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Subject: [Review] Battleground: Fantasy Warfare rss

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Tom Vasel
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Every once in a while, a game comes out with which I have the reaction, "Why didn't anyone else think of this before?" I mean, the gulf between miniature games and board games has seemed insurmountable until now. For myself, I was always fascinated by miniature games, but was put off by the fact that miniature gaming seemed to be more about the painting and building of miniatures rather than the game itself. Also, the amount of money needed to field a good army is rather exorbitant in most cases. I was a big fan of Warhammer 40K in particular, but stopped playing it for those reasons. For the price of one miniatures game, I was able to afford dozens of board games.

At Origins 2005, I found what seemed to be the solution to these problems in Battlegrounds: Fantasy Warfare (Your Move Games, 2005 - Rovert Dougherty). Battlegrounds is basically an army of miniatures on a pile of cards. Each card represents a unit of troops in the battle, and the cards are moved around on the table, just like a miniatures game. Cards are used for measurements, and the only thing players need is a dry-erase marker and some dice. The game plays well with an emphasis on hand to hand tactical combat. I really enjoy the system, and the three armies from the initial set (Orcs, Undead, and Men of Hawkshold) seem very balanced.

Many comments on the gameā€¦

1.) Artwork: The art on the cards is CGI - with each card showing an aerial shot of the army. Some of the people I've played with don't prefer this view, preferring to see the sides of the creatures (which, incidentally, are pictures on the back of each card). However, I personally like the above-ground view and think that it gives an excellent view of the battlefield. The CGI, while not as good as hand drawn artwork, is sufficient and reminds me of playing a large real time strategy computer game.

2.) Cards: The cards are of good quality, which is important, because a player has to constantly mark on them to keep track of their hit points, orders, etc. A dry erase marker works fairly well on them, although I did mark up some cards and let them sit for a week - and it was a little difficult to wipe them off. Probably the best solution is to use card protectors, which are easier to wipe off, and protect the cards. Still, who leaves the markings on for a week? I think the idea of writing on the cards is rather innovative, as it keeps players from needing extra charts.

3.) Charts: The rulebook is a forty-seven page booklet, although one must remember it's quite small. Full of illustrations and examples, it needs a lot less charts than one might think. For one thing, most of the information a player needs about the armies is listed directly on the cards. More information is listed on the back of the cards, which allows a player to quickly flip them over and see, or keep an identical card near them for quick access. A double-sided card is also included, with one side devoted to maneuvers and movement, and the other to combat modifiers. After playing miniature games such as Battletech and Warhammer 40K, I was glad to play a game that only needed a small amount of charts.

4.) Combat: Each combat unit has five combat stats (plus a ranged stat if they can fire): Attack dice, Offensive Skill, Power, Defensive Skill, and Toughness. A condensed version of a combat round would involve each player rolling dice equal to their attack dice. The number that they need to roll must be equal or less than the attacking unit's Offensive Skill stat minus the Defensive Skill of their opponent. For example, when Zombie Trolls (who have an Offensive Skill of "4") attack Goblin Raiders (who have a Defensive Skill of "1"), they need to roll a "3" or less on each of their dice (4) to inflict a hit. A "1" always is a hit, while a "6" is always a miss. After all hits occur (in melee, this is simultaneous), then each side rolls to see if they damage their opponent. They roll one die for each hit they inflicted, attempting to roll less than or equal to their unit's Power minus the Toughness of their opponent. In our example, the Zombie Trolls (who have a Power of "6") need to roll a "4" or less to wound, since the Goblin Raiders have a Toughness of "2". For each wound then inflicted, one box is checked off on the unit card. Depending on the direction of the attack, the current health of each unit, and a few other factors, these stats may be modified. This combat system is a little similar to 40K, especially as the need to hit then wound; but I found it easy and fun to play. Combat is fast and easy, and even the puniest creatures can inflict some wounds on the most intimidating of foes (although it's quite difficult).

