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Subject: Battue: Storm of the Horselords - A Detailed Review rss

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This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.

Image Courtesy of BigOtter

Summary

Game Type - Thematic Game
Play Time: 40-60 Minutes
Number of Players: 2-4 (Best 3-4)
Mechanics - Dice Rolling Combat, Exploration, Player Elimination
Difficulty - Pick-Up and Play (Can be learned in about 10 minutes)
Components - Very Good
Release - 2007

Designer - Jim Long (Various Battletech Resources, Crimson Skies)

Overview

Battue is set in the world of Terris, a world where clans of nomadic Horse Lords sack and loot cities and eke out a tribal existence. A whisper has gone through the land of a prophecy...of one that will rise up and unite the clans under the title of Khan of Khans!

To do so though will require the chosen one to sit upon the Throne in the Palace of Tarsos, the city of Brass Pillars. It is there that clans will fight for control of the city…for the right to rule all the Clans!

The thematic backdrop for the game comes to us from authors Robin Laws and Scott Hungerford. Jim Long, the designer, has a background writing various Battletech ‘Tech Readouts’ back in the days of FASA and also the game Crimson Skies, which I have not played.

Battue is effectively a light conflict game in the same vein as games like Risk. But it has infused some euro based elements into its play, notably the use of cards and hand management.

Is it as good as Nexus Ops? Is it better than Risk? Jump on a horse and come for a ride with me...

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The Components

Battue has a decent set of components...

d10-1 Board – Battue offers up an oversized square board that is largely bland, consisting mainly of empty brown squares. This is deliberate however to allow for the many and varied tiles to be placed to make up the city. The board is surrounded by city walls, gates and towers to help define the boundary of the city and these feature several icons that represent the stats of those features, which are replicated on city tiles.


Image Courtesy of IlRoberto88


d10-2 Tiles - But it is the city tiles that help bring the board and world of Battue to life. In all there are 52 tiles and they feature a bird’s eye view of the many buildings and features that make up the city of Tarsos. The tiles themselves come in many shapes and sizes and that allows the board to be created in any number of orientations for each play.

The tiles are really quite beautiful. The graphical representations are eye catching to say the least and many of the roofs and other features have something of an Asian feel to them and remind me of shots from Japanese Animation movies such as Ninja Scroll. They do the job nicely.

The tiles themselves are quick thick too, which is always welcomed by gamers. The backs of each tile are critical too, offering nothing more than a bland beige colour (to match the board) and the name of the game. This is to allow the tiles to be placed during the setup without giving away what each tile represents. Thus Battue allows the players to explore the city and discover its secrets.

The last point worth noting is that each tile offers up a series of icons to denote whether an Event Card should be drawn, the defence of the tile, what loot is available and how many VPs it is worth if controlled.

City Tiles represent locations within the city and have some nice thematic titles such as; Bruin Inn, Cloth Merchant, Imperial Baths and Hovels to name a few. Some locations appear multiple times like Hovels but not all are made equal. Most offer up no VPs as they are simply homes to filthy peasants but on occasion a Hovel may actually be a ruse for a stockpile of Loot and that keeps the players guessing as to where their hordes should plunder next. It’s a nice touch. cool


Image Courtesy of BigOtter


d10-3 Warriors and Flags - The Warriors and flag minis are interesting. In general they are fairly bland looking compared to the detail offered up by many other games but they have grown on me over several weeks. They have a kind of stylised feel to them opting for many smooth sections instead of detail but it is perfectly evident what everything is meant to be and overall I think I like them.


Image Courtesy of Toynan


d10-4 Cards - Battue offers up two types of cards; Event Cards and Loot Cards. Both offer up a title, small graphic (which has a photo-realistic style to them…) and text to outline the effect.

The pictures are largely uninspired though and you really only find yourself looking to the text whenever a card is drawn after a play or two.

Event Cards are only drawn when a city tile directs a player to do so. Loot Cards are earned from various city tiles and outline their timing effects (played at the start, during or end of turn). Some Loot Cards have no in game effect but instead are worth VPs at the end of the game.

In all there are 20 Event and 60 Loot cards.


Images Courtesy of Heliconia


d10-5 Odds and Sods - The game’s core components are then rounded out with two six-sided dice with rounded corners and a War Chest template for each player. The dice are nothing special simply being white with black pips but the rounded corners are just a little nicer than the cheapest square edged variety.

