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Subject: Hexes. Dice. Miniatures. Cards. Euro? rss

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Josh Street
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Mount Pleasant
North Carolina
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As I looked across the field of battle at my erstwhile opponent, his eyes glinting with the flames of bloodlust, I arranged my forces. Through careful calculation, I had arrayed my most potent spell - a teleportation! - that would enable my most vicious cavalry to charge into the rear of his mangy curs. Upon materializing in the back ranks of my green enemies, I charged! Casting the ancient talismans with all my might they revealed...2 red and 2 blue - a total miss. My emboldened son looked up and yelled “You're going down, daddy!” Sigh...welcome to BattleLore.

The Bits
BattleLore comes with a massive number of cards, terrain markers, tokens, miniatures and a map. Oh yeah, it also comes with card holders, lore holding cups (more on this later), two books (I don't mean booklets), some random chits, two war council cards and a plastic “container” (rant on this later). Rumor has it that Days of Wonder wanted to package in an actual giant spider, but there was some sort of health law that wouldn't let them...

The cards are slightly below average card stock, but overall, they hold up well to repeated play. There are several types of card including:
-Command cards: These cards determine which units may move on the board and any special effects associated with that movement. This is the largest stack of cards and is generally large enough to last an entire 2-player game, though I have had one particularly long (and poor rolling) battle that required a reshuffle.
-Reference cards: Someone got rules reminders in my wargame! The reference cards outline the the types of terrain and the effects of terrain on battle, the capabilities of certain units and the basic rules of the game governing morale and other topics. These cards work well enough, but they take up a significant amount of (oh so valuable) table space. So much so, that I only use them when playing with new players and my son (who likes having them to fall back on).
-Lore cards: In BattleLore, Lore=Magic. Don't let anyone fool you, if you're modifying the laws of the game, you are partaking of the black arts and we will see you burned!!! Bwahaha...OK...got that out of my system. Each lore card is affiliated with a type of commander and has all the details about the lore's effects, timing and cost.

In addition, two war council cards provide a place for the members of your war council. To be honest, they're wasting space - a 5” x 8” card for a few tokens that don't move once the game has started! For a game with a regular sized board, it sure seems like I need a much bigger game table...

The various chits in the game are thick cardboard and hold up well and fit well in the molded case within the box. One pet peeve is the double-sided terrain tiles: some scenarios use the maximum number of a certain type of terrain, which is often needed for another terrain type during setup. This forces you to be careful to perform setup in the specific order shown in the scenario lest you look for an already placed token to swap out.

The game also comes with a massive number of miniatures representing archers, rookie soldiers, average soldiers, knights, light cavalry, heavy cavalry, goblin archers, goblin troops, hobgoblins, dwarven crossbowmen, dwarven soldiers and heavy dwarven soldiers. Oh yeah, there are also a ton of flags that plug into the bases of the miniature indicating their competence and unit type (because the horses might be infantry in disguise...). Needless to say, a bit of sorting on the part of the game owner is in order. These miniatures are made of soft plastic and are prone to bending and warping. And whatever you do, don't leave them in your car. Seriously. Trust me. The miniatures are decently sculpted, but the sheer volume of miniatures all in a light grey color diminishes the impact of having such a massive force arrayed before you.

The two books are well done and easy to read, although its worth noting that the main rule book is the thickest game book I've ever seen in a traditional board game. Seriously, this thing has a frigging spine! I don't even have a spine - it makes me nervous when my instruction books do... That said, the book is well laid out and has plenty of examples making the rules seem less dense than the book's size would lead one to believe.

The other little bits are pretty lackluster. The card holders connect together to form a rack to hold your cards during play and miss the mark for me. These trays don't connect together particularly well and often get shuffled around during play. The lore cups are small cups about 1.5” in diameter and are designed to hold your lore tokens during play. Strike two - these cups are infuriating to fish lore from. Its almost like someone at DoW has a sick sense of humor and thought BattleLore needed a built-in dexterity game... And last and certainly least, the strike out - the miniature container. This clear plastic contraption seems to work for many people, but for me, its the bane of my existence. I can never get the bloody thing to close, the minis shift around inside it, it doesn't seem to be designed to allow the miniatures back in after the first play and forget incorporating any expansions into the darned thing. I've chosen to burn mine as a ritual sacrifice (circumvents pesky laws concerning other ritual sacrifices). Of these three items, the only thing I still use is the card holders - and this, I do under protest.

The board is good quality, lays flat and is double sided! One side for the two player game and the other for connecting with another board to form an epic game The board is functional and well designed, but its a bit surprising that it has no rule reminders or other euro trappings... Maybe its not a Euro...

Gameplay
BattleLore is all about the scenario - players agree upon a scenario with pre-determined forces, pre-determined turn order, pre-determined setup, pre-determined terrain and pre-determined victory conditions. Calvin would be proud. Some scenarios do offer a bit of flexibility in assembling the war council, but for any further flexibility, you'll need the Call to Arms expansion.

