After seeing lots of stuff online about Battle Cry I was really looking forward to unpacking the game and trying it out for myself, particularly to see whether it would work as a solo wargame.
Battle Cry is the first game produced by Richard Borg using a core system which he has since expanded into the Ancient, Napoleonic, Samurai and Modern eras.
The game comes with a sturdy game board, customised battle dice, command cards (a key part of the system), terrain tiles, army flags, a whole bunch of plastic miniatures and a few other bits and bobs. All of the components seem well made and durable, with the caveat that over time the command cards themselves are likely to be subject to a fair bit of wear and tear. The game also includes a very straightforward rules booklet which includes thirty battle scenarios, plus a terrain quick reference sheet.
You will want to paint up the 20mm figures yourself, and in time replace the flimsy generic unit flags with more specific ACW standards. For a good overview and footage of the game components, see Marco’s YouTube review here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFxd-DXLkXQ. For related eye candy and lots of other resources, check out BoardGameGeek here: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/88827/battle-cry-150th-civil-war-anniversary-edition.
The heart of the game lies in its use of command cards and the division of the battlefield into three sectors (left, centre, right). Each side draws a number of cards at the beginning of the battle, and plays one card per turn thereafter, drawing a replacement from the deck. Most of these command cards facilitate movement in a particular sector of the battlefield – for example enabling a player to move three units in the centre sector, or two units on the left flank, etc. But the deck also includes a range of cards giving interesting one-off options. Your sharpshooters, for instance, may be able to target an enemy general; you may be able to force march certain troops, or use cavalry to charge then retire; reinforcements may arrive on your baseline; you may be able to cause supply problems for an enemy unit, forcing it to retreat to its baseline; and so on and so forth.
Battles are won primarily by capturing enemy flags (i.e. destroying units), and/or taking and holding objective markers, and the judicious use of the cards is a key part of the game. I’d wondered whether this would make the game a bit predictable, given that most of the cards are about activating troops in particular segments of the battlefield. This fear proved unfounded. While most of the cards are sector specific, the inclusion of so many unique ‘wild cards’ gives the whole game an air of unpredictability, and nicely models fog of war. No game is going to play out the same way twice, which means that even if you stick to the scenarios included in the booklet (and there’s no need to, as others are available online) you’re never going to be bored.
So What About Solo Play?
I bought Battle Cry primarily to play solo, as there seemed to be a lot of scope for tweaking the system and a lot of positive comments online about its solo potential. In fact so far I’ve played the game solo “as is”, enjoying the battles I’ve fought to date without feeling any need to adjust the rules. Given that each side has limited, shifting options – depending on cards held and cards drawn – it’s easy to set aside your own preferences for one side over the other once you’re immersed in the battle, and simply play each side to the best of your ability. The combination of chance with a degree of constraint seems to recreate the unique feel or flavour of a two-player game. I’m not entirely sure why this is – but it works for me!
However, the potential for further adjusting the rules for solo game play is very clear. Starting your favoured side with less cards than “the enemy” would be a simple and effective mechanism – a quick fix that would make the game a tough challenge. Drawing a fresh set of cards for each “enemy” turn would also provide an interesting solo variant. There are more suggestions for solo tweaks available here: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/355739/solo-battle-cry.
My initial impression of this game is that it will provide many, many hours of solo gaming. I’m looking forward to applying various solo customisations as time goes by. It’s certainly expanded my appreciation of the potential for using “chance cards” in a solo game, from simply inserting random events (as per Don Featherstone) to actually limiting the options available on the battlefield in a radical way.
However, this game won’t be for everyone. The elements of chance that make it so good for solo play – in particular the use of cards – and the straightforward nature of the core battle rules will put some people off. So will the fact that Battle Cry is played on a hex board. The movement/firing/combat rules themselves are very basic.
This could however be seen as a plus point, because it means that they’re very easy to expand and amend to your own specifications. As I think Marco pointed out in his video review (see above), you could use these core rules as a tool-set to develop further. In particular, adding additional detail for specific units and unit grades would be pretty straightforward.
This brings me to another bonus offered by Battle Cry. With a little customisation, and the purchase of suitable miniatures, it would be easy to adapt the game system to other conflicts of this era. The “bare bones” nature of these core rules means that they are ripe for expansion and adaptation. Using this system for the wars waged by Bismark’s Prussians immediately springs to mind, and they may even bear adaptation for 19th century colonial conflicts…
And Finally, An Apology
You may have gathered by now that I really, really like this game. I find it so addictive that it’s finally dragged me away from my computer and back to the wargames table. Still, I feel somewhat embarrassed by my unalloyed enthusiasm for it. So apologies if I seem a little over-enthusiastic – not something I can normally be accused of!
But what the heck – I’ve been assimilated by the Borg, and I’m loving it!