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Subject: Impressions from a Warhammer Player rss

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Paul Lilienkamp
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The Battlelore miniatures seem to be about 15mm scale.
 
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Chris Rudram
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Thanks for this review. Now need to buy it and play it, but made my mind up that I would almost certainly enjoy it.

 
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Will
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I didn't see this mentioned in the thread yet.

Your review was mentioned and linked on the official BattleLore blog.
In fact its part of the reason for this entry:

http://blog.battlelore.com/2007/04/23/the-long-view/en/

As a side note, I wonder if the soon to be released dwarf and the two goblin expansions can now enable you to play entirely with those armies and no humans.
Oh and they mention that they are working on a Heroes expansion that lets you place yourself on the battlefield.

Great review.
 
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Global Nomad
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The 16th century São João Baptista, also known as Botafogo (Spitfire) was a Portuguese galleon warship considered the most powerful warship in the world at the time.
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Thanks for the excellent review. I think actually that the two games are difficult to compare, targeting different player types.

I wanted to ask about one remark you make, that the deck is balanced in that if one player gets a lot of right flank section cards, his opponent will probably have a lot of left flank section cards.

As I play BL, my left flank is the same as the right flank of my opponent, so in the same section of the board. So when both players play left section cards they are playing on opposite sides of the board. This means the more cards of f.i. left flank are played, less are available, and therefore it will be more probable that actions start to be taken in opposite sides of the board, meaning each player will tend to be more active in only one of the flanks.

 
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Bryan Pravel
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What I was trying to say was that since the command cards are all drawn from a single deck of cards, if one player gets a lot of left flank cards, the odds become higher that the command deck (or the opponent's hand) contains more right flank cards than left flank cards. As you pointed out, one player’s left flank is the same as their opponent's right flank. This means that the odds of two players fighting in the same flank actually increases as one player draws a large amount of cards for a single flank.

Of course, it doesn't always work out this way. There are just enough cards in the deck to make a game in which players are concentrating their actions on opposite flanks. However, thanks to the "Battle Back" actions, even this situation does not break the game because as long as troops are supported, they can damage the enemy despite the fact they have not been activated. This is in contrast to previous games in the C&C series that do not feature the Battle Back rule in which the cards you draw seem to have a large impact on the game as a whole.

After playing BattleLore for a while now, I've concluded that to me someone that claims they lost a game of BattleLore based entirely off bad luck when drawing their command cards is similar to someone claiming their team lost a sporting event because a Ref made a bad call in the game. Sure, that bad call might have had an impact on the game (and in some cases, can be the deciding factor in who wins!), but that team had the entire game to win and was not able to do so. The bad luck from the Ref was just one element of the game. You could just as easily say that if your team hadn’t missed a tackle earlier in the game or if the fans had just cheered a little bit louder that your team would have won the game. Every one of these parts combined together to create the result of that game. Likewise, while the luck in BattleLore can impact how the game is played, it is very rare that you can blame a loss entirely on having bad luck when drawing cards. How you use those cards, when (and who) you attack, how well you support your units, the tactics and lore cards you decide to keep, these are the things that have the largest impact on the game. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments where someone just has a string of bad luck and looses as a result (or another player just gets really luck on their rolls), but these moments are the exception, not the rule.
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Dan Conley
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Well said! I haven't seen a BattleLore game (or Memoir '44, same system) won or lost on the luck factor alone. I've seen excellent players get a HORRIBLE run of command cards (or a string of crappy dice rolls!) and still manage to win the game with their tactics. Bad luck happens to BOTH sides in the course of an average game. It's about dealing with that adversity and maximizing any advantage you DO have that spells the difference between a win and a loss.

Luck IS a factor in BattleLore and, for me, that's part of the fun! I don't see it as THE factor in the game by any means. The skilled player with a sound battle plan will win much more often than not.
 
