Fantasy battles in your pocket...
Tristan Brunet
Japan
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I've always had an irrational love towards fantasy, since I read My first Choose your own adventure book from GW. I now I'm not the only one, but I still wonder at what drags me to any game that feature Tolkienesque tropes, like stalwart dwarves and savage orcs. I've played various mini games, like the standard Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Nick Lund's superior Famtasy Warriors (with a playable halfling army list!!), or the excellent German game Demonworld.
Yet, I've never been a true hobbyist, and though I could appreciate good looking miniatures (those Marc Copplestone halflings for Fantasy Warriors were da bomb. And yes, I'm a halfling maniac), I've always been more of a (board)gamer, so the whole mini part was more a chore than a real pleasure for me.
I've thus rejoiced in the recent trend among boardgame to publish small games, mostly using cards or cardboard, to simulate vibrant fantasy warfare, including various wildly asymmetric armies, and full of special effects, in a much reduced tineframe.
Here I'm hoping to list games which allow you to fight fantasy battles without minis, and with minimal material (mostly cards and possibly dice). It's also a quick history of this niche genre, though it incluses some real hits.

Feel free to add yours!
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1. Board Game: Zoon [Average Rating:5.46 Overall Rank:14044]
Tristan Brunet
Japan
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This small French game featured armies of anthropomorphic animals, mimicking historical armies. The basic gameplay was a bit like Stratego, since all your cars were facedown, and you had to actually locate the Flag of your opponent to kill it. Each unit had a different move pattern, different strength, and sometimes special effects. Fights were resolved by rotating the fighting units facedown, and then designating a corner of your opponent card. Then cards were turned face up, and the corresponding values were compared. The game had enough success to be published in English. It featured something like 20 different armies. Though the game wasn't great, I remember having fun playing it with my young nephews. And it was a step in the right direction, for me.
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2. Board Game: Battleground [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:1797] [Average Rating:6.96 Unranked]
Tristan Brunet
Japan
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This one is basically a miniature game rule, where cards replace units of minis. It is quite an interesting game, especially thanks to the command system, which limit your control over your units once the fight is on. Yet, this very system creates a lot of rules, making the game a bit too fiddly for its own good. Still, it's a really enjoyable game, and the closest thing you'll get to a fantasy warfare miniature game fitting in your pocket, if this is what you're after. I'm not really enticed to the CGI art, though it got better with time.
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3. Board Game: Summoner Wars: Guild Dwarves vs Cave Goblins [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:469] [Average Rating:7.62 Unranked]
Tristan Brunet
Japan
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Now we're talking! This game really hit a sweet spot between easiness/speed of play, and the narrative it conveys. Each faction feel really distinct, and the whole mana mechanic works well, rewarding agressivity and making you take tough decision about who you summon or not. A well deserved hit, which gave birth to a fine editor.
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4. Board Game: Lords of War: Orcs versus Dwarves [Average Rating:6.79 Overall Rank:3805] [Average Rating:6.79 Unranked]
Tristan Brunet
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The last contender in this category, this British game features some stunning art by Steve Cox. Though it is similar to Summoner Wars in theme and scope, it is a really different game mechanically speaking. Here you place your mostly static units on the grid, with different strength on some of their sides. Move is abstracted, as you can recall them to your hand to play those cards again. The game is all about shaping good positions and patterns, concentrating the strength of your units or building strong defensive positions. It is quite fascinating in its simplicity. There are far less special rules for each unit than in Summoner wars, but those matter much more in the basic tactics in the game. As for now, I really love it.
 
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5. Board Game: Pocket Battles: Elves vs. Orcs [Average Rating:6.62 Overall Rank:2439] [Average Rating:6.62 Unranked]
Culp Smash
United States
Massachusetts
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The only one of the "Pocket Battle" series (thus far) to have a distinctly Fantasy flair to it. I haven't played it, but I'd sure like to!
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6. Board Game: Warhammer: Diskwars [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:1008]
Tristan Brunet
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Ok, doesn't really fit in your pocket (though it depends of the size of those, I suppose), but a small bag will do the trick.
And what a game it is! In fact, it gives you an even better narrative than most fantasy miniature games, and is really tactically challenging, due to its limited luck. One of FFG's best. Too bad support for it seems to have stopped. I so wanted to see the Dark Elves army fleshed up! There are some cool fa made armies, though (yes, I made one of those, though it's not the best...).
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7. Board Game: Diskwars [Average Rating:5.89 Overall Rank:6036]
Tristan Brunet
Japan
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Never played this one, though it intrigued me at the time. The fact that it was collectible didn't help. Guess I wasn't sold then one toy-like aspect of the disks. The Warhammer-themed version came out more recently, but it seems this one felt a bit different, gamewise, which warrants its own entry.
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8. Board Game: Pixel Tactics [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:870] [Average Rating:7.03 Unranked]
Greg Wilson
United Kingdom
Bristol
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It's not traditional fantasy, but it's full of things like knights and mages and necromancers. Each player assembles a small unit of heroes to fight. Other than Deluxe, each Pixel Tactics set is a single pocket-sized deck of cards, although you'll need some counters as well.
 
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