06 March 2012

Brink of Battle: Skirmish gaming through the ages (Review)

This is my first review where I have received a preview copy of a set of rules that are yet to be released - and also being the first person to review them. So it has been very exciting, and I hope you guys find this review informative. Feel free to post questions and comments about it and I'll answer in more detail if there is something specific that you would like to know.

Brink of Battle: Skirmish gaming through the ages” is a pretty unique set of rules. It is not period or setting specific, instead it allows players to create their own bands of warriors and fight a skirmish battle in any year of human history from ancient times up to modern day. To achieve this without making the game too thin in theme, history is divided into 3 categories. “Ancient/Medieval”, “Early Modern” and “Modern”, each have its own set of character traits for soldiers to pick from, period specific weapons and gear. 

The focus is entirely historical gaming, but perhaps the most important thing to know is that this set of rules is a toolbox for your imagination.

Both players roll D10 dice pretty much every time something happens and add various bonuses, skills, penalties, cover etc.  Battles are fought on a small scale which means that players takes turns in activating , moving, shooting and fighting with their warriors one at a time. And since the game is played on a small scale, 3-20 models per side, all warriors can be very individual in how their stat line looks like, their weapons and actually conveys a sense of “Dirty Dozen” feel where you can make each soldier different and specialized to a high degree by tweaking the stat lines in the building step.

Models for this game can be 20-54mm in size, and should be single based (unless they are part of a HMG team or similar). Bases also follow a certain standard, but I think the most important thing is to have all models based the same rather than to have the exact correct size. I have for instance already a bunch of stuff based on 30mm bases when the rules recommend 25mm. I don’t think this is a game breaker.

Let’s talk details. The game includes a lot of new ideas which I think sets it apart from other wargames that I know or currently play. This make learning the rules a bit more time consuming since you don’t have the “copy pasted” flow of ideas that is so obvious in many  games these days. Much thought has been put into every step, phase and rule.

Building your force
Starting with how you build your warband, perhaps the most fresh take on this formula that I have come across. There are but 3 stats for all warriors in the rules, Command, Combat and Constitution.

Then there are 3 types of forces, Elite, Standard, Horde. You also have 3 types of units – Commander, Veterans and Troopers – each with a cap of how skillful they can be in each of the 3 stats.

So when building your troops you start out by picking what type of force you want to represent. A horde of ill trained peasants for instance in a medieval uprising – then you pick the “Horde” which allows you to include lots of regular “troopers”, 1 commander and 1 veteran. Then you may have the idea of the Commander leading the angry peasant mob to be an old knight so you make him skilled and well armed – while you make the peasants weak, bad at fighting and arm them with crappy weapons. The stat lines for each single model can be different, this is the beauty of this system. Each point of each skill costs a certain amount of “Supply Points”, so you can tweak your warband to be truly unique in composition. You may have one peasant armed with a bow to have a hunter skill and be a good shoot, another peasant may really suck at fighting but have a great constitution and be hard to wound, while a third may be a great fighting but very weak and unable to carry more than a single weapon.

Models in this game are armed according to the “What you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) rule. So a peasant armed with a spear and tunic will have gear matching his looks. The gear in the book covers pretty much everything you can think of. Most weapons are grouped into categories, for instance the weapon profile of “Cleaver” includes hand weapons that you can chop up your enemies with – including all types of battle axes and heavy single edged swords. The name is but a term under which a lot of different stuff is organized. (The rules actually suggest that you rename the Gear to what you like if you find it “offensive” – so if your peasant general has a Broadsword then just write “Broadsword (Cleaver)” in his unit profile.

The 3 stats Command/Combat/Constitution have several purposes in the game. The constitution number tells you how resistant your soldier is to damage, but also the amount of “gear” he can carry. Command is used to determine how many “tactical points” your commander will generate at the start of each turn but most importantly the morale of a soldier and how he will cope with the mental strain of war. The Combat rating is used to determine how well your soldier handles weapons – but also to which degree he has the skill to avoid injury. All stats are can range from 1-7 and also be increased by additional traits.

The various phases of the game
The game is divided into several phases each turn.

