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Battleground Fantasy Warfare: High Elves» Forums » Reviews

Subject: The basic game reviewed as a stand-alone game. rss

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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
1. Introduction

I received this game, along with a number of others for this system, from one of the designers of the game who is an online friend, as noted in this review of another game in the system. What makes reviewing these games particularly interesting to me as a wargamer is that my usually preferred scale for wargames is grand strategic rather than tactical and that I have therefore never previously played miniatures. In spite of being card-based, this is decidedly a miniatures game. Simply in lieu of figurines, one uses cards. Thus, as the series of reviews progresses, I will learn how to play miniatures games, especially using this game system. (For an alternate view, I might have to go back to playing Feudal.)

Admittedly, as a wargamer, I take games about historical conflicts more seriously; they have the draw of real history associated with them to pique my interest. Yet I am not averse to purely fictional conflicts in wargames, so long as the game is interesting enough. The game system used does a couple of include historical armies so far (the Roman and the Carthaginians from the Second Punic War) but overall it focuses on fantasy warfare, particularly warfare within a fairly generic world set in the high fantasy genre evolving from Tolkien and especially his imitators. Thus for example the system includes both a base game and reinforcements for three types of elves (for which the post-Tolkien spelling ought be noted), as well as dwarves and orcs. The undead army also has high fantasy elements in that it included undead trolls. Two sets of fictional humans are also included. For those who want fantasy armies but to whom high fantasy does not appeal as much, two other sets are offered-- lizardmen, whose units suggest dinosaurs developed into an intelligent race, and assorted monsters and mercenaries. The important thing to recall though is that, although one can pit different types of armies against one another, each set is made to act as a stand-alone game as well. So, in this review, I focus on playing a game entirely using the High Elves basic game.

2. Components and rules overview

The complete game components in the box can be seen here:

One will need to provide at most 7 dice (d6), and the cards are designed for use with a dry-erase marker. An edited overview of the rules from my previous review follows and suffices for understanding how to play:
My previous review wrote:
The game consists of three parts: first building and then deploying one's army and finally the actual combat. For the building an army stage, players decide on a certain number of points (2000 pts. is recommended). Each unit has an associated number of points needed to draft that unit into one's army. The total points of units one drafts cannot exceed the number of points agreed upon. The player who used fewer points to build the army goes first. For each 200 pts. a player uses in building an army, that player draws a command card, although extra combat cards can also be purchased with unused points.

Players alternate placing units. The cards are placed so that the aerial view of the unit is face-up. The row of green, yellow and red boxes marks the back of the unit, and each edge of the card has a short black line marking its center. One can play the game on a typical table-top, and all distances are given both in terms of inches and card lengths (i.e., lengths relative to long and short edges and combinations).

After all the units are deployed, one issues each unit standing orders which can be to move forward some distance up to the maximum, to move to a certain point on the field, to hold position or to close with the enemy. (I'm not intending the list to be entirely exhaustive but these are the essentials.) The circle on the card on the bottom right in where the standing orders are noted.

At the start of each turn, players have a certain number of command points that allow them to play command cards and change standing orders. Otherwise, units engage enemy units within range to do so if the unit is a ranging unit, and otherwise close with enemy units. Some units (especially for the Romans) can also be supported by friendly units from behind. [When exhausted, command cards are re-shuffled.]

Under certain conditions, one will need to do a morale check for some units both before and after combat. This happens for example if (before) a light unit is engaged by a heavy unit or if (after) a unit suffers enough damage.

The player whose turn it is chooses the order in which units attack or fire against the enemy and then engaged units of the enemy get a chance to hit back. Each unit has numbers (which are modified by damage suffered and by command cards played) for the number of dice rolled, strength of attack, doings damage, defense and absorbing damage, as well as of movement. Each unit also has a varying number of damage points it can absorb. All these are marked clearly on the card. Damage is checked off on the card starting with the green boxes, then the yellow and finally the red.... Various consequences [especially modification of combat stats] apply also once a unit's damage gets to a certain level, as indicated by the color codes of damage points.

The winner of the game is determined by the last person to have units on the field.

The components are to the same high standards of every game I have seen in the series. As noted in my previous review though, and as confirmed with the designer, marking the actual cards-- even with a dry-erase marker-- will lead to the cards not erasing entirely eventually, especially with heavy usage. So sleeving of cards is strongly recommended.

3. Gameplay

The three most basic caveats of the games in this tactical wargame system are noted in my previous review and as noted there are readily dealt with. This discussion of gameplay attempts to delve deeper into the issues of using this specific set, the High Elves basic set, as a stand-alone game, although the issues will mostly be applicable to other games within the system.

The first tip when playing with two armies constructed from the basic High Elves deck: make sure that the units are fairly comparable. For example, four units can make extremely long ranged attacks-- three of them at the length of four long card sides (battlemages and two units of archers) and one at the distance of five long card sides, called scorpions. In spite of the longer range, the restrictions on the use of scorpions makes the battlemages far more powerful in my opinion. The point is then that the battlemages and scorpions should not, for purposes of game balance, be in the same army if one is building two armies from this same deck.

The key strategic problem of the game lies in how to prevent the game from descending into a mere slug-fest with each side simply rolling dice until luck determines the victor. In other words, as in any combat game, one wishes to be rolling the dice in combat hen and only when doing so involves odds which are advantageous.

Especially when one is new to the system, initial deployment is in many ways going to dominate the outcome of the game. Having units cross each other's path is most likely simply to cause them to block each other's access to the enemy while leaving them as potential targets. So the most probable course of action is going to be one line of units advancing upon another. Command actions at the start of each turn do allow for some maneuvering but an army will typically begin with seven or eight units and one has only four command actions. Moreover, these actions should by default be used to bolster one's hand of command cards. The importance of deployment then gives an advantage to the person who deploys units second. The rules to tend to give this advantage to the weaker of the two armies though.

An important aspect of the game then becomes maneuvering units to make coordinated attacks. If two units can gang up on an enemy unit while that unit also blocks an enemy unit from either engaging or making ranged attacks, that becomes the ideal situation. Naturally it will rarely be achieved entirely. Yet the principle is clear; units should not engage singly unless they have to. Overwhelming odds in one's favor, typically achieved by two against one, are preferred. If one has to engage singly, then a strong unit should be pitted against a weak nit. Finally, if a unit is in a non-ideal situation, it is better to retreat while still maintaining a unit's strength. In all of this, the role of command cards is to improve one's odds in any engagement.

One way to gain the needed room to move units as desired is to have units capable of ranged attacks stop at the extent of their range while other units continue to advance. One almost never wants units capable of ranged attacks to engage another unit. Typically the defense stats of ranged units are far less than ideal. When in doubt, these units should be made to retreat but obviously not entirely from the field of battle.

Modifying all of this is the fact that damaged units become less effective. They also are more prone to be eliminated from the game.

As such the game becomes about resource management. One needs to brings one's units to where they can be most effective and to use command cards to maximum effect.
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