I was trudging along the muddy verge of an ancient highway, heading south back to the land of my birth, when I first heard the distant rhythm. I immediately stopped and hid myself among the bracken that lined the muddy ditch to the side of the road. I had not long to wait. The clanking of metal upon metal became louder, accompanied by the martial rhythm of hundreds of feet marching in time. And then, around a bend in the road, the vanguard of the invading army appeared. Knights caparisoned for war, their bright banners flapping violently in the fitful breeze, the horses snorting clouds of vapour in the still-cold air of the morning. Behind the knights came the main force of men drawn up in disciplined rows, their short swords banging against their thighs, the companies identified by banner bearers who held the symbols of the army aloft. Then, the mercenaries, groups of grubby goblins in stained bronze armour, and behind them goblins mounted on restless scaly beasts that sniffed the air as they rode by, and made me retreat further back into the bracken.

If you enjoy the mighty clash of armies, strategic decisions in the heat of battle, and the manipulation of powerful magics, then BattleLore is the game system for you! BattleLore is a game system of medieval battles that was originally released by Days of Wonder (DOW) back in 2006. Since then the game has had nine expansions, and in 2008 found a new home at Fantasy Flight Games (FFG), who plan to expand the BattleLore line even further.

BattleLore uses an easy-to-play wargame system called ‘Commands & Colors’, invented by the game designer Richard Borg. This system first appeared in an American Civil War-themed Avalon Hill game called Battle Cry in 2000, then the hugely successful DOW game series Memoir ’44 in 2004, the Command & Colors: Ancients series by GMT Games in 2006, and finally—to date—BattleLore. All of these games share core elements—a deck of Command cards, a board divided into large hexes, and a set of battle dice with symbols on them. With the exception of C&C:Ancients, which uses blocks, the games use plastic miniatures (usually arranged in units of three or four figures) to represent the armies on the board. In BattleLore, these units are identified by coloured plastic banners.

The great thing about BattleLore and the Commands & Colors system in general, is that you can enjoy a satisfying wargame without all the fiddly complexity that wargames are often known for. BattleLore is relatively fast to set up, looks spectacular—especially if you’re dedicated enough to paint the figures—plays fast, and has just the right balance between strategy and luck

So how do you play? Every game requires a scenario, or Adventure as they’re called in BattleLore, which gives you instructions about which figures to set up on the table, which terrain elements to put on the board to make the battlefield unique, the victory conditions, any special rules, and how many Command cards each Commander (player) receives. The Command cards are what drives the game. Each turn you choose a Command card from your hand, and this card tells you which of your forces you can ‘activate’—move and attack—in your turn. Most are Section cards, which allow you to activate a certain number of units on either the left, centre or right flanks of the battlefield. Other cards are Tactics cards, which let you make special activations, such as charging your cavalry into the fray, or firing twice with your archers, or counter-attacking an opponent’s Command card.

You move your units, and then, if you wish, can attack with ranged weapons or in melee combat. Various weapons have different ranges and strengths, but basically you roll a number of Command dice, and depending on the symbols, do damage, and/or cause the target units to flee. Coloured helmet symbols matching the banner colour of the target unit are usually a hit; a bonus strike symbol can be a hit depending on the weapon used; a flag symbol can cause the target unit to flee one or more hexes; and a Lore symbol can be used to activate Lore cards, which have magic and other special effects.

Lore cards bring a unique element to the game of BattleLore. If both players agree, at the start of the game you can set up a War Council consisting of several Lore Masters—the Warrior, Cleric, Wizard and Rogue. Each of these Lore Masters has a deck of Lore cards that can unleash powerful effects on the field of battle.  For example, the Wizard can create a magical portal that can teleport a unit across the battlefield; the Rogue can spring an ambush so your unit can attack first when attacked; the Warrior can parry an attack, causing an opponent’s attack to be weakened, and the Cleric can make the very hills quake, damaging units on and around this terrain! Players power all of these effects by spending Lore counters, which they receive during the game when they roll the Lore symbol on their Battle dice.

The BattleLore core set was chock-full of plastic armies—human, dwarf and goblin—but it wasn’t long before the expansions began to roll out. The first was Call to Arms, an unique army-building system that used card decks instead of points. This was followed by army packs that expanded the options available to Dwarf and Goblin armies, including Goblin ostrich riders and Dwarven bagpipers! For those players that preferred to play the game without the Lore rules and concentrate on historical scenarios of the Hundred Years’ War period, the Crossbows and Polearms set was a must-buy. The Epic expansion provided rules for playing on double-sized battlefields with larger armies and extra Command card options, and is believed by many to be the best way to experience the game’s full potential.

With the transfer of BattleLore to FFG, two new sets—Creatures and Dragons—have given BattleLore players more creatures to rampage over their battlefields, including a Hydra with interchangeable heads, and of course that essential fantasy staple, Dragons.

So what’s the future of BattleLore at FFG? Well, they’ve just announced Battles of Westeros, a BattleLore-inspired game that recreates warfare in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world from his A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels. It’s been announced that BattleLore will be the brand name of a series of medieval tactical warfare games using both the Command & Colors system, and other new wargaming systems. It’s definitely a time of change for BattleLore players, but what is now known as ‘classic BattleLore’ will still be supported and expanded by FFG—though in what forms are yet to be revealed.

Until then however, there is already a huge wealth of BattleLore goodies out there that can provide thousands of hours of exciting wargaming enjoyment. And the battle has just begun!

For more information about the BattleLore line of products, visit Fantasy Flight Games at http://www.fantasyflightgames.com and the unofficial BattleLore site BattleLoreMaster at http://www.battleloremaster.com.

Finally, the army was gone, and stillness descended again over the old road. I emerged from the ditch and with a last glance at the dust cloud that marked the army’s passing, hurried onwards to my rendezvous.

Universal Head

Universal Head (www.universalhead.com), has been designing graphics from the most corporate to the most creative for more than twenty years. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, most notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent a year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for the computer game ‘The Omega Stone’. In between he’s designed everything from large corporate websites, to postage stamps, to a mobile phone interface. His personal site www.headlesshollow.com is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.