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Richard Borg





Click on the box covers to read about the Battlelore-Expansions!

Some years after the initial release of their still rather successful wargame Memoir '44, DAYS OF WONDER now has decided to make Richard Borg's "Commands and Colors" playing concept finally available for the German public. Whereas Memoir '44 was deemed unfitting for a release on the German market due to its WW II background, this problem now is circumvented by the fantasy theme of the wargame Battlelore, but as you will see within this review, Battlelore actually is much more than a fantasy-clone of Memoir '44, but instead it has become a rather new and refreshing variation of the playing concepts developed in Memoir '44, its expansions and predecessors.

The game is initially a two-player game, with both players taking the roles of medieval commanders in charge of an army composed of regular troops like Cavalry, Infantry and Archers, but also containing a ragtag assembly of regiments only known from legends like Dwarves or Goblins. To prepare for play, a gameboard of hexagonal spaces is placed between the players, and for reasons of playability this battlefield is divided into three equally spaced sections (Left Flank, Center, Right Flank). Following the instructions given in the scenario chosen by the players, the gameboard is set up with several pieces of landscape (hills, forests, rivers etc.) and the units of each player. Usually the player's arrange their troops on opposite sides of the battlefield, and here each foot unit (Infantry and Archers) is composed of four figures whereas each cavalry unit (Cavalry or Goblin Lizard Riders) contains only three figures. One figure in each unit is called the Standard Bearer and carries a flag which shows a symbol for the unit's type and also a colour which is either green, blue or red.


Each player then is dealt a hand of Command Cards, with the number of cards a player is dealt once again depending on the scenario which was chosen by the players. Taking alternating turns, the players then may use their Command Cards to activate their units on the battlefield, with each card having its own special rules which units it will activate. For example, there exist cards for...

  • activating a certain number of units on one or more sections of the battlefield, or
  • activating units of a specific type, or
  • activating units depending on the colours of their banners.

Furthermore, there also are included some Strategy Cards within the deck of Command Cards, and apart from making some special kinds of activation these cards also may allow their player to make some kind of special action like a counterattack or an ambush. However, as indicated most of the Command Cards will lead to an activation of one or more units on side of the player, and these units he may move on the battlefield and possibly initiate a skirmish with them.

Concerning a unit's movement and fighting capabilities, these are dependant on the colour of the unit's banner. Regular troops bear a blue banner, marking them of being of average mobility and fighting power. If we have a unit with a green colour, this colour marks light troops. These troops may move faster than blue regulars, but they also have less fighting power which is represented by the fact that they roll less dice in combat. On the other hand, there is also the possibility of red banners, and, opposing to troops with a green banner, a unit with a red banner is heavily armoured and thus the strongest fighter but slowest in terms of mobility.

As said, a player uses his Command Card to activate some of his units, and these units he may move on the battlefield either up to their maximum movement allowance or to a position where the terrain in the hex-space entered prevents further movement for the current turn. After all movement is finished, the active player then may check whether either some of his Infantry or Cavalry troops are in spaces directly adjacent to enemy troops, or whether an activated Archer unit is able to see a target within range. Each of his activated units with an eligible target then may roll a number of Battle Dice to make an attack on this opposing unit (with the number of dice depending on the unit's colour and possibly modified by the terrain on which the skirmish takes place). These Battle Dice are six-sided dice with one side showing each of the three unit colours, one side showing a yellow "Bonus Hit", one side a Retreat Flag and one side a Magic Power symbol. In battle, a hit on an opposing unit is scored for each dice showing the colour matching the colour of the attacked unit, and for each hit rolled a figure is removed from the unit. If this leads to the total removal of the unit, the attacker keeps the last figure (the Banner Bearer) for himself to symbolise a victory point. Depending on the weapons the attacking unit uses, the "Bonus Hit" symbol also may lead to the scoring of additional hits, whereas the Retreat Flag usually does not mean the loss of a figure but instead forces the attacked unit to retreat one space to its owner's side of the battlefield.


However, a Flag does not always mean a retreat, since a unit may have a morale boost by other friendly units in neighbouring spaces or special terrain features. In playing terms, such a unit becomes "bold" and its owner may not only ignore one Retreat Flag dice which is rolled against this unit in each skirmish, but - if the unit is not destroyed or forced to retreat by its attacker - it may also counterattack against the attacking unit and then roll attacking dice of its own to possibly harm the attacker. However, such a counterattack is only possible in close combat, so that a unit which is attacked by archers from more than one space away may be bold but does not receive a benefit from the counterattack-rule.

After all activated units have been dealt with, the active player ends his turn by drawing a new Command Card for his hand, and then playing proceeds with the other player who now can do his turn of activating units and moving and fighting with them. Taking alternate turns, the game then continues until either player has eliminated a certain number of enemy units, and the first player who has succeeded in eliminating enough enemy units will have won the game.

