Updated: Dec 26, 2019
In the board game world, Vikings have become almost as ubiquitous as zombies. Vikings and their conflicts with the Anglo-Saxons have also become a popular theme for TV dramatisations in recent years, from Vikings on Amazon Prime to Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom on the BBC.
Designed by Dan Mersey, Battle Ravens from PSC has both Vikings and Anglo-Saxons. They are two mirror equal sides facing off against each other in a two-player game that focuses wholly on the ‘Shieldwall’, historically used by both the Danes and the Saxons in their combat.
Battle Ravens is played on a simple board with six opposing squares each of which starts off populated with three Hirdman and three Bondi. Each side therefore has 36 units making up its Shieldwall. Behind each player’s Shieldwall, they also each have three Thralls.
Players’ actions are determined by the ravens they distribute across their six squares. Each player has 20 ravens to allocate and they take it in turns to place them in any one of their six squares. They can place any number of ravens up to 9 in each square but they cannot add to ravens already placed. Since it is the placed ravens that determine the actions to be taken, it is this placement stage where much of the tactics of the game takes place. In the game’s action phase, ravens at a location don’t have to be spent all at once, and they can be used to move a unit to a neighbouring square, launch an attack or to try to defend against an opponent's successful hits. Attacks are made by rolling regular six-sided dice: the number of dice rolled is determined by the number of ravens spent not by the number of Hirdmen or Bondi present. A 6 scores two hits; one hit is scored on a roll of 4 or 5. When the defending player spends ravens to defend against hits, he rolls dice in the same way. An attacking player can expend Thralls to reroll. Hirdmen require two hits to eliminate, Bondi require just one.
Players are each trying to breach their opponent’s Shieldwall by eliminating all of the enemy units on a square. When they succeed in doing so, all the attacking units are moved forward and are, in effect, removed from play. The player who loses territory has to make do with three fewer ravens and one fewer Thrall on subsequent turns. Unless the player taking the lead has overly committed his forces so that a large number are, in effect, removed from play, the depletion of ravens and Thralls can herald a cascade effect, making it easier for a player to press on to win the game (by being the first to create three Shieldwall breaches). Although this is the opposite of a catch-up mechanism, it is thematically very sound.
As you might expect in any game using dice, luck is inevitably a factor in Battle Ravens but that doesn’t wholly obviate the need for tactical movement of troops and the tactical application and utilisation of ravens. It doesn’t detract either from this as an enjoyable game that’s quick and easy to play. With games typically taking around 30 minutes, you can play this game as a fun filler. And if you want more, Battle Ravens comes with a deck of Tactics cards that can be optionally included as single-use game modifiers.
Shown here on Board's Eye View is a preview prototype of Battle Ravens. It’s especially good to see the art by Peter Dennis, who is well known for his wargame illustrations as well as the artwork for many board games.