Battleground from Robert Dougherty et al. is a tabletop games system that comprises several standalone armies (each sufficient in themselves for hours of gameplay), campaigns and terrain, published by Your Move Games. For this review, we played with the three distinct new armies from the Battleground Fantasy Warfare (BFW) line of factions.
Battleground Fantasy Warfare is essentially a miniatures wargame without the miniatures! In place of plastic minis, units are represented by illustrated cards, broadly similar in size to standard playing cards: the proportions are slightly different for reasons that will become clear... Robert Dougherty and his team have made very creative use of the card medium, bringing unique and engaging ideas and techniques, but far and away the most obvious advantage that is worth shouting about is the excellent value that these high compact sets provide. Each box contains enough units for two large armies to be played right out of a players pocket: a small bag of armies that would easily rival anything seen in a Peter Jackson Movie!
In contrast, the rule book is a terrifying 150 pages long, covering terms, techniques, clarifications and the like. Do not fear tho'; each faction comes with a bespoke ‘Quick Start Guide’ that walks players through all the basic moves and each includes three scenarios to introduce all the units and elements – and in truth, the flow of the game is intuitive with only an occasional need to double-check specific situations as they occur.
The characters and content consist of familiar types from the fantasy genre (dwarves, orcs and undead in this instance), and mechanics of combat familiar to those accustomed to Warhammer (Games Workshop) games, with a few distinctive principles and characteristics that set this system apart from others…. The unit cards are illustrated with clear, bright and distinctive depictions from a bird's eye view (not Board's Eye View!) as though you really are a Dwarf Warden gazing down from the dizzying heights of great Dwarven gate, or a chaotic Necromancer of the underworld observing through a cursed cauldron. Additionally, the unit cards are utilised in dynamic and innovative ways: all cards are coated so that notes and markings can be made directly on the card with dry-wipe markers! Hit points, ammo depletion, command instructions are all recorded onto the unit so that tracking the status of the battlefield is very easy, and nothing gets confused or forgotten. Furthermore, special moves and powers are recorded on the reverse side of each card so everything is available right in front of you. All the cards are sized and marked to act as distance indicators (for example, ‘Goblin Slinkers’ move 1 length of a card, and shoot 4 lengths).
Battles are only turn-based insofar as the active player will make decisions first. Otherwise all units engage in combat simultaneously, making for quick battles and rapidly changing situations. This, combined with the card marking, makes for a dynamic, shifting gameplay where players always have a strong degree of agency. That said, BFW does suffer with the same luck-based systems that can choke up many battle games: multiple rolls of the dice with an excessive number of applied +/- modifiers applied at any one time.
Though recognisable, each faction is appropriately different: the Undead Risen Kingdom incorporating an additional deck of spells, for example. My favourites are the Orcs with their double-sized cards for the bonkers ‘Goblin Bomb Chukka’. My suspicion is that players are first going to be drawn to the system, and then only second to the specific army factions. You probably don’t need all of them because each faction packs a lot into a little box but, conversely, this has got to be one of the least demanding war-game systems on your wallet, so it's up to you how much you unleash your inner completionist.
Arguably, most wargamers have dice generally about, and dry-wipe markers are easy enough to get a hold of, but neither are included in the box so, technically, this game is not actually playable right out the box. The good news is that the box does have space for the dice and pens once you have sourced them yourself.
Ultimately, if you like tabletop battles, you like to command an army from above whilst getting really stuck into the dirty fight, you don’t care for miniature painting, and you don’t have a ton of storage space, then Battleground Fantasy Warfare is definitely the games system for you.
These three sets of Battleground armies are due to come back to Kickstarter later this year. Click here now to sign up on the Battleground mailing list so you don't miss the campaign.
(Review by Michael Harrowing)