The War Chest templates are likewise basic, simply being rectangular in size and featuring its name. These are used to place a player’s VP based Loot Cards underneath. In truth they are completely unnecessary as the cards simply need to sit in front of each player.

d10-6 Rules & Storage Tray - The rules do a good job of removing any ambiguity and I like the small book format as it somehow seems less daunting to read. The rules also include a short excerpt of story that outlines the world of Tarsos and the nature of the clan structure. This serves as a nice backdrop to the game and is likely taken from writing of Laws and Hungerford.

All in all the components are pretty good with those tiles being the star of the show.

The Set-Up

Image Courtesy of Odoren

First the players must work together to create the City of Tarsos. Four key tiles must be put aside; Templum Minerva, Templum Jupiter, Universatis and Schola. Two of these tiles are key strategic locations that help trigger the endgame so it is important that their exact locations are not known. For this reason the two Templum’s (religious-cross shaped) and the Universatis and Schola (stealth bomber shaped) are shaped the same.

The first player places the Palace tile (always in the centre of the board) and the players then take turns placing a tile each face-down until the board is full. The players should always place the largest tiles first and then work their way down to the smaller tiles. In this fashion the City of Tarsos takes shape and looks like something of a jigsaw puzzle, with each tile’s true nature being unknown to the players.

After this element is complete there will be tiles left over. What this, (along with the random placement of tiles), allows Battue to do is to create a varied board with each and every play and that certainly helps add to the game’s re-playability as it is generally exciting to discover new locations with each move…never quite sure of what you will reveal. It also means that each play will pose new strategic implications as the players will be required to analyse the board and determine how best they should go about looting locations and holding key strategic positions.

Each player then takes a set of Warriors and Flags in their colour and each player selects one side/edge of the board to start on. A total of 6 Warriors are taken and placed next to one of the outer wall features, ready for their first move and attack. The remaining Warriors are left aside to form a player’s reserve. Each player also takes a War Chest template.

Both decks are then shuffled and placed ready for drawing. Battue is then ready for play.

The Play

Battue uses a turn based system to allow one player to finish their turn before another can begin.

The following sequence of play is carried out in the following order for a single player -

d10-1 Play Cards - Some cards in a player's hand are required to be played at the start of their turn and can be played here.

d10-2 Call for Reinforcements – A player is allowed to call for reinforcements for each of the Hordes they have in play. A Horde is defined as a group of Warriors, so the more Hordes a player has the greater the ability to call Reinforcements and grow each of those Hordes.

The downside is that each player only has a total of 15 Warriors to draw from so at some point they will find their supply exhausted and therefore cannot Reinforce any more until they take casualties.

To Reinforce a Horde a player simply rolls a d6 for each Horde one after the other. A result of 1-2 adds 1 Warrior, a 3-4 adds two Warriors and a result of 5-6 adds three Warriors to the Horde in question.

A Horde can never be larger than 8 Warriors though, so a full strength Horde cannot take a Reinforce action.

The above two phases are referred to as the Start of Turn sequence and takes about 1 minute to complete.

d10-3 Move Hordes - Now it is time to get to business. The active player is allowed to move each of their Hordes if they wish. Movement allows a Horde to move to an adjacent tile or section of the city.

It is important to note though that a single Warrior figure can never move more than once in a single turn.

During the act of movement a Horde is also allowed to split or form up with another Horde.

Splitting a Horde - is as simple as moving Warriors from the one Horde to different tiles. A Horde could split into 3 or more new Hordes provided there are enough Warriors in the Horde to begin with and enough adjacent locations to move to. There is no restriction on how small a Horde can be, but of course the smaller you are the more vulnerable you are and the less chance you have of winning battles (see Battles below).

Reforming a Horde - is as simple as two or more groups of Warriors moving to the same tile/location to form a new combined Horde. The only restriction here is that a Horde can never have more than 8 Warriors.

d10-4 Movement: The Finer Details - There are 3 types of locations a Horde can move to; an undiscovered (face-down) tile, a face-up tile or city wall based location that is empty or a location that is occupied by an enemy Horde.

In all 3 cases the moving Horde is placed on the new location. In the case of an undiscovered tile, the tile is left face-down until all Hordes have been moved.

Indeed a player must make all desired moves before any combat can take place.

Event Cards - Some tiles will have an event card icon on them. If this is the case an Event Card must be drawn and resolved before any battle takes place.

d10-5 Resolve Battles - A player will find themselves in battle if they have moved to an unflipped tile, a flipped tile that is not controlled by them already or a location with enemy units.

