I’ve played through all the scenarios of the BattleLore game but the last one and I think I’m ready to say a few things about the game. Overall, it is a fun and I’ve enjoyed the games I’ve played. Ultimately though, I think I prefer Memoir 44 (and not just because it’s a World War II game). Although the two games share the same basic system, Richard Borg’s Commands and Colors, BattleLore is quite a bit different due to the addition of the lore rules. These provide a system to handle magic and heroic abilities and they are manipulated by a war council made up of classic fantasy archetypes (wizard, warrior, priest, and rogue). As we got into the war council scenarios, I was reminded of the less stellar eras of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, when wizards and magic dominated the battlefield. When powerful game-changing effects can be played at nearly any moment, it’s hard to develop battle-winning tactics until the very end of the game. What I mean by that is while you can plan a turn or two ahead, you never know when some lore card is going to radically change the tactical situation. For example, in one of our games, I was able to use a lore card to swap two units. I took a heavy cavalry unit from behind my lines and swapped it with a goblin unit of Rick’s. All of a sudden I had a heavy cavalry unit rampaging in his rear while his weak goblin unit was surrounded by my battle line.
One of the things I love about Borg’s basic system is the way the command deck controls the pace of the battle while also representing the difficulties of communication and the fog of war. The more powerful lore cards can really undermine some of the design’s fundamentals though. There’s one card, for example, that lets you not only move every unit you have on the field, but also grants all of them +1D in combat. Now there is some control over the lore deck in that you must spend lore tokens to activate these abilities. I found that in play thought this isn’t much of a restriction once the game heats up. So many dice get rolled that lore tokens are generated at a fast clip. It is true that many of the lore abilities are similar to special cards in other Commands and Colors games, but there is a key difference. In Memoir 44 or Battle Cry, you can only play one card per turn. In BattleLore you can play a command card and a lore card together and then potentially play other lore cards in that same turn. That means a lot more can happen in one turn and consequently the battle can swing from loss to victory (and vice versa) very quickly.
I realize this doesn’t sound too positive, but as I said I do enjoy BattleLore. It has some nice improvements to Commands and Colors system, like the support and strike back rules, and the production values are fantastic. The addition of the lore deck though adds a bit too much swing into the game. I like Memoir 44 better because it rewards strategic play more and it is less susceptible to gimmicky wins. That said I will be curious to see how Days of Wonder supports the game and how expansion material affects the gameplay.