Review: BattleLore Command05 Dec 2014 0
Review: BattleLore Command
Released 25 Nov 2014
I'm starting to feel a bit spoiled. Seriously, what was the last major board game release that ended up a dud? It sure as hell isn't BattleLore: Command, the latest release from Fantasy Flight Games, which, despite a major omission, is still a strong contender for digital board game of the year.
If you're a fan of board games or just strategy games in general, BattleLore: Command is going to trip all your triggers.
BattleLore: Command is a Commands & Colors game, which means it involves a map that is divided into three sections, cards which indicate in which sections you can activate units, and different unit types in search of an objective. Oh, and there are dice. Lots and lots of wonderful dice. Each player controls a hand of Commands that indicate which types of units or which sections they can activate troops. It simulates the chaos and difficulty of communicating during a conflict by limiting who you can order each turn.
BattleLore: Command does it differently than the other C&C games, and even different from its cardboard forebear, BattleLore. Instead of a random hand of cards, each player has 3 commanders at their disposal: a Warlord, a Wizard, and a Scout. Each has a set of cards that remains constant throughout each battle. For example, the warlord has basic Commands in which you can activate a certain number of troops per section of the board. Once these are used, they cannot be used again until you use the Scout's cards which let you reset the Warlord's cards, but only activate one unit that turn which, in effect, is like skipping a turn. The Wizard has special command cards that you can only use once per battle, but can change the course of the fight if used correctly. For example, Darken the Skies, allows you to activate 3 archer units and allows them each to attack twice that turn.
The other major mechanism that differentiates BattleLore from other C&C games is the Lore system. Each turn you will generate 1 Lore point, and you will also gain Lore by rolling a special symbol on the dice. You use Lore to power magic which you have in a hand of up to 4 different spells. Using these correctly will, usually, determine the victor in a battle. Being able to have all your archers attack twice or ignore range and attack any hex is huge. Some spells allow you to teleport units, or enhance your units with magic weapons, and some are defensive and prevent your opponent from using Lore or making your units harder to hit.
Before each battle you pick and place the units for your army, miniature game style. Each unit costs a specific amount, and the total value of your army cannot be exceeded. You can switch between standard units like archers, footmen and cavalry, but eventually you'll command flying gryphons, golems and other fantastical units. There are 2 sides, we'll just call them the good guys and bad guys, and each side has different units and each unit has its own special abilities. All of this makes for a wonderfully deep strategic experience once you're ordering your little guys around the battlefield.
Like the excellent Galaxy Trucker, BattleLore includes a lengthy and branching single player campaign. It starts you out with archers and footmen, and the choices you make during the campaign will snag you more units and different unit types. Each scenario creates a unique challenge, such as lighting signal fires or raiding enemy tents looking for magical items and most of these scenarios are hard. Really hard. I'll be the first to say that I suck at C&C games, but it took me 15 tries to beat the "signal fire" scenario, and that is only the second scenario in the campaign. Strangely, however, I'm finding the difficulty somewhat refreshing and really enjoying banging my head against the wall until I figure each scenario out.
Beside the campaign, there is also a skirmish mode that has some pre-defined scenarios such as deathmatch or capture the opponent's fortress. You can also replay any of the campaign scenarios you've already beaten, allowing you to play them from the enemy's side or via multiplayer.
Speaking of multiplayer, here lies BattleLore's greatest failure. The only multiplayer type currently supported is via local wifi, so don't go thinking you'll be battling anyone who's not living within your local network any time soon. Fantasy Flight does plan on adding online asynchronous multiplayer in a future patch, however, so all is not lost.
The only other issue I have with BattleLore--a small, nitpicky issue--is that there are no dice. Instead of dice, your combat results just appear next to your units during battle. Mechanically, I understand that what I'm seeing is the same as watching digital dice bounce around the screen, but it's somewhat of a letdown. For Fantasy Flight's other major digital board game release, Elder Sign: Omens, they created a clever way to remove the dice, but still give the player some ownership of the action. Here, it just kind of happens. This is the dice nerd in me speaking out. The rest of me really doesn't care. Combat is still tense and exciting even without the dice.
BattleLore: Command can take its place in the pantheon of must-have board games for iOS or Android. It has the feel of a wargame or miniatures game, but is far more accessible and easy to learn. The 10-30 minute scenarios are a perfect fit for mobile, as well. A few years ago the publisher of Memoir '44, another fantastic C&C game, stated that the Command & Colors games are too complicated for tablets. Fantasy Flight has proven them wrong, and here's hoping that other C&C games move to digital as well.