“The Sitrep phase”
Rout Checks – Check whether any side breaks and retreats from battle
Psychology Checks – Check the individual state of panicking soldiers
Random Movement – Sometimes models move out of your control
Recover Shocked models – Soldiers attempt to rally

“Order Phase”
Strategy check – players roll for initiative or “The Edge”. The player who wins will be able to activate first during this turn. The player who lost will receive 1 “Break” action which can be used once per turn to disrupt enemy movement. Very similar to an overwatch action.

Smoke removal - Remove smoke markers generated by weapons or smoke ammunition from the table.

Generate tactical pool – At the start of battle each player gets an equal amount of “activation” tokens as his commander has “Command” rating. You add +3 activation tokens if you won the initiative this turn.

Order actions – Players take turns in placing tokens next to the models they want to activate this turn.

“Exacuting action phase”
This is where the game begins, players take turns in activating one model at a time – from the models that received an order token at the start of the turn.  Actions are divided into “combat“ and “standard actions”. The first include 6 different combat actions, such as charging, moving and shooting, taking aim etc. The 6 standard actions include such things as climbing, running, moving , ambushing and so on. Also unless you order a panicking soldier currently fleeing to “steady” he will keep running in a random direction in the next “Sit Rep – Random movement” phase.

Playing the game
So we have built our warband, and generated command points, placed orders and are ready to fight.

The primary stat used here is Combat + rolling a D10 and add the two together.  A soldier with Combat 3 rolls 8 on a D10, hence his combat amounts to 11. In the meantime, the opponent rolls to avoid damage. The opponent rolls a D10 and adds half of his Combat rating value to defend himself.  If concealed the opponent would roll his full Combat rating in defense, and if in Cover he would roll 2D10 and pick the highest result.

The side which rolls highest wins, be it a successful hit, or dodging a bullet. As you can imagine, Elite warriors will have the edge over untrained mobs (but they will be severely outnumbered). Once hit you roll again to see if you manage to stun or wound your opponent. Here the attacker rolls 1D10 and add the weapon strength while the defender rolls 1D10 and add his constitution. If the defender has his result beaten by 5 or more, the attacker has wounded your model and it is removed from play. If the defender lost by less than 5 his model received a flesh wound and is classed as “stunned”, this state makes the model unable to activate this turn and it has to recover at the start of the next turn.

Cover (hard objects like wood/stone), Concealment (bushes, long grass, smoke etc) and range penalties all come into play as well and affect the attack rolls in an appropriate way and satisfying way.  Defenders most definitely benefit from cover as it both gives them 2D10 in defense and allow them full Combat while rolling their defensive value. As the attacker it makes sense to sacrifice Rate of Fire to increase your Combat skill to become more accurate. Blackpowder weapons also have the benefit of creating concealment when fired as the nearby area is covered in smoke.

Weapons, traits and gear
As already mentioned the game is divided into Ancient/Medieval (3000BC – 1450AD , Early Modern (1450AD-1880AD) and Modern (1880- present day). Each period has weapons and traits. You start out with rather archaic weapons in the first period, and then early blackpowder weapons are introduced until you get to machineguns of modern day battles. The neat thing here is that the it is realized that traits, tactics, ideas, skills and technology from the past carries over into the future. As such  commanders from the modern period may sport skills available to commanders of the ancient era as well. But of course ancient commanders are clueless about what the future holds.

Weapons have a Rate of Fire, which actually indicates how fast a weapon reloads, how easy it is to handle etc than amount of bullets fired as such. In Brink of Battle you roll and equal amount of D10 dice as you have Rate of Fire in the weapon profile, and then pick the highest result and use that to roll to wound.  To do damage with ranged weapons the basic “damage” profile of the weapon is used along with a D10.

Close combat weapons roll 1D10 to hit, but use the damage rating of the weapon + the constitution of the attacker added together and a D10 on top of that. The defender uses his constitution and any armor he might be wearing and combine those two values with a D10 to prevent being wounded. Also, in close combat, the defender always gets to use their full Combat rating when rolling to avoid damage.

