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Subject: Review of Battleground:Fantasy Warfare rss

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Colin Speirs
United Kingdom
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Review of Battleground: Fantasy Warfare
From Your Move Games at £10.99 per deck
Rules available for download from http://www.yourmovegames.com

At the start of the year “Your Move Games” offered some free sets of their card based fantasy wargame “Battleground: Fantasy Warfare” to the readers of the TMP website on the understanding that, if they accepted, they undertook to review the game. Quite decently Your Move Games didn’t even ask to see the reviews, just that the reviews were posted in public websites such as TMP and Boardgamegeek. So here is my review.

Battleground is a fantasy wargame in card form with three factions so far, each with a starter deck consisting of 18 unit cards, 30 command cards and 2 reference cards. The starting troop cards gives you over 3000 points of troops (Hawkshold 3,334, Undead 3,437 and Orcs 3,655) and it is possible for two players to have a small scale battle using just one deck and sharing the command cards. Each faction also has a reinforcement deck with advanced rules, more of the unit cards plus cards for a couple of extra units, for example the Men of Hawkshold get Knights and Pikemen in the reinforcement deck.

The unit cards are double sided, a picture of the critter/unit on one side with its name, point cost and any special unit info while on the other side you have a top down view of the unit to use as your unit stand. To the rear of the unit is a track of coloured boxes, used to abstractly track casualties, and in-game information for attack, defence, morale and movement. The different colours (green, yellow and red) signify a reduction in fighting ability when the casualties have reached a certain level. You can even use the cards to measure movement and range if you've forgotten your tape measure.

A unit’s attack information contains number of attacks, skill in the attack and the power they can bring to the blow. The defensive information is how much skill they have in defending themselves and how resistant they are to damage. Depending on circumstances throughout the battle all these numbers can be modified, like losing numbers of attacks because your unit has suffered casualties or increasing defence for light cavalry through use of the charge.

The rules start with a cut down set of the rules, which omits the command and attack/defence modifying parts of the full rules, which I had played to get a feel for the basic mechanics but for my first battle using the full rules I decided to stick with two of the suggested 1500 point quick start armies that come with each deck (you get two suggestions per faction). I went with Undead versus Men of Hawkshold. Like most games of this sort units cost points, but you can also use points to buy up to 6 command cards before the battle begins.

UNDEAD HAWKSHOLD
1 Zombie Troll 2 Militia
1 Skeleton Troll 2 Scouts
2 Abominations 1 Light Cavalry
2 Zombies 2 Bowmen
1 Skeleton Horde 2 Swordsmen
2 Skeleton Archers

After you have given your troops their initial, pre-battle Standing Orders (Close to nearest or specified unit, Hold a position or shoot at nearest or specified target) you only have a limited ability to change the orders mid-battle. Per turn you get 1 command point per 500 points used to build the army and each order, use of army special ability or purchase of a command card costs command points.

When playing the basic game before, which doesn't use the command rules, you can move the units as you wish. The first obvious difference between the basic and the full rules manifested itself as the nice, neat, straight battle lines broke up as units moved forward at a different rate. In the first play-through this meant that a lot of hands on issuing of commands had to be issued to try and keep hold of the units. This inability to fine tune units also meant that bad initial deployment hampered some units that were trying to get out from behind slower units and all in all it gave a reasonably realistic feel to the battle. In the first game’s case the realism of a pair of bad generals trying to recover from their deployment mistakes.

The game plays in alternating turns of movement and combat however both sides get to perform melée simultaneously in each player's turn, though only the active player gets to do missile fire. An attacker rolls one die per attack, trying to get less than or equal to their attack skill minus the defenders defence skill. Each successful attack gets a chance to wound and, of course, each wound marks off one box on the damage track.

Changing colours on the track as damage is marked off triggers morale checks and fewer attacks and a lower morale. Morale checks also occur when attacking Fearsome creatures, like Trolls, and when your unit finds itself in a sticky situation.

The first game ended with a draw, and we both agreed that we had muffed it badly and we should start again. We had seen cavalry versus trolls, militia versus zombies and some lucky shots by skeletons but the battle was confused melée and it was hard to guess who the eventual winner would be. We went on straight to a second battle, of which more later, to see how the game played with the lessons learned.

The components are nice. The illustrations, drawn and rendered on a computer rather than by more traditional means, are reasonable and the printing on the cards crisp and clean. The rules are contained in a small booklet which does give some difficulties with small type and having to flick back and forward between pages but the rules are reasonably straightforward so once you've done something a few times you don't need to slow the game down with checking the manual.

Although the cards are covered in laminate I put each in a card sleeve to protect them, I'm told the cards get damaged eventually otherwise, and used a non-permanent OHP pen to mark them. Both sides of the cards will be needed in play (unless you have spare cards to consult for unit specific information) so you will need a sleeve that is clear on both sides though, of course, this means they will be too big to fit comfortably in the original box they came in.

The game could use a better summary sheet however with a turn summary and the modifiers listed with short explanations, perhaps they will make something like that downloadable from their website at some point but, at present, you can download the full rules, errata and the FAQs. I also feel having something to more easily distinguish the different sides on the cards would be helpful. At a distance it isn't instantly recognisable with the spearmen you are looking at will be Orcish or human. My suggestion would be a coloured border around the name of the unit.

The basic game lacks the terrain rules which are introduced in the advanced rules that come in the reinforcement decks, but, surprisingly for such a portable concept, there are no terrain features supplied nor are any on the Your Move Games website. Yes you can use normal wargames terrain, and I have, but the strong benefit of this game is the ‘stick it in your pocket’ nature something flat and easy to carry There are some good quality terrain images (so far a straight river, hill and forest) in the file section of the supporting Yahoo mailing list (http://groups.yahoo.com/groups/bgfw/) and Your Move Games are considering making terrain pieces available, though according to their advanced rules they already sell cloth terrain pieces and a grass mat that is the size of the battlefield. However they aren’t the only potential source of printable flat terrain pieces so this isn’t a major hardship.

In addition to some suggestions for expanding the number of players or the size of the forces invoved, the advanced rules also have a preview of some promised siege rules, a faq and some optional standing orders that I would have put in the basic rule book, since closing to range for archers and staying in line seem reasonable orders to give troops. However all the modifiers for terrain just reinforce the need for a unified reference sheet.

The measure of any wargame is “given what we did was the result realistic?” and, allowing for the use of command cards and lucky dice rolls, yes it was. The command and control rules stop helicopter general ship, archers get to fire over the heads of other units and charging spearmen with cavalry is a good way to get horse kebab. The cards may be rounded rectangles but that does not lead to a chequerboard style of play, units will move round angles though they cannot disengage from units with which they are in combat. Although the game plays quickly it doesn't oversimplify things and, by allowing for degradation of fighting ability in such a simple but effective way gives a better game than more stylised wargames such as DBA.

This is a very enjoyable game, in fact I would be quite happy to play this as a set of figure rules, probably in 6 or 10mm, using the cards as unit data cards. Yes, it does not have the same visual impact as a good figure wargame with serried ranks of painted figures but then again, most weeks in our local club the figures are lucky if they get an undercoat never mind a full paint job!, but it wins out on portability, since you need to go into 2mm figures to be able to get an army or two in a pocket, and the game is actually fun to play.

A short write-up of our second battle with the full rules can be found here http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/790196#790196
 
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