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Subject: So Much Stuff in A System So Simple rss

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Aswin Agastya
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Battlelore is a medieval-fantasy themed, 2-players wargame by Richard Borg, using his Commands and Colors (C&C) system.



As in other C&C systems, a player plays a command card from his hand, and then order his units to move and battle. The units that can be ordered depends on the command card being played. Sometimes only units on a certain parts of the board, sometimes only certain type of units, and so on. The unique addition to Battlelore is the lore cards. These cards represent special tricks and magic spells that can be unleashed at various phases of the game, giving additional layer of strategy and chaos (somewhat contradictory, atmittedly).

Generally the game is won by getting enemy banners (which is gotten by destroying a unit), depending on the scenario. Some scenarios have additional alternate ways to win, such as capturing a terrain feature or reaching a certain area. But in general, these are merely replacements of destroying an opponent's units. For example, in a scenario in which you have to get 6 banners, you can replace 1 of the banners which a token that you get when you're capturing a certain landmark.

This review is written considering the 2 major rules update: Battle Savvy, and the updated creature rules. While sometimes I get to the expansions, only the base game is reviewed here.

Also, the figures in the following pictures are painted. Battlelore figures do not come painted.

The Good

The components of the game are gorgeous. I like the cheery art. The board and the overlay hexes are beautiful. The card, the cardboard tokens, the miniatures (200+ with 14 different detailed sculpts)... everything in the game screams high production value. Oh, and the rule book. It's a pictorial rule book. Spanning 80 pages, with most of it 'wasted' on graphics of gameplay examples and awesome artworks. The rules are presented very clearly in a structural manner. Simply the best rule book I've ever read. The scenario book complements the rule book very well, by having simple scenarios at the beginning and getting progressively more complete with each new scenario.


Full color, glossy, exquisitely designed, and on top of that: easy to understand.

The game flows well with little down time. With the command cards, a player usually moves only 2-3 units in a turn. This number can go up to 6, but it's still go reasonably fast. Sometimes a lore card is played in the middle, adding spice to the battle. Some will see the command cards as severe gameplay limitation, especially when their hands are less then stellar. But Battlelore rewards both offensive and defensive strategy, especially with the new Battle Savvy rules. Playing defensively is a good strategy when you're having a bad hand, adding another aspect of gameplay that is hand management.


The Commands in Commands & Colors system, keeping the game moving and more interesting.

Units are well-defined, making them diverse and easy to remember at the same time. Units in Battlelore are comprised of 3 attributes: type (infantry, cavalry, creature), weapon (common bow, crossbow, short sword, long sword, bite), and banner color (green, red, blue). Type deals with figure count, movement, and special rules. Weapon with which side of the battle dice matters and conditional usage of attack. Color means the unit general strength, which relates to the number of battle dice rolled when a unit is in combat. They are also explained in the handy reference cards, and Battlelore has 2 of each cards. Creature has a bit more special rules, but there is the handy reference card, and usually the number of creatures in battlefield is minimal.


These unit reference cards are handy for those not used to remembering unit stats, and each is illustrated beautifully.

Combat resolution is a snap. Just roll a number of dice equal to the unit's strength, and combat is almost instantly resolved. With a single roll a player knows the amount of casualty inflicted, whether the target retreats, and special abilities getting triggered. If the defender does not retreat, he is given chance to battle back. So a melee is mostly resolved with two rolls, one for each player.


The Colors of Commands & Colors, a single roll to rule them all.

Morale is handled simply, but has far-reaching influence. When a unit is adjacent to 2 friendly units, it's bold. It can ignore a retreat result, thus making the chance of battle back greater. This promotes unit moving in formation. Players will unrealizingly mimic tactics used in actual medieval battle. Retreat can be deadly, especially when the path is blocked (I consider blocking a path retreat using a cavalry as Battlelore's concept of flanking). Some units are/can be frightened. They retreat farther than non-frightened units, and have a chance to get scattered during the proccess.


Units in morale strengthening position. Expect to see multiples of this formation forming battle lines in Battlelore.

A touch of fantasy races in Iron Dwarves and Goblinoids. They have simple special rules, but enough to differentiate from the human troops. The Iron Dwarves are the only one with access to crossbow, a missile weapon that is slightly stronger than the common bow but with shorter range. The Goblinoids have fast-moving lizard riders, the only unit besides the giant spider that moves for 4 hexes.