If you look at the short overview of a player's turn outlined above, players of Memoir '44 will already have discovered the major similarities between Battlelore and Memoir '44, but you will likewise also have discovered some first changes like the newly introduced Banner Bearer which add a whole new combat dimension by differentiating units not only by type but also by the quality of their equipment, and likewise some novelties are included due to the expanded concept of morale which goes beyond the so-far known uses of the Retreat Flag symbols. However, the given structure of a player's turn only reflects some of the basic playing mechanisms in Battlelore, and to give you a possibility to get even deeper into the more delicate details of the rules and to get a first glimpse of the full flavour developed by the game let me now elaborate on some rules which I have not explained so far.

Here I want to start with one central element of the new Battlelore rules, the War Council. Once each player has fully understood the basic mechanics of the game, the players are assigned a tent in which they may place their War Council which may consist of up to five different personalities. These personalities are the Commander, the Cleric, the Wizard, the Fighter and the Rogue, and usually each player receives a quota of six "Counsellor Points" which he may use to man his Council at the beginning of the game. Each Counsellor may have a level from "1" (weakest) to "3" (strongest), and for each level of a Counsellor a player correspondingly must spend a Counsellor Point. Thus, it is up to each player either to have many weaker Counsellors present in his Council, or to include just a few stronger Counsellors. As you may have guessed, both variants have advantages, since each Counsellor has special powers which get stronger the higher the level of the Counsellor is.


The level of the Commander actually influences the number of Command Cards a player receives during the game, since a player without a Commander only receives three Command Cards, whereas a player with a level three Commander in his Council respectively receives six Command Cards. The four other Counsellors are different in so far, as for each of the Counsellors exists a deck of matching Power Cards which may be used by the players for special actions. At the beginning of the game, when both players have revealed the composition of the Councils, a common deck of Power Cards will be constructed by adding a number of corresponding Power Cards for each Counsellor present. Each player also receives one or more Power Cards from this deck as a starting hand (the number of cards depending on the highest level Counsellor present in each player's Council), and during the course of the game the active player ends his turn by either taking more Power Cards from the deck or by adding Power Tokens to his stockpile. These Power Tokens (or Magic Energy Tokens if you want to call them this way) are used for activating a Power Card a player wants to play, since each Power Card also depicts a cost of Power Tokens which a player needs to pay to release its powers.

Various Power Cards exist in the game, with their uses and functions depending on the Counsellor who caused them to be added to the common stockpile. Thus, the Cleric possess powers which often are beneficial to a player's own troops, and, likewise, the Fighter often can add to the combat capabilities of a player's units. In contrast, especially the Wizard can use spells which inflict damage on opposing units, whereas the Rogue is some sort of special character which can cause all kinds of mischief like feign attacks, hidden movement, destruction of orders etc. As indicated, many of these Power Cards have stronger effects if a player has a higher level Counsellor to play that specific card, but since the Power Cards are randomly drawn from the deck it is possible that a player will not necessarily receive the cards he wants to get. Thus, a player also may receive cards for which he does not have a fitting Counsellor. These cards are not totally useless for him, and he may still play them on their weakest level, but he has to pay three additional Power Tokens if such a card is used without the possession of a fitting Counsellor.

Having a Level-3-Counsellor in a player's War Council also gives an additional benefit, since such a Counsellor is entitled to a special landscape hex which the player may position on the Battlefield. Each Counsellor has his own specific landscape, so that the Fighter offers a Training Camp, The Cleric a Healing Spring, the Wizard a Magic Pentagram, the Rogue a Hideout with a Secret Passage and the Commander a small Fortress. The functions of these landscapes differ, from healing or upgrading a unit to adding to a player's defensive position or mobility or yielding an increased income of Power Tokens. However, if both players should have decided to add the same Level-3-Counsellor to their respective War Councils, the landscape benefit is cancelled so that none of the players receives such a special landscape (with the notable exception that both players may have a Fortress if they have a Level-3 Commander in their War Council).

The board for the War Council actually shows two more positions which still have to be dealt with. One of these positions is a cage standing in the back of the tent, and a player may also decide to put a token worth one "Counsellor Point" at this cage. This will allow the player to activate a Creature, a special kind of unit which is stronger than the regular troops a player possesses. In the basic game, the figure for the "Giant Spider" is included, but two other Creatures which will also be available for players who have pre-ordered Battlelore are the "Hill Giant" and the "Earth Elemental". Creatures are activated just like other units, but a player also may spend three Power Tokens from his stockpile to activate a Creature which is not within the corresponding section depicted on his actual Command Card. In combat terms, a creature always is "bold" (which is due to its size), and furthermore it is much more difficult to destroy. For playing reasons each creature is assigned a colour, but in combat a player who has rolled one or more hits against a creature must take the dice which showed a hit and roll them again. Only if the player succeeds in rolling another hit with any of these dice, the Creature is destroyed. In combat, a creature usually possesses considerable attacking capabilities of several Battle Dice, and, even more important, a player who rolls a Magic Power symbol when attacking with a creature may also use this symbol to initiate a special kind of action. So, the Giant Spider may use Magic Power symbols to capture enemy units in a web or to poison them, the Earth Elemental may cause damage by earthquakes and the Hill Giant may make ranged attacks by throwing boulders. However, the use of a creature also is not unperilous for its owner, since a creature which is forced to retreat due to flags rolled by an attacker will withdraw at all costs, possibly marching through spaces occupied by other forces and killing figures of such units.


