04 December 2010

Battles of Westeros part 3: Gameplay [Boardgame review]

The 3rd and final part of this review will take a look at how the game plays, the qualities, and game mechanics. As you are familiar with the basic and most frequently used tokens, markers and cards let's dive head into the action.

Battles of Westeros is a very tactical 2-player game that is all about combat. The game mixes the battles with unique unit profiles even among identical units when they are of different "rank". A Green unit may be fast but will be hit more often and not have many attack dice. A red unit may be an absolute beast in close combat but they tend to be extremely slow. Blue units are the middle ground, but each of the 10 scenarios in the Mission book gives you a mixed and often well balanced army. The balance between house Lannister and house Stark in terms of the amount of cavalry, infantry or bowmen-units may not be identical, but the number of units and troop types are always balanced between the two houses.

In the very first scenario, the goal for house Lannister is to cross the river and claim two locations overlooking the crossing points. The Lannister army is made up of Medium infantry and lots of light cavalry. House Stark has to defend their turf in this scenario and their army is mainly made up of archers and light infantry, they have 2 units of medium cavalry as well but they are outnumbered so rushing straight into the Lannister lines will be suicidal.

The trick in this scenario is to use the Stark bowmen to push back the Lannister infantry, hoping to clog up their advance with routing units while the Stark infantry moves as fast as they can to protect the open flank from the Lannister cavalry.  It is surprising how fresh and tactical the battles play out as the game mixes pure luck as you generate order tokens and tactics as you want to keep your command units close to the battle line so their zone of influence can be used to play "Command cards" when you run out of order tokens matching your units.

The battles are never about beating your opponent to a pulp (even if it sometimes helps to achieve your mission), instead it is all about objectives, objectives and objectives. In the very first scenario "Clash on the Kingsroad", there are two objectives in play. Whichever player controls both objectives as turn 5 ends automatically wins the battle. If it is a draw between house Stark and house Lannister then the game progresses as "sudden death" over the following turns. In some scenarios the morale track also allows you to rout your enemy if their morale reaches critical levels, in other scenarios an enemy army can never be routed by low morale and fights to the end to win their objective.

In the second battle, "Paying the Piper", the Lannisters deploy in the middle of the board with some pretty good troops while house Stark is split on two flanks, one flank being good, and the other being fragile. With 6 objectives evenly spread out on the table house Lannister has the advantage of being in the middle of the board which allow them to move towards all 6 objectives. House Stark on the other hand must make the best of the situation and break through on each flank to prevent Lannister troops from seizing the buildings while outflanking the Lannister army (this time lacking cavalry save for one commander) with light Stark cavalry and grab the objectives at the far back of the board.

The balance of the commanders really shows as each side has a set of 2 mounted and 3 foot commanders, each has a limit to how many commands per turn he may issue, each commander has a different "capture value (commanders without troops may be captured and removed from play) and it was especially evident in the second scenario where house Stark had 2 commanders with medium troops and a decent command value. While house Lannister who had the upper hand in troops had 1 decent commander and 1 absolute brute in close combat (Gregor Clegane) with really good fighting skills and abilities - but this brute had a command limit of 1.Thus the Lannister player often had to rely more on command tokens generated at the start of each turn rather than improvising with issued commands from his two commanders.

Terrain also plays a good role, even though the game is pretty abstract you can feel and see the advantage of taking high ground, holding a river crossing or capturing a building. In the second scenario "Paying the Piper" the battle went back and forth , the good house Stark flank started to crumble so I abandoned my troops with the mounted commander and raced to claim the objectives back at the river. The Lannisters were too slow to pursue and instead focused on capturing the village. As their troops were more numerous and better trained than mine they gained even greater advantage from setting up defensive positions inside the buildings. As the game reached "sudden death" once again only two things would swing the tide of the battle. Either the Lannisters would catch up with my lone cavalry unit holding my commander as these Stark cavalrymen helt the river crossing - thug allowing Lannister to win. Or I would somehow make the Lannisters rout out of the buildings and seize them myself. The battle became really tense as all our commanders were spread out on the battlefield and the majority of the troops had to rely on order tokens generated at the start of each turn. I gained the upper hand during one turn as my opponent was out of green tokens and couldn't activate his right flank. Both of us also got to use "Rally" tokens a lot towards the end, as these tokens became precious when troops started to dwindle and a last minute push would win the day. The Stark army pulled of a victory in the end as the Stark commander at the river held back the enemy attack, successfully broke of from close combat seing as the enemy had spent all their command tokens, and grabbed the bridge in the middle of the river.  It's hard to really describe how dynamic the battles of this game really are and how immersed you get in all the tactical decisions.