The most brave and most vicious face each other.

Game changing lore system. In Battlelore, lore can be leadership feats, dirty tricks, divine intervention, or magic spells. The lore adds so much fantasy flavor and strategy to the game. I consider this to be the most complex aspect of Battlelore, but still very manageable. Being able to buff, teleport, protect, harass and outright destroy units really makes Battlelore a unique experience among other wargames. The game is totally playable without lore if that's one's wish. With the Medieval lore rules from the The Hundred Years War expansion (the rulebook can be downloaded freely), player can have lore without the more magical stuff. So it's adjustable, from the no lore, semi lore to total lore usage.


Chaos and miracles on the battlefield; note how the small artworks on the corner are unique to each card and some are pretty funny.

Wonderful battlefields. Battlelore map hex overlays contain run-of-the-mill terrain types, like forrests, hills, and rivers (plus the fords). Then some more man-made structures like bridges and ramparts. Then even exotic terrains like healing pool, towering stronghold, and rogue's den that can open up secret passage behind the enemy lines.


A tower beyond a bridge in a beautiful countryside. I can even use it for overland RPG adventure.

The game is streamlined and simple that most people can play it, even if they have to play it in its simplest iteration (no lores or morale rules for example). The game doesn't last very long, 1.5 hours top.

The pseudo-history stuff is interesting. Dwarves as Scotts and goblinoids as Turks? I truly hope that if new fantasy races are introduced on the game, they are based of nations in middle ages. Also, each scenario has short explanation that's somewhat historical. Honestly I didn't anything about Agincourt eventhough I've heard about 100-years-war, but now I know. Sadly, it seems that FFG wants to steer from this direction and makes Battlelore strictly fantasy.

Finally, I just love how complete the game is, in just one base game. The game has full potential for expansions. But just the base game is great. I get various units, a compact combat resolutions, modular terrain capable of depicting various battlefields, magic, fantasy races, creatures, morale system... all wrapped in high production value. The only thing missing is a custom scenario creator (10 scenarios only get you that far). It is somewhat fixed with the Call to Arms expansion, but I think that it should have been included in the base game. And it's a marvel how such a streamlined and simple system can contain so much stuff in it.

The Bad

Shared command deck. Some command cards are less desirable than the others. There are instances when a player keep getting less valued cards, because all the good cards go to the other player. This applies to lore deck to, but not to the extent of command deck.

Set up and tear down is a killer. No matter how well organised, Battlelore set up takes a while. The game short playing time, which usually is an advantage, becomes a disadvantage in this manner. Set up for 10-15 minutes, tear down for 10-15 minutes, playing for 45-60 minutes. That means players spend about 30% of their time setting up and tearing down the game. Changing scenarios between games is organisational hell too.

This is a part of set up, but deserves its own section, is the lore deck preparation. Setting it up is a fuss. It is arranged depending of the composition of each player's lore council. When having more than 1 game in a session, this makes players less excited on changing the composition of their lore councils between battles. Since if they do, they have to re-prepare the lore deck (which is a fuss).


And the lore council sheet is too big and clunky to use for what it is; the references could have been elsewhere, and most of them are only used at the beginning of the game.

This has nothing to do with the base game, but I feel inclined to include it here. I don't like how the current expansions, especially the goblins and dwarfs ones, are handled. Call to Arms, Epic, Hundred Years War, Heroes, Creatures, and Dragons are good expansions. The rest, not so much. These expansions give many specialized units, but you can only use them in a very limited number of scenarios. Yes, the Call to Arms system (which will become the system's staple after the scenarios are exhausted) accomodates them, but in a very limited way. Only 2 specialists per engagement. I hope the coming Horrific Horde Goblin Army expansion pack will fix this. I'm putting this here for people who love expansions.

5/5
The game has flaws, but the good really outweigh the bad. For a complete explanation how do I rate games, please head to my profile page.


