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Review of Battue

Designer: Jim Long
Publisher: Red Juggernaut, Inc.
Players: 2-4
Time: 45-60 minutes
Price: $59.95




I'm pretty easy to manipulate. Ask my friends, ask my wife, ask J.M.
"Hey, Joe. We got a new one in. Want to try it out and review it?"
It doesn't take much. Seeing a new game sets my old ticker a'thumpin' the way pretty cheerleader did back when I was in high school, but without the lustfull undertones. Now happily married, my wife does pretty much the same thing that J.M. did. If she wants something done around the house that's sure to be a major project involving time, dirt and tools, I get bribed. "Get this done and you can go get that game you've been whining about for the last two weeks." Th e number of things on her 'honey'do' list is long, but so is my game wishlist. Yeah, I'm a sucker...

So I depart Compleat with a large heavy box and a sense of anticipation and excitement unfelt since the day I decided to propose, but without the sweaty palms. I was lucky not to get a speeding ticket on the way home, and it only took a few minutes to clear off a table and dig in.

IN THE BOX:
    1 large game board
    52 city tiles
    60 warrior figures
    40 flag figures
    60 loot cards
    20 event cards
    2 dice
    1 rulebook

Here's where I gush over the components. Okay, the board is fairly basic, but rather large. It's laid out in grid fashion, and along the edges are the walls, towers and gates of the city of Tarsos. It folds well and is sturdy, so with care it should stand up to hundreds of plays. The city tiles are also printed on thick cardstock and have a nice glossy finish. The artwork is very well-done and attractive. Even people just watching the game will 'oooh' and 'ahhh' over them.


The figures are molded in soft plastic (probably to prevent breakage), and done in fou r rather drab colors. Even the red and yellow pieces; which I usually expect to be bright and almost an eyesore, are muted. This sort of fits with the game's theme of desert raiders, so I like it. The green is reminiscent of the pea soup Linda Blair projectile-vomited onto Max von Sydow in The Exorcist. Naturally, I always play with black. The horsemen stand up well, but the flags do have a tendency to fall over at the slightest bump of the table, a strong exhale, laughter, et cetera.

At first glance it doesn't really seem like there's all that much in there. Less, 'bang for the buck' as boardgame enthusiasts say. However, seeing the board set up and the game underway will quickly change anyone's mind. This is a well-made product, and I doubt anyone could regret shelling out sixty hard earned dollars for a copy. Especially after they've played a time or two.
Kids, the bang is there.


SETTING UP:
There are games that take a long time to set up, and then there's Battue. Not much to it really.
Place the board on the table (duh!), then place the palace in the center of the board on its marked space. Everyone grabs the color they want to play with, forms a horde of six horsemen and places them near the board.
The players each take one of the four primary buildings and place them face-down on the board anywhere they want, so long as they don't touch each other or the palace. The primary buildings are shaped like a cross and (what we call), an F-117 (see second example above, that's a primary). There are two of each shape. Once those are on the board, you fill the remaining spaces w ith anything that will fit, until all spaces are filled. As there are more building tiles than spaces, you'll always have some left over, and we've never not been able to fill the board completely. When finished you'll have two-layered board. The tiles can and will shift during the course of play, but that's a minor quibble at best.
The Event and Loot decks are placed near the board, and you're ready to go.
The only way that setting up could be time consuming is if you take turns playing pieces onto the board. We just announce, "Setup!" and go for it. Everyone pitches in, and it has never taken more than a few minutes to complete.

GAME PLAY:
On the world of Terris, prophets of the Horse Lords foretell the coming of a leader who will unite the hordes into one great, unconquerable nation! They say when one o f their khans sacks the City of Brass Pillars and sits on the Golden Throne, then all of the Horse Lords will band together to unleash a human storm! As the Golden Horde they will triumph over their enemies and rule Terris!
As a writer and a prolific reader, that kind of setting really gets me going. I was already hooked before the first game.
Some wits have compared the game to Risk with nuances of Monopoly thrown in. I don't agree. Yes, there are dice used in the game, but only to resolve conflict.
On a turn, players do the following three things -
Start of Turn
    Play cards
    Call reinforcements
Main Turn
    Move Hordes
    Resolve Battles

End of Turn
    Play Cards


Start of Turn - Play Loot cards that are marked to be played at this time. These cards can either give you extra strength during attacks, reduce a target's defense, or allow for more actions or drawing extra cards if successful.
You may then decide whether or not to call for reinforcements to your horde. If you do so, a die is rolled. 1-2 = 1, 3-4 = 2, 5-6 = 3. These go directly to your horde, but no horde may hold more than 8 horsemen at any time. If you do reinforce, that horde may take no further action other than defending until your next turn. No matter what, you may never have more than 15 horsemen on the board at any time.

Main Turn - Move your hordes. At the start of the game you only have one, and it must first attack a section of the wall (wall, tower or gate), and win before moving into the city itself. After that, yo u can split it up and create smaller hordes that move independently of each other, looting and pillaging as you go.
When a horde is moved, turn over the target tile and move the horde onto it. Each tile has a defensive value and other icons to show how strong it is and what it provides, and also a victory point value. Let's take a closer look at a tile...

This is the Templum Jupiter tile. There are several icons at the top, and they must be resolved in order. First, an Event card is drawn and resolved. Events can do any of several things. Make a horde stronger/weaker, add reinforcements, or even give victory points. If a card condition acnnot be met, it is discarded.
Next is the tiles defense value. This is added to the roll of a d6 to get a total strength. The attacker does the same, rolling a d6 and adding it to his horde strength. Example: A horde of 8 figures rolls a 5, for a total of 13. If the attacker's value is higher, they win and control the tile, placing a flag marker on it. If the attacker loses (ties go to defender), they lose a horseman, but may continue attacking until they win or have to withdraw. If retreat is chosen, then the horde must retreat to a tile or wall section they already control.
Combat is pretty simple, eh?
The next icon shows the number of Loot cards that the tile provides if it is captured. These are drawn from the Loot deck and placed in a player's hand. You may have any number of cards during your turn, but must play or discard down to six at the end of your turn. Loot cards are mostly victory points, but many of them provide attack or defense bonuses, extra actions, et cetera. All are plainly marked exactly when they can be played (start, attacker, defender, end). Those tha t provide VPs are played face-up next to each player's War Chest marker.
The final icon shown is the number of VPs the tile provides at the end of the game to whoever controls it.
Some tiles also provide extra warriors when captured. Those with that icon are fewer, and they only provide one, and only so long as doing so doesn't increase the horde size to more than 8.

As you move your hordes through the city capturing tiles, it's possible to run out of flags (you only get 10). When that happens you simply move one from a tile you already control to the new one. However, only tiles with flags on them score at the end of the game. There are city tiles that provide zero points, so it's always a good idea to move those first.

Players can also combat each other for control of tiles. However, this is done only for VPs, as tiles that have already been looted cannot be looted again. So if th e green player captures the Templum Jupiter from me, they don't get to draw Loot cards since I already did when I captured it. Combat is done in exactly the same way, adding the number of attacks to a roll of a d6, and the defender doing the same. There are a couple of exceptionally nasty Loot cards that allow the attacker to win all ties, or to even win a battle without the benefit of a die roll.

The game ends when all four primary tiles have been captured. It doesn't matter who controls them, which is a good thing. Making it so that it ended only when a single player controlled them would extend the game time terribly and be almost impossible to accomplish.
The game also ends if only one player remains on the board, and they win regardless of VP scores. I've yet to see this happen, though.
Once the final primary tile is captured, the players add their total VPs from tiles and Loot cards. The player with the most wins. In the event of a tie, the player who has the most VPs from city tiles is declared the winner.
In our games, there were some player/player battles, but for the most part it was a race to see who could conquer the best city tiles before the game ended. It also seems that there's an advantage to the player who manages to capture the palace. It provides 6 Loot cards and 8 VPs, and that can mean all the difference during scoring. In all of the games I've managed to win, I always held the key to the palace.

CONCLUSION:
This game was a major hit with my group, with the exception of the one nitpicker who complained that having all those figures on the board made for a confusing jumble that he just couldn't stop complaining about. Otherwise he enjoyed it as much as the rest of us did. After too many games to count, the comparisons to Risk and Monopoly just don't make sense to me. This is no more a rol l & move game than Poker is.
Pros -
    It's easy to learn. Even first-time players will have no trouble picking up the rules. My 11 year old son loves it. To put it simply, Battue doesn't cramp the brain while providing the scratch to that strategy-game itch gamers sometimes get.
    It's gorgeous. I dare you to see this game on a table and say it's ugly.
    It's fun & fast. No lie. I've played several games in a row and still not killed an entire afternoon. Of course, it helps when all players know the game well.

Cons -
    The price. Sixty dollars is a lot to fork over for a game (so my wife is always telling me), even if it does provide a ton of entertainment. I can easily see the value for price here, but that's in the eye of the purchaser in all cases. There are always going to be those few who buy the game and hate it, but for the most part, I think this game will appeal to just about everyone.
    Chaos. As our own Mr. Negativity pointed out, the board can get a bit crowded at times, but the rest of us liked it. Several hordes of mounted barbarians just ran through the city. Exactly how neat do you expect them to be? It can look jumbled, but is that really going to bother the serious player? I doubt it.


Battue: Storm of the Horse Lords will make an impressive addition to any game library. On a scale of 1 - 10, I give it a sol id 9. If you get a chance to play the game before buying it, then by all means do so. But this is definitely one you can take my word on - it's worth it!


Next review - Twilight Imperium: Third Edition
 
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