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Neil Carr
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Since it has been awhile since this well written review came out it should probably be noted in the thread that the BattleLore: Call to Arms expansion, mentioned in Section 7 of the review as hopefully addressing the army building and customization concerns from a Warhammer player's perspective, unfortunately does not really address those concerns.

Call to Arms basically gives a random scenario generator. Each players can use "specialist" cards to customize their setup slightly, but it definitely doesn't give any kind of comprehensive system to creating the makeup of your force.

Being a Warhammer player who really wants Battlelore to be a cheaper and quicker system that evokes the enjoyment of playing Warhammer this is pretty disappointing, as an army building process provides hours and hours of customizing fun.

I know that Battlelore is coming out of the scenario driven world of historical wargaming, but it really would be nice if two paths were opened for the rules. The existing one that is built on pre-made scenarios, and one where army building plays a major role in the strategy of player and the expression they are giving to the game.

If people want to play with pre-made scenarios, that's fine. I just know that for me, my wife and many of my friends, the game would see a lot more enthusiasm and play if there was a robust army customization.

I want to spend hours min-maxing army lists, I want to spend hours reading and posting to forums about army building strategies, I want to use my army lists and see how well they perform with the system and against an opponent who took a totally different approach. I want to feel that I own the game, rather than just play the game.
 
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Todd Rewoldt
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Neil, I'm not sure how helpful or even interesting this post will be to you, but while I'm not sure that an official points-type army building system will ever be released, the system itself seems very conducive to such treatment.

I've been too busy playing to give much serious thought to actual values, and, without many units, or "races" for that matter available I think it would be premature to do so, unless one took that step too and took from the skeleton that's available to develop those as well.

I'm in a bit of a need for time right now, but I know that someone(s?) has taken it upon themselves to apply BattleLore to the Napoleonic Era, using a point system to build armies. I haven't taken much time to look at it, but see if this isn't at least a starting point for what you are looking for: www.battlelorecampe.page.tl

Aside from that, I don't know that the following will be of use to you either, but I've played a few CtA games where we had 7 war council levels and for each level credited to the Guest Spot, a player was allowed to select an extra (above the normal two) specialist card. With the units currently available, a very fun Goblin based army clashed against a ranged based army with a Spider and Hill Giant in tow.

While many aren't too pleased with what has been released for the system so far, I really think it lends itself well to whatever focus one wants to take (or foci for that matter, no real reason why all the scenario driven or army building or RPG elements can't be developed if one wants to devote time to them) with a very fun and interesting gameplay engine, Command and Colors, powering the good times.
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Bryan Pravel
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BattleLore: 3 Years Later

It has been almost three years since I wrote this review. During this time, there have been several major changes to the BattleLore game system (including a change of ownership), so I thought it appropriate to re-visit this review and see how the system has fared. In particular, I’d like to address how the concerns that I raised about the game system have been addressed.

The essence of my review was that when compared with Warhammer, BattleLore offered superior rules and gameplay, but was lacking in the hobby, fantasy setting, army building, and the heroes aspects of the game. When the review was written, several products had been announced that were designed to address some of these concerns, and Days of Wonder (who at that time was the owner of the BattleLore system) even wrote a blog post specifically addressing these concerns. Essentially the blog post said "we are still a new system, give us time before comparing us to an established product like Warhammer." Well, it has been three years, so let’s see what things have been addressed.

Hobby Gaming

I’ll keep this section short. BattleLore is not (and probably never will be) a system that can compete with Warhammer or any other major miniatures system in the hobby aspects of miniatures gaming. If you primarily enjoy miniatures gaming because you enjoy painting, creating terrain, or any other "crafty" elements of the miniatures hobby, you will be better off with a different gaming system. That’s not to say that BattleLore miniatures cannot be improved upon if you enjoy painting and terrain building. I just don’t believe this should be your primary reason for purchasing the BattleLore system.