The final seat in the War Council is reserved for a special Counsellor. Also such a character is not present in the basic game of Battlelore, rumours say that there will be expansions containing such characters. The future developments of the game are still quite foggy, but there might be a possibility that more character based actions might get involved and there is even a chance that future expansions also will see character figures act on the battlefield.

Be this as it may, let us finally turn to yet another aspect of the Battlelore rules - the Races. Apart from the Humans which form the bulk of a player's army, the basic game has included Dwarven Infantry and Crossbowmen and Goblin Infantry and Lizard Riders. As known from many other fantasy games, the Dwarves are bold and stout fighters, and thus they receive the bonus that a unit of Dwarves always is "bold" by nature. The Goblins on the other hand are a cowardly bunch, attacking in hordes and quickly withdrawing from real opposition. In gaming terms, this means that all Goblin Infantry units are allowed to move two spaces and still attack, an option which otherwise is reserved to green "light" Infantry units. However, when a Goblin unit is target of an attack and the attacker succeeds in rolling one or more flag symbols, the Goblin unit must withdraw for two spaces for each flag symbol rolled.

It has been a long time since I last had the pleasure to playtest a new game (or better: gaming system) of such richness and outstanding design as Battlelore. To comment first on the mechanics of the game, it will be especially striking for players of Memoir '44 that the battles arising in Battlelore are much more dense and - due to the fact that ranged weapons are less important in medieval battle tactics - especially affected by long ranks of units clashing against each other. Thus, the game plays very differently from all its predecessors, since the usual close combat and the flanking rules for morale mean a considerable shift of strategy which is demanded from Memoir '44 players so that the game in fact is challenging for novices and seasoned players alike!

Especially the rules for the War Council, its characters and their special powers are well constructed and carry the fantasy spirit of the game, but it should also be mentioned that major emphasis still lies on the actions happening on the battlefield itself. This is due to the fact that an average game of Battlelore takes between 8 to 12 rounds of play, and within such a relatively short duration the players will not be able to collect a high amount of Power Tokens so that the use of Power Cards within a full game often is limited to just two or three Power Cards per player. This is a bit of a pity, since it is especially the Power Cards which add additional spice to the game, but on the other hand the Power Cards also harbour a slight danger of putting the game out of balance, since there is undeniably the possibility of a player gaining a major advantage by drawing a rather powerful card at the right moment.

Summing up, DAYS OF WONDER well succeeded in turning Richard Borg's "Commands and Colors" playing system into a fantasy wargame, and special notice and praise must be given to the fact that all this succeeded within the - usually rather limited - confines of a boardgame. Here shows one of the real strengths of Battlelore, since in essence it remains a modern-sytle boardgame which means that it has rules of moderate complexity and also a playing duration which usually remains between one or two hours. Although my outline of the rules given above might sound a bit complex, the rulebook, mission book and overview cards for the players cooperate nicely to avoid overweighting the players with too many rules right from the beginning. Step by step and mission by mission the players are introduced to the full weight of Battlelore without ever recognising a considerable increase of rules, and when all included missions have been played through the players are fully familiar with the full concept of Battlelore.

Finally, it is especially this playability as a boardgame which sets Battlelore apart from the grandfather of tabletop wargames: Warhammer. An average game of Warhammer not only takes long rules studies and thus a longer playing duration, but - to gain a proper playing atmosphere - the players also need to put much more efforts into the shaping of their armies and the battlefield. To avoid an unspirited game on a dull kitchen table, Warhammer players need to purchase a well-sized army, paint it properly and also provide for a fitting landscape. In Battlelore, everything needed comes just out of the gamebox, and although the included miniatures are not painted it is the colourful art of the board and cards and the overall high quality of the playing components which give Battlelore an initial advantage over Warhammer since playing virtually can be started right away. However, one area where Battlelore barely has begun and where Warhammer still stands absolutely unchallenged is concerning the richness of its epic "fantasy background". Warhammer offers the players a whole world to dive into, with lots of different races and dozens of different troops which players can lead into whole campaigns to fight epic wars. Here the background of Battlelore, which is set in Europe at the times of the 100-Years-War with the inclusion of some fantasy elements, is still fully unexplored and leaves the players with just some hints at possible scenarios. Keeping in mind that especially players of fantasy games expect their games both to offer some kind of identification figures (like heroes or special characters in Warhammer) and to follow some kind of story thread (which usually could be found in adventure modules of role-play-games), Richard Borg and the design crew at DAYS OF WONDER will now have to face the challenge of turning their initially successful basic game of Battlelore into an epic fantasy gaming system which meets the demands of players for coherence and traditional fantasy elements. Campaigns, a point-based system for balancing selfmade scenarios, characters and many other improvements are conceivable for future expansions of Battlelore, but for the time being we will have to wait and see what Richard Borg will come up with!

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Copyright © 2007 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany