Friday, November 16, 2018

Battle Ravens - a review

I’m going to be doing a review of Battle Ravens designed by Dan Mersey and published by PSC Games.  I was provided a pre-production copy of the game to review.  This game will be launching via Kickstarter on November 20, 2018. 

This game is set in the Viking era and represents a shield wall battle between Norse and Anglo-Saxon armies.
I have a pre-production copy, so components could be different in the final edition, but what I have here is very nicely done.  At first, I wasn’t all that excited about the cardboard standees that represent the units in the shield wall.  I have been a miniature gamer for many years and thought that models would add a lot to the look of the game.  However, the art work on the standees has grown on me and I think they actually look very nice.  They are a little difficult to tell apart, but I’ll talk about that a little later.

The rulebook is laid out well and has some snippets of poems from the dark ages that add a nice bit of character to the book and really fits the theme of the game.

The players set up their shield wall with 3 hirdmen and 3 bondi in each of 6 sections in their shield wall.  Each player also has 3 thralls set up behind their line.  Each player takes 20 Raven tokens that are used in the game to take actions.  Both players roll 4 dice, and whichever has the most successes is the first player throughout the game.

To win the game, you need to capture 3 sections of the enemy’s shield wall.  If the enemy section has no models in it during the end phase, all of your models across from that section move forward and take it.  Your models that take that section are out of action as they are now busy looting the bodies and tending their wounds.  For each section you lose, you must remove 3 raven tokens from their pool and remove one thrall from the board. 

Raven Placement
At the beginning of each turn, starting with the first player, the players take it in turns placing raven tokens into sections of the shield wall.  A player can place up to nine ravens in an area, but they are limited to placing ravens in each area one time.  So, if I place a single raven in an area and then my opponent puts 5 in the area across from it, I can’t go back and add any ravens to that area.

Raven tokens are essentially action points that can be spent in that area.  This is an interesting mechanic as you have to decide if you want to put a lot of effort into a couple of areas or spread out your violence across your whole line.

The raven tokens allow you to take an action during the game.  On your turn, you can spend as many tokens as they like from 1 area to either attack or move.  The ravens are also spent to defend against successful attacks your opponent makes against you.  When attacking, each raven spent allows you to roll 1 die.  One hit is scored on a 4 or 5 and 2 hits are scored on a 6.  Each player has 3 Thralls, running around behind their lines shooting at the enemy.  The effect of these in the game it that each thrall can be spent to reroll one attack die each turn.

After the attacker rolls to hit, the defender can spend as many ravens as they like (from that area) to try to block hits.  They roll one die for each raven spent and any successes reduce the number of hits.  Successes are the same as attacks so a 4 or 5 blocks one hit and a 6 blocks two hits.

Unblocked hits are applied to the models in the enemy’s section.  It takes 2 hits to knock out a Hirdmen and it takes 1 hit to knock out a bondi.  You must apply all hits if possible.  Extra hits that don’t knock out a model are ignored.  For example, if I have 2 hirdmen in my area and receive 3 hits, I will remove 1 hirdmen for 2 hits, but the 3 hit is ignored because it isn’t enough to knock out the other hirdmen.

When moving, you spend 1 raven per model you wish to move, and each model can move one space left or right.  You cannot move over an area of your shield wall that has been captured by the enemy.  Moving can be important to fill gaps in the wall during the game.

Advanced Rules
The advanced rules add tactics cards to the game.  Each side has a deck of 10 cards and draws 5 of them at the beginning of the game.  These cards allow for a variety of actions to be taken at different times during the game.  The decks for each faction include different cards so the tactics of the Norse are a bit different than the Anglo-Saxons.

These cards add some interesting options and I think are a great addition to the game.

This is a light wargame and I thought it was a lot of fun.  It is easy to teach and learn and it takes 45 minutes to an hour to play.

The game really feels like a battle of attrition.  While movement is important, I didn’t do a lot of it until I had to fill holes in my line.  As both sides start losing models, the lines get thinner and thinner and eventually, you just don’t have the models to plug the holes in the line.

I really like the action system in the game.  Placing ravens at the beginning of the turn forces you to decide where you want to focus your efforts.  But then you have to decide, based on the enemy’s ravens, if you want to strike hard with a big attack or hold some back to defend against their attack.

I did have a few minor quibbles with the game.  The artwork is very nice, but the units can be hard to tell apart.  Each model has its name on the base, but that is mostly covered by the plastic stand.  This adds a little time to the set up as I had to separate out the forces to place on the board.  I will bag the models in the future by faction, so it is easier to set up.  But maybe a little different design would make this quicker.

My other minor problem is this is a dice game and luck can play a big factor.  This is fun and frustrating at the same time.  It is great when your 2 die attack becomes 4 hits and represents a surge in the line.  But it can feel frustrating when you are on the receiving end of that attack.  I’ll call this a pro and a con as it is fun when one side is clearly falling behind but pulls off a great attack and swings the battle back into their favor.

At the end of the day, I was impressed with this game and will be playing it more.  If you are looking for a heavy wargame simulation, this probably isn’t for you, but if you want a lighter wargame that is easy to get into, then you should check this one out.  

You can watch my video review below.