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Subject: Its still good, but it could be SO much better rss

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dave de boer
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Battlelore was once ranked as high as 5. Now you will find it at 22, respectable but still quite a comedown from its former glory. Battlelore’s initial high ranking was an indication of what people expected the game to be. The base game was only a beginning, with more material promised. Further development of the game hasn’t been what was expected, and so the ranking has dropped. Does that mean that Battlelore was all hype and no substance?

Many gamers are familiar with the excellent Command and Colours system that Battlelore uses. It is the same system that you will find in Battle Cry, Commands and Colours: Ancients and in Memoir ‘44. The same system is used in all of these games, but each has its own tweaks and unique features.

1. Commands and Colours System: the Gameplay of Battelore.

If you are already familiar with the C&C system, you can skip the next two paragraphs. The C&C system divides the game board into three sections - left, centre and right. Units of troops are represented by sets of three or four figures (not counters but nice looking figures). The player has a handful of cards which can be used to move/fight the units across the board. These cards are matched with the 3 board sections, so that you can give orders to the units in that section. For example, you can have a card in hand that will allow you to move/fight with 3 units on the right flank. Or you might have a card that allows you to command 1 unit in each flank. Etc. There are also some special tactics cards that allow you to do special things like give orders to all your cavalry or your archers, irrespective of their position. I very much like the card driven mechanic of the C&C system. To me it represents the limitations a commander faces. There are a lot of factors which can interfere with the commanders control. The fun and challenge of this or any C&C game is to make the best of your opportunities, as represented by the cards you have.

To win at Battlelore you have to meet your opponent in combat and vanquish him. Combat is resolved by dice. Each unit is colour coded to indicate how many dice it uses, and this number can be modified by terrain. The dice have symbols matching the various units. When you roll the correct symbol you remove one figure from the unit that you are attacking. After the last figure of a unit is removed it is placed on the scoring track in front of the player who captured the piece. The person who first reaches a certain number of points, usually five or six, wins the game. The combat is simple and quickly resolved. Battelore, as with all the C&C games, is easy to play, yet provides many choices and a fair amount of tension. Battelore proves once again how good the C&C system is. The obvious strategy to concentrate force. The more dice, the more chance of a kill.

2. Special Features of Battlelore

One of the special features of Battlelore is that defending units can counterattack in the turn they are attacked. To do this, the defending unit must survive the initial attack and must be supported by two other friendly units in adjacent hexes. The battle back rule means that it is very important to keep your units in formation. The end game often moves swiftly as the armies hunt down vulnerable units left alone by themselves. I very much like the roll this gives to the cavalry. Cavalry are superb at hunting down the weak. One of the crucial moments in the game is when you decide to unleash your cavalry. Too soon, and it will be surrounded and wiped out, and you will probably loose. Too late, and the opponent may finish you off before you can catch his damaged units.

Another special feature of Battlelore is the Lore from which the game partially derives its name. Besides the command deck, which is found in all the C&C games, Battlelore has a second deck, which represents the skills of various loremasters whose services can be enlisted. Players build up lore during the game and can spend it to play these extra cards. The lore cards allow a player to get bonuses when moving and fighting. Some of them are quite powerful. Before the game, players customize their lore council, decided how many and how powerful a council they will have. This will affect what kinds of cards are available in the lore deck and how expensive it will be to play a card. The lore rules are optional, so players who don’t like them can skip them. I like the lore cards for the theme they provide and the extra bit of chaos that ensues.

3. Battelore Looks Fantastic

For me, one of the best features of Battlelore besides the great game play that the C&C system affords, is the look of the game. I have taken the time to paint all the miniatures, and the result is a game that just absolutely makes your eyes pop. Even unpainted the figures look impressive enough, and the artwork is quite good.

It is a minor point, but it has always bothered me a little that the opposing armies are so alike in appearance. The only thing to distinguish the armies is that one has banners and the other has standards (one of them is a sideways flag, the other a vertical flag - I can never remember which). It would have been much nicer to have the armies look different, but the figures are meant to be interchangeable, so this was not possible. Still, all in all, Battlelore is probably my best looking game when it is all set up on the table top. I haven’t posted any images of the painted minis, but you can find lots of examples from others on the Battelore page.

4. Still Good, But It Needs Something More

Every game deserves to be evaluated in its own right, but it is very difficult to judge Battlelore as a stand-alone game, since hardly anyone bought into the game that way. It was always supposed to be a beginning that would lead to greater stuff.

The basic rules and the look of the game make Battlelore a good game. No one who buys Battelore can say that they aren't getting their money's worth. The main criticism of the game is that the initial hype was based on something more. Battlelore was supposed to be a fantasy game, with dwarves, goblins, elves and other fantastical creatures vying with humans and monsters for control of the battlefield. This is where Battlelore falls flat for me. I have never really felt totally happy with the theme, which is too much of an attempt to mix fantasy and reality. The result is a theme which feels like neither. And this is the reason why lately Battelore has sat on the shelf, while I keep busy with Memoir ‘44 instead. As it stands, what Battelore offers can also be found in Commands and Colours: Ancients, which many say is a cleaner, better game. The attraction of the game initially was the possibility of customized armies in a fantasy setting. That has not been realized.

