualties by removing figures. Certainly a nice touch over just using tokens or wooden blocks.
The Bad – Combat is simple. Maybe too simple for some and certain tactics repeatedly creep in. The game awards those who strike first. However judicious use of terrain and supporting units in key locations seems a decent counter. Yet combined with the lore cards and limited command cards, some might be frustrated with the few options. Additionally, you aren’t quite rolling 6+ dice in attacks, so you can get that occasionally lucky streak of die rolls in combat (or exceedingly awful luck).
Lastly, there are some legs with the scenarios but the truncated number of available units cuts into the replay some. There are a decent amount of options but I suspect it being a 2 player game, certain well-trodden strategies for army composure and selected scenarios will begin to slip in. There is a fair amount of variation within Battlelore but with some limits in its long term replayability.
The Verdict – BattleLore is an enjoyable game. The rules and systems are not overwhelming. I certainly feel this would make a great introductory wargame for kids, and all the while offer enough to make it challenging for adults too. The command system offers opportunities to make shrewd choices in trying to make the best decision possible with limited choices. Along with this is that specter of lore cards potentially offering a huge boon or wreaking havoc into your plans in the background.
The game looks great on the table and offers an engaging experience that will allow you an evening of 2 to 3 games. It makes no bones about being a light, approachable wargame. Yes, this isn’t going to appease the crowd of ASL and Combat Commander: Europe fans with its simplistic combat and order system. But it will offer a fun evening as an occasional jaunt into playing a strategy game of lighter fare. BattleLore is a fun, light, family wargame and certainly worth picking up if looking for a 2 player, fantasy combat game.