WBG Score: 7.5
Player Count: 2
Published by: Your Move Games
This is a preview of a final stage prototype. The game has final art and rules. The only difference is the card stock quality.
Battleground is a fascinating game for many reasons. Here our my top three fascinating things about Battleground. "Finally!" I hear you cry.
Battleground is a tabletop miniature war game... without miniatures!?
Battleground was first made in 2005 with multiple releases of various fractions. This is fantasy warfare, not a war game simulation. You could be a human, but also an Orc, Goblin, Vampire, The Undead, or Elves or many more. Have a look here. The game has seen a recent revamp with version 4.0 with new card art, the introduction of double sized cards for some units, and a tidy up on some of the rules. The new version of the 'Men of Hawkshold' hit kickstarter in April 2019 and successfully funded, after a previous kickstarter in late 2018 did not work out. The new version of Orcs, Dwarves and the Undead hit kickstarter in March 2022 and sadly did not fund. It is three of these re-issues that I am looking at now.
Battleground can be taught in a few minutes and has a quick start rule book to help new players learn the game. But it also has a 150 rule book with each box!
OK, with that out of the way. Let's get into the game and how it plays.
In Battleground you are commanding an Army into battle. This army could be from one of many fractions, and in this review I am looking at the above three. I expect they will come to Kickstarter again soon but are sadly not currently available, but you can sign up to the mailing list for more details here.
The game starts with each player choosing which faction they want to play with. There are ways that two players can use the same faction if you so desire, but a lot of the fun comes from pitting two different species up against each other, and seeing what happens. Players will then decide what sort of game they want to play. Largely determined by game length. Each card has a points value, players will build their armies with a maximum limit of either 1,500, 2,000, or 2,500 points. Units are made up of standard, core and elite fighters. You must ensure you have at least one core and no more than one elite card in your army. In each deck there are multiple unit cards to choose from, and each card has a value roughly sitting between 100 and 550 points. Any left over points that cannot be spent on units, can be used to buy command cards for 25 points each.
The player with the most units will then place one card onto the table into its starting position. Players must form their units within a 7.5" x 25" area that is 15" away from the other players own deployment zone. Players alternate placing a card until all units are deployed. Starting orders are then assigned to each unit, again in turn, one by one, starting with the player with the most units. The player who spent the least amount on their units will then take the first turn.
There are a lot of modifying rules in the game that can be hard to remember on your first game. After reading the quick start guide you will have a good idea but the full 150 rule book may not be for you. The game provides the above cards to help remind you of the main modifiers, unique factions rules, and movement points to keep the game flowing and away from extensive rule book searching. The cards themselves also act as measuring devices. As you can see, the red markers on the bleed allow you to see what a half card length or width is. With these cards the game does quickly become very intuitive and fast paced.
The three starting orders that you can assign to your units are Close, Range, or Hold. Once assigned, these commands will be carried out by your units each turn until you say otherwise. Your soldiers are loyal to the end!
Hold simply keeps the unit in its current position, but they will fight an enemy if they are ever within range or engaged. Engaged meaning in direct contact with another unit. Or in other words, touching cards.
Range commands your unit to shoot at the nearest enemy within range. If nothing is within range the unit will move to be within range.
The final and most commonly used command is Close, which commands the unit to move towards the nearest enemy and engage them in melee combat. This unit will still shoot if possible when closing in, but when it becomes engaged with another unit, on the turn that this happened they will be considered to be charging which can add various bonuses we will look at later.
These actions are written physically onto the cards using dry wipe pens. I was unable to do this as I had a prototype version, so I used pencil. I could have sleeved the cards of course. But the final version has glossy card stock where you simply mark everything needed onto the cards and wipe of when required. The command orders, health, everything. It is a very cool concept.
