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Richard Borg


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The initial release by of Richard Borg's fantasy wargame Battlelore by DAYS OF WONDER had been followed quickly by half a dozen expansions, adding new unit types, cards for a customized troop buildup and additional scenarios. However, after this initial firework it has become rather quiet around the game, and the silence grew even more profound when FANTASY FLIGHT GAMES acquired the publishing rights for Battlelore by the end of 2008. However, some of you might remember that two years back I had a meeting with a DAYS OF WONDER representative here at the SPIEL, and at that time I told you that a new kind of expansion for the game was in the pipeline, focusing on individual Heroes and their impact on the battlefield. And now, after a rather long wait FANTASY FLIGHT GAMES finally brings Battlelore back to life, and thus I was delighted to see that all myths were proven to be true: the Battlelore Heroes expansion has arrived!

[IMAGE] FANTASY FLIGHT GAMES is well known for their richly equipped fantasy games, and here the Heroes-Expansion is no exception. Thus, the small box contains 10 beautiful character miniatures, different skill and artefact cards and a collection of assorted landscape tiles and counters. Scanning through the materials, I could quickly discover that the ten miniatures actually fall into pairs presenting the same character both mounted and on foot, and so the players basically can chose their character from five different classes: the Commander, the Warrior, the Rogue, the Wizard and the Cleric. Once a character is chosen, the player is allowed to chose one skill for the character from a deck of skill cards corresponding to the class of the character. In addition, a hand of three artefact cards is drawn, and the player may chose one of these artefacts as starting equipment for the character. Finally, a character sheet is filled out, entering the information about the chosen skill and artefact and additionally adding infos about the character's combat capabilities (how many dice does he roll) and the number of wounds he can sustain.

On the battlefield, a character either may join a friendly unit as its Leader or may move on his own as a Champion. These roles may change several times during the course of the game as a character has a possibility to join and leave units by ordering him with a normal order card to move onto or off a space occupied by a friendly unit. As you might guess, both of these roles are treated slightly differently considering the circumstances, and so a Champion is less restricted concerning his movement but is slightly more vulnerable due to his exposed position, whereas a Leader on the other hand inspires his unit to become bold but may not make an individual attack. Both types of Heroes share the rule that they can be hurt by an attack if the attacker rolls one or more "Sword on Shield" or Lore symbols, and each such symbol rolled forces the Hero to take a casualty check. To perform this check these dice are rolled again, and if at least one "Sword on Shield" symbol is rolled the Hero is wounded an incapacitated, removing him from the battlefield for the rest of the game and counting as a victory points for the opposing player.

Overall, the rules for movement and combat have blended in rather well with the existing Battlelore rules, and so Heroes quickly can be handled without referring too much to the rules. However, so far nothing has been said about the different character classes, and here the different sets of skill cards play an important role. A skill which can be chosen by all characters is the "Riding"-skill, allowing the player to exchange his Hero figure for its mounted version and giving the Hero much better movement capabilities, but most of the other skills are unique to each class of Hero. Thus, the Warrior is a fierce fighter with good combat skills, the Commander can be best used for ordering troops and increasing morale, the Wizards and the Cleric have offensive and defensive spells and prayers and the Rogue can perform a number of sneaky activities. At the beginning of his career a Hero possesses just one skill card, but a Hero will collect experience for each battle he participates in. Additional experience can be gained by defeating another Hero or a creature or by completing specific quests set out in the scenario rules. For five experience a Hero may acquire an additional skill, and so a Hero may develop up to a maximum of three different skills, giving him considerable additional powers and his player a strong advantage on the battlefield.


Likewise, additional powers may be tapped by acquiring and using artefacts, and apart from the initial artefact which each Hero receives at the beginning of his career additional artefacts may be gained by defeating another Hero, completing a quest or by opening a treasure chest. These treasure chest counters have been placed face down at specific locations as instructed by the scenario, and a Hero who spends a combat action at that location may search for treasure by revealing on of these treasure chest counters. His search may be rewarded by an randomly drawn artefact, but he may also find experience or treasure instead. Experience and treasure are recorded, and in difference to randomly drawn artefact cards a certain amount of treasure may be used by a Hero to acquire an artefact of his choice. A nasty find on the other hand is a trapped chest, and this kind of chest counter causes the Hero to roll a number of dice as a casualty check.

Thinking about my old role-playing days, I remembered that characters tended to get stronger and stronger, making them nearly unstoppable for most apart from the toughest monsters. The possibility of Heroes to develop might stir up some fears of Battlelore losing its balance, but here Richard Borg has come up with a nice set of rules to get rid of too powerful Heroes. Thus, on the one hand the Heroes face certain limitations like a maximum of three skills and six artefacts (of which only two may be initially carried into a battle), and on the other hand a Hero will face exhaustion if he is wounded several times. Thus, each time a Hero is wounded he is removed from the battle and one of his wounds is crossed out. The number of wounds for a Hero ranges from three to five depending on his class, and under normal circumstances the wounds cannot be restored. Thus, a Hero who has faced several defeats will lose his last wound, and this results in the end of the Hero's career.

However, such an end for a glorious Hero would be somewhat gloomy, and so there also exists a possibility to retire a Hero in a much more honourable way. Thus, a player may decide to retire a Hero who has learned three skills and who has gained three additional experience during his career, and as a reward the player will get an Advisor token matching the Hero's class. Taking the role as an additional advisor, the Hero now will take a place in the empty chair of a player's war council, increasing the Advisor level of the corresponding class advisor by one, but not counting against the number of battle levels listed in the scenario. From now on the player may use the Hero's advisor token to strengthen his battle council until he has been defeated five times. Then the Hero will be asked to step down from his Advisory position, becoming instructor at the player's military academy. And, as a final act, the Hero now will hand his most precious artefact to a new Hero who now may start his career with two artefacts instead of one.

As you can see, I could not quite resist from going into details, but I was so taken by the care and details which had been put into this expansion that I simply had to tell you more about it. To my mind, the Heroes expansion is an incredible enrichment for the whole playing system, and it adds considerably to the attractiveness and replay value of the game. However, by employing limits and the retirement rules Richard Borg also cleverly avoided any dangers for his playing system by Super-Heroes, and so the new Heroes can be enjoyed over and over again. As a sideline observation, it seems that I am out of luck concerning the choice of characters in FFG games at this convention, since once again I would have liked the game to include a male Warrior and a female Rogue (and not the other way round). But leaving this humoristic comment aside, I guess that this box is going to captivate me for quite some time after the SPIEL, and I am already toying with the idea to bring my old schemes for a Middle Earth Battlelore campaign finally to life…

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Copyright © 2009 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany