29 October 2014

Brink of Battle & Epic Heroes review by Chris Wolfe

This post is a second review of Brink of Battle as well as Epic Heroes (fantasy supplement) by guest blogger Chris Wolfe. Always nice with a second perspective on things, hope you guys enjoy the article.

Brink of Battle: Skirmish Gaming Through the Ages, and its expanded fantasy supplement Epic Heroes: Skirmish Gaming in the Realms of Fantasy, is the best miniatures war-game I have played; it's something fantastic. The ground-up method of creating any sort of warrior you want by buying it stats and traits gives the game an absolutely unparalleled depth of creation, allowing you to make anything you want, in any time period. 

I use it for nearly every kind of skirmish gaming I do these days, save for space fleet combat, (but its creator, Robert Faust, has winked at me the few times I have asked after that supplement, so I'm holding my breath). The rules are deep, though not overly complex and certainly free of reference tables, and the sheer magnitude of what you can play with them will keep the Brink of Battle book on your shelf for years to come.

My review of Brink of Battle: Skirmish Gaming Through the Ages and Epic Heroes: Skirmish Gaming in the Realms of Fantasy—should be qualified with a little information about myself and my involvement in these books and gameplay. I've been playing miniatures combat games since 2nd Edition Warhammer 40k, when it was slain by a radical change in rules structure in 3rd Edition; which was such an embarrassment that we've seen a new edition hit shelves every 3-4 years for the past 15 in a vain attempt to fix what was ruined in 3rd, and failed to change much in newer editions from the first abortive dumbing down in 1998.

That was pretty inflammatory, I know. I have strong feelings about a game system that abruptly ended such gems as Necromunda, Gorka Morka and the other unnamed games that Rick Priestly and Andy Chambers hinted at in the latter book's editorial note, (another feature Games Workshop did away with to stomp out community connection to the creation of the game). All that being said, I come from a time when gaming rules were deeper, more comprehensive and honestly not geared to gouge your pocket to field an army of any worth, (yes, I'm talking about 55 dollar box sets of specialty miniatures that are 70 points in a 1500 point army list).

I was fortunate enough to befriend Robert Faust, (Brink of Battle's designer), and Andrew Davies, (co-designer of Epic Heroes), a while back now, and participate in play-testing and even some miniature painting of the Epic Heroes book. I was hooked on their dedication and passion immediately. Bob has sat down with me on a number of occasions and divulged his reasons for his own game and its mechanics, where he came from in terms of his gaming history (see above; it is similar to my own), and the philosophy behind his game and its scale.

It is all laid out very well in an editorial in both Brink of Battle and Epic Heroes for you to read on your own. Suffice it to say he has spent years developing a game which was nominated for the Origins Awards best historical war-game of 2013, and which delivers a game by gamers for gamers that will stand the test of historical gaming scrutiny and play out any scenario in history you can think of—to your own specifications, using any miniatures you want, and which you might already own! Brink of Battle brings back the feel and excitement of those first years of gaming, before a time when new editions of rules invalidated years of painting, modeling and rules comprehension work and re-work.

Its first draw for me: I essentially already own everything I need for the game save for the very affordable rulebook. I found myself pulling out an old sprue of High Elf spearmen, dusting off my old half painted Dwarves and painting a whole war-band of Reaper's Bones figures for play! Brink of Battle is skirmish level gaming geared to use somewhere between 3 and 20 miniatures, with 7-12 being a good median range of figures you'll be setting down.  No more painting 30 Ork Boys for a week or more to take them off the table by the handful.

In fact, no more nameless hordes at all. Brink of Battle isn't about masses of nameless troops; it's about a small cadre of soldiers with names, with unique gear, and with a personality born of their special design and team makeup. That's the second draw for me—the story of your combat force. Suddenly my 10 Ork Boys have a personality. I find myself poring over the fluff in Gorka Morka again to get a sense of what Orks are like in a day to day routine between cosmically huge battles; what drives them to do what they do (which is fight mostly), and why they would be on the battlefield of Brink of Battle at all.

And here's reason three I am wooed by Brink of Battle; I am using troopers that I create in totality. There are no pre-designed rules for Orks from Warhammer 40k in Brink of Battle, as there are no predesigned rules for a cowboy, a fallschirmjager or an elf. What it and Epic Heroes do provide are rules to grant your small force of combatants each a 3 attribute stat line, (Combat, Command and Constitution), a large selection of weapons, armor and gear from 3 major technological periods (including magical items), and a HUGE amount of Traits—the special abilities that really design your individual troopers with their extra strengths, elite skills and focused tactics.

