Sunday, October 28, 2012


BattleLore is one of many games in the Commands and Colors series by Richard Borg.  At least four different companies have published games in the series, all of which share similar core mechanics.  I first wrote about this series back in 2008 with Commands and Colors: Ancients.  BattleLore shares many similarities with that game, but there are a number of important differences, as well.  BattleLore tries to straddle the line between medieval warfare and swords & sorcery fantasy.  The game comes with archers; light, medium, and heavy infantry; and light, medium, and heavy cavalry for each side.  All of those units are the same for each side.  You can use these units to fight a couple historical battles included with the game.  They are also used in the "fantasy" battles, as well.  To get that "fantasy" feel, the game also comes with goblins and dwarves, as well as a giant spider unit.  The goblins and dwarves are essentially just regular infantry or cavalry with special rules.  If you wanted to focus only on historical battles, you could use such units as 'foreign' mercenary troops, or something like that, and not worry about whether they are humans or not.  The giant spider doesn't lend itself to such treatment, naturally.  It is pretty cool, I must admit, though like all such special creatures (more are sold separately!) lucky die rolls can kill it before you get to do anything neat with it.

Up to this point, everything is pretty much standard Commands and Colors game play, as described in my write-up of the Ancients game.  The use of light, medium, and heavy units is the same, the way the board is set up is the same, the way that command cards work is generally the same, etc.  There is one thing that sets this game apart, though.  That is the use of Lore.  Lore is represented by a separate deck of cards.  In some battles, the players can buy levels of "lore masters," which are special individuals that are part of your army.  You can have a wizard, a priest, a rogue, and a warrior.  Each of those character types has 15 cards that represent special abilities of those types.  For example, the wizard can use fireballs to try to kill an enemy unit outright, or move units around the board, etc.  You figure out what type and power of lore masters you want in your army, and then set up the lore deck with the ability cards for your chosen masters.  All of the cards are powered by "lore tokens," which build up during game play.  Every turn you have a chance to get up to two new tokens, but you can also get additional tokens by rolling lore symbols on the dice during combat.  The more powerful lore cards require more lore tokens to use them, so the luck of the draw doesn't overly influence the events of the game.

The addition of the lore system does set BattleLore apart from others in the Commands and Colors series, and since I like the series you would think that I would be all over this game.  In reality, though, I've owned the game for about four years but have only played it a couple times.  Why?  I really am not sure.  The figures are nice, and game plays pretty quickly, it lends itself decently to solitaire play, but... it just is lacking something.  I can't even say what.  If I want to play a game in the series, I gravitate towards Memoir '44 or Ancients.  Thus, even though BattleLore is a solid game, it just sits forlornly on my game shelf.  Alas.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Combat Commander: Europe

The next random game in my collection is Combat Commander: Europe.  This is an infantry combat game set in World War II, in the European theater of operations.  The units a small scale, with unit counters representing squads, fire teams, or individuals leaders or heroes.  The game is scenario-based, and the boxed game comes with a dozen different scenarios featuring American, German, and Russian forces.  There is also a method to randomly generate new scenarios if you play through all of the scenarios that come with the game.  The game is for two players.

All of this is pretty traditional.  For decades the game Advanced Squad Leader has been the gold standard for WWII combat at this scale.  What does Combat Commander do that Squad Leader does not?  While the games do deal with the same scale of tactical combat, Combat Commander plays complete differently.  First of all, there are no dice to roll.  Instead, everything is handled through the play of cards.  Each army has its own unique deck of 72 cards.  Each card has an Order, an Action, an Event, a specific map hex and two numbers between one and six.  All game activity takes place through play of the cards.  To give orders to your units on your turn, you have to play a card with the Order you want to conduct, maybe "Move," or "Fire," or "Recover."  You then activate a unit (if that unit is a leader, it can active other units within its command range to perform the same action) to perform that action.  Actions are taken outside of the standard Orders phase that interrupt play somehow.  For example, the "Fire" card can be used as an Order or an Action.  If you play it as an Action, then you can interrupt the other player's movement to have one of your units fire at the moving unit's space on the board.  Or you might have an action that adds attack power to a "Fire" order, or that lets you lay down smoke to block the vision of your opponent.

Events are random things that happen during the game, and can result in having one of your units lose morale, gaining new units, having fires start, etc.  Above I had mentioned that each card comes with two numbers on it.  Those numbers are used in place of having dice in the game.  To perform a "Fire" or "Reform" action you draw a card from your deck, add up the numbers, and then you use that number to determine whether your action succeeded or not.  Some actions are opposed, and your opponent will also be drawing a card and looking at the numbers to see if his number was higher than yours.  If so, the action doesn't take place.  I realize that this may sound a bit odd, and it took me a little while to get used to it, but the system really does work very well.

So how long do games last?  The short answer is that the players don't know.  Games don't last a set number of turns.  Instead, each scenario gives you a set number of time slots before you start checking to see if the game ends.  The time track advances in two different situations.  First, if a player plays all the way through their deck, then you advance the turn track one space.  Additionally, if a player is drawing a card for a "die roll," and the word "Time" is in red text next to the numbers, then the time track advances.  So, the players really don't know when the time track will advance.  This impacts strategy, because you just don't know if you should rush forward with an attack before you are fully prepared for it, or if you will have the time to get everything in place just the way you want it.

One wrinkle with having all orders issued through the play of cards is that if you want to do something, but don't have a card that lets you do it, then you can't perform that order.  For example, I have played in many games where I was on the attack and really needed to move my units forward, but I didn't have a "Move" or "Advance" order to do so.  And in the last game that I played the American player was running roughshod over the poor Germans, but they didn't have any "Fire" cards so they couldn't return fire against the American forces.  I have a friend who hates games like this, but this kind of thing doesn't bother me.  If you don't like card-driven games, I recommend steering far away from this one.  However, if you can embrace the randomness of having your actions constrained by your hand of cards, then this really is a great game of infantry combat.

Archon 36

I spent this past weekend at Archon 36, the St. Louis, MO area science-fiction convention.  I had a really good time.  I played a couple QAGS games run by my favorite GM, a game of Legend of the Five Rings, and some Munchkin (combining the Western and science-fiction genre games, which resulted in some very strange combinations of cards, like android indians riding giant cats) in scheduled events.  I also got to play a demonstration game of Sentinels of the Multiverse, which turned out to be awesome, as well as a Sunday afternoon game of Arkham Horror.  That game did not turn out at all like we expected, but we were able to win through a string of incredibly lucky dice rolls at the end, so it's all good.

Of course, there is more at Archon than just gaming.  I attended a panel discussion about our current understanding of the realities and hazards of traveling to and trying to survive on other planets, a panel discussion on a perceived current trend in science-fiction of more nostalgia and "looking back," rather than looking forward with hope to future (most current science-fiction, whether in books or movies or TV, tends to have a very dark take on the future, which may be driving people away from the genre), and a panel discussion about how to properly evoke feelings of horror in games (usually difficult to do since people are sitting around a well lit table or otherwise feeling comfortable in their environment).  It was a weekend of time with friends, good food, and general relaxation.  The only downside is waiting a year until the next one.