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Disclaimer: While I am friends with the creator of the project, this is not a commissioned preview. All the information below has been at some point revealed or hinted by Fantasmagoria Games, but there is also some speculation on my part. Finally, nothing you see is final.
Last year held a very special event for me and my fellow Kickstarter backers - we got our Battalia: The Creation copies! If you know nothing of the world of Battalia, waste no time, as the current sum-up includes information mainly about the expansion of the game - The Stormgates, which requires Battalia: The Creation in order to be played. I will not be getting into detail about what Battalia is and how do you play it. Resources on the base game can be found in my overview of the game here. UndeadViking has a great video on the core game and you can further expand your knowledge about it at the official page (battalia.eu) and Facebook page of the game (https://www.facebook.com/Battalia.bg/).
We had almost a full year to play the frak out of the original Battalia before Fantasmagoria Games hit us with a big box expansion of the strategic deckbuilder/dudes on a map combo. Battalia: The Stormgates will have its own Kickstarter campaign that will hit the popular platform for online funding on the sixth of September 2016.
In Battalia: The Stormgates the mighty Bärfolk, the proud Cloudborn, the fierce Emberians and the mystic Islanders are joined by two completely new factions - the first major feature of the expansion will be the Sunblessed and the Wolfsclan.
One of the major things that made vanilla Battalia so interesting was the deck building mechanism that is tightly connected with a tile laying aspect and simulates the creation of a nation. By now I have gotten pretty comfortable with the four elemental decks of the game and while Emberians are still the coolest in my eyes, I am thrilled at the prospect of two more factions (and four more mounted minis!). As you know the factions of Battalia are not that different from each other game play-wise, not counting the diverse artwork and backstory (when not playing with the extra hero sheets that add character abilities). Which means the two new nations will serve a specific purpose (apart from scratching that “the Starks meet vikings” itch) - after the expansion, Battalia can be played by 6 people simultaneously.
So it is not just visual variety and eye candy we are getting - the game will feature a whole new set of ways to play! While you can use the rules of the core game and add the two new factions to get that 6 player melee session you have only dreamt about up to this point, the designers have actually taken into account that this would extend beyond the reasonable gaming time (figuratively speaking of course - we gamers tend to have a different idea of “reasonable”).
New factions are no doubt cool but the larger novelty in Battalia: The Stormgates will be the team vs. team mode. This new way to play is a major improvement for the core game, as it also works in 4-player games and drastically shortens play time. I had the chance to test it out at a local board gaming event in Sofia this spring and I was very impressed with the smoothness of this mode - it is a great way to sneak in that longed for game of Battalia, without spending half a day or culling the player count.
This is achieved through simultaneous actions from alliance members. This variation of the core game’s mechanism not only works well towards shortening the game, but it also opens a whole new set of strategies for you to discover and experience. In the vanilla Battalia we were used to be dependent only on our own factions/decks. Essentially having two hands of cards within the alliance, paired with the ability to time your actions in accord with those of your teammate lets you do cross map plays and try tactics that were impossible before. I am really excited for this mode - while Battalia has a variety of ways to play in the core/KS box, the semi-coop/team play is something completely new. I am very curious to see how the game handles the three teams of two players each, as well as the still-in-testing two teams of three.
The obvious point of interest in Battalia: The Stormgates is in the title of the expansion itself. The Stormgates will be the other major addition to the game. In order to suit the higher player count the expansion features a board extension that makes the Battalia map even bigger. While fitting the new stuff on the table might be a bit challenging, the increase in size will also affect game play - the map is no longer a perfect square, so movement will need to work in a different way.
Enter the Stormgates!
(philosiraptor detour: can the gates themselves enter and if so, what do they enter through?)
While there is little info about these six new cards (one for each faction), the designers have stated that they will not only allow easier movement, but will have an event system tied to them that will provide some kind of bonuses for the players using them. Cross map movement has been an interesting possibility in Battalia (those of you that have used the Wings of Aviena know how much that can influence the whole game) and I think it will bring a lot in terms of game play. I am curious to see how does the game keeps its balance though - especially with a higher number of players there might be little counter-play to shutting one opponent down via “rush” movement and the inability (or the lack of reason) of the others to prevent it.
