I mentioned in my Fall In post that I had played Battle Troll with Howard Whitehouse on Saturday evening. At a friend’s urging, I wrote a short review. I call it a premature review, because I haven’t played it enough yet to have a valid opinion.
I liked it. There are a number of interesting ideas for games involving small numbers of figures. I’m not sure how it would scale. I’ve only played it once, so I can’t provide a valid review, but here are my initial thoughts. I’ve provided a little more detail in case you wanted to include any of it in your blog. If you don’t want to use it, let me know, because I might use it on my blog then.
First, it was fun to play with Howard. He’s a funny guy, and we probably would have had fun reading insurance forms. The book, like all Howard’s books, is fun to read because of the humorous quips he throws in from time to time.
We played with four figures on each side, two heroes and two huskarls. Mark Ryan and Howard were the bad guys. Lee Howard from Blue Moon and I were the good guys.
Activation is card based. Some folks have applied interesting twists to the original TSAF method. A pitfall of card-based activation is that sometimes a lot of folks are standing around watching one person do stuff. In Battles by GASLIGHT we use double random activation to address this. Muskets and Tomahawks has modified the card system so that regulars go less frequently, but do more when they activate, while irregulars go more often, but do less when they activate. In Battle Troll, there are two types of activation. One lets everyone on a side act. The other lets the player pick a hero, then that hero and anyone within two inches of him moves. In a larger game, I can imagine that the “everyone goes” card might take a long time to resolve and so would make the other side feel disconnected. In our first run through the deck, our side got a string of cards, so we approached, threw javelins, and then closed into melee while Howard and Mark stood there drooling on themselves. Most of the rest of the game, the card draws were pretty even, but this first turn really favored our side.
I didn’t really understand how the missile combat was working when I threw some javelins. Howard told us what to roll, and we did it. The results seemed reasonable.
Melee is where I think these rules really came into their own and had some nice features. I really liked the paper-scissors-rock feel of melee. I’ve seen this done for jousting games, but never general melee. The attacker chooses one of five attack cards, while the defender chooses one of five defense cards. Some attacks provide bonuses if you are using the correct weapon (e.g., axes get a bonus on “slice” attacks). The attack card and the defense card are then flipped over and cross referenced on a small table. This cross referencing tells you how many dice the attacker rolls and how many the defender rolls. The other interesting aspect of the melee is that these are sort of opposed die rolls. You compare the highest die rolled on each side. That means that someone with five dice who rolls all low numbers, can be defeated by someone who rolls a six on the one die he gets to roll. The probability is low, but it’s still possible. I liked that. I also liked the way that the difference between the high die and the low die was a modifier in computing damage.
The other nuance of this card-based melee system is that figures other than heroes don’t get to choose an attack or defense card. Instead, they draw one randomly from the deck. One of the five cards is an accident card, which you would never intentionally draw, but huskarls and karls may draw them randomly. These can cause the figure to drop his weapon, cutting off his own toe, fall on his dagger, or other humorous events.
Finally the impact of minor wounds was really interesting. Depending on how wounded you are, you “offer” your opponent the opportunity to make you perform some number of re-rolls. This could be anything from 1 re-roll for a slight wound to more re-rolls for more serious wounds. These re-rolls are cumulative. At one point, I was able to make Mark re-roll five times, which was great, because he kept rolling fives and sixes. This is a nice way to handle the impact of wounds. It also make you think a little about whether you wanted to have the player re-roll a die, because he might roll better!
From reading the book, it appears that karls can suffer morale failure from being pushed back several times or other things. As we had no karls, our game had no morale effects, so I can’t speak to how well that worked.
I think for a one- to two-hour game in a pub or on the kitchen table, these are really nice rules. We only had eight figures on the table, but I’d bet it would be fine with as many as a couple dozen on a side if most of them were karls. From limited use of both these and Songs of Blades and Heroes, I think I like Battle Troll a little better. I haven’t played enough Saga to form an opinion. I can see myself playing more Battle Troll in the future, but I’ll need to get a handful more figures to supplement the Vikings from a Tallahassee club project from eons ago.