Painted BattleLore Minis

Fantasy Setting

Frankly, the fantasy setting has not improved and in some respects, is even worse than when the game was released. As stated previously, I am no fan of the decision to combine the historical and fantasy settings, but given some effort I could see this working out OK. For example, I feel the designers could easily pull off a "high adventure" alternate history approach like what was done with Thee Hearts and Three Lions. However, despite the release of eleven expansions, no effort appears to have been made to create a cohesive structure for the game’s "fluff." Even worse, the few bits of "fluff" that have been released are confusing at best. For example, in some scenarios the goblins appear Welsh, in others they appear to be of eastern descent or perhaps even Spanish! The Dwarves fared a bit better, they are obviously supposed to represent the Scottish and have even received an expansion that mimics the First War of Scottish Independence. From a gameplay standpoint this is one of the better expansions but doesn’t take advantage of the Uchronian concept at all. The designers had a real opportunity to create a detailed alternate history that made full use of the game’s fantasy elements and took the battle in an entirely different direction. Instead, we get what could easily be a historical recreation of the actual historical battles that merely exchanges dwarves for Scots.

Swapping out humans with dwarves but keeping the rest of a setting completely historical just doesn’t scratch the fantasy or the historical itch. The game designers need to decide what BattleLore is going to be. If it’s a fantasy version of our own world, bring on the alternate history! Have Robert the Bruce make a deal with witches for his success ala Macbeth. Make Edward Longshanks face the wrath of the Fairie Court for invading Wales. Give Joan of Arc powers of Biblical proportion (ala the plagues of Egypt or tearing down the walls of Jericho). If this is a fantasy world, there should be fantasy repercussions for the historical actions that these characters take. Simply giving Joan a giant spider or throwing a few goblins or trolls into the mix doesn’t feel fantastic, it’s just feels lazy! If the BattleLore system is going to continue to cater to both the historical and fantasy gamer, it needs to keep the expansions separate. Historical expansions should not contain fantastic elements and likewise, the fantasy setting should be freed up from following the historical script and show a bit more imagination. A little world building wouldn’t hurt either. Scenario building in an Uchronian setting would be a lot easier if we could all agree that the goblins are actually Spanish Moors and not Welsh or Irish.

Clearly I do not feel that BattleLore’s fantasy setting has been improved in the past three years. If you are a gamer that views miniatures gaming as a way to re-live scenarios from a detailed alternate universe, you will be much better off using a different gaming system. There are a lot of changes that need to be made before I feel BattleLore’s setting will be competitive with the majority of other settings that are on the market today.


It's fantasy because it has a dwarf riding a cow.

Army Building

In my previous review, I stated that while I felt BattleLore’s gameplay was superior to Warhammer’s, it lacked a developed army customization system but I thought this might be addressed with the release of the Call to Arms expansion. Now that Call to Arms has been released, we see that Call to Arms isn’t as much an army customization system as much as an army deployment system. Unlike most miniatures games, Call to Arms doesn’t allow you to create an army that is unique from everyone else. Instead, you select random cards from a slightly customizable deployment deck that dictates what units you can use and where your units are placed. You can then tweak your army’s deployment by using two "specialist cards" that allow you to add or replace units according to the card’s instructions. For example, the "Goblin Mercenaries" specialist card allows you to replace a foot unit with two Goblin units of the same banner and weapon type. You get two units in exchange for one, but because the Goblins are naturally fearful, this is somewhat balanced. The "King’s Allies" specialist card allows a player to add units based on the Warrior levels on the War Council, encouraging players to consider using more Warrior levels to gain this benefit. Other specialist cards encourage the use of other War Council configurations. In theory, while this system doesn’t provide custom armies, it should provide balanced deployments that are unique each time you play the game. In practice, the deployment decks are pretty balanced but some specialists appear to be more powerful than others and most of the deployment decks are very similar to each other. This means that unless you use random specialist cards or make a conscious decision to try something new, players have a tendency to select certain specialists more than others, resulting in Call to Arms games that feel pretty repetitive.