Battle against an Uncontrolled Tile - In most cases (early to mid-game) the Horde has likely moved to an unflipped tile so first it must be flipped to see what they have discovered.

Each tile will have several icons, one of which is its defence rating, which is of course used in combat.

To resolve a round of combat the attacker's strength is determined by calculating the following -

Number of Warriors + Any Card Bonuses + result on a d6 roll

This is then compared to the calculation for the tile -

Defence of the Tile + Any Card Bonuses (played by other players) + result on a d6 roll

If the attacker has a higher combat value than the tile they have successfully conquered it. They place a flag to mark their victory and ownership of the tile. They also get to draw any Loot Cards that were offered up by the city.

The city location will win however if it manages to equal or best the attack of the Horde. The player to the attacker's left takes responsibility for the dice roll and it is they that can play cards from their hand with a defensive icon.

If the city tile wins a round of combat the attacker loses a Warrior, which is returned to their reserves for future Reinforce actions. At this point the attacker can press on with the battle, knowing they are slightly weaker, or retreat to a city tile they already control that is adjacent.

Battle against an Enemy Horde - Is resolved in exactly the same way as above except that the defender gets to add their Horde strength to the defence value of the city tile plus any bonuses from cards and finally adding in the roll of a dice.

Attacking a strong enemy Horde in a well-defended section of the city is a highly risky proposition. zombie

The defender always wins ties in a player v player battle and the loser of each round must remove a casualty. After each such round of combat both sides have the option to retreat to an adjacent controlled tile and in doing so end the battle.

If the attacker is successful they must remove the enemy flag and replace it with their own. No Loot cards may be drawn for winning control of an already controlled city section.

Battle against an Enemy Controlled but Unoccupied Tile - For my money this is something of a wanky situation as the attacker will be forced to fight against the tile's defence rating as if it was an undiscovered tile. In some cases it may actually be beneficial for a player to leave a tile undefended by a Horde if a Horde is lower than the defence rating of a tile. That just seems weird to me and surely the game would have been better served by stating that attacking an Unoccupied tile simply sees the current flag replaced with the attacker's flag with no battle required.

d10-6 Retreating and Control of the City - In all above examples of retreating, a player can only retreat to a controlled adjacent tile if it is empty or if another Horde is present that will result in the new Horde being of 8 Warriors or less. Thus a Horde of 6 Warriors cannot retreat to a tile if that tile already has 3 or more Warriors there. If a player cannot retreat without breaking this rule then they are forced to fight to the bitter end and this allows the players to position their forces quite strategically to cut enemies off from a retreat action. devil

When a player conquers a new section of the city they must place a Flag there to denote their ownership. In doing so they also earn the Victory Points offered by that tile. If a player conquers a tile and they already have all 10 Flags in play, they must remove a Flag from any one location and place it on their new acquisition. In doing so the players look to find end game Loot cards in the early game and begin to target move valuable parts of the city as the game unfolds.

Both the Movement and Battle phases of a turn are referred to as the Main Turn Phases.

d10-7 Play Cards - There is also a chance to play any 'end of turn' cards before a player ends their turn.

d10-8 Triggering the Endgame and Final Scoring - The battle for Tarsos will come to an end when key strategic locations are controlled by the players - The Palace, the Templum Jupiter and the Universitas. These can be controlled by multiple players or a single player and as soon as the 3rd location becomes controlled the game will come to an end at the end of that players turn.

At this point the players tally up their VPs to determine the winner. Each player must calculate their final score by adding the VPs offered up by the city sections they control and the loot they have acquired and placed in their War Chest (these come from Loot cards gained by conquering newly discovered city locations).

The player with the highest VP total is declared the Khan of the Golden Horde! No really...get excited...

Ties are won by the player with the highest VPs from City Tiles.

An alternate way to win the game is simply by eliminating all other players from the game. In this way Battue allows for some old school gaming in player elimination.

The Final Word

So Battue...what do I think of you? On the whole I disliked this game and even this review has been something of a dragged out chore rather than a pleasure...which is usually a sign.

For me the game is just a little too simplistic. Sure it has more going on here than Risk but for me the combat was a little too dull. Sometimes you win battles far too easily with a big Horde and other times you can see the writing on the wall and need to pull out. In Risk, the chances of winning a battle are more or less even and the numbers you have simply denote how many failures you can sustain. Here it is much easier to determine the outcome of a battle based on your numbers and cards held. For some I guess that level of control is exactly what they are looking for but for me I like a little more chaos in my battles and the dice roll alone isn't enough to sway the outcome greatly.