5.) Movement: Something that I HATE about miniature games is the measuring with rulers and tape measures to figure out the distances between different units. Not only does this lead to arguments, but it also is unwieldy and annoying. In Battleground, this movement is greatly simplified. Each unit can move a certain amount of inches (1.25", 1.75", 5", etc.) that corresponds to the sides of the cards. For example, a unit that moves 5" moves the distance of two short sides of cards. So, when moving the units around on the battlefield, players simply need a few cards that they are aren't using to quickly move the cards. A unit moving 3.5" uses the long end of a card, and one moving 6" uses one long end and one short end to move. This certainly lowers the playing time of the game, as players aren't getting tangled up in measuring tape and knocking pieces over with long rulers, etc. When units are penalized for movement (like when moving backwards, etc.), they simply go down a movement category (like from 6" to 5", or 2.5" to 1.75"), which means that odd measurements won't be used all that much. My only quibble about the game is that sometimes it's a little awkward to move a card rather than a group of models. Sure, it's a lot faster, but it can be difficult to do flanking maneuvers with cards, when they don't fit between two other cards, for example. Still, give me card sides instead of rules any day when measuring!

6.) Orders: At the beginning of the game, each unit is given one of three orders written on the card. Hold ("H"), which means that the unit will not move, but will shoot at the closest enemy if possible; Close ("C"), which means that the unit will move towards the nearest enemy each turn, shooting at it if possible; and Range Attack ("R") which means that the unit will shoot at the closest unit, and move towards an enemy if they cannot. Both the Close and Ranged Attack orders can be modified so that a player moves towards / attacks a certain objective or unit rather than the closest one. On a turn, each player has one command action for each 500 points in their army (usually three or four actions per turn). Each unit in a player's army will automatically follow these orders each turn, unless a player uses one of their command actions to change an order, or to directly control one unit that turn. Player's inability to directly control every unit in their armies more accurately reflects feudal battles and makes a player's turn more critical. If my Goblin Raiders are charging at the nearest enemy, and it happens to be the massive Zombie Trolls, is worth my time to change their heading and go towards the skeleton archers or let them march towards almost certain death? Giving each player only a few command actions was a clever move, ensuring that a player could only directly control part of their army and hope that the standing orders on the rest of their army didn't mean that their units blindly marched to their death. Some units thrive on standing orders, such as the Trolls, which one can simply march up into the middle of the enemy, decimating whatever they come across. Others, like the light cavalry and the bowmen, must be carefully maneuvered if they are to be used effectively. This system of writing orders is very effective - and probably my favorite part of the game.

7.) Armies: There are three different armies in the initial release of Battleground, with more on the way. These armies are the Orcs, the Undead, and the Humans (Men of Hawkshold). Each army has a different buildup - the humans have the most mounted units, the undead has the most powerful units, etc. All three armies seem to be well balanced, with each receiving a special "Army ability", which can be utilized by the player using a command action. For example, the Orc player can "Lash" one of their units, giving it extra movement and one extra die when attacking for one turn. These abilities, the artwork, and the compositions of the armies certainly make them feel differently. For me, I personally currently like the Undead army, but I don't feel like they have any massive advantages over the other armies.

8.) Command Cards: Each player has a deck of command cards. For one command action, a player may draw one of these cards into their hand. Command cards do a variety of actions, but mostly add some sort of bonus to a unit, either in attack or defense. None of these cards are gamebreakers but mostly exist just to give a player that extra edge in battle. Of course, if a player spends all of their time taking Command cards into their hand, then they can't maneuver their units as well. As I said, it's sometimes a very rough choice knowing what to do with your few Command actions! I like the slight unpredictability that the Command cards bring to the game; and since they aren't overly powerful (but are useful!), I'm glad to have them around.

9.) Starting Armies: Each deck comes with enough unit cards to field two good-sized armies. Quick-start armies are printed on one reference card, so that players can quickly build armies. I found that these starting armies made for a good game, although after one game, I was ready to build my own army. One can buy a TON of extra units in the reinforcement decks, but there is still a lot of versatility in the original deck.