I honestly like the theory behind the Call to Arms system; I just feel that like so many other things in the BattleLore system, it just doesn’t live up to its potential. The biggest problem that I have with the system is the deployment decks themselves. They are just too similar to each other. I’d love to see deployment decks that focus on specific builds of units. For example, I’d love to see a deck in which most units were mounted, another where most were ranged, and another where most were foot units. You could even mix in a few specialist units into the deployment decks, but follow the same theme of "mounted/ranged/foot." This way, players could increase the odds of getting units that match their play style, but not create unbalanced power armies that take advantage of rules loopholes. It would also increase the amount of "fun units" that we get to use but still let us tweak the deployments with the specialists cards. Finally, the BattleLore system is practically begging for race specific deployment decks. One of the nice things about most miniatures games is that players can pick an army or race that they identify with and focus on collecting units from that specific army. BattleLore’s units are spread across a hodgepodge of expansions and there is currently no way to play as a specific race.

Despite the lack of a true army customization option, I still feel that BattleLore’s gameplay is superior to Warhammer’s. However, BattleLore is not the game for those hardcore tournament players that gain their enjoyment by squeezing every last point out of their armies and make them as competitive as possible.


Specialist cards offer a way to customize your deployment decks

Heroes

The BattleLore Heroes expansion was just released a few months ago.This expansion is the first from Fantasy Flight Games (BattleLore’s new owner) and it radically changes the game system. The Heroes expansion gives players an onboard avatar of sorts that not only has special abilities like the heroes in most other miniatures games, but can also go on quests, search for treasure, find magic items, level up, and other various activities commonly associated with characters in a Role Playing Games. The Heroes expansion increases the complexity of the game, and plays best with repeat plays against the same game partner to give your hero time to level up. It turns BattleLore into more of a campaign based game than a "match" based game like most miniatures systems. It also doesn’t seem to have rules that are quite as tight as the previous expansions, primarily because there are so many other separate expansions that it’s almost impossible to keep them working together. Despite the added complexity, I am a huge fan of the Heroes expansion. It takes BattleLore in a unique direction that does not directly compete with the likes of Warhammer. Instead, it turns BattleLore into a strategy adventure game that feels more similar to Heroes of Might and Magic or Final Fantasy: Tactics than a traditional miniatures game. In fact, the system is changed (and in some ways improved) so much by the Heroes expansion that almost feels unfair to players who do not own the expansion. As a result, I am very curious about how the Heroes system will be supported in the future. There is a ton of potential for this system. I could see campaigns added that focus on new heroes, can imagine new powers developed for the existing heroes, and even heroes from other races joining the mix. However, I could just as easily see Fantasy Flight Games not wanting to put in the amount of effort required to balance the Heroes and see the expansion get set aside as an alternate "snap-in" to the overall BattleLore system for the players who want to use it, but ignored by the future releases and not become a core component of the game.

I am a huge fan of the Heroes expansion and would love to see the system get continued support. I believe this more than any other expansion offers Warhammer and other Miniatures fans a reason to choose BattleLore over those other systems as it is something very unique. This also represents the biggest improvement to the BattleLore system since its release. It’s a shame that its release was delayed so long. I hope that other players have not given up on the system entirely and ignore this expansion as a result.


The Heroes expansion takes BattleLore in a new direction

The BattleLore System

Overall, I have been pretty disappointed in BattleLore as a miniatures system. I still think that by itself, it is a great game. I’d recommend the game to just about anyone looking for a fantasy war themed boardgame. However, as a game system it feels a bit disjointed, like it doesn’t know what it wants to be and so it does nothing truly well. I could not in good conscience recommend the system as a replacement for other miniatures games, primarily because it feels more like a game with a bunch of snap-in modules than a fully developed gaming system.