+ A complete package of medieval-fantasy wargame; no elves, but have various units, medieval races, creature, magic, exotic terrains, morale system and so on
+ Streamlined and fun rules, capable of being played in under 1.5 hours
+ Gorgeous components

- Set up and tear down is a killer
- A slew of badly integrated expansions




If you're interested, here's the link to Fantasy Flight Games' Battlelore support page, which contains all the rule books for Battlelore and its expansions.
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Markus
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Excellent review, thank you.
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Dan Cavaliere
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Great review Aswin with nice images for those new to the game to see (especially the paint jobs - excellent).

As you mentioned the expansions could have been handled better but overall they do add to the game.

BL is one of my favorites and never disappoints me. Once a player gets into the lore and finer details of the game it will provide hours of fun
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Merric Blackman
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Unfortunately, the expansions for BattleLore have been underwhelming. There are basically two good ones (Hundred Years War and Scottish Wars), a few mediocre ones (Call to Arms and Heroes), and a lot of very bad, overcosted drek.

With both C&C:Ancients and Memoir '44 (especially the latter), you have systems that really build into something. BattleLore was created to be a vehicle to sell miniatures to people who want to build their own armies, and it shows - and it's especially bad because the actual "buy units in blisters" was a total misread by DOW of the market. Retailers and distributors didn't want a bar of it. Thus the sloppy packaging and underwhelmingness of the first few expansions (goblin skirmishers, goblin marauders, and dwarven battalion).

The transition of the license to FFG has been, ahem, rocky. So far, we've had the news that they can't reprint the base set because it was severely underpriced, and three expansions: one of which is sort-of-okay (Heroes) and two which make me shudder at the price (Creatures, Dragons).

Memoir '44 was a good game that has become an exceptional game through its expansions. Battlelore was a good game that has been diminished by its expansions.
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Charles Bame
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Outstanding review! Unfortunately, the set-up time keeps me from playing very often.shake
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David Hoffman
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I think the various "small" expansions offer the possibility for some new gameplay that's not in the base game. They are not intended to be included in base game scenarios and that's fine.

Buying them online, I've picked some up for much less than MSRP and maybe that cushions the blow enough that I don't get all frothy-mouthed, as some people seem to get, online, over them.

A great review. Really gives a sense of what one can expect from the game, what the strengths and possible weaknesses are (I think it's important for new players to understand that buying the expansions is NOT required -- some companies release expansions that "fix" aspects of the base game -- that's not what Battlelore's expansions do, IMO).
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Markus Rathgeb
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very good review thumbsup

let me add the German Support Page: World of Battlelore
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Todd Redden
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I really enjoyed reading that review.
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Jim Patterson
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MerricB wrote:
Unfortunately, the expansions for BattleLore have been underwhelming. There are basically two good ones (Hundred Years War and Scottish Wars), a few mediocre ones (Call to Arms and Heroes), and a lot of very bad, overcosted drek.

With both C&C:Ancients and Memoir '44 (especially the latter), you have systems that really build into something. BattleLore was created to be a vehicle to sell miniatures to people who want to build their own armies, and it shows - and it's especially bad because the actual "buy units in blisters" was a total misread by DOW of the market. Retailers and distributors didn't want a bar of it. Thus the sloppy packaging and underwhelmingness of the first few expansions (goblin skirmishers, goblin marauders, and dwarven battalion).

The transition of the license to FFG has been, ahem, rocky. So far, we've had the news that they can't reprint the base set because it was severely underpriced, and three expansions: one of which is sort-of-okay (Heroes) and two which make me shudder at the price (Creatures, Dragons).

Memoir '44 was a good game that has become an exceptional game through its expansions. Battlelore was a good game that has been diminished by its expansions.
And you forgot the BattleLore-game-that-isn't-really-a-C&C-game, Battles of Westeros. It might be a fine game, but it's a curious bit of branding to say the least.

But anyway, nice review. I remember how much I looked forward to this, but the setup/breakdown, the overblown rules, and the dashed promises of the expansions soured me.
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Ian McCarthy
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This review is so great in so many ways. It has a great layout, integrating text and graphics pleasingly well. I think you've covered pretty much all of my likes and dislikes about the game and even given fair warning to potential new buyers of the game.

The game is really fun, despite the shortcomings of the command card deck regarding sections, strictly better cards and the shared deck amplifying the luck of the draw.