10 scenarios that comes with the "mission book", you also get 2 "Skirmish scenarios" which are randomly generated every time you play. The 10 scenarios are going to last a while, as their replay value is very good. You are going to try out new tactics with both sides a number of times before you master each scenario, both sides play differently and they are not as linear in their approach on how to achieve victory as they might seem at first glance. And even if you would use the same tactics two times in a row there will still be the element of surprise in randomly generated command tokens and command cards in your resource pool. In game one you may get a lot of good command cards while in game 2 you are going to rely heavily on command tokens instead.

I think that this is one of the best 2 player games I've played so far, you donä't really need to know the backstory of the " A song of Ice and Fire " book series to play this game. But just as with Battlestar Galactica (which I and my game group think is one of the best multiplayer boardgames ever) you get a little more immersed in the characters. For someone who has not read the series Gregor Clegane will just be a very  tough brutish character, while someone who have read the books immediately understands this character in a different way and maybe even thinks of the battle in a more immersed way as you know who the good and who the really bad guys are and take the joy of bringing those commanders down or just take extra care to protect them.

Pros - Cons of this game,

Pros:
+Very good components, as you've come to expect from a Fantasy Flight Games release
+Extremely good flow between all components and game mechanics involved
+Great mix of luck and tactical decisions
+Rules are not that hard to learn, I would say 3 out of 5 difficulty level.
+Solid 2 player gameplay for those evenings when you can't get an entire group together
+A ton of components, but they all fit into the box if you use zip bags
+Solid core game, there is no immidiete need to add stuff as the variation is great within the box
+Good mix of characters and abilities
+Fun and well working systems of order tokens, order cards and command models zone of influence
+Commanders add extra abilities to unit's they join
+Unit abilities make the units of both armies play differently even if they have similar profiles
+Alternate unit activation makes for little downtime

Cons:
-You only get 2-3 zip bags with the game, and you will need a lot more if you want to stay organized and divide each type of component from the rest.

-You will have to glue each of the miniatures provided in this box to the base. You cannot get around this in anyway. So expect an hour of work preparing the components. Luckily you only ever have to do this one single time.

And the future of this game? Well FFG has already released 2 expansions, adding 3 more troop types and 3 additional characters to each side (Stark/Lannister). These are sold separately. I think they come with more cards and also come with mission books of their own. Fantasy Flight Games will most likely support the hell out of this product as they bought the "BattleLore" license just to release this game and it has been very well received by the community. I have not played BattleLore myself, but I watched another review that said that this game has very little to do with the BattleLore gameplay, there are similarities but this game is almost a standalone product, with its own game mechanics, rules and supposedly "more tactical and deep" than what was described as a more quick&easy experience. The tactics in Battles of Westeros surpass any “paper, rock, scissors” breakdown that these types of games usually follow. Battles of Westeros, for me, really feels like a deep tactical experience. If you want to outthink your enemy, set up traps and bait him into bad decisions, and manage your order resources cleverly before you smash his flank then this game is for you.


 A few more pictures from "Paying the Piper" scenario



Get this game over at GameManiacs, don't forget about the free shipping on orders above 100SEK in December and the Christmas discount codes on all games reviewed this year (including this one)! http://anatolisgameroom.blogspot.com/2010/11/gamemaniacs-christmas-discount-codes.html

7 comments:

  1. Thank you for that review.

    I've often wondered about the 'Battlelore' style games since seeing one at a show a couple of years ago.

    Most useful
    Andrew
    Main site: www.blog.kings-sleep.me.uk

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  2. It's surprisingly fun and immersing , I myself thought it looked like a "OK" game when I watched pictures of it - looked very abstract but you forget all that when you start playing. You really have to try it out yourself IRL to see how great it is.

    IF you can, try to get the chance to test it at some club or at a friends house :-)

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  3. It wouldn't be a suprised if someday the idea's excel!

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  4. Thanks for the review. It was reading this that finally convinced me to go buy a copy today. Though I haven't played yet, I'm very impressed by the contents and the rules. And, of course, the armies are just crying out for some paint... :)

    -Scott

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    Replies
    1. Hello Anatoli,

      Great review. I also always wondered about this game. It has been sometime since I played a board game because miniatures have always been what I like to play with. I think I will have to pick up a copy of this. I saw one at one of the two model shops in our area. The other shop has a lot of the expansion sets. Now, I got to get someone to play.

      Thanks,

      Ricn

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    2. It's a truly good boardgame for 2 players, which is a rare thing as you usually need 3-5 players to play boardgames these days. Of all the "commands & colors" inspired games this is by far my favorite variant as the command and control in this game is superior to the randomness of unit activation in Commands & colors, Memoir 44 etc.

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  5. Hello Again,

    Yes, I am going to go out and pick up a set. It sounds like a very interesting and intense game which you can actually enjoy playing. I look forward to seeing other reports and will let you know when I get a chance to try it out.

    It will give me something to do while I am waiting for my BF&S stuff to get here. Hopefully, it will arrive next week.

    Thanks,

    Rich

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