Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Battlelore- Beginner's Tactical Gaming

Ever since I cajoled my long suffering mother into playing Squad Leader with me in junior high school I've enjoyed tactical games- games in which one army battles another in some fashion. Any student of history knows all too well how destructive actual war is but the tactical game allows players to have an exciting few hours with a level of drama that other games may not deliver.

Battlelore is a game in which players fight battles on a game board. The battles may involve archers, swordsmen, goblins, dwarves, strange creatures or any combination of the above. The general idea behind the game is simple. Players arrange miniature figures of soldiers on a game board. Some parts of the board are marked as trees, others as hills or rivers. The players then take turns moving some of their soldier pieces across the board. If a figure comes too close to the other player's army there may be a "battle." The players roll dice and the loser may have to retreat or leave the board entirely.

The players may have a variety of miniature figures in their army. Each type may have some advantage or disadvantage. For example the dwarf soldier is slow but less likely to retreat. Some troops may be able to fire arrows at a distant target but will be prone to run away if approached too closely by the enemy. With experience a player learns where to put their troops in order to get the best advantage and win the battle.

Let's take a quick aside for experienced tactical gamers. What makes Battlelore any better or different from any other game? Briefly, it uses the same time-tested rule system as Command and Colors and Memoir '44. Players have a hand of cards and play one card each turn. Different cards allow different units to move and fight. You can add to your hand each turn so you may suddenly receive the exact card you're waiting for, or you may not. This adds some drama to the game as you try and create a plan which is effective but not too elaborate. I think that this system is very well suited to ancients and fantasy gaming and you can see other successful examples of it in Warmaster and even DBA. I've played many games of Battlelore and Command and Colors and in most cases I've found the outcomes appropriate and rarely the result of pure luck.

Battlelore is intended both as a historical and a fantasy game. Players may include wizards, spells, and magical monsters in their armies if they wish. These are optional components but add some more color and fun to the game.

I'm a fan of Battlelore. The game is expensive but absolutely jam packed with components. The miniature soldiers look terrific, the board is beautiful, and all the additional material is top notch quality. The rule system is simple and can be learned in an evening. The game is designed for two players but you can buy and expansion which allows four to play. I've found that the battles are exciting and that good basic tactics are usually rewarded with success.

There are a few caveats to Battlelore. For some reason I had some trouble making my way through the rule book. It's not that the rules are complex, I just found the reading tough going. If a parent throws down the money for the game, opens the box, and feels stumped by the rules, just sit back and start again slowly. I think you'll find it clicks soon, just maybe not very soon.

Another drawback to the game is the amount of material you get in the box. In one sense you say "wow, what a value!" In another you say "oh my god, what Is all this stuff?" Just grab the rules and start reading. Again, they're not all that complex, but the amount of stuff you see can seem overwhelming.

The publishers of Battlelore have a very nice website with lots of support material. Ironically enough I'm reading the "primer" as I type and I'm struck again by how hard it is to make sense of. It's a pity because the game is terrific and quite simple and, again, don't be put off by it.

Finally, this is obviously a game for teens and older. You need a good attention span and the ability to plan ahead. You can find Battlelore at a number of local stores. Try Hobby Bunker in Malden or Pandemonium Books in Central Square.

Pros: Fun game, great introduction to tactical gaming

Cons: For older players, hard to read rules

Beyond the Basics: Lots of replay value and expansions for the game are available

1 comment:

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