Once all units have been assigned their orders, the game in earnest begins. Players will have one command point for every 500 points in the original allocation for building the units. So, three command points with an Army built on 1,500 points. Command points allow you to make plans before the fighting stage. You can change orders of any unit, take over a unit to do something specific to that one card just for that one action phase before it goes back to it's standing order, or use a units special skill such as a spell, steadfast ability, hatred or lash ability. You can also rally which I will come onto later. But the last and most common action you will be doing is taking a command card. Command cards allow you to add modifiers to your attacks and defence stats. More on these later.
Each unit card is double sided. On the front you can see the units stats, health, current command (that you have written), and a top down image of the unit itself. On the back, you can see a close up image of the unit, generally in battle; the units specific bonuses and special actions, and usually some flavour text, a quote from the unit in full battle cry, or information on their equipment.
Once both players have used their command points the fighting can begin! The first player will move all their units with an active movement action, and engage the enemy with any attacks they are already engaged with or the movement may illicit. The first few turns generally follow a predictable pattern of players moving their units towards each other and the odd long range attack. So, lets skip to the good bit! Movement turns only take a few seconds, and once players are familiar with the options, mechanics, and the units in play, you will fly through this. It's just a lot of sliding cards towards each other essentially!
Once a unit is closer to another unit than their current movement range then the unit enters a final rush. During this phase, the attacking card lines up with the other unit, and starts an attack. If this unit was currently performing a Close command, then this is considered to be a charge. For units such as Calvary this would give them an added bonus. Most units have a bonus that works either in their favour as a proactive movement like the Calvary charging, or as a reactive measure such units with spears. The trick in this game to me seems to be working out which units will fight well against others, and finding the best way to manipulate this to happen in your favour when our opponent will be trying the same thing.
The fighting will be familiar to anyone who has played a lot of table top war games with miniatures. This game takes a lot from those games, but simply replaces the miniatures with cards. This will either loose you as a potential fan immediately or not. Up to you. I did like the ease of set up though, but the table presence and fun-factor is obviously diminished.
But back to the fighting, as it's very cool! Let's say this oversized Goblin Bomb Chukka is attacking the Orc Trophy Takers, which generally wouldn't happen as they are on the same side, but let's go with it. The first number on the card reading left to right, will show how many dice you will roll to attack. In the case of the Orc Trophy Takers, you can see this would be three. You will notice the asterisk here telling you there may be a variable based on the units current situation. On the back of the card the details for this will be shown, and in this case, it tells you that you will get two extra dice if this unit is fighting whilst engaged. The Goblin Bomb Chukka's have no number for the number of dice, just the asterisk. On the back of the card you will see they have Erratic Attacks which means they will roll two D6 dice, and the result of this will dentine how many dice they roll to attack. Most units roll between two to seven dice to attack, so the chance for 12 here is pretty exciting! But of course you could get two.
The second thing you would do is look to see what your Offensive skill is against the targets defensive skill. This is the second number on the card matched against the first number after the shield icon for the defending unit. For the Goblins fighting the Orcs, this would be five against one. Although again there is an asterisk for the Goblins which affects an engaged attack versus a range attack. But let's say this is a range attack and the target roll is four. You will roll your dice and anything higher than a four is removed. Sixes will go every time, they are automatic fails regardless of the stats. Any remaining dice are then re-rolled to see if any of the hits will cause a wound. This is done with the third stat which is the attacking units power, measured against the second stat after the shield icon, which shows the defending units toughness. In this case, six against three, meaning rolls of one, two, or three will damage the Orcs. All clear? Don't worry, it all makes sense when you play.
This is a very "simple" way to explain the fighting mechanics in Battlegrounds (I hope), but there are many other variables. The distance of the attack affects your ability to aim. If a unit was charging or not affects your attack and defence stats as discussed. You need to determine the special skills of each unit and faction. Also, are you attacking from the front, flank, or rear? And you can also play command cards here to either help your attack or defence. Only one card can be played per unit throughout the entire attack, and again, sometimes special instructions could affect this. Generally speaking, the blue cards are defence cards, the red cards are attack cards and the other colours are for other phases of the game.
