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Subject: Big game in a small box rss

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Kurt Weihs
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One of the things that most impressed me about Battleground: Fantasy Warfare was the amount of game you got in such a small box (and small price tag). The quality of the rules easily equals or exceeds games that cost many times over the price of the original Battleground card game. So, when I heard that the Battleground folks (Your Move Games) had designed a campaign system to work with their "miniatures" rules I was both a bit excited and a bit skeptical. Today, myself and three friends sat down and played through the first three battles of a campaign that is expected to last 10 battles. Because this is a review I will focus primarily on the game itself and will do a session report once we have completed all ten battles of our campaign.

Components: Like most Battleground: Fantasy Warfare products this one comes in a standard playing card sized box. The cards are the same composition as the later Battleground army cards (Lizardmen, Mercenaries, etc.). They are as thick as standard CCG cards (same weight as World of Warcraft cards) which makes then a smidge thinner than standard playing cards. They have a semi-gloss finish that allows you to write on them with dry-erase markers and clean them easily afterwards. While this feature is not necessary for Kingdoms (edit. see the designer's comment following the review) the finish is a nice touch and helps add to the attractiveness of the cards.

You receive:
- 1 44 page mini-rulebook - This is a small booklet designed to fit within the box. The print is not microscopic, but it is smaller than normal. Bring your reading glasses.
- 1 Double sided sheet with a "Kingdom Build Tree" on one side and three campaign score sheets on the back. The Kingdom Build tree allows you to track what buildings have been built to support your army while the score sheets track your victory point totals, gold treasury and resources purchased.
- 36 Map Cards - These cards are grouped with 6 sets of 6 cards each. Each map card shows the terrain layout to be used in a battle along with deployment zones and a description of the terrain and any special effects it might play on the battle. The terrain on the cards conforms with the terrain included in the Battleground terrain pack. You don't have to have this pack, but if you do it helps. The authors point out that felt or construction paper makes good terrain as well. The advantage in using the terrain pack is that the pack matches the terrain shown on the card and makes set up a little easier.
- 12 Scenario Cards - Each scenario card contains timing eligibility information (a few scenarios occur only middle to late campaign, a few are early to middle and about half are eligible to occur through the entire campaign. All scenario cards can occur mid-campaign). The campaign cards also contain starting point values for both attacker and defender, prohibited units, available command points for each army, and any special instructions for set up or special rules that influence play. Finally, the cards contain victory conditions and point awards for success.
- 4 Special Situation Cards - These are mixed in and played with the scenario cards, but serve to twist the rules for the scenario rather than define it. When you draw one of these you also draw an extra scenario card to see what you are playing. I won't spoil any surprises here, but these cards can do anything from change the units available for set up to adding a condition to a battlefield that will make life even more interesting for the troops.
- 1 Muster Card - This isn't used for campaign play. Instead, it allows players to randomly generate a battle using the scenario and map cards.

I found the components attractive and well worth the price of the game. The colors are rich and typical of the Battleground products. Symbols are both colored and shaped so those who are color blind will still be able to differentiate one from the other, a very nice touch. The scenario cards have a background resembling an old scroll that is attractive without being distracting or getting in the way. The map cards are functional while also being artfully done. My only beef is with the rulesbook being as small as it is. I understand the desire to fit the whole thing in a box that you can fit in your pocket, but some of us are getting up in years and the box doesn't have room for a magnifying glass as well. Traditionally, Your Move Games has supplied full sized (81/2" x 11") PDF's of their rules on their web site and these are frequently ported over to BGG so we should be seeing these soon. The rulebook states that this resource will be available (along with many others) so my complaint is just a minor quibble at best. Keeping in mind that the game retails for under $15.00 (USD) I rate the component quality a high 8/10. The only thing I would do to physically improve the game (as long as the rulebook is posted in full sized format) is to use thicker cards.

Gameplay - Kingdoms actually has two modes of play. The first is as a campaign game with which to use as a backdrop to your Battleground: Fantasy Warfare battles. The second is as a means by which to generate individual scenarios with the muster card. Before I had picked up Kingdoms I had pictured this as a geographical campaign where somehow units were moved from one kingdom to another on a map strategically and then battles would be fought when one army encountered another.