But that isn't the dominating factor. I guess what really bugs me is that there is just far too much luck in Battue, and for me to say that is kind of a big deal - because I usually like that. The 'sickly in your mouth' factor comes from two main sources...the Loot Cards and the nature of the city itself.

The Loot deck is made up of a variety of different cards but perhaps the most useful are the VP cards that are added to your War Chest and form part of your final score. It is possible for some players to draw lots of these or higher values than others and this feels like loot without merit, "I won battles too but you managed to pull VP cards and I didn't...that sucks."

Then there is the nature of the city itself. Because the game is set out with a random set of tiles in mostly random positions it is possible to choose a side of the city that has more hovels (worth effectively nothing) compared to your opponents, who may gain easy access to VP rich city sections.

Oh yeah, the other thing I disliked immensely was the mechanic of having to move to a tile, then lift my figures off the board to flip the damn thing. That was a real pain in the bum and could easily have been averted by including arrow tokens (ala Shogun/Samurai Swords/Ikusa) to denote where Hordes are to move and flip tiles before moving them on. The mechanic just feels clunky and detracts from the experience.

The reinforcement rule is also very bland having to effectively roll a d3 to determine how many you get. Where is the theme here? Why do I get these reinforcements? Again someone can roll poorly versus an opponent rolling well and this could decide the outcome of the game.

On the positive side the game offers up lovely components and it is exciting to have a map where you need to search and don't know what each city section will be until you flip the tile. That element of 'Fog of War' is always cool in games whether they be video or board games.

The game also plays very quickly being done within an hour, so it has that over Risk. I also like games where there are locations of strategic importance and Battue does this well by having the 3 endgame triggering locations but also various tiles of higher VP value. This allows, nay requires, the players to pay careful attention to the make-up of the board and carefully position ther forces. The ability to split and reform Hordes is also kinda' cool as it poses the question, "How many times will you split and make your forces vulnerable in order to reinforce more quickly than the enemy and conquer more ground quickly?"

The whole reforming to create large Hordes is also a nice mechanic as it allows players to surprise the enemy and keep them guessing as to what their primary targets really are.

But in the final analysis all of this added up to an experience with Battue that left me flat. I'm a theme monkey, I like me some dice rolling combat and I liked the theme as it was presented. But Battue is a thumb down for me. Is it better than Risk? That may depend on your own personal bent. Some things I like better and others I don't. Ultimately I think I prefer Risk only because the reinforcements rule makes more sense there. In Risk your reinforcements is linked to your actions.

Is Battue better than Nexus Ops? Hell no. Nexus Ops still holds the title of best light conflict game for me. Although I am yet to play Kemet.

So in the end I must move Battue on as there are simply better options out there. Normally I like to pick up an expansion (and Battue has one) to a game like this in order to see how that affects the play but in this case the base game did not grab me anywhere near enough to want to do so.

Till next we meet may your horse steer you to happier titles that fill you with wonder... goldencamel

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mike m
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Neil Thomson wrote:
Nexus Ops still holds the title of best light conflict game for me.

Thanks for the insightful review.

I take the sentence to mean you like Nexus Ops better than Summoner Wars? After having acquired all the SW factions, I removed NO from my wants list, thinking that they would more or less fill the same gap, and I could play 2 or 3 SW games in 1 NO. Is this uninformed thinking on my part?
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SirWashington wrote:
Neil Thomson wrote:
Nexus Ops still holds the title of best light conflict game for me.

Thanks for the insightful review.

I take the sentence to mean you like Nexus Ops better than Summoner Wars? After having acquired all the SW factions, I removed NO from my wants list, thinking that they would more or less fill the same gap, and I could play 2 or 3 SW games in 1 NO. Is this uninformed thinking on my part?


For me Mike I don't really consider the two (NO and Summoner Wars) to be in a competing space.

If I want to play a Risk styled conflict game then Nexus Ops is my go to game (Or History of the World if I want a slightly longer experience).

If I want to play something that has more of a tactical feel, where the strategies a highly varied (based on each faction and then how the cards come out) I'll go for Summoner Wars...SW is also the go to 2-player game and NO more the 3-4 player game.