And it's absolutely gorgeous in almost every way. The pictures you've included in this review highlight that spectacularly, with the minor quibble that most people will play this game with unpainted figures, which give the battlefield a "sea of gray" appearance, with no discernible difference between your units and your opponent's units except the orientation of the banner.

Anyway, that's a minor point. I felt like this review was one of the best I've ever read, very complete and satisfying.
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Merric Blackman
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Sevej wrote:
The pseudo-history stuff is interesting. Dwarves as Scotts and goblinoids as Turks? I truly hope that if new fantasy races are introduced on the game, they are based of nations in middle ages. Also, each scenario has short explanation that's somewhat historical. Honestly I didn't anything about Agincourt eventhough I've heard about 100-years-war, but now I know. Sadly, it seems that FFG wants to steer from this direction and makes Battlelore strictly fantasy.
I just wanted to touch on this point:

Unlike either Memoir '44 or C&C: Ancients, there has been something of a paucity of scenarios in the official products. I would suspect that part of this has been because the designers and developers were expecting the Call to Arms system to take up the burden, but it has been something I've found disappointing to say the least.

When BattleLore has risen to the challenge, providing "uhistorical" takes on battles, such as casting the dwarves as Scots on the side of France, such as in the basic set and in the Hundred Years War or Scottish Wars expansion, the game has really sung for me. I prefer my battles to have context, and Uchronia works for me.

Battles without context - and without much description, even, such as in the early packs - hold much less interest for me.

Cheers,
Merric
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Aswin Agastya
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Thank you for the kind words . I wanted to make a review that's not long winded, but still provides a good amount of information to the readers. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Gamer DC wrote:
Great review Aswin with nice images for those new to the game to see (especially the paint jobs - excellent).
Unfortunately though, those are the only painted figures. I still have a long way to go, and right know I'm having the painter's block.

MerricB wrote:
Memoir '44 was a good game that has become an exceptional game through its expansions. Battlelore was a good game that has been diminished by its expansions.
I agree, and that's why I don't have the expansions except for Call to Arms. I really wanted to get the Hundred Years War and the Epic expansions, just because I'm dying to play the epic Agincourt! But alas, none is available for sale in my country.

jpat wrote:
And you forgot the BattleLore-game-that-isn't-really-a-C&C-game, Battles of Westeros. It might be a fine game, but it's a curious bit of branding to say the least.
Ah, Battle of Westeros While some die hard Battlelore fans swear that they will never buy it, I'm intrigued with BoW (FYI, the rules have been posted). I'm an omni-reader, so I hope to get exposed to George R. R. Martin's world, and probably take a plunge in BoW. The branding strategy is indeed, as you said, curious.

MerricB wrote:
When BattleLore has risen to the challenge, providing "uhistorical" takes on battles, such as casting the dwarves as Scots on the side of France, such as in the basic set and in the Hundred Years War or Scottish Wars expansion, the game has really sung for me. I prefer my battles to have context, and Uchronia works for me.

Battles without context - and without much description, even, such as in the early packs - hold much less interest for me.
It pains me knowing that FFG is steering away from this direction. I once posted in FFG forum saying that I wanted a tome of Uchronia. A book filled with Uchronia lore, history and battles that mimic the middle age, but sprinkled with fantasy; with battlefield layout, backgrounds, and so on, that can be played with scenario or Call to Arms if players desire so. I feel that I'll never see this cry. I know many people hate samurai elves, but I want them anyway cry even if they're not of European medieval age!

BTW... I forgot to place an additional picture (and its comment) on the review blush Editing it now...
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Merric Blackman
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Sevej wrote:
MerricB wrote:
Memoir '44 was a good game that has become an exceptional game through its expansions. Battlelore was a good game that has been diminished by its expansions.
I agree, and that's why I don't have the expansions except for Call to Arms. I really wanted to get the Hundred Years War and the Epic expansions, just because I'm dying to play the epic Agincourt! But alas, none is available for sale in my country.
It probably isn't just your country.

I entered BattleLore when it first came out, and so was able to pick up the early expansions. I don't play it that much, as when I play 2-player games they're likely to be heavier wargames or Memoir '44, but when I do I'm delighted by the two "big" expansions. I haven't bothered with Creatures or Dragons.

Cheers,
Merric
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Gerald Dimailig
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Great review Aswin!!
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