Without a high fantasy theme, without a variety of armies and without the addition of heroes - all things that were promised when the base game was released - Battelore is just another C&C game. Battelore was expected to transcend this level. The theme turned out not to resemble high fantasy. The two races represented mercenaries, and they came to battle riding on hyenas, ostriches and bulls. Battelore doesn’t need hyenas and ostriches, which have nothing to do with the French/English milieu of the game or with high fantasy. It needs goblins with strange contraptions and dwarves with cannons and armies of elves and undead. More of the traditional fantasy fare. Putting a thin fantasy veneer on the Hundred Years War was an attempt to satisfy both the historical and fantasy camps, but I wonder whether either is really satisfied.

If you are thinking about adding Battelore to your collection, your enjoyment of the game will depend on your expectations. If you are expecting the game to draw you into a world that feels like Tolkien, where epic heroes lead elves, dwarves or men into battle, then you will be disappointed. If, however, you are expecting a solid Medieval themed war game* that is easy to play and looks great when set up, then you won’t be disappointed. The game is certainly good, easy to play and enjoyable.

When I think of Battelore, I think, ‘it was so close....’ It still could match the promise that it had at first. We’ll have to see what Fantasy Flight Games, the new owner of this title, will do with it. I’m hoping that the hyenas, ostriches and cows are replaced with goblin catapults, dwarvish cannon, human heroes and more fantastic monsters. FFG won’t be able to print it fast enough, if that’s what they produce. The potential is there, and for me that’s what Battelore stands for right now. Potential. Its still good, but I’m hoping for a lot more.


* Yes, I am aware that there are some war gamers who say that the C&C games are NOT war games. The games are about war, so I call them war games. And I don’t care what you call it, as long as its fun.
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Every game deserves to be evaluated in its own right, but it is very difficult to judge Battlelore as a stand-alone game, since hardly anyone bought into the game that way.
You wouldn't be a collector type coming from a Warhammer background by any chance would you?
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Carl
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Quote:
Every game deserves to be evaluated in its own right, but it is very difficult to judge Battlelore as a stand-alone game, since hardly anyone bought into the game that way.
I must say that I didn't buy Battlelore expecting all the expansions. I bought it b/c it looked like a great game on its own. For me the mixing of medieval and fantasy is not a problem. It's simply a light fun game which has theoretical potential for more but that's not what defines it imho. There are a lot of user made scenarios available for the base game which extend the life of the base game almost indefinitely. (Add to that the epic board and Call to Arms expansion which a certain kind person gave me and you've got tons of replayability!)
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dave de boer
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Quote:
You wouldn't be a collector type coming from a Warhammer background by any chance would you?
Er... guilty as charged. On the other hand, there are lot of gamers who like the idea and look of a table top mini wargame but who are put off by the huge expense. These gamers were hoping that Battlelore would give a similar feel but without the cost. And while trying to appeal to these gamers, Days of Wonder did suggest that Battelore might be what they were looking for. After all, they did produce several collectible expansions and they did produce an alternate army selection mechanism.

I don't disagree that Battlelore is a great game by itself. But I do think something different was expected for follow-up. The potential was there for all of us who do like to collect more. Unfortunately, IMHO, what did come out was mostly just silly.
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Read the rulebook, plan for all contingencies, and…read the rulebook again.
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DoW promised a lot for BattleLore. And I think on balance they brought out a lot of material for BattleLore. It isn't even two years old! BattleLore was also advertised as an open-ended system. Epic and Call-to-Arms really encouraged players to use the components for creating their own scenarios. Most players don't seem to want to do that.
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Talorien
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Great analysis

It seems there is a market out there for a 'Warhammer-like' fantasy game with nice bits, and without the high cost and time investment (painting) of GW games.
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JP LaChance
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I don't disagree with you on your points. I didn't buy BL for all the expansions or because I wanted a "fantasy war game" I bought it because it looked like fun and was supposed to take the C&C System to the next level. Oh yea and because it looked like FUN.

The problem is that DOW talked WAY WAY out of their butts when they were hyping this game up for sales. Go back and listen to some of the podcasts when this game was being released and you will hear promise after promise about how this will be THE BEST GAME IN THE C&C SYSTEM. WE HAVE BIG BIG PLANS for BL.....

In part I think the base game did deliver as it is the easiest game in the C&C system to pick-up and play the first time hands down. This makes it a GREAT game to introduce players to the C&C system.

The problem is the "Fantasy Land" is TOO BIG!! They could go everything from Goblins to Zombies and still be in "Fantasy Land". In a way this is a good thing, but in other aspects this is a bad thing. IF all they (DOW) were planning on was to release $20-30 races till the end of time filling in the "Fantasy Land" then they lost me. I'd like some story behind why the goblins are fighting the XXX but I have not seen anything along those lines (maybe i am missing something). Me, I'm interested in the 100yrs war expansion because that is more like the game (soldiers) I want to play.