As for ranges, everything is measured in inches, and ranged weapons have “point blank”, “effective range” and “long range”. Point blank is pretty much shooting someone in the face, the opponent does not benefit from concealment and cover defensive bonuses are also reduced. Effective range is the regular range of your weapon, no bonus or penalty applies when firing this way. Long range is any shot over 20” in which case it becomes harder to hit your opponent. Weapons have a maximum range of 2x Effective range.

Ranged weapons can also misfire or run out of ammo whenever you roll a 1 to hit, in which case a “weapon check” is made. If you pass it the shot is fired as normal, if failed the shot never goes off.

Winning/Losing battles
Claiming objectives that you’ve made up for your game is one way to win, another is if you or the enemy force simply breaks and withdraw from combat due to mounting casualty numbers. In Brink of Battle each force is allowed to take up to 25% casualties before force morale comes into play. If any or both players have lost more than 25% of their troops then each player rolls 1D0 at the start of the next turn and add either the “Command” rating of their Commander or if he is dead, a Veteran warrior – or if none of those are left then a single D10 without modifiers.
The better command your leader has the more likely your force is to stay in the fight.

Thus a commander with Command rating 7 would roll 1D10 and add 7 to the outcome. The opponent also rolls an opposing roll at the same time, 1D10 + the number of models you have lost and add those two together.  If you have lost 4 models it would be 1D10 + 4 against you, and should he roll higher than your result – your force breaks and leaves the battlefield.
Campaign games and “after action report” phase

As this game leans towards campaign gaming as well, there are a number of very cool additional features. Soldiers are able to earn experience if they survive the battle and have inflicted casualties to enemy troops, you get resupply points to spend on new recruits and extra gear and such.  What I think is the most exciting part is what happened to your wounded models as they were removed from table. After the battle, if you want to play a campaign game, you roll on a chart for each soldier that was removed from play and see what has happened to him. Here the results range from light and severe wounds to being killed or actually “Missing in action”.

Injuries reduce stats and traits, getting killed is kinda obvious – however  the “Missing in action” means that a soldier has been captured by the enemy. This leaves the player holding the prisoner with a couple of possibilities. Either he can execute the captive – and take the gear from the corpse. The captive can be turned over for interrogation and your warband receives 25% of the models Supply Points to add to their own force for their trouble. Or you can make a prisoner exchange with your opponent for one of your own MIA soldiers. I think this is a really neat and unique twist.

Overall impressions
The game mechanics feel very innovative and fresh. There is certainly something about the way hits/saves are handled in this game that make it a bit more dynamic than having a static save. The pace is pretty high as both players are involved all the time in almost every action – each player rolling dice to succeed or prevent something from happening. There are a lot of modifiers and tweaks built into this game but everything is made easy by being consistent. 

Combat ratings are divided by 2 when defending in the open, long range penalty is also Combat divided by 2. Concealment allows full Combat rating in defense, Cover allows 2 defensive dice to be rolled and most other stats and attributes are also easy to memorize. The whole is made a lot easier to keep track off since you only have 3 stats for each model – Combat, Command and Constitution – all of which are used for various checks and provide multiple ingame uses.

Combat is used to attack and defend, Constitution to carry stuff and survive hits, Command to generate a pool of tactical markers and when rolling for morale. Long range for all weapons work the same, point blank for all weapons work the same – it is just a simple case of learning what Long range is (2x Effective range). Stats for weapons and characters becomes pretty short and compact this way.

Movement and the way terrain works is all standardized. Traits add flavor to individuals that are meant to stand out. Customizing each soldier to have appropriate Command, Combat and Constitution ratings gives you the ability to write your force in detail.

The book is focused on historical skirmish games for now. Infantry and cavalry rules are there. Vehicles will be added in expansions and there are thoughts about a Fantasy/Sci Fi supplement as well in the future. But this book is pretty much all you need to play a game from ancient times up to Modern warfare.  A perfect system for those out there that already have a ton of different miniatures and who don’t want to get into another “range” just to play a new set of rules. This book if anything encourages you to use whatever you already have at home – or just buy random models that you always wanted but could not find any use for in your other games.
The rules are well written and detailed, there are well explained profiles for weapons and traits, a clear division between the 3 provided periods and you also have a very nice collection of charts at the back of the book that summarize all the points costs for ratings, traits, weapons (and what profiles they contain) etc.

