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BattleSworn - AAR and Review

Our Tuesday night gaming group was looking for more games to add into the weekly rotation. I offered to host a session of BattleSworn - Bid for Victory from Ganesha Games. I had reviewed the game before but never actually played a game. So, this was a great opportunity to get some real player's reactions to the rules.

Most miniature games resolve combat by assigning a probability based on the individual stats of the units and situational modifiers, and then rolling a die to determine success or failure. Initiative is often nothing more than a randomized die roll.  However, BattleSworn uses a bidding mechanic for initiative and combat. For initiative, the players secretly bid a number between 1 and 6. The players reveal this number and the player with the lowest bid wins the initiative. The initiative player gets as many actions as his bid.  The other player gets the difference of the two bids in re-actions.

In combat, the players bid just like with initiative. Low bidder wins. Both players get the number of dice they bid to do damage but the winner gets to resolve damage first. On a roll of 5,6 a hit is scored. One a roll of 1, at hit is negated. You would think it wise to always bid a 6 for maximum damage but you run the risk of rolling more 1's. In case of tie bid, nothing happens.

The whole system seems very counter-intuitive. One must play a game to understand the nuances. But after one game, it becomes clear how it works.

To make things simpler, there are no measurements in this game. Each unit can move in a straight line as far as they choose until they make contact with a terrain edge or an enemy unit. Shooting distance is also limited only by LOS. Make sure the battlefield is filled with terrain.

The game doesn't rely on any specific miniatures; you can play with what ever figures you have. I brought some cheap fantasy and sci-fi figures for players to use. Each player was given a squad of 6 stands. Each stand was assigned a 'class'. Typical classes were fighter, shooter, rogue, brute, tank etc. Each class has one or two unique benefits but all figures from the same class perform identically. One fighter is just as good as any other fighter. Which is something I liked about this game. Each army is generic so there is no need to purchase source material for each separate army.

Since the rules are very different from the typical miniatures game, I did not expect to get high praise from my gaming group. Personally, I was simply looking forward to a interesting game that might encourage some creative thinking for a change.

Due to the bidding mechanic, this game is limited to a two-player, 1-on-1 game. Our Tuesday group prefers the party-style games where everyone participates in a large '1 against everybody' battle on a single map. So, I created a long map across two tables arranged length wise, and divided it into four battle areas of size 2.5' square.  A team of four players would sit on each side. Each player would battle against someone from the opposite team on their own battle space. The scenario in each game was called 'King of the Hill'. Any player with a figure at the top of a hill in the center of the map when time runs out is the winner. We had a time limit of one hour or until one player loses half of his army. We used 6 slot armies to help the games move quicker.

Three players showed up to play, so, we played with teams of two.  My battle was against Joe. Joe used a squad of Star Wars Heroclix droids. I used my ubiquitous Venom Inc. squad from Song of Blades and Heroes.  Joe is a hard core historical miniatures player and he scoffed at the incredulity of a Robot vs. Fantasy folk battle. I told him he should watch more SyFy channel.

After a few turns, we understood the basic concepts. It became clear when it was necessary to win a bid and when it wasn't. Thus a strategy started to develop. Joe quickly moved a fighter-robot to the top of the hill. I reacted with multiple Elf-shooters and destroyed the robot. As I tried to move my units toward the hill, he wisely intercepted them with reaction moves and used high bids to get more potential hits. Excitement would build when a figure was near death (figures can absorb four hits) and the bidding became tense. Finally, I got a Dwarf on top of the hill while the rest of my squad brought his army to below 50% strength. This was an entertaining and satisfying battle.

On the adjacent map, Grant and John were struggling with the rules. Grant took a squad from his Alien army and designated his Queen as a Cavalry unit. John took a Fantasy Elf squad with multiple shooters and a sniper. John seemed to make random choices with his bids and I suspect he didn't comprehend the system enough to form a strategy. Thus, he made several thoughtless bids, not really understanding the results of his bids. Grant got an alien on top of the hill and held it easily for the rest of the game.

Grant complained about how the bidding mechanic was akin to basic gambling and claimed the he didn't have many choices with tactics. I didn't understand his comparison to gambling since rolling dice and hoping for a certain result seems alot like gambling to me. I think the problem was that he didn't understand how he could make decisions in the game that would give him the maximum benefit. In other games, the players can move units on the table to setup an optimum situation for their army. An example would be moving your best unit in combat against the opponent's weakest unit. A die roll determines the combat results, but the players know the better unit has the advantage and should win in the long run. In BattleSworn, the units are generic and the choices are all trade-offs.  You can bid low to get an advantage, but you will get fewer actions or less dice for damage. And of course, you have no idea what you opponent will do, which adds to the uncertainly factor. I think this makes the game all the more enjoyable because the usual tactics won't work.

My game vs John, colored loops represent damage taken

We played a second round but against different opponents. Me vs. John and Joe vs. Grant. Joe pointed out that there were times when one player became predictable and the opposing player could take advantage of it. I think it's a tendency of gamers to find the optimum bid and just keep repeating that same bid in the same situation. Strategy hint: Be unpredictable! Throw your opponent off once in a while to keep them honest!

Here is a breakdown of pluses/minuses for BattleSworn, In My Humble Opinion:

Pluses
  •     Simple game mechanics can be learned quickly
  •     Use any brand of figures
  •     Games are resolved quickly, usually less than an hour
  •     Innovative and unique rule system
  •     Focus is on decision making, not quality of the units
  •     No special rules for different armies
  •     No need to purchase source books
  •     No measuring
Minuses
  •     Some players don't appreciate the uniqueness
  •     Some players have trouble creating a strategy with such a unique system
  •     Potential for players to be predictable, leading to a boring game.
   
Overall, I enjoyed the game and would play it again! Sadly, the Tuesday night crowd would not agree with me.

Comments

  1. It's a fun, and interesting, game, although some of the rules aren't as clear as they could be. I have seen a couple of versions of how moving into and through terrain works, for example. A second edition should help to clarify these things.

    You really do need plenty of LOS blocking terrain. We had a game dominated by a couple of Arquebusiers who had clear shots at most of their opponents and whose player used other troops to screen them from direct melee attack.

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  2. With those particular playtesters, it sounds like, "The fault lies not within the rules, but within ourselves." (With apologies to old Bill.) As I'm familiar with the playtesters, I can confirm that their playing styles as described above are consistent with how they game. I think if they became more familiar with the game, they might enjoy it more.

    That being said, I will be happy to try the game out with you sometime.

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