Updated: Oct 24, 2020
You must surely have played the pencil and paper children's game where one person draws a head then folds it over for another person to draw the body, and then folds that for a third person to draw the legs. The paper is unfolded to reveal the chimera the players have created. There have been countless children's card games that run with this basic theme of mixing body parts to create an amalgam figure. It's been a rarer mechanic in games aimed at older players. It was used by Konstantin Seleznev in Nightmarium (Ares Games), which we'll be reviewing later this month on Board's Eye View, and here it is at the heart of Battle Bodies, designed by Christiaan van der Linde.
Battle Bodies is an arena combat game for 2–4 players where the winner is the last to survive. There's a back story about an alien race abducting humans from different eras of history, breaking them into separate parts and reassembling them but you can pretty much dispense with that; although you will actually be playing as one of the aliens deploying the human chimera against each other, you will find yourself much more focused on the characters you create than on the 'Nalit' aliens that you represent.
You each start by drawing cards and assembling your five combatants from the head, torso and leg cards that you draw. In the relatively unlikely event that you can match the head, torso and legs all from the same individual, you will usually benefit from a bonus ability or power. Aside from the body parts, players also draw a number of 'victory cards'. You may find the term 'victory card' misleading here; these don't guarantee or reward victory, they are cards that are played during combat to modify an attack or defence (where they might just contribute to scoring a victory). The body part cards all sport tiny icons representing the attack and defence strength in relation to the various types of attack. For example, the gun icon represents a gun attack against which the defender will compare the total number of bulletproof vest icons on the character that the attacker targets. Not all the attack and defence icons are quite as 'logical'. An extinguisher is the defence icon that's used to respond to an explosion and, inexplicably, diamonds defend against electricity.
Game play involves a succession of head-to-head combats where the attacking player chooses the character with which to attack and the specific enemy character they are attacking, and they select the mode of attack. They add up the number of relevant attack icons and the defender tots up the number of relevant defence icons. The game is in players' use of the 'victory cards' as modifiers. The attacker can play as many as they want but, as the rules stand, the defender only decides what cards to play once the attacker has finished laying out their cards. There are bonus advantages to winning particular battles depending on how the players have positioned their combatants so there's strategy in working out when best to play your most powerful 'victory cards'. For the attacker, the fact that they have to play their cards before the defender decides whether or not to play any means that there's also a 'push your luck' element: do you go all in to maximise your chance of winning or do you hold some usable cards in reserve for a future attack? The defender has it easier: they will only play any cards at all if these guarantee them a win.
We found it added to the excitement of combat if the attacker and defender were able to respond to each other's card play (ie: the attacker could add extra cards in response to the card(s) played by the defender, and the defender could then add more cards to that). This alters significantly the dynamics of combat because it gives rise to escalating attacks and can lead to feints where the attacker tries to draw out the defender's cards. You might want to try house ruling this as an option.
Battle Bodies benefits from attractive card art by Anna Dolinina, although the attack and defence icons are all exceedingly small, so it can be a strain to discern them when evaluating the opposing characters across the table. The combat plays quickly but there's a long stretch of downtime at the start of the game as players analyse their many cards, tot up the tiny icons and decide how best to combine the various body parts. They also have to work out the most advantageous positions for each of their combatants. Players will need to check out each other's combatants too, as that may well affect where they choose to place their own. In addition, players will all have wads of 'victory cards' to evaluate in relation to the attacks they are planning and their likely defences.
With three or four players, Battle Bodies can feel random and chaotic. If you play with more than two, there is player elimination, and some may feel that the game goes on longer than it should, particularly when players are having to sit out for part of the game. That said, we especially liked Battle Bodies as a two-player game, where players have the chance to plan and execute a strategy to the way they organise their attacks and best utilise their cards. The box suggests Battle Bodies is for age 12+ and it will definitely appeal to youngsters. Certainly, Battle Bodies is one to check out for anyone who likes arena combat games.