The other problem is I think they overestimated how large the dedicated group of "Fantasy Land" fighters is, and all the competition in that area. They are trying to pull in the "paint your mini's folks" and I think most of them already have a fantasy system they prefer (and have spent a lot of time and money on).

The LORE system is something I have not even scratched the surface of in my limited playing of BL, but in reading the instructions as to how it works I think it will add another dimension to the gameplay, but is it enough?? I think maybe NOT.

Once DOW introduced the "AIR-PACK" for M'44 IMHO it brought M'44 to the same level as BL in terms of starting and teaching the game quickly and with lots of fun. PLUS it is a "theme" that may appeal to a lot more people. Now if DOW can come up with some type of "HQ System" for M'44 that will add the "Lore type aspects" to the M'44 game I think they will have a real winner. This may be the reason they unloaded BL to FFG.

Hope my rambling makes $$ and cents.

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Kevin Duke
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I don't see how you can say BL is the "easiest" game in the C&C system as long as Battle Cry is out there.

Admittedly, BC got "dumbed down" a lot from Borg's original design by the Hasbro people. But it's far less complex than BL (or Mem 44 or CCA).
 
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I'd sure like the skinny on how Hasbro "dumbed down" BattleCry. I had heard that, too.

This GeekList featuring BattleCry http://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/32613 tells a different story about some of BattleCry's development. A couple folks offer answers to my question about how close the AH/Hasbro version conformed to the design Richard Borg and the old AH development team were working on.
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M.D.W
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I didn't buy into Battlelore for the expansions. I bought into the base game, which I still think is great and stands well on its own. I have played and replayed the scenarios from the box and had a great time. Adding lore and a war council to the base scenarios adds a huge amount of replayability. I have yet to feel it is played out without an expansion. That isn't to say that I wasn't hoping for a better set of expansions to come out, and so far the only ones that really ring my bell are the 100 years war and epic expansions. With any luck with FFG at the helm we might see some expansions that will interest me more, but as of now I can't say I'm disapointed at all in the base game itself.
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JP LaChance
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BC is out of print and has been for quite some time, I don't even call it part of the system
 
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Homo Ludens
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Nice review - I'm quite happy to play the game as a medieval warfare game with an fantasy element, but I do agree that the depiction of some of the fantasy elements (the goblins for instance) could be done SO much better!
 
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Mara Saurio
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troubadour wrote:
I’m hoping that the hyenas, ostriches and cows are replaced with goblin catapults, dwarvish cannon, human heroes and more fantastic monsters.
I'd like to see all this new stuff, but I do really love the hyenas and ostriches, too. IMO, the (new?) designers should try to improve the "original" flavor of BL this way, and not have Warhammer (or anything else) as a reference.
I love the goblin slingers, by the way...
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I wouldn't call a game with a rank of 22 out of thousands full of hype.

There are no wooden blocks or meeples in the game so there is no way it could maintain its rank 5 for long.
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dave de boer
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Quote:
I wouldn't call a game with a rank of 22 out of thousands full of hype.
Totally agree! I still like Battlelore and have it ranked as a nine. Its just that it could have been (and still could be) more. Those who are happy with the base game as is will obviously not share that sentiment. They're probably better off in the end (and have more money, too, not having spent it all on expansions).
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Todd Rewoldt
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cvandyk wrote:
...but I do agree that the depiction of some of the fantasy elements (the goblins for instance) could be done SO much better!
Just wanted to chime in in defense of my frightened friends While I would've been happy with the Goblins and Dwarves released as separate army packs with the units that have been released to date and CtA deployment decks included, I'm pleased with how both of those armies have shaped up. They play distinctly from another (including the human forces in that comment as well), and offer variety without variety for the sake of variety.

Each army has its strengths and weaknesses which make for interesting combat situations. Finally played the web exclusive Attempted Breakthrough and loved it (even though my opponent insisted upon using the Medieval Lore rules, sapping a large chunk of fun for a scenario that begs for a level 3 cleric laugh ).

I'm looking forward to more race-based armies released with similar compositions yet unique combat styles. An elven army based around evade tactics similar to C&C:Ancients mechanics springs to mind, as does a relentless mass of undead forces...and on and on.
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Kevin Whitmore
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troubadour wrote:
I have never really felt totally happy with the theme, which is too much of an attempt to mix fantasy and reality. The result is a theme which feels like neither. And this is the reason why lately Battelore has sat on the shelf, while I keep busy with Memoir ‘44 instead. As it stands, what Battelore offers can also be found in Commands and Colours: Ancients, which many say is a cleaner, better game. The attraction of the game initially was the possibility of customized armies in a fantasy setting. That has not been realized.
I completely agree. Battlelore has a huge under-utilized asset; the rich, popular setting of elven/dwarven/orc conflict. They've dabbled with it, but have never really run with this. I've collected a bunch of this stuff, but it is Memoir that continues to get my attention as well. Memoir's fidelity to theme has made it the more attractive game to play.
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