The Hungry Gamer Previews Battleground: Men of Hawkshold
If you would prefer to watch a video review of this you can do so below!
Recently I had the chance to sit down with Corey Somavia, one of the designers on the reprinting, and update on the Battleground Fantasy Warfare faction Men of Hawkshold. Usually in a case like this I would be commenting only on the specific faction, but this update and reprint of the faction is the beginning of a reprint and update of the series itself. With that in mind, I will spend most of my time talking about the system and game itself.
The Battleground system took me back to my middle school days. See, back then I was happy to spend a lot of my parents money on Warhammer Fantasy armies. Eventually I fell out of it because the biggest issue with the game (other than GW constantly changing the rules), was the extremely high cost in time and money to play the game. Even back then it would cost hundreds of dollars to field a single army. That said, there was something very satisfying about sending units of troops across the table to clash with your opponent. Lately, I have really started to enjoy playing Aristeia!, and Omicron Protocol; both of which are wonderful skirmish miniatures games. However, what they do not do is get that large scale battle feel, that you get from a real miniatures war game.
As with any wargame there are a lot of rules, and I am not going to delve into them in detail here, rather I will highlight the things that I think are particularly interesting. The Battleground system captures that wargame miniatures feel. For all intents and purposes it is a miniatures wargame, but without the models. Instead you, purchase your army in its entirety as a single deck of cards. All of your units are on cards. Each of the cards has a tracker on the bottom which allows you to mark off your units as they are killed, and all the needed stats are on the card as well.
In addition to all the possible units there are command cards. These represent various tactics that you can play on your units, or on your opponents units in order to boost your chances of survival or to decrease theirs. The bulk of these decks are identical, but each army has about a third of them that are unique to them.
Before you play a game you determine a point value, and then you select your units based on their values (conveniently printed directly on the back of the cards), and the rules of what units you can take (i.e. you can only have a single elite unit, and must have x core units, etc.) This allows for a quite a bit of customization, and variability. Then you get to it. You battle, you measure your distances, issue commands, you roll dice, you bemoan rolling high, and cheer rolling low. Eventually, someone loses enough of their army, percentage wise, that they retreat. Then you do the math. If the army still on the table has a high enough percentage of their troops left, then win, if they took enough of a beating if might wind up as a draw.
All of this is pretty standard wargame fare, though it is pretty darned streamlined. Even the various modifiers for distance, and charging, and flanking, and pinching, and weapon types, are all easily available to you on two poker sized cards, which double as your rulers for movement. You see, all the units move in multiples of the long or short side of the cards. Very clever. However, what REALLY makes this game feel different to me is the command system. There are three basic commands that you can give your units. Close-move towards a thing and then attack, Range-shoot a thing, and Hold-wait here, and if something comes near…attack the thing. Yes there are variants to this, you can pick specific targets to close on, or a spot on the table to close on first, etc.
What is interesting is that once you assign your units an order, that is what they do until you change it at the beginning of your turn. Seems normal right? Well you can only change a few of them at the beginning of your turn, as they take up your valuable command actions; and if you are changing your orders, then you are not reloading your ranged ammo or drawing cards.
So what do I think?
I really like that you have a HIGHLY portable war game here. Corey, had every faction ever made in one small bag. It is so easy to transport, and if can be played on a regular table. Set it up lightning quick as well. I also like, that while there are plenty of rule variances from other wargames, it has enough in common with them that if you have ever played on then you will be able to grasp the rules relatively quickly. However, it is where the rules truly differs that this game really shines. The command that you assign at the top of the game, really make the game feel unique, and makes the game keep moving at a good clip. Yes, you can change these orders, but it will cost you to do it, so if you dug yourself a whole at the top of the game, whelp, it is going to cost you to get out of it. Thematically that seems to suggest the chaos of battle, and the lack of modern communication tech.
I also cannot stress enough how much I love that this game is played with unit cards. It makes book keeping so easy, as you literally write on the card with a dry erase marker. (The prototype I played has sleeved cards to allow for this, but the final version will have plastic cards that can be written on directly.) I also really like that there is already a large variety of races that you can play (though only Hawkshold has been updated to new art, so there is the slight bummer of having to navigate keeping an older version, and waiting for the updated art and cards. Though it seems like the next KS will be a re-release of several of the old races, plus a new one.)
The artwork. The updated artwork is fine, it is a huge improvement on the old art, but it is not something that you are going to want to put on your wall. It reminds me of a solidly painted army, it looks good from across the table, but up close it is not going to win any awards. Though the art on the tactics cards is definitely stronger.
At the end of the day, this is a wargame. That means that it is not for everyone. There are a lot of rules to parse, and learn if you have never played this type of game before the learning curve is very high. As a wargame that means that, though the table footprint is not particularly large, you are not getting out of a game in under 90 minutes. If you play a large game, I suspect it might wind up as a three hour affair. If you like wargames…that is no problem, if you are not sure then you might be in for a long lesson.
Bringing it all together
This is a very good wargame. It takes all the large scale, tactical strategy of a Warhammer game, but streamlines the set up and movement aspect of the game exponentially. At the same time armies feel unique, but they do not have a high learning curve from one race to another. The new art in the Hawkshold faction is a significant upgrade from the old factions, and as the updates continue this will be a vast improvement over the older versions. Since the game is card based it is very inexpensive to field an army, and it is amazingly easy to transport. What this game adds to the wargame genre, is its use of commands for the units. This adds a layer of strategy, and streamlines the play. Though, do keep in mind, that if you are not familiar with the wargame genre then the learning curve will be quite high. If you are interested in late-pledging you can do so here!
90 minutes to play? You mean 90 minutes to read that mess!
*Streamlined variant of traditional full army wargames.
*Much more inexpensive to field an army, and far easier to transport
*The new mechanics added to the genre are a delight
*Art upgrades are much needed over the old version
*Armies all seem balanced, and varied
*I no longer am very interested in wargames, but I would like to play this again, without question
*If you have never played a wargame before, the learning curve is very high