This is not at all how Kingdoms is played.

Goal - Instead, each player picks a faction and uses that faction to fight a series of 10 battles (the number of battles can be scaled up or down, though for shorter campaigns with some minor changes in the rules). Depending on your success level in the battle you earn victory points. The person with the most victory points at the end of the ten battles is the winner. Campaigns can either be fought in a free-for-all method with each player fighting for themselves or they can be fought in a team mode where players are allowed to lend assistance to each other if they build the infrastructure to support trade.

Players - I highly recommend that you play with an even number of players. If you play with an odd number the odd man out gets a 'bye' which really wouldn't be fun for anyone. We didn't experience this with our first game tonight because we had four people. The campaign system will comfortably support up to ten players. Beyond that I'd recommend picking up a second deck.

Building Infrastructure - In between battles a random amount of gold is put into each player's coffers (this is the same amount for everybody with the possibility of being modified if the player has purchased certain buildings). Also, in between battles the players purchase buildings. Some of these can only be built once while others can be purchased multiple times so you end up, say, with several palaces which each give you an extra victory point. Each building allows players to do something extra for their armies. All players start off with a farm which allows each army to recruit only their core units. Core units are the meat and potatoes units...they rarely have anything special to them, but they stand in the battleline fine and are usually somewhat competent as troops. If you want to use the other troops in your army you are going to have to pay for the priveledge by buying the building that lets you do so. On the other hand, you might want to emphasize your trade potential in a team game, or push your ability to earn victory points. What buildings you construct will directly influence the flow of the campaign and what you can bring to each battle you fight. Since there are only 10 battles you have a fairly limited time to build your infrastructure. Many buildings require other buildings be constructed first so you have to plan out your strategy carefully. With 23 different buildings to pick from (many of these can be built multiple times) you can see how the decision making in between the battles can become as important (if not more so) than during the battles, themselves.


The building construction rules seem very similar to what you see with real time strategy games for the computer. Their importation to Kingdoms is a unique and fresh way to look at campaign gaming and I don't think I have ever seen this particular method used before. Gameplay I rate at an 8/10. The game flows very smoothly and the unique use of the building system makes for a fresh new way to do this kind of gaming. I do miss the strategic map movement that you typically find in a miniatures campaign, but I'm not sure that would have worked here. Instead we have a lean game engine that will efficiently run a competitive campaign with very little fuss.

Single Games - In addition to running these long campaign games Kingdoms can also be used to generate one-off battles. For this we have the Muster Card. This takes the place of the buildings and controls what kinds of forces you can bring to the battle. You draw scenario and map cards like normal, but roll randomly to determine if the battle happens early, middle or late in the life of the participating nations. This helps establish what troops you can use (core, standard and elite) and whether or not you can use units from the Monsters and Mercenaries decks. Incidentally, this looks like a great way to generate battles for tournements.

Summation - I was very impressed with this package. For a few pennys less than $15.00 I received an innovative and efficient campaign system that helps steer Battleground away from the trap of every battle being the same as the last. I was a little surprised that there were no strategic movement rules and no damage repair rules (you build a new army for each battle). Damage to your army comes only in the form of fewer victory points. This makes your campaigns more abstract strategically than most campaign-style games, but the resource management is far richer than I am accustomed to as well. I find the emphasis to be an exciting change and am looking forward to playing this game more.

Incidentally, in our campaign right now we have four armies (Undead, Lizard Men, High Elves, and Orcs). The Undead have chosen to emphasize building elite units and bringing in more cash. They won their first battle against the High Elves with a huge victory, but the Lizard Men were able to get revenge for the elves in their next battle. The Undead are still leading in victory points, but the Lizard Men are coming up from behind. The orcs are bemoaning the fact that they weren't dwarves and are holding at 3rd and the elves are struggling to come back from their huge setback in the first battle. Things are still very close, though. The game feels to have taken on a life of its own and we had to quit before we were ready which, to me, is a good sign. I will be very interested to see if more campaign decks are released. As it stands now, there are enough maps in the deck to play up to 6 campaign turns without duplicating the deck choice. After that, you will be recycling the map cards for the next four battles. As for scenario cards, there is always room for a lot more scenarios. I can see this product being very easily expanded in the future.