10.) Army building: The unit costs, when building armies, are unusual amounts of points. Zombie Trolls are 232 points, Goblin Spearmen are 160 points, and Crazed Goblins are 83 points. I have no idea what formula they used to come up with the point values, but I do know that you'll probably need a calculator to put the armies together. Hopefully someone will create a module for ArmyBuilder! Either way, because of the special abilities of some of the units, and the wide variety of stats that each unit has: both in combat. Range, movement, and hit points - I don't think that there are two units that are the same. What kind of army do you want? Do you want an army with tons of ranged units and a few "tanks" to absorb the blows? Or do you want an army with fast, tough melee units? Whatever you want, you can build - although some races are better suited towards certain types of styles.

11.) Advanced Rules: The advanced rules come in the Reinforcement decks, and I'll cover them slightly in more detail in another review, but I thought that I'd quickly mention them here. In only two boxes - the Starter Deck and the Reinforcement Deck, you get a bigger army than I ever had with Warhammer 40K - and that was after spending multiple hundreds of dollars on it! The advanced rules also add in terrain effects, some optional rules, and a FAQ. Anyone looking to play the game should get the reinforcement deck, if only to have tons of choices when building their armies.

12.) Fun Factor: Battleground is a lot of fun for me and my friends. Realize that I used to be a fan of miniature games, until some factors of them turned me aside. Now, I'll never go play them again. I have everything that I ever wanted right here in Battleground. It's inexpensive, provides me with humungous amounts of actions, and has a tight, fun set of rules. It's fast, easy to set up and tear down and doesn't require books and charts to run. It's all the good stuff about miniature games, with none of the stuff that annoys me included!

Granted, some people won't want to play the game, because they enjoy painting and modeling miniatures. But for those people like myself, who want to play a miniatures game and don't have either the time or the money to dish out on a miniatures system that may or may not be supported by its company, the rules are excellent - the Command Action system is one of the best I've every seen - and all you need are dice, a marker, and the cards! A miniature game I can carry in my pocket! That alone should make you want to pick up the game, but believe me when I say that the gameplay is much, much more than the size of the game. Now if you'll excuse me, the Undead must go rain wrath down upon these upstart Men of Hawkshold. They will rue the day they met General Tomas Vassell the Cruel!!

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.tomvasel.com
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jose silva

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TomVasel wrote:
Every once in a while, a game comes out with which I have the reaction, "Why didn't anyone else think of this before?"

didn't diskwars implemented this exact mechanics (miniature wargame without miniatures) about 10 years ago?

In my opinion, the round disks from diskwars worked better as a simulation of miniatures moving than these rectangular cards of B: FW
 
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zezzo wrote:
TomVasel wrote:
Every once in a while, a game comes out with which I have the reaction, "Why didn't anyone else think of this before?"
didn't diskwars implemented this exact mechanics (miniature wargame without miniatures) about 10 years ago?
I don't know Mr. Vasel's opinion, but I don't think this would count. You clipped the rest of the paragraph, where he talks about not just miniatures wargames, but several traits of wargames. Diskwars, Mage Knight and other earlier games may have been innovative in many areas, but their collectible sales model kept prices high. Not that I haven't enjoyed collectible games, but they have not been cheap. B:FW really is a breakthrough there: inexpensive, but with all the feel of a minis game.

zezzo wrote:
In my opinion, the round disks from diskwars worked better as a simulation of miniatures moving than these rectangular cards of B: FW
I might agree, for skirmish miniatures games. For squad-based games like Warhammer and B:FW, I think the rectangular cards work quite well. The only improvement I can think of would be to include rules for marching in column vs. marching in line, but then that would still require rectangular cards rather than disks. (And even that is a little sketchy, given the scale of the game: an ambush might catch units marching in column, but non-scenario combat shouldn't really see formation changes when the enemy is so close.)

This is also one of the reasons I was interested in the Sci Fi version of the game. That results in much more fluid movement, and doesn't lend itself well to "line of battle", either. That makes rectangular units much less necessary, and in some ways they are even thematically incongruous. (I suspect economic forces would still keep SF forces to rectangular cards, regardless, but there is an opportunity to get creative if YMG wants.)
 
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zezzo wrote:
TomVasel wrote:
Every once in a while, a game comes out with which I have the reaction, "Why didn't anyone else think of this before?"

didn't diskwars implemented this exact mechanics (miniature wargame without miniatures) about 10 years ago?