Play is conducted on typical war-games terrain, perfectly balanced for 3'x3' or 4'x4' tables. Play during a round shifts back and forth between the two combatants, one miniature at a time, adding a significant level of strategy to simply choosing who will attack in which order,(many actions and abilities available to a model, such as adding defense dice to a roll for having a shield, are subject to still having your action with that model yet unspent).

Ten sided dice are used in small quantities, (typically one or two dice), and the game is notable for an opposed roll system. Rather than simply figuring that a trooper needs a roll to hit or wound based off of his own skills, the skills and armor of his target are also factored into the rolling as his opponent rolls against him. This allows a trooper of even mediocre skill to occasionally land a killing blow on the most elite of troops, while maintaining the strength of higher stats and killer Traits that those elites carry! How often have I rolled a ten, added it to my abysmal ranged combat modifier and dropped an arrow right through the chest of a friend's elite miniature after he rolled a 1 in response!

The chances were slim, but they were there! The overall feel of play is total immersion. You don't have down time where you sit and watch the opponent play and roll and take your figures off of the board, you participate constantly. You have to remain aware of the battle as your troops are called on one by one to add to the swirling melee on the battlefield. You certainly don't sit down much! Those familiar with Necromunda and Mordheim will understand the rules for routing in Brink of Battle from having taken similar tests in those games. And like those games, Brink of Battle has a campaign aspect in which your troops can gain further stats, gear and Traits beyond what they began with as they slug it out with their most hated adversaries—should they be Zulus, Spartans, Mind Flayers or Techno-priests.

Epic Heroes itself is the new supplement for Brink of Battle, and it brings not only high fantasy to the original historical gaming system, but also more modern action elements, including traits that let you reenact the struggles of Archeological Adventurers in the steamy swamps of pulp era Congo, dueling Grammaton Clerics in a dystopian near-future, and Cultists of the Elder Gods routed from Old West towns by Law Dog marshals and the town gambler! A huge amount of traits exist to craft any number of non-human races and their hallmark attributes, including traits like Stout, Construct, Insectoid, Aquan, Diabolic, Undead and many many more. Add to that magic, (a very powerful albeit expensive addition to the rules), and the fantastic weapons such games would allow to be wielded, and you get a fantastic and endless world of possibilities in which to wage eternal war!

I find it hard to get excited about new skirmish games now, as Brink of Battle allows me to play any of them—with the figures they provide or otherwise—using a rock solid rules system. I'm a painter first, and now a whole new opportunity has been opened to me and others like me to explore those old coffers of forgotten, unpainted, and unbuilt miniatures. I cruise sites online, drooling over the possibilities of using beautiful figures from lines like Wargods of Aegyptus, Infinity and even the new line of Warhammer 40k Orks. All the wonder has been returned to the tabletop. All the hours painting rewarded. I've made good friends and had good times thanks to Brink of Battle, and as long as that book is on your shelf, I'm sure the same will hold true for you. Pick it up, play a few games, then play more. Show your friends, and theirs. Someday you will look back and know you were here during the beginning of something fantastic.

Chris Wolfe

Check out Brink of Battle at http://www.brinkofbattle.com/


  1. Are either of the books in Color? If in color I'm thinking about picking up a book if only black and white I'd go PDF.

    1. The Core Rule Book, Brink of Battle: Skirmish Gaming Through the Ages is in black and white, and makes for a great PDF download. The fantasy book is in full colour, and will be out soon after the last test prints are finalized through the printer, as I understand it from Robert Faust himself. If I'm wrong, I'm sure he'll correct me here.

  2. Cheers for this, just ordered the main book.

  3. Enthusiastic review. I hope the enthusiasm spreads.

  4. Thanks for posting this review! Just this last weekend I was lamenting the long-gone days of wargaming (Rogue Trader came up, if you want to know how long-gone). Days when we'd figure out what miniatures we owned and make them fight them out. Of course none of us still have the rules that we used back then (straight AD&D perhaps?)

    Now I know I still have them, but where did I put those old Grenadier figures...

    Nick blogs at Spotting Round.

  5. Glad you guys enjoyed this review by Chris :-)
    Would be nice with more Brink of Battle articles, maybe I can talk him into writing up some more about the game.

  6. Is there any way to play this multiplayer, I picked up the rules to use with my grour of 4 to five people. . We generally play mordheim with all 4 of us at once and was disappointed that there doesn't seem to be a way to play this multiplayer without losing the balance of the core elements the edge and the break.

    1. Unfortunately this core game is 1vs1. You could probably come up with some kind of multiplayer tweak by using the initiative of characters to determine the order in which models are activated and in that way be able to play 3+ at the same time.


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