Most cards are self explanatory and add plus one to various parts of your roll, but some cards offer secondary powers that work for certain units, such as 'Bears the Grudge' which is a specific power for certain Dwarven units.
I mentioned the spells and steadfast ability earlier. These are specific powers granted to certain units. The Dwarves have the Steadfast ability. The Undead have the spells. In the command phase, you can use one of your command points to use a spell or steadfast ability which then comes into affect during the combat phase. The spells have some interesting powers and effects, the Steadfast power when activated, will increase the number of dice you roll to attack by one for engaged attacks and increase your courage in rout check.
The rout checks come into play whenever a unit takes damage on the final green spot, or any damage in the yellow or red. In a rout, you are determining your units courage to stay in the fight when injured. To make a rout check you must roll three dice. If you roll above the number in your courage box, shown next to the flag on the card, then your unit will about turn 180 degrees and your opponent will be able to take a free hit to your rear. This could cause another rout check if you score more damage in the yellow or red areas. If the unit is not destroyed during this process it will move back its full movement range. This will continue until the unit is told to rally in the next command phase by using a command point. A unit that is routing can be told to hold, and then on a subsequent turn, be told to close. But if a routing unit is ever final rushed before this happens, or moves out of the play area as part of the rout retreat, then it is destroyed.
Once an active player has attacked with a unit, the inactive player can attack back if engaged. This will continue until all units have moved and attacked, and then the next player will take their turn. The game will continue until a certain amount of of units are destroyed, determined by the amount of points used to build the armies at the start.
Why you may enjoy this.
The fun of this game certainly comes from exploring all the different factions and units. The unique powers are all very interesting and there is a lot to learn with each deck. The Orcs and Goblins for example have a highly amusing power for the Trolls where by if they are are ever engaged and not charging they can vomit on the other unit. That's right, vomit! This will be an attack using just two dice, but with an offensive skill and power of seven, with a secondary roll to wound added above the usual roll. This can continue until either four wounds are delivered or no successes are rolled. I guess until you run out of "ammo!?"
Trying out the factions, learning how they work, and pitting them against different opposition has all the fun you can find in games such as Smash Up, Unmatched, and the Funkoverse games. There is a childish joy to seeing who will win in these fantasy battles. Battleground does this in a fairly serious way though. The game doesn't have the same humour or toy-box feel of these other games. It feels more like a War Game. The battles are more of a simulation that an arcade smash-em-up.
This is where the choice as to weather this game is for you becomes interesting. If you want a war game, I think you need to ask yourself if you are willing to give up the miniatures for the ease of set up and transportation of this simple deck of cards. If you are looking for something simple and fun, then you need to decide if you want the more arcade style fights offered with the aforementioned games of Smash Up, Unmatched, and the Funkoverse games. Battleground sits between these two areas of gaming in a slightly uneasy position. It has the best of both worlds, but also the worst of both. It's fun, light, portable, and very accessible in terms of the the rules, set-up, and teach like the Funkoverse and Unmatched games, but at the same time, quite serious in its mechanics, you are at war after all. It is dice heavy, so still luck based. And full of tape measures and fiddly modifiers like traditional tabletop war games.
If you like Tabletop war games but don't like the sound of Funkoverse/Unmatched style battle, then this may be a nice alternative for you when you are looking for something a little lighter and quicker to get to the table. If you like the Funkoverse/Unmatched style games but don't have the time, patience or painting skills required for tabletop war gaming, but are looking for something with a little more depth or realism, then this could be for you. The issue here is I think this is a fairly niche group of people. And that is a shame, as this game offers a lot in terms of the discovery and enjoyment of tabletop war games.
The game can also feel a little back and forth at times. It is a war of attrition after all. Fight, defend. Fight, defend. Who can outlast their opponent? Who can strike the final blow first? But as you learn the best way to use each unit, and develop more interesting tactics and strategies other than just charging in and hoping for the best on the dice rolls, there is a lot of game within these small boxes.