In my opinion, the round disks from diskwars worked better as a simulation of miniatures moving than these rectangular cards of B: FW

System 7 Napoleonics 1978
 
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jose silva

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First of all, I am not the biggest fan of diskwars. It was an ok game for what it was then and that was 10 years ago. Second, in general I agree with Tom's reviews and contributions but I think that comment was just off. Now in regard of your quote:

Bwian wrote:
Diskwars, Mage Knight and other earlier games may have been innovative in many areas, but their collectible sales model kept prices high. Not that I haven't enjoyed collectible games, but they have not been cheap.

I don't own this game, maybe you do and is better prepared to instruct me and the other readers, but isn't this game - Battleground - sold in packs of specialists? how different from the collectible point of view is this from diskwars??

I truly don't get either argument - that B: FW is either innovative or not a collectible sale model
 
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zezzo wrote:
Second, in general I agree with Tom's reviews and contributions but I think that comment was just off.
Fair enough. Tom's comment was the first thing that came to my mind when I heard about this game, so it sounded perfectly natural to me .

If you want to play Warhammer: The Mass Combat Fantasy Roleplaying Game (1st Edition), in its current incarnation, you end up spending a ton of money to buy miniatures, a ton of time to paint and mount those miniatures. Then you put them on a rectangular movement tray, and for most of the game they act like hit point markers: you take a point of damage, and remove a piece from the tray. If you like painting and modeling, then that's great. You'll get plenty of practice in, and be quite happy. If you're more interested in the game aspect, though, it's a drag. Why not just have the rectangular tray, and some simple way to track hit points that doesn't require days' worth of non-gaming activity?

I mean, I think I see your point. It is an obvious extrapolation from past trends. But it's an obvious extrapolation that no one else has done, which is why I had that *headslap* moment when I heard about it.

zezzo wrote:
Now in regard of your quote:
Bwian wrote:
Diskwars, Mage Knight and other earlier games may have been innovative in many areas, but their collectible sales model kept prices high. Not that I haven't enjoyed collectible games, but they have not been cheap.
I don't own this game, maybe you do and is better prepared to instruct me and the other readers, but isn't this game - Battleground - sold in packs of specialists? how different from the collectible point of view is this from diskwars??
Battleground is sold in packs, yes, but they are fixed distribution. If you buy a starter set, you never need to buy another one for that army. If you buy a reinforcement set, you have multiple copies of every unit available for that army. If, for some reason, you were playing a ten player mega-battle and needed a fifth Undead Giant Catapult, you could just buy another reinforcement set and be guaranteed to get the unit you need (another 4 of them, in fact). It's really no more collectible than decks of playing cards: you can collect multiple copies, if you really like the artwork or lose some cards, but in general you only need the one deck.

For Diskwars, the boosters were random. If you had 4 of a particular unit, and needed a fifth, you had to buy... well, keep buying boosters until you got that unit. And if you wanted to build a regular-sized army for one faction, you would end up with drips and drabs of units for different armies: the random units you accumulated while building your main force.
 
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jose silva

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I just owed the base game and it played well enough, but that was not the point here. I just don't see Battleground as the revolutionary new thing out there as other people do, maybe it's just me.
 
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zezzo wrote:
I just don't see Battleground as the revolutionary new thing out there as other people do, maybe it's just me.
I can see where you're coming from. I felt the same way about Dreamblade: it's a nice collection of mechanics, but nothing revolutionary. But some people think it was the coolest, most innovative game ever.

What makes Battleground revolutionary for me is this: it is almost exactly like a miniatures game. Movement, combat, command structure: they all match existing miniatures games quite well. The only thing missing is the models. You might look at that and say, "Big deal, so they changed one thing." I look at that and say, "With one simple change, they have removed my top three complaints about miniatures games: prep time, cost, and storage. That is awesome."

I thought Diskwars and Mage Knight were revolutionary when they came out too, actually. Mage Knight for eliminating the prep time part of minis games. Diskwars never really struck me as a minis game substitute, but it was a cool portable wargame, that also managed to make diceless combat interesting.
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