If I were Fantasy Flight Games, I’d release a 2nd edition of the game. I’d have three stand-alone race specific versions of the game that worked with each other but contained everything you needed to play every element of the game as a specific race. Each race box would have complete rules (that include the game’s core fluff), custom race specific deployment decks and specialist cards (with enough variety in the deployment decks to allow armies to be tailored to a specific play style), custom lore decks, a monster or two, and heroes. The human box would contain the Medieval Lore Rules and contain everything you need to play historically themed games. I’d also have one expansion set for each race that contained more specialists, more deployment decks, more lore decks, and more heroes. Finally, I’d take a page from Memoir ’44 and release "campaign books" that have a series of linked "adventures" that focus on various fantastic quests and stories in the BattleLore universe (making sure you have at least one historically themed campaign book). What this would do is ensure that every gamer had the same foundation in the game and were all using the same "system." You wouldn’t have rules spread across multiple expansions; you’d have a single set of rules that all users could access and every expansion that was released could build on that same foundation. Additionally, it would be quite easy to add other races, "neutral creatures" (these would be great in the campaign/adventure supplements), etc. without having to worry about whether or not players could use them or not.

If steps are taken to create a more cohesive game system instead of a random amalgamation of snap in expansions, I truly believe that BattleLore can become a cheaper, faster, and better miniatures alternative to the likes of Warhammer. Until that happens, I’m happy recommending the game to players, but will have to warn them that the system just doesn’t live up to its potential.


I love the high-adventure feel of BattleLore but the expansions don't live up to their potential
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James Gambrell
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Bryan,

Great follow-up review. Your Warhammer perspective is very interesting. I have to say it strikes me as a bit odd to compare Battlelore to Warhammer. I can agree they COULD have gone that direction with it, and I can see the benefits, however that might actually kill the game for me. It sounds like your ideas would be great, but would increase the complexity of the base game. For example, in order to make the process of creating a custom army fun, the game system needs to contain dozens of different units to choose from. That creates massive complexity and puts a game out of casual reach.

You see, to me the whole point of Battlelore can be boiled down to two things:

#1 Speed/ease of play. The fatal problem with complex war simulations like Warhammer or other more realistic wargames is THEY TAKE TOO DAMN LONG TO PLAY. Even boardgames like Axis and Allies or War of the Ring can take 5+ hours to get through. Heck even realistic video game simulations take too long to be practical, so of course when you have to physically roll dice and such it takes far too long. Add in the trouble of needing to build terrain, design an army, learn the game, etc. and you have a system that is only accessible to hardcore fans. Contrast that to Battlelore. I can set up the board and play a game against my mother if I wanted to, and be done in an hour or two! It only takes about 5 minutes to explain the basics. Even the War council and lore system is very simple and intuitive to use.

#2 Randomized battles. I like how the random command cards, lore cards, and dice rolls mean that no two battles play out the same, and that you will have a unique challenge each time. The problem with traditional wargames is I find them to be a bit repetitive. Once you learn a good strategy there is nothing stopping you from simply repeating it every game. In addition, in a highly skill-based non-randomized war game, the better player will usually win. This often kills the fun. Most people will only play a game with you if they feel they have a chance of winning. No one likes a predetermined outcome. In a normal wargame, what do you do once player A finds a strategy that always beats player B? Player B no longer wants to play!


Combined with the fact that Battlelore still "feels like a wargame", and that pretty much summarizes why I like it. You get the fun of playing a wargame, without all the hassle and imbalance. In terms of practical playability it is closer to Stratego than Warhammer.

I should add that it doesn't seem too difficult to take the Battlelore materials and create a simple standard wargame out of it if that is what you prefer. Simply assign a point value to each unit, tweak the combat rules to you and your opponent's liking, and toss the command cards!

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Team Ski
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I know this is an old review, but I still don't understand the attempt to compare Battlelore and Warhammer (even with the follow up report). You are comparing a $60 game with another in which a small unit costs more. You might as well try to compare it to Heroscape. It is not a competing system! Apples and oranges, mate.

-Ski
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Ryan F
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bcpravel wrote:
It's fantasy because it has a dwarf riding a cow.
LOL
 
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