In short I think that NO and SW scratch different itches for me. Hope that helps.
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yes, the 2 vs 3+ player niche is pretty big and very relevant to my gaming situation. NO back on my list! And comparing Battue to NO is a very useful aspect of your review.
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SirWashington wrote:
yes, the 2 vs 3+ player niche is pretty big and very relevant to my gaming situation. NO back on my list! And comparing Battue to NO is a very useful aspect of your review.


Thanks. I think I may expand those comparisons further for future reviews where it is relevant to do so.
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Just a little love here for Battue. I'm a bit surprised that not much was mentioned about the cards, which are really a huge part of both the mechanics, and the fun of the game. They allow you to multiply your forces at unexpected times, and, more importantly, thwart your opponents in very humorous and satisfying ways. Where you imply that conquering weak hovels may be to your advantage, we were always disappointed to turn over "pushovers". It is through winning high value, card rich locations that the path to fun is found. I can't emphasize what a difference the cards make in the enjoyment and appreciation of the game.

I don't want to go overboard in my praise. Drawing more VP cards by good luck means bad luck for the other players, of course. We do some house rules to fix that. Keep a separate VP track and shuffle those cards back in. The expansion gives you a lot more options in set up and structuring the city. That flexibility is a plus for some. For others it means an "underdeveloped" game.

I haven't played NO or SW so I can't compare them to Battue. However it is a pleasant, quick game inevitably leading to raucous laughter amongst friends.
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Once again you and I reach similar conclusions, Neil, although to be honest I haven't given Battue a fair chance. I received the base game plus the expansion in a trade 2-3 years back, thinking it looked very good. When I tried a solo game to get a feel for it, I was not impressed, to the extent that I never even mentioned it to my gaming group as something we ought to try. Still sitting in my closet. Your review reminds me that I should either get it out and give it a second chance or trade it for something I'm more likely to play.
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kenstein wrote:
Just a little love here for Battue. I'm a bit surprised that not much was mentioned about the cards, which are really a huge part of both the mechanics, and the fun of the game. They allow you to multiply your forces at unexpected times, and, more importantly, thwart your opponents in very humorous and satisfying ways. Where you imply that conquering weak hovels may be to your advantage, we were always disappointed to turn over "pushovers". It is through winning high value, card rich locations that the path to fun is found. I can't emphasize what a difference the cards make in the enjoyment and appreciation of the game.

I don't want to go overboard in my praise. Drawing more VP cards by good luck means bad luck for the other players, of course. We do some house rules to fix that. Keep a separate VP track and shuffle those cards back in. The expansion gives you a lot more options in set up and structuring the city. That flexibility is a plus for some. For others it means an "underdeveloped" game.

I haven't played NO or SW so I can't compare them to Battue. However it is a pleasant, quick game inevitably leading to raucous laughter amongst friends.


No problems Kenneth - I'm glad your group enjoys the game happy gamers are all we all want.

I wish I enjoyed the base game just a little more to want to seek out the expansion as I hate to write a review and leave it there when there are expansions to change up the play - I feel like my work is unfinished.

Do try to get a game of Nexus Ops though if you can - you will really enjoy the cards on offer if not the whole game too.
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Sphere wrote:
Once again you and I reach similar conclusions, Neil, although to be honest I haven't given Battue a fair chance. I received the base game plus the expansion in a trade 2-3 years back, thinking it looked very good. When I tried a solo game to get a feel for it, I was not impressed, to the extent that I never even mentioned it to my gaming group as something we ought to try. Still sitting in my closet. Your review reminds me that I should either get it out and give it a second chance or trade it for something I'm more likely to play.


The expansion...you devil...you may get more mileage from the game perhaps.

Yeah I think we are two peas in a pod Master Sphere...I need to get back to Dark Minions though as my first play did not...surprisingly...have me thinking the same way as you from memory.

But it was at a Con...3 days in...I was knackered...so my Wednesday play group may need to give it a few more goes.
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Neil Thomson wrote:
The expansion...you devil...you may get more mileage from the game perhaps.

Yeah I think we are two peas in a pod Master Sphere...I need to get back to Dark Minions though as my first play did not...surprisingly...have me thinking the same way as you from memory.

But it was at a Con...3 days in...I was knackered...so my Wednesday play group may need to give it a few more goes.

I think how much you like Dark Minions depends very much on the group. A couple of us were enthused and really enjoyed it, but it wasn't unanimous and we haven't played in a long while. I still think it's a very good dice game, but realize it isn't for everyone.
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