No matter what the rules on Stormgates look like, they raise quite a lot of questions. Who can use them and when? Won’t they bring disturbance in the balance of forces that (almost) free movement indispensably brings? Are the Stormgates further inspired by Heroes of Might and Magic and how much does Alex actually love the old classic? Boy, I hope we get those answered soon!
Those of you that aren’t new to the Battalia universe know by now that one of the most straightforward and effective strategy in the base game has been to cull your deck of the weaker cards and try to make a slim, but super effective late game machine that uses only certain cards. While it has not been much of a problem in casual sessions, where I present Battalia to new players, the slenderizing of one’s stack of cards had been a dominant tactic in competitive games. And Battalia is the kind of game that, sooner or later, you start playing competitively.
In order to deal with that Fantasmagoria has a new unit in store for you - the Kings and Queens. They grant you the option to build higher level cities (one capital of level 6 and two residencies of level 5), but at the cost of limiting your options when you try to make your deck slimmer. There isn’t any info about the exact way these cards behave, but in any case it is good to see a new type of a card, as well as a new overall strategy. I have to point out that while the super-slim nation strategy has not bothered me much, a counter-play of this type (the Kings and Queens) not only handles game play variety, but expands the game lore-wise and gives us an entire different archetype of deck to build.
The last confirmed addition that Battalia: The Stormgates will feature are the two extra non-player characters named Bilkarr O'the Mountain people and Metamorpha. The latter is the one that instantly grabs my attention as this butterfly-like fairy creature influences the whole map based on the terrain she is standing. I was worried that this might bring randomness to the game, but it seems that Metamorpha can be controlled by the players to some extent, as the magical being is attracted to new terrain. We will have to wait for the details on that one!
Bilkarr on the other hand is one gorgeous miniature (judging from the 3D render, check it out at the end of the preview)! His figure is a wandering one and it will be up to us to catch him and buy some of his potions. Again, there are six types of those with different effects and we can only speculate about how they will affect the game play of Battalia. In any case the minis (and the potion “tokens”) rouse my curiosity - they will certainly be a nice addition to the ever-expanding variants set of the game.
While there will be only six miniatures included (some of which seem GIANT judging from the renders, check out some of them at the end of the article) in the base box of Battalia: The Stormgates, Fantasmagoria Games have released a ton of 3D renders of different miniatures, including the one that got away - the fabled Ruin Guards that we could not reach during the campaign of the base game. The other renders could not be anything else than stretch goals for the current Kickstarter and I must say that they are both numerous and interesting in design - the armored mammoth and the catapult thingy are raising a lot of questions about the part of all those miniatures in the game.
Doing a sum-up of all the info we got on Battalia: The Stormgates got me to notice one interesting pattern in the game design for the expansion. The new stuff seems to be aimed at the board part of the game, rather than at the nations and the deck construction. Besides the new identical factions and the new element with the Kings and Queens, The Stormgates seem to be devoid of any improvements of the deck building aspect. While the info above is not final, I for one would love to see new artefact types or at least a little bit of tweaking on the old ones - if you have played the vanilla Battalia, you have experienced that some of those cards are more or less situational and could use some love.
The focus on miniatures is something I welcome, as I am a huge fan of figures. Furthermore, judging from Bilkarr and Metamorpha, the figures will not just be a visual extra. Having unique rules for every one of them (if the hinted ones are indeed stretch goals) will expand the Battalia replayability and variability tremendously - something that is really vast even with just the core game.
Whatever hidden stuff the team behind Battalia: The Stormgates has in store for us, the expansion promises to bring a lot to the table. The added nation decks and the 6-player game are the ones I am looking forward to the most, as more card colours will slightly alter the way decks of units and artefacts behave, which will probably make cohorts that much more important and will increase the strategy level of the game.
The good news is the campaign is very, very close - just four days until September 6!