The game is, as already mentioned, a toolbox for your imagination. Although it comes with 3 scenarios it is meant to be used by players who want to create their own campaigns and stories.

The lack of proper pictures is obviously explained by the rules being written to be generic – as such you get stylistic silhouettes in all the explanatory pictures and diagrams.
I hope I have given a good picture of what can be expected from the game and given a bit of insight on the game mechanics. I will elaborate on how results are generated in a bit more detail in an upcoming battle report which will be posted tomorrow.

Brink of Battle will be released on March 19th, and the price will be 29.95 USD. The books is 135 pages, paperback and A4 size. It will be available through www.brinkofbattle.com as well as through www.lulu.com

Also check out the flyer explaining the idea behind this set of rules http://www.lead-adventure.de/downloads/BrinkofBattle_MarketingRelease.pdf


  1. Much thanks for the kind words and high quality review!

    Robert Faust

  2. Good review and sounds like an interesting set of rules.

    I appreciate that it's difficult, due to these being non-period specific, but how do they stack up against other rule systems?

  3. @Arlequin, it is completely different from any other system I play. Mainly because the way the 3 stats work, how you build your team and the use of D10 dice. And of course the rules being non-period specific and actually written in such a way that it works and functions on all levels makes this a one stop set of rules for pretty much anything historical you might want to play on a skirmish level.

    I have already planned to play and make battle reports from all 3 periods to show how it works. Battle reports will be posted as soon as games are played.

    First out will be a French Indian War (Early Modern) game, already played and written so expect it to be posted tomorrow. Then I hope to follow that up with WW2 and medieval period games.

  4. How easy do you think it would be to add-on with house rules for futuristic weapons? (blasters, phasers, etc)

  5. Hhmm? These sound very interesting!!!

  6. @Byteknight, it would work. The whole idea behind the rules is that soldiers through time are basically the same - human beings with varied training and physical attributes with the big change being weapons, traits and tactics.

    So you could use the rules to create a futuristic warband for a Fallout or Deus Ex like setting. It would take some imagination to write up profiles for weapons such as lasers etc. But most of the rules would work "out of the box" so to speak.

    As mentioned in the review, a fantasy and sci fi expansion supplement will be released and work together with the basic "historical" themed rules.

  7. Just a note here regarding sci-fi weapons; I have them all mostly worked out. In the next few months, once people have had an opportunity to play the game, I will post the rough draft for futuristic weapons and armor on my website at www.brinkofbattle.com

    When we wanted to goof around during playtesting, we would play the Modern period and use our sci-fi minis as proxies. It still worked just fine. I just used Assualt Rifles for my Gauss Rifles and Heavy Armor for my Traveller Marines in Battledress. But don't worry, I have full rules in the works for a kick ass sci-fi release. :}

  8. I love this idea. I currently have "This Very Ground" for my french and indian period. Can't wait to see your batrep with that period using these rules. Are there rules for cannons and such? Or will that come into play with the vehicle expansion?

  9. @Eddie, no rules for cannons. Grenades, smoke grenades, Machineguns, and all kinds of small arms are included. But no cannons, artillery or vehicles yet.

    This Very Ground is still good for larger battles, but Brink of War is excellent for smaller more irregular formations and raiding parties.

  10. Great review. These seem very interesting. Could be what I am looking for, for my VBCW games

  11. @Eddie - For now, I've kept it to mostly man portable weapons. Next year I will release Treadhead which is the vehicle expansion. It will cover heavier stuff.

    The core concept of my development is this: Once the skirmish game gains traction with players, I will have a poll to determine which historical micro-set to release. So let's say the poll says French & Indian war; I'd then put together a PDF release that would cover in more detail that conflict within the overall period.

    The Fantasy supplement Epic Heroes is scheduled to release by Thanksgiving (November) of this year. After the main rules have had some sales, I'll be asking for play testers on the Fantasy rules.

    Should Brink of Battle prove popular enough, I will then release my larger battle game that will work off a modified version of this system.

  12. Nice review, the system sounds interesting

  13. We just posted the Force Rosters for download, as well as the Tables from the book that list the Ratings, Traits & Gear.

    Go to the resources page at www.brinkofbattle.com to see them!


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