Other Game systems - Will this system work with any other miniatures game out there? I think it would port over with some minor changes. As long as you have a system where you define units as either being core, standard or elite I think this will work quite well with it.

If you are an existing Battleground player I highly recommend this for you. If you've played Battleground and didn't find that it was your cup of tea you might want to try it again. If you biggest beef with Battleground is that the battles were boring and had grown tired of the 2000 point vs 2000 point battle on flat, featureless terrain then you will find that Kingdoms spices the game up significantly. If, on the other hand, you are a die-hard minis fan who insists that your miniatures gaming be 3-d, require hours of painting before you can get to the table, and be hugely expensive you will find nothing new here. Kingdoms is still based on the cards-as-miniature mechanic you found in Battleground: Fantasy Warfare.

(edited for grammer and clarity)
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Andrew Gross
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Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a thorough review. I believe this is the first review of Kingdoms to appear in any medium, and I appreciate it.

A few quick responses:

(1) It's a major oversight that the 8.5"x11" .pdf of the rules is not available yet. I know that YMG's graphic design person is busy on another project, but I hope this will be important enough for her to address ASAP. I have sent mail to Chad about this. I will respond to this thread again when they're up.

(2) I am pleased that you noticed that it is possible to write on the cards due to the glossy finish, but I will point out that there is, in fact, one Scenario that takes advantage of this. The "Border Defense" scenario allows the defender to mark the location of a hidden unit on the map card, and reveal it during play. I had plans for more scenarios that take advantage of the ability to mark up the map card, but they are very hard to balance. If the product does well enough to justify expanding, either via an official product or else via cards you can print off from the website, this will certainly be an area of emphasis for me.

(3) As you point out, it's certainly not normal for a campaign system to dispense with a strategic map. I'm glad that your group was willing to try this approach with an open mind-- I'm certainly expecting some people to criticize this feature. I talk about this decision a fair bit in my Design Notes, which are located here on the Geek at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/332528

Thanks again for taking the time to review Battleground: Kingdoms!
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Chad Ellis
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As Andrew said, it's our bad that the "big" version of the rules isn't up. I'll make it a priority for Kaile and it should be up within the week.

More later -- I've got to get ready for a Christmas party, so I haven't had time to read the full review.
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Kurt Weihs
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I wasn't sure if it was fair to pick on the full-sized rules not being available yet. Something I was remiss in pointing out is that Kingdoms is still in pre-order and isn't commercially available yet. Your Move Games has been very good at making sure that resources are available online for Battleground and I expect Kingdoms will be the same way. I think it would be wrong to expect these resources to be available before the game was even released on the market.

One thing I want to applaud Chad and YMG for is that I was able to get Battleground: Kingdoms as a true pre-order. It seems more and more that the word "pre-order" is synonomous with "You'll get your pre-order as soon as we are done distributing to all the retail outlets." This was not the case with Kingdoms. I received my copy early this week significantly before the general commercial release. I don't know if this is something Chad will be able to duplicate in the future, but big kudos for doing this!
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steve cole
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Nice review. I look forward to the session report.

This will be a must buy for me. Looks like another great product as the terrain pack was. Keep up the good work YMG.
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Yoki Erdtman
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Nice review Kurt.
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Chad Ellis
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Great review.

Andrew's original vision for a campaign system did indeed work on a strategic map, and we had all sorts of discussions about how that might work. My biggest problem with such systems is that they become the core game themselves, rather than being a vehicle for producing interesting wargames.

What I like about Kingdoms is that it manages to do a ton of stuff (e.g. vast number of battles, interesting decisions between battles, story arc as you move from small core armies to large diverse ones) while keeping the emphasis on playing Battleground.
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Chad Ellis
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The Rules, Kingdom Tree and Score Sheet are all uploaded to BGG and will be on our website very soon, if they aren't there already.
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Kurt Weihs
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Playing a second game of this half a year later and am really enjoying the game. The scenario set ups are great!
 
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