Its around this part of the review that I would like to comment on the most lengthy single phase of the game: setup. This game takes FOREVER to set up. To be clear, I've got all of my BattleLore minis bagged separately and labeled clearly. All of my tokens are sorted and in order. My cards are also sorted and stacked with reference cards set into a stack for me and a stack for the lose....opponent. Even my OCD friends think I need to chill out. And setup still takes around 10 minutes. Its so bad, that if I play it with my son, I set the game up while he's doing something else and then ask if he wants to play. Rant over.

Players alternate taking turns during which they can play one command card that in turn allows them to active a certain number of units based on their type or location on the board. During the turn, players also have the option of spending lore tokens to play a lore spell. The turn ends with the most recent player drawing a command card and opting to take 2 lore, 2 lore cards (keeping only one) or one of each. Pretty simple, huh?

What about the combat? There's combat in this game...oh....you mean the dice rolling part! In BattleLore, adjacent units are able to battle, with each unit, regardless of its damage, throws the same number of dice in combat. This number is equal to the strength of the unit as identified by the color of the banner of the unit (get it - commands and colors!). As a trade off, these heavier hitting units are generally slower than their lighter hitting units. Each die has the three banner colors, a lore result, a retreat result and a bonus strike roll. When a player attacks, any die rolls showing the banner color of the opposing unit is counted as a hit, with bonus strikes having the potential to result in a hit (depending on the attacking unit). Retreat rolls force the unit to retreat one hex per retreat roll (unless the unit is bold, in which case it doesn't move, or the unit is frightened, in which case it moves two hexes per roll). Each lore role adds a lore to the rolling player's lore pool. When a unit is totally destroyed the little banner carrier is hoisted from the battle field and placed on the opponent's scoring row as a trophy of his conquest.

I would be remiss if I didn't touch on the lore cards. I'm going to level with you for a moment:

My name is Josh. I like war games. I also like fantasy as a genre.

That said, the main reason I play this game is the lore. C&C: Ancients has better rules in my opinion, so to make this game work for me, I need the lore to be cool. For the most part, it succeeds. The lore has a good fantasy feel and represents an interesting layer of strategy. Unfortunately, very few of the magical effects in the game are real game changers. When this is combined with the random nature in which lore cards are drawn, play can flip-flop a bit. Some people may like this, but for me, it makes the game seem a bit random. To be clear, this flip-flopping isn't as common as with a presidential candidate, but it happens enough to make you question your campaign contributions. I'm OK with their being game changers in the game, but if they're going to be there, I'd like to see more of them in order to balance out the randomness of the card draw. The extra races (dwarves and goblins at this point) don't add much and the monsters are a nice addition to the game, but seem inconsistent in terms of their value.

BattleLore is a surprisingly accessible game. My eldest son (9) plays competently and enjoys the game quite a bit (and even focuses on victory points, not wanton destruction....sniff, sniff...that's my boy!). That said, BattleLore generally does not appeal to my eurogame-only friends and the thing is downright noxious to my non-gamer friends. If you lean towards wargames or american-style games, BatteLore is probably up your alley, all others, play a round first before coughing up the cash.

End Game
Each scenario has a predefined score needed to win the game. Credit where credit is due, most of my BattleLore games have been very close and have generated some real excitement between the players as they jockey to move strong units forward and cover the retreat of weakened units in order to deprive the opponent of those precious remaining victory points. Which isn't to say that blow-outs don't occur in the game, but it isn't common. Even these few blowouts have a tense, exciting feeling as the losing player never really feels completely out of contention (at least until you grind them under your spiked jackboots...).

Bang for the Buck
In my mind, BattleLore started this trend towards expensive games in small boxes. I know it wasn't the first one, but that's just how I feel (and you can't take that away from me!). But at $70+, BattleLore certainly gives you a ton of bling for your money and nearly all of the bits are well done. Altogether it adds up so that I don't mind the cost too much (though if I could get this in some hard plastic, I'd be totally happy paying).

Overall
So what's the final word on BattleLore? Its a bit mixed. I've enjoyed most of the games I've played and still pull this one out every month or so. The bits work and the theme doesn't feel totally tacked on (though if I think about it for longer than a minute, it clearly is). The expansions for the game don't really do a lot for me as they don't seem to really expand on the base game in any substantial way (though the Call to Arms expansion spices the game up nicely). I've played the epic version of the game (a four player variant), but it really doesn't do it for me - it seemed to drag the game down quite a bit. Personally, I've got enough people to play this style of game that it made sense as a purchase and I'm pleased with it overall. I'm not sure the game lived up to its initial hype, but if you have a warm place in your heart for the savaging of your opponents in direct, brutal conflict, then you should seriously consider this one.

Disclaimers
Time Owned: 6 months Number of Plays: 10+
Ages Played With: 9-40 Player Counts: 2, 3, 4
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