Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Battle on the Ice with Battle Troll

A game of Battle Troll was on the agenda this week.  I have played Battle Troll a few (3 or 4) times, owning both the pdf and printed copy.  A few games were solo scenarios and its card driven combat mechanic can function well as an autonomous opponent.  I also played it with my young son, who liked the card artwork and could grasp some of the basics.  In these experiences, I avoided using the full combat rules, which took into account hit location and armor coverage.  In this game, my usual wargaming buddy and I decided to go all in on Battle Troll, with hit locations, weapon distinctions and accident charts.

The scenario was "The Ice Floe" Both sides start on rocky outcroppings and battle on the ice.  The ice is broken in the middle, with a somewhat stable ice floe to cross.  It is based on an incident from Njall's Saga, with one side led by Njall's son Skarphedin, and the other side by Thrain.

Skarphedin (on the large round base) and two other heroes slowly cross the ice.

Movement is not set, as in SAGA and other skirmish games.  Players roll 2d6 for walking and 3d6 for running.  If you roll a "1" in this scenario on a run, you fall and slide the distance rolled.  Which, if its into the icy gray river, is instant death.

No IGYG here, player order is determined by draws from a deck, with 6 cards activating one or more of your troops, six cards activating your opponents and one card ends the turn, resulting in a reshuffle.

Combat is resolved by choosing an attack action (swing, cut, lunge or jest) and a counter action (block with shield, counterblow, jump aside, jump back and jest).  The effectiveness of one attack against another generates a certain number of dice for each player.  Jests are useful in that they score reputation points against an enemy, which actually determines the winner of the game.  So does a kill obviously, but if you can insult your enemy before killing them, so much the better.

I did like the nice bit of meta-gaming during combat.  If my opponent is attacking me with a spear, and spears are more effective with a lunge, do I leap aside giving me more dice than him?  But if I know this, he does to, so he might surprise me with the swing, a spear's least effective attack.  But that would be so obvious, so maybe he is going with the cut...or maybe he is going to stick with the lunge...

By now, I was starting to feel like this guy:

The first one down is one of mine, slain by Thrain.

The next kill is by my leader Skarphedin against an enemy hero.  Skarphedin lands a Great Blow, which earns him 6 Reputation Points, but also earns the dead character points for dying in such an epic manner. 

Finally, after over an hour of game play, two characters lay dead, although most are wounded to some degree.  The game is called. My opponent leads in Reputation Points, due to wounds inflicted and his liberal use of jesting.

After playing the full rules, here are a few observations - 
  • Resolving combat was very slow going at first and it improved somewhat as the game went on.  Wargamers who like checking and cross referencing charts will find this system a breeze.  Those who like to roll dice, see who has the best number might find it slow going. 
  • Wounds need to be cumulative - which as best I could tell from the rules, they were not.  Characters may be slightly wounded multiple times, with no consequence past letting an opponent re-roll a single die. This would also speed up combat a bit, but might be an impediment to those playing the campaign, and need characters to survive and fight again.
  • Wound markers for each character is a must.  Even though we were writing down who was wounded, numerous times we finished a combat and then remembered we could have had a re-roll against a wounded opponent. 

A final endorsement is the material included. Of the 80 pages, 24 are devoted to rules, with the remainder covering campaign rules - hiring men, building a hall, and lawsuits (seriously) - and numerous scenarios that are historically based and easily transferable to other skirmish games.

My friend's comment was that this combat system was basically an RPG system and I agree.   I might actually like to see more tactical RPGs use a reveal system similar to this, preventing players from